The Pro Tour has come and gone. And boy did the Pro Tour showcase some new, interesting......yeah nevermind.
Siege Rhino versus Mantis Rider in the finals. Battle for Zendikar certainly did shake things up, in that we can now just cast the same spells with a slightly better manabase. But the Pro Tour is a dual format tournament. It wasn't all Constructed, and some of the best decks out of the Standard portion didn't make it into the elimination rounds.
But where was I during all this? Well, I was killin' it at States. Where are my sunglasses? It's so hard to see around here with all this bling from my medal.
In actuality, States was a very fun tournament. At this point, with two Opens and a Pro Tour into the new Standard season, decks are starting to look and feel great. Everything is tuned, even if the decks aren't quite where they end up in a few months. At the very least, the cards are all good, even if you're not playing the right combination of them.
My weapon of choice was Jeskai Black, of which I wrote about last week. I think the list I posted in my article last week was pretty close to perfect...for last week. With the format in constant flux, and some new information coming from the game's biggest stage, we will need to update our own Jeskai Black deck to combat what we saw. First and foremost, here is the list I used to win NC States.
As compared to last week, the changes are small, but important. First, let's start with the card that felt the best out of these changes.
I don't know how many of you have ever cast Painful Truths before, but I can assure you that the card is very good alongside a way to constantly gain life. Both Soulfire Grand Master and the chain featuring Ojutai's Command can keep your life total high, but even then it doesn't matter too much. If you can keep the board clear on your opponent's side with removal, counterspells, and the like, Painful Truths is a non-delve version of Treasure Cruise. It will become uncastable at times, but Read the Bones saw a lot of play last season, and this card feels like a strict upgrade.
While Painful Truths isn't a great card against a hyper aggressive strategy, it shines against other midrange and control decks. Hitting land drops is important, but making sure you have enough resources to outlast your opponent is a big deal. Painful Truths also goes quite well with my sideboard plan, which I'll get to in a bit.
The Pantheon decided that three copies of Kolaghan's Command and three copies of Tasigur, the Golden Fang was the way to go. Honestly, I don't know if their version is better than mine, but two of them made it to the elimination rounds on Sunday, so they certainly have my attention. It seems blasphemous to cut Dig Through Time for Tasigur, but then again, their deck is much more about tempo. I don't like maindeck Dispel in the above version of Jeskai Black, but it seems phenomenal alongside Tasigur.
But Kolaghan's Command was a card I could get behind. Against the mirror, or any other Jace deck, Kolaghan's Command gives you a lot of blowout potential. Many of the creatures you're getting back with Kolaghan's Command aren't just one card. They can turn into multiple cards given enough time and mana, which is exactly why Ojutai's Command is in the deck. Both Ojutai's Command and Kolaghan's Command make it so that it is very difficult for opposing decks to kill all of your creatures. Kolaghan's Command also has the upside of being able to return Mantis Rider (or Tasigur), but its main function is killing opposing Jaces. In any Jace on Jace fight, the person who flips their Jace first has a significant advantage, which is one of the reasons why I'm a huge advocate of playing five Shock effects.
Kolaghan's Command is a mirror breaker. If everyone ends up playing The Pantheon version of Jeskai Black, then you will need your own Kolaghan's Commands to keep up. Otherwise, they're going to punish your Jaces while returning theirs, and likely be the one who flips their Jace first.
This card has continued to impress me, both as an answer to planeswalkers and also to Hangarback Walker. It is one of the cards I try to find with Dig Through Time the most, but that could be a function of my deck being misbuilt. I'm curious if Negate or other hard counterspells for Gideon and the like would be better for this deck, but the versatility of Utter End is awesome. I would play more, but there is a significant downside, as the card costs four mana. It is also a great maindeck answer to an opposing Silkwrap that's locking up your Dragonmaster Outcast or Jace.
