It might seem odd to immediately abandon a deck I'd had success with, but—well, I guess that's what I'm here to talk about.
The best thing about this Standard format is that it isn't stagnant yet (we'll see if Rakdos can be beaten, but I'm currently assuming it can). One could make a solid argument that things change less than I think, citing the success of the same kind of Rakdos deck that did well the week before doing well this week, the fact that Ben Rasmussen made Top 8 of San Antonio with essentially the exact deck I decided to put down, or the fact that Reid Duke just played the same deck twice in a row to two Top 8 finishes. Clearly no real change there, but on my end, it felt like there was a change.
A few people asked me why I abandoned G/W, but I don't think that frames the question properly.
I took a week off because I feared the popularity of U/W Flash, which I knew to be a very difficult matchup for Bant, and played G/W Humans because it performs well against U/W Flash. Flash wasn't particularly successful last week, and it has a very hard time beating the new Rakdos decks. Because of this, it made sense that its popularity would drop off. I confirmed this suspicion by playing in Magic Online Gold Queues for a week without running into U/W Flash and decided the deck was functionally dead.
With that deck out of the way, I could go back to playing Bant again.
The problem was that I'd started having problems with red aggro when I played Bant. I believed this was largely because of some small changes I'd made to the list to help the Flash matchup and that if I returned to my roots I could fix the problem.
This theory was partially accurate but had a few problems. First, the aggressive red matchup was never amazing; it was just acceptable, maybe even slightly favorable. Second, the new R/B decks were better (both in general and against me) than they had been when I was first testing Bant.
So I played Bant at Grand Prix San Antonio, had a slightly worse Rakdos matchup than I expected, and went 2-3 in matches against it at the Grand Prix. But I only lost one other match (a mirror match against Reid Duke) and finished in the Top 32.
I don't think you need another detailed tournament report because I wrote one just last week. This is the deck I played:
Despite the press the Brad's Reanimator deck got in the last week, the deck didn't really take off, presumably in part because of the press but also largely because Rakdos rose to the top. I don't imagine that's a good matchup for the Behemoth. As such, Ground Seal was pretty bad, particularly since I was expecting to see fewer Snapcaster Mages, and probably should have been something else. I was mostly happy with the rest of the list, but it needs something else to make it a little better against Rakdos.
I have an idea for that. It's kind of a secret, but I'll let you know before I try it out. I think Silklash Spider might be the answer I need to beat Rakdos. It's pretty nice to be able to block Thundermaw Hellkite the turn it comes into play. There aren't a lot of creatures that can do that. And Falkenrath Aristocrat? No problem.
Spider Bant. That's the deck of the future. Maybe.
So bottom line, I wanted to play Bant a couple weekends ago. I couldn't because of Flash. Flash went out of fashion, so I played Bant this past weekend. I wasn't properly prepared for Rakdos, so I didn't win. Rakdos won for the second week in a row, and it won decisively. Rakdos is the deck to beat.
How do you beat Rakdos?
Mono-Red Aggro. Next question.
Yes. From what I understand, Mono-Red Aggro is probably the best deck against Rakdos. It might even be poised to have a great showing sometime soon, but I think there has to be another way.
Why? If I know how to beat the best deck, why do I need another way?
Do I look like a Mono-Red player to you?
That's not the real issue—I hope.
Really, I think Mono-Red Aggro is bad in this format. Apart from the strategy generally not being that great (it's pretty narrow), in most of my testing of this format on Magic Online with whatever deck I happened to be working on, I felt like I was beating Mono-Red far too easily, so I never understood why so many people were playing it. It might be good against Rakdos, but I still can't believe it's actually good against the field.
Also, as everyone shifts their decks to make them better against Rakdos, they'll incidentally make them better against Mono-Red Aggro, and there's no way red can stand up to people seriously trying to beat it.
What else can we do? If we're not willing to play a faster aggro deck, how can we beat Rakdos?
