I want you to look at this:
- 4 Elvish Mystic
- 2 Genesis Hydra
- 4 Sylvan Caryatid
- 4 Voyaging Satyr
- 4 Whisperwood Elemental
- 1 Boon Satyr
- 4 Courser of Kruphix
- 4 Eidolon of Blossoms
- 4 Polukranos, World Eater
That's a pretty awesome deck, isn't it?
In the hands of Robert Berni, it took down the entire Standard Open in Houston. It has a lot of really, really powerful things going for it. There's a draw engine with Eidolon of Blossoms, the sheer brute force of Polukranos, and a fantastic tool against control in the form of Whisperwood Elemental.
It's everything you'd want in a deck for your local PPTQ, SCG Game Night, or even the upcoming Grand Prix in Miami.
There's a huge problem with this deck though.
By the time you build it, this version of G/R Devotion will already be obsolete.
Such a pity, isn't it?
It was a pretty awesome deck.
The Antiquated Effect
One common problem a great many players run into is that they see a list online, copy and paste it, and expect to win with it. When they don't, they tend to blame either the metagame or bad luck.
But maybe the deck just isn't good enough anymore.
For weeks I've watched a local player do battle with the same 75 and yield fairly poor results. He's adamant that his version is great and that his opponents are just lucky or his draws were awful. Instead of reflecting on a terrible performance and what could be changed, he's quick to retreat in to the vicious cycle of self-loathing and blinders.
I've tried to tell him what his problem is:
The deck he's playing is too old and hasn't evolved with the metagame.
You see, what makes players like Brad Nelson or Gerry Thompson so much better than the average magician is that they are amazing at tweaking existing archetypes and evolving them. When people were still on CawBlade, Gerry was innovating Sparkblade. If people thought Sultai Reanimator was the best strategy for the Players' Championship, Brad was making his version unbeatable in the mirror. They aren't the kind of players to rest on the laurels of a previous winner because they understand that known commodities are easier to plan for.
Reread that sentence.
"Known commodities are easier to plan for."
I want you to imagine this situation for a moment:
You sit down across from an opponent and start shuffling up. The first land they play is a Temple of Triumph. They scry, think for a minute, and then leave the card on top. You think to yourself for a minute: "R/W Aggro just won the last SCG Open. Is this guy on that deck?" You lead off with your own Temple and look at the top card. "It's a Bile Blight. This card is really strong in this matchup." You leave it on top. The opponent plays a Mountain and then drops a Seeker of the Way. "Hmmm," you think to yourself. "I was right."
You handily take game 1 and then remember the R/W Aggro list you saw from last week's victory. "Two Glare of Heresy, three Hushwing Gryffs, two Sarkhan, and he might be bringing in the third Outpost Siege." You board accordingly and keep the kind of hand that can combat the potential sideboard cards he's bringing in. Like clockwork, you bait the Hushwing Gryff to set up your own Glare of Heresy, and when he slams Outpost Siege naming Khans, you cleverly counter it with your boarded in Reclamation Sage.
"Interesting. That card doesn't seem very good in this matchup," he says rolling his eyes.
You know better. Why?
Because you know what he's going to do before he does it.
Now imagine the same scenario.
You handily take down game 1 and recall the list from last week, only in this scenario your opponent is a little savvier.
Your turn 2 Rakshasa Deathdealer is met with a Wild Slash. "That list didn't play Wild Slash" you think to yourself. No matter. Your hand can deal with her Outpost Siege and you have Bile Blight for whatever her third turn play is, but she doesn't make one. You both just play lands and pass. Her turn 4 sees him dropping a Chandra, Pyromaster onto the table. Now you're really confused, and the Reclamation Sage in your hand seems silly since it has no Chained to the Rocks or Siege to hit. On turn 5 and 6 your opponent casually plays a Sarkhan, the Dragonspeaker and because of the Chandra, is able to hit her land drops leading right up to a turn 6 Elspeth. Your hand was ready for Hushwing Gryffs and Outpost Sieges, but your opponent decided to alter the winning R/W list from last week with changes to power it up against Abzan decks and the mirror. Games 2 and 3 are landslides. You sign the slip and shake your head.
"Her deck is crazy," your inner monologue states. "I wasn't ready for that."
I'm Not a Monster…I'm Just Ahead of the Curve
Over the last few weeks since I debuted the R/W Aggro list I used to qualify for Pro Tour Dragons of Tarkir I've received a ton of messages asking how to sideboard or play the deck, and I've been extremely hesitant to give the folks asking me advice. Let me tell you people why:
That deck isn't good anymore.
