The StarCityGames.com Open in Cincinnati was the first major Standard tournament with Journey into Nyx in the rotation. While many players were hoping for lots of new decks, I suspected this wasn't going to be the case going into the weekend. I've had my hopes dashed recently; the first Standard Open with Born of the Gods legal ( Nashville) was won by Mono-Blue Devotion without a single new card. And Thoughtseize, Detention Sphere, and Hero's Downfall still loom over the proceedings, creating a daunting barrier for new content. With that said, three cards from the new set gave me some hope that some mild shakeups would happen: Temple of Malady, Temple of Epiphany, and Mana Confluence.
On the surface, two new dual lands and City of Brass wouldn't seem like too much to get excited about, at least when compared to new Gods and a Planeswalker. But Return to Ravnica block is flush with powerful Golgari and Izzet cards that have been languishing for the most part. I've seen people use cards like Prophetic Prism to splash Abrupt Decay in Mono-Black Devotion; what happens when people can just incorporate Temple of Malady instead? And though I think Mana Confluence's power and potential ubiquity have been greatly overstated, I thought it could have the potential to enable multi-colored beatdown decks that have needed a help to their mana, like Boros, Kibler-style Golgari, or Naya (Hexproof or otherwise).
The winning list was one such deck-Black Devotion splashing Abrupt Decay, the most obvious metagame evolution that Journey into Nyx enables. Andrew Tenjum took down his first Open with this straightforward, decisive list.
While this doesn't seem like a big deal, Abrupt Decay dramatically changes the way certain matchups go, most notably the mirror and against Sphinx's Revelation decks. These matchups are almost entirely about card advantage, with Underworld Connections and Erebos, God of the Dead being the key cards. In the mirror match, having a way to remove an opposing Underworld Connections besides preemptive discard is a big deal, since it otherwise goes unchecked in the Black Devotion mirror. It is fractionally worse than Bile Blight in certain circumstances (can't catch up you up if your opponent gets Pack Rat active, can't kill a Mutavault), but getting to fight over the most significant card in the matchup more than makes up for that.
It is against Sphinx's Revelation decks that this makes the biggest impact, for two reasons. The first part is getting to cut a dead removal spell for Abrupt Decay, which can kill Detention Sphere and now Banishing Light. The general consensus is that the Game 1 matchup is bad for Black Devotion, as they're flush with removal spells that have little-to-no utility. The matchup gets turned around post-board, when the devotion deck gets to cut all their Terrors for Duresses and other forms of card advantage, but they're digging themselves into a big hole in Game 1. Turning a removal spell into something with utility has to improve things in the first game, which goes a long way in improving the overall matchup.
The second reason is that Abrupt Decay is especially good against the tools that Revelation decks are trying to beat you with-Detention Sphere and Banishing Light against your Erebos and Underworld Connections. When one of the card drawing enchantments is unchecked, black has a big edge. When the black devotion player doesn't have one, black is far behind, generally. Being able to unlock those cards with Abrupt Decay (and Golgari Charm as well) is a major shift in the way the games get played.
In fact, if Tenjum's list becomes the default black devotion list (which I think is possible, at least for the next few weeks), Revelation decks may have to dramatically change the way they approach the matchup. Before, Detention Sphere was a stable answer to Connections and Erebos; that is no longer the case. It is possible these lists now need to contemplate having more cards like Deicide, Revoke Existence, Negate, and similar cards and fewer copies of things like Detention Sphere and Pithing Needle to fight under new terms of engagement. I'm not sure if the matchup could ever evolve to a point where the Revelation player is supposed to cut Detention Sphere and Banishing Light altogether, but I think more proactive solutions may be in order going forward.
Another Abrupt Decay deck made it into the elimination rounds, another new take on a previous archetype.
