Rakdos has solidified its position as the best deck in the format in my mind this week, taking eight of sixteen slots in the Top 8s of StarCityGames.com Standard Open: Las Vegas and Grand Prix Nagoya. Every other deck in both Top 8s featured either four Restoration Angel or four Unburial Rites, and only one of those decks had zero Restoration Angel (the Human Reanimator deck that won Grand Prix Nagoya). The Top 8 from Las Vegas specifically points to the idea that Rakdos is the best deck and Restoration Angel is the best way to fight it.
I should probably say, the best way to fight it without joining it. R/B, as opposed to B/R, is another way to do it, and for those of you who are looking to tune the best deck, the Top 8 lists contain some new ideas like Thrill-Kill Assassin. Unfortunately, I can't think of many things I'm less interested in than fine-tuning Rakdos (For those lost in double negatives, I won't be focusing on Rakdos—wait, that's not right. I will not focus on building Rakdos. I will most certainly focus on beating Rakdos.)
I've been trying to build slow Bant decks with sideboard cards to beat Rakdos, but I just don't think I can do that at this point. If you start down a game against them, it means you have to beat them twice, and one of those times you'll be on the draw. Even if your deck is entirely life gain creatures and removal, you can still get a clunky draw which will enable them to run over you. Rakdos is shockingly good against the "hate."
My new plan is to play all the cards that I want to beat Rakdos in the maindeck and try to sideboard for other matchups.
Unfortunately, I can't bring myself to show up with four maindeck Rhox Faithmender due to just how embarrassing my matchup against Bant Control, Reanimator, and Mega Ramp (my new name for any deck that plans on casting multiple spells that cost eight or more) would be at that point.
So I'm looking to build something else.
I want to kill all the Rakdos creatures. The problem with this plan is that the deck has a lot of creatures and you basically have to kill all of them. Many are resistant to removal, and if any of the later ones live, you die very quickly.
Red removal is great against the cheap creatures, but Falkenrath Aristocrat is great against red removal if they have any other creature and Thundermaw Hellkite is very hard to burn out. I'm hoping the solution can be to Unsummon them out as long as I'm putting on some pressure, and that's why I turned to a card that doesn't see a lot of play that I'm hoping to build around: Fettergeist.
Fettergeist puts some serious restrictions on your deckbuilding, but if you can follow them, he offers a pretty serious payoff, especially in a world where people are using Searing Spear for removal as they attack you with smaller creatures. Fettergeist can get outclassed later in the game, but that's where Unsummons and my own Dragons come in.
This is my starting point:
I didn't quite honor what I said I'd do. I'd probably still sideboard a little bit with this against Rakdos, but I made a real effort to build a maindeck that I think can compete against B/R.
The most obvious question about this deck is why not add white? The answer is that a deck like this is pretty good at spending all of its mana, so extra nonbasics are definitely not free. Also, there aren't many white cards I'd want. Azorius Charm or Dramatic Rescue would be fine and I might like a Detention Sphere or two, but Restoration Angel doesn't play very well with Fettergeist.
My game 1 deck is designed to play a little like Delver, something of a tempo control deck that can spin things around and put a lot of pressure on the opponent. Fettergeist is like a Delver of Secrets that can block well. After sideboarding, I can either focus on card draw and red removal or card draw and counterspells, and either way, I'm likely to bring in Niv-Mizzet, Dracogenius as my control finisher once I can build by deck to react to the right kinds of cards.
23 lands with plans to sideboard in Niv-Mizzet is a little ambitious. It's possible I should play one more, but I think that Desperate Ravings, Thought Scour, and Jace can get me there. I'm not necessarily concerned with playing him on turn 6; I'm more concerned with having enough answers to live to cast him.
It took me a while to think of Tormod's Crypt. I knew I wanted to be able to deal with Reanimator since it's one of the most popular strategies and my burn spells won't really do much against them. I really didn't want to play Grafdigger's Cage in a deck with Snapcaster Mage and Desperate Ravings, and the deck can't cast Purify the Grave. Eventually, I remembered that the old standby is legal in Standard and should do well enough.
