"I'll tell ya one thing: it's not going to be pretty."
There is a marked difference between a new Standard format that kicks off with a Standard Pro Tour or State Championships or some other high profile event causing Standard to be the main focus versus a quiet Standard format that is hiding in the background behind Block or Modern. Obviously SCG Open Series and Grand Prix can bring out top-notch technology but Pro Tour Avacyn Restored has left an awful lot of high profile that has been focusing exclusively on Block without much experience in the new Standard format.
Looking at the SCG Open Series so far in May we have not seen a huge impact from Avacyn Restored. Is this on account of a weak card file? Hardly.
Let's take a step back for a moment. If every card currently legal in Standard had been unveiled at once what do you suppose are the chances that the metagame would look like this?
Very little I suspect. This metagame is 90% a product of momentum. We have a variety of highly tuned lists that have been functioning in more or less these forms for quite a while. Any new challenger isn't just about doing something powerful; it has to actually compete with a highly evolved metagame that puts pressure on from a variety of directions.
One weakness of Avacyn Restored compared to Dark Ascension is that the top cards are very clearly not positioned as strategically. Dark Ascension loaded G/R Zombies B/W Tokens and Reanimator while providing relatively little to Delver Wolf Run and Control.
What about Avacyn Restored? What was supposed to be pushed by Avacyn Restored? Well from the looks of it everything was...a little. The thing is if you push everything a little you haven't pushed anything. Of course Avacyn Restored did push some things a little more than others. For instance G/R got Wolfir Silverheart and Wolfir Avenger which was followed by a surge in G/R. Wolf Run picked up Cavern of Souls which is particularly high impact. Pod now has Zealous Conscript and Restoration Angel. I guess Boros is an archetype now but even that is really just a function of Cavern of Souls (and I guess Slayers' Stronghold and Silverblade Paladin).
Where are the new builds? Where are the Gravecrawlers and Geralf's Messengers that push some new deck (perhaps some U/G Tempo or Boros moving into top tier?) or new additions that push an existing fringe deck into the top tier or a new direction like R/G did because of Avacyn Restored (such as black decks moving towards B/G or B/R?)
Ask people what they want and most would want there to be something for everyone. Well now we have a little something for everyone and where does that leave us? Avacyn has restored the format...to a format overrun by Delver and Wolf Run.
Wolf Run got Cavern of Souls so it is pretty easy to wrap our minds around why its stock may have risen. Besides ramping into Titans is a very proactive strategy that is great against a new or unknown field. What about Delver though? We aren't talking Michael J Flores style Cavern of Souls / Champion of the Parish Delver. We are talking stock Delver sometimes with Restoration Angel sometimes with actual zero Avacyn Restored cards. Why? Shouldn't Cavern of Souls hurt them?
Actually Cavern of Souls doesn't impact Delver much at all. Mana Leaking Titans is really not that big a part of Delver's game plan. Even if you face a Wolf Run player and they draw a Cavern of Souls and they use it to play a Titan at a key moment and you actually have the Mana Leak and you don't have another way to win the game from this position (such as Vapor Snag racing Image or anything else) so what? That is only a very small percentage of games. What is a greater impact is the perception in the format. Cavern of Souls isn't even run by all the Wolf Run players (or not many).
Control is hurt much more by the introduction of Cavern of Souls and this is at the heart of the metagame we are seeing today. Control is supposed to be very good against Wolf Run. Cavern of Souls is so high impact that it can significantly alter this dynamic. Control used to occupy the space of being good against Delver and Wolf Run but now that the perception is that Wolf Run beats U/B it doesn't matter if that is what we actually see. As a result of everyone believing this (and it may be true mind you) very few people are playing control. Interestingly this is a more effective way for Wolf Run to "beat" U/B than Cavern of Souls itself.
Further the exodus of control decks has left Delver with nearly free reign. No longer do they have to deal with getting Cursed out game after game. No longer do they have to deal with someone that can one-for-one draw some extra cards then put the game away with threats that Delver isn't particularly well equipped to deal with. Even when the Delver decks have to face the occasional control deck their new weapon Restoration Angel is the perfect addition. It isn't as vulnerable to Curse of Death's Hold. It has flash for fighting permission sorcery speed removal and even just saving creatures from Doom Blade. Besides Restoration Angel flickering Snapcaster Mage is not a bad little card advantage engine in its own right.
