As you've probably noticed, my articles go up every Friday here at StarCityGames.com®. Next Friday, coverage of Pro Tour Kaladesh starts. That'll give everyone the first taste of what the Pro Tour players have cooked up in their respective think tanks.
If you're reading this article and not going to the Pro Tour or to Grand Prix Atlanta, then SCG Regionals will be probably your next big tournament stop. It's the same weekend of Pro Tour Kaladesh which gives potential regional champions a week to test.
Sometimes it's wise to wait until Pro Tour Friday to see what the pros are playing before settling in on a deck choice for Regionals. The little Friday coverage of Pro Tour Oath of the Gatewatch greatly affected Regionals metagames, where Modern Colorless Eldrazi and U/R Eldrazi broke out.
I don't expect this Regionals to be affected as much. If anything was going to sideswipe a format, it was the W/R Vehicles deck that won the Standard Open in Indianapolis. There will be new decks, of course, but nothing completely broken. I made the mistake last Regionals building Owen Turtenwald's Temur Emerge at 4am without having played a game. That Regionals went poorly for me and I'd have been much better off getting some beauty rest and playing my trusty W/R Humans deck.
For those looking to do well at SCG Regionals next week, I suggest you get a deck together and start practicing now. Experience and interaction knowledge will be important. Today I'll talk about some I came across in testing and at #SCGINDY last weekend.
Veteran Motorist Activating Anytime Is Crazy Good
It's no secret that Veteran Motorist combos well with Vehicles. What puts the interaction over the edge is how Vehicles like Smuggler's Copter can be re-Crewed mid-combat with Veteran Motorist for the +1/+1 bonus. This gives the R/W Vehicles deck “Copter Advantage” without even really trying.
Several times with G/W Aggro they'd attack a 4/4 Smuggler's Copter crewed by Depala, Pilot Exemplar into my 3/3 Smuggler's Copter when I'd have Blossoming Defense. Thing is, they'd have Veteran Motorist disabling my clean one-for-one.
The ability to react to blocks or removal mid-combat with a Veteran Motorist re-Crew seems silly to me.
Pia Nalaar Throws Clues
Again, subtle value strengthens the W/R Vehicles deck. The clue from Thraben Inspector turns on Toolcraft Exemplar and then just sits around. The deck is very aggressive and doesn't typically have time to sacrifice that Clue. Not until Pia Nalaar makes an appearance does that Clue really impact the battlefield. Now a creature can be made to not block this turn without sacrificing a Smuggler's Copter or Thopter token. Chris VanMeter said himself that he sacrificed more Clues to Pia Nalaar en route to winning #SCGINDY than he did to draw a card.
In my Round 15 match against Jacob Baugh, I died with Natural State in my hand while I ended up dying to an early-game Clue that I refused to remove as I waited for something better like Smuggler's Copter. Once I finally realized how much Pia Nalaar was complicating my attacks because of that innocent-looking Max McVety token, it was already too late.
Artifact Removal Needs Another Look
Natural State is currently the default removal spell for artifacts and enchantments out of green. Given the popularity of the heavy Vehicles build of W/R, green mages need to look at Appetite for the Unnatural as their removal.
G/W Aggro and Bant builds have trouble containing the Vehicles. Even a slow answer is reasonable. Having a dead Natural State is the worst. Taking a hit from Fleetwheel Cruiser before it can be removed with Fragmentize isn't great either.
Fumigate Is Bad
Languish left Standard and Fumigate entered. On paper, Fumigate looks pretty good against the creature decks. A sweeper with some extra life tacked on sounds like a great deal. Turns out things don't line up quite that well.
The W/R Vehicles deck is loaded up with Selfless Spirits and (obviously) Vehicles. I don't know if a sweeper that says “destroy all creatures” has ever been worse against a creature deck where some of the “creatures” cost four and five mana.
To beat the creature decks you need to either beat them at their own game or come with the right answers. For B/W players, Grasp of Darkness and Anguished Unmaking in some numbers are a necessity. I also recommend Descend upon the Sinful as a way to exile through a Selfless Spirit and to make an Angel token that solves Smuggler's Copter.
Haunted Dead Can Die Before Wretched Gryff Emerges
- 4 Scrapheap Scrounger
- 2 Cryptbreaker
- 4 Elder Deep-Fiend
- 4 Haunted Dead
- 4 Insolent Neonate
- 4 Prized Amalgam
- 2 Wretched Gryff
A key opening sequence for Grixis Emerge to have a quick Kozilek's Return flashback involves bringing back Haunted Dead and then emerging Wretched Gryff, all for the low price of four mana. For the aggressive decks to combat Grixis Emerge, they need to stop this from happening if possible.
If the aggro player has a removal spell like Harnessed Lightning or Galvanic Bombardment, then they're able to kill Haunted Dead before the Grixis player has a chance to emerge Wretched Gryff. The Spirit token trigger gives the window. If you can't beat an early Kozilek's Return because of this sequence, it's best to leave up removal to nab that Haunted Dead. It doesn't feel great to use resources on such value creatures, but do what you gotta do.
Haunted Dead / Elder Deep Fiend / Kozilek's Return Is the Endgame
This is the strongest play that Grixis Emerge has and isn't quite as easy to break up. In fact, it can't be broken up by removal at all.
