And not just printed, but playable.
There's a new M15 card that radically powers up Slivers. A lot.
Getting there, however, involves understanding where we're at in Standard. If all you care about is the new card and the new deck, ctrl-f for Slivers, but I wouldn't.
So, what's the real story?
At this weekend's Grand Prix in Chicago, black took six of the top eight spots, but is its dominance the real story?
Red Aggro won SCG Las Vegas, which in and of itself wouldn't have been a big deal, but it is fresh off the back of winning SCG Columbus and the Season Two Invitational and GP Moscow! What's going on? Why is it that black is so utterly dominant, but every time there's a red deck in the Top 8 it wins the tournament?
Here's a breakdown of the winner's circle metagame over the past weekend. The GP Chicago Day Two percentage reflects the Day Two metagame, while the expected metagame is 1/3rd the SCG Open Top 16 decks from Vegas, 1/3rd the Top 8 from GP Chicago, and 1/3rd the Day Two Chicago metagame. This gives us an idea of what we need to prepare for to actually win the tournament.
|Archetype||GP Chicago Day 2||Expected Metagame|
Without question, black is dominating. It has been the most popular deck for a long time and it always puts up good numbers. The GP-winning list is a pretty standard version of Mono-Black, slightly tweaked for the mirror.
Nightveil Specter is great against both the mirror and Mono-Red, and having access to Bile Blight helps keep Pack Rat under control while also providing insurance against opposing Nightveil Specters. This build trims the two-cost removal package, cutting two copies of Devour Flesh to make room for the two extra three-drops. While this does weaken Blum against Blood Baron of Vizkopa, at least he has a couple Lifebane Zombies to help. Besides, he correctly anticipated that there would be less Blood Barons because of how Lifebane Zombies are just everywhere.
It's a small point, but I like Blum's choice of Temple of Silence and Temple of Malady as his off-color Temples. That maximizes the chance that his opponent may keep Lifebane Zombies in against him after sideboarding. It's a small advantage, but it is something.
I also like the four Pharika's Cures in Blum's sideboard. That is a man that knows he is likely to have to beat Mono-Red somewhere along the way.
The way things are looking right now, there are basically three decks we want to beat in Standard. Black variants are the biggest, no question, but we also need to beat U/W/x Control and Mono-Red. Mono-Red isn't even the third-biggest deck, but it has natural strengths against black decks and many U/W/x decks, making it an important deck to beat if you actually want to win the tournament. There's a reason Mono-Red keeps winning tournaments. It's not the most “unbeatable” deck in the format.
- 4 Ash Zealot
- 4 Burning-Tree Emissary
- 4 Firedrinker Satyr
- 4 Firefist Striker
- 4 Foundry Street Denizen
- 4 Legion Loyalist
- 4 Rakdos Cackler
- 4 Rubblebelt Maaka
- 19 Mountain
Building a deck that can keep up with something this fast and aggressive while being able to withstand the removal and card draw of mono-black is not going to be trivial.
And as if that wasn't enough, we have to contend with the second-biggest deck of the format, U/W/x Control. Talk about taking the format to another extreme! While U/W has often had a more tap-out appearance, this latest incarnation is very pure control. Elixir of Immortality makes it clear that they are playing for the long, long game.
Adrian Sullivan's GP Top 4 list has a few exotic choices, but is fundamentally standard:
There are basically two ways to build these decks, right now:
Adrian's list has lots of one-of's, but he's just kind of into that stuff. Besides, generally speaking, the greater diversity of tricks and traps you have for your opponent the harder it is for them to play around them. It's very possible that all of these reactive cards are close enough in power level that the variety is worth more than any power difference between them.
Adrian's list has both an Elspeth and an Aetherling. How funny is it that having two kill cards is actually a lot by current standards? I personally think relying completely on Elixir of Immortality is just too risky, given that Reid Duke just did it and people are more inclined to Thoughtseize or counter it. I don't super-love Aetherling, but Elspeth is such a powerful card that I generally like one of those, not just to close out games but also for raw power.
