If I'd told you last week that this weekend there would be two large Standard tournaments in which one would have zero Jund decks and the other would have zero G/R Aggro in the Top 8, would you have believed me?
Welcome to the results of StarCityGames.com Standard Open: Baltimore and Grand Prix Kitakyushu.
Here in the US we had a Top 8 of Jund and U/W Control with a few other decks, which was ultimately won by Big Red (go Chandra!). Across the pond in Japan there was a Top 8 with zero Jund, a couple G/R Aggro, and lots of Bant Hexproof, which ended up as the champion.
What's going on?
I imagine that the R&D people at WotC who worked on this Standard format are just sitting around feeling on top of the world. They did it. It's a Standard format where you can literally play any deck and have a chance of winning. There are no Mana Leak backed Delver of Secrets holding down the masses. Primeval Titan isn't putting its Shaq-sized hi-tops in people's rears.
The current Standard is a goulash of synergy, powerful spells, and speed.
It's like we're playing a game of Lobster, Tiger, Lizard, except we always get to choose the "Huey" Jensen card that will just win regardless.
I'd like to think that the winning decks from these tournaments are a result of the differing "powerhouse" decks that were absent from the Top 8.
Big Red wins in a Top 8 without G/R Aggro, and Bant Hexproof wins in a Top 8 without Jund—but I imagine that they had to run into these natural foils in the Swiss.
I'd like to take some time and focus on the Big Red deck with which Joseph Herrera won the Open in Baltimore, seeing as I have quite the relationship with Chandra myself. We took a little break this past week since I've been battling a cold and haven't had time to hang out with her very much, but I've got a make-up dinner planned this week and everyone's invited.
Let's check out Joseph's list:
So subtle, yet perfect for this deck! Strangleroot Geist has been a huge pain in the rear for me while working on a Chandra, Pyromaster deck, and Ash Zealot is a perfect way to fight Strangleroot Geist. And when they don't have it, we get to BATTLE! Being able to block both sides of Strangleroot Geist, pressure planeswalkers with haste, and put a strain on the effectiveness of Snapcaster Mage definitely makes this little Human worth its double red casting cost. Having first strike is also a huge boon since it allows us to team up with our burn to kill larger monsters without losing any creatures ourselves.
Joseph also took the Anthony Lowry approach and played Hellriders in his deck. I think that having Ash Zealot justifies this more than before, as the combination of the two lets us be much more aggressive than we were before. Without Ash Zealot we could usually expect our Hellriders to attack with one other creature at best, whereas now with Ash Zealot we should be looking at one additional attacking creature as the norm. I'm still not sure if Hellrider is the right call, but I will be playing with it this week to fight out.
Joseph still has four Burning Earths in his maindeck, which against his Top 8 field of zero G/R Aggro decks must have felt nice, although there weren't any U/W/R decks to prey on either now that they have all switched to straight-up U/W. I still feel like Burning Earth should be sideboarded at best now, but again, "Who's Got The Chips?"
To go along with the standard Chandra's Phoenix, Boros Reckoner, Pillar of Flame, and Searing Spear, Joseph opted to play Brimstone Volley. This is another card that plays well with Ash Zealot; we can double up to kill five-toughness creatures, and when they know that we have Volley, we can keep sending our Ash Zealot and put the fear of getting fived in our opponents if they even want to think about blocking. It's also important to notice that having Brimstone Volley gives us another three cards in the deck that can do nine (or fifteen) off of Chandra, Pyromaster's ultimate.
Noticeably lacking is the fourth Thundermaw Hellkite, which I have to think is wrong. Thundermaw Hellkite is the main reason to want any red cards in a deck right now, and playing less than four is something that I wouldn't do. Besides that, we have finally gotten rid of Bonfire of the Damned, which is also something that Anthony suggested in his article last week and I agree with. Unlike Jund, our deck is full of cards that work very well with each other as opposed to any single card being able to win the game. As such, we can't afford to waste slots on Bonfire of the Damned, which can win games outright when cast for its miracle cost but other than that is mediocre at best even in the matchups where it's supposed to be awesome.
I like everything in Joseph's sideboard, except I don't think that Curse of the Pierced Heart is where we want to be. Admittedly, I've never tried the card in the sideboard, as I cut it right away when I started testing the initial list from the Grand Prix Calgary Top 8, but it still doesn't seem that powerful, although it appears like it would be awesome with Hellrider and aggressive creatures.
