I am writing this fresh off the heels of Pro Tour Amonkhet where I must congratulate Gerry Thompson on his much deserved win. The last time I got to work with Gerry was on a Mono-Black deck I played for Pro Tour Gatecrash, where he picked up his first top 8, so it's good to see decks with 22 basic Swamps can still get the job done! Congrats to the rest of the top 8 as well, with a special shoutout to Christian Calcano for checking off that first one!
Aside from the players who made the top 8 though, many of you might be worried about the lists that made it to the elimination rounds. Four decks containing Aetherworks Marvel can be a little disheartening, as playing against that deck often just feels like you are flipping coins. But, while the Pro Tour brought Marvel, it also brought a lot of other decks and a relatively diverse metagame. That is not necessarily the world we have been living in, so I today I wanted to talk about how we build properly for that environment and to propose a list that I think does just that.
Tips for a New World
Be Proactive or No-Active
This almost goes without saying, but in order to compete in a field full of Marvel, you need to be attacking the enemy life total or have control over what resolves. Marvel decks cheat on the number of Ulamog they play, so I think it is reasonable to expect/hope for them to miss on at least one activation of Aetherworks Marvel. When this is the case, you need to be making use of that time and trying to win. If you find yourself playing something like ramp right now, you should really figure out why. Marvel is playing that game better than you. You aren't well-positioned.
Essentially, you want to be playing a deck that forces Marvel to "have it." Sometimes they will just turn 4 Ulamog you and there is nothing you can do, but that is to be expected. Instead, we need to be looking at all of the games in which we have a chance and ask how we can best maximize that chance. In theory, we could also just attack the Marvel after it whiffs, but if we are not taking advantage of the gained time by attacking or setting up some sort of combo, what have we really gained? We can't take them off of every Marvel that way. Eventually, Ulamog can just be cast, so our delay is meaningless.
Pick A Side(board)
Now more than ever, you cannot really afford to have an inefficient sideboard. The metagame has reached a point where the tier one decks span a wide spectrum of strategies, most of which need to be taken seriously. A sideboard needs to cover aggressive strategies, graveyard strategies, Marvel, Torrential Gearhulk decks, non-interactive combo decks, and various midrange brews. This puts a lot of stress on your fifteen cards, making the chances that you cover everything very low. To combat this, I highly recommend trying to bleed some of your sideboard slots into the main deck.
We saw this past weekend that players were willing to run stuff like Dissenter's Deliverance in the main as the opportunity cost of drawing it against no artifacts is pretty low. Meanwhile, against Mardu Vehicles or Marvel or Dynavolt Tower, you could steal a game with a surprise Shatter in a game 1 situation.
If you can afford to hedge against some of the better decks with situational but acceptable main deck cards, you should at least explore it. Sweltering Suns, Manglehorn, or even Transgress the Mind could be all the edge you need to turn a mediocre game 1 around.
A New Perspective
Everyone probably expected New Perspectives to play a very fringe role in Standard, but with its appearance at the Pro Tour, I expect that role to be a little bigger. While I don't think I would recommend playing the deck if your goal is to win a tournament, some people will be. Against an unprepared opponent, New Perspectives is very capable of stealing a match.
So, while I don't necessarily recommend the deck, I do recommend keeping the deck in mind and manipulating some deck slots to help out. Maybe one of those Dissenter's Deliverance should become an Appetite for the Unnatural. Maybe you want to invest in some Lost Legacy for your sideboard. Most decks with counterspells are already fine, and the rest of the field doesn't need much. Just don't dismiss this match up outright and pick up an avoidable loss or two as a result.
Last week I began working on a Standard list that used Indomitable Creativity to cheat out a bunch of fatties and win. The deck was fun, but it was definitely not in fighting shape and I was not actually sure if it ever would be. There would always be some inconsistency involved when we drew our fatties and essentially mulliganed a card in the process. That is a level of risk that I normally would be okay with taking; but with Marvel in the format, if I am taking risks, I might as well be looking at my top six cards over and over to see if I win.
I attempted to manipulate the win packages in different ways but then concluded that entire end-game plan was too grandiose. Why was I going through the effort of including these nearly uncastable threats in my deck if the payoff was just not coming together with any regularity?
I began testing Reality Smasher to maintain my combo feel but to bring the threats to a castable range. Smasher was performing well enough, but something was still missing. Oddly enough, I stumbled upon a streamer who was just beginning a draft where he was fortunate enough to open a Glorybringer and things clicked for me.
There was no reason to be so all-in on this combo. I had recognized it by moving to Reality Smasher, but had not realized it enough. If I was willing to sacrifice a little bit of damage, I could greatly increase the utility of my deck and of Indomitable Creativity. Glorybringer is the key to making that work as it offers haste, a threatening body, and removal. If that removal happens to push through more damage from a Smasher, then it is not even clear I cost myself anything-and I gained quite a lot.
The Pro Tour provided much of the motivation for my other changes to the deck. With four aggressive decks in the top 8 and plenty more spotted across the weekend, I feel it is smart to lower my curve a bit and increase the removal count. Something like a main deck Sweltering Suns is not too risky against anything and provides some much needed blowouts in game 1 situations against a ton of decks. I debated playing a second, but ultimately, I felt that spot removal could suffice.
We will discuss some of the individual cards in the deck in a moment, but it probably helps to see the list in full beforehand. Here is where I am at currently:
The core elements of our big combo version are all still here, but the function and feel of the deck has shifted quite a bit. We now play out like a midrange deck that goes over the top of aggro while having the ability to outrace the various combo decks of the format. Our consistency has increased dramatically, and we don't have any real dead draws at this point, save for maybe drawing the second copy of Indomitable Creativity.
