My first reaction to this past weekend's event results: this format has a long way to go.
My second reaction to this past weekend's event results: well, a long way to go starts here.
Despite the fact that I really didn't like a lot of the lists that came out of this past weekend's SCG Standard Open in Cincinnati, there were a lot of lessons to learn about the new format. This is what I've come up with so far.
Wrath effects are very unimpressive in this format.
Watch Gerry Thompson's round 1 against Selesnya Aggro to see why. That should be the matchup where Wraths are good; their deck is all mana creatures and, to use a Chapin term, they are all Baneslayer Angels not Mulldrifters.
Turns out you actually have to kill every single guy they play almost on the spot. Wolfir Silverheart and Sublime Archangel will kill you in two hits, and Loxodon Smiter isn't far behind. Even if it's just an Avacyn's Pilgrim, they can Rancor and Township it up into real threat range almost immediately.
That's also the best-case scenario. What if their creatures are Gravecrawler, Blood Artist, and Geralf's Messenger? Lotleth Troll with a black up? Thragtusk and Garruk Relentless? Falkenrath Aristocrat and anything? Lingering Souls with an Anthem? None of these are profitable exchanges for a Mutilate or Supreme Verdict.
Terminus is a bit better as it nails the Zombies threats, but it usually costs six and still fails to beat the midrange ones. Mizzium Mortars and Bonfire of the Damned let you create ridiculous board swings, but you have to be playing your own creatures to make that happen and it still triggers Messenger and Blood Artist. At that point, you have to start wondering if you really want that many sweepers instead of just playing mana efficient spot removal and threats that do almost the same thing.
Entreat the Angels means serious business.
Going into the semifinals I had no idea how Todd was going to beat Joe Bernal's deck. Draw, make four Angels, game over. Guess I was wrong about that one.
Entreat the Angels gives the control deck a semi-proactive game plan, giving it outs to any matchup. It can't lean on this the way Caw-Blade could lean on Stoneforge Mystic to beat random decks, but over a long event it helps even things out. I don't think this makes the deck the best in the format, and it probably isn't by a long shot, but it makes it harder to attack than a normal control deck.
U/W has the edge in control mirrors thanks to Geist of Saint Traft.
So Wrath effects are bad. Turns out that's great for three-mana 6/2 hexproof creatures. I don't think people will board out their Wraths against you due to Entreat the Angels being a card, but if everyone is on Terminus over Supreme Verdict, they won't hit in time and you can just Negate it.
Also worth noting: Geist one shots both Jace and Tamiyo after they +1. Although the Angel token is attacking, it was never declared as an attacking creature and as such Jace's Weakstone ability doesn't trigger for it. One damage from the Geist plus four from the Angel takes down the now five loyalty Jace.
Only five of the non-Reanimator decks in Top 8 had any graveyard hate. The hate that exists in the format also isn't great. Angel of Serenity and Thragtusk are perfectly serviceable win conditions when hard cast, and Centaur Healer plus Thragtusk give you plenty of time to not only cast your seven-drops but possibly play straight through the hate. It seems fairly easy to force a Crypt pop or a Cremate with a hand containing Unburial Rites then Faithless Looting into the kill.
I'm not sure the mana base used here is correct, but the deck is very powerful and deserves more respect than it got at this event. I feel like it wants Restoration Angels at least in the sideboard because of how powerful the card is when you are on your B game, but it obviously doesn't help your Reanimation plan at all.
The best hate card is probably just Deathrite Shaman. It does normal things during a game while not allowing them to Reanimate multiple times. Better yet might be cards I didn't even list, like Dissipate, that interact with both plans.
As for the Humans Combo list of this deck, I'm still working on it. The more I play with it, the more I start to think that the right play is to move away from the self-mill elements and back to Shouta's original list. Mulch and Grisly Salvage have almost no impact on the board, which is a huge problem against Zombies. Shouta opted to play fair most of the game, using Faithless Looting to maintain mid game velocity and to set up Angel of Glory's Rise. I've still been extremely impressed with Jarad's Orders and would likely leave those and some number of Unburial Rites in, but two-mana sorcery speed do-nothings are not what I'm looking for in this format.
