Umm, you guys, the water level is rising. We should definitely get the power cords out from under the table, and frankly I wouldn't want boxes of cards so close to the flood.
Adam Prosak did say that this was going to be a big storm weekend . . .
Is that water pouring in from the ceiling?!
This past weekend's StarCityGames.com Open Series in Cincinnati was certainly an adventure. The site got hit by a pretty harsh storm, we lost power three times, and the venue started flooding from water rushing in through doors and the ceiling. To make matters worse, the back-up generators don't power the A/C, so the last three hours of the event had a different sort of feel to them.
Nevertheless, the end result was a pretty stellar tournament, culminating with a fairly amazing fourteen different archetypes in the Top 16! When was the last time we saw anything like that in Standard, let alone just one month before the new set (and the format rotation)? Say what you will about this Standard format, but it is certainly diverse with countless viable strategies (assuming you can't count to fourteen).
Just looking at the Top 16 of SCG Standard Open: Cincinnati alone, we see:
2x U/W/R Flash
2x Junk Reanimator
Of course, this diversity isn't completely out of nowhere. Last week SCG Standard Open: Baltimore and Grand Prix Kitakyushu both had exceptionally diverse metagames, and even the mix of decks at the top tables in all three were highly varied. Let's take a look at the current metagame using the results from these past three major events. As always, this is a winner's circle metagame in the style of Hall of Famer Frank Karsten, reflecting what you need to beat in order to actually win the event (and not the metagame at the 2-3 bracket).
Eighteen archetypes? For serious? This is Standard?
That is a lot of sick decks, though it is a bit sad that only three of them are blue (and all three those are U/W). Still, the talk of the weekend had to be Adam Prosak's U/R Pyromancer Storm combo deck, which finished just one win out of Top 8.
This weekend was long-time SCG Open favorite Adam Prosak's swan song, as he takes a break from competitive Magic . . .
. . . to work in Wizards of the Coast R&D!
Prosak is a brilliant deckbuilder and just has so many new ideas. Magic is going to be a better game from having his eyes and brain on the making of the game, and I know he is going to have the time of his life. He loves the game, to say the least.
In his final at-bat, Prosak brought his FNM Hero deck, U/R Pyromancer Storm, a deck that was turning heads all weekend. After a number of feature matches, Burn at the Stake and Young Pyromancer were getting traded for left and right. It isn't just a new deck coming to the table; it's how different of a game it plays than anything else in the format. It really is a functional Storm deck in a format full of midrange decks playing fair. The number of games where Prosak "went off" from board positions that seemed hopeless was shocking.
Here's his list:
The core engine of the deck is the package of Young Pyromancer, Goblin Electromancer, and Guttersnipe. Each of these creatures pays you for every spell you cast, and if you ever get a full turn with two or more in play, you start doing some pretty nutty things.
Young Pyromancer is your all-star, filling the board faster than Empty the Warrens, which can lead to massive Battle Hymns or Burn at the Stakes but sometimes just wins the game on its own by virtue of a massive army.
Goblin Electromancer is basically giving you a Lotus Petal for most of your spells. This helps lead to explosive turns involving Battle Hymn and Past in Flames, letting you do a pretty mean Yawgmoth's Will impression. Additionally, Krenko's Command actually starts to net you mana when you have an Electromancer and a Battle Hymn somewhere in the equation.
Guttersnipe is a little blunter of an instrument, and while it costs three mana, it can stack up a lot of damage pretty fast (and has a form of haste).
The early turns are mostly set up, with Thought Scour, Faithless Looting, Desperate Ravings, and Augur of Bolas digging to a good mix of spells to try to explode with mana from a big Battle Hymn. Just having a couple of your creatures live leads to pretty big blowouts, but against opponents with a lot of removal, you're looking to drop one of your aces, set up a chain of Krenko's Command and Battle Hymn, and cast Past in Flames to just go nuts.
It's worth noting that when you actually get enough guys in play to Burn at the Stake, your opponent can't (effectively) respond by killing your guys. You tap them as part of the cost, so the moment you have seven bodies and five mana, you win. It's also good to remember that you don't need to completely combo off. There is no reason you can't just get some Goblin beats in there, maybe a couple of Guttersnipes, and then just Burn at the Stake for twelve (plus two from the Guttersnipe trigger).