Thus far in testing, this deck has been putting up a real fight against every deck I have come across. I would be lying if I said it wins every game, of course. Every deck out there is doing some powerful things and can get the best out of any other deck from time to time. That said, we have our own nut draws that just can't be beat, and once we make it into the "fair fight" portion of the game, we have all the tools to pull ahead. With the ability to go wide or turn things around in a single turn, we feel pretty comfortable adapting to a large range of strategies while remaining proactive at the same time.
Of course, as with any of my lists, there are some cards in here that could probably use some explaining. I went into Ruin in Their Wake last week, so I'll avoid explaining why Rampant Growth is good a second time, but those Warping Wails are sticking out like sore thumbs, aren't they?
I like Warping Wail in this particular deck because it attacks the metagame well while giving us some good default options. Speaking to that, we can always use the card as a ramp spell to get us to four quickly or as an end of turn token for our many synergies; however, we will often find matchup-specific uses as well. Against Zombies and Mardu we get to exile some of the most important early plays of their deck. Or against New Perspectives we gain a way to counter Approach of the Second Sun. The card does not entirely fill the shoes of the Harnessed Lightnings we gave up, but it brings versatility to the table. I appreciate that in the current metagame.
Once we cut back on our Harnessed Lightnings, we didn't need so much energy. Traverse fills the same Wastes-fetching function that Attune did but gives us a much better card in the lategame which helps fight flood, should that come up. Being able to tutor up one of our haste threats or Westvale Abbey is really strong when Attune would still just be grabbing a lame land. We even have one Sheltered Thicket still; so if you need to spend three mana on a random card, you at least have that option.
Not having this in my original list was an oversight as I was took focus on cheating expensive stuff onto the battlefield. Not only does Abbey make tokens for us, which is great, it also turns those tokens into a threat! That is exactly what the rest of our deck is attempting to do. We even have a higher desire for colorless mana at this point, so Abbey is actually helping the manabase. As a big bonus, this improves our control match up quite a bit as well.
Generally speaking, I tend to leave detailed sideboard guides off of brews in their early stages of development because there is still so much changing in the main deck. In this case, I have been developing this deck for a few weeks and feel pretty confident in a lot of these sideboard suggestions. Thought-Knot Seer is rather new and is probably the least-tested card in the deck, but I believe it is probably correct as a two- or three-of in the current metagame. We really just need disruption for some of the more unfair decks in the format, and Thought-Knot does that in a timely fashion in our list.
I am still tweaking this plan a bit, but the idea is pretty simple. We want to maximize the meaningful interaction we have with the opponent while maintaining a clock. Artifact removal and Thought-Knot Seer give us a real chance to beat Aetherworks Marvel if it shows up, and hopefully our haste creatures and burn spells cut some number of games short before it does. Burn from Within can randomly kill Ulamog, if that ever does happen to come up.
Vs. Mono-Black Zombies
While your Creativity plan against Zombies is not bad, once you bring in a bunch of sweepers it becomes less reliable. Instead, we are just happy to sweep the board and burn down any stragglers while our Planeswalkers and hasters pull clean-up duty. If there is one annoying card for us post-sideboard, it would be Diregraf Colossus. Try to keep a Harnessed Lightning or Burn From Within available.
Vs. B/W Zombies
The baseline plan here is roughly the same as for Mono-Black Zombies, but you should take note of the enemy deck in this instance. If you see Cast Out or suspect it, bringing in the second Appetite for the Unnatural should be considered. One key difference here is that the white manabase is less likely to support Grasp of Darkness, so your Glorybringers are more likely to live and we can cut back on another Reality Smasher.
Vs. Mardu Vehicles
Usually, if you can stop the initial rush from Mardu, you can win the mid to long game relatively easily. Glorybringer makes for an excellent Gideon slayer to prevent their only real way of grinding. If your opponent is commonly activating the +1 ability on Gideon to play around Glorybringer, consider leaving in some Reality Smashers to keep them honest. Heaven is actually quite strong against Archangel Avacyn and Heart of Kiran, so keep that in mind.
Vs. New Perspectives
Once again we go up on interactivity for the matchup and also try to improve our speed a bit. Glorybringer has no real targets and does less damage than Smasher, so we can safely cut them and bring in Smasher and Nissa as replacements. Casting Creativity into a bunch of Thought-Knots is quite strong here as the number of cards in the opponent's hand matter even should they top deck another New Perspectives.
Vs. Torrential Gearhulk Decks
I have not gotten to actually test this sideboard plan since adding the Thought-Knot Seers, but in general, they do seem better than Glorybringer here. We are essentially looking to maximize threats against these types of decks so that we can slip a few past their counter wall. We have nearly all "must-counter spells" in our deck after sideboard, which is a sort of brute force method to resolving things. We keep the Warping Wails in here to catch random sorceries, but more importantly, to protect against Thing in the Ice and Dragonmaster Outcast. Those can be issues after we take out most of our removal. Westvale Abbey is huge in these matchups, so save your Traverse to grab it in the late game!
There is still a lot of work to be done on this list, but I have become very happy to put in that work as my results have steadily been improving. My goal is to play this list in Grand Prix Omaha, although I think it's in fighting shape now for anyone looking to play it at one of the SCG Tour® events this weekend in Louisville. Again, Thought-Knot Seer is probably the card that needs the most testing, but as a former, "Best card in Standard," I don't think it will disappoint.