This past weekend featured the StarCityGames.com Invitational in Atlanta, where hundreds of competitors filled the room to do battle for their share of the $50,000 prize purse. Our small group from Roanoke had been testing a ton over the previous weeks, trying everything from the much-maligned G/B/W Reanimator all the way to Turbo Fog. We constantly scoured the Internet for interesting decklists and different ways we could attack the format. We even figured out a good way to kill Obzedat, Ghost Council.
We might have gone a little too deep.
Of course, Urgent Exorcism isn't actually bad. It kills a lot of annoying things from the control perspective. Enchantments like Detention Sphere, Oblivion Ring, and Assemble the Legion can give you problems, but the upside of being able to deal with Obzedat, Ghost Council is the main reason why it's actually considerable. Otherwise, it's just a mediocre draft common.
After digging through the Internet for interesting ideas and new decks, we ultimately went in different directions. Gerry Thompson, the eventual winner, played basically the same two decks that he played in the last Invitational in Los Angeles, while I ended up playing one of Brad Nelson's brews in Standard.
- 4 Blood Artist
- 4 Boros Reckoner
- 4 Cartel Aristocrat
- 4 Doomed Traveler
- 4 Falkenrath Aristocrat
- 3 Skirsdag High Priest
While we went through many different versions, including multiple changes on the car ride to the event as well as changes before the Standard Open on Saturday, the core felt incredibly powerful. Some aggressive draws could run you over and some control draws could invalidate your entire strategy, but I loved a lot of the interactions. Blood Artist along with Boros Reckoner gave the deck a combo feel, where Blasphemous Act could easily just kill your opponent from a very high life total. The biggest problem with the deck was a lack of filtering or card selection to help dig for your combo when you needed it or dig for whatever could get you out of your current situation.
There are draws the deck can get that feel very underpowered. Skirsdag High Priest is an incredibly erratic card that is either the best card in the deck or the worst card. It all depends on what you draw around it, but it is generally very good. This is one of the few decks in Standard that is very reliant on synergy generated through multiple different combinations of cards, all revolving around a similar theme. We aren't Human-based like the original The Aristocrats played by Tom Martell at Pro Tour Gatecrash, as I don't think Champion of the Parish belongs in the same deck as Skirsdag High Priest, but a lot of the core concepts are similar.
I don't want to go too in-depth on this deck because Brad should be writing about it (and doing videos) later this week. I'll just say that the deck is awesome to play with and can be incredibly powerful.
While a few play mistakes on my part ultimately resulted in dismal failure, I know that I just didn't play my best and can work on that for the next one. The old saying, "You can't win them all," comes to mind, but I know I can do much better than I did in this tournament. I can pinpoint the exact moment where I lost one game that sent me on a losing streak of fairly epic proportions, both from tilt and from generally being in a bad mood because of it. For me, it is pretty hard to let play mistakes go, which is ultimately one of my biggest setbacks in major tournaments. When I'm playing well and doing well, everything is status quo, but one small error can turn everything on its head and send me spiraling.
The Future of Standard is Foggy
G/B/W Reanimator may still be one of the best decks in the format, but I like how the Invitational brought out a lot of strong minds attempting to tackle the monstrosity. While Turbo Fog may not be the best answer, as it isn't necessarily well positioned against the aggressive decks with Skullcrack, it does absolutely destroy G/B/W Reanimator, which is a great selling point.
I didn't end up playing Turbo Fog at the Invitational because I didn't quite have it tuned to the point where I really wanted it. It still had some problems, like Skullcrack, that were bothersome. The best course of action might be a creature-based sideboard to generate blockers, forcing your opponent to play out their entire hand. Of course, this lacks synergy with Supreme Verdict and Terminus, so I'm still not positive. Centaur Healer and Thragtusk along with Verdict and Fog could be a sweet alteration to the post-board plan, but I'm honestly not in love with the prospect of playing a bunch of midrangey creatures in my sideboard. The deck is designed to do one thing, and if you start playing cards that don't go along with this plan, then you're just begging for everything to fall apart!
