A funny thing happened to me recently as I copy pasted a B/U Midrange list from the internet
into Magic Online and fired up a Competitive Standard League. Unfortunately, I can't remember the winner's name, but what I can say is that I started 1-0 in that league on MTGO and I went about my life without thinking about it at all.
It felt like weeks had gone by, but eventually I got the itch to play again and that was this past Sunday, I finished the league 4-1 and I loved the list. Little did I know that on the exact same day, Ryouixhi Yamamoto was playing Standard in a Team Constructed Grand Prix in Kyoto with a remarkably similar main deck and sideboard.
Oh, how'd he do? He won it ! Congratulations to Ryouixhi Yamamoto, Yuusuke Matsubara, and Kazuki Takamura!
- 2 Torrential Gearhulk
- 2 Walking Ballista
- 4 Champion of Wits
- 3 Dusk Legion Zealot
- 4 Glint-Sleeve Siphoner
- 2 Gonti, Lord of Luxury
- 3 The Scarab God
I've actually felt pretty good about my Standard preparation thus far, and I'd happily take the Pepsi Challenge with my Grixis Energy list from a few weeks ago against the best decks in Standard today. That said, it might be close between Grixis Energy and B/U Midrange as to what the best Standard deck actually is. What isn't close, however, is that The Scarab God, Glint-Sleeve Siphoner, and Aether Hub are overpowered when combined.
Elvish Visionary before just so I could generate a single card's worth of value when I return it from the graveyard with Rally the Ancestors. Therefore, I can fully endorse using a slightly higher-costed Elvish Visionary because it pairs beautifully with The Scarab God.
The person who created this deck is basically declaring that the thing they care about the most is consistency, and I love it. You make the opponent feel foolish when they lose the die roll and the opening turns are Bomat Courier for them and Dusk Legion Zealot for you. If you take a snapshot of that game, nobody can deny that you have a superior strategy.
I've written in the past about how decks with The Scarab God are incredibly mana-hungry, and I still stand by that statement. My solution was to play more lands, but this take on B/U Midrange is using an alternative method with cheap cantrips. I don't necessarily hate it, but I'm concerned about how it may change the tempo of your average hand in midrange mirrors. One of the most attractive elements of Dusk Legion Zealot is how it enables Aethersphere Harvester as a sideboard option. Maybe I was looking at it all wrong and instead of a weak Elvish Visionary, it's actually just a weak Rogue Refiner?
I've ranted and raved about Commit in the past, but it's clear to me now that what I
didn't do was go far enough. It's always tough during preparation to weigh your opinions
correctly because sometimes you might get stuck if you only go by how fancy, fun, or cool something is. My point is I correctly believed that Commit was great, but I didn't push myself to learn how many was too many. Adding a second copy actually has helped me in a lot of nuanced ways. I've always thought of Commit as a weaker version of Vraska's Contempt, but they both remove Hazoret the Fervent and The Scarab God from the battlefield, so getting up to six of that type of effect is pretty sweet.
If you watch the best players play, they pull the trigger on Memory very aggressively, and I've played multiple double-Memory games over the past few weeks. I basically put my foot down on turn 3 with Champion of Wits and discard spells to keep lands because I'm committed to hitting every land drop while I spin my wheels and force the opponent to keep up.
A simple way to think about Memory is like this: you take the number of cards in your hand and
the number of cards in your opponent's hand and determine who benefits the most. Let's say Huey has five cards in hand and Reid has three cards in hand, and they both have six lands during Reid's main phase. If Reid casts Memory here, he's going to profit four cards (aka +4) and Huey is going to profit two cards (aka +2), so although you've added this extra element of randomness to the game, nobody can deny the fact that raw output for Reid on his Memory generated him positive two cards of value for six mana.
I've seen Spring in some decks and people pay the aftermath often, but not every game of Constructed is the buttery smooth curve out draw by both decks and sometimes you have to take it to the streets, scrap around, and try to win with whatever you've got lying around. Commit can be a counterspell, but it can also make it so you grab your 20% chance to win in a disadvantageous position, shuffle up the decks and get it up to as close to 50/50 as you can, and when you're winning by enough you just don't cast it! Sometimes my opponent is
compelled to tap out, and I use it to just give me seven chances to see a removal spell to end the game outright.
