So, GP Baghdad has come and gone. Congratulations to Windy for going all the way - I would've like to go head to head with him myself, but perhaps we'll meet in Cairo. And to everyone - excellent job. The field was diverse, with a heavy focus on control - I'm fairly certain I was running the only true aggro deck. It provided some interesting challenges, and some interesting opportunities. For anyone reading this who's new to the format, it's worth keeping in mind that the meta is still developing (at the time of this writing), so there may be many more options available as time goes by.
I'm going to provide the decklist here, and go over the card selections - I'll then go over how it actually plays and some points to look for. If you decide you want to try and work from this starting point, that's great - this deck, when working properly, will start swinging from turn 2 and won't stop easily.
Plains (IMP) x7
Island (IMP) x7
Wayfarer's Shrine (IMP) x4
Port Town (TWR) x4
Desert Temple (POA) x2
Artifact Creatures (20)
Walking Platform (TOW) x2
Sentient Contraption (K15) x2
Veteran Lifeforger (SOR) x4
Relitian Sentry (SOR) x4
Lightsteel Enforcer (SOR) x3
Metalwork Machinist (TOW) x2
Interan Skycaster (SOR) x2
Phyrexian Arcforger (SOR) x1
Bone Saw (AFM) x4
Alenian Warhammer (SOR) x2
Shigure's Yoroi (IMP) x2
Neutralize (GNJ) x2
Sunken Ambitions (TWR) x2
Shield's Rebuttal (KZD) x4
Walking Platform (TOW) x2
Artificer's Persuasion (TOW) x4
Quell Mutiny (GNJ) x2
Farmer's Repose (TWR) x3
Fateful Hour (K15) x2
Stunning Jolt (TOW) x2
There's the overview of the deck. Plenty of low-cost creatures, and a total of 8 non-artifact spells in the main deck. Surprisingly, I saw no real artifact hate - though between this deck and Sylph's artifact combo, I'd be surprised if that doesn't change. Anyway, I'll be going over the card choices in the same order the cards are listed above.
The mana base is fairly simple - while other players went heavy on the shock fetches and the checklands, I went with mostly basics, paired with a small handful of useful lands to smooth out my mana.
This is a simple fetch - pay 1 life and sac it to get any basic from the deck. Easy enough to work with, and ensured that I had the colors I needed. As the basic hits untapped, it's exceptionally good for smoothing out mana, and so was an easy 4-of.
At its worst, I get an ETB dual. I saw this happen very rarely - between Shrines to get me needed basics, and the actual basics in the deck, I always either had a basic Plains/Island to reveal to this, could afford to hold onto it until I pulled one... or already had enough land on the field that it didn't matter whether this ETB'd tapped or not. Another easy 4-of for the deck, though.
This is the only particularly interesting choice in my land base, and I liked it. It forced opponents to make a choice - either pick Oasis, and give me a land that taps for any color, or pick Dessication and give me a land that taps for 2 colorless while pinging me each time it's used. I noticed, though, that most of my opponents picked Dessication. If you make a similar deck, keep in mind - you want Dessication. This deck can easily afford the 1 life per tap, and the extra mana is exceptionally helpful, especially given Veteran Lifeforger's drawback. On the other hand, if they pick Oasis, you're essentially running a 5th Port Town - not great, but not horrible either. It's legendary, but that's not too much of a problem here.
It's worth noting that I did consider Kellythross's Workshop as a one-of or two-of with the deck, but decided it was too limiting - it can't cast my instants, can't pay equip costs, and does absolutely nothing in the early game. This deck needs that quick start more than it needs later-game artifact-only ramp.
You've likely noticed that every creature in this deck is an artifact creature. There are several reasons for this. The first is simply that I didn't find any non-artifact creatures that I felt would support the deck well enough. The second is that the deck uses artifact synergies heavily - Relitian Sentry, Lightsteel Enforcer and Metalwork Machinist all get bigger as artifacts are played, while Phyrexian Arcforger brings an instant army to the table if you've got some artifacts already out. And the third reason is also the first creature I'm going to talk about.
I don't believe this is going to be exactly the same as it is now when GP Cairo rolls around, and that's probably a good thing - this creature is absurdly good, and formed the backbone of this deck. For a single W, you get a 2/1 with Lifelink, that counts as an artifact (for all of those artifact synergies I mentioned above). The drawback is that it taxes all of your non-artifact spells. This deck runs a total of 8 non-artifact spells, and half off those are 1 mana normally, so even having two or three of these in play doesn't hinder them too badly. And just having them swinging on their own is particularly useful, with their lifegain ensuring that you can ignore a decent chunk of damage that you'd take. If you add in equipment, it just becomes even better - 3, 4, 5 or more per swing, with lifelink. The only real drawback is that 1 toughness - against someone running Seto San or Kalro, that is a crippling flaw, and what proved to be my downfall. Knowing what I do now, I'd plan to run some higher-toughness creatures in the sideboard to compensate for that. Nonetheless, Lifeforger is still a 4-of, unless it gets nerfed heavily between now and Cairo.
