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With #GPAtlanta this weekend, my testing focus right now is Standard, but I'm pretty resigned to registering an Attune with Aether deck. Esper Gift and Mono-Black Aggro are both promising decks that I'll try out, but they would have to perform especially well for me to resist the shell that has dominated Standard for the last year.
So I'll let those who participated in the Pro Tour last year to write about their experiences with the Standard format, and instead look forward to the following weekend, when I'll be competing in an RPTQ for Pro Tour Rivals of Ixalan.
As many of you know, the format for this round of RPTQs is Modern, so the obvious choice for me is to play Elves. I'm 19-8 in my two events with the deck thus far for an impressive 70% win rate, albeit in a small sample size. I do still think Vizier Elves is the best shell for Devoted Druid, for reasons I've written about extensively in the last few months.
Running it back with the deck I've been focused on for two-and-a-half months would be all too easy, so naturally I'm reticent to commit. If everything is easy, then it's not nearly as fun, right?
The Collected Company Problem
I have a long history of playing mana creatures and decks built around them. From Elves to Maverick to Green Devotion variants, a substantial number of my Top 8s have come from Birds of Paradise, Llanowar Elves, Noble Hierarch, etc. They're innocuous cards that are incredibly powerful, especially when you can leverage them going long, when they would normally reduce in value.
In Modern, Collected Company has become the dominant payoff card for mana creature decks, with Noble Hierarch seeing some sparse play in decks like Infect or Humans. But by and large, if you're playing lots of mana creatures, you're playing Collected Company.
On the surface, the two cards work quite well together, since they both increase the value of three mana creatures. The natural curve of mana creature / three-drop / Collected Company becomes rather easy to execute consistently, and it's a very powerful draw so long as you have the right creatures in your deck for the metagame.
But in Magic you have to prepare for when things don't go well, and that causes some conflict in Collected Company decks. The stress on mana creatures and three-drops leaves little room for two-drops, and the ones that exist are not particularly good. That hole in the curve makes these decks vulnerable to their mana creature being killed, often skipping their second turn or playing an ineffective card.
I thought Elves having a significantly lower curve would mitigate this issue, but it was clear that the difference between my Top 4 finish in Richmond and a mediocre Top 64 in Cincinnati was the number of times I was able to untap with a mana creature on Turn 2. I didn't draw nearly as many in my opening hands; the ones I did have were killed or taken by discard spells more often. The low curve and tribal synergies do mean the deck is more explosive than other Company decks in general, which is why I still prefer it, but I'm not completely committed to it.
The Old Flame
Naturally, when you start a new relationship with a deck, you compare it to the one that came before. When I was playing Dredge, the deck felt very powerful and consistent, only losing out when the format saturated with graveyard hate. Eldrazi Tron emerged as a Tier 1 deck in the spring and played a ridiculous amount of hate, some of it in the maindeck, and Grixis Death's Shadow further stressed the metagame to include graveyard hate.
Before I moved on to Elves for Richmond, I looked to see if the level of graveyard hate had declined any and was disappointed by what I saw. It seemed as though graveyard hate, so necessary in the spring, hadn't declined much over the summer, even though the metagame demands for it had declined.
That'll often happen in Magic, where there's some lag between when a metagame shift happens and when the rest of the metagame responds to that shift. Players are naturally afraid to be caught unprepared, especially against linear decks which are straightforward to prepare for, so they wait longer to gather more data so they can be sure that the risk they are taking is reasonable.
Part of the reason graveyard hate stuck around longer than normal is the rise of U/R Gifts Storm, but against heavy hate, they transition into a Pieces of the Puzzle / Empty the Warrens plan that sidesteps it, so a large part of it sticking around was due to this fear.
Signs of Life
But in recent weeks, I think we've finally seen that decline in graveyard hate. On the most recent episode (Number 51) of the GAM Podcast, Gerry Thompson and Brian Gottlieb discussed the idea of cutting graveyard hate from Grixis Death's Shadow. And in looking over the recent online results, I'm not seeing as much graveyard hate.
Maindeck Relic of Progenitus counts that used to be three- or four-ofs are down to two- and three-ofs. Rest in Peace doesn't fit that well into Jeskai decks that want to play Snapcaster Mage. And indeed there are various Death's Shadow lists that have eschewed Nihil Spellbomb entirely. I don't see a single copy of Ravenous Trap, a card that is impossible to play around and was popping up when Dredge was at the forefront of the metagame.
Moreover, Eldrazi Tron has come down from being consistently among the top two decks in the field at close to ten percent to something around five percent, which puts it in range of a larger group of top decks in the metagame. That is easily the deck's worst matchup, so to see it decline from a point where you are going to play against it once a tournament and sometimes multiple times to where you are expecting zero to one matches against it is huge.