Life caused me to miss two North American Grand Prix over the past month. Down but not out, I rekindled my fire in preparation for Grand Prix Dallas-Fort Worth. Willing, ready, and able, I embarked from Roanoke on my journey to glory. Nothing was going to stop me from crushing this tournament. Not my opponents, definitely not variance, but most importantly not a damn ice storm in Texas!
Even though I was prepared to stand face to face with Mother Nature in a battle over my destiny, Delta Airlines was not. With the lack of proper tools, I had to accept my fate and make other arrangements. Little did I know that William "Huey" Jensen was faced with the same hurdles but chose a different approach. With complete disregard for his safety, he beat the frigid mistress and almost every other person in that tournament to finish second.
What I take away from all of this is just how good Huey and his oath brothers Reid Duke and Owen Turtenwald are playing. Their dedication to this game over the last year is breathtakingly inspiring. These three best friends are also the three most dominating Magic players in the game right now. One of them has been in the finals of over half of the North American Grand Prix in the last year, but their accomplishments don't stop there. I had to beat Huey in the finals of the last Invitational to finally grow my horns, and two out of the three of them are going to the Sunday Super Series Championship in February. Huey unluckily played in almost every Grand Prix day 2 to not have an opportunity to receive this honor.
Every time one of them does well, it makes me think back to 2010 and how much I want that feeling again. They are my inspiration to get back the game I once had—not to just be crushing every event I play but to know that I am playing the best possible Magic I can. The only problem is that I can safely assume if I want to win a tournament I either have to beat one of them along the way, start collecting more stamps on my passport, or eat a lot of peaches.
My destiny for this past weekend was to change course for the StarCityGames.com Open Series in Oakland, California. As I was rebooking flights to get myself there at the reasonable time of 1:30 AM on Saturday, I laughed at the fact that only a couple weeks prior I was one wrong turn away from quitting this game. I guess this is just proves that life is much better when you have twenty of them.
The tournaments didn't go to well for me, but I was able to shake off the rust that had accumulated over the past month in preparation for the second coming of the Goat in Las Vegas. I did learn a thing or two while in sunny California, and as I sit here in the Hard Rock Hotel, I am proud to once again say, "Let's talk some Magic cards!"
Over the past month Wizards has given us three Standard Grand Prix. Even though I was unable to attend any of them, I still consider this the greatest Christmas present of all time (well, besides the love and support of you wonderful guys and gals). Many new decks and technologies emerged from these events, and today we are going to take a look at what the strongest decks in the metagame are. I may be on a diet, but it doesn't mean we can't indulge ourselves every once and a while. Plus it's the Las Vegas Invitational week! Let's talk Magic Candy!
It might be time to change this name.
#1: B/W Control
Mono-Black Devotion has been one of the most powerful decks since Grand Prix Louisville, but something unique happened to force it to start splashing another color. It's not because other decks could adapt to the monocolored deck or that this is strictly the more powerful version. It's because black has the most self-hate cards in the format.
It's interesting to me to see Mono-Black Devotion start to take on other colors while Mono-Blue Devotion stays the course. It would be nice for all the blue mages out there to find cards that are strictly good in the mirror to gain an advantage, but they have the luxury of those cards also being good in other matchups. Up to this point cards like Cyclonic Rift and Domestication were also good against the rest of the field given the amount of other devotion decks in the format. Mono-Black did not work this way.
The best cards against Mono0Black are very linear, like Blood Baron of Vizkopa and Dark Betrayal. When these cards get added to the deck, they increase the numbers in the mirror but slightly lose value in other matchups. This has to happen however since being good in the mirror is important.
The inclusion of Blood Baron of Vizkopa isn't really that bad. Gray Merchant of Asphodel was a strong card in the deck, but the format has picked up in speed. This means that it is much more difficult to find the time to get the black mana symbols onto the board while also interacting with the opponent before it's time to drain their life total. I found myself constantly playing Gray Merchant of Asphodel on an empty board due to needing every turn to kill creatures or having my opponents kill mine. Blood Baron of Vizkopa allows the deck to not only spend it's time killing creatures but still put a big threat on the table.
Last Breath is also a nice inclusion to the deck, allowing it to have a removal spell that kills Frostburn Weird, Pack Rat, and Nightveil Specter. With the format being so reliant on small creatures, removal spells like this go up in value. The reason for Last Breath being so good is the same reasoning I had when working on U/B Devotion last week.
There will always be different flavors of this strategy, and one of them will always be one of the best decks in the format. This strategy has a very powerful early and late game, giving it a powerful game plan against every deck. Thoughtseize has proven itself to be one of the best cards of all time, and along with Pack Rat this deck can simply win with very few tools.
The deck also can go late with cards like Hero's Downfall and Underworld Connections. There will always be decks better positioned for a week or two, but you won't go wrong for an entire PTQ season playing some flavor of this wonderful chocolate.
#2: Whatever Huey Is Playing (U/W Control)
Last weekend Huey did the unimaginable. Not only did he conquer Mother Nature, but he showcased the true power of an Andrew Cuneo decklist. To be honest, the only proof that I have that this deck is Andrew's is by looking at it. Maybe I should have done my research before I claimed it to be his, but what the hell—I'll take a shot in the dark. The reason I say that is because of how few win conditions are in the deck. With only one Elspeth, Sun's Champion; two Mutavaults; and three Jace, Architect of Thoughts, the most important card in the deck becomes Elixir of Immortality.