- 2 Archangel of Thune
- 2 Blood Baron of Vizkopa
- 1 Lifebane Zombie
- 3 Scavenging Ooze
- 4 Sylvan Caryatid
- 4 Courser of Kruphix
- 1 Obzedat, Ghost Council
Jeff's list is a derivative of the Junk Midrange list Reid Duke played in the Season One Invitational earlier this year in Charlotte. At that tournament, Reid told me that the incentive to play a deck like this is Abrupt Decay, as it is the only removal spell that's very powerful against both very fast and very slow decks. Surrounding Abrupt Decay is a collection of a pile of Standard's most powerful creatures and a couple of stray removal spells to tie everything together.
The mana is much better in the current iteration. Temple of Malady is a big part of this, of course, and Jeff is supplementing that with a single copy of Mana Confluence in lieu of a fourth Godless Shrine, Temple of Malady, or Temple Garden. It's hard for me to say with certainty how correctly the mana base is built, as the mana is quite stretched (Hero's Downfall; Advent of the Wurm; and Obzedat, Ghost Council all appear in this list) and there are competing priorities, like the amount of damage you're taking versus casting your spells on time. One copy of Mana Confluence seems low-cost to me, and the deck is full of so much incidental life gain, that it can make it back up even if it has to tap the Confluence early and often.
The New Big Thing going on in this list is Ajani, Mentor of Heroes, which is a card I disrespected prior to this event. I'm suspicious of expensive, non-blue Planeswalkers as a rule, especially those that have no means to protect themselves (unlike Elspeth, Sun's Champion, for example). It was hard for me to imagine a list that would be in the market for both plus powers, as the "Three Counters" power seemed like a small creature enabler and the "Look at Four Cards" power wants high-impact cards to find.
Jeff's list makes good use of both, distributing tokens onto Sylvan Caryatids, Courser of Kruphix, and others to gum up the ground and searching for high-impact threats, which this deck has no shortage of. Ajani even enables plays like, "End of Turn Advent, Untap, make it an 8/8" and pushes Archangel of Thune outside of Mizzium Mortars range against red decks (which usually have no chance to kill it other than with Mortars). Ajani significantly expands this deck's range of attack and staying power, and Junk Midrange is so naturally good at protecting planeswalkers with its removal and quality blockers that the deck can afford to play with a five-mana Planeswalker with no means of protecting itself.
Last, Temple of Epiphany made an appearance in the Top 4 in the hands of Christopher O'Bryant and his U/W/R Control deck.
Even though none of the red cards in this deck are better than Thoughtseize, I believe U/W/R has incentives that make it a reasonable choice instead of Esper. Izzet Charm is just a powerful, flexible card, good against aggressive and defensive decks alike (much like Abrupt Decay). Many of the other red cards in the maindeck are replaceable or not altogether necessary (for example, Keranos could be an Aetherling, another Planeswalker, or just something else entirely), but the major upside is the sideboard. Counterflux is a great tool for similar decks, and Anger of the Gods is an incredible option for decks like Mono Red Aggro, Mono Black Aggro, Boros, and other low-to-the-ground beatdown decks that cause Esper all sorts of fits (and combines very well with cards like Brimaz, Archangel of Thune, or Nyx-Fleece Ram if you're feeling so inclined). Last, Assemble the Legion barely sees any play but remains one of the best ways to steal games against Mono-Black Devotion (though that may be changing if Golgari Charm becomes a sideboard staple). Though the red cards don't add the straightforward power that the black cards do, they do give control decks some of the best matchup-specific sideboard cards in the format, which may add more net power to Revelation decks.
While Cincinnati was short on new decks outright, this shouldn't be a huge surprise. The easiest thing to do is add new lands and obvious splash cards to existing archetypes, and the winning deck did exactly that. Even if that's all that happened, the changes to these decks (and the overall presence of Abrupt Decay) have cascading effects on what cards people should be play and how people should be approaching matchups, most notably Sphinx's Revelation strategies. And with another week to digest the new content (and with Mana Confluence available to enable all sorts of shenanigans), the hope of something altogether new appearing is still there. I'm excited to see what adaptations players make to these semi-new strategies this weekend in Knoxville.