Ratchet Bomb and Rolling Temblor are both awesome. Rolling Temblor especially does an awesome job of killing creatures like Invisible Stalker, Geist of Saint Traft, and Fiendslayer Paladin. Zealous Conscripts is my favorite sideboard card in Standard right now, and I love that it plays such an awesome part in this deck's sideboard.
I still think that Burning Earth isn't maindeck quality right now but is good enough against Jund to warrant a sideboard slot. I also like white as the splash color, even though we probably don't need Blind Obedience as a four-of now with Ash Zealot. Here is where I am going to start my preparation this week for the SCG Standard Open in Cincinnati.
Implementing Ash Zealot and Hellrider as ways to provide some defense with first strike and pressure opponents with Hellrider's triggers, we complement them with our three Chandra, Pyromasters and three Warleader's Helixes. In my article last week, I talked about the merits of having white in our deck and still think this is true as we move forward.
The other side of the story last weekend, besides William "Huey" Jensen winning Grand Prix Oakland like the master he is, is Raymond Tan winning Grand Prix Kitakyushu with Bant Hexproof. With G/R Aggro flooding the board with Arbor Elfs and all of their haste creatures (Strangleroot Geist, Flinthoof Boar, and Hellrider), cards like Liliana of the Veil are losing stock in Jund lists. This set the stage for Bant Hexproof to have a great weekend. I'm just sad I didn't think of it myself.
Gladecover Scout and Fiendslayer Paladin give the deck two more "hexproof" threats that we can enchant and fling through the air at our opponents. Besides that, the deck has stayed about the same as it was previously, with a couple exceptions.
Ajani, Caller of the Pride does some awesome work in the Hexproof deck and had seen a smattering of play before last weekend. Even though Raymond Tan only played one, the card seems really sweet with our hexproof guys and Fiendslayer Paladin's lifelink. With Avacyn's Pilgrim, Invisible Stalker, and Fiendslayer Paladin being Humans, we get to play a Cavern of Souls too. The "new" U/W Control decks are playing upwards of six or seven counterspells in their maindeck now, so we get extra value versus them.
Raymond's sideboard has some sweet spells in it too. Mending Touch is a great way to save your threat from the Supreme Verdict that our opponent is hoping is "just enough" to stem the bleeding. Celestial Flare is a card that's seeing plenty of play now, and I think it's going to continue to get better and better. As a defensive card, it is awesome at killing hexproof creatures, indestructible creatures, or any other problematic monster we need to get rid of, but the real beauty of it is that it can be used offensively.
Attacking with our Geist of Saint Traft and then using Celestial Flare to kill their blocker before damage while we still get in four damage from our Angel token. Using it against a blocker when our creature has trample is just unreal too. There is also the seldom used "post-damage still in combat" Celestial Flare to kill a Thundermaw Hellkite that attacked with another creature we traded off with while in combat.
I think Bant Hexproof is actually a pretty good call for SCG Standard Open: Cincinnati for anyone who's looking for a deck.
I played a Naya list similar to Osyp's PTQ-winning deck last weekend in Baltimore and did miserably. I got Bonfire of the Damned a bunch and played a lot of Avacyn's Pilgrims on turn 2—right on time! My thought process behind wanting to play Naya was that I felt like Burning Earth wasn't the trump that it had been; if I do not want to lean on Burning Earth against the field, I might as well play three colors. Boros Reckoner, Loxodon Smiter, and Selesnya Charm are all very well positioned right now, and I wanted to lean on those cards instead.
Unfortunately, I played against a lot of Jund, whose pilots all put in just enough time praying beforehand to have the miracles as timely as possible. After actually playing with the deck, I feel like the thought process was fine but realistically there is just too much Jund out there to rely on durdly midrange creatures without haste.
The Legacy portion of SCG Open Series: Baltimore was also quite exciting, and StarCityGames.com's own Jonathan Suarez won with Painted Stone. There were so many Force of Wills and Flusterstorms out there that I'm not surprised at all that a deck with six maindeck cards that read "counter target blue spell!" won. Sometimes the stars align and you make the right call, and this deck was absolutely perfect for this tournament. That being said, it could be a good call for Sunday in Cincinnati too, so dust off your Mountains!
That's it for this week, folks. I'm still a bit under the weather, but I do plan on streaming this week, so check it out if you're interested in more Chandra, Pyromaster fueled shenanigans!