Tournament Report: 9-0 on Day 1 of GP Toronto with Boros Soldiers

Yesterday’s article examined GP Toronto’s final results. While many players had to sit and lament the death of video coverage, an interesting story came out of Day 1.

Last weekend I spiked day one of GP Toronto to finish 9-0 with Boros Soldiers. The outpouring of excitement and interest that has followed that success is really the dream come true. A dream for anyone who loves the aspect of Magic where you can bring your heart and creativity to building something that is just yours. I am extremely honored to be able to bring you the story of Boros Soldiers leading up to and during GP Toronto, as well as what I would  change about the list going forward.

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The Build
Humans players! Have you ever looked morosely at a top decked Aether Vial just after your board’s been swept or creatures bottomed – and your opponent’s at 3?

Burn players! Have you ever wished that Monastery Swiftspear were something with a little more oomph when you draw it hell-bent on Turn 5?

Boros Soldiers can fix those bad feels. We have Lightning Bolt for the Humans players who cannot play spells because of their five color mana base. We have Thalia’s Lieutenant for the Burn guys who want their creatures to be relevant in the late game. We also have Brimaz, Soldier of the Pantheon, and Precinct Captain for those who love it when opponents have to read your cards. 

I’ve been playing soldiers off and on since the time of Dragon’s Maze Standard – when Soldier of the Pantheon was our top choice Savannah Lions and long before Thalia’s Lieutenant appeared to offer us the hope that we would one day be led out of the wilderness. I play about 1.5 Modern FNMs a week but GP Toronto was only my third individual Modern GP, and the first one that I have brought Boros Soldiers to.

Our plan has always been to get bigger and wider than our opponents expect from a White Weenie deck. We out-combat creature decks with first strike while we pick off the birds, chumps, and combo creatures with burn spells. For the instant speed decks and the spell decks we just need to make them stumble a little bit and we can run them over – Thalia, Guardian of Thraben has always been the premier above rate taxing effect, and when big Thalia was printed she was slotted in and immediately earned her permanent spot.

Ever since the days when I was using my deck to try to race Splinter Twin, I have been checking for new human soldiers at spoiler seasons. Some have been worth trying – Thraben Inspector, Militia Bugler, Swiftblade Vindicator, and Tajic, Legions Edge were all on the list for a few weeks. Maindeck Selfless Spirit was effective but offensive to the purist in me. Some were obvious upgrades – Kytheon, Hero of Akros is the best Savannah Lions ever printed, and happens to be a human soldier. Thalia’s Lieutenant might be the only new printing I have ever pre-ordered to ensure it was in my deck on Day 1.

But Tithe Taker might just have put this deck over the top. Regardless of whether anyone ever has success with soldiers again, Tithe Taker should at least be in in every taxes deck in Modern. It is the real deal. It is almost little Thalia 4-7, and not being legendary means we can stack the effect. It slows down fetches, embarrasses the “opt, terminus” line (especially when supported by Thalia), ensures our combat step is clear, and, most importantly, ensures we still have some life when our board is cleared. A spirit or two poking into an emptied board can often be the difference in a game. Tithe Taker also plays into our plan of giving our opponent tough choices on targets. Is it worth a spell to save myself some taxes if it means he makes that spirit? Do I kill that Champion of the Parish that is going to get out of hand, or the Thalia? I used three Tithe Taker for one or two events before realizing that was a mistake. In went the full set. The two spot is tight in our deck, but they are never coming out.

One last note before the tournament. There was a lot of interest in my sideboard but honestly it was atrocious. It is trying to be too tricky. This is not a subtle deck and it does not want a subtle sideboard. Even though EE on two is the sweet spot against us already I would play this next time:

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The Rounds
Rd 1: Bye
Somehow, a couple middling performances in Toronto GPs last year and a steady diet of FNMs had granted me 1307 Planeswalker points by last May, and I discovered Thursday evening that I had a bye for Toronto. So Round One was easy.

Rd 2: 2-0 over Rakdos Burn
My first turn was Soldier of the Pantheon. Opponent picked it up to read it; this would be a continuing theme on the weekend.  There are few things more rewarding as a brewer than someone reading your first card while you instantly know 71 of their 75 cards. His first turn was Bump in the Night so I knew it was Rakdos Burn. Burn is a fun match because they always think they can kill you before you can kill them. But our creatures become more and more powerful over the game while theirs become less relevant. We play all the way up the curve, though the curve stopped at three this weekend, and Brimaz’s four toughness is a real pain for them. Also we have four Lightning Helix.

Rd 3: Bye
Some poor fellow with two byes must have slept in. Wow. I am starting to feel like a Platinum Pro. Spoiler: I am not. Appreciating my bye but having come to play Magic I played a Legacy Turbotown to keep myself occupied. My altered MUD deck won the die roll against Reanimator and therefore I won the match. Yay Legacy!

