Last weekend I played in a Pro Tour Qualifier/Elite Invitational Qualifier combo at Atomic Empire in Durham, North Carolina with Glenn Jones and Brad Nelson—and I had a blast! I went into the weekend with high hopes of joining Brian Braun-Duin in Dublin for the Pro Tour, but alas, it was not to be. In fact, I was dead after round 5 and got to spend time partaking in the delicious beer that the shop has on tap at the small bar in their shop.
That's right, there was a bar—in the card shop. [Editor's Note: Come to Seattle sometime so I can introduce you to Card Kingdom my friend.] It was glorious!
Glenn was dead early, and Brad picked up his second loss in the second to last round of the day. We were all on Junk Aristocrats, and we decided to make a few changes to the deck and run it back for the Elite IQ on Sunday. Brad and Glenn made Top 8, and I 0-2 drop visited the watering hole.
Even with delicious Duck Rabbit Milk Stout in my cup, I was still upset. After the beats the previous weekend losing all of my "win and ins" I failed to perform yet again this weekend. I immediately wanted to blame the deck. I came into the weekend wanting to play a G/R Aggro deck similar to what I had played in a Versus video against David McDarby and was talked into playing Junk Aristocrats. The deck is obviously very good, putting Brad and Glenn into Top 8 with Brad losing to the mirror match in the finals, but I think it may have been the wrong choice for me.
This week I'd like to talk about playing "the best deck" versus playing a deck that you're familiar with.
Why Play The Best Deck?
Brad strongly felt that Junk Aristocrats was hands down the best deck in Standard last weekend (he probably still does, but things do change quickly), and I had no refute to his sentiment. It's positioned well in the current metagame, has insane "nut draws" that are borderline unbeatable, and gives you a lot of play in the mid-to-late stages of the game. The deck attacks on so many different angles that it makes it not only hard to defend but also difficult to mount a counterattack.
I am by no means a master of Magic: The Gathering, but I would consider myself good enough to take play skill into account when choosing a deck for an event. Junk Aristocrats definitely rewards skilled pilots. With so many options and lines of play, knowing which one is correct for any given situation is something the average player who is unfamiliar with the deck might struggle with.
Unfortunately, while I may not be the average player, I was definitely unfamiliar with the deck.
I hadn't played a single game with the deck from the Junk Aristocrats side. I've had my fair share of lumps from 5/5 flying Demons from the Junk Reanimator side while testing with BBD, but actually using a Cartel Aristocrat was foreign to me. I had planned on jamming Thundermaw Hellkites and Bonfire of the Damneding people out of the game.
Why did I switch?
I switched simply because it was logical. Junk Aristocrats was the better deck, rewarded superior play skill, and I had access to the knowledge of two good players who had already put time and work into the deck. But was it right to switch? I had put a bit of work and thought into G/R Aggro and felt like it attacked the metagame in all of the right ways, but logically Junk Aristocrats was the better choice. I would have had "more fun" playing G/R, but for me personally winning and doing well in the tournament is even more fun than just jamming Dragons.
Even though Junk Aristocrats was the "best deck," how much better than my other option was it? How much would I really have been giving up by opting to play another deck? Would familiarity with the deck play any part in my success?
Options, Options, Options!
In the current Standard metagame, the following are the decks that I consider major players:
The Aristocrats: Act 2
There are a few other decks that I consider fringe at the moment: Esper Control, Dark Naya, Four-Color Reanimator (Boros Reckoner, Harvest Pyre, Blasphemous Act, Angel of Serenity, etc.), Bant Control, and G/R Aggro (Gyre Sage, Bonfire of the Damned, Thundermaw Hellkite).
Taking these decks into account, where do Junk Aristocrats and G/R Aggro stand in terms of good, even, and poor matchups?
The Mirror – The die roll plays a huge factor since a turn 2 Skirsdag High Priest on the play is nearly unbeatable. Having effective sideboard cards (which we did with Intangible Virtue) also plays a huge role. Close to a coin flip.
Junk Reanimator – This was heavily in Junk Aristocrats favor in week one. However, now that the deck is known, I feel like it's only slightly in Junk Aristocrats' favor.
Jund Midrange – This is a very poor matchup. Sideboard strategies help, but all of their cards are extremely good at every phase in the game.
U/W/R Control – Favorable matchup barring them having the perfect mix of spells in relation to the threats you're presenting.
R/G Aggro – Fairly even barring multiple Burning-Tree Emissary draws.
