Tournament Report: Top 4 at GP Calgary with Humans

Humans surged back on to the top tables last weekend. I played it to a Top 4 finish at GP Calgary, while at the same time superdan_7 used it to take down the MTGO Modern Premier. I chose Humans for this tournament because Thalia, Guardian of Thraben is exceptionally well positioned in the format, and because I believed Chalice of the Void could improve the ever popular Izzet Phoenix match.

Lands (19)
2 Ancient Ziggurat
4 Cavern of Souls
1 Gemstone Mine
3 Horizon Canopy
1 Island
1 Mana Confluence
1 Plains
2 Seachrome Coast
4 Unclaimed Territory
Artifacts (4)
4 Aether Vial
Creatures (37)
4 Champion of the Parish
2 Kessig Malcontents
3 Kitesail Freebooter
4 Mantis Rider
4 Meddling Mage
4 Noble Hierarch
4 Phantasmal Image
4 Reflector Mage
4 Thalia’s Lieutenant
4 Thalia, Guardian of Thraben
Sideboard (15)
2 Auriok Champion
2 Chalice of the Void
3 Damping Sphere
3 Deputy of Detention
2 Dismember
2 Grafdigger’s Cage
1 Kambal, Consul of Allocation
75 Cards Total

The Build
Stock Humans is quite well known, so I will focus on explaining where I deviated from it and why.

One Gemstone Mine and One Mana Confluence
I ran these over two Ancient Ziggurat to cast Chalice of the Void more consistently. With four Ziggurat, the deck has fifteen lands and four Nobles to cast non-creature cards. This is fine for one converted mana cost (CMC) non-creature spells and for Damping Sphere, because Noble Hierarch will not die in the matches you want Sphere; Tron and Amulet. Counting Noble as a full mana source, you have the mana for Damping Sphere 80% of the time on the play and 85% of the time on the draw.  Chalice of the Void however, is for decks that are likely to kill Noble – Phoenix, Burn, and Shadow – so it counts as half a mana source for this card. Upping the mana base to seventeen non-Ziggurat lands puts you back at 80% to cast Chalice on the play and 85% on the draw. Running one of each of these lands mitigates their downside. Having one extra pain-land or sacrificing one of your lands after three uses is manageable, but these effects get much worse in multiples. While they are generally worse than Ziggurat, their downsides are balanced out by more consistently cast non-creature sideboard cards, and even being able to keep more one land Aether Vial hands.

Two Seachrome Coast
Running a second Seachrome Coast over a fourth Horizon Canopy is a concession to Deputy of Detention – he comes in for most sideboard games, so I wanted an extra blue source to help cast him.

Kessig Malcontents
I chose it for both main deck flex slots because the extra speed and reach provides the most advantage across the board. I tried hedging bad matchups by main decking Anafenza, Kambal, or Auriok Champion, but did not like that these cards slow the deck down. Overall, Malcontents wins you more games in your bad matchups than other flex slot choices by making the deck faster.

Sideboard Choices
Deputy of Detention and Dismember are the backbone of my sideboard and come in for the vast majority of post-board games. Deputy especially is catch-all interaction that can come in for any match where main deck interaction lines up poorly.  My sideboard omitted previously key cards like Knight of Autumn, Izzet Staticaster, and Whirler Rogue largely because Deputy of Detention covers the matches they were necessary to interact with. With the extra sideboard space I run harder hitting, narrower bullets like Damping Sphere, Chalice of the Void, and Grafdigger’s Cage. Any well-rounded Humans sideboard should start with Deputy and Dismember.

Chalice of the Void is in the sideboard because of Izzet Phoenix, and although you can win without it, it makes Phoenix a much better match. Chalice is also good against other big decks like Shadow, Burn, and Storm. Damping Sphere is the most effective hate for Tron and Amulet, and we have little else that interacts well with these strategies. I previously favored more versatile and less powerful cards like Gaddock Teeg, but ultimately Damping Sphere is the best card for the matches I was targeting.

I ran a two-two split of Auriok Champion and Grafdigger’s Cage because I wanted a better plan against Dredge. Dylan Hand runs four Auriok and three Deputy for the Dredge matchup but after testing I was not convinced Auriok was enough to sway the match. I also did not want to run four Auriok because, outside Dredge, the matches it comes in for are mostly good; Burn and Grixis Shadow. Auriok also has some overlap with Chalice, so trimming on Auriok made sense. For the final slot, I settled on Kambal, Consul of Allocation because I wanted another card for Izzet Phoenix, and a fifth card for Burn.

