Gatecrash is here, events are happening, writers are writing. As such, I'm sure you've been taking in ample amounts of insight into the “new Standard” format and how Gatecrash has changed everything.
But we'll get into that shortly.
What I've done is take a look at the decklists for the top 32 finishers in the StarCityGames.com Standard Open in Atlanta (namely because that was the data that was available to me) and broken down the card choices and colors represented. While that data alone would probably be useful, I tried to break that down a step further.
Namely, what cards are good against what I'd expect to see this upcoming week in Standard (assuming the Hive Mind is still hard at work and everyone just wants to copy the decks from last week)? What removal spells should I use? Do I play aggro, control, combo, or will my homebrew take down the masses? Is Michael Martin the greatest thing since sliced bread?
I'm hoping to answer some, if not all, of the questions above. So let's get into the numbers…
I took the manabases for the decks in the top 32 and broke down the color producing lands and how that broke down, color-wise, for the top 32. Here's the graphic:
As we can see, the Naya shard took up most of the top 32, with the Gruul guild comprising 52.8% of the top 32 just between those two colors. This is because, if we look, we see a lot of Naya, Jund, Gruul, Boros, and Mono-Red in the top 32. Blue isn't very well represented at all.
Why is this? Well, what does blue do best? Draw cards and counter spells, right?
Well, when the creature decks are getting better card advantage from their creatures than we get from card draw, maybe blue isn't the best place to be. On a much more important note, just within lands, we see that 20 of the top 32 decks are playing Cavern of Souls, making counterspells obsolete (also showing the prevalence of creature decks in the top 32 as well).
Does that mean that control decks simply didn't show up or that the Cavern/efficient creature metagame simply kept control decks from performing at the same level? I'd venture a guess and say that it was probably equal parts both, as I'm sure some dedicated control mages showed up but were eventually bested by the continuous onslaught of Caverns and Wolves.
2. People aren't going to be playing many counterspells in the near future
4. Mass removal should be good in the near future even if counterspells are “bad”
If you have a pet deck that just “sucks if they're playing counterspells,” this might be the week to bust it out. The decks that are out there right now aren't going to be countering whatever it is you're doing, so if you're playing a wacky combo deck like, say, Humanimator or Burn at the Stake, this may be a good week to give it a shot. Speaking of combo decks:
- 4 Angel of Glory's Rise
- 4 Cartel Aristocrat
- 1 Cathedral Sanctifier
- 4 Fiend Hunter
- 4 Huntmaster of the Fells
Notice the full set of Caverns here, further cementing the “you're not countering my stuff” idea. In this deck, everything is Human anyway, so it doubles as stellar mana fixing.
This is my latest take on Burn at the Stake; with the addition of Sacred Foundry and Prophetic Prism, there is literally no reason not to run white at this point, as you gain a better token generator (Gather the Townsfolk vs. Thatcher Revolt) and the ability to play that spell even while comboing (the Prism).
Secrets of the Dead was a great addition and allowed for almost no fizzles once you start comboing. Once you move into game 2/3, you can easily transform to a more token-oriented deck by bringing in the Virtues over the Secrets and the Hellriders over three Prisms (the last Prism can easily be whatever you need, be it Negate or Needle for their Staticasters).
Anywho, back to the data.
Here's the breakdown of creatures in top 32 decks:
|Card||Decks||% of Top 32||Total||Avg/Deck|
|Huntmaster of the Fells||15||46.88||59||3.93|
|Geist of Saint Traft||5||15.63||20||4|
|Champion of the Parish||3||9.38||12||4|
|Mayor of Avabruck||3||9.38||12||4|
|Angel of Glory's Rise||2||6.25||8||4|
|Angel of Serenity||4||12.5||8||2|
|Augur of Bolas||2||6.25||6||3|
|Aurelia, the Warleader||3||9.38||4||1.33|
|Prime Speaker Zegana||2||6.25||4||2|
|Obzedat, Ghost Council||1||3.13||3||3|
|Thalia, Guardian of Thraben||1||3.13||3||3|
|Sigarda, Host of Herons||1||3.13||2||2|
|Yeva, Nature's Herald||1||3.13||1||1|
Looking at these numbers, we once again see a prevalence of Naya, as the top four creatures fit into the Naya colors. That's not to say that Naya was the only place we saw Huntmaster of the Fells, though, as Jund also appreciated the addition of the wolfman who could.
What does this mean?
Well, for one, we're again looking at the fact that creatures are better card advantage engines right now than pure card draw. If your opponent casts a Huntmaster of the Fells and you flashback a Think Twice, who's ahead on cards? If you cast a Supreme Verdict and your opponent gets a 3/3 Beast from Thragtusk then flashes in Restoration Angel end of turn (with Cavern, no doubt), have you actually gained anything? What if they have a Kessig Wolf Run to go with those creatures? If we cast a Rakdos Cackler into Ash Zealot and our opponent responds with Avacyn's Pilgrim into Loxodon Smiter into Huntmaster into Thragtusk, we're probably not winning.
