"What should I play at #SCGBALT? I really don't want to let my team down!"
Whatever you want.
The difference between playing the "best" deck in Standard and any of the other reasonable decks is basically nothing. In Modern there's a bit of a difference, but there are many more reasonable decks that are good enough. In Legacy... play the best cards and whatever else you want and it's close enough.
What really counts in all three formats is perfecting your list. Card-by-card choices make huge differences in swinging matchups. Having an optimized 75 is huge.
What should you play at #SCGBALT? Some of these cards.
Standard: Key to the City
Deck: Anything with Hazoret the Fervent
One of the key matchup interactions of this Standard format is Thopter tokens against Hazoret the Fervent. It is basically impossible for the Temur variants to handle a 5/4 indestructible creature without a massive stream of chump blockers. You might get away with a Vraska's Contempt in some games, but you can only get your mana to make a million different colors at the right time a certain percentage of games.
Ramunap Red can do some sequencing things to fight Whirler Virtuoso, but in turn the Temur player can sequence back and basically every Virtuoso is going to make an extra chump blocker if not more. There are just some games where you can't get under the roadblock.
Key to the City provides the one-two punch to get through. A single connected attack with Hazoret is basically lights out, and Key to the City both lets you get through Whirler Virtuoso and ensures you can whittle your way so that Hazoret the Fervent's haste affects the game early.
The problem with Key to the City is that you can't invest heavily in this strategy. Hitting multiple Keys is horrible, and Key to the City doesn't do a whole lot without Hazoret. Three unblockable damage a turn or looting for two mana is just too slow these days. Maybe Scrapheap Scrounger out of B/R Aggro changes this a bit or having Unlicensed Disintegration to make the damage count, but even then Key to the City doesn't do anything without help. If you start durdling, Temur is just going to flip the script and beat the crap out of you. Key to the City has real limitations, even if it does win games.
Something I haven't seen other aggro players do is sideboard out Hazoret, but there are spots where you want the other high-end threats instead of it. Esper Gift comes to mind, as they will always have creatures in the way that you often don't want to kill. Key to the City isn't going to help you much in those matchups, as it is so bad with Glorybringer and Chandra, Torch of Defiance.
Standard: Cartouche of Ambition
Deck: Anything with Bristling Hydra
- 3 Bristling Hydra
- 4 Longtusk Cub
- 4 Rogue Refiner
- 4 Servant of the Conduit
- 4 Whirler Virtuoso
- 2 The Scarab God
Like it's hard to move the dial against the best Temur starts out of aggro decks, Temur decks have a hard time winning games where Ramunap Red just has the things that line up.
One of the common ways this comes together is a turn where the Ramunap Red player realizes it won't get any better and just shoves. They throw away a few cards for a few damage, and Ramunap Ruins and Lightning Strike close it out before the Temur player can safely return the beatdown favor.
Any reasonable way to gain life would just shut players out of these games.
Cartouche of Ambition is that and miles more.
In testing, my teammate Rob Pisano described Cartouche of Ambition plus Bristling Hydra as Splinter Twin. He wasn't wrong. Creature, untap, enchantment, concession. We started hedging our Rampaging Ferocidon numbers in sideboarding against the black-splash lists almost solely because of this card, even though the card is otherwise just fine.
Outside the auto-win scenarios, Cartouche of Ambition is still a hassle for Ramunap Red. As long as you don't run the card right into a Lightning Strike, the -1/-1 counter clearing a creature and one attack before forcing them to have the removal spell the next turn is often enough to put Temur back at total parity going into the mid-game, where their cards are just one-for-one better.
It's not like the other aggro decks are even that much better at managing the issue. Nice Veteran Motorist.
Deck: Anything that can manage it.
Anointed Procession decks caught people's eye as a Temur crusher in the middle stages of Ixalan Standard. They certainly beat the unprepared Temur decks, but the root cause wasn't quite what people assumed.
The Tokens engine isn't actually that good. It does the trick, but all you are looking for is some engine that forces action. The sweepers take care of the rest. Temur at its core is just creatures and removal. The creatures are definitely good and whatever is left in hand after a Fumigate is capable of closing, but if you have any way to churn back up a battlefield presence after your sweeper, Temur is going to struggle.
- 2 Bomat Courier
- 4 Scrapheap Scrounger
- 2 Walking Ballista
- 4 Inventor's Apprentice
- 4 Toolcraft Exemplar
- 3 Veteran Motorist
- 3 Hazoret the Fervent
- 2 Pia Nalaar
There's a lot of ways to do similar things across the format. Get agro and then Bontu's Last Reckoning and leave some Vehicles or whatnot around as they overextend to turn the corner. Pull a W/U Monument from Hour of Devastation Standard and cast Dusk // Dawn. Or get really dirty and Settle the Wreckage people. Having played Ramunap Red at the Pro Tour, I can tell you that aggro opponents really hate that one.
Modern: Lightning Bolt
Deck: Storm, anything that casts it.
Lightning Bolt was summarily tossed from its throne as best removal spell in Modern with Fatal Push's arrival nine months ago. Long live the king, cue the wildebeest stampede, etc.
It is still a good card.
Ixalan brought back a lot of tribal decks that build fragile creatures into a big whole but that also hit at the same time as other huge swings. A lessened presence of Death's Shadow fun police because the deck was back to "just fine against everything" meant people could do things with dinky creatures.
There's nothing wrong with being the fifth Fatal Push or whatever. Creatures gotta die somehow. Maybe a few months ago things were different, but the pendulum has swung away from resilience back towards getting-them-deadness.