Rd 4: 2-1 over Rakdos Burn
My opponent casts Turn 1 Bump in the Night. Okay… when Light up the Stage was printed everyone could tell it should go into Burn. Just so many of Burn’s games come down do “do I draw a bolt or lose.” My opponent explained that Rakdos was the better home for it because Rakdos focussed more on one drops than Boros. He had Helixes of his own though, in the form of Collective Brutality and Gonti’s Machinations. They combined to beat me in our second game.

Game 3 was very tense. He had two Machinations in play and had controlled my board fairly well. I made a potentially fatal error and took a turn off attacking for a small amount to develop my board and prevent a turn of energy gain. I regretted my life choices when he played a fetchland and cracked it on his turn to make it up, while of course escaping any damage from my attack. I should have lost that match but eventually we found ourselves in the “does the burn player draw a bolt right now?” game and he did not.

Rd 5: 2-1 over GR Ponza
I am on the draw. My opponent plays Turn 1 Arbor Elf so I knew he was on Ponza. My hand could shake off a Stone Rain and a Blood Moon so I was pleased with my position. However I am scared of Stormbreath Dragon and terrified of Inferno Titan so I had to keep him off his mana. I bolt that bird.

I was not expecting Blood Moon in Game 2 two as I had shown him lots of basics but it came down turn three on a hand less prepared for it. Although I drew a Plains pretty quickly, a couple Primal Commands gaining 7 life and lapsing my plains to the top of my library meant I was not coming back. My opponent must have thought I was playing more colors due to Cavern of Souls as that was his justification for leaving in the Blood Moons.

Game 3 was exciting. I led off with a Soldier of the Pantheon and a Tithe Taker, which ate an Anger of the Gods, denying my soldier’s spirit a change at revenge. I played a big Thalia, after which he Eternal Witnessed back his Anger. It was obvious I was not going to play into it so after another big Thalia swing he Angered but I had a Brave the Elements so his spell only caught his own E-Witness. Big Thalia is worth protecting. I started building again the turn after … and he Angered for a third time. Ok! A couple two for ones are usually bad for us but I still had plenty of gas and pulled it out – against three Anger of the Gods! At this point I am fairly pleased with myself. I have been 4-0 and 4-1 a couple times at GPs before the wheels fell off and 5-0 is a lot different.

Rd 6: 2-0 over Boros Burn
It is a friend of mine sitting at Table 29 when I come up. “All right I guess one of us is getting through!” I say. “I’m not even going to feel bad if you beat me!” My friend has narrowly missed a Pro Tour cut at a GP in the past and has been trying to get back to that spot to make good. He has had fairly consistent success at GPs and he is one of the few people in the room who knows what I am playing. I know what he is on too, and I am feeling pretty confident. Soldier of the Pantheon is better against Boros Burn than it is against Rakdos, due to the incidental lifegain when they cast Helix and Boros Charm. I regret to say it is not even close, as my Game 1 keep contains three Lightning Helix. There is only one in my opener in Game 2 but I draw two more.

Rd 7: 2-1 over Boros Burn
A Goblin Guide swings in on my Turn 0. What is with this tournament? There is Arclight Phoenix to my left and to my right wherever I sit down and its Burn matchup to Burn matchup for me. This one is Boros again. There was a scary few turns in Game 3. Eidolon did some work for him but only came down after a Brimaz was on board and I was at a healthy enough life total to put a few more power on the board before forcing his hand. I remember specifically he was at 14 and I was at 7. He had two cards in his hand but with a Mutavault activation I was able to swing for lethal even accounting for blocks; forcing him to blow up one of my creatures to live. Then even when he drew a second spell he only had 6 points of damage in his hand.

I only had five hours of sleep the night before. Between rounds I was trying to keep my eyes open around the top tables as I figured I would be sitting there. I was chatting with a stranger about his positive day – he was currently 6-0-1 and was enjoying himself. We congratulated each other. Some friends of mine came by and expressed amazement that I was 7-0. They took the deck and looked through it and showed it to some other folks who similarly laughed. They passed it back and pairings went up. The stranger across from me declared he was playing “Russ Jeffery.” We shuffled over a couple seats and he laughed when he realized he was going to get to play against the deck over which such a minor fuss had been made. Thank goodness we had not discussed our deck choices!

Rd 8: 2-1 over Mono-Red Phoenix
My friendly opponent was on Red Phoenix, so no Thing in the Ice. That is good for me. Soul-Scar Mage was pretty good against Brimaz though, and Gut Shot was good against everything else. I was not very familiar with Red Phoenix and once I realized that it lacks the cantrips to endlessly recur those hasty fliers I was a lot less worried. My removal works as well against them as everything else, and Brave the Elements is a great sideboard card against mono-colored decks.

We played a good few games but the card disadvantage of Faithless Looting really seemed to hurt him against me, and his ground-based Prowess creatures were not as scary once I managed to run him out of resources. Eight and Oh! Wow! Does this count as the end of Day One? Are they going to publish 8-0 Decklists? Will people finally learn about Soldiers? Oh, we are playing another round? Ok.

