Sultai Pile in the Great Big Gladiator Games

Tormenting My Way to Top 8

My favourite thing about Gladiator is that, more than in any other format, my expectations are continuously shattered by the sweet and spicy brews presented by my fellow competitors. The Great Big Gladiator Games was a gourmand’s dream: almost 200 different flavours of Magic, all laid out in front of the judges and competing for the title of tastiest meatball. Ok, I’ll stop with the mixed metaphors; I’m not even sure how you’d brew a meatball.

Desavlos here, long-time Gladiator aficionado and man who hasn’t eaten lunch yet. Like all of the other top eight competitors, I was asked to write a tournament report and deck tech for the Great Big Gladiator Games. I figured that any chance to push Torment of Hailfire and complain about Mono-Red was a chance worth taking. I hope that it’s an enjoyable read, and if just one more player decides after seeing this to slide some Tormenty goodness into their 100 then it will have been time well spent.

My List – Sultai Pile

“Pile” and “Lands” were not available archetypes when I submitted this list on MTG Melee. Given that, the next closest option was Control. “Control” is not wrong as a description of this deck, but it almost feels like this is the deck that you’d get if you tried to build a non-blue Control deck, then decided to slot in blue at the last minute for some extra spice. This deck taps out, and taps out hard.

Sultai Pile

Creatures (27)
Instants (10)
Sorceries (15)
Artifacts (2)
Enchantments (2)
Planeswalkers (8)
Lands (36)

I brewed this deck up some time ago, and it’s been evolving ever since. In general, we like dumping as many lands as possible into play, then using them to engage in some of the biggest and fairest Magic possible. Do you like the feeling of slamming cards onto the table with great force? Ask your doctor if Koma, Cosmos Serpent, Liliana, Dreadhorde General, or Ugin, the Spirit Dragon might be right for you. Oh, and Emergent Ultimatum. The worst part about casting that card on Arena is not being able to watch your opponent deflate as they decide how they’d like to lose the game.

Actual footage of me playing this deck.

The Matches

Round 1 vs SelfDestruct’s Grixis Control

This matchup felt good to me. My opponent had clearly come with a similar game plan to my own. In fact, if anything they were going harder on the Control angle than I was. Unfortunately, they had made the unconscionable decision not to play green, and so were buried under a mountain of value. What can I say? Green is the new black, or rather, the new blue.

Match Result: 2-0 Win, Match Record: 1-0

Round 2 vs HungryPang’s Jeskai Midrange
Once upon an evening restful, while I pondered, unexpectful,
Over many a strong and staple card in my opponent’s deck.
While I nodded, quite approving, suddenly I found my cursor moving
Over 19 copies of Dragon's Approach.

-Edgar Allan Poe, if he played Gladiator

Okay so I lost it a bit at the end there, but this deck was really cool. Initially I thought this was some sort of meme: the rest of the deck wasn’t especially aggressive, so I really wasn’t worried about a three-mana three-damage sorcery that only did anything interesting on the fifth time of casting. However, it turns out that there are lots of ways to dump extra copies into your graveyard without casting them, and boy did that come up. Faithless Looting, Cathartic Reunion, and even Sorcerer Class all did some work, and I dropped a game to the resulting Velomachus Lorehold.

In game three, an opposing Rip Apart presented me with the interesting choice of either exiling some creatures to force my opponent to commit another burn spell to kill my Scavenging Ooze, or exiling two copies of Dragon’s Approach to slow down their combo plan. I went for the former, and won the game, but I’m still not sure that it was the right decision. Dragon’s Approach is a real card, and I will not disrespect it again.

Match Result: 2-1 Win, Match Record: 2-0

Round 3 vs Willhell’s Jeskai Planeswalkers

This deck was 145 cards, a fact that I only noticed because of the unusually slow Arena deck creation animation and the 69 (nice) land count in the decklist. Like our round one opponent, this opponent was playing along a very similar axis to me, and had committed the same cardinal sin: not playing green.

There are some other unusual choices in this deck too: Ral’s Staticaster, Fry and Aether Gust being just three. I would argue for some cuts, but given that they were 2-0 at this stage I can’t levy too much criticism.