The Rounds
Rd 1: Bye (1-0)

Rd 2: 2-1 over Bant Spirits (2-0)
Mulligans decided the first two games. Game 3, I got my opponent down to 11 and pushed the last points of damage in with a Kessig Malcontents and Phantasmal Image to copy.

Rd 3: 0-2 loss to Izzet Phoenix (2-1)
Game 1 I got my opponent quite low, but lost to a flipped Thing in the Ice. Game 2, I kept a six that was likely too slow – three lands, Vial, Thalia, Meddling Mage – and I lost convincingly.

Rd 4: 2-0 over Merfolk (3-1)
I out-raced my opponent in Game 1. Game 2 he got stuck on one land and never recovered.

Rd 5: 2-0 over Bant Spirits (4-1)
This player was friends with the Spirits player I faced in Round 2 and seemed to be on the same list. I had fast draws each games and killed before my opponent could stabilize. Both Spirits players had Mutavault over Moorland Haunt, which makes their list worse against Humans.

Rd 6: 2-0 over Burn (5-1)
Game 1 we raced for a bit and I got my opponent low enough to lock him under his own Eidolon of the Great Revel. Game 2, I started on the back foot, but resolved a Chalice of the Void on one and it bought enough time to win the race.

Rd 7: 2-0 over Mono Red Burn (6-1)
Game 1 was close and my opponent had to brick a draw step for me to win. Game 2, my opponent pointed all his spells at my face and my creatures won the race.

Rd 8: 2-1 over Izzet Phoenix (7-1)
I took Game 1 by going wide with a Thalia/Reflector Mage draw, slowing down Thing in the Ice long enough to finish the game with a Malcontents. I died quickly Game 2. I had a very fast Thalia draw Game 3, getting a Champion of the Parish to 6/6 on Turn 3 and ending the game shortly after.

Rd 9: 2-1 over Jeskai Ascendancy Phoenix (8-1)
This was a Jeskai Ascendancy/Fate Stitcher Combo deck with Arclight Phoenix. Luckily, one of my teammates played him earlier that day and I realized what he was on after seeing a Hallowed Fountain, so I Meddling Maged Jeskai Ascendancy and bought enough time to win Game 1. Game 2, I mis-boarded by keeping Reflector Mages in and leaving Grafdigger’s Cage and Damping Sphere in the board. After realizing he did not have Thing in the Ice, I made the swap for Game 3 and won after he spent two Abrades before I stuck a Damping Sphere.

Rd 10: 2-0 over Suicide Zoo (9-1)
This is a good match because they have a hard time dealing with Reflector Mage, and the aggressive life loss plan is a real liability against Humans. I 2-0’d him convincingly. I did not bring in Chalice of the Void here, but I probably should have.

Rd 11: 2-0 over Burn (10-1)
Game 1, my opponent was at 16 and got me down to 10 before playing two Eidolon of the Great Revels. After thinking carefully to make sure I was not getting cute, I vialed in a Phantasmal Image to make a third copy of Eidolon, then I untapped, vialed in a Mantis Rider to attack, and he was locked out of the game. Game 2 he mulled to a five card hand with four lands and never had a chance.

Rd 12: 2-0 over Tron (11-1)
On the draw, I kept a six with two lands, Vial, Champion, Image, and Reflector Mage. My opponent was on track for Turn 3 Tron. I passed Turn 2 with Vial on one and two Champions. My opponent made Tron and cast a Wumrcoil Engine. I untapped, copied his Wurmcoil, bounced it with Reflector and attacked for 5. Then my opponent played Karn and rolled down on my Wurmcoil, giving me two wurms. I untapped and played a creature to get the last 15 points of damage in. Game 2, I Freebootered my opponent’s Oblivion Stone and killed him before he could find another payoff.

