The Scarab God is now without a doubt the leading cause of wins in Standard. Christoph Green and Andrew Funkhouser both used unique Grixis Energy builds to hoist trophies this past weekend. Christoph used Owen Turtenwald's build from two weeks ago, while Andrew took mine from last week.
That doesn't mean the war is over. Plenty of brave souls out there want to prove us wrong. Some have even been successful; others, not so much. Innovation is necessary for The Scarab God to stay on top, even if it looks like you just have to play the card to be successful. Today I'll go over some of the new decks in the metagame poised to dethrone our resurrecting deity and talk about the cards needed to keep the crown where it belongs.
The Grixis Energy, U/B Midrange, U/B Control Trifecta
Last week I discussed at length how I'd build both U/B Midrange and Grixis Energy. One thing I left out was my opinion on which one was better. To this day I'm still unsure, but I do at least have more information on this topic. I firmly believe that Grixis Energy is the better deck against the field, but is at a slight disadvantage against both U/B Midrange and U/B Control.
Grixis Energy sacrifices velocity for efficiency. The third color is mainly for removal, which isn't all that important in the mirrors. Sure, you can't let a Glint-Sleeve Siphoner live, but all three builds have clean removal for the creature. In fact, the two-color decks are better in this department, as they have access to removal on Turn 1, whereas Grixis Energy almost always starts the game with a tapped land.
This doesn't make Grixis Energy unworthy of play, as I believe it to be better against the non-The Scarab God decks in the format. Especially now that the rest of the field is starting to catch up in understanding, we're seeing more and more decks tailor-made to fight the onslaught of 4/4 Zombies. If this continues, we may very well see Grixis Energy become the best deck in the format. If not then, U/B Midrange or U/B Control could take the crown. All we can do for now is prepare to fight the rest of the field in their current iterations.
Lighdar took home first place this past weekend in the Magic Online PTQ with a new take on W/G Tokens featuring seven Vehicles! This should be on your radar moving forward, as it's a great way to exploit the removal being played right now. Lighdar also played Carnage Tyrant out of the sideboard for further advantage against The Scarab God decks.
Decks like this and W/B Vampires are becoming more popular on Magic Online as responses to spot-removal-based The Scarab God decks. They flood the battlefield with tokens, generate value with explore, and push through the final points of damage with Appeal // Authority or Shefet Dunes. It's quite effective against last week's builds of U/B Midrange and Grixis Energy.
It won't be effective next week, at least if I have anything to say about it!
We have to start playing sweepers. It was bound to happen eventually, but having one random sweeper in the sideboard isn't enough anymore. U/B decks only have River's Rebuke and maybe Golden Demise to defeat Sram's Expertise, Servo Exhibition, and Call of the Feast. Grixis Energy, on the other hand, has many options.
All three have specific uses the others can't provide. Sweltering Suns has a higher likelihood of being useful, as it can be cycled away but also deal with any creatures that have gotten that third point of toughness. Golden Demise helps combat Adanto Vanguard while also having a secondary ability that can be relevant when trying to push through lethal damage.
Finally, Fiery Cannonade is an instant, which has been relevant even outside its interaction with Torrential Gearhulk. The two red spells can also be cast on Turn 5 in combination with Chandra, Torch of Defiance.
For now I'm leaning towards playing two copies of Fiery Cannonade to help fight against Vampires, W/G Tokens, and Merfolk. The rebuy option with Torrential Gearhulk keeps you from feeling like you need to save it all the time.
- 2 Verdurous Gearhulk
- 4 Walking Ballista
- 4 Bristling Hydra
- 4 Glint-Sleeve Siphoner
- 3 Jadelight Ranger
- 4 Servant of the Conduit
- 4 Winding Constrictor
- 1 Rishkar, Peema Renegade
In every tournament there has to be a first loser, and sadly Pat Cox picked up his first loss in the last round of the event. Our own Jadine Klomparens popularized this deck almost a month ago, and it's still performing beautifully even to this day. I honestly didn't expect a Winding Constrictor strategy to do well in this format, but that was before I realized one could replace Nissa, Voice of Zendikar with Hadana's Climb. Now that I've seen the power of this enchantment firsthand, I'll no longer hate on my favorite little Snake.
This matchup pushes me most towards Grixis Energy. U/B Midrange has a big hole in its removal package, as the deck doesn't have anything great on the curve between Fatal Push and Vraska's Contempt. Even then, the four-mana removal spell is often not that good, causing this to become U/B Midrange's worst matchup.
Since the deck is relatively popular, I just can't get behind playing U/B Midrange without the red removal spells. I also won't leave home without Doomfall, which is good in Grixis Energy but weak in U/B Midrange, since the deck doesn't have the density of removal needed to always "Edict" the creature it wants to.
Chandra, Torch of Defiance is a great card in this matchup, but it does get pinched by the Walking Ballista / Vraska's Contempt duo at times. Usually you'll cast Chandra, Torch of Defiance into a battlefield of only Jadelight Ranger with a removal spell in hand. If you use the mana off the planeswalker to cast the removal spell, they can untap and cast Vraska's Contempt. If you use Chandra, Torch of Defiance to deal four damage to the Ranger, then they can have a Walking Ballista to finish her off. Of course, you want to untap with Chandra on the battlefield, but sometimes that's impossible to do.