Utter End might not be Hero's Downfall, but the more I play with it, the more I like it. In a lot of scenarios, the card is actually better than Hero's Downfall, as I use it to target Hangarback Walker a significant amount. While it is expensive, I think the format is slow enough and your other spells are cheap enough to warrant a few copies of Utter End to take care of random cards that you would otherwise not be able to deal with.
Dig or Tasigur? This is the biggest question I've been asking myself over the last week. My favorite gameplan with Jeskai Black in the last week and a half has been siding out Mantis Rider in favor of becoming a "Flash" style control deck. Nearly all of your spells can be cast for very cheap, or at instant speed. If you get to untap on turn 4 with a clear board, it is very difficult to lose. Ojutai's Command and Dig Through Time create an absurd amount of velocity, and each resolved copy pushes you farther and farther ahead. There are few feelings better than casting Dig Through Time when your opponent has no creatures on the battlefield.
Tasigur, on the other hand, pushes Jeskai Black in the direction of tempo. I'm not against this style of deck, as Standard Delver was some of the most fun I've ever had in the game. However, I'm not sure if the deck can really support so much removal without four copies of a big draw spell. Whether that spell is Dig Through Time or Treasure Cruise is another argument entirely, but I'm under the impression that other delve cards just aren't worth it in Jeskai Black.
Dispel pairs nicely with Tasigur and Mantis Rider, giving you a cheap way to stop their removal so the beats can continue. On paper, these two decks look very similar, but in actuality they play quite differently. If you are paired against a Jeskai Black player in the next few weeks, I would expect them to be playing Tasigur because it did so well at the Pro Tour, but I'm not convinced that's the route this archetype wants to take moving forward. But the best part about this Standard format is that every single archetype is customizable. So many flex slots in every archetype gives you a lot of room to play around with new ideas. This may even end up being a case of "play whatever you feel more comfortable with." I play fast enough that I can afford for a singleton Dragonmaster Outcast to be my only real win condition. Others might need the help of Tasigur or something bigger like Gideon to close games.
Overview of Jeskai Black: Control
As I said earlier, I won a lot of games this past weekend without the aid of Mantis Rider. I'm under the impression that, after sideboard, it is very often the worst card in your deck. In the first game of a match, it is a necessary evil, offering your deck a way to pressure players and planeswalkers for a small investment. The body is relevant for blocking in combat, and it survives a decent amount of removal.
However, once your deck is a well-oiled machine and your opponent likely has more removal specifically geared towards Mantis Rider, it becomes a liability. I found myself siding out Mantis Rider in nearly every matchup because I wanted to take the deck in a different direction. Often, that would lead to very long matches where I usually won on the back of Soulfire Grand Master or the singleton Dragonmaster Outcast, but you can actually find a surprising number of ways to close games without Mantis Rider.
I even decked a few people with Jace.
With Utter End to unlock Dragonmaster Outcast from an opposing Silkwrap, as well as Ojutai's Command plus Kolaghan's Command, it isn't hard to find your Dragonmaster Outcast and keep it coming back for more. It will eventually win you the game as long as you find a way to survive long enough. The funny thing about Dig Through Time is that singleton bombs can be found consistently. The fact that you also have Jace to flashback Dig Through Time means you'll likely find whatever you want pretty quickly.
Overview of Jeskai Black: Tempo
The tempo version of Jeskai Black featuring Tasigur and Dispel is certainly powerful, but ultimately isn't really what I want to be doing with the deck. Dig Through Time is such a powerful card that I don't want anything getting in the way of that. For the mirror, the tempo version featuring Dispel and more copies of Kolaghan's Command is certainly awesome, but I think it fails in leveraging inevitability.
This version is also much better at fighting opposing Gideons, since Crackling Doom and Kolaghan's Command easily clear the path for Tasigur to attack. But where Tasigur is great at fighting Gideon, he is lackluster against all the other creatures that sit on the ground in the G/W Megamorph deck. Deathmist Raptor and Hangarback Walker are huge brick walls that Tasigur won't get through without a lot of resources, and playing fewer copies of Dig Through Time means you will likely have fewer resources as a result. Mantis Rider, or a gameplan that involves going super long, are the ways you punish G/W Megamorph, as you will win the battle on the ground without much effort.
