Well, that escalated quickly.
Last week, it looked like Standard was defined by Mono-Red Aggro and U/W/x Control. This week, there were only two copies of Mono-Red Aggro in the Top 16 and only two copies of U/W/x Control in the Top 16. Decks like Naya Midrange, B/W/x Midrange, G/W Aggro, and even Mono-Green Aggro made themselves known.
Now we're getting somewhere...
Going into Pro Tour Theros, midrange decks are poised to dominate. Now that the metagame is more defined, it should be easier to tune midrange decks to prey on the metagame. The combination of difficult-to-deal-with threats plus removal, disruption, and card advantage is a recipe for success.
Mono-Red and U/W are linear strategies that are easy to exploit, and for the most part they can't adapt to those who are exploiting them. Midrange, on the other hand, dares you to try to fight it. Do you want removal, card advantage, or disruption against them? In what numbers? What happens when you draw the wrong portion of your deck against theirs?
Ironically, the major weakness of midrange decks is also what allows them to thrive.
Sadly, we've yet to see anything from B/R Midrange. I put the deck together on Magic Online the first day Theros was legal, and I haven't been disappointed yet. It is, without a doubt, the deck that I will be playing in Pro Tour Theros.
This is my current list:
This list has evolved a lot in the last few days, but it has possibly devolved as well.
Chandra, Pyromaster was initially very powerful and it's a card that I might end up playing in Pro Tour Theros this weekend, depending on what types of decks I'm expecting to face. Based on Pro Tour Dragon's Maze, U/W and Esper Control should be popular whereas Mono-Red probably won't be. After all, I don't predict many Mono-Red players will want to walk into a tournament full of G/W and midrange decks, regardless of how much reach Fanatic of Mogis gives them.
Against decks like Owen's Turtenwald's Mono-Red or any white-based aggro deck, Chandra is going to do some work. However, those decks don't seem incredibly popular right now. Instead, we have a format of creatureless control decks and decks with big creatures. Chandra is little more than a glorified Underworld Connections at that point, and that's not a card I want to draw.
Despite how important having a midgame engine is, I've found myself shaving Chandras and Read the Bones. Drawing multiples of those and little interaction is a sure-fire way to fall behind with little to no hope of coming back. Against U/W Control, you want roughly as many card drawers as you can get your hands on, so I think the answer is playing one too many card drawers for the aggro matchup and playing one fewer card drawer than you'd like in the control matchup, and sideboard appropriately.
Don't get me wrong - Read the Bones is the truth. I just need the format to slow down a bit first. Losing that card drawing in game one definitely weakens the deck against control and midrange, so I've tried to make up for that by playing an extra Underworld Connections in the sideboard.
Devour Flesh is the card that's been keeping me afloat against the crazy midrange decks. Whether it's Obzedat, Ghost Council, Stormbreath Dragon, Blood Baron of Vizkopa, or Reaper of the Wilds, Devour Flesh is the perfect answer. Of course, you might need a little help from Anger of the Gods to clear out the little guys, but that shouldn't be too difficult. Without Devour Flesh, you'd be hard-pressed to find a nice, clean answer to all the problematic creatures.
The singleton Ratchet Bomb has found its way into my maindeck as another answer to G/W and its horde of tokens, but most importantly as a clean answer to Advent of the Wurm. That card, backed up by Rootborn Defenses, is responsible for most of my losses to that archetype. That's another matchup, like W/R Aggro, where Thoughtseize is actually good against them because you need a way to beat their tricks.
Post-board, you can become a Ratchet Bomb recursion deck thanks to Trading Post, another card that I've recently slotted into the maindeck. I don't want to be The Brad Who Cried Trading Post here, but the engine is very powerful, and something I might incorporate on a grander scale. Having an engine that gains you life, recurs Ratchet Bombs and threats, and even Fogs Boros Reckoner for the cost of one life is something I'm interested in.
The thing that has plagued me the most is the difficult sideboarding in some matchups. Against Mono-Red Aggro, doing something like this is simple:
Against some of the stranger decks I've faced, like Junk with Lotleth Troll and Whip of Erebos, it's much more difficult. On the one hand, they are reasonably aggressive so I definitely want some early removal. On the other hand, the games can potentially go late, which makes me interested in sideboarding cards like Underworld Connections.
The efficacy of Thoughtseize is also in question, as there's nothing specific I want to make them discard outside of Whip of Erebos and losing two life against a potentially aggressive draw isn't where I want to be. All of Thoughtseize's cons add up when you draw multiples, which leads me to believe that I shouldn't have many in my deck post-sideboard, if any.
Sideboarding can be difficult in a new format when you never know what types of cards your opponent is going to play against you. Trying new strategies and failing can be frustrating, but nothing beats that feeling when you finally figure it out and you end up with that perfect mix of answers for whatever your opponent could throw at you.
