"Everything in life is temporary. So if things are going good, enjoy it because it won't last forever. And if things are going bad, don't worry. You will both Top 8 together again eventually."
- Ancient and Wise Bard
Just like the philosophical Bard predicted, good things eventually will come to an end.
This past weekend at #GPDC I didn't hold up my end of the bargain by finding my way into the Top 8. I wasn't looking bad, but a few quick losses eliminated me from the event. My brother, on the other hand, continued to show his dominance in Standard by making his third consecutive Top 8, and fourth out of the last five Standard Grand Prix. I can safely say, "I've created a monster."
Watching my brother go from simply that into a household name in this game has given me more confidence to say that I really do believe I've cracked the code when it comes to how one should approach Standard. Now, both of us are talented when it comes to playing the game, but I truly believe it's been more nurture than nature for the both of us, almost as if a followed recipe is what got us here.
I've done my best to write it down over the years, and will continue to do so. This streak of dominance has even made me question the idea of writing a book solely to make the readers better at Standard. A daunting project, yes, but one that may be worth it to those aspiring to follow in our footsteps. I'm getting ahead of myself, though.
These next two weekends may not be that important to those in the United States, but many other countries are preparing for their Nationals. Since I reside in the US, I haven't been keeping up with Standard as well as I have in previous weeks, but I still want to do my part in helping those who are competing to represent their country.
After that, I'm ready to dive headfirst into the wonderful world of Ixalan and talk about Dinosaurs, Pirates, and all the other random concoctions that makes up this next set.
- 4 Walking Ballista
- 3 Eldrazi Displacer
- 4 Matter Reshaper
- 3 Selfless Spirit
- 4 Thought-Knot Seer
- 4 Thraben Inspector
- 4 Archangel Avacyn
This past weekend, Corey and I played Mono-White Eldrazi, not because we wanted to play with cards about to rotate or we wanted to have a little fun after a few great weekends. No, we thought it was good. Well, I did, at least. Sometimes you just have to drag your little brother kicking and screaming, which was the case when it came to getting Corey to play the deck. It didn't take long before he was happy with the decision.
What makes this deck good is that it has good Temur Energy and Ramunap Red matchups, something no other deck we knew about could say. These two decks were poised to be number one and two at the event, making it that important to beat them. That's the other good reason for why we played this deck. Everyone else would be thinking the same thing, and trying to do their best at defeating both titans of the format.
Many of these other decks broke a golden rule of mine, which is to never bend over backwards to beat a bad matchup. You saw this time and time again in the lists people were playing. Many decks would be well-positioned against one of them, yet need to sideboard upwards of ten cards to have a reasonable matchup against the other. This left these decks very rigid by design and unable to deviate from their base strategies when the time came to do so. This is something I try to stay away from as much as possible. I never want to be the less flexible player in any given matchup, which is why I scoured for a deck that could facilitate my needs.
Props have to be handed out to both Eric Hawkins and Jonathan Job. Eric Hawkins, for those who don't know him, is a pretty well-known SCG Tour® grinder from Minnesota. He's a good player without a break, and one who hasn't let that discourage him. We talked in Denver about deck selection, and I sent him to review a few of my old articles on the subject. Little did I know that this conversation would help me come time for #GPDC, as Eric ended up suggesting I try Mono-White Eldrazi.
Jonathan Job is practically the father of this brainchild, as he's played it for over a month, now tuning it to become what we played this past weekend. His insight on the deck was invaluable, and one of the main reasons our list was so tuned for the weekend. Both players played a hand in our decisions, and both have found themselves owed a favor from me down the road. Hopefully I can repay the favor and help get both of them onto the Pro Tour sometime down the road.
So for the deck itself, Mono-White Eldrazi did what we wanted it to. We won almost all of our Temur Energy matches and crushed every Ramunap Red deck we played against. We split matches against Ramp and struggled against non-U/W Approach control decks. This is pretty much what the deck was supposed to do, and played out to expectations, even down to the philosophy that the deck would win most games where it didn't draw too few or too many lands. I wouldn't change much about the deck, but would consider trying to improve the Torrential Gearhulk matchups, as they can be rather difficult.
We did work hard on a sideboard guide for the deck, and everything about it stayed true throughout the event. For those of you playing it this weekend, I suggest making changes to the deck as you see fit, but using this information as a foundation for your sideboarding decisions.
Temur Energy and B/G Constrictor
Out on the Draw:
Out on the Play:
The only major question I got asked about this plan is why Thraben Inspector is bad on the draw. The reason for this is I don't want to take the time off to both sacrifice a Clue and cast Solemnity. Your job in this matchup is to land Solemnity and then stabilize. That's difficult to do, as the body on Thraben Inspector does nothing and you often die with cards in your hand.
Out on the Draw:
In on the Draw:
Out on the Play:
In on the Play:
Jeskai God-Pharaoh's Gift
I wish everyone good luck in their pursuit to win Nationals this weekend. I'll be playing in my own in over a month…hopefully as a World Champion!
Fine! Here's Some Ixalan!
Moving on, we have plenty to discuss, as Ixalan is right around the corner. The whole set isn't released yet, but just enough to start grasping the environment: aggressive Pirates, slow Dinosaurs, and some impressive one-mana reprints. All can potentially change the makeup of Standard, but let's be honest with ourselves for a minute. It's really all about those one-mana reprints.
The reprint of Duress makes me know I'll be fine moving forward in this format.
