The Road to the #SCGPC is coming to a close in two short weekends. The final stops are #SCGDEN and the #SCGINVI, and the race is tighter than it has ever been. This is not the spike necessity race that we saw last year. The gaps are razor thin as we get closer and closer to the finish line. It's anyone's ballgame at this point. It's just who brings their A game, and who doesn't.
Sitting on the sidelines for this race is much different than it was last year. Knowing how difficult the road can be, I do not envy Todd Anderson and Tom Ross each and every time they leave Roanoke for another string of events. I sleep in my own bed while they check into hotel rooms. Go out to dinner with my girlfriend while they pick up something on the road. Watch coverage while they create it.
Even though it would be easy to rest on my laurels, I have been grinding just as hard for the #SCGPC as those still trying to achieve a spot in the event. I just do it behind a keyboard. Magic Online has once again become a part of me while I enter event after event trying to grasp the depths of a tournament with three different Constructed formats. I look at being qualified already as a gift that could only be squandered with negligence. I have an advantage that I don't want to go to waste. I get to be prepared, well rested, but there is one thing I don't get to have.
I was a freight train by the end of last year. The months on the road conditioned me to be in an all or nothing moment at the #SCGPC. Qualifying was no longer a goal. It was step one. I put too much time and effort into this event to leave with anything short of the trophy. I might not have known it then, but I realized it later that I wanted that trophy more than anyone else in that room and I got it.
That's not the case this time around. Of course I want to win and all I am doing is working to achieve that, but the deep yearning hasn't emerged. Instead, my excitement gets transferred to Todd and Tom as I watch them do what I had to once before. I remember how hard it was to watch Todd miss after he put in just as much effort as I did, and I know I wouldn't be able to watch that again. I'm sure he feels the same way.
Rooting for tough competitors to qualify for a sixteen-person event you're in is a little unusual. On one hand, I want to win this event and would like the competition to be as easy as possible, but on the other hand, I want my best friends to qualify. We might have all started off as co-workers, but evolved into travel companions, drinking buddies, confidants, rivals, and now even have our articles go up on the same day. We might not share blood, and who knows if we will stay in contact our entire lives, but for now, we are brothers.
From the outside I have been able to help them out in every way that I can. Whether it is deck suggestions, metagame calls, or even a boost of morale, I am there for these guys because I know if the shoe was on the other foot that I would have them to lean on. I know this because I have.
This tournament is going to be just as amazing as it was last year. I know this to be fact. I loved playing in the event last year and was thrilled that they would allow me to come back and defend the title. I just hope I get to fight with and against my boys!
Now that's enough emotions for one day. You didn't click on this link because you wanted to hear about how I secretly wish I was J.D. even though Cedric is relatively similar to Dr. Cox. You came here for one thing and one thing only! To hear what I have to say about Standard and then ignore it and do what you were going to do anyway! So let's get this show on the road before the road ends and we are already in Denver for the Open and don't know what to play!
So what is it about this format that has people so polarized? I was almost intimidated by all the content this week breaking down huge chunks about Standard to also throw my hat in that ring. It wasn't until I read them all that I realized that personal opinion is found in each and every one of them.
Emotional bias is something I write about constantly because it is found so often in everything we do. How I try to separate myself from it is to take a step back and look at the whole picture. Not just try to figure out what I should play, but start with what I believe others are thinking and doing.
Standard is at one of the most healthy places I have ever seen it. There are about a dozen decks to choose from and even though some of them might be poorly positioned, playing the games has never been this important before. The games in this format are difficult to navigate correctly, and often times players are punished for making mistakes. There are no hasty Dragons like Stormbreath Dragon or Thundermaw Hellkite that grab onto a format and dictate how it's played like in other formats. Even the red decks are sophisticated and extremely complex to navigate.
Ever since #SCGINDY after Battle for Zendikar came out, we've seen this deck dominate. Very rarely does a red deck in the spotlight continue to shine, but for many reasons, this deck has been able to fade execution from the metagame. This is simply due to the fact that the deck is good.