Absolutely. We don't have data from GP Minneapolis but we do have three weeks' worth of SCG Open Series events. The GP bizarrely did not have much in the way of coverage in stark contrast to the rest of the year's premier events. I get that GGsLive was in Europe staying after the Pro Tour to help educate the locals on how to do good coverage but it is strange to have left the GP so completely devoid of support.
Even without the GP data we do have those three weeks of SCG Open Series results. After weighing the results of the Top 16s by performance we arrive at the following "Winner's Circle" metagame:
Standard May Metagame Breakdown:
The first two weeks of the season favored U/W Delver even heavier; however Wolf Run had a very strong weekend catching up by taking 1st 2nd and 4th in Orlando. G/R Aggro gaining the two Wolfir cards Zealous Conscripts Pillar of Flame and Bonfire of the Damned has run away with the aggro niche in the metagame with Zombies not really gaining much. They do get Blood Artist and Cavern of Souls if they want them but now they have to deal with Terminus Pillar of Flame and there are less control decks to prey on.
Pod has moved up a bit since the previous rotation gaining all the same cards as G/R as well as Restoration Angel. The Pod decks aren't really the best positioned but they have increased in card quality a fair margin.
Humans decks have really fallen off which is interesting given how much Boros the default Humans deck gained from Avacyn Restored. The U/W Humans deck that was always so popular was always pretty dubious and without anti-Delver control decks to prey on has lost its purpose. Boros does have a couple more dimensions than the old U/W lists but they still suffer from suboptimal mana a lack of quality cards in a few spots and a real weakness in games they don't draw Champion of the Parish.
Esper has become the default control of the format sometimes verging on Solar Flare sometimes Esper Planeswalkers. These decks are hardly even control decks playing very little permission (sometimes none at all) and not always the most well rounded defense. Instead they just try to tap out for powerful threats figuring they don't need to control what you are doing if they just do something better on their turn every turn. The addition of Tamiyo gives Lingering Souls an extremely powerful new function. The ability to draw four cards is obviously fantastic but even just using Lingering Souls as blockers is a very big game with a walker as powerful as Tamiyo (who really is the blue Gideon). Esper also has access to Terminus now which can turn the tables on undying matchups like Zombies and G/R Aggro. Additionally they don't even need to worry about Drownyards beating them in the semi-mirror.
- 4 Phyrexian Metamorph
- 4 Wurmcoil Engine
- 1 Dungeon Geists
- 4 Grand Architect
- 3 Merfolk Looter
- 4 Phantasmal Image
- 4 Snapcaster Mage
This list has a lot of sweet elements! First of all there is not a ton of removal at the moment leaving Grand Architect free to accelerate out tons of Wurmcoil Engines plus just serve as a super Lord for all of the deck's creatures. Eight clones let you overwhelm the board with Wurmcoils as well as copy the Architect many times over. Having that many clones is sweet in the format anyway copying undying creatures legends and other great creatures like Titans Huntmaster or Blade Splicer.
Buried Ruin is deceptively powerful despite a relatively low artifact count. The Wurmcoils are just so important so recycling them over and over is another way to try to bury opponents trying to fight a battle of attrition. On the surface there appears to be relatively little card draw but all the cantrips get a lot of extra mileage due to the Snapcasters (which get copied quite a bit). Add to this the Merfolk Looters and you are talking about a surprising amount of velocity as you dig to the Wurmcoil.
This list appears controlling at times beatdown at others but is really just a ramp deck. What is your solution to problem X Y or Z? Just keep throwing Wurmcoil Engines at it until one of you is dead!
One of the real respectable elements of this list's design is that it managed to get away from the classic trap that Grand Architect players often fall into: playing tons of artifacts just to get more use out of the Architect. Laskin has just eight maindeck instead employing more library manipulation letting you get the good ones more often instead of settling for artifacts you don't really want.
I arrived at the Grand Prix late Friday night without so much as a single game actually under my belt. I asked around for a list and many were suggested but no one really had anything they loved (or had tested). I originally just wanted to play with Tamiyo and Phantasmal Image but after talking with a few people was kind of excited to try Lingering Souls (with Tamiyo).
"I want to play at least two Tamiyo two Image and four Lingering Souls. Taking best offer on the other 52..." -Our Hero on Friday
Luis Scott-Vargas was running with an Esper deck he got from David Ochoa. After we chatted he added a Tamiyo to his list but we weren't quite there. That probably would have been the best Lingering Souls option in retrospect.
In the end it was the sweet promise of playing Eight-Color Control with Sam Black that won me over. He had assembled a list that featured all eight cards that I wanted to play as well as some sweet synergies. I knew going into the event that the list was wildly speculative though I probably should have stuck to my guns on Ravings vs. Think Twice.