The card may not be on the same power level as Thoughtseize, but it gives decks the ability to fight against certain spells at the most efficient cost, especially on the draw, when interacting with an opponent can sometimes be difficult. This card may very well allow decks that couldn't exist without it to thrive in the upcoming months.
It seems that the inclusion of this card may indicate the resurgence of tempo-based strategies, as fighting planeswalkers and Vehicles has been difficult via countermagic. Spell Pierce has proven to be one of the best spells in the game, as we've seen it be played in every format, even as a four-of in old CawBlade decks in Standard. It wouldn't shock me to see this card once again become one of the most vital spells in Standard.
I've never cast this card, but I do expect it to see considerable play in Standard. It's not the most high-impact of cards, but what it does best is let you keep more opening hands, which is a vital part of how Standard plays out these days. Even then, it's the type of card that will subtly dig for important cards, as that is sometimes all a game may come down to. That said, this card isn't as good as Preordain or Serum Visions in the landscape that is Standard, so I expect this card to have a bigger impact on Modern, as it interacts well with Snapcaster Mage.
These three cards are the backbone of Ixalan so far, especially since the entire set isn't revealed yet. It may seem weird to say this, but through all my years of playing this game, it always seems that the cheap spells define the format. Even now, Fatal Push, Grasp of Darkness, and Censor have all played their part in sculpting the format. They may not be the centerpiece of any strategy, but they all have defined what should and shouldn't be played. I expect these three cards to do exactly the same.
So what about the actual new cards? Well, for me, it's tough to know where to go without knowing everything. Pirates, for example, have some very interesting cards, but we're yet to know exactly what the curve of these creature decks will look like. Without perfect information, everything comes down to speculation, and that's not somewhere I like my thoughts to linger in for too long. That said, there's still a ton to discuss as we try to figure out what Standard may look like once the rotation happens.
New Format, Same Rule
Remember back in the day when Reflector Mage and Spell Queller made playing four-mana creatures almost impossible? The same could be said when Jace, the Mind Sculptor was in Standard. Well, for whatever reason, this rule still applies, as four-mana, four-toughness creatures will almost be unusable unless they can protect themselves from four damage.
It would cause shock and awe if these two cards aren't this format's go-to midrange cards. Both of these permanents have dominated Standard for some time now, and I see no reason for that to change. With that assumption comes the realization that you will have to respect these cards, so much so that they will completely warp what creatures you'll be trying to cast in the mid-game.
Both of these creatures pass this test, and thus become the creatures I'm most interested in trying out first. Sadly though, I'm under the impression that Energy will completely dominate "Dinosaurs" until another set that supports the new creature type is out. We've just seen Energy take over the format since it was out. The mechanic is practically broken, as it's a resource an opponent can't interact with outside of Solemnity, which makes it much more powerful than anything else happening.
The one "Achilles Heel" of Energy is that it takes longer than most aggressive decks to actually win the game, which could mean giant Dinosaurs do have the potential to win the late-game. I'm looking at you, Wakening Sun's Avatar.
Now this is a Dinosaur I can get behind. Sure, it costs eight mana, but the effect is almost game-breaking! Even if a deck doesn't entirely support the Dino-theme, this card will stay around as it exterminates every non-Dinosaur creature on the battlefield. We already know it's not that difficult to cast giant Eldrazi in this format, so what's stopping us from casting this busted mythic? The only issue I have with this card is that it doesn't exile, thus eliminating the Gods. I guess you can't have it all, can you?
This is another card that I'm excited about, as it stops giant effects like Wakening Sun's Avatar, but also more subtle ones that come from energy creatures. This card alongside Solemnity is going to be white's best answer to Temur Energy ruining the game with its energy mechanic. Now, Temur Energy still has Skysovereign, Consul Flagship; Glorybringer; Harnessed Lightning; Abrade; and Chandra, Torch of Defiance to get this card off the table, but by then the damage may already be done, given they are off-sequence.
The value of this card will come down to if a white-based deck has enough good permanents to play alongside this so that they can distract Temur Energy enough into punishing them if they take the time to eliminate your two-drop. It's a tall order, but worth it if it exists.
All of this, however, may not matter, as Ramunap Red is going to be Public Enemy Number One right off the bat. It's scary, because this deck was exactly that just this past month. It won the last Pro Tour and arguably got better even in a vacuum.
That's not even bringing up how Standard lost three sets to compete with this deck. All Ramunap Red lost was Falkenrath Gorger, as it upgraded Incendiary Flow with Lightning Strike. Even John Rolf played a version without the one-mana Vampire at Grand Prix Denver! This deck is going to be scary, and I'm not confident we have the tools to beat it.
Everything is still up in the air until we get the full card image gallery, though. Ramunap Red may very well not become the format's go-to deck if Ixalan pulls a rabbit out of its hat in the final hours of preview season. Even if it doesn't, I believe we will find the right combinations to at least contain the strategy, but I honestly believe the deck will continue to be a major player in this format. Who knows? I may already have my deck for #MTGCHAMP, and just need to draft a little before the event.
Okay, who am I kidding? We all know I'm going to show up with something off the beaten path. Or am I? What am I saying? It's way too early for mind games. Or is it? Isn't it? Okay, I've lost myself here.
Anyway, I'll be back next week with some fleshed-out strategies for Ixalan Standard, as we should have more toys to work with by then. Until that time comes, hit me up with your questions going into Nationals, and I should be able to answer them before you register your lists. I wish you all good luck in whatever events you may be playing this weekend, and as for me, I will be enjoying some calm before the storm…literally as well as figuratively. See y'all next week!