If I can figure out exactly how to beat Hellrider and his constituents, then we might have a real monster on our hands. Dispel is a great answer to Skullcrack, but the fact remains that you don't really have to put much into play to pressure the Fog deck to force them to cast their Supreme Verdict. For a deck full of 3/3s, you really only need one or two in play to deal a reasonable amount of damage. This is one of the reasons why I really want to incorporate more copies of Azorius Charm into my next build. Cards like Jace, Architect of Thought and Tamiyo, the Moon Sage also present your opponent with threats that force them to commit more to the board.
Playing more planeswalkers, Azorius Charms, and Wrath effects could ultimately be the answer I'm looking for. The more I play with cards like Urban Evolution, the more I don't like them. Building up a massive advantage through your opponent's inability to deal with your planeswalkers seems much more advantageous. Your Fogs and Clinging Mists are great, but you need to be building to something. Sphinx's Revelation can only do so much, but when you have other ways to generate advantages while casting said Fog effects, then you're going to be putting yourself into a positive situation.
The inherent synergy between Tamiyo, the Moon Sage and Fog is apparent. It works on multiple axes. Either your opponent is forced to overextend their board in order to fight Tamiyo's tapping ability or they swing all out in an attempt to kill Tamiyo, allowing you to draw a ton of cards. Both of these situations can generate an outrageous advantage, giving you the precious time you need to find Sphinx's Revelation or Jace, Memory Adept and close the game.
After playing with the deck for a few weeks, I can confidently say that it is worth investing more time into. The games aren't as grindy as I thought they would be because we don't actually have to interact with our opponents on their terms. They are usually casting a big doofus like Thragtusk while we are building up our resources and protecting our life total. While you might fifteen to twenty turns to kill someone, you don't actually do that much on your own turns.
Travis Woo brought a build of Turbo Fog to the Invitational that killed his opponents with Door to Nothingness. While this is Nothingness new for Travis Woo, his deck looked much more like a hybrid of his old Omnidoor Thragfire deck and the newer builds of Turbo Fog. They incorporated the best parts of both worlds, with strong Tutors for a kill condition that's incredibly hard to deal with.
Along with Alchemist's Refuge, it is pretty hard to interact with his kill condition. Remember when Door to Nothingness was an unplayable card that everyone forgot about? A part of me misses those days, but they've forced our hands! When it is basically impossible to interact on the same level with the G/B/W Reanimator decks, we have to find different ways to win. Planeswalkers, Nephalia Drownyard, and Door to Nothingness are those different ways, as it seems completely unreasonable to expect a control deck to be able to deal 40+ damage while all of our creatures get continually eaten by Angel of Serenity.
When everyone else is being a bit too touchy-feely, I would much rather be on the side of the table that doesn't want to play fair. It is basically impossible to win a game where you have to attack a 3/3 into their Thragtusk when they're just going to Unburial Rites it on the next turn. You have to fight unfairly with decks that are banking on you actually fighting fair! If you commit yourself to battling on their level, you're going to get punished in one way or another. Angel of Serenity is just too difficult to deal with on a natural level, and a never-ending stream of Thragtusks is equally vomit inducing.
The Lingering Effects of Reanimator on Standard
Regardless of how powerful the endgame cards are for G/B/W Reanimator, the early threats can be troublesome too. The mana producers and Lingering Souls out of Reanimator are important for its development. Those cards help them buy enough time to get to their endgame. It is also true that the synergy between Grisly Salvage and Lingering Souls is occasionally too hard for control decks to deal with. Along with Gavony Township, a single Lingering Souls and a few mana-producing creatures can be all she wrote.
There are a lot of ways to fight this early plan from Reanimator and ultimately cripple their development so you have enough time to start executing your game plan before Angel of Serenity comes online.
