[Welcome to Fact or Fiction! This week, Minnesota Vikings SKOL-screaming maniac Matthias Hunt and Taco Bell investigative journalist Ryan Overturf take on five pressing questions about SCG Philadelphia this coming weekend. Read their answers and vote for the winner in the poll at the end!]
1. Mardu Vehicles is the Standard deck to beat at SCG Philly this weekend.
Matthias Hunt: Fiction. A whopping four cards banned from Standard and now we want to talk about a deck to beat? Give me a break. Gideon, Ally of Zendikar rotated out a long time ago. It's true that Mardu Vehicles may be the best deck to survive the bannings without a scratch, but that doesn't mean I'm ready to crown it king.
If the Dallas Open and Classic are any indication, we're going to see two types of decks this weekend. This first is aggro and it's going to be Mono-Red, a deck that lost some resiliency after the banning of Ramunap Ruins but still has all the quick wins that it had a month ago. Mono-Red can still perform as evidenced by taking both spots in the finals of the Dallas Classic. The second is midrange, though it's going to take on many forms. Mardu Vehicles, G/R Monsters, and Dan Jessup's Sultai Energy are all decks that are trying to play removal spells on the first few turns and then take control by playing some of the format's most efficient threats. Is Mardu Vehicles the best among these? Maybe. It looked good last week, but now players get to see the lists that won as they build for Philadelphia. I'm skeptical that it will remain on top.
So what is the deck to beat? I wouldn't register anything that can't beat Mono-Red.
Ryan Overturf: Fiction. Mardu Vehicles was a nice week one blast from the past. While everybody was trying to figure out the best shell for their Jadelight Rangers, Julian John's plan of just running them over was pretty brilliant. If you look over league results from this week though, you'll notice that there are several decks featuring four Fatal Push and four Vraska's Contempt. Mardu has a real problem fighting through all of that now that Gideon, Ally of Zendikar has rotated.
If you want to know the deck to beat this weekend, I would look to the finals of the Dallas Classic. Despite being hit by the bans, Mono-Red Aggro is still extremely powerful. If people are gunning for it, then it's certainly beatable, but even still, I would expect it to be the most played Standard deck in Philly.
2. Humans is the Modern deck to beat at SCG Philly this weekend.
Matthias Hunt: Fiction. Has Humans ever been the deck to beat? I'll admit that it looks pretty good right now, and I might even register it for the event, but being the deck to beat is different than being the deck you're supposed to play.
When I play Modern, what I want to know is what the most popular "unfair" deck is and see if I can match up well against it. Right now I would put the target on Tron and Burn. Both decks have been putting up results and are popular choices any given weekend. I would want a deck that can race Tron and also can fight against a Searing Blaze. Can Humans do that? Based on last week, I see no reason why not.
Ryan Overturf: Fiction. Humans is a fine deck. It's a fair degree better than similar linear aggressive strategies in that it's very good at punishing specific decks while maintaining a comparable closing speed. That said, Modern just doesn't have a deck to beat unless something is totally broken. If you were wondering, Champion of the Parish is not that. Humans is a powerful deck, and it might even be in the Modern seat of the winning team again, but it's just as weak against the removal-heavy decks of the format as all of the other linear aggressive strategies.
3. Lands is the Legacy deck to beat at SCG Philly this weekend.
Matthias Hunt: Fiction. Legacy is in a very polarized place right now and that's a bad thing for Lands. In Legacy we often see decks fall into three camps: decks that want to win fast, decks that want to disrupt early and then win, and decks that want to win late. Right now there aren't enough Delver of Secrets to keep Lands going.
Decks have been moving toward the ends of the spectrum in the last year in Legacy. Reanimator has put away its blue cards and replaced them with red ones to go even faster. Sultai decks started cutting Delvers and playing Leovold to go slower. Blood Moon became a staple in the Ancient Tomb decks. None of these changes are good for Lands. I think the deck will still be played this weekend and it may even win the trophy--the Lands players know a thing or two about Legacy--but I don't think it's the best thing you can be doing right now.
Ryan Overturf: Fiction. If you want to make the argument that Lands is the most powerful deck in Legacy right now, you're not alone in believing that. However, the ceiling on the number of times that you'll play against Lands is easier to establish than most other decks in Magic's history. All you have to do is know how many copies of The Tabernacle at Pendrell Vale are even in the room. If you play against Lands more than twice in the same tournament, you will have broken my record.
It's a good idea to have a plan for Lands and to evaluate your opening hands against Jody Keith based on your knowledge of the matchup. Jody is probably going to outplay you anyway though, so really even there you're just kind of hoping to get lucky. If you want to have a successful Legacy tournament, you should really just get good at Deathrite Shaman/Brainstorm mirrors. Those will be the most common matchups you play and will be the ones that you are least likely to win with a turn 1 Deathrite Shaman or a timely Force of Will.
4. Rivals of Ixalan will make a bigger impact on Standard at SCG Philly than it did at SCG Dallas.
Matthias Hunt: Fact. Rivals of Ixalan has some hidden gems left in it, and I think they can find homes in new Standard. We saw some Rivals cards debut last weekend in Dallas. Ravenous Chupacabra was in multiple decks and Jadelight Ranger made it all the way to finals. I wouldn't be surprised if more players start playing these attrition-based cards in Philly, as they can go in a number of midrange strategies.
What I'm hoping to see is what Rivals of Ixalan can do for control decks. U/B Control was left untouched by the bannings, and I'd like to see it break out this weekend. We know that Chupacabra goes well in the deck, but I'd like to see it slow down even more. Arch of Orazca and Vona's Hunger are both cards I'd be excited to see cast.
Ryan Overturf: Fiction. It looks to me like Rivals made a significant impact in Dallas as far as individual card choices, which is about the most I would expect from the set. Ravenous Chupacabra, Jadelight Ranger, Rekindling Phoenix, and a few others are showing up in the midrange and control decks already, and you can expect that trend to continue. If you're waiting on somebody to figure out tribal Merfolk in the new format and take the tournament by surprise, I wouldn't hold your breath. The synergies of the set just don't hold up to the raw power of the midrange decks currently available or the speed of Mono-Red Aggro.
5. Given the diversity of Standard decks at SCG Dallas, WotC got the Standard bannings correct.
Matthias Hunt: Fact. How could you look at the 2017 SCG Season Two Invitational and not see that a banning was necessary? The format needed to open up and at first glance, it definitely has. There were eleven different archetypes between the top 8 of the Standard Classic and the top 8 of the Team Constructed Open.
It's hard to say whether or not the banning was exactly correct. Would Rampaging Ferocidon staying legal have led to a one-deck format? I'm not convinced. Now that Whirler Virtuoso sees less play I'm not even sure how good the Dinosaur would be. Over-banning may have happened, but I don't want to let that take away from the fact that I'm excited again to see new decks in Standard.
Ryan Overturf: Fact. Temur Energy was a messed up deck. It was pretty refreshing to play a match against Whirler Virtuoso this week and have it be simply very good instead of totally unbeatable. I was skeptical of the Rampaging Ferocidon ban at first, and it's still a bit strange to me, but with Mono-Red Aggro remaining a serious contender I suppose it's not a huge issue. I've been playing Jim Davis' W/U Auras deck and it is kind of nice that they can't just Ferocidon me out in the games when I'm leaning on Sacred Cat. Rogue Refiner was dumb, Attune with Aether was lame, and it makes sense to hit Ramunap Ruins once you take away the red deck's worst matchup.