Match Result: 2-0 Win, Match Record: 3-0

Round 4 (Feature Match) vs lordbubbington’s Five-Colour Niv-Mizzet

This was my first feature match of the day and by this point my record was making me nervous enough without the extra attention. Still, I was thrilled to be on the broadcast: I’ve been an avid watcher of events like the Highlander Championships for some time, and this had the same feel to it.

This opponent was clearly almost as addicted to value as I was, and games one and two came down to who resolved their planeswalkers first. I had the advantage that I only had to deal with three colours of mana rather than five, and my opponent stumbled on lands in game two and then mulliganed down to four cards in game three. My turn one Thoughtseize saw Thoughtseize and Tainted Pact in game three, and I took the pact on the basis that I had enough threats of my own to close it out through an opposing Thoughtseize, and didn’t want my opponent to be able to find any card they wanted. My opponent and I debated this decision after the game, and I do wonder what would have happened if I’d taken the other line, but I stand by my decision.

Match Result: 2-1 Win, Match Record: 4-0

Round 5 vs Dogpool’s Mono-Red Aggro

What’s the opposite of a soft spot? A hard spot? I’ve always had a hard spot for Mono-Red, no matter the format. Gladiator is no exception, although I appreciate that, at the very least, I get to die to a wider array of red cards, rather than 36 copies of Lightning Bolt and Goblin Guide.

Dogpool’s list is fast, even for Mono-Red. We’re talking Hall Monitor here. The deck tops out with four 4-drops (not counting the Embercleave), and is missing the classic Medium Red cards like Chandra, Torch of Defiance and Glorybringer. Bolt Hound ran me over in game one, and earned my respect, but I won the value game in game two. I was dead on board in game three, but my opponent forgot to activate their Gingerbrute to make it unblockable, leaving me at one life instead of zero, and able to pull myself back into the game with value and Uro, Titan of Nature’s Wrath. A lucky victory, and Dogpool’s only loss in the Swiss.

Match Result: 2-1 Win, Match Record: 5-0

Round 6 (Feature Match) vs biestyoy’s Rakdos Sacrifice

Another feature match! In general I think this matchup is pretty good: Rakdos Sacrifice is a synergy based deck, so if I can break up the synergy with removal then my cards are just better on their own.

Game one was a nail-biter: Immersturm Predator threatened to kill me with two useless removal spells in hand, but a topdecked Erebos’s Intervention got rid of it. Gilded Goose did an excellent job holding off Tergrid’s Lantern until I found lethal. In game 2 I got my Uro, Titan of Nature’s Wrath stolen by a Valki, God of Lies and then couldn’t find any more lands after dealing with the stolen Uro. I also had Cast Down in my hand against Ebondeath, Dracolich and Syr Konrad, the Grim, which wasn’t a good feeling. Game three I got to steal The Eldest Reborn with Agent of Treachery, and then my opponent made the mistake of killing the Agent, which let the last chapter of the saga bring it back.

Match Result: 2-1 Win, Match Record: 6-0

Round 7 vs Cluis’s Gruul Stompy

This is the sort of matchup I generally like to see: my removal is effective against their creatures, and my finishers are scarier than theirs. One of the games did play out how I’d drawn it up, but two of them didn’t: hastey Shifting Ceratops killed me in both of the games that I lost, once with the added protection of a Snakeskin Veil. That card is a clock and a half.

Match Result: 1-2 Loss, Match Record: 6-1

Round 8 vs MadameJund’s Mono-Red Goblins

Did I mention my dislike of Mono-Red? Goblins are less scary to me than the all-out kill-you-as-fast-as-possible Mono-Red decks, but there was a decent amount of that going on here too. Ultimately my game three win had a lot to do with luck: my opponent’s Herald’s Horn sat in play doing almost nothing for a long time, and they made the difficult decision to Pyre of Heroes their Goblin Chieftain into a Goblin Ringleader to look for gas, only to whiff on the trigger.

They did have the opportunity to fire off the ultimate on Zariel, Archduke of Avernus yet chose not to, which might have been a mistake given that she ended up getting beaten to death by Hakka, Whispering Raven, but it’s hard to say for sure.