I think Kibler's approach is reasonable. Play green and white creatures that go bigger than them. Err toward green creatures so that you don't lose to Knight of Infamy. Maybe have access to Silklash Spider as well.
Conley Wood's deck was actually in a very similar vein despite looking pretty different; the basic idea is to play big creatures that match up well against them on a similar curve and ideally then have some card advantage.
There's another idea that came out of Grand Prix San Antonio that interests me.
In his player profile interview, Top 8 competitor Matthew Thurber said he was going to play Turbo Fog until Zombies made the deck obsolete. I'm not sure if he meant because Zombies was better against everything or because his Turbo Fog can't beat Zombies.
What I do know is that in the last round of the Grand Prix I played against Turbo Fog, and the list didn't seem very good to me. As it was built, it basically couldn't ever beat a blue deck, and somehow it was x-4. It must have been doing pretty good work against the creature decks. It didn't even have Otherworld Atlas, which I have to assume would be one of the incentives to play the deck.
There are a lot of questions to ask and I don't really think I'm an expert at building Turbo Fog style decks, but the cards seem to be there.
You have access to as many Fogs as you could possibly need:
For card draw you have Otherworld Atlas, Tamiyo, the Moon Sage, Jace, Architect of Thought, Jace, Memory Adept, Garruk, Primal Hunter, and Staff of Nin, all of which can help you draw multiple cards a turn (though it's hard for Garruk and Tamiyo to do that many times).
If you need life gain, there's the ever-present Thragtusk in addition to more niche approaches like Heroes' Reunion, Elixir of Immortality, and, of course, Sphinx's Revelation, which is also the best card draw.
You can even try to incorporate Temporal Mastery, which is awesome with any of the planeswalkers and artifacts above.
If you don't play counterspells, you'll almost certainly lose to blue, but there's nothing that says you can't find room for a few counterspells. Also, losing to blue might be acceptable for the moment, and if you can find a way to play counterspells, historically counterspells + planeswalkers has been a pretty good strategy for control mirrors.
I might start with something like:
I'm not sure about Psychic Spiral versus Elixir. I like that Elixir recycles itself and like the life gain a lot, but given that decking is the only way you're killing them, the mill from Psychic Spiral is huge. Also, part of why this list has so many one-ofs is to highlight all the cards that are important to try. Likely some are better than others and the list should have fewer different cards, but without having played it, I just don't know which those are.
I'm also not sure exactly how many Fogs you want and how many Wraths. There's something to be said for a lot of Fogs and few sweepers with Tamiyo; on the other hand, there's Hellrider. I think there's a good chance there's something real here, but I wouldn't take this list without testing to something larger than a Magic Online Daily Event or FNM.
Another card that I think shows some real promise that doesn't see play at the moment for obvious reasons is Hover Barrier. It's no Wall of Denial, but I think it might be exactly what you're looking for in some decks in this format.
Specifically U/W/x, especially U/W/R decks if white is your lightest color. If white is the splash color, casting Supreme Verdict is a challenge. This might make you lean more heavily on red answers, which means you won't be killing your own Wall. It will also help you leave some creatures alone for a few turns. More importantly, it lets you tap out without getting hit by a haste creature and lets you stop a Thragtusk without needing to kill it twice.
Six is the sweet spot for toughness in this format. All the biggest creatures have exactly five power. Your Hover Barrier can die, of course, but it should buy you a pretty good chunk of life in the process.
The conclusion here? If you're going to play in a Standard tournament in the next week, you'd better have a reasonable matchup against Zombies. You should know that, for the most part, spells match up pretty badly against them, and you're probably best off looking for creatures that match up well. I would start by looking for creatures with particularly high toughness for their cost.
The most important difference between playing against Rakdos now and playing against any other aggro deck is that Falkenrath Aristocrat, Hellrider, and Thundermaw Hellkite can go way over small defenses like Centaur Healer. So while small defenses can be important to set up big defenses, if your plan is to defend at all, you need to be prepared for them to go big.
Or you could just attack.
Thanks for reading,
@samuelhblack on Twitter