A note on the Humans deck: Zealous Conscripts is really sweet in the format and rebuys off of Angel of Glory's Rise. It also lets you go completely wild when going infinite, though I'm not sure how relevant that is or isn't.
The only thing I have to say here is that Olivia is really, really good. If your deck can't kill it, you are doing it wrong. Also be sure your way to kill Olivia actually does the job. Tragic Slip in Zombies? Sure, Olivia will probably kill something. Mizzium Mortars in Jund? I guess, but you need it right then or Olivia hits 5/5 and you die. Brimstone Volley? Maybe if you target them.
P.S. Selesnya Aggro players, this means you probably want Selesnya Charm. This of course involves playing Selesnya Aggro, but that's your choice, not mine. Also, on this same aside, isn't it sweet how Ajani, Caller of the Pride also pushes all the 4/Xs into Charm range as well as destroying the first half of Geralf's Messenger? Just some food for thought if you want to have some play to your deck.
- 4 Blood Artist
- 4 Diregraf Ghoul
- 4 Falkenrath Aristocrat
- 4 Geralf's Messenger
- 4 Gravecrawler
- 4 Rakdos Cackler
This was by far the best deck to come out of the SCG Standard Open in Cincinnati this past weekend.
First of all, I've complained about the mana to cast the red spells in this deck. I guess I forgot there was another dual land I wasn't playing. I'm not sure you need the full twelve, but the point is that we can now cast red spells every game we play. Good enough.
4 Searing Spear, 3 Brimstone Volley? Look at that respect for a mana curve. You often cap at four mana, and casting multiple two-drops is often more powerful than casting even a morbid Brimstone Volley and a one-drop at that point of the game.
There are only two things I might change. I would first consider mixing two or three Sign in Blood into the spell base. The card was awesome in the deck last year and still can target their life total when you want it to. Depending on that, I would try to fit some non-zero number of Cavern of Souls into the mana base. You probably don't want the full four with only fourteen Swamps for Dragonskull Summit and off-tribe one-drops, but it seems odd that the card was completely absent from the deck. Of course, people might just board out counters anyway against your deck because they assume you already have Cavern, but even then I would want one or two more to fix for Aristocrat.
I'm also not sold on Rakdos, Lord of Riots. I get what Joe was trying to do with the card, but I'm skeptical of the double red cost being reliable. I'm also skeptical that the card is actually better than just playing Olivia Voldaren. He wanted to break big creature stalls with the card, and Olivia is the queen of that. I know I said you often are stuck at four mana, but there is an extra land in the sideboard for a reason.
I really like the replacement four-drops Caleb opted to run over what would presumably be Restoration Angels in the three-color lists. In fact, they are probably better than Angel would be. The deck was lacking in solutions to big bodies and real late game punch, and Dungeon Geists and Talrand deliver on those fronts.
Geists is extremely well positioned in the current metagame. It kills a Thragtusk, doesn't die to Pillar of Flame, and its nemesis Restoration Angel is very underplayed right now. Talrand dies to the aforementioned Pillar of Flame, but that's what Unsummon is for. Play it for five, Unsummon it in response to a threat, and still have a 2/2 Drake to swing with. 22 instants and sorceries, three of which have flashback, is more than enough to keep the card live going late and flip Delver semi-regularly.
(For the record, I'm pretty sure Tamiyo is just the second Dungeon Geists. Which one you play seems fairly interchangeable).