We ended up playing four Think Twice and just one Ravings on account of the deck's mana being so heavily slanted towards blue (plus I suppose some of the voice's desire to absolutely maximize miracled Terminus action). I definitely don't regret trying them as Think Twices as I had no experience with the deck and want to improve my ability to trust the results and perspectives of others. Despite it turning out that Ravings would have been significantly better it was a positive experience. When you copy someone that has an idea that might be good it is pretty silly to hold it against them those times it doesn't work out. Obviously I felt like copying the brew gave me more to work with than I would have had or else I wouldn't have done it!
Before we go any further here is the list Sam and I played:
The reason Ravings would have been so much better is deeper than just it being a better card. Twelve sources of red (with two of them being merely Grottos) is not a ton but four Ponders goes a very long way towards ensuring we have early red 90% of the time. Additionally 27 mana plus nine cheap cantrips leaves us flooding out an above average amount of the time. Ravings is a great way to help fix mana flood letting you upgrade some of your extra land some percentage of the time. Besides with ten flashback spells we have good chance of getting extra value out of the Ravings.
The Oblivion Ring was a last minute addition by suggestion of the peanut gallery but in retrospect would have been better as a Mana Leak. I am not sure how many Mana Leaks we should have had but it is probably at least two and possibly three. Not having access to any of that business left us more vulnerable to Birthing Pod Hellrider Solemn Simulacrum Acidic Slime and more.
The four Ponders were absolutely fantastic. They do increase your chances of finding a miracle at the right time plus they let you set it up better. When you Ponder about 19% of the time you will see a Terminus (and if you do great). Obviously if you see one you would have drawn it anyway however now you can draw it next turn or the turn after (your choice) instead of being a slave to how the cards would have originally fallen. The other 81% of the time you can shuffle back all but the cream of the crop. If you figure that you only keep a quarter of the non-Terminus hands that has you shuffling away about 61% of the times you Ponder.
If you draw a Terminus off the random Ponder you obviously don't get paid however now you don't have to wait through three more draws of no Terminus. This actually gives you an 11.6% chance of drawing Terminus over three turns that you otherwise wouldn't have. Compare this to Thought Scour which merely gives you a 6.7% chance of hitting your miracle. In addition to added miracle potential Ponder works great with Evolving Wilds letting you select the best card then shuffle away the ones you don't want.
I'm not sure what the right solution is to this line of exploration but I am interested in moving it in a more miracle-centric direction. I actually wonder if it might be right to play the Wheel of Fortune miracle Reforge the Soul. The ability to set up Devastation Tide on an opponent's turn then untap and Reforge the Soul is kind of exciting. Maybe something like:
While this is the next deck I want to test if I had a tournament today I would just run with U/B Control. It is not particularly well positioned but at least I have confidence that this is a reasonable list.
Torpor Orb was a suggestion by Andrew Cuneo that ended up working out awesome in the deck Sam and I played at the GP. U/B also looks like a reasonable home (and if I were to play too many colors again I would probably use a second copy and perhaps even one main). It is great against Wolf Run and just fantastic against Pod.
The rest of the sideboard is fairly standard though I would stress the importance of having tons of different threats in the sideboard of decks like this when the metagame is as hostile as it is. This used to be the classic move for Gifts decks back in the Kamigawa days. Game 1 you could play a more controlling game but you would often board in Kokusho Keiga Yoshi Kodama of the North Tree Meloku Ink-Eyes and more. Your opponents are going to be able to present difficult threats and angles of attack and it is too hard to always know what problems need to be solved. Besides if they just have one of this two of that and so on the diverse mix of angles of attack make it more likely that you will have the wrong answer at the wrong time.
By boarding in one of lots of different proactive bombs you turn this around on them. Now you are the one that has too diverse a mix of cards to prepare for. In addition most problems people throw at you can be overcome by running enough game-winning bombs into them. We had a serious time crunch when building the deck we played at the GP but given a day of testing I am confident we would want at least 5-6 threats in the sideboard. Other possible options include Devil's Play Gisele Lone Revenant Entreat the Angels Zealous Conscript Red Sun's Zenith Wurmcoil Engine Fettergeist Gideon Elspeth Frost Titan and Inferno Titan just to name a few.
Anyway I am going to go try this miracle deck. I wonder what this weekend's Block GP in Anaheim is going to look like...?
See you next week!
P.S. Bonus Decklist!