With Hour of Devastation merely weeks away, one would think preparing for current Standard would be a waste of time. After all, it's commonly either irrelevant or solved. As it turns out, right now, it's neither!
The ban on Aetherworks Marvel has turned the format on its head, and a week before we can get our hands on Wizard's newest set we have the most important tournament to prepare for on the SCG Tour®. The #SCGINVI is a week away, which is why it's so important to get a grasp on this "one and done" unique format. Last week I went over my predictions, but this week we get to sift through my findings. Are you prepared for next weekend? If not, you'd best be putting your reading glasses on right quick.
The Big Five
Right now Standard is comprised of five major archetypes: B/G Energy, Temur Energy, Mardu Vehicles, Mono-Black Zombies, and UR Control. There are other decks in the format like B/G Delirium, B/W Zombies, whatever Sam Black's playing, G/R Pummeler, Spell Queller Vehicles, and G/W Midrange, but they either lack quantity (percentage of metagame, or quality of performance.
My Subjective Ranking of Quality:
1. B/G Energy
2. Temur Energy
3. Mono-Black Zombies
4. Mardu Vehicles
5. G/R Pummeler
6. U/R Control
7. B/G Delirium
8. Whatever Sam Black's Playing
9. B/W Zombies
10. G/W Midrange
11. Spell Queller Vehicles
"Objective" Ranking of Quantity:
1. B/G Energy
2. Mono-Black Zombies
3. Temur Energy
4. U/R Control
5. Mardu Vehicles
6. B/G Delirium
7. G/W Midrange
8. G/R Pummeler
9. Spell Queller Vehicles
10. Whatever Sam Black's Playing
11. G/W Midrange
These lists are intended to give you a better understanding of where I think things currently are, but do not make critical decisions based on them.
Excluding U/R Control from the equation, the rest of the metagame is extremely slanted towards midrange. That's not in their initial strategies, since many of them are slanted proactively during maindeck games, but they tend to have ample amounts of cards in the sideboard dedicated for more grindy games. This creates a very convoluted sense of role in post-sideboard games, which heightens the importance of understanding what to be doing within them.
The biggest hurdle to overcome is having the tools that best suit the current situation. Greater shifts depending on play/draw are occurring, now that there isn't a combo deck in the format that each deck needs to dedicate resources to. It's vital to be aware that each deck has the capabilities of shifting their curve, threat density, and overall strategy depending on what they believe you to be doing.
This is caused by the format's density of relevant two- and five-drops. Mardu Vehicles and Zombies are the only two decks that have creatures to deploy on turn 1, but for the most part every deck begins their curve of threats on two. This is the main reason why shifting your plan significantly on the draw is so important. You can't simply out-threat your opponent when they start first. Maybe in other formats, but right now most two-drops have an ability to go with their body. Untouched, these abilities will snowball out of control, whether it's additional cards, counters, or mana. Creatures these days do more than just attack.
The race to five mana is also more important in this format.
Five mana is where games are won. Many of these effects are nigh-unbeatable when deployed on-curve while on the play. They are just so powerful! So therein lies the format's biggest conundrum: how do you construct your deck to react early, yet also have the resources to play five-drops on time? It's not easy or consistent, but it is what has to be done. When it fails, you lose, making this format slightly high-variance. Well, not as high-variance as spinning the roulette wheel, but you get what I mean. Being on the play and not stumbling is extremely important.
In the B/G Energy versus Delirium debate, I give the nod to Energy. Grim Flayer feels shockingly outclassed by Longtusk Cub, and the Traverse the Ulvenwald toolbox isn't as effective as one would hope. B/G Energy just utilizes Winding Constrictor synergies better, thus making it a better deck.
- 3 Verdurous Gearhulk
- 4 Walking Ballista
- 4 Glint-Sleeve Siphoner
- 4 Longtusk Cub
- 2 Tireless Tracker
- 4 Winding Constrictor
- 3 Rishkar, Peema Renegade
Derek Pite (Misplacedginger on Magic Online) currently has the most trophies in Standard competitive Leagues. I sat down with him to learn more about B/G Energy, and learn I did. Derek believes B/G Energy to have the highest power-to-curve ratio of any deck, and it's difficult to argue against that. We all know how Winding Constrictor can get out of hand, but even without the namesake spell, the deck has legs. Longtusk Cub and Glint-Sleeve Siphoner both can do damage starting on turn 2. Both have their own unique strengths, yet combine to create powerful synergies for the deck to exploit.
The biggest boon to this deck's success is Fatal Push. Like I said earlier, two-drops define the early turns, and Fatal Push is the only reliable removal spell that allows you to cast your own while dealing with theirs.