Bant Hexproof – Slightly unfavorable depending on how many sideboard slots you want to devote to the deck.
Naya Aggro– Very favorable matchup. They have very few ways to interact with Skirsdag High Priest and have to rely on drawing multiple Ghor-Clan Rampagers and Junk Aristocrats not playing around them.
Naya Blitz – Slightly favorable. They don't have the reach that R/G Aggro has, and it is very easy to weather the early storm and stabilize with our efficient removal and blockers.
The Aristocrats: Act 2 – Unfavorable. They have all of the same tools that we have; however, they also have Blasphemous Act to catch back up if they fall behind.
Junk Reanimator – Favorable. With Arbor Elf and Gyre Sage, Acidic Slime isn't a very reasonable strategy. They are very vulnerable to Bonfire of the Damned, and Thundermaw Hellkite pressures them heavily. As long as you play around getting blown out by Angel of Serenity, it's smooth sailing.
Jund Midrange– Slightly unfavorable. Olivia Voldaren can be a bit of a pain, but Domri Rade does a lot of work fighting Huntmaster of the Fells and drawing cards and Thundermaw Hellkite is tough for them to deal with.
R/G Aggro – Slightly unfavorable. The "going big" plan isn't very good against this deck. They can pressure us before we are able to put up a decent resistance; however, our sideboard is usually geared for that.
Bant Hexproof – Fairly even. Bonfire of the Damned is big game against them, and they stumble a lot.
Naya Aggro – Slightly favorable. With them being more of a midrange type deck now, Bonfire of the Damned is huge against them, and our ground creatures are on par with most of theirs.
Naya Blitz – Unfavorable. They pressure us even faster than R/G Aggro, but without the reach we have a chance if we can stymie their assault.
Even though going through all of the decks like this takes a bit of work, the information gained can be extremely valuable. Junk Aristocrats really only comes out slightly ahead of G/R Aggro. One of the main arguments in favor of Junk Aristocrats is Bonfire of the Damned and Thundermaw Hellkite. "In favor of Junk Aristocrats?" you say. Let's explain.
Bonfire of the Damned and Thundermaw Hellkite are both extremely powerful right now; however, when you don't hit them on time, the deck is just a sad combination of a bad draw from R/G Aggro and Naya Aggro—definitely nothing to write home about. G/R Aggro is more of a high variance type of deck than Junk Aristocrats, and when you have the ability to lean on play skill, it's usually better to play decks that are more consistent.
Ultimately, I think I should have just played G/R Aggro. The current Standard metagame is pretty much up for grabs. There isn't any one strategy that is so overly superior that it beats everything else a majority of the time. Playing something that you are more familiar with generally will lead to less play mistakes, less incorrect mulligan choices (which is a HUGE benefit since I think people tend to mulligan incorrectly with unfamiliar decks), and a better performance.
- 4 Arbor Elf
- 4 Burning-Tree Emissary
- 4 Flinthoof Boar
- 4 Ghor-Clan Rampager
- 4 Gyre Sage
- 4 Hellrider
- 4 Thundermaw Hellkite
- 1 Ruric Thar, the Unbowed
You can check out my deck tech for this deck in my latest versus video with David McDarby, but I did make some changes. I didn't like the Huntmaster of the Fells in the maindeck, and even though Hellrider isn't spectacular against a lot of decks, it is very good against a few of the weaker matchups (U/W/R, Esper Control, and Jund). I also wanted to play a Ruric Thar, the Unbowed as a huge threat that punishes my opponents for playing removal spells and Sphinx's Revelation.
Brad recommended Volcanic Strength to combat the Boros Reckoner decks over Gruul War Chant, which I like a lot. It's lower on the curve and still allows us to be aggressive and dodge their removal. I think this deck is still positioned pretty well in the metagame, and I recommend it to anyone who's looking for something to attack Junk—both Aristocrats and Reanimator—along with the rest of the format.
I don't really regret my decision to switch to Junk Aristocrats, and I'm glad it sparked my thought process on playing the "best deck" versus playing something that you are more familiar with. I'd love to hear people's thoughts on this, so feel free to leave them in the comments.
There's a chance I'll be in Columbus this weekend, and if I am I'll probably be on G/R Aggro, even though I still feel like Junk Reanimator with Craterhoof Behemoth is well positioned. There's also a sweet Modern tournament here at the Star City Game Center, and I do need to clean and get a bed (finally—futons are the worst!)…
Thanks for stopping by, and I hope that this information helps anyone who might be torn between decks before a tournament.