So, what kind of a deck is going to do well against these three decks?
I keep thinking about B/G decks, but is there enough going on there? Courser of Kruphix is fantastic against red, great against Bile Blight, and there are fewer Lifebane Zombies than there used to be. Besides, the black shell really is the best core in the format. Here's a possible list:
Having to make room for that much green mana isn't trivial, and it's not totally clear that Courser is enough better than Nightveil Specter to be worth how much power it drains from your Gray Merchants, but either way this is not exactly a radical departure from the norm in Standard.
If we're just trying to step outside the norm, there's a possible direction to go with B/W that I've been thinking about lately that definitely qualifies.
- 3 Blood Baron of Vizkopa
- 3 Desecration Demon
- 3 Fiendslayer Paladin
- 4 Pack Rat
- 4 Precinct Captain
- 4 Brimaz, King of Oreskos
This list is extremely hateful, capitalizing on the decrease in popularity of Devour Flesh and Lifebane Zombie with increased protection from black. Brimaz is excellent against Bile Blight and red decks, and lots of lifelink is a great way to fight red.
Precinct Captain is a somewhat questionable choice for the other two-drop, but he does tax people who are short on removal and his first strike makes him an excellent blocker against red. Keening Apparition is also a fine choice, giving us more insurance against Underworld Connections. Still, I think I'd rather just give us more chances for a snowballing early victory with the Captain.
The biggest glaring hole in this approach is the lack of card draw in the maindeck. Without Underworld Connections or even Read the Bones, we are going to struggle mightily against U/W/x control decks.
What's the solution?
There might not be that much room left for the format to evolve with the current card pool. However, M15 is right around the corner. It's going to take some pretty serious cards to shake-up the format, but it looks like we might, in fact, be getting just that.
Sliver Hive is a very significant new card. First and foremost, its art is in the style of classical Slivers, making clear that WotC heard the feedback players gave about Slivers and is taking it to heart.
M14 saw the return of Slivers, but the reception was lukewarm. The Slivers had been re-concepted to look humanoid instead of like insects. The Slivers were no longer symmetrical, taking away part of what made Slivers Slivers. Finally, Slivers never really made it into Standard.
So, what's the big deal with Sliver Hive? After all, there haven't even been any other Slivers spoiled in M15 yet.
Well, for starters, it's going to be legal alongside M14 for three months. That means that, at the very least, it can be used with the M14 Slivers for a little while. That they will only be legal together for three months also increases the probability that WotC pushed it to a dominating power level. After all, there is a built-in safety mechanism if it were to get too dominant!
What's so great about Sliver Hive? It doesn't even do anything if you don't play Slivers...
But if you do, it's a pain-free Mana Confluence (with Mana Confluence also legal) that generates a pretty big advantage going long. Giving Slivers something to do with their extra mana is a big deal, and there is basically zero opportunity cost. I mean, this card is just fantastic if you are actually Slivering.
How many Slivers do you need to make it worth it? After all, you could just put one copy into a deck with four Mutavaults and power it up that way going long!
While I would guess that will happen some amount of the time (maybe in U/W, maybe Mono-Black), I'm more interested in the actual Sliver decks and the Sliver hybrids.
- 4 Blur Sliver
- 4 Bonescythe Sliver
- 4 Galerider Sliver
- 4 Manaweft Sliver
- 4 Megantic Sliver
- 4 Predatory Sliver
- 2 Sentinel Sliver
- 4 Striking Sliver
- 4 Syphon Sliver
There are a lot of possible ways to go with Slivers now, but if we are relying on Sliver Hive to let us play all five colors, we probably don't want all that many different colors of spells (which Sliver Hive doesn't help with).