This creature works quite well in the early game - a one-drop with no particular features, except the ability to generate a Thopter token by paying 2 mana and sacrificing it. If you're on the attack, you'll keep it alive until it would eat a removal spell, at which point you pop it for a Thopter. If the opponent gets a ground defense, you can take to the air and load the token up with equipment to push damage through. If the opponent is pushing at you, you have a chump blocker which can replace itself. And for Metalwork Machinist and Lightsteel Enforcer, you get two artifact ETB triggers. A solid card overall, but not solid enough to be a 4-of in the mainboard. Two of these were in the sideboard in case I needed the extra push - in retrospect, I'm thinking I should've gone for two more Skycasters instead.
This is an unassuming card, but fills a few positions in the deck. First, it's one of the only creatures that natively has more than 1 toughness. It's a minor perk, but still useful. Second is that it's a flyer - and aggro decks love evasion. Third is its ability. For the low cost of 1W, you can have any artifact (meaning any nonland permanent in the deck) dodge removal. You can flicker artifacts - both for Metalwork Machinist/Lightsteel Enforcer pumping, and for Phyrexian Arcforger (to double your creature count each time). And if nothing else, you can have pseudo-vigilance - swing, then flicker your creature out in the second main phase. Unless you're using it to dodge removal, you always want to use this ability at the end of the second main phase (yours or your opponent's), so that the creature will come back in at the end of that turn. I may wind up making this a 4-of for Cairo, or at least slipping 2 into the sideboard.
Another all-star in the deck, this gives you 3 power and 2 toughness split across 2 creatures. One of which has flying. The benefit to this is more for the ability to put counters on your Lightsteel Enforcer and Metalwork Machinist, though Skycaster can flicker it to keep generating tokens in a pinch. Not worth being a 4-of, but still worth running 2.
Relitian Sentry, Lightsteel Enforcer, Metalwork Machinist
These three are the bruisers of the deck. Despite differing costs, they all function similarly. Sentry gets a +1/+1 counter when you cast an artifact spell, while Enforcer and Machinist get their counters whenever an artifact enters the battlefield. Needless to say, these will all be triggering frequently. The Relitian Sentry deserves special mention here for its other effects - not only does it carry vigilance, but it also offers another buff to your equipped creatures, giving them +1/+1 and first strike. This includes itself, meaning that it can become a very imposing threat, very quickly. Of course, of these three, only the Machinist naturally has more than 1 toughness, but you should have no problem bringing these things up to a sizeable number within a turn of playing them.
The only one-of in the deck, this serves as an alternate win condition, taking the form of a sudden army of tokens. The third and final creature in the deck with more than 1 toughness naturally, this is also the only 5-drop run in the main deck. If the game lasts long enough for it to be needed, though, it can easily turn the tide - either by making your Lightsteel Enforcers and Metalwork Machinists massive, or by being repeatedly blinked with an Interan Skycaster to generate an ever-growing horde of tokens.
The equipment run by this deck is fairly straightforward - attach, and keep beating face. Bone Saw as a four-of is straightforward - it's a free artifact drop that can then attach to one of your creatures to buff it further. The two Alenian Warhammers are there in case I need to go Voltron, giving me a greater boost to a multi-equipped Skycaster or Thopter.
Shigure's Yoroi deserves special mention, here - it's a 3-drop artifact (2U) that buffs ALL equipped creatures, not just what it is attached to. More importantly, these buffs apply whether the Yoroi is equipped or not. The +1/+1 buff is nice, particularly when stacked with Relitian Sentry, but the real benefit is that your equipped creatures are unblockable when this is in play, barring creatures with defender. But I didn't see a single one of those in the tournament, so that's worth keeping in mind.
In future variants, I may try slipping Kogane's Yoroi in as a one-of or two-of. I didn't run it here because it doesn't do much beyond acting as an anthem for equipped creatures.
The instants this deck runs are as straightforward as the equipment - a pair of Neutralize to protect your bigger creatures from removal, and a pair of Sunken Ambitions and four Shield's Rebuttal to clear out opposing creatures. The low spell count is largely due to the Veteran Lifeforgers - while a few low-cost spells can work around the tax they impose on non-artifacts, higher costs or higher numbers of spells would become unmanageable.
Opt could certainly be a consideration for this deck - I declined to run it because I didn't feel it did enough to justify playing it after the Lifeforger tax. It's something that might be worth reevaluating if the Lifeforgers are dropped from the deck, though.
Naturally, with what I just said in the previous section about Lifeforgers making higher costs or higher numbers of spells unmanageable, it seems odd that the sideboard is so heavy on spells. But that's the trick - if I'm needing to sideboard things, I'm either only swapping out a couple of things, or I'm going to be removing the Lifeforgers entirely. The only creatures - in fact, the only artifacts - in the sideboard are the other two Walking Platforms, which can provide a bit more speed if the deck needs it.