- 4 Goblin Rabblemaster
- 4 Seeker of the Way
- 1 Soulfire Grand Master
- 4 Stormbreath Dragon
- 2 Brimaz, King of Oreskos
Jason Blackmor nailed it with this beast.
Brimaz was a card I was pretty against in the early-goings, but testing has shown he's actually very good. I thought he'd be too hard on the mana, but it turns out he's quite easy to cast and made a much bigger impact than Monastery Mentor or Hushwing Gryff in the main ever made.
Maindeck Wild Slash? Absolutely. The mirror is a real bear: often decided by who has the more tempo-oriented play, but trading your one-mana burn spell for their turn 3 Rabblemaster and following it up with your own might just steal the game away from them if you're on the draw. Justin also diversified his turn 4 plays with my little contribution to the deck, Outpost Siege, and supplementing the marquee enchantment with the planeswalker Chandra.
If you look, his sideboard is remarkably similar to the one I advocated a couple of weeks ago, but the Circle of Flame is a dead ringer for Kiki-Jiki….it's that much of a mirror breaker.
Jason's progressive thinking is why you heard Cedric and Patrick during the coverage attest to how heavily he was running roughshod over the competition. Instead of just running with whatever version he saw did well at SCG Regionals, Jason upped the ante by making sure his version was great in the mirror and equally as lethal against other opponents.
Gaze Into My Chrystal Ball
You're probably asking yourself, "this is cool, Mark, but how do I do this? I'm not as good as Gerry Thompson!"
Me neither, dear reader! Not even close!
That doesn't mean we can't acquire the skill of changing the makeup of a deck to better suit our anticipated metagame.
Immanuel Gerschenson probably figured out that R/W Aggro has been the most played deck in American metagames for the last week. As good as it is, it has one severely glaring weakness.
U/B Control is almost completely and utterly unwinnable.
While not my favorite pick in the metagame, you can't argue with the fact that if a field is 15% R/W Aggro, you're essentially giving yourself virtual byes against a lot of players. G/R Devotion is surging again, and a deck that plays Perilous Vault can be difficult for it sometimes.
Gerschenson made a very wise deck choice, and it paid him off with a Grand Prix victory.
Analyzing metagame trends is actually a lot more simplistic than you might think.
Your stops should be whatever SCG event just happened, 4-0 Daily lists from that week on Magic Online, and whatever decks professionals are doting on in articles and social media. If a lot of players are winning with Abzan Aggro, it 4-0'd the most Daily events, and Todd Anderson 5-0s Brad in a Versus Video piloting it, then there's a safe bet that for whatever big event you're attending that players may gravitate towards Abzan Aggro.
From there you have to figure out what deck you're playing.
If you're on Abzan Aggro, what tools are going to give you a bigger edge in the mirror? Maybe you cut Anafenza, the Foremost and play maindeck Hushwing Gryff to shut off their Rhinos and give you a surprise turn 3 play. A month ago, I tried Boon Satyr to great effect because it gave a lot of supremacy in the mirror, and it won me two of the mirror matches I played in.
Maybe you don't want to play Abzan Aggro, but instead you want to do what Martin Juza did and battle with Jeskai Aggro. The deck, long since thought a relic of the past format, gained a ton of great tools like Valorous Stance, Outpost Siege, and Wild Slash. This deck, formerly thought to no longer be playable, is actually very good against the glut of aggro decks performing well right now. It was a great choice for the weekend, and Martin found himself with another Top 8.
Understanding metagame shifts showed that Whip of Erebos decks weren't the best choice in Houston. A lot of players packing Whip decks met a Top 32 littered with aggressive decks. Can you imagine being a deck that, if you stumble, gets absolutely obliterated by aggro decks? I think there was one deck playing Whip in the Top 32. The people playing it were completely outmatched by decks built to go way under them, and the numbers reflect that.
A player need only make deck choices and modifications based on what they expect to see a lot of and play the cards that do well in those matches. If you're wrong, you may pay the consequences.
But if you're right and you nail it?
You may very well make a deep run in to the tournament and come out victorious.
Robert brought this neat U/R Control deck to my attention so I decided to feature it in the Weekly Spotlight! I like a lot of what's going on here: early board control with Lightning Strike and Reality Shift. Shift feels awesome in this deck because the four Anger the Gods can clean up whatever they manifest. The counterspells do the work of holding threats at bay before the ultimate equalizer, Ugin, can take over the game.
How would you improve this deck? Is the sideboard correct? Make sure to let us know so we can give this Izzet player a real shot of Standard glory.
Now if you'll excuse me, it's time for me to catch up on some sleep.
I just came from a WWE Live event. I'm without voice, a headache like you can't believe, but at least my phone is full of awesome pictures.
I'm going to sleep like the dead.