Grixis Emerge brings back Haunted Dead from the graveyard during the opponent's upkeep. With the Spirit trigger on the stack, Haunted Dead is sacrificed to emerge Elder Deep-Fiend, triggering Kozilek's Return. Lands get targeted to be tapped, since opposing creatures are dying anyway. Sanctum of Ugin gets sacrificed for another Elder Deep-Fiend. Then the Spirit enters the battlefield. At the end of the turn, Prized Amalgams enter the battlefield. A large attack happens, and then the next Elder Deep-Fiend ensures lethal the following turn.
As a Grixis Emerge player, this is exactly what you want to set up. As a player facing Grixis Emerge, do what you can to keep this from happening. The little value graveyard shenanigans are just a distraction from this big finish.
Fairgrounds Warden Nukes Tokens
Fairgrounds Warden is a very scary Magic card. For those who've played with Spell Queller, the same fear of getting blown out at any moment by a timely removal spell is frightening. Fairgrounds Warden also doesn't get into combat nearly as well as Spell Queller.
- 4 Verdurous Gearhulk
- 4 Fairgrounds Warden
- 4 Servant of the Conduit
- 4 Sylvan Advocate
- 4 Thraben Inspector
- 2 Tireless Tracker
By far my favorite times casting Fairgrounds Warden were when it hit a Thopter token or a Knight Ally from Gideon, Ally of Zendikar. Sometimes it's an Angel from Linvala, the Preserver. Sometimes it would be an Eldrazi Scion. The impact would be significant while leaving myself worry-free from unfortunate removal spells. From there I'm happy to load my Warden up with Verdurous Gearhulk counters or otherwise get it into combat.
Verdurous Gearhulk Counters
Verdurous Gearhulk is clearly powerful as it sizes your creatures on the battlefield appropriately to attack and block. It's important to know how the distribution of counters works for responding to it and correct placement against potential responses.
Basically you choose the targets for Verdurous Gearhulk and the number of counters you intend on placing on those creatures when the triggered ability goes on the stack. You don't get to put extra counters on a creature if one of the targets is killed. Given this information, size your creatures accordingly.
Expect Blossoming Defense
- 4 Verdurous Gearhulk
- 4 Reflector Mage
- 1 Selfless Spirit
- 4 Servant of the Conduit
- 4 Spell Queller
- 4 Sylvan Advocate
- 4 Tireless Tracker
The cat's out the bag on this one. If someone looks like a green midrange deck, they probably have Blossoming Defense. B/G Delirium hasn't adopted it and Temer Emerge doesn't want it. Anything that looks like a fair midrange deck with Sylvan Advocate and Verdurous Gearhulk probably does. Even outside of G/W Aggro and Bant Aggro, new color combinations will show up. If you're building a new green midrange deck, Blossoming Defense is a very strong option that's a huge tempo swing when it works out. If you're playing against green, I'd respect Blossoming Defense if I can afford it.
Aether Hub and Battle Lands Aren't Friends
If I could go back to #SCGINDY, the first thing I'd do is cut an Always Watching and those two Aether Hubs for a Plains and two Forests. Basic lands just work so well with the Battle Lands and Shadow Lands. Aether Hub just screws up everything.
Jacob Hagen played R/B Aggro to a Top 4 finish. He didn't play Smoldering Marsh, opting for Aether Hub instead. He was smart not to load his deck too heavily with nonbasic lands that need basic lands to function properly.
Thalia's Lieutenant Is Still Good
- 4 Hanweir Garrison
- 4 Inventor's Apprentice
- 4 Thalia's Lieutenant
- 4 Thraben Inspector
- 3 Pia Nalaar
- 2 Thalia, Heretic Cathar
Thalia's Lieutenant doesn't need much help to be a good card. W/R Humans needed every ounce of synergy it could squeeze out to be a respectable deck, meaning that every creature (or close to it) absolutely had to be a Human. Now with Vehicles in the mix bringing the power level of the new version of W/R Humans up, the actual Human count isn't as necessary.
If you're looking to improve on Donovan Lachney's W/R Humans deck or to build a deck with Thalia's Lieutenant with a color other than red, things will likely work out just fine as long as power is there. Black with Kambal, Consul of Allocation and Night Market Lookout can be a thing, as they're both reasonable cards and Night Market Lookout Crews the Vehicles well.
Combo Is Close
We haven't had the time to figure out the proper way to build the artifact combo decks that Kaladesh has offered us. After another week of testing, surely someone will figure it out. Friday Pro Tour coverage could give us a glimpse of what artifact combo is supposed to look like. If a broken deck sneaks into the format, I imagine it will be centered on one of the above four-mana artifacts from Kaladesh just begging to be built around.
To be safe, I'd secure a few sideboard slots for the possibility of these decks being a thing. Some of those copies of Appetite for the Unnatural could be doing double-duty at SCG Regionals against Vehicles and broken combo. I don't mind overloading a bit against Vehicles if it means I won't get blindsided by a broken artifact combo deck.
Champion Your Region!
It's no secret that Smuggler's Copter is the card to beat in Standard. W/R Vehicles looks to be the best deck and will probably be the most-played too. You can play W/R Vehicles or any of the other top-performing decks from #SCGINDY. Or you could build your own deck entirely.
I wouldn't worry too hard about deck selection. Knowing card interactions and building your deck and sideboard to beating the big cards like Smuggler's Copter is the main concern.
Just pick a deck, learn it well, adapt card choices according to what you expect, and everything will fall into place.
Good luck at SCG Regionals!