There's something about being able to participate in a multi-format Constructed tournament that gets me all exhilarated. The Pro Tour is similar in the sense that it tests how well you've prepared and studied the Draft environment, but there is always that sense of randomness that comes with opening bomb rares and mythics. Not to take away anything from the Pro Tour; I just find that having two different Constructed formats is incredibly skill-testing and, honestly, mentally taxing. This past week I've had collectively less than fifteen hours of sleep. I'm not sure if it's because of stress or something else entirely.
Insomnia: habitual sleeplessness; the inability to sleep.
If it's insomnia, it's new to me, and for those of you who've never experienced it, I'll Cliffs Notes it for you: not sleeping sucks. While this has granted me additional time to test on Magic Online, it's definitely not prepared my body for the rigors it's about to endure over the coming weekend. If you've never played in a large tournament spanning the course of two or potentially even three days, it's hard to understand the drain playing Magic can have on a person's ability to perform at their peak potential, which is crucial if I am to overtake Todd Stevens for the Season One points lead.
Aside from getting what amounts to a good night's sleep before an event, it's equally as important to be familiar with the formats you're playing. From what I've gathered from the grapevine (Twitter), Modern is perhaps in the best place it's ever been and I concur! While all corners of the metagame feel the prevalence of Grixis Death's Shadow, there are at least ten to fifteen other decks that one could conceivably play and be competitive. With that being said, it just means that there are even more decks that you could sit across from, making it all that much more difficult to figure out what to play.
I've taken the approach of being proactive in Modern the past two SCG Opens, nearly making the Top 8 at both events utilizing the powerful new interaction between Devoted Druid and Vizier of Remedies. Unlimited amounts of mana can easily be abused in Modern, and this wacky white 2/1 from Amonkhet makes getting it comically easy. Paring this one-two punch with some other Standard all-stars like Walking Ballista or Duskwatch Recruiter instantly wins the game for you, assuming no interaction from the opponent. Unfortunately Modern has become almost nothing but interaction, thanks to this jerk.
I remember the days shortly after Return to Ravnica was released when I paired Death's Shadow with Varolz, the Scar-Striped, scavenged thirteen +1/+1 counters onto a Birds of Paradise, and crashed in. Those were the innocent times before the equation was balanced, before the potion had been brewed and Death's Shadow became the deck we know and love today.
While some people call for the removal of this deck, or at least a key piece of it, I say nay! Death's Shadow is doing the format a favor, if you ask me. It's keeping a lot of the unfair decks in check by being very good at playing the classic Aggro/Control deck of the format. It's a deck that takes cards out of your opponent's hand, counters spells, kills creatures, and attacks with large under-costed creatures! While I can understand people's frustration with this deck being as good as it is and having answers to nearly everything you can throw at it, I believe it's shifted the Modern format into a place where people are playing a bit more fair, and that's a good thing.
After much holdout and a mediocre 3-4 record against Grixis Death's Shadow in the past two Opens with Collected Company, I've come to the realization that having an individual threat is likely the best way to go. Knight of the Reliquary is the best of the bunch and helps in numerous ways, thinning your deck and searching up utility lands such as Horizon Canopy, Gavony Township, and potential sideboard land options like Bojuka Bog and Ghost Quarter.
Figuring out how to add a creature that doesn't play to the Devoted Druid / Vizier of Remedies combo at all can be a challenge. While it's a serviceable card by itself, you'd have to do something along the lines of splashing red for Kessig Wolf Run to have it be a part of the engine that makes the deck so threatening.
Claiming to be a master at Modern is unfathomable. There are far too many decks and innovations being made week in and week out. To truly stay on top of the format, you'd have to constantly have your finger on its pulse and never let go. Taking that into account, I've chosen to do quite the opposite. While I could put countless hours into figuring out the precise configuration into what I believed the deck that would give me the best chance to win my matches would be, I could also just not.
Yes, there would be an advantage to be gained by doing just that, but I'm probably wasting my time in that attempt. Managing your time for testing is a secret to success in almost every given tournament. The advantage I'd gain from spending all that time on Modern would be vastly less than the advantage I would gain from figuring out what to play in our brand new Standard format!
While Modern is in fact the healthiest it's ever been, Standard has finally become a format that taking an interest in can be exciting again! As I went over last week, Standard has had a few newcomers to the scene, with even more decks looming over the metagame that have yet to be perfected.
- 3 Scrapheap Scrounger
- 4 Elder Deep-Fiend
- 4 Haunted Dead
- 2 Honored Hydra
- 4 Minister of Inquiries
- 4 Prized Amalgam
This week there was a 250-player tournament half a world away in Japan, and to say that they go deep would be both accurate and punny! This Standard "Dredge" deck made it to the Top 8, and what a deck it is. I didn't think that I'd ever see someone register Aethersphere Harvester, Perpetual Timepiece, and Honored Hydra in the same deck, but here we are.
The deck capitalizes on self-mill cards Perpetual Timepiece and Minister of Inquiries to fill its graveyard with cards like Prized Amalgam and Haunted Dead and set up a lot of late-game value, effectively drawing the cards it's putting into its graveyard. Kozilek's Return has shown itself in another deck even more capable of abusing it, having an effective eight copies of Elder Deep-Fiend between the creature itself and Traverse the Ulvenwald, which has found yet another home!