One thing you might have noticed the deck lacking is Greenbelt Rampager. Derek decided to cut the card, understanding it wasn't a sacred cow, and boy was he right for doing so. Greenbelt Rampager is a good attacker, but that's not what you need in this format. If your threats stick, you want them to help out in more ways than just attacking. It's difficult to just kill an opponent with threats that don't have additional abilities these days. Not only that, but cards designed to just attack can become a liability after sideboarding. Like I said earlier, today's threats are more than just bodies.
*All sideboarding guides in this article should be used as merely a reference point to look back on while preparing and not concrete blueprints to work from.
Zombies is the deck's most difficult matchup. Priority should be place on dealing with card advantage engines first and foremost. Both Cryptbreaker and Diregraf Colossus pose the greatest threat, as they allow the deck to "out synergy" you. If they are dealt with in a timely fashion, the Zombie deck must resort to being the beatdown, which they are ill-equipped to do in this matchup. Fatal Push, Walking Ballista, and Skysovereign, Consul Flagship are your most important resources.
The key to this matchup is to minimize the damage Glorybringer can cause. This is Temur Energy's best path to victory and will almost undoubtedly be cast, but controlling its impact can be managed most of the time. To do this, you must trust in the fact that eventually your creatures will be bigger and thus better than theirs. Allow them to take an early battlefield advantage if needed to either hold up Blossoming Defense for key creatures or better combine spells on specific turns to get them out of the pivotal four-damage range.
Out, on the draw:
Out, on the play:
The mirror is a dance between card advantage and big creatures. You want more cards than they have first and foremost, but at the same time you cannot allow their creatures' size to get out of hand while doing so. After some testing, you'll begin to understand how contextual your decisions will need to be, and how to handle each situation individually.
By now you should know how this matchup will play out. The matchup's good if they don't represent five to seven damage on the second turn or curve into Gideon, Ally of Zendikar by turn 4. Now, they will assuredly sideboard into a more controlling role, so it's important to respect that when you're on the play. Cards like Fatal Push lose value, while Tireless Tracker becomes more reliable to slog through all the removal. Always evaluate how much action you need to present to dispatch a freshly cast Gideon, Ally of Zendikar, but no more to not get blown out by Fumigate. If neither of these situations gets out of hand, you should just have better cards than they do as the game goes on.
It's U/R Control. Just do your thing and hope their draw doesn't line up well for them against yours. It's about all you can do to prepare for this matchup.
This deck isn't quite there yet to get my seal of approval, but it has impressed me thus far. It's always interesting to see a deck's potential, yet not get the results you're looking for. As of right now, it's grabbed my attention the most out of the decks I'm discussing at length today, but I'm wary I'm just chasing my tail trying to get it optimal. Hopefully soon I'll know whether or not it's a good enough deck to take to the #SCGINVI, but for now it's at least worth my continued efforts. Here's my current list.
- 4 Bristling Hydra
- 3 Glorybringer
- 4 Longtusk Cub
- 4 Rogue Refiner
- 4 Servant of the Conduit
- 3 Tireless Tracker
Temur Energy is an interesting deck because it has access to some of the best cards in the format, like Glorybringer and Harnessed Lightning, yet at the same time feels underpowered against the field when your cards don't line up well against theirs. Bristling Hydra, for example, is a great card but pales in comparison to what some of the other decks are capable of. Zombies can go wide, B/G Energy can go big, and Mardu Vehicles can go around. Temur Energy's strength lies in either being ahead or controlling the battlefield before things get out of hand. It rarely can catch up from a deficit.
I haven't played around too much with the lists that play Elder Deep-Fiend, but anything that needs Whirler Virtuoso as support won't have mine. I've had enough of that card at this point. It was once a great energy sink for Four-Color Saheeli, but without a game-ending combo. the card itself cannot handle what the format has to offer.
Here's the sideboarding guide.
It's vital to deal with their early creatures so the deck's synergies don't get online. It's one of the main reasons why I play Cut // Ribbons where most don't. Harnessed Lightning works overtime in this matchup, making additional support in the early turns necessary. The drier their battlefield, the more easily it will be to land your game-ending threats like Chandra, Torch of Defiance,and Glorybringer. Baral's Expertise is the best card to catch up when behind in this matchup. I've tried Confiscation Coup in this slot but have been blown out by Blossoming Defense one too many times to rely on that card as the matchup-breaker it needs to be.
Out, on the Draw:
Out, on the Play:
I sideboard out Censor on the play more and more. Not saying you should do this all the time, but something to experiment with. I also bring in the fourth Tireless Tracker on the play, but I'm unsure of what I want to cut for it at this point. Sideboarding in the mirror match has been difficult for me to get down thus far since it can be difficult to understand what's important. The deck can stumble on its way to five mana fairly often thanks to the manabase, which is why many games are won or lost due to it. One player will often curve out better than the other. You'll break serve when you're on the draw thanks to their stumble, but often lose when they don't.