Match Result: 2-1 Win, Match Record: 7-1

Quarterfinals vs Kangbreath’s Mono-Red Aggro

I came into day two rather expecting to take a ten-minute quarterfinals loss and eat a conciliatory piece of brownie. Thankfully, I at least had the higher seed from the swiss, and as such got to choose to be on the play in game one. The Scarab God did some heavy lifting in game one: I cast it three times and got a two-for-one each time, soaking up burn spells that would otherwise have gone to the dome. Lifegain from Erebos’s Intervention and Hydroid Krasis was enough to stabilize: those are two of the best cards in the matchup, and I was lucky to draw them. Oh, and Torment of Hailfire got the kill. You love to see it.

Game two was a quick beating. My spells were good in the matchup, but I was stuck on lands. Lava Coil dealt with my Dryad of the Ilysian Grove, which left me without blockers, and Rampaging Ferocidon finished me off.

Game three was incredibly close. My plan of Nissa, who Shakes the World into Hydroid Krasis looked bad when my opponent played a Rampaging Ferocidon, which would deny the lifegain, and worse after my Nissa was eaten by an Infuriate before I could untap. However, my opponent blundered away a Ghitu Lavarunner with an incorrect attack, and a topdecked Nissa of Shadowed Boughs chunked my opponent down to five. I spent the last turn of the game agonising over how to survive my opponent’s next combat phase until I realised that Nissa of Shadowed Boughs can give lands menace and my opponent was just dead on board. Green cards in {current year}, am I right? I’m not sure if I’d have ever forgiven myself for missing that line, so I’m glad that I didn’t.

Semifinals vs Dogpool’s Mono-Red Aggro

I had been fairly sure that I would lose my quarterfinals matchup, and was even more sure that I would lose the semifinals: I was the lower seed, so I would have to win at least one game on the draw, and Dogpool’s Mono-Red was significantly faster than Kangbreath’s. My best bet would probably be Dogpool drawing Gingerbrute then tilting out of their mind because of flashbacks to their loss in the swiss.

I messed up early in game one, where I could have set up my lands to cast Kazandu Mammoth on turn three but didn’t. Luckily I could make a 4/4 fractal with Emergent Sequence, Explore, and Fabled Passage, and cast Golos, Tireless Pilgrim. I opted to fetch Lair of the Hydra over The World Tree, which I wouldn’t have if I’d known about the flier in my opponent’s hand, since I had no answer for it. Phoenix of Ash was enough to finish me off: that card has a lot of words on it, and all of them are good.

Game two was interesting: I played a land every turn and somehow managed to cast Agent of Treachery by the time I had fallen to 10 life. My opponent then misread their own card and forgot that they couldn’t kill the Agent with a Spiteful Prankster trigger, which let me untap and clone the Agent with Glasspool Mimic. As in the swiss, a second Agent trigger is usually lights out.

Game three presented a fascinating decision: I kept a hand largely because of Demonic Tutor, and cast it on turn two after my opponent had already spent some of their tempo burning my face rather than developing their board. Tutors are some of the most skill-testing cards in Magic, because out of all the possible options usually there’s only one that’s optimal. Demonic Tutor is one of the most skill testing of the tutors, because it provides the most options. Removal would have been useful, but I knew that Dogpool was playing a lot of burn, and I wanted a way to offset that in the long term. I decided on Uro, Titan of Nature’s Wrath, which could ramp me into Golos, Tireless Pilgrim on turn four and gain me life in the process, while presenting a potential win condition if I could cast it a second time. Unfortunately, my opponent had two burn spells in hand, so the Uro plan was too slow. I’d make the same choice again though.


Overall, my Mono-Red Aggro games were closer than I had expected: all six of my day two games were won by the player on the play, which didn’t feel like a coincidence. Nevertheless, I got some satisfaction out of watching Mono-Red Aggro get stomped on by Mono-Green in the finals, although that would have been true even if I hadn’t lost to Mono-Red all weekend. It also highlights how good all these green cards are. Seriously people, play green.

After a tournament like this, I suppose it’s only natural to be impressed with some cards and disappointed with others. The Gitrog Monster has been replaced by Elder Gargaroth in my list now, and Cast Down is on the watchlist: getting my head kicked in by powerful legendary creatures with two pieces of useless removal in my hand is something that I’d like to avoid in future, but the efficiency of the card is undeniable.