One thing with a lot of implications for similar decks going on here: Think Twice and Desperate Ravings make Thought Scour a significantly better Magic card. Thought Scour is an absolutely miserable card unless you are leveraging the mill, and Snapcaster plus the ability to mill cards you saw and don't want off Delver weren't quite enough. These cards help make Thought Scour into a legitimate cantrip. Delver also lost a lot of card velocity since last season, and these cards help bring some of that back. They are part of the reason Bonfire of the Damned, Tamiyo, and Cyclonic Rift are even playable. Without extra cards, how will you have extra lands to make extra mana for big things?
The only thing I'm not sold on is zero maindeck counterspells. People seem to have forgotten how miserable it is to play against Snapcaster Mage plus any counter, and it's time someone reminded them.
How unprepared are people for Snapcaster + counterspell? Well, there were only two Cavern of Souls in the Top 16 of the event that weren't associated with Geralf's Messengers. Moving through the Top 32, only two other decks had Caverns and no Messengers, and only one of the decks had more than one maindeck copy.
Caleb was also the only person I saw really trying to play Bonfire. I was originally very unimpressed with the card in the format, but the more I play with it the better it seems. It reminds me of Innistrad Block Constructed, where the card was theoretically bad because of all the Restoration Angels and Wolfir Silverhearts. Turned out it was still the nut. Sure, there are more control decks, but Bonfire still blows out Lingering Souls, Humans aggro, mana creatures, and is actually good against Zombies if you are clocking back.
Everyone wants to argue for Mizzium Mortars over this card. I was originally on that side of the argument, but the more I play the more I realize you just want to Bonfire people if you can attack. Even in the borderline cases, is triple red actually a thing? What about the jump from five to six mana to sweep Zombies? What about the fact that for seven mana Bonfire hits for three? Or that Bonfire hits Jace? I get that Mortars is a Flame Slash, but what are we Flame Slashing mid game besides Loxodon Smiter? See also the earlier discussion of Entreat the Angels. Never discount the power of having three or four instant wins to draw.
(I realize the five to six jump question seems odd with the subsequent six to seven one, but generally if your deck reliably hits six mana hitting seven isn't a problem, whereas a lot of decks are looking to stall around the four or five mark).
That all said, don't play this sideboard. I'm sure that a lot of these cards are sweet, but I see at least four of them that are probably just worse than similar alternatives in the format (Thoughtflare, Smelt, Redirect, and Dispel for those of you counting at home).
(The sideboard is only fourteen cards. There was a sideboard card missing from the reported list.)
This is the other contender for best deck from the weekend. Grand Prix Providence 2011 champion James Rynkewicz played the only list I saw that really makes Lingering Souls do work. 1/1 tokens are not where it's at in a world of Jace, Architect of Thought and Rakdos Cackler. 2/2 tokens, however, are a completely different story.
It feels like everyone has forgotten how powerful the interaction between these cards is. They were banned in Innistrad Block Constructed for a reason. They didn't excel in Standard because Primeval Titan and Birthing Pod trumped them. Where are those cards now? In midrange mirrors a pile of 2/2 fliers should take it down, and the Augur + Snapcaster package lets you grind with the best.
You also get access to one of the two best Innistrad ability lands: Vault of the Archangel. Remember those Selesnya Aggro decks I mentioned? How do they ever beat that card? How do most Zombies lists beat the repeated lifelink? How do midrange decks beat all of your 1/1 tokens trading for anything they make (well, besides Olivia).
You also have a lot of the "Delver" style tempo package, both in the maindeck and the sideboard. Snapcaster + Unsummon was criminally underplayed last weekend, and here the combination not only lets you push the tempo early game but lets you turn late game Unsummon draws into Snapcaster rebuys for more tokens. You also have a smattering of counterspells.
Let me repeat: people are not prepared for Snapcaster Mage plus a counterspell. I'm personally more partial to Dissipate over Syncopate, and I have no idea why some of the big game decks opt for the X-spell over the hard counter. In this deck I can see needing to make use of all your mana as well as ending the game early before taxing counters become dead, so I can't argue over the maindeck counter choice. Essence Scatter and Negate are also cards, but countering Jace is just as important as countering Thragtusk.
