I've seen a lot of people deriding the Standard format lately, and frankly I just don't understand it. Grand Prix Atlantic City featured yet another new archetype taking the top honors. The format has shifted dramatically from tournament to tournament, with all sorts of new decks rising up and having their chance to shine. Everything from Gravecrawler to Thragtusk to Restoration Angel to Thundermaw Hellkite to Craterhoof Behemoth to Hellhole Flailer to Invisible Stalker has stood tall in the winner's circle, and even now a few short weeks away from the release of Gatecrash, it seems no one has truly "solved" the format. We've seen all kinds of decks find success, from aggressive decks to midrange decks to control decks to full on combo decks with crazy cards like Chronic Flooding.
I was saying earlier today that I think the current Standard environment may be the absolute healthiest format that has existed in the history of Magic. Every color is strongly represented in tournament play. Every different major archetype has proven capable of success. And yet for some reason I see people claim the format is "boring" or "terrible." Seriously—what do people want?
Sure, there are cards that show up in a lot of different decks, like Thragtusk, Restoration Angel, and Sphinx's Revelation. And maybe there are specific strategies that some people might not enjoy playing with or against (personally, I strongly dislike the Hexproof Aura decks that met in the finals of GPAC, though I find it unlikely it'll remain major players for long). But the format is incredibly diverse, and you can play virtually any kind of deck you want and have a shot at winning.
Someone at the Grand Prix told me that he felt like the format "didn't have enough interaction." I pointed out to him that all over the room I saw creature decks battling it out. And he said "No, I mean besides that." Wait, what? Creature combat is the fundamental axis of interaction in Magic—if it were not for creatures and their ability to attack and block, the only time players would interact in Magic would be if their cards explicitly told them they did something to each other. Games involving a lot of creatures on each side of the board are the most interactive kind you're going to find.
Frankly, I think it seems like what a lot of people don't like right now is the very fact that Standard is a balanced format. A lot of people seem frustrated that there isn't a clear best deck for them to play and beat everyone else who isn't in the know. While I can certainly sympathize with a desire to win, Magic is at its best when formats are balanced and the successful decks shift from tournament to tournament. There's a reason over 1600 players came out to Atlantic City to play, and it's because Standard right now is just like that—and it's awesome.
Those of you who read my articles regularly may remember that I was confident enough in my Ooze deck back around the time of the SCG Invitational that I was considering keeping it under wraps until GP Atlantic City. I eventually decided against it, in large part because the metagame is so unstable from week to week. I had a decent but unspectacular finish there, ending up somewhere in the Top 32, but I felt like the deck was better than my result indicated and kept working on it. I didn't have a ton of time to devote to playtesting Standard, but I was happy with how the deck was performing and saw other people doing well with the same shell in Daily Events on Magic Online. Something had to be working.
Ultimately, I ended up playing a list just two cards off from the version I played in my videos last week here on SCG:
- 4 Arbor Elf
- 2 Deadbridge Goliath
- 1 Deathrite Shaman
- 3 Dreg Mangler
- 4 Lotleth Troll
- 4 Predator Ooze
- 4 Strangleroot Geist
- 2 Ulvenwald Tracker
- 2 Wolfir Avenger
The changes from my list in the video were the inclusion of two copies of Appetite for Brains in the sideboard in the place of one Garruk, Primal Hunter and the single Ulvenwald Tracker. The reasoning behind this was the surge in popularity of midrange decks like Naya, Jund, and their various amalgamations. Appetite for Brains is one of the best possible ways to deal with opposing Angel of Serenity and the like that can otherwise cause problems and generally helps you disrupt your opponent's game plan.
The rest of my usual test group was less sure what they were going to play:
I clearly knew going in that the Hexproof deck was going to show up, but I wasn't sure how prevalent it was going to be or how good it really was. I didn't want to swap decks at the last minute from something that I was experienced and confident with, especially to a deck that looked so dependent on its early draws.
In the end, my deck choice worked out reasonably well for me. I started the tournament 9-0 without dropping a single game against a wide range of decks despite losing every single die roll on Day 1. I lost the first round after the cut to eventual champion Jon Stern. I had no idea what he was playing and kept a hand with multiple Predator Oozes as the main draw. Once he played a first turn Abundant Growth, I knew what was going on and was positive that I was just dead. I was right.
On Day 2, I won my first two rounds against Jund and U/W/R Flash to put me at 11-1. That's when things started to go downhill. I played Zvi in a feature match and was pretty soundly defeated. I wasn't really able to get anything going in either of our games since he had the right mix of removal for whatever I drew—my Strangleroot Geists always died to Pillar, and he even had his one Tragic Slip for my Predator Ooze right away in game 2.
I then lost a close match to Jonathan Sukenik playing Mono-Red Aggro. His Pyreheart Wolf was able to turn game 1 into a race, and I was too far behind to pull it out on the draw. Then Pillar of Flame cleared away my Strangleroot Geist to make way for his offense in game 2, and I couldn't keep up. I lost my third match in a row to Zac Hill playing the same Zombie deck as Zvi, and in neither game did I really manage to put up much of a fight. I won my last round, at least, putting me at 12-4 on the weekend, good for 28th place.