You need to be the control deck that punches through with big threats that also gain card advantage in one way or another. It may seem strange to cut all of your Longtusk Cubs and Bristling Hydras, but it's the most reliable strategy I've found. You often do lose when you don't draw Tireless Tracker, planeswalkers, or Glorybringer, but that should be acceptable. It's just too easy for them to go wide against your narrow threats.
Out, on the Play:
In, on the Play:
Out, on the Draw:
In, on the Draw:
You know the drill. They will more likely be slanted proactively on the play, but reactively on the draw. Negate is a great way to catch them with their hand in the cookie jar with cards like Fumigate, but it also works wonders when activating Skysovereign, Consul Flagship. Censor is also very effective in this matchup, since Mardu almost always needs to use all of its mana to keep up. I've countered many Archangel Avacyns!
- 4 Scrapheap Scrounger
- 4 Thraben Inspector
- 4 Toolcraft Exemplar
- 4 Veteran Motorist
- 2 Archangel Avacyn
- 2 Thalia, Heretic Cathar
Last on my list of decks to discuss today is Mardu Vehicles. I'm leaving Mono Black Zombies off my list since Gerry Thompson wrote a great piece on the deck last week, and U/R Control was handled by Adrian Sullivan on Monday. Go check those articles out if you're interested in one of those two decks. Stay if you're interested in Mardu Vehicles and how it's evolved over the past six months.
This deck hasn't changed at all. Seriously, this is very similar to what I've been playing for some time now. The major difference is that the deck doesn't have to focus on a degenerate combo anymore. This allows the deck to occupy more space with cards that help it transition into a more controlling deck after sideboard, and some much needed anti-Zombies density.
I've gone back to Thalia, Heretic Cathar as the three-drop creature of choice mostly due to Glorybringer, but it's also good against Zombies. In all honesty, Pia Nalaar was only superior to the other options in true mirrors. For right now, Mardu Vehicles isn't overplayed or overperforming, meaning it's incorrect to build the deck for the mirror. Now, that could change come time for the #SCGINVI, but for now it's best to play a list that wins. This one does that against the field better than any other configuration I've tried.
B/G Energy/Delirium is easily the deck's worst matchup in pre-sideboarded games, so much so that you have to redefine your strategy to stand a chance. Once transitioned, the matchup isn't that difficult, though. Just make sure they don't draw too many cards and don't let Winding Constrictor live for too long. You have the advantage as the game goes longer. Trust in that.
I will preface this sideboard guide with the fact that I've worked the least on this deck over the weekend. That's why, if you disagree with my assessment of a matchup, it's probably because you're correct. I never said I'm omniscient!
Out, on the Play:
In, on the Play:
Out, on the Draw:
In, on the Draw:
I'm not personally sold on the way I sideboard on the draw just yet, but it should be similar to this. The reason for this indecisiveness is thanks to not exactly knowing how my opponents sideboard yet. Some keep in Whirler Virtuoso, while others don't. Oath of Liliana is great when they don't have the card, but terrible when they do. Same goes for Chandra, Torch of Defiance. The only unintuitive thing I've discovered in my matches against this deck is that I very rarely allow my Heart of Kirans to die outside of blocking Glorybringer. I don't throw them into combat when they have a chance of dying otherwise.
The matchup is pretty cut-and-dried. If you don't contain them, you'll get run over right quick without Fumigate to catch you back up. You have to get on the battlefield but also answer their problematic threats. Knowing what hands are acceptable to keep is vital but difficult to truly grasp without practice.
Out, on the Draw:
In, on the Draw:
I don't sideboard on the play with this configuration. I would if I had access to Release the Gremlins, but that isn't the case right now. I may add one down the road, but for now there just isn't enough Mardu Vehicles roaming about to validate it.
I'm not the biggest fan of Nahiri, the Harbinger in this matchup, but do like having access to the card in my sideboard for other matchups. That said, I would stick to the main plan against U/R Control, since it's already a good matchup and they don't have much more to bring in against you. If you want more cards for the matchup, I'd suggest trimming on Heart of Kiran first. The card isn't as good as you'd think in this matchup, and drawing multiples alongside Unlicensed Disintegration can lead to some very lackluster starts.
Moving Forward Checklist
1. See if B/G Energy needs a copy or two of Never//Return.
3. Add Manglehorn to that Temur Energy build's sideboard.
4. Double-check that Zombies isn't just the best choice for the #SCGINVI.
5. Buy Eldrazi Tron.
Seriously, I'm currently 18-2 with Eldrazi Tron and rarely am going 4-1 or better in the Standard Leagues. It's been a strange weekend.
I hope today's article helped you on your quest to winning next weekend's #SCGINVI. For now I'm done looking to the past and will begin digging into Hour of Devastation in my attempts to qualify Team Genesis for the team portion at Worlds. I mean, I'll most likely already be there, so I might as well play in everything!
I'll see you folks next week!