I'm still learning with the deck and new matchups are popping up every day, which doesn't make things any easier. Hopefully I'll be ready by the Pro Tour. Unfortunately, I can't ever stop brewing and, oddly enough, this list might be better:
Have I gone off the deep end, been spending too much time with Brad, or both?
Honestly, this list looks pretty good. Trading Post allows you to not get all your Rakdos Keyrunes Detention Sphered, gains you life against Mono-Red, gives you infinite Ratchet Bombs against G/W, and lets you draw cards with Prophetic Prism. Prism also lets you cut a Rakdos Guildgate!
On top of all that, Haunted Plate Mail is actually an upgrade to Desecration Demon in a lot of matchups, including Mono-Red. It's immune to Act of Treason and Firefist Striker, and they can't keep it locked down by sacrificing creatures if you're flooded or drew very little removal.
You lose a lot of pressure, which is one of the things Brad was worried about when playing U/W Trading Post, but I honestly don't think that will ever be an issue if you can play quickly. On top of that, this deck has Mutavaults and Rakdos Keyrunes to pressure opponents which Brad's deck didn't have. It might not seem like much, but being able to kill in four turns is still pretty fast, and that's barring any Rakdos's Return shenanigans.
I could honestly see myself playing Trading Post at the Pro Tour, but I'm sure many would chronicle it as yet another of my Pro Tour blunders. My instincts are pretty good, and after rationalizing them, they usually make sense. In this case, playing Trading Post feels correct.
Despite what I said about there being no doubts about playing B/R, there are evil temptresses about...
Andrew Morrow finished in fifth place last weekend with one of the few decks that gave me pause. It wasn't enough to sway me away from Rakdos Guildgates, but it was close. There's plenty going on with his deck that I like, including Sin Collector, which is a fantastic disruption spell against G/W and U/W, and Obzedat, Ghost Council, one of the biggest threats in the format.
Pharika's Curse, Elspeth, Sun's Champion, and Blind Obedience are all fairly powerful too. The three things I miss from B/R are a one-drop removal spell, a sweeper, and the mana sources that attack them. Eight enters-the-battlefield-tapped lands is no picnic either, but I guess it's a necessity. That manabase just makes me appreciate B/R even more, even if B/W has some nice tools.
Here's another deck that caught my eye last weekend:
- 4 Burning-Tree Emissary
- 2 Deadbridge Goliath
- 4 Elvish Mystic
- 4 Experiment One
- 2 Kalonian Hydra
- 4 Kalonian Tusker
- 4 Reverent Hunter
- 2 Scavenging Ooze
- 4 Boon Satyr
- 2 Polukranos, World Eater
- 4 Nylea, God of the Hunt
I don't think people are getting creative enough yet. For example, the above deck could easily splash Domri Rade (and potentially Ghor-Clan Rampager) and would likely be better for it. Also, Flames of the Firebrand out of the sideboard is a nice answer to Mono-Red, Mono-Green, and Mono-White. They could also take the Todd Anderson route and jam Nykthos, Shrine to Nix and Garruk, Caller of Beasts into the deck.
Regardless, this deck is capable of some incredibly starts, but certainly lacks the Rootborn Defenses aspect of G/W. Supreme Verdict is going to be difficult to beat, and Nylea is certainly no planeswalker.
For something old splashed with something new, I recommend this deck:
- 4 Boros Reckoner
- 4 Burning-Tree Emissary
- 4 Experiment One
- 3 Firefist Striker
- 4 Ghor-Clan Rampager
- 4 Rakdos Cackler
- 4 Scavenging Ooze
Obviously it could be cleaned up a little, particularly in the sideboard, but the maindeck looks very solid. At the very least, this looks better than the Naya decks with 12 duals and a 4/3/4 count on basics.
The final deck I'd like to talk about involves a card that very few people have been talking about: Master of Waves.
Mark Nestico has a couple nice articles on the subject, so you should check those out.
I think Master of Waves is a great card, and U/W Control is certainly a reasonable place to try it. That deck will likely be better against a random field than the various Mono-Blue (sometimes with a splash) lists that I've seen running around. Adding Master of Waves gives you another angle of attack, which should give you an edge against those who have been preparing for normal U/W Control decks.
The Mono-Blue lists look very powerful but narrow. I'm not sure I'd be willing to take that into a big tournament at the moment, but if the metagame becomes weak to cards like Master of Waves or Thassa, I'd definitely be on board for a tempo resurgence. However, Supreme Verdicts would either need to be at an all-time low or I'd need to find a good answer.
By the time this article gets published, I'll be on my way to Dublin for Pro Tour Theros. I likely won't have internet access, so as much as I'd like to respond to the comments, it doesn't look like I'll have that option this time. You guys have been great, especially for the last month or so, so please keep it up!
Hopefully, when I return I'll have a nice article about why B/R Midrange is the best deck in Standard.