Losing three matches in a row to aggressive decks—which I tended to beat handily when I played against them online—made me reevaluate some of my choices. Many of the changes that I'd made to the deck recently were to help gain percentages in the midrange and control matchups—I'd largely neglected my aggro matchups because I'd generally felt happy with my results against those decks online. It's possible I shifted things too far and made myself too soft against aggro. It's also possible that my results online weren't representative and my matchups against aggressive decks piloted by strong players were never that good.
In any case, it's a problem I'd like to remedy. Those of you who watched my videos this week have already seen some of the things I've been trying out to shore things up. One of the major changes I'm trying moving forward is cutting Deadbridge Goliath entirely. Don't get me wrong—I like Deadbridge Goliath quite a bit. But four mana is a lot, particularly when you're playing a deck with a low land count and only four Arbor Elf for acceleration. I often found that Deadbridge Goliath was too slow to make a significant impact against the other aggressive decks or just didn't do enough against what they're doing at a similar cost.
Falkenrath Aristocrat and Thundermaw Hellkite both fly right overhead, while Pyreheart Wolf makes any kind of blocking extremely difficult. Add to that a natural vulnerability to Selesnya Charm and matching up poorly against Thragtusk and the big Insect is on the chopping block. Right now I'm replacing it with more three-drops—a fourth Dreg Mangler and third Wolfir Avenger, to be precise. I'd rather have creatures that can get on the board and help defend me faster against the beatdown decks, as well as put quicker pressure on against control.
The other major issue I wanted to address was the deck's removal suite. The removal available in Standard right now is one of the factors that keeps the format really interesting. You constantly have to make sacrifices in flexibility for efficiency and decide which creatures you want to be good against and which you're vulnerable to. The old mix of removal was fine but not great. Tragic Slip is great against Aristocrat but little else on its own, while Ultimate Price is mostly a concession to Restoration Angel.
One card that was suggested to me by a reader that sounded interesting was Death Wind. Death Wind can do a decent Tragic Slip impression for one more mana (although it's hard to pull off the morbid effect) while having additional flexibility to kill bigger creatures. Providing a reasonable answer to Huntmaster of the Fells, Hellrider, or even just Rakdos Cackler gives the card a lot of utility. I found that it's difficult to rely on just creatures to defend myself against the aggressive decks in the field, and playing more removal makes the Deathrite Shamans I'm bringing in much more effective at keeping me alive and making it to the long game. Shaman alone is pretty marginal, but Shaman plus removal is usually awesome.
I found that I was really missing the third Ulvenwald Tracker. Tracker is the card that makes Ooze so incredibly powerful against aggressive decks—without him, Ooze just serves as a big dumb wall much of the time. I tried Mark of the Vampire briefly as a way to try to help close out games against aggressive decks, and while it's certainly powerful when it works, it's highly conditional and vulnerable to getting blown out by removal—especially after sideboarding when your opponent is much more likely to have things like Tragic Slip in their deck. It may be right to even go up to the full four Trackers against the aggressive decks since it really is your best way to take over a game. More Trackers in the deck also makes Tragic Slip a lot better because you can set up fights to enable morbid when you need to kill bigger creatures.
Another big change I made coming out of the Grand Prix was to return the land base to its original Guildgate-based configuration. While I liked Evolving Wilds in theory—it's much better with Woodland Cemetery and can provide acceleration alongside Deathrite Shaman—it could lead to some frustrating games where I really wanted to cast Predator Ooze early but also really needed to fetch a Swamp for black mana. Evolving Wilds is a better card in the best-case scenarios, but Golgari Guildgate is better when you're struggling. In a low land count deck, I think it's important to play for worst-case scenarios, which means Golgari Guildgate is back on the team and Evolving Wilds is fired.
I haven't really seen any cards in Gatecrash that look like they'd fit into this list, which isn't really surprising since Golgari isn't among the guilds supported in the set. Experiment One is a possibility, but a lot of the creatures in the deck are rather small to begin with and aren't likely to help Mr. Human-Ooze evolve very often—though you could cast both it and Predator Ooze off of a Cavern of Souls set to Ooze! Throw in a few Acidic Slimes and you have yourself a theme deck!
In all seriousness, though, the Ooze deck is definitely still one of the decks that I'll be working on for Pro Tour Gatecrash. Even if it doesn't get any new cards, it has a lot of powerful tools already that make it a solid choice against aggro, midrange, and control strategies alike.
Here's where I'm going to start:
- 4 Arbor Elf
- 4 Dreg Mangler
- 4 Lotleth Troll
- 4 Predator Ooze
- 4 Strangleroot Geist
- 2 Ulvenwald Tracker
- 3 Wolfir Avenger
I've gotten a lot of the ideas that have helped this deck evolve from reading the responses to my articles, so if any of you out there have any insights or experiences with the deck you want to share, I'm all ears. Not literally of course—I'm not some weird Simic experiment with bizarre auditory organs all over my body turning me into an Ooze myself.
Yet, at least.
Until next time,