The first Open weekend with Journey into Nyx is in the books and we finally have some data about the new face of Standard. When the dust was all settled it looked exactly how I had imagined that it would have a week of testing leading up to the Standard Open in Cincinnati.
Mono-Black Devotion splashing green won the whole thing in the capable hands of Andrew Tenjum, who felled Eric Rill playing U/W Control in the finals.
Neither Brian Braun-Duin nor I played any cards from Journey into Nyx in our 75 because we felt that the best deck for the tournament didn't need any of them.
The story behind that starts earlier in the week when BBD, Stephen Horne and I gathered for some nights of testing the Magical cards.
Stephen had planned on sticking with Mono-Black Devotion since it was the deck he was the most familiar with, so BBD and I were brewing up and proxying up some decks to jam against it with.
I started with the Golgari Midrange deck from my last article. Courser of Kruphix with Underworld Connections was awesome, Scavenging Ooze is a very good magic card, and Abrupt Decay is as powerful as advertised. The problem was that with only running four actual removal spells (Hero's Downfall), we were losing to Desecration Demon a lot. There were even a few games where Pack Rat ran away with the game. We were constantly getting screwed by Thoughtseize without having a lot of redundancy in our cards, and even though Temple of Malady was letting us scry into good stuff, we were just behind the curve at every turn.
I thought that the green cards would make up in power for the loss in synergy and consistency that you gain from the Devotion build but I was wrong.
I tried a few configurations with Devour Flesh in the deck, since without it we were actually pretty weak to Blood Baron of Vizkopa, which was something that I missed entirely in my first draft of the deck, and I still felt behind against the Devotion deck.
Next I wanted to try out Naya Hexproof. We were anticipating Hexproof being popular so we wanted to see how a version of Mono-Black Devotion with four Devour Flesh would do against it. It turns out, it would do just fine. I can imagine that the green splash makes the matchup a little easier with ways to interact with their Auras. The issue with the Hexproof deck is that sometimes you just draw the wrong half of your deck, or you get ruined by Thoughtseize, or you get blown out by a Devour Flesh. Sometimes, you even just lose to your own mana base, although Mana Confluence does help with that a bit.
When the deck has the perfects, it feels basically unstoppable, but hoping that a lot of planets align for that to happen isn't something that's going to pay off in a ten- or eleven-round tournament.
Stephen did end up playing Mono-Black Devotion, but without the green splash. Andrew Tenjum's 75 is just a handful off of what I had been toying with, but BBD was of the opinion that the aggressive decks would be very popular and shocking ourselves with Overgrown Tomb wasn't something that we needed to do and although Abrupt Decay was likely to be very good, Bile Blight was still also very good.
It turns out that aggressive decks weren't as popular as we had thought, and with everyone and their mom (Hi mom!) on Mono-Black Devotion and U/W Control, the Overgrown Tombs and Abrupt Decays would have been stellar.
We came to this conclusion partly due to the reasoning that in most new formats, people tend to lean on aggressive decks while the more controlling strategies are completely fleshed out, and because of Brad Nelson's Brave Naya deck.
We played a lot of games with that deck and it was quite good. Good enough that we thought a lot of people were going to be on it, or some variant of it, and shocking ourselves against them could prove to be fatal; not to mention just how good Bile Blight is against them. The problem I ran into with that deck, just like most other Naya strategies that I've tried, is that without Sylvan Caryatid, sometimes you just lose to your mana. Having some Temples can help, but then we are playing a slower game than we really want to be.
It could be that I'm just playing, and approaching the deck wrong, but that's what pulled me away from the deck.
What I ended up playing was old faithful, Jund Monsters.
By now, I'm sure everyone is aware of the race for the Season Two qualification for the Players' Championship. I'm trying real hard to push it to the back of my mind and just focus on testing, tuning, picking the right decks, and playing good Magic, but I'd be lying if I said it was easy to do that.
I felt like there really wasn't a deck that is heads and shoulders above the rest in the current Standard. Being familiar with whatever deck you choose to play, knowing the expected metagame, and building a good sideboard and executing it well are all much more important than just about anything else.
Save for having plenty of beef jerky and almonds on hand. Those are the most important things.
I knew Jund Monsters very well. I had my build from Charlotte still together, and when playing that against Black Devotion and U/W Control we had a very good overall game plan, a good sideboard plan, and crushed them. Stephen's Mono-Black Devotion deck couldn't buy a win against us.
I had an awful start to the tournament, finding myself at 2-2 after four rounds of battle, but was able to keep focus and rattle off five wins in a row and then draw into Top 32 in the last round with Ryan Hipp. Last year I definitely would have just dropped at 2-2 and found something better to do with my time, but my mindset has changed quite a bit.
This is the best thing I can do with my time.
I want to qualify for the Players' Championship. I want to continue to learn and get better at Magic. You aren't going to accomplish either of those things by not playing Magic.