Lightning Bolt and just send them packing.
You can't beat a literal 2/2? This is literally the selling point of the improved deck. I predict the changes required to beat "Meddling Mage, naming Grapeshot" are so minimal Humans players will have to switch to naming Gifts Ungiven before it just tutors up the answer.
Modern: Snapcaster Mage
Deck: Anything, everything.
If killing one creature is good, flashing back your Lightning Bolt to hit a second is twice as good.
That's just simple math!
Don't trick yourself into playing stupid fair stuff that isn't Snapcaster Mage like Traverse the Ulvenwald Death's Shadow. Tarmogoyf isn't that good. The toolbox options you need to fill your graveyard to hit aren't good. Condensing your threat names against Reflector Mage and Meddling Mage isn't good.
Modern: Collected Company
- 1 Ethersworn Canonist
- 4 Birds of Paradise
- 3 Devoted Druid
- 1 Duskwatch Recruiter
- 2 Eternal Witness
- 1 Kitchen Finks
- 3 Knight of the Reliquary
- 4 Noble Hierarch
- 1 Ramunap Excavator
- 1 Scavenging Ooze
- 2 Tireless Tracker
- 1 Viscera Seer
- 1 Vizier of Remedies
- 2 Courser of Kruphix
- 1 Azusa, Lost but Seeking
The results of #SCGRegionals had a clear winner across all the major archetypes: Collected Company. The card showed up in just under 20% of the total Top 8 decks, with two wins and three second places across the eleven events. Admittedly this condenses down Counters Company, all the various Knight of the Reliquary lists, Elves, and one Humans deck, so I'm technically not recommending a single deck, but Collected Company is in a really good spot right now.
Collected Company decks have historically stomped on other creature nonsense decks. It is just easier for them to make more things per game and it isn't like the half-mana, half-tiny-creatures pile is going to stop you from going off with Devoted Druid or whatever.
The Death's Shadow decks are getting weird, and it isn't like the matchup was bad to begin with. But the more they move away from the efficiency of Grixis and its Delve creature plus removal setup...
The linear and combo decks in Modern are condensing. You don't have to cover answers to Dredge, Affinity, Storm, and whatever other nonsense, just two of the four. That leaves more slots to optimize your deck against fair decks, to turn the corner on good card density needed to beat Thoughtseize and Snapcaster Mage decks.
The big shift is that we are finally seeing big mana strategies step back. Eldrazi Tron and Scapeshift were both big issues for Collected Company decks, and neither is faring so well against the current more aggressive metagame driven by Storm.
This won't last forever, but if you are a Company kind of person like I am, this is the week to do it.
Legacy: Cheap Planeswalkers
Despite two of the best cards in Legacy being an absurd cantrip and the best mana creature ever and all the best decks being U/B fair decks squabbling over small card advantages, playing expensive game-breakers is a liability.
Wasteland is still really dumb. Moving to the future from 2009 Legacy hasn't changed that.
You need game breakers that can slide in when you are playing tight on mana or are filtering to find every last spell over lands to maintain parity.
Cheap planeswalkers do that.
Jace, Vryn's Prodigy does some good work when card advantage is what counts. Snapcaster Mage is good, and Jace is just a higher-upside Snapcaster Mage. It is also just different enough to let you play a virtual extra copy or two of that effect without worrying about flooding, as Jace can be played proactively to do stuff when short on action or spells. You can get Pyroblasted, but as long as you minimize your exposure to that card across your entire deck, your opponents can only go so hard on that answer.
Liliana, the Last Hope is the card for when you need to kill lots of stuff. People love their Mother of Runes and Phyrexian Revokers or whatever. Liliana lets you dominate those decks in a way that isn't only good against creatures.
People are playing Dismember for all the right reasons for Legacy…. but in their Modern decks. I don't get it.
Dismember kills Gurmag Angler where Fatal Push doesn't. It kills Reality Smasher through a Chalice of the Void on one counter, or a Sanctum Prelate on one. It's a fine interchangeable kill spell versus the field.
But in Modern, you start games down a few life due to shocklands. Legacy reduces the cost of Phyrexian mana. Even the first Dismember can be a burden in Modern, while one or two in Legacy isn't a huge deal.
So basically.... play those one or two Dismembers.
Legacy: Punishing Fire
- 4 Dark Confidant
- 4 Knight of the Reliquary
- 1 Ramunap Excavator
- 1 Scavenging Ooze
- 1 Gaddock Teeg
- 1 Dryad Arbor
The ubiquity of Deathrite Shaman makes killing creatures really important in current Legacy. Even the most popular "control deck" features a bunch of small creatures like Baleful Strix on top of Deathrites.
Being able to kill creatures at the cost of no cards is really valuable right now. Punishing Fire for a long time was a part of Lands and bad decks, but now I think it is a card worth finding a home for.
As much as I hate on the Four-Color Loam piles like this, I think now is a good time for them. Chalice of the Void is really good, Punishing Fire is really good, and the rest of your cards don't have to be that amazing. You could use this argument to play Lands, but I keep watching those decks run into the weirdest random stuff and get trashed in ways normal piles of cards wouldn't. Maybe everyone who plays Lands sucks, but I've seen similar situations in the past where the answer was just to play a half-normal deck.
Or you could just put Punishing Fire in another deck and never have to look at some of the opening hands this deck draws. Especially the 100% of them without Brainstorm. Gosh, who would do that to themselves?