With four Sliver Hive and four Mana Confluence, we can now play four Mutavaults in our Sliver deck and still play all five colors very easily. Manaweft Sliver makes the job even easier (which I prefer to Sentinel Sliver, since I'm not convinced of how important Vigilance is, and it definitely has diminishing returns if you draw two). Besides, I just want to power out Megantic Slivers faster, and Manaweft Sliver makes it easier to turn on Sliver Hive's token making.
Striking Sliver is obviously just because we want some one-drops, while Galerider Sliver is just incredibly powerful. Winged Sliver was an Extended staple for a long time, and Galerider is so much stronger it is disgusting.
Syphon Sliver is less of a sure thing, but WotC only put one Sliver into blue and one Sliver into black, and since the blue one is breathtakingly awesome I could kind of imagine that they generally felt like putting one excellent Sliver into each of the non-Sliver decks would open up options in the future. We've got a lot of painlands, anyway, and it would be nice to be able to crush red decks some games by just dropping a Syphon Sliver with either one-drop on the table and just run away with things.
Predatory Sliver is an obvious backbone to the deck, but Bonescythe Sliver and Megantic Sliver are also crucial. It's not enough to just get a few bonuses. We need enough power in our lords to justify playing all this stuff instead of Thoughtseize, Hero's Downfall, Sphinx's Revelation, Stormbreath Dragon, and so on.
I did not use Thorncaster Sliver, which might be a mistake. I dunno, I guess I just am not blown away by the text box. The card would be quite good against aggro decks, but I'm not sure how much expensive stuff we really need.
I also did not include Hive Stirrings. Not being a Sliver is pretty brutal, and there are so many ways to punish it (Detention Sphere, Bile Blight, Golgari Charm, etc) that I really didn't feel the need to force it in there.
The one Door of Destinies is pretty speculative, but it does focus narrowly on a specific tribe, so it's at least worth a shot. I could imagine it being completely awesome, as it really is incredible against removal (eventually making every threat lethal).
I'm a little dubious of not playing removal. Maybe we can get by on the evasion and racing and so on, but I would hate to run into a Desecration Demon. The first couple removal spells would go a long way. It's not strictly removal, but Domri Rade seems like he could be an excellent fit. We have so many creatures that the card will hit often, but it also provides some amount of removal in a pinch.
Another possible approach to Slivers is to just use some of them as support for an otherwise aggro list:
Green seems like a must, or else how are you going to get enough rewards for actually playing Slivers? White is a tempting second color, since Bonescythe Sliver is so strong and G/W has historically been a passable color combo. The problem is that Sentinel Sliver is pretty bad without a bunch of lords, and it's real questionable how much value we are getting out of the Slivers we do have. Besides, Predatory Sliver and Manaweft Sliver are joining an already crowded two-drop spot with Fleecemane Lion and Call of the Conclave also in contention, not to mention Skylasher and Precinct Captain.
With eight five-color lands and four Manaweft Slivers, it would be the easiest thing in the world to add a third color. But which one? My first thought is to go Bant. If we added two Hallowed Fountains and two Breeding Pools, we could totally support adding four Galerider Slivers. The thing is, why are we building towards G/W then instead of just being full-on Slivers, anyway?
Sure, maybe we are supposed to cut Syphon Sliver and just play four colors. Getting a few removal spells in there, maybe a diverse mix, could go a long way. The point, however, is that going 50/50 Slivers/Not seems a bit wonky.
What about lighter than that?
- 4 Elvish Mystic
- 3 Ghor-Clan Rampager
- 4 Manaweft Sliver
- 4 Predatory Sliver
- 4 Stormbreath Dragon
- 3 Courser of Kruphix
- 3 Polukranos, World Eater
At least forcing Slivers into Monsters doesn't involve cutting that much power. It is questionable how much value we're getting out of them, but obviously the first few Slivers you play dramatically changes the value of Sliver Hive. Going long, we can drop a Predatory Sliver, Manaweft Sliver, or a Mutavault and start making tokens.