Here is the Jund Monsters list I played:
- 4 Elvish Mystic
- 4 Ghor-Clan Rampager
- 3 Scavenging Ooze
- 4 Stormbreath Dragon
- 4 Sylvan Caryatid
- 3 Courser of Kruphix
- 4 Polukranos, World Eater
This list is only a few cards off of the one I used to Top 4 the Open in Charlotte. I cut the Sire of Insanity from the main for the third Courser of Kruphix. With the new set being released and anticipating a few more aggressive decks, I definitely wanted a third Courser and didn't really want to be staring at Sire of Insanity in my hand when my opponents are deploying Boros Reckoners.
As we move forward in the format, if we see more green midrange decks or more Monster decks, I could see going back down to two, since Courser isn't very good in those matchups, but for now I like my maindeck configuration.
The sideboard also changed a little with swapping the Garruk, Caller of Beasts for a Vraska the Unseen, which was absurd all day. Vraska the Unseen comes in against all the same decks that Garruk did, but costs one less mana so she is much easier to cast or sneak through some counter magic and you can also use Vraska against other green midrange decks.
I also swapped the Ultimate Price for Putrefy. This was a swap that I had recommended even before Journey into Nyx came out, and now I like it even more. With Mana Confluence giving more decks access to cards like Boros Reckoner, having a removal spell that kills Pack Rat, Desecration Demon, Nightveil Specter, Boros Reckoner, Polukranos, World Eater, Stormbreath Dragon, and Master of Waves is very important and Putrefy is basically the only spell that fits the bill. Being three mana as opposed to two can hurt sometimes, but not as much as losing to a creature that's in play that your removal spell can't hit.
The main draw to going back to Jund Monsters, card-wise, was Xenagos, the Reveler.
At four mana we get to dodge Abrupt Decay and it is a card that can win the game all by itself if left unchecked. We are already overloading Detention Spheres with our Domri Rade, and Xenagos, the Reveler just continues to put pressure on our control opponents, causing them to find another Detention Sphere or risk tapping out for a Supreme Verdict.
You still have to play smart with the card, though. In one of my losses against U/W Control I had an active Xenagos, the Reveler for multiple turns and still lost by not playing efficiently and taking many aggressive lines that I didn't need to. With a Golgari Charm in my hand, all I had to do was sit back and keep generating 2/2s to attack with and eventually get the blowout on the Supreme Verdict with the Charm, but instead, since I was choked on mana and couldn't develop my board and hold up for Golgari Charm mana, I just kept jamming creatures and Planeswalkers. He navigated the game with his Supreme Verdicts, Sphinx's Revelations, and Celestial Flares to stay alive multiple times and claw back into the game.
BBD also played Monsters again (I know, right!? No Elspeth?!), though he did have a few cards different from mine. I'm sure he will touch on that in his article this week, so keep an eye out.
Next week I will be in Knoxville, still on the hunt for Open Points to try and take back my lead from Eric Rill and stave off Joe Lossett so that I can qualify for the Players' Championship this season. There is a good chance that I'll be on Jund Monsters again. I'm going to test a bunch this week and see just how Abrupt Decay affects the Monsters matchup against Black Devotion, but my hunch is that it's not so much as to put me off the deck.
As for Legacy, now that's a different story. I knew I wanted to play BUG something. I wanted to be jamming Hymn to Tourach and Liliana of the Veil this weekend and BBD had independently came to the same conclusion, so we worked on a Shardless BUG build.
The deck was fun and powerful, and even though I raged and cried on Twitter and Facebook about never beating Painter and how good Blood Moon is against it, that's just the Legacy format. Gerry Thompson put me straight when he pointed out that fixing a bad matchup for a good deck is a lot better than just writing a deck off.
Man, I'm glad he's back.
I'm still pretty unhappy with just about everything in Legacy though, which is a weird spot for me. Usually I hate Standard and just love Legacy, but with Miracles running rampant and me having very little experience playing against it or with it I just feel like I'm in an awkward spot with Miracles.
Maybe it's just that every single time I play against someone with Miracles it's Joe freaking Lossett. To be fair, our match this weekend was awesome and it was a shame that it wasn't on camera. In Game 3, with time ticking down and his Jace ticking up to 13 counters, my Ancestral Visions came off suspend, drawing me into a Golgari Charm to answer his Vendilion Clique when he tried to bounce it with Karakas and a Pithing Needle to stop his Jace from killing me.
To be fair, with the Ancestral Visions resolving, counting on Jace as an actual win condition was risky, since we had just hit extra turns since there is never any guarantee your opponent would scoop in that situation.
This actually brings up a good point. Put yourself in my shoes. You are currently in the lead for the Players' Championship and paired against the person hot on your trail in round one. They have just used the ultimate on Jace, the Mind Sculptor on turn one of extra turns, but you have too many cards in hand to deck before turns runs out. You have literal zero chance to win here. What do you do?
I'd like to hear everyone's thoughts on this situation. It's completely hypothetical, since it didn't happen because of the line that Joe took to avoid the "what if" and go for the actual win, but I'm still interested in what you would do.
Make sure to stop by and say "Hi" in Knoxville this weekend, and good luck to anyone planning on going to Minneapolis for the Modern GP instead.
May the Pod be with you!