Rd 13: 2-1 over Izzet Phoenix (12-1)
I did not know it at the time, but this was my win-and-in to Top 8. I died quickly Game 1 after he flipped a Thing in the Ice. Game 2, I played Chalice of the Void on Turn 2 and followed it up with a Meddling Mage on Abrade. I beat my opponent down quickly after that. Game 3, I was on the draw and kept a close six with no one-drop, but some key pieces: three lands, Thalia, Meddling Mage, and Chalice of the Void. I played Turn 2 Chalice, followed up with Thalia and Meddling Mage on Abrade. Fortunately, my opponent was Andrew Huska, who 9-0’d Day 1 and having seen his list posted, I knew I did not have to play around Anger of the Gods. I extended without fear, playing a Thalia’s Lieutenant and a Kambal, Consul of Allocation. He flipped a Thing in the Ice and later Echoing Truthed my Chalice, but I rebuilt each time and he could never get his engine going. I slowly chipped away at his life and took the match down.

Round 14: Intentional Draw (12-1-1)

Round 15: Intentional Draw (12-1-2)

Quarterfinals: 2-1 over Blue Moon (13-1-2)
My opponent mulled to five Game 1, keeping a hand with Ancestral Vision and little else. I had an aggressive start and killed him before it resolved. Game 2, I resolved a Chalice of the Void on Turn 2 and locked him out of two one-mana removal spells. I Freebootered an Anger of the Gods the following turn, but had to leave him with a Cryptic Command. After he played a Thing in the Ice, he cast Cryptic Command to bounce my Chalice, freed a removal spell for Freebooter and Angered my team. Knowing about the Cryptic, I had two Mantis Riders in reserve and deployed them the following turn to kill in the air before he could flip Thing in the Ice.

Semifinals: 0-2 loss to Sam Pardee’s Grixis Shadow (13-2-2)
Sam beat my team mate, the 9-0 Humans player from Day 1, earlier in the day so I knew this traditionally good matchup was not going to be easy. His list was tuned towards creature matches, with two Jace, Vyrn’s Prodigy in the main deck, as well as two Kolaghan’s Command, two Abrade, two Engineered Explosives, and two Liliana the Last Hope in the sideboard.

I had a decent Thalia start Game 1, but started to flood out and had to turn the corner with only a three turn clock. Unfortunately, he then slammed a Gurmag Angler, and two 4/4 Death’s Shadows. I never saw a Reflector Mage and the game was over shortly after.

Having seen his sideboard plan, I chose not to bring in Chalice of the Void like I normally would, because he had six answers to it and ample removal that was not one CMC. I again had a decent Thalia start Game 2 but he stabilized at three with an Engineered Explosives. I had several turns to draw a Reflector Mage, Thalia’s Lieutenant, or a Mantis Rider to push the last points of damage through but I only found lands.

Going Forward
Building Humans to accommodate Chalice of the Void paid off. It came in for eight of my fourteen matches, and it could have been as many as ten. It is good against enough of the top decks that it should have a place in the Humans sideboard for this meta. I would not begrudge anyone for sticking with four Ziggurat because change is scary, but the added consistency gained from running the sub-optimal five-color lands outweighs their downsides in a list running Chalice.

If I had another GP this weekend, I would submit close to the same 75. I am not sure about the split of Auriok Champion and Grafdiggers Cage. I think Cage is stronger against Dredge, but it is only good early and may not be enough better to be worth the narrower card. Additionally, if Grixis Shadow players have found a way to win this match, it could be worth having plentiful sideboard Aurioks for them. I would also consider playing Whirler Rogue again to have a better plan for midrange decks and the mirror.

Overall, this was a fantastic weekend and I feel I nailed the deck list. My wonderful wife, Alexandra Carlile, even made Top 8 of the MCQ that Friday with the same 75. I could not have done this without her love and support for my Magic passion – the physical deck I played even belongs to her! People have been trimming anti-creature cards for weeks now and I think Humans is in the best position it has been in since it was the top deck in the format.

We hope that this tournament report was of particular interest to you. It is no secret that we have a soft spot for Humans here at GGG so we appreciate that Chris allowed us to share his story. A special thanks to him for finally lending some credence to my crazy old ideas; running Chalice and trimming a Canopy for a Coast. Do you have any wild ideas to develop Humans further right now? We would love to hear your thoughts in our discussion group. Or if you would like to take a swing at writing content for the site you can contact us directly here. We will be back tomorrow to introduce a new and more experimental series. Until then my friends.

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