Atarka Red can go wide with Goblin tokens and Atarka's Command, go fast with Monastery Swiftspear and Zurgo Bellstriker, defeat attrition with Abbot of Keral Keep, and then when it's all said and done, go way over the top of every opponent with Become Immense and Temur Battle Rage. This deck has every angle covered and the ability to beat hate since it can attack from so many angles. The only deck that has consistently defeated it is Jeskai Black, but the metagame has slowly been able to whittle away at that deck, making it a very poor choice outside of its amazing Atarka Red matchup.
So why shouldn't you play Atarka Red? Personally I believe the deck has a very high floor and low ceiling given how it operates. I've yet to play a deck in this format where I am excited to play against Atarka Red, but now looking back, I have a roughly 60% win percentage. The only thing I can take away from that data is that the deck is extremely volatile yet resilient, since I always come prepared for the matchup more than I have for red decks in other formats but still cannot close out every match I play against them any given tournament. I have even now prepared for Standard tournaments expecting to take a loss to a red deck some time during the event.
We keep seeing Atarka Red win tournaments, but some of that has to do with quantity of players piloting the explosive red deck. It's capable of beating just about anyone, but also has a fail rate common with all other red decks. Sometimes it just doesn't have a draw worthy of Constructed Magic. This version just doesn't have as many of those draws as previous iterations of the archetype.
I would suggest playing Atarka Red for anyone who has experience with the deck, but by now everyone has become practiced against the deck, making it a tough deck to pick up. People know how to play against the deck and how to punish mistakes made from the Atarka Red side.
The next deck that has been getting quite a lot of attention is Esper Dragons. Ever since Blohon won #GPBrussels with the deck, we have seen a significant uptick in popularity and good results. After testing this deck myself, I have come to the conclusion that this deck has always been a formidable deck in the format, but the theory that it folded to Jeskai Black thanks to Crackling Doom was purely theoretical. In fact, Esper Dragons has a good matchup against Jeskai Black if built correctly, and Shuhei Nakamura did exactly that which got him a top 8 with the deck as well.
Esper Dragons has some clear good and bad matchups, but those bad matchups are not being played right now. R/G Landfall is being picked up here and there, but its horrific Atarka Red matchup has caused those who Become Immense to gravitate towards that deck. Esper Dragons' other bad matchup, Bant Megamorph, just doesn't have enough good matchups running around to deem piloting. Four-Color Rally, Atarka Red, and Eldrazi Ramp strategies are running around just enough to make winning an event with Deathmist Raptor a feat only a master could achieve. I know I'm not crazy enough to play this deck, so I don't really think there is anyone out there that will be playing this deck.
Even if Bant Megamorph was running around, Shuhei came prepared and played a full set of Silkwrap. This isn't the usual card for a Dig Through Time deck, but Esper Dragons despises Hangarback Walker, and this was enough for Shuhei to give up some speed for his Dig Through Times to be able to deal with this problematic artifact creature.
These two decks are at the top of the food chain whether you like it or not. They are both extremely powerful and are being played in high volume. Both have the capabilities to win a tournament and defeat a wide variety of decks along the way. They are both difficult to metagame against at the same time as well. Together they are creating a stranglehold on the metagame that is making it difficult for other decks to position themselves correctly.
Now there is one deck that Tulio Juady figured out that is up for the task at dispatching both of these menacing threats.
This list might look rough around the edges, but a minor amount of testing has proven to me that this deck has some serious legs to stand on. This deck has a good matchup against most of the top decks in the metagame right now, and bad ones against decks that aren't seeing a ton of play. Jeskai Black, for example, seems like it should be a good matchup, but I have had the worst results against it with this deck. I have found this deck to be very well-equipped to defeat Atarka Red, R/G Landfall, Esper Dragons, and even Abzan Aggro. If your metagame is mostly those four decks I just said, I would highly suggest picking this deck up and taking it to battle. It's not only fun to play with but attacks the format from an angle it hasn't been ready for in a long time.