The current format is full of X/1 creatures. This makes a card like Electrickery incredibly powerful. Your ability to cast it on the first turn to slow down their mana-producing creatures is almost as important as giving yourself the capability of dealing with a Lingering Souls on a one-for-one basis. GerryT played one of these in the maindeck and another in the sideboard of his U/W/R Flash deck at the Invitational, and I expect this trend to catch on.
Electrickery may be much worse than Pillar of Flame when you face off against Zombies or a deck full of 2/2s, but the fact that Electrickery gives you an easy way to deal with one of your most problematic cards is awesome. While you can't overload it with Snapcaster Mage, the upside to having access to a cheap sweeper effect that doesn't kill your own creatures is worth it.
One of the ways that a lot of decks beat Esper is by swarming the board with Lingering Souls. The fact that the new The Aristocrats deck features Blood Artist along with Lingering Souls and Falkenrath Aristocrat should make this a no-brainer. Curse of Death's Hold has always been a problem for token-based decks. This card makes their entire army much less troublesome and gives you a way to preemptively nullify a large portion of their deck. Add to this the fact that a Supreme Verdict followed by a Curse of Death's Hold should be game over for any Naya Blitz deck and I think you've found a winner.
Curse of Death's Hold may be vulnerable to Acidic Slime and the like, but I think having access to it in a format revolving around X/1s is solid. Much for the same reasons as Electrickery, I think Curse of Death's Hold is very good right now.
While Bonfire of the Damned won't singlehandedly beat G/B/W Reanimator, it can certainly go a long way. Jund decks using Bonfire of the Damned to help push through the last few points of damage with Thragtusk, Olivia Voldaren, and Huntmaster of the Fells can be huge. Bonfire of the Damned is at its best when you miracle it (obviously), but just casting it from your hand on turn 4 for X=2 can be a blowout against a lot of strategies. You have enough ramp to make it much more potent on a better timeframe, and maindecking cards like Ground Seal to slow down their late game makes Bonfire of the Damned that much better.
Blasphemous Act works in multiple ways against Reanimator. On one hand, you can just blow up the entire board and force them to start back at square one. With mana producers and Lingering Souls, you can occasionally cast Blasphemous Act as early as turn 3. When you combine it with Blood Artist and Boros Reckoner, it just starts to feel dirty!
Blasphemous Act in combo form is a great way to beat up on decks that try to be overly interactive. While The Aristocrats certainly has the ability to aggro them out with cards like Falkenrath Aristocrat, I like having ways to beat them that don't use the attack phase. Blood Artist along with sacrifice outlets is a great way to do this.
You don't really need Nightshade Peddler against their early draws, but having access to it could certainly help fend off impossible threats like Thragtusk. Nightshade Peddler also combos quite well with other pingers like Olivia Voldaren and potentially even Huntmaster of the Fells, but Staticaster does a fine job on its own.
Izzet Staticaster is great against a variety of matchups, but I'm not sure you actually need it when you can play Electrickery. Staticaster can stay in play and suppress future threats and also works incredibly well with Restoration Angel, but I'm not sure which one is better. Both seem great at the moment, so I would probably want a combination of both. Augur of Bolas giving you more ways to find Electrickery is awesome, but the added value that Staticaster can give you is also noteworthy.
This Invitational rocked me pretty hard on the mental scale. I just didn't feel good about it before or after. This is probably due to a lot of factors, but the fact remains that I am just not taking good care of myself. I eat poorly, don't exercise much, and spend way too much time being lazy. I need to get up. Get out. Get moving!
Over the next few months, I will be playing in a multitude of events, but most of them will be Standard. With Dragon's Maze on the horizon, the format is sure to be shaken up. I'm looking forward to battling a ton with the new cards in our Versus videos, as well as playing in PTQs and Opens with the new set! I want to make sure that I'm completely prepared for the next Invitational, both mentally and physically.
I know that there are a lot of things I could do to better myself as a player and a person. Having a wonderful wife and great friends certainly makes it easier, but making a conscious decision to progress is ultimately on me. I am thankful for each day of my life that I have these people around me—because I'm much better for it.
Thanks for reading.
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