Of course, spending a virtual six mana (a land plus five more) isn't exactly such a good deal that we should be bending over backwards to make it happen. Everything keeps pointing to an all-in approach to Slivers. This is hardly surprising, but it's still worth experimenting with the other possibilities in order to narrow it down.
So, does the all-in approach really have what it takes to beat black, U/W, and red?
Well, fighting black is a tough business regardless. Each spot removal spell they cast is going to make all of the other Slivers worse. Lifebane Zombie is going to be solid gold against us. Desecration Demon seems like a nightmare. At first glance, the matchup looks miserable.
This suggests that Slivers is going to have to be built a different way, or it is going to only work as a metagame call against a format that evolves to beat Mono-Black with some new cards we don't yet know of.
One idea that comes to mind is to take advantage of the new multi-color reward, Soul of Ravnica:
- 2 Blur Sliver
- 3 Bonescythe Sliver
- 3 Galerider Sliver
- 4 Manaweft Sliver
- 2 Megantic Sliver
- 4 Predatory Sliver
- 4 Soul of Ravnica
- 4 Sylvan Caryatid
- 2 Syphon Sliver
Soul of Ravnica is a very powerful card on its own, but when you actually have all five colors we are talking about a pretty big boost in power. Now, when we face a black deck, they may be able to consistently kill our creatures... but eventually we are going to drop a Soul of Ravnica and completely take over. Even if they kill it or make us discard it, we will eventually get a Braingeyser out of it to reload and keep powering through all the discard.
It does cost a lot of mana to operate Soul of Ravnica (and Sliver Hive, for that matter), but having both Sylvan Caryatid and Manaweft Sliver means that our deck is over half mana. The Manaweft Sliver single-handedly powers everything, since we'll have so many Slivers that we can usually just cast whatever we want.
How will we fare against U/W Control? Well, the straightforward all-in approach from above is likely to be blown out by Supreme Verdict. Sliver Hive is a nice weapon, but we are probably behind on basic game-plan. At least the Soul of Ravnica approach has a plan, particularly if everyone is on Planar Cleansing instead of Detention Sphere, making Soul of Ravnica a more effective threat. The Planeswalkers also look excellent against both black devotion and U/W Control. Maybe we really can out-draw them.
As for red aggro? The Soul of Ravnica version probably goes the other way. Slivers was already a little slower and features a painful manabase but made up for it by quickly deploying a board that could outclass the red deck's board. The Soul of Ravnica version is missing the Striking Slivers and Sentinel Slivers that helped lock up the board early against red. Fortunately, we can probably get a lot of value out of some sideboard spots targeting red. Do we want creatures that gain life, sweepers, spot removal? I'm not sure yet. Regardless, it doesn't seem hopeless even if we are behind in game one.
I think the real question is how much does the Soul of Ravnica plan actually work against black? How much will the black decks adjust to account for Soul of Ravnica? If Soul of Ravnica really is just a stone-cold killer against black decks, is there a better shell without Slivers? The Slivers package seems great against blue devotion, G/W Aggro, Jund Monsters, and other decks that are light on removal. How big a percentage of the field will those decks be? At the moment, they are less than a third of the field.
Sliver Hive is a pretty awesome new weapon that might actually push Slivers into competitive play, but at the end of the day, it is still Soul of Ravnica that really captures my attention. It's not just powerful, it's exactly the type of card that could do some serious damage to a Thoughtseize/Hero's Downfall/Underworld Connections strategy.
Now, if there are any other Slivers in M15, things are going to get real interesting...
PS Modern Slivers!
- 2 Bonescythe Sliver
- 4 Galerider Sliver
- 3 Harmonic Sliver
- 2 Megantic Sliver
- 2 Might Sliver
- 4 Predatory Sliver
- 4 Sedge Sliver
- 4 Sidewinder Sliver
- 4 Sinew Sliver