In my opinion, this strategy works once. Now that it's public information that this deck has so few win conditions, players might actually attack the Elixir of Immortality with Thoughtseize instead of Sphinx's Revelation. I say this not because it's a reasonable thing to be afraid of but because mere mortals should not play so few win conditions. Huey is a freak of nature that's capable of making a high number of plays at a lightning-fast pace. This is needed when playing this deck because you might have to activate the Elixir up to five times in a match to win. I know I would not be capable of playing this deck without getting too many draws or losing due to rushing myself.
This isn't the only version of U/W doing well. Joe Lossett ended up taking down the Standard Open in Oakland this past weekend with his take on the control deck.
Even though he's also on Elixir of Immortality, he still decided to play more win conditions. Elspeth, Sun's Champion plays many roles against the aggressive matchups. It mostly acts as a win condition but can also produce enough chump blockers to stabilize or even kill off pesky threats like Stormbreath Dragon. This planeswalker seems much more powerful than Aetherling right now given the number of control decks running around. This might shift soon, but I wouldn't count on it for the Invitational.
#3: "Mostly Sort Of White But Also Playing A Little Bit Of Black Orzhov Weenie Aggro"
- 4 Banisher Priest
- 4 Boros Elite
- 4 Daring Skyjek
- 4 Dryad Militant
- 3 Imposing Sovereign
- 4 Precinct Captain
- 4 Soldier of the Pantheon
- 2 Xathrid Necromancer
I am in love with this version of White Weenie! It was important to play Boros Charm in this deck a month ago, but many of the Supreme Verdicts left the format. This meant the deck had an answer to a problem that was non-existent. It was easy to ignore the fact the White Weenie didn't need the card anymore due to how powerful just dealing four damage was, but Luis Scott-Vargas and crew found the diamond in the rough known as Orzhov Charm.
This removal spell is perfect for a deck like this. Not only does it kill every creature, but the downside of losing life isn't that relevant. Sure, some games will come down to those couple points, but for the most part it will just be a removal spell that has the added bonus of returning a one-drop to the table when you're applying pressure. This helps against U/W Control decks when they cast Supreme Verdict. I'm always in the business of making my cards work harder than normal, and Orzhov Charm fits the bill.
Xathrid Necromancer is also an interesting card in the deck. Obviously this guy helps out against Supreme Verdict, but the added bonus of always being able to keep a Desecration Demon at bay is a luxury most other aggressive decks don't have. It's also nice that many of the deck's creatures are Humans, allowing you to cast the black creature and swing in. Sure, an opponent can trade, but this will leave a few Zombies to help clean up the rest of the game. They don't have to Brave the Elements if they are already dead!
#4: Mono-Blue Devotion
- 4 Cloudfin Raptor
- 4 Frostburn Weird
- 4 Judge's Familiar
- 4 Master of Waves
- 4 Nightveil Specter
- 4 Tidebinder Mage
- 4 Thassa, God of the Sea
Pretty much every Mono-Blue Devotion deck is within five cards of each other. Those slots tend to be personal preference or metagame calls, but you can almost always predict what they have access to each time you play the matchup. Even though this is the most predictable deck in the format, it does not make it any less deadly. This deck has proved to be one of the most consistent since Pro Tour Theros and will always be a tournament staple until someone finds a way to maindeck four Skylashers and get away with it.
The reason for this deck's dominance is it's the most consistent deck that tries to "snowball." Once Mono-Blue Devotion finds a chink in an enemy's armor, it will spend the rest of the game trying to exploit it. Whether it's a weakness to fliers, card advantage, or an opponent's inability to surf, this deck is deadly when an opponent can't fight on a specific access.
The games this deck loses tend to be those where it didn't get any traction in the early game and now the snowball effect goes in the opposite direction. This is why the deck leans so heavily on Cyclonic Rift to help catch up in those games.
This is the deck I would suggest if your local metagame does not have many Sphinx's Revelation decks in it.
#5: Naya Control
Last but not least on the list of decks I would play this weekend is Naya Control. This deck was great at the last Invitational, and there really isn't a reason for it not to be good now. The format shifted around a couple times, but it has rested in a very good place for this deck. Even Esper Control players are shaving a color, making the matchup that much better since Thoughtseize and Hero's Downfall were some of the more threatening cards.
This deck is only good when everyone is playing devotion-based decks or other permanent-based aggressive strategies. Anger of the Gods is extremely powerful right now, and this is the best deck to cast it. The deck leans on sixteen removal spells in the main with a couple more in the board, and it has a ton of ways to gain value as well as keep a good board presence.
Bramblecrush is what Sunhome Guildmage always wanted to be. Not only does this card help with pesky cards like Jace, Architect of Thought, but it's crucial in the war against Underworld Connections in the Mono-Black Devotion matchup. I wanted to find a card that would force Mono-Black Devotion into awkward spots when it was in my hand in combination with Assemble the Legion. Both of these cards crush Underworld Connections, making it difficult for an opponent's Thoughtseizes to be too potent.
The two Boros Reckoners are in the sideboard to help out in the early game against white-based aggro. Oftentimes you would get stuck going one-for-one with removal when you didn't draw Anger of the Gods and be forced to take damage from one creature plus a Mutavault. Boros Reckoner gives the deck more creatures that help force the opponent into awkward positions when trying to attack but not overcommit to the board.
Alright, ladies and gentlemen, I am going to go back to testing for the Invitational. There has not been a tournament this important to me in a long time. After a month of hardships and revelations, I am happy to announce that every fiber in my body will be trying to go back to back. I don't know why getting another token is so important to me right now, but I just want it.
Sorry for all of you out there that are not content providers for StarCityGames.com and also competing this weekend; I'm going to do my best to keep it in the family!