While I'm not sure there's enough time to truly figure if this is the optimal list of a "Dredge" strategy, there's obviously something there, and hats off to the person who found this deck and put the time into perfecting it for the Invitational.
Another deck I've been immensely captivated by while testing on Magic Online is R/G Energy.
- 2 Bristling Hydra
- 2 Channeler Initiate
- 3 Combat Celebrant
- 4 Greenbelt Rampager
- 4 Servant of the Conduit
- 4 Voltaic Brawler
- 3 Rhonas the Indomitable
- 2 Samut, Voice of Dissent
Two mythics from Amonkhet that have yet to see much play find a home here. With the overall decline of cards like Walking Ballista and Liliana, the Last Hope, a card like Combat Celebrant can look very threatening. While it doesn't combo with Samut, Voice of Dissent's untap ability to create as many attack steps as your heart desires, having a turn where you give a creature +4/+0 and trample with Invigorated Rampage and attack twice can end a game out of nowhere!
This deck functions very similarly to the Electrostatic Pummeler deck that Joe Lossett used to win the Players' Championship at the back-end of last year. While it doesn't have the ability to end the game instantly with only one creature like Electrostatic Pummeler could, it's far less vulnerable to removal than that deck was, seeing as the majority of its cards are dangerous in their own right. Adding that kind of resiliency might just make a deck like this a contender. Against an unsuspecting opponent, you'll likely leave them dazed and confused when flashing in Samut, Voice of Dissent after they believe they're winning a race, having just slammed a creature such as Glorybringer.
While there are tons and tons of layers to this format, I'm not sure there's enough time for me to put all my eggs in one basket for an event as important as this one. I'd love to be the one smashing with Samut, Voice of Disstent for obscene amounts of damage, but how about doing so with metallic monstrosities!
As mentioned before, Kozilek's Return is perhaps the defining rediscovered gem of Standard. So many of the decks in this format play to the battlefield, often having the biggest creature will stick lead to an easy victory. I don't know if you've all met my friend Metalwork Colossus, but it's basically the biggest, baddest thing left around these days. Nothing in the format aside from the Amonkhet God cycle can really expect to brawl with this titan and expect to come out alive. This deck has draws that seem like they shouldn't be something you can do in the format, like emerging Elder Deep-Fiend for two mana and triggering a Kozilek's return to wipe the battlefield…with a Metalwork Colossus on the stack.
While I believe I've optimized this deck for the format we have at hand, I might have made a critical error in preparing for the Invitational with it. If you all don't know, you can often find me streaming Standard at twitch.tv/bdecandio7 (shameless plug) weekdays I'm not on the road to a SCG event. Last week I spend my time streaming this deck with a fair bit of success, going 5-0 in three Leagues on three different days.
With the deck being an relatively unknown quantity then, it was easy to steal wins with it from people skimping on artifact hate such as By Force, Manglehorn, and the like. I've even had an opponent cast Consulate Crackdown on me, decimating my entire battlefield with no way back in the game! If I had given this more thought and not streamed the deck or written about it, perhaps it would remain unknown and be the ideal deck for the Invitational. Obviously I'm not that smart, though, and as of now there might be too much hate to battle through for it to be correct to register this weekend. Despite its power, every rose has its thorn and this is no different.
Despite all the new and cool toys we get to play with in Standard, it's hard to deny the fact that I've Top 8ed four Opens this season and every one of them was with Grim Flayer.
- 1 Noxious Gearhulk
- 2 Walking Ballista
- 4 Grim Flayer
- 3 Tireless Tracker
- 1 Gonti, Lord of Luxury
- 3 Ishkanah, Grafwidow
There's no mistake here; the full four copies of To the Slaughter in the maindeck are present. The reasoning behind this is of how difficult Bristling Hydra is to deal with for this deck. To the Slaughter is the ultimate…well, slaughter, to put it plainly. It deals with cards that often give a delirium deck like this fits, such as Chandra, Torch of Defiance and Gideon, Ally of Zendikar, while alleviating some of the pressure a random creature is putting on you in the process.
In order to accommodate four copies of this card that does require delirium to function properly, I think that playing two copies of Walking Ballista and two copies of Evolving Wilds is completely necessary. This switch from more copies of Never//Return to To the Slaughter does come with a drawback particularly apparent in the Zombies matchup, where their recursive creatures can protect their lords or Diregraf Colossus from a random Edict effect. It's all about the expected metagame and positioning yourself to be in the right place at the right time.
The Standard format is still evolving as we speak, and I'm sure the story of the format will be a wild one, with cards we've not seen in what will seem like an eternity. As for me, I'm still on the fence here the day before the event as what to play. I'll either stick to my delirium guns and play a deck I'm familiar with and hope I have the right configuration for this weekend, or I'll write my name on a lottery ticket and hope I'm putting upwards of 30 power onto the battlefield as early as turn 4. Who knows! I might "Dredge" things up in Standard and see where that takes me.
It's going to be a photo finish for the Season One points lead, so don't miss a moment of the action! As you're reading this, the pairings for Round 1 of the Season One SCG Invitational are likely going up, so wish me luck! Here's hoping for a weekend to remember.