The StarCityGames.com Open Series draws a lot of talented players, and I firmly believe these tournaments are going to set the stage for metagame developments in both Standard and Legacy going forward. What I want to do is provide my own perspective about the goings-on in both formats, informed by my own experience as a player as well as what I saw on camera during the weekend. If you tuned in for the entire show, think of this as a recap of both events with a little of my own perspective thrown in. If you missed the show, hopefully this gives you more information about what took place than you could glean by reading the Top 16 decklists.
The Midwest rarely disappoints when it comes to attendance, and Indianapolis was no exception with over 700 players braving the weather to battle in the Standard Open. In the end Owen Turtenwald stood alone, playing a Mono-Black Devotion list very similar to the one he used to win Grand Prix Albuquerque several weeks back.
At this point I think it's safe to say this is The Best Deck In The Format, though plenty of other decks get played and succeed. Besides the objective power level of the deck, there's a bunch of variance reduction going on here as well. Thoughtseize and Hero's Downfall ignore opposing text boxes. Mutavault is both a land and a spell. Once Pack Rat gets going, you're no longer at the mercy of drawing poorly. The total sum of this is a deck that's able to play a similar game over and over and a deck that's very challenging to adapt to. Still, a couple of weaknesses exist.
For starters, the deck is a little slow out of the gate. On the first turn, it casts a discard spell or does nothing. On the second turn, it casts a removal spell (which may or may not be able to kill the primary threat in play) or a 1/1. On the third turn, it casts a 2/3, makes a Gray Ogre, or casts another removal spell. This is a relatively low-impact start, and it's only on turns 4+ that the deck starts doing powerful things. Secondly, between Thoughtseize and Underworld Connections, the life total is a real resource, so taxing that can be productive. Lastly, enchantments are tough for the deck to handle (only discard spells and stray Ratchet Bombs really), so cards like Assemble the Legion can steal games. It's the first two things I'd like to focus on, as several of the other decks in the Top 8 seemed poised to attack Mono-Black on those axes.
- 4 Banisher Priest
- 4 Experiment One
- 4 Fleecemane Lion
- 3 Mistcutter Hydra
- 2 Skylasher
- 4 Soldier of the Pantheon
- 4 Voice of Resurgence
- 4 Boon Satyr
Fresh off an Invitational Top 4 with the same archetype, Andrew Shrout was within inches of winning the Standard Open before succumbing to Turtenwald in three games. Still, I believe G/W has a lot of tools in the matchup. It's aggressive and fast, with numerous powerful one- and two-mana plays. Voice of Resurgence is especially punishing toward Devour Flesh. And unlike many aggressive decks, G/W has a great answer to Desecration Demon in Selesnya Charm. The only thing missing is a good answer to Pack Rat (G/W can be faster, buy time with Banisher Priest, or use Last Breath, none of which is the best plan), which is what ultimately doomed Shrout in the finals.
Also, keep in mind that Shrout devoted a lot of maindeck space to fighting Mono-Blue Devotion, with five total pro-blue creatures in the maindeck. Those are slots that could be devoted to more efficient cards against Mono-Black (Call of the Conclave, Loxodon Smiter, Imposing Sovereign, etc.), so it's possible to improve the matchup even further if you're willing to give up some percentage points against Mono-Blue.
Another compelling deck was the G/R Monsters deck piloted by SCG's own Chris VanMeter and Brian Braun-Duin. Chris started off strong before faltering in the second half of the Swiss rounds, while Brian finished in the Top 4 alongside Dan Cato, who also playing the deck.
- 4 Elvish Mystic
- 4 Ghor-Clan Rampager
- 3 Scavenging Ooze
- 4 Stormbreath Dragon
- 3 Sylvan Caryatid
- 3 Boon Satyr
- 4 Polukranos, World Eater
This deck isn't quite as low to the ground as Shrout's, but it's still trying to get off to fast and explosive starts. Early mana creatures can accelerate out Domri Rade, Xenagos, or Polukranos before Mono-Black can establish a foothold in the game, and Stormbreath Dragon, Boon Satyr, and Flesh // Blood provide a lot of range. Monsters can also kill Pack Rat (Mortars, Domri, Blood), fly over it, or simply overpower it with bigger stuff. Desecration Demon is problematic, but Mutavault and spare mana creatures can pin it down while your bigger stuff finishes the game.