Farmer's Repose is a 3-of in the sideboard, intended to answer opposing artifact/enchantment decks. Most likely, I'd be swapping out some of my removal to use these.
Artificer's Persuasion and Stunning Jolt are upgrades to Neutralize and Sunken Ambitions, respectively, coming with a higher casting cost but more variety in what they can hit. Persuasion gets a discount when I control an artifact (read: always), and can counter any spells as opposed to just instants/sorceries. Jolt gives me an extra card if I control an artifact (read: always), and bounces any non-land permanents. If I swap these in, I'm normally taking one or two of the Lifeforgers out.
Quell Mutiny and Fateful Hour are meant for matchups where the opponent is also running aggro, giving me a quick way to reset the board. I've seen many decks that are heavy on legendaries, so I included Fateful Hour to answer those (and keep my own tokens alive in the process). Quell Mutiny, on the other hand, was a decision made almost entirely due to Seto San - it gives me an answer to those token swarms and can allow me to try and re-establish some board presence afterwards.
Notably, the sideboard is also designed to allow something of a transition to something of a midrange/control deck - remove the Lifeforgers, the Platforms, the Sentient Constructs and the Mechanists, trim down the number of Sentries and add in all of the added control spells, and you can work to keep the board locked down while you establish a field using Arcforger and Skycaster, before overwhelming the opponent.
Playing The Deck
So, we've gone over what tools you have. Now it comes down to how to use them. And that's fairly simple - you want to be swinging as early and as often as possible. Dropping Lifeforger turn 1, Lifeforger or Skycaster turn 2, and then either a Lightsteel Enforcer or Relitian Sentry turn 3 is ideal - you'll want to prioritize the Sentry over the Enforcer if you have a choice, since the Sentry only gets counters when you cast artifacts. Any equipment you have in hand, you'll want to hold onto until you get Sentry or Enforcer out, assuming you have them in hand. Bone Saws in particular are great for this - drop a Sentry, then drop two Bone Saws onto the field on turn 3, equip them to a Lifeforger and Sentry turn 4, and you're swinging in for 4 (Lifeforger) and 6 (Sentry), both with first strike - and this is assuming you don't have any other artifacts to drop on turn 4!
The few spells that you have are meant to clear your path and snipe specific threats. Opponent is trying to take out your Sentry after it's buffed? Neutralize the kill spell. A blocker hits the board? Sunken Ambitions to bounce it back to their hand, or Shield's Rebuttal to take it out entirely. When the deck runs smoothly, they shouldn't have the opportunity to get more than a couple of creatures onto the table due to the damage you can output, so the small number of spells works.
The deck doesn't fare well against everything - some matchups just pose problems. Against Seto San, the Sacred Hand, the only real option is to try and outrace the opponent - if Seto hits the field, they're likely taking out your biggest creature first, though they may opt to spawn tokens if you don't have a Thopter or Skycaster to hit the planeswalker with. If they get it going, you'll quickly find yourself in a poor position, since even the board wipes from the sideboard will only take out the creatures and not the planeswalker itself.
Kalro, Desert Outpost is the other notable problem for this deck - the creatures in here are almost all 1 toughness, so you're relying on buffs to be able to even hit the Fortress in the first place. And the fact that Kalro can also spawn tokens to defend itself with is more of a problem. The only real option here would be to run some higher-toughness creatures in the sideboard - or, again, kill the opponent before it becomes an issue.
On the other hand, the deck actually had little trouble with both Duress and Council's Will, the two main discard spells in the format. On an early Council's Will, I'd normally be choosing artifact if I had more than two lands between hand and battlefield, or land if I was short on those. Duress simply whiffed against me most of the time, or if it did hit one of my spells, that wasn't an issue.
Removal in general was more of a problem in the early game - the games where I got a Skycaster online, it didn't do much to me since I could just flicker in response to it. When used in the early game, though, it often gave the opponent enough of an opportunity to get a foothold, so it's worth keeping in mind.
Interestingly, I don't see myself running the same deck in GP Cairo - while it's good, and has certainly proven to be effective in quickly ending games, it felt too linear. Even when using the sideboard to transition to a more controlling structure, it wanted to keep swinging away, and more often than not I'd find myself with removal or counterspells in hand and no mana to cast them, due to the constant flow of creatures and equipment. If that's what you're looking for, this is a great deck - but it lacks any real answers to a few key issues that shut it down entirely. Running into those issues is what let Sakon and Sylphiod both beat me - the deck just wasn't equipped to handle the tools they brought. Even then, it put up a fight, either winning on game 2 or pushing the match to game 3 no matter what. If you want to run aggro, this is definitely not something to overlook, though at the same time it absolutely has room for improvement.