Rd 9: 2-1 over Amulet Titan
Seated at Table 1. I have run into my feature match opponent here and there through a mutual friend. We have never played together but he recognizes me and we have a friendly chat. I tell him I have noticed he has been having a hell of a year at the top of Pro Tour rankings on coverage and I knew he had come in Top 8 at just last week’s SCG Team Open. I know he is on Amulet Titan and I know he will not know what the heck I am up to. We are in the feature match area and I sit with my back to the crowd as I know I will have friends there and I want them to see my hand and draws to play along with me. If the folks who do not know me get to see a Field Marshal or the like in my hand it is a bonus. Some sort of buzz is building as people have heard rumors that something not quite expected has been happening in Toronto today.

Game One was a little silly. I kept a one lander and get there on my draw step. He draws mana rock after mana rock as I start the beatdowns. He has two Coalition Relic and two maxed out Pentad Prism and I do not even know how much mana he can make. No Amulet. No Titans. “This is the most Titanless Amulet Titan I’ve ever seen.” I say, and he says, “It’s going to be big if it comes!” He dies. I tell him I had a Path in my hand anyway but he must have had the Pact of Negation because he tells me that it is not good enough.

Game Two. On the draw, I mull to 5. One land again. Oh well. He plays turn one Amulet. I laugh “Game Three!” He likes the sounds of that but we play a couple turns to the inevitable conclusion.

Game Three. Finally a legit hand! Lands, Thalia, Damping Sphere, A Brave the Elements in case of Hornet Queen and I cannot remember if he plays Anger. Keep. No Turn 1 Amulet. All right. Thalia first. No bounce lands for the Sphere to worry about, so Brimaz comes down with a Mutavault on Turn Three. An audible gasp of surprise and delight from the folks behind me. Brimaz on Table 1, during Round 9 of a GP! My opponent is not too pleased either. I am feeling pretty good. He tanks on his turn and uses his mana to Path the Brimaz in his main phase. He must have had a good hand because if that was a hard decision he has more life than I thought. My hand at this point is a second little Thalia, Brave the Elements, big Thalia, Damping Sphere and land. I draw my Second Brave the Elements. Ugh. But the land coming in tapped on his turn rather than my upkeep means when I play my land I can cast both big Thalia and Damping Sphere. I am poking in with Thalia every turn and his life is going down slow but steady. This turn he has to play EE for two. I draw yet another brick and he pops it when I swing for seven. My backup Thalia in my hand comes down and I pass the turn. Not much the following turn but another swing. I have seven power on board and he is at six. Finally a Titan! But no Amulet and big Thalia makes him come in tapped. He searches a bounce land and Kabira Crossroads. Gains two, bounces it, plays it. He is at ten. My topdeck is not a brick. It is a bolt. I swing for seven and toss that bolt on the table. I try not to be too excited as he is disappointed. But he is great about it and says congrats. We shake hands.

There are a lot of people behind me. Probably ten from my LGS who have seen this deck week in and out for a long time. It is a victory for them as well, just like we all celebrated when one of us won Nationals and another went to the Pro Tour. There are handshakes, hugs, fist bumps, quite the swarm. Folks are going to see this deck now. Maybe someone who actually knows how to play will pick it up! I get a picture taken and do a short deck feature. It is not long before I am able to head back to an Aunt and Uncles for a surprise extra night. We have a glass of wine and watch a Dr Who. Apparently some Rhino people needed to transport a hospital to the moon? I am distracted by Twitter blowing up over an undefeated Boros Soldiers deck at GP Toronto. Five hours sleep before day one. Three hours sleep before day two. Sunday was a lesson in regression to the mean.

Rd 10: 1-2 to Tron
I get a game loss for a deck check error in Round 10. Nice. I was up Game 1 but was probably losing anyway to Tron. They have a few problem cards, and two Wurmcoils in Game “3” seals it.

Rd 11 and 12: 1-2 and 0-2 to Dredge
Dredge Creeping Chills me about 14-15 times over the next two rounds. Cage does not cut it against that. They do not even need creatures to kill me. Conflagrate finishes me off four out of five games.

Rds 13-15: 1-2 to various decks
I finish the next three rounds 1-2 fair and square. But I am absolutely fine with it. Day 1 was an exceptional highlight of a life in Magic. I started playing by opening Fallen Empires packs. Took a long break at school time from Mirrodin to Return to Ravnica and have been playing soldiers in Modern since that time despite being out of the game for the entire print run of Modern to that point.

This was nuts. I think there is a chance that if people try it, they will find that there is some play to the deck. That would be a dream come true. Thanks for letting me share. Tomorrow we will have a tournament report from Michael Yeakey fresh off of winning the NRG 5K with 5C Humans. Until then my friends.

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