So again, what came first, the chicken or the egg? Or, more succinctly, did the aggressive decks not show up (leaving the top 32 available to all the midrange decks) or did the card selection of these decks push aggro out of the winner's group? I'd guess the latter, as I know of plenty of people who were completely on the Boros bandwagon. The people who did well did so because of the cards they played and the tournament they played in.
Well, you know what? People are now going to pick these decks up. Naya-on-Naya violence will see a direct upswing this week. Huntmasters will turn on Thragtusks, Restoration Angels will battle Avacyn's Pilgrims. We can fully expect this.
We can also prepare for this.
2. The decks that did play Hellkite were only playing two at most; this means that the aggressive decks that tried to max out on Hellkites either underperformed (due to the prevalence of midrange strategies that preyed on those decks) or didn't show up (either due to the perceived metagame or that people didn't want to play B/R “Zombies” and wanted to play their new cards).
3. The amount of “haste” creatures isn't as great as I'd assumed would be the case. Thundermaw Hellkites, Hellriders, Lightning Maulers, Ash Zealots… they're there, but they're not in massive numbers. Again, this is probably due to the midrange metagame more than anything, but it is worth noting as we look into card selection (i.e. whether we play Blind Obedience or instant vs. sorcery removal, etc…).
4. The creatures we have to worry about usually give some type of additional bonus when they resolve, meaning that since we know that they will resolve due to Cavern of Souls, we need to be prepared for the outcome. We need to be ready for the Huntmaster and Thragtusk token, have a removal spell ready for the creature Restoration Angel wants to blink, be able to absorb a large hit from the creature Silverblade Paladin pairs with, etc. This again brings up the question of sorcery vs. instant removal.
5. We don't have a ton of hexproof guys to concern ourselves with. We can probably move some of our sacrifice effects to the board.
In other words…
You'd probably be best to shy away from the hyper aggressive decks. The midrange decks are your sworn enemy; they're slightly slower but bigger, and well, you can't beat that without a lot of luck. If you aren't going to be playing these value creatures this week, you'll want to be doing something that either ignores their value creatures (combo) or goes over the top completely (Sphinx's Revelation, Omniscience, Thundermaw Hellkites). Trying to fight a land war will probably be futile for the next week or two.
If you're in the control camp, you need to find removal that answers all of these parameters set out by the creature selection of your counterparts. You need to be able to take down the likes of Huntmaster and Thragtusk while not being colded by a Geist of Saint Traft or Angel of Glory's Rise. Can you get away with just Supreme Verdicts in a world of Restoration Angels and Thundermaw Hellkites or are you going to supplement your arsenal? If so, do you add Ultimate Prices and Abrupt Decays in the world of Huntmaster, Olivia Voldaren, and Ghor-Clan Rampager? So many questions…
Removal/Counterspell Suites (And other considerations):
|Card||Decks||% of Top 32||Total||Avg/Deck|
|Huntmaster of the Fells||15||46.9||59||3.93|
|Pillar of Flame||13||40.6||34||2.62|
|Bonfire of the Damned||11||34.4||27||2.45|
|Angel of Serenity||4||12.5||8||2|
|Sever the Bloodline||1||3.13||1||1|
|Victim of Night||1||3.13||2||2|
|Liliana of the Veil||4||12.5||9||2.25|
|Tamiyo, the Moon Sage||1||3.13||1||1|
With this graphic, I included creatures which could be used as removal (even if only in corner cases, like Thundermaw Hellkite) and planeswalkers with abilities that act as removal (including Tamiyo). When planning out what creatures we want to play, we have to take into account what removal spells our opponents are running.
Breaking this down a little further into specific types of removal, we get this:
|Amount of decks containing||31||27||48||8||5|
This graphic is slightly misleading; looking at the top removal spells, you see three designated “burn” spells in Pillar of Flame, Searing Spear, and Bonfire of the Damned. After that, we get a wide array of “non-burn spot removal,” but they almost universally come with “conditions.”
- Costs 3 converted mana cost (CMC) or less
- >5 power
- <2 power
- Sorcery speed
- Bounce spell (not technically “removal”)
- Non-Werewolf, Non-Vampire, Non-Zombie
So while the amount of “non-burn spot removal” is greater than the burn spell number, the amount of creatures that have to worry about those spells isn't as great (and some of the spells, like Selesnya Charm, aren't necessarily meant to be burn spells and may not even be around when you play your Thundermaw Hellkite).
So what can we take from this?
Well, assuming that we're taking into account the most played spot removal, our concerns are:
- 2-3 toughness (Pillar, Spear)
- >5 power (Selesnya Charm)
- Mono-colored (Ultimate Price)
- Attacking/blocking (Azorius Charm)
- <3 CMC (Abrupt Decay)
With those parameters set, we can start looking into creatures that either completely invalidate those concerns, take advantage of them, or are only subjected to one or two of the spells we're concerned about.