Last week, as an example, my opponent cast Ixalan's Binding on my Torrential Gearhulk and my follow up was to cast River's Rebuke. Torrential Gearhulk entered the battlefield and targeted Memory, so the end result was all my opponent's nonland permanents got shuffled into their library and we restarted the game with new hands. Don't even get me started on how broken it is when you get one of the fast Memory hands in a game where you win the die roll and mulligan. If they miss one land drop or they can't use mana as a consequence of a misplaced enters the battlefield tapped land, it's lights out. When you curve out and spend all your mana, it's not inconceivable that you have one card in hand to their six and you already used Commit to trade for a card's worth of value so the aftermath is just free and you rake them over the coals in terms of raw output card advantage.
I started out hyping up Whirler Virtuoso as the three-drop of choice for these decks, and it's
possible that card will remain the premier option, but I have become more and more impressed
opportunity cost to put in your main deck and how pronounced its effect is in the control
matchups. You get a threat you can play early that the enemy realistically cannot counter or kill at a profit, mana or otherwise. It also provides much needed deck manipulation. My whole Magic playing career, I underrated a deck's ability to improve the quality of its hand and how much that helps stronger players beat weaker players. If I always have the right mix of cards, how can I lose?!
At least that's what I tell myself, but I still lose all the time to people who prepared more than me, played better that day, or got luckier.
1 against a creatureless deck is a huge win. Champion of Wits gives you a good late game and they superpower The Scarab God (which, admittedly, doesn't need a lot of help). They also make it more likely you draw your sideboard cards, which is always an underrated aspect of Constructed play. I often fear Champion of Wits may be underpowered in terms of rate when all is said and done and that history will show us that Champion of Wits was a liability in The Scarab God mirrors and the hot tech was to play zero the whole time, but so far I'm in favor of Champion of Wits at least in B/U Midrange.
Sultai Energy is gaining in popularity and it seems like a super sticky matchup. When I
played it with the above B/U Midrange list, my first thought was "Wow!" when I was down a game and went to sideboard. My second thought was "Wait, who took my clone???"
I couldn't believe that the deck designer didn't have at least one copy of Vizier of Many Faces. It's just the best possible option against people who gravitate towards Bristling Hydra in today's removal-heavy environment. It's so low cost to have one of that card since it can be a huge source of card advantage and buy you time against your most problematic cards.
I'm happy to see Liliana, Death's Majesty seeing some play recently, as she seems extremely well-positioned right now. The more Standard I play, the more I realize how defined it is by cards like Vraska's Contempt, and in a world where Vraska's Contempt is on the front page of the newspaper everyday, it doesn't make much sense to play expensive cards that match up unfavorably against it. I like to have a couple planeswalkers in my midrange decks so I'm never too invested in any one card type leaving me weak to Duress, Negate, Essence Scatter, or Fumigate. When you play Liliana and minus her to return a Glint-Sleeve Siphoner, you're putting your opponent in a terrible position; they now have to Vraska's Contempt the Liliana and use some type of hard removal on the Siphoner or else you begin to draw two cards a turn, which obviously immediately breaks any type of parity in a mirror match. This also gives you access to a nut draw which I'm personally fond of:
- Turn 3 Champion of Wits discarding Torrential Gearhulk
- Turn 4 Vraska's Contempt or Commit
- Turn 5 Liliana, Death's Majesty minus to return Torrential Gearhulk and print up to twelve mana worth of value and have a dominant battlefield
I feel a little guilty, almost like a broken record, as I talk about The Scarab God and the absolute
stranglehold it has on Standard, but this is the world we live in. Card choice and in game
decisions do matter, and I think it's a wonderful time to be alive for spikes. If you're reading my
articles with regularity, then you're the most competitive type of player there is and that means your goal is to win whatever tournament you play in. When my goal is to win, I always want to play the best deck and that means learning it to the best of my ability. These games are tough, so it won't be easy, but I believe as long as The Scarab God is legal, it won't be a test of "Should I play The Scarab God?" but instead "What should I play alongside The Scarab God?"
I've been exhausting myself trying every combination of cards and often it changes from week to week so it's a little bit like trying to predict the weather. Unfortunately, I'm not intimately familiar with all the Dominaria cards just yet, so it's possible there are some real game changers in there, but I'm not exactly optimistic.
But really, when The Scarab God is legal, what else does one really need?