The deck's Achilles' heel? Scavenging Ooze was a pretty tough obstacle to overcome, particularly when backed up with lots of removal. The ability to empty the graveyard combined with being a fast clock put a lot of pressure on Prosak all weekend. Obviously, that is a pretty unfortunate card to be weak to, but not everyone has it; not everyone draws it; you get to sideboard in Mortars; and even if they are able to keep your yard empty, you can still combo off completely from the hand. Sometimes you are even going to Burn at the Stake for nine and then Burn at the stake for nine again (after some mediocre beats or some shockland damage).
Prosak did cash the event, and while he finished one win out of Top 8, we were not short on synergies in the Top 8. Up first is the champ, Nicholas Mudd, and The Aristocrats deck that has narrowly edged out the rest of the format for the top spot of the week.
- 4 Blood Artist
- 4 Cartel Aristocrat
- 4 Champion of the Parish
- 4 Doomed Traveler
- 4 Falkenrath Aristocrat
- 3 Skirsdag High Priest
- 4 Xathrid Necromancer
This latest incarnation of Aristocrats (Act 4?) returns to its roots, both in colors (B/W/R) and in spirit (no more Boros Reckoner / Blasphemous Act combo). This time the new twist is Xathrid Necromancer, making for some extremely robust if modest beats.
While The Aristocrats is hardly new, some of the other top strategies definitely are. The runner-up in Saturday's Open was Heath Perdue, piloting the G/W Archangel of Thune Aggro deck we discussed a few weeks ago. This deck was designed to fight G/R Aggro but happens to match up nicely against quite a few aggro decks. Its biggest weakness? Supreme Verdict.
And there aren't exactly that many blue decks these days . . .
- 3 Arbor Elf
- 4 Archangel of Thune
- 4 Avacyn's Pilgrim
- 2 Fiend Hunter
- 4 Loxodon Smiter
- 3 Scavenging Ooze
- 4 Silverblade Paladin
- 4 Voice of Resurgence
- 2 Trostani, Selesnya's Voice
Perdue's list features a solid mid-speed aggro curve, but what really pulls it all together is Archangel of Thune, which not only combos with itself but turns Scavenging Ooze and Trostani, Selesnya's Voice into absolute game-breaking threats.
Outside of the obvious bruisers, Archangel Aggro can also overpower stand-offs with the help of Gavony Township, Silverblade Paladin, or Garruk Relentless. What's really cool about this list, however, is the sideboard. Pay No Heed is a clever answer to Bonfire of the Damned and Mizzium Mortars, Celestial Flare helps against Desecration Demon and Geist of Saint Traft, and Unflinching Courage is a backbreaking way to punish decks without much removal.
One of the big trends we saw throughout the weekend was the rise of B/x decks. While there are quite a few Junk (B/G/W) decks in the format, the recent popularity of Burning Earth and the value of having a sweeper like Mutilate has pushed basically Mono-Black Control into the spotlight, with roughly one out of seven decks at the top tables being black with a touch of white or black with a touch of green. First up, the white variant:
- 3 Desecration Demon
- 2 Disciple of Bolas
- 3 Geralf's Messenger
- 4 Restoration Angel
- 3 Vampire Nighthawk
- 2 Obzedat, Ghost Council
Andrew Tenjum went completely undefeated in Swiss before losing a heartbreaking semifinals on a mull to five. He was facing down Garruk, Primal Hunter; Primeval Bounty; tons of creatures; a low life total; and an opponent with lots of cards. A carefully constructed sequence of plays let him crawl back close enough to actually see a sliver of hope, but in the end he was just a little short of the impossible comeback.
His (nearly) Mono-Black Control deck (i.e. B/W Midrange) is a pretty typical Mono-Black Control deck, using efficient creatures, tons of removal, and a bunch of ways to trade life or creatures for extra cards. The white splash is just Restoration Angel; Obzedat, Ghost Council; and a couple white enchantments. Where the deck really gets crazy is when you sacrifice a Desecration Demon to your Disciple of Bolas and draw a boatload of cards with plenty of life to live long enough to use them. It's like a Sphinx's Revelation that is actually playable!
The B/G variation is actually almost the exact same deck with a few cosmetic changes:
Thragtusk and Scavenging Ooze replace Obzedat and Restoration Angel, and Abrupt Decay and Putrefy replace Blind Obedience and Oblivion Ring. Wicher has employed Lifebane Zombies instead of Vampire Nighthawks, but really either of these decks could use either of them depending on the metagame expected that week. Finally, Wicher's Scavenging Oozes mean he doesn't need as many cheap plays as Tenjum, letting him replace Geralf's Messenger with Staff of Nin and Vraska the Unseen.