Some possibilities that I'd like to point out include (with the number of the above considerations in parentheses after the card name):
- Aurelia, the Warleader (1, Azorius Charm)
- Olivia Voldaren (1, Searing Spear, temporarily)
- Drogskol Reaver (1, Azorius Charm)
- Sigarda, Host of Herons (0)
- Angel of Glory's Rise (1, Ultimate Price, though that's only if you don't combo off)
- Archwing Dragon (2, Azorius Charm and Ultimate Price, but this dodges some of the concerns of aggressive decks, i.e. flying over Huntmaster and Thragtusk and not dying to sorcery speed removal)
- Hypersonic Dragon (1, Azorius Charm)
- Knight of Obligation (1, Ultimate Price; I bring this up for anyone that wants some sort of dedicated control/extort deck using Blind Obedience)
- Lone Revenant (0)
- Master Biomancer (0); this card is the reason I started this “study,” to show that the “dies to removal” argument doesn't stick. If there was ever a time to play this card, now would be it.
- Trostani, Selesnya's Voice (0); another card that, if the time to play it isn't now, there never will be a “time to play it.” Great body for stopping attacks, doesn't need to attack for value, etc…
Other creatures I want to point out:
I'm truly surprised this didn't show up more at top tables. Between the fact that games are being decided through combat more and more these days and the fact that the top removal spells are burn, I don't see why more of these weren't played. The prohibitive mana cost probably had something to do with it, as does the fact that aggressive decks—the ones this card is ”supposed” to be in—underperformed on the day.
While it does die to Searing Spear, you don't lose value. Only Abrupt Decay truly “gets it.” I expect to see more of these and wouldn't be opposed to trying to jam it in a white-based control deck as a way to clog up the ground.
Again, with the most played removal being burn, how do they get past this guy profitably? Think of him as either a 1/1 deathtouch with upside or as a complete roadblock for two mana. Not to mention, if you set up your deck accordingly, you can set up for complete blowouts.
Is it good enough? I'm not sure. Perhaps as a sideboard card in Esper Control decks as a way to not only slow down your opponent but also take out problematic permanents. Again, not sure, but it is worth noting that the removal choices in Standard are where this card wants to be at.
1. Mass removal other than Bonfire of the Damned is really low. This may again be indicative of control decks being improperly built and/or just outmatched by the midrange decks, but the fact remains that you're likely not to run into many Supreme Verdicts along the way during your tournament.
2. Spot removal other than burn can be built around. Even the burn can be built around but not completely mitigated due to the ability to just point it “at the dome.”
I really think that we can start looking into control decks moving forward with the information available. Is this information gospel? Obviously not. But with the way competitive Magic works, these are the decks we can reasonably expect moving forward. Midrange decks, value creatures, and Kessig Wolf Run decks (not to mention Cavern of Souls) are the enemy right now.
What does this mean?
We need to be able to keep up with the card advantage. Haste creatures will be problematic due to the nature of mass removal being sorcery speed as well as the pressure that Kessig Wolf Run can put on you. Think Twice probably isn't where we want to be at, since spending your turn to draw a card isn't' helping in a world of Huntmasters and Thragtusks. You need to be going bigger than that.
Where does this lead us?
I'm inclined to look at Blind Obedience in Esper, just due to the fact that haste creatures really can get you. Slowing them down to your level is huge, and the life gain adds up. This still doesn't answer the “Restoration Angel, untap, Wolf Run you, dead?” question, but it goes a long way towards shoring up that issue.
What else can we play as removal?
Orzhov Charm, however, will off whatever I need it to, whenever I need it to. Sure, that comes at a price, but if we're playing Blind Obedience and Sphinx's Revelation, not to mention the possibility of Sorin, Lord of Innistrad, Rhox Faithmender out of the board, or even Thragtusk if we're so inclined, that makes this manageable but not completely ignorable. Orzhov Charm even lets us reset our Snapcaster Mages, though I don't know of many creatures we'd be able to bring back (Deathrite Shaman maybe?).
Come to think of it, Esper Delver…
Getting way too far ahead of myself.
Using the information above, I'd probably lean towards playing an Esper or 4-Color (non-red) control deck with Blind Obedience and Orzhov Charm, just because that hits everything I want to hit. I'd need some number of Ghost Quarters as well to control the Kessig Wolf Runs.
I might also be adventurous enough to run the Burn at the Stake deck this week as well, with midrange/non-control decks at the forefront. Another idea I had was a Gruul Domri Rade deck with Mwonvuli Beast Tracker to pair with Mr. Rade to ensure he's more like Jace Beleren than Sarkhan Vol. Ghor-Clan Rampager is a great target, as is Acidic Slime. Silklash Spider out of the board is no slouch either.
Anywho, that's it for now. Hopefully you can use this information to your advantage this weekend when selecting your deck/cards for either FNM or SCG Open: Edison.
Til next time!
@mikemartinlfs on Twitter