G/W Aggro and G/R Monsters try to fight Mono-Black with entirely different cards, but the philosophies are similar—overpower them early (when Mono-Black is least efficient), be redundant (to minimize the harm Thoughtseize can cause), and play cards that are efficient against Pack Rat and Desecration Demon. Mono-Black Devotion certainly remains the deck to beat going into Orlando, but these decks present cohesive plans to fight it.
While the Standard Open was won by the biggest name piloting the most popular deck, the Legacy Open was anything but. Ever since Turtenwald's win at Grand Prix Washington DC, U/W/R Delver has been the deck to beat. Kennen Haas showed the world how to do it, ripping through multiple Delver decks with his innovative Jund Depths list en route to taking down the whole tournament.
We've seen Loam decks before, but they can be vulnerable to fast tempo draws from Delver decks. We've seen decks like Lands before, but those decks often get draws that go nowhere or are blown apart by a single Wasteland. Kennen combined the best of both worlds, with various utility lands (Maze of Ith, The Tabernacle at Pendrell Vale) that aren't susceptible to permission alongside a large swath of redundant removal (Lilliana of the Vale, Smallpox, Punishing Fire) so the deck isn't entirely dependent on Life from the Loam to get anything going.
Entomb glues the whole thing together, allowing it to get Loam, a utility land once Loam gets going, or a variety of oddball bullets for specific situations. I don't want to speak too much on the strategy of the deck or the individual card choices since Kennen will be doing that himself later this week, but if you're in the market for a deck that crushes Delver (along with any other creature deck I would wager), I can't recommend this one highly enough.
Oddly enough, this wasn't our only Depths list in the elimination rounds, as Tony Wong made the Top 8 before falling to U/W/R Delver:
- 2 Dark Confidant
- 1 Deathrite Shaman
- 4 Knight of the Reliquary
- 3 Vampire Hexmage
- 1 Gaddock Teeg
- 1 Dryad Arbor
This is a much different take on the strategy, with Knight of the Reliquary and Chalice of the Void being the primary incentives. This deck can either grind someone down with Knight or combo kill through Vampire Hexmage + Dark Depths or Dark Depths + Thespian's Stage (for those of you out of the loop, Stage can copy Dark Depths and immediately turn into a 20/20, since it has no counters). For a Knight deck, Wong is surprisingly light on utility lands, and I suspect you could comfortably add cards like Horizon Canopy, Maze of Ith, or others if you were feeling so inclined.
That said, I'm sure this deck also has a positive matchup against Delver, with a healthy amount of removal and especially Chalice of the Void, which locks out a huge portion of Delver decks when set to one. Conveniently enough, Delver decks can generally kill Marit Lage tokens with Swords to Plowshares, so a resolved Chalice allows you to safely make it when you cobble together the combo.
I spoke about this some on the broadcast, but I think it's really important for decks like Kennen's to win tournaments every so often. When Legacy first started to explode in popularity a few years ago, there was a perception that there were a million good decks and that nearly any strategy was viable. That was nonsense at the time, but there wasn't enough time invested in the format or incentives for the best deckbuilders to address it. That's all changed now, with the Open Series, Grand Prix, and Legacy coming to Magic Online. Just like every other format, there are "the best decks," and those lists are as tuned and tested as anything you'll see in Standard.
Still, the charm of Legacy is the vastness of the card pool and the depth of the interactions, and if all the format becomes is everyone running Delvers and Emrakuls into each other, a lot of the mystique Legacy will be ruined. It's important for the funky ones to get their chance to shine every now and again, even if it's far less frequently than it was a couple of years back.
Make no mistake—Haas' win was no fluke. Delver decks are incredibly popular, especially among the Open's top players, and four Delver decks made the elimination rounds. Haas' deck put a beating on Delver every time he appeared on camera, and even though the combo matchups appear helpless (though he did beat ANT on his way to the finals somehow), if the field remains as creature-oriented as it has the last few months this deck could turn out to be a real player.
Indianapolis was a case of extremes—an established name and deck winning the Standard Open and anything but taking down the Legacy Open. Make sure to check out the Open Series next week in Orlando, where we'll see if deckbuilders have found solutions to Mono-Black Devotion in Standard and if various Dark Depths strategies continue to prey on Delver of Secrets in Legacy.