While nearly Mono-Black Control decks appear to be the most popular control decks in the format, there are still a few blue decks fighting for survival. In recent weeks, the popularity of Burning Earth had U/W replace U/W/R as the control deck of choice; however, the success of G/R Aggro has forced the format to adapt to Burning Earth, which has in turn led to far fewer Burning Earths. Amusingly, Burning Earth was so effective that it is now safer to play decks that lose to Burning Earth!
Basically, since the inception of the M14 metagame, U/W/R Flash has been the blue deck of choice, as Pillar of Flame and Warleader's Helix are the best removal spells for U/W. While Burning Earth is still crippling, the hope is that you just don't run into that many. Two Islands and a Ghost Quarter to find one give you slightly more hope of casting spells ever again, and both Detention Sphere and Ratchet Bomb can be answers under the right circumstances.
As has been the trend in recent months, Kruchkow has declined to use Geist of Saint Traft, as there are just too many opposing creatures. While many U/W/R players play Thundermaw Hellkite or Aurelia, the Warleader in their sideboard, Kruchkow goes the other way, employing Aetherling for when he wants to go over the top.
As we mentioned, U/W/R had recently dipped in popularity, with straight UW taking its place. This week saw a resurgence of U/W/R, but last week we saw a pretty good showing from some of the two-color variety, such as Jake Moldosky's U/W list he used to Top 8 SCG Baltimore.
Amusingly, this isn't the only U/W deck that had a respectable showing last week. Yuuta Takahashi made Top 8 of GP Kitakyushu with his U/W Delver deck, taking us way back in time:
This list doesn't just bring Geist of Saint Traft back; it actually goes all the way back to Delver of Secrets. Remember Unsummon? Yeah, that's still a thing. How did Yuuta overcome the primary problem with Delver since Ponder rotated out—actually flipping it? He upped his total spell count as much as he possibly could, even stooping as low as to utilize Quicken.
You win this round, Flores. You win this round.
How good is this U/W Delver redux? Only Matt Costa knows for sure. If he isn't on board, no chance I'd be, but if he believes it is the blue deck of choice, it's got chances. Its lack of any sort of presence this weekend in Cincinnati indicates that at the very least it isn't taking the format by storm.
I suppose I would be remiss if I did not mention the one other "blue" deck, Bant Hexproof. This is certainly not a control deck and only very barely a blue deck. There aren't really any new tricks to worry about, but like The Aristocrats, G/R Aggro, U/W/R Flash, and maybe Jund (or B/W Midrange), this deck should probably be in any serious gauntlet. It's particularly challenging putting together a good gauntlet when there are twenty different decks people are playing, but this one is worth the slot.
One of the other cool decks to emerge over the past couple of weeks has been Big Red. This mono-red deck is a pretty far cry from the Mono-Red Aggro style of decks that have reemerged over and over. These decks actually go quite a bit bigger, cutting all of the one-drops to help make room for Chandra's Phoenix; Boros Reckoner; Hellrider; Thundermaw Hellkite; Chandra, Pyromaster; and maindeck Burning Earth.
Outside of just having a good time playing big cards, Moreno's build gets style points for Curse of the Pierced Heart out of the sideboard. If your opponent has a ton of creature removal, Curse of the Pierced Heart lets you turn into a full-on burn deck.
As you can see, Standard has reached this pretty sweet spot where there are way more viable strategies than anyone can realistically test against. This much diversity is a welcome breath of fresh air, and putting together a playtest gauntlet can be quite challenging under these conditions. My recommendation? Try assembling five decks that represent the greatest range of opposing game plans. Maybe there are a lot of B/W and B/G Midrange decks, but they are so similar that they probably don't warrant two slots.
Alright, I'm out for today, but I'll be back Wednesday as we dive into Theros spoilers. Let me know what card or cards you want covered most. Will we discuss combining Bident of Thassa with Cloudfin Raptor, Judge's Familiar, Galerider Sliver, and Faerie Imposter? Perhaps New Prahv Guildmage and Skygames + Bow of Nylea? What about Satyr Hedonist + Garruk, Caller of Beasts? Maybe we should break down the new Elspeth and figure out if she is the real deal or real overrated. Or maybe we're actually just going to look at why Chained to the Rocks might be the return to glory of Boros Aggro.
I just want talk about a sick new way to get card advantage . . .