States is just two days away. Over fifty tournaments will be going on at the exact same time to determine who the real champions are of their respective states. This tournament means a lot to me, since I have yet to win one in four attempts. That's why I think this is a good time to talk about what the best decks are in the format and which list I would play for each archetype.
#1 Esper / Solar Flare / Three-Color Control / Whatever You Want to Call It
Right now, this deck comes in all shapes, sizes, and even names to the very discerning. Some put all their eggs in the reanimation basket while others try to keep out of the line of graveyard hate fire. The only thing I am certain of is that the power level is there, as it has been doing well even if the lists aren't quite there.
The biggest problem I have found with Esper decks is that people try to do everything. Snapcaster Mage, Liliana of the Veil, and Day of Judgment do not belong in the same deck no matter how good you think the manabase is. Seachrome Coast and Darkslick Shores help fuel these spells, but coming into play tapped is too big of a problem when trying to play late-game spells on time. Learning to sacrifice certain aspects of the deck is the only way to make it a very good deck.
After countless hours of testing, I ended up settling on a more tap-out version of this deck. I liked the feel of the counterspells, but they were never as good in actual games. Games in the mirror match always went very late, and the person who resolved more threats always won. The problem with this is that it was easy to play around Mana Leak at those points in the game. It just made sense to be the player without the counterspells.
The mana base became way better, since I no longer had to worry about lands coming into play tapped in the later parts of the game. Sphere of the Suns and Solemn Simulacrum helped with fixing any problems early in the game.
The aggressive matchups became much better because the ramp would help me eliminate any tempo advantage they had.
Elspeth Tirel was the real icing on the cake, since this card is not only great against most aggressive decks but surprisingly good against control. I was happy to find this sweet piece of tech from Brandon Nelson last week.
I was very happy with every single matchup when I was testing this deck last week. I was crushing everything we threw at it and am ecstatic to showcase this to you guys this week. There is only one small detail. Someone (Brian Sondag) ruined everything for me when they built the Wolf Run Ramp deck.
This is exactly what this version of Solar Flare does not want to see. Inkmoth Nexus is a very difficult card to beat when it is in a deck not otherwise vulnerable to Curse of Death's Hold. Curse doesn't do much against Wolf Run Ramp, and they have plenty of ways to deal with it if they ever want to. Wolf Run Ramp also has Garruk, Primal Hunter, which is a huge beating.
This is the only matchup where I want as many counterspells and card-advantage spells as possible. It is not that aggressive of a deck and only preys on other midrange decks in the format. Solar Flare decks have a real tough time dealing with a deck like this because even when they do their thing, this ramp deck does something bigger and better.
In the end, I think this version of the deck is a very good choice this weekend if your field is light on Tempered Steel and Wolf Run Ramp. I love every other matchup but would be very scared to play either of the bad ones. This is what I'll most likely be battling with.
#2 U/W Control
U/W Control is set up perfectly right now for this metagame. It has the most powerful spells backed up by some very scary planeswalkers. Tim Landale showcased just how powerful this deck can be when he won the Grudge Match with his version of the deck.
Ignoring Snapcaster Mage allows this deck to have a plethora of well-rounded spells that don't need any others to be good. Counter some spells, kill some creatures, and then end up winning the game with whatever mythic rare you have in your hand. The formula is easy yet very effective.
Just like with Solar Flare, Elspeth Tirel is a great spell that fights both aggressive and controlling strategies. Timely Reinforcements into Elspeth is a great way to grind out any Mono Red deck and keep Shrines from going lethal.
Flashfreeze seems like a very important card to have in the sideboard right now. It is nice to have against Mono Red decks in the late game as well as against Wolf Run Ramp. I thought we would get a break from having to have this card in the sideboard all the time, but people proved that Primeval Titan and RDW are not going anywhere.
I feel that this is the safest choice to take into a tournament of aggressive strategies. U/W Control can have difficulties dealing with other control decks at times, since it is geared towards slower threats and limited countermagic.
#3 Mono Red
A couple weeks ago, I was in Indianapolis doing commentary for the Open. We just finished up the finals of the Standard portion and were about to go on a two-hour break. I was still somewhat waking up and ready for a nice break and a warm breakfast before starting up on a long day of Legacy. All I had left was interviewing the winner of the event. I was mentally shutting down a bit but was instantly surprised by how informed the winner was about his deck. This was David Doberne's list. I made a few changes.
- 3 Chandra's Phoenix
- 2 Goblin Arsonist
- 3 Grim Lavamancer
- 1 Hero of Oxid Ridge
- 2 Spikeshot Elder
- 4 Stormblood Berserker
- 4 Stromkirk Noble
David piloted his deck beautifully throughout the event from the matches I watched, and his insight in the booth was brilliant. I learned a thing or two about the deck from the interview. Bringing in the winners can be hit or miss, but David was a big hit.
Mono Red is in a decent position for a tournament like States. There will be countless brews that let a deck like this punish them.
Koth of the Hammer seems like a spell that should be a four-of. I feel that control decks will be in decent numbers at this event, and this is the most terrifying spell to play against. Now I just wait to hear the backlash from the great Mono Red players to find out why I am wrong, but I would definitely play four of this card in my 75.