So where does leave our tried and true Abzan Aggro? You know that deck that has almost always been the best deck to play for over a year now. Well I honestly believe that Abzan Aggro has fallen to the ranks of reasonable. It's not the best deck you can be playing, but I wouldn't count anyone out of the event with it in their hands. It's obviously a powerful strategy, but Magic and its self-correcting nature has caused the bullseye on its head for the longest time to force the metagame to wrap around it. Every deck in the format now has a gameplan against Abzan Aggro, and those have been tested enough to be solid.
Don't believe me? Well Team Eureka crushed Abzan Aggro at #GPBrussels with a strategy based around putting creatures in their graveyard. If that doesn't scream Kobe Bryant, I don't know what would.
Past that, I think any other choice is worse than one of these four decks (I'm not stupid enough to actually say Abzan Aggro is a bad deck). I can already hear the pitchforks scraping against the ground and smell the sweet scent of kerosene being poured over torches. Let's defuse those comments and go through why I believe each deck doesn't have what it takes.
Jeskai Black falls in this very awkward spot in the metagame. Every deck has to be prepared to defeat quick creatures thanks to the power level of Atarka Red causing Mantis Rider to rarely be left unchecked. Decks also have to have a plan against Hangarback Walker which causes exile-based removal to be popular. This significantly hurts the delve side of Jeskai, which is vital to the deck since its power level is often lower than its opponents'. Jeskai lives and breathes for a tempo advantage, and we have found out firsthand that keeping them off a graveyard greatly hinders their abilities to play this sort of game.
The other major reason why this deck isn't as good now is because even the control decks in the format have creatures. This might seem like a weird thing to bring up when talking about Jeskai Black, but it does have some merit in this conversation. Esper Dragons being threat dense causes the entire format to have good removal for blue-based decks. This means every deck has the tools to defeat Jeskai Black without having to go out of its way too much. Rending Volley, for example, is in every Atarka Red sideboard because it's so good at killing Dragonlord Ojutai as well as Mantis Rider.
The main reason Eldrazi Ramp isn't a good option is not because the deck itself is bad but that its two bad matchups are Atarka Red and Esper Dragons. It doesn't have the worst Esper Dragons matchup except if they play Monastery Mentor out of the sideboard, which has been very good in the matchup. This deck preys on midrange strategies, but the format isn't focused as much on that aspect anymore. Abzan is about the only deck playing that sort of game these days, which makes Eldrazi Ramp a poor choice.
Four-Color Rally is the closest to being good without getting there of any deck in the format. The deck blew away the competition at #GPBrussels but has failed to put up stellar results since then. My only conclusion from this is that the deck was a decent surprise attack piloted by some of the best players in the room. Since then, people have become more aware of the deck, and its secret power of preying on ignorance has since vanished. Now it is just another deck that people understand, which makes it a weaker choice than it once was.
This deck is simply outdated. It was decent for a certain amount of time, but is being pushed out by better versions like Esper Dragons, opponents that understand how it operates, and less Jeskai Black and Bant Megamorph. Abzan Aggro has become the deck of choice for anyone trying to beat down with green creatures, which is why this is no longer a deck I would consider playing.
Some players are still playing dedicated Esper Control decks which kill with Ugin, the Spirit Dragon instead of Dragonlord Ojutai. I'm just going to let this one be. I have made my stance on control decks like this before and feel that they are not strong enough to win in a format based around so much aggression. Free wins are important, which is why I do not want to always give my opponents a chance to win a game. I just have been in this fight for too many years that I've become the boy who cried wolf.
Tom's great. Todd's great. Everyone else sucks.
Decks to play:
Decks to not play:
You won't be seeing me at #SCGDEN, but you will be seeing Todd and Tom there trying their best to stay in the #SCGPC race. I will be watching every minute of the action unfold and suggest you do the same. Two tournaments is all that's left before the #SCGPC is figured out, which makes for some very exciting Magic over the next two weekends. Last year the finals of the #SCGINVI impacted the roster for the #SCGPC, and I am guessing that it might be the same this time around.
I'll see you all in the Twitch chat!