Tasigur is a very strong threat against another Jeskai or control deck, but I wouldn't count on him getting the job done against Megamorph. It could be that the version featuring Tasigur is a much better "Game 1" deck, and you should likely sideboard out Tasigur and Mantis Rider for a slew of cards in most matchups. If that's the case, then there is a lot of work to be done.
This Standard format feels pretty deep as far as what you can play, and the games tend to have a lot of back and forth. There are exceptions, like Atarka Red, where the deck's job is to win quickly and try to ignore the opponent. There are others who try to go way over the top. Let's take a look at my favorite.
I haven't played many matches, but I can already tell that Bant Tokens is the real deal.
I won't go too deep into this archetype. That's Sam Black's job, after all. But I will say that this might be one of, if not the, best deck in Standard. Every single card in the deck has a purpose, and a good one at that. Retreat to Emeria might be the biggest sleeper from Battle for Zendikar, acting as both a way to generate threats or overwhelm any opponent.
Some of the cards look a little out of place, including the Planar Outburst, but initial testing has shown that having access to every singleton has given me outs or outright won me games that I likely shouldn't have won. Dispel is fine, but I'm not sold that it is better than Negate in most spots. There aren't a lot of hard counterspells in the format, so resolving Retreat to Emeria or Gideon isn't all that difficult. Dispel helps fight their Digs or Ojutai's Command chains, or the potential combo of Become Immense and Temur Battle Rage, but I don't know if one versus two mana is a big enough drawback for this deck to want Dispel when Negate handles so many cards that could be problematic.
Quarantine Field has felt great, as games can last quite a long time, and you hit a lot of land drops thanks to four copies of Nissa. Blighted Woodland has also proven spectacular in some spots where you have Retreat to Emeria active, and it taps for colorless mana otherwise. I wouldn't play more than two, but I've drawn the singleton a few times already, and it has been a complete blowout.
If the mirror becomes popular, having Negate over Dispel will also win you some games outright. The first person to land Gideon or Retreat to Emeria has an overwhelming advantage, leading me to believe that it might also be correct to play some sort of mana accelerator like Rattleclaw Mystic. You might also want some sort of game-breaking effect like Ugin, the Spirit Dragon to claw you back into games that you wouldn't otherwise be able to win.
Time will tell if this deck is the real deal, but my gut is telling me that it most certainly is. Not a lot of decks have answers to Retreat to Emeria, and something like Dromoka's Command can get blanked pretty easily by Silkwrap on their Hangarback Walker. Even stuff like Erase only slows you down a bit. You have so many cards that generate multiple threats, and if they're the ones holding the situational removal spells, then they might fall too far behind before they get a chance to put their stuff to good use.
Elvish Visionary seems wonky on paper but has been great in practice. Any body is a good body if you have Retreat to Emeria on the battlefield, and Elvish Visionary helps you hit land drops in the earlygame while providing a small buffer between an opposing creature and your Gideon. It isn't great, but I think it is likely better than the other options. For the mirror, or any deck light on removal, Elvish Visionary is probably worse than Rattleclaw Mystic, as the first person to play Gideon in this type of mirror is usually going to win, but I want to blank as much removal from my opponent as possible.
Let me tell ya, it feels pretty good to play a spell every turn starting on turn 2 and still have more cards in hand than your opponent at the end of it.
There isn't a great tournament for me to play this weekend, so I think I'll take a well-deserved break. I have a pretty large buffer between myself and the last StarCityGames.com® Players' Championship at-large slot. Skipping the Legacy Open in St. Louis might come back to bite me, but I don't really like airplanes, and I haven't gotten to test much Legacy since the banning of Dig Through Time.
Plus, we're having a Halloween party. I'm thinking of going as a sexy Hodor.