I think more decks that use their graveyard should be considering Tormod's Crypt as a sideboard option. I'm not sure if it's better or worse than Cremate in Rakdos, for example. The fact that you don't have to leave mana up for it and it clears the rest of the graveyard is pretty good, especially against Human Reanimator, which relies heavily on its entire graveyard rather than just a single creature.
Another approach to a similar concept is to use black removal rather than Unsummon to deal with the bigger creatures:
Removing Thought Scour decreased the need to spend all my mana every turn and made Snapcaster Mage worse, so I cut a few of them, which makes Fettergeist better anyway. This pulled my mana away from blue, so I switched to Amass the Components over Jace, Architect of Thought as my primary card draw and added Chandra, the Firebrand as my primary planeswalker, which happens to work amazingly well with Amass the Components.
Chandra, the Firebrand doesn't get played a lot, but I expect her to be excellent in this deck. My removal protects her very well, and the +1 ability usefully supplements my removal both by letting me not waste spells on small creatures and by letting me kill larger creatures with burn spells. More importantly, doubling large card draw spells like Amass the Components is amazing, and after sideboarding, I can double Slaughter Games, which sounds incredible.
Olivia tags in as an easier to cast Niv-Mizzet, and she's better enough that I can play one in the maindeck.
This deck is a little clunkier than the first one, but it can afford it in theory because I'm killing things for real with Ultimate Price rather than just bouncing them with Unsummon. Ultimate Price is much less effective than Unsummon against Falkenrath Aristocrat, which is why I've added Tragic Slip and Sever the Bloodline to help with that exact card.
Moving away from blue pulled me away from wanting counterspells that cost double blue in the sideboard, so I just replaced them with Slaughter Games. This helps against Reanimator and some control decks, like Bant, but likely makes me a lot worse against Mega Ramp, which tends to have more diverse threats but is fairly easy to beat with hard counters. Duress and Rakdos's Return help quite a bit there.
Rolling Temblors have left the sideboard because I'm even better at just killing everything as it comes down, so other cards seemed more important. If I expected Geist of Saint Traft, it would be different, but that card doesn't seem very popular right now.
I would like to play a clunky deck with planeswalkers and Fogs, which seems awesome against Reanimator, but I think Rakdos is just too robust. I'm optimistic about burn spells and card draw as the solution, but I'm also prepared to be disappointed.
These are the decks I'll be working on for the StarCityGames.com Invitational in Los Angeles this weekend, and that's all I have to say about Standard this week. As a closing note, I want to touch on an Organized Play issue after the announcement this past weekend.
It looks like WMCQs are here to stay. I was hoping Wizards of the Coast would consider them a catastrophic failure and immediately replace them with another system after last year, but it looks like they've decided to give them another chance, hoping that excitement generated for the actual World Magic Cup by the coverage might increase excitement for the qualifiers.
I don't think it's going to work.
I don't think anyone was skipping a WMCQ because they didn't think winning it would be sweet; I think they were skipping it because they couldn't justify flying to a tournament where they'd be sad if they didn't finish in exactly first place. That's a big commitment to take and a huge risk.
While I lean toward a preference for returning to Nationals, as most Americans and a large number of players from other countries, I do think there are potential advantages for smaller countries to having multiple qualifying tournaments.
The biggest change that I would recommend to WotC is to space the qualifiers out more across the calendar rather than having single qualifier season.
My understanding of the problem with Nationals in smaller countries (and this could be wrong) is that they became the entire focus of the Magic year, so players didn't play much outside of that one tournament because the expected value was so high. Since four out of often under 100 people (in small countries) would get to go to Worlds, it was just the best PTQ ever, and they had very few other PTQs.
If you spread that over several tournaments, you can keep people interested in Magic longer, but not if they're all at the same time. If they were spaced evenly, players could always be looking forward to and working for the next one.
Also, it's hard for players to plan several trips in a row to attend the same tournament three times, but if they're spaced out, each one feels more special. This means players will be more likely to be able to arrange their schedules and budgets to accommodate multiple trips.
In larger countries, there simply needs to be more focus on deeper cash prizes, and they need to be advertised better so that players can justify flying to them even if they can't count on literally winning the tournament, which no one can do.
The other changes to Organized Play are sweet, as you can read about here, but this one issue could really use some reconsideration.
Thanks for reading,
@samuelhblack on Twitter