I've also gained a lot of respect for Talrand's Invocation here. It isn't as powerful as Dungeon Geists or Restoration Angel, but it does work where it's needed. If you need more spells to flip Delver in a deck, keep this card in mind.
One note: I would lean towards wanting Appetite for Brains over Duress. I can't imagine Duressing spot removal in this deck, meaning the only cards you want to hit with Duress that you can't are Reanimator enablers like Mulch and X-spells. My assumption is fatties like Niv-Mizzet, Olivia Voldaren, and Angel of Serenity are more of a concern for this deck, though that could change if Bonfire and Sphinx's Revelation see as much play as they should.
- 4 Champion of the Parish
- 3 Elite Inquisitor
- 4 Knight of Glory
- 4 Precinct Captain
- 2 Riders of Gavony
- 4 Silverblade Paladin
- 2 Sublime Archangel
- 4 War Falcon
- 3 Geist of Saint Traft
I really liked this deck at first glance, but then I came to a realization:
This is almost a card for card port of what I played at Pro Tour Dark Ascension last year to mixed results. What was the problem?
"The deck still had some of the old curve out aggro issues associated with it. Most hands had one thing to do with your mana at each point, making you fairly inflexible when something went wrong. This isn't always bad if your deck is linearly powerful enough, but Humans was just slightly short on that end. The high-end power of the format was still in the other decks, like flipping a turn 2 Delver or playing a turn 4 Primeval Titan. Secretly, Humans had a lot of midrange issues. We had tried to solve them by cutting down on the clunky cards, but it still wasn't enough to stop you from being a tap-out sorcery deck at times."
I learned my lesson then, and while I might play this deck a bit now, it will take a lot for me to consider it for an event. You will play one spell a turn, and they will play more. This does not end well for you.
Also, get some Caverns or Guildgates in there. Double white spells and Islands? Not on my watch.
Maybe in the future we will be able to play with awesome cards like Zealous Conscripts or have real aggro mana curves and I'll want to play Champion of the Parish. Maybe someone will make a sweet list with flexible cards that can actually do something Zombies can't. As for today, I'll choose to opt out.
(Yes, I did like a similar deck in Innistrad Block Constructed. That was a midrange do-nothing format, and even then all the two-drops were do-nothing blanks and the deck flooded on fours. Also, Conscripts and Restoration Angel is the definition of flexibility.)
- If your aggro deck doesn't have interesting interactions to lean on as the game slips into the late game, don't play it. Snapcaster Mage and Jace are real things. You will be destroyed by blue spells and Angel of Serenity.
- Aggro decks trying to cast noncreature spells in two colors while leaning on one main color need some number of Guildgates. If it's just creatures, Cavern of Souls will do.
- Don't play Mutilate or Supreme Verdict maindeck if you can help it. Straight up Wraths don't get value killing anything.
- Miracles are still miracles. Don't ignore them.
- Reanimator will play fair. Adjust your hate appropriately so you still can.
- Jace is going to be played more, but Tamiyo is going to be played less.
- There are two easy ways to beat Zombies. One is Snapcaster Mage + Augur of Bolas + Pillar of Flame. The other is Centaur Healer + Thragtusk + Restoration Angel. Both need real cards to back them up, but both are completely composed of individually powerful cards.
- Cards people are not playing enough of and are not prepared properly for: Lingering Souls with Intangible Virtue, Restoration Angel (especially with Thragtusk), and counterspells with Snapcaster Mage. Also, to a lesser extent, Dungeon Geists. If you want to break the format for the SCG Standard Open in Providence this upcoming weekend, start here.
I unfortunately will be unable to attend the aforementioned SCG Standard Open in Providence, but I'm looking forward to playing this format after Pro Tour Return to Ravnica. I can only expect it will get more interesting as time goes on.
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