Sometimes there's context that can help guide you to an educated decision, but other times it's purely a guess. What I've learned is that it's best to tick up in this spot and use the Magma Spray or Harnessed Lightning or Abrade if you have the ability to cast another copy of Chandra, Torch of Defiance or The Scarab God the next turn. This way, you exhaust their turn and removal spell, giving you the best possible chance to run away with the game.
If I don't have that option, then I will most likely tick down and hope for the best-case scenario to unfold. Even though you should be favored in the late-game, it doesn't mean it's not worth taking aggressive lines like this.
Did anyone do well with Grixis Energy or U/B Midrange in this PTQ?
R0310 took U/W Gift to a third-place finish this past weekend with what looks like a stock version of the archetype. From my experience, this deck's matchup against both U/B Midrange and Grixis Energy is very close. So close, in fact, that I normally win the match but think I did something very skillful to steal the win. If I had to guess, the matchup is much closer than my results would reflect, given how intense it always is for me.
This is yet another matchup where I've liked playing Grixis Energy over U/B Midrange. The removal is stronger, as it can exile creatures and destroy God-Pharaoh's Gift. Grixis Energy also has Chandra, Torch of Defiance, which is amazing in the games where they don't kill it immediately with a hasty Angel. The planeswalker can take down cards like Angel of Sanctions, ramp us into The Scarab God plus an activation or Negate, and digs for game-closing copies of The Scarab God at worst.
The sideboarded games are slugfests and any possible advantage is nice. Those advantages feel like they come from Grixis Energy more than they do any other The Scarab God deck (well, besides having The Scarab God in your deck, which is always the best possible advantage). I think this is the most enjoyable matchup in the entire format to play and encourage you and a friend to try it out if you just want to enjoy playing games of Magic.
Now, there are a couple of other Glacial Fortress decks out there in Approach of the Second Sun and Drake Haven. Both of these decks feel worse for Grixis Midrange than its U/B Midrange counterpart, though they are less frequently played and mainly exist in the Magic Online five-round Leagues. I wouldn't consider either of these decks highly played in real-life events.
Finally, let's take a look at my current list of Grixis Energy after talking about it sheepishly this entire article. Even I know I've been talking about this deck far too much as of late, but I really do think it's just the bee's knees.
Let's talk about some of the changes I've made since last week. The first big decision was turning the Search for Azcanta into another land, a single copy of Field of Ruin. I've tried even upwards of two copies of the colorless land, but I don't think it's worth the risk in a three-color deck.
Initially I thought Search for Azcanta would be a nice addition to the deck for the "mirrors," as it was something you could cast on Turn 2, thus being "proactive." What I didn't consider was how important velocity is in the initial stages of the game. Sure, this enchantment can help sift through differing effects, but it doesn't create true card advantage, which is important to make sure you cast enough spells while making enough land drops. I never found activating Azcanta, the Sunken Ruin good enough to come back from behind against cards like The Scarab God, Champion of Wits, or Torrential Gearhulk.
The next big changes are in the sideboard. Like I said earlier, Fiery Cannonade has been great against the "go-wide" strategies, as it can be cast at instant speed and recast by Torrential Gearhulk in the later turns to clean up any mess. Being instant speed is great as well, since it gets disguised as a Negate. When you pass with mana up, they are more likely to cast multiple creatures right into your mass removal spell!
You also might notice that seven-mana planeswalker in the sideboard. I originally didn't think Nicol Bolas, God-Pharaoh would be good enough, being seven mana and all. I instead wanted to make sure I had universal answers like Consign // Oblivion and more copies of Negate and Duress.
It took Christoffer Larsen telling me I'm stupid for not at least trying it for me to eventually do so, and I was terribly mistaken on the value of this card. I didn't really like the idea of not having any answers to my opponent's Ixalan's Bindings on The Scarab God, but that was before I won games with Nicol Bolas, God-Pharaoh all by itself. Even Chandra, Torch of Defiance would go ultimate more often thanks to the resource advantage Nicol Bolas, God-Pharaoh provides. Grixis Energy wants access to these effects!
The last card worth talking about is the single copy of Gonti, Lord of Luxury, as I'm not entirely sold on it. The only reason I have it is that it's just so efficient for what it is. It blocks troublesome creatures, gains card advantage in the mirrors, and is often a great card to just throw out there against control decks, as they rarely won't counter it. I don't know what would be better than it, since we're already clogged on four-drops, but those happen to be the best cards in a lot of matchups.
I haven't spent much time on trying Champion of Wits in Grixis Energy, but I can see a world where you'd want access to the effect. It's great in the mirrors as a way to make sure you play out a consistent game as often as possible. It just doesn't play that well with the rest of the deck, which is why I've been sheepish on trying to work it into the strategy. It's on the docket for this weekend, though.
I do feel guilty for writing about the same deck two weeks in a row, so I've decided to throw in a sideboard guide for those who want to go down this path. I promise you I'll be talking about something else next week. I just needed one more week to talk about my favorite deck in Standard! Forgive me?