Sword of War and Peace also seems like a very powerful card to have against Timely Reinforcements decks. I know that Hero of Oxid Ridge is a very powerful card against them, but I don't want to have eight cards in the four-drop slot against control decks.
#4 U/B Control
This deck can be well positioned for a great weekend. It might be a much riskier route to take, but the power to edge out the other control decks might be what players are looking for.
Last week, I talked about how this strategy is almost always suboptimal in early weeks of a format. Being able to beat aggressive decks is step one of a new format, since most players will be piloting these types of decks. The only thing that has changed is Wolf Run Ramp becoming a deck, which can change everything. We all know how green-red ramp decks can warp a format by beating up on the aggressive decks, and this version is no different.
Gitaxian Probe and Despise are amazing cards when backed up with Snapcaster Mage. This creature loves to have multiple different ways to be good, and these cards give him a bit more of a toolbox. Having proactive cards to flashback also lets you play him and start beating down against other control decks.
The information from these cards also helps a great deal. Having the ability to obtain perfect information is very important because of how control matchups play out. Not only is it important to know whether something will resolve, but letting cards resolve is also very important. You don't always want to just have to counter everything.
Azure Mage is a powerhouse spell against control decks that lets you use up fewer sideboard slots for those matchups and take an aggressive approach.
You can take a much safer route with this deck and just play more removal spells and Spellskites. Spellskite is a house against Mono Red, making them deal with him before killing you with a Shrine of Burning Rage. It's a great way to reactively deal with that artifact.
Tempered Steel is in a very interesting spot right now. Some players (including myself) do not put much faith into this deck. I am even going to play a deck that has a bad matchup against the metal army and not break a sweat. For some reason, players either have the fear or don't care at all. The advantage of this deck is the low numbers of players playing it, which causes people to skimp on the removal. That is not the correct line of action, but you can only have great hate for so much.
My biggest problem with this deck is how little wiggle room you have when building the deck. You rely on the field to run fewer cards against you, since your options against them are limited. This is not somewhere I like to be.
The fact of the matter is the deck is very fast and powerful and can punish people not prepared for it. It's not that difficult of a deck to hate out if you want to, and that's why this deck is not running the field down.
I don't know how much I like Hero of the Bladehold at all. It was a very good card in Block Constructed, but there was no Day of Judgment running around. The card dodged all the removal on turn four, which made it very powerful. Now it is just a target for all the spells being used by Snapcasting Mages.
It is a nice spell that dodges artifact hate, and the deck really does need one more great card to put it over the edge. Without Hero, the deck becomes even more linear and would be worse without it.
- 3 Solemn Simulacrum
- 3 Wurmcoil Engine
- 1 Acidic Slime
- 1 Birds of Paradise
- 3 Primeval Titan
- 4 Viridian Emissary
It didn't take too long for Primeval Titan to find friends. Wolf Run Ramp is the new midrange ramp deck of the format that surprised players last week, but the real test will be States. I feel that this deck will be very good against the more aggressive decks in the format but struggle with control.
I also think a game plan for the mirror is needed. The only problem with this is that there really isn't a card that doesn't suck in a certain situation. Urabrask the Hidden was the first thing I thought about, since it not only taps down any threats they play but makes your Primeval Titans so much better. Garruk also has a tough time protecting itself if Urabrask is already in play. This card just gives you more do-somethings in the matchup.
Hero of the Bladehold is a serious problem for this deck, which makes me feel that Dismember is a must-have. Hero backed up with a bit of disruption should be enough to put many games out of reach.
I like the idea of playing more proactive cards in the sideboard for control matchups, but the real winners are the spells already in the maindeck. Thrun, the Last Troll is a good card in many situations against control decks but not too popular against Liliana of the Veil. This card's job seems to just force them to do something so you can land a real winner.
I wouldn't be surprised to see this deck do very well this week or even terribly. It will do one or the other. It is either the next incarnation of Valakut or just not on the same power level when people throw a ton of hate for the matchup in their deck. People got sick of losing to Valakut, so they will not be going down without a fight.
#7 U/W Blade
U/W Blade was one of the decks that I was working on when the set released. I liked how powerful Blade Splicer was against Liliana decks, and that much is still true. This creature is by far the best creature for attacking this planeswalker right now. The only reason this deck isn't that great is that U/W Planeswalker Control is just better.
Gitaxian Probe works wonders in a deck like this. It not only helps with information but allows you to draw an amazing amount of cards backed up with Snapcaster Mage. Silvergill Adept was the reason Merfolk decks worked, and having access to this type of creature and effect is very strong.
Elspeth Tirel is amazing in this deck for many reasons. It is a proactive threat that does not get wrathed away with the rest of the team. It comes down around the perfect time and can set up boards that cannot be dealt with.
It is probably just a personal preference, but I do not like Gideon Jura right now. He never gets in and doesn't seem to help out the way he used to. I would be the first to be playing this guy if he was really amazing, but he has not proven himself to be good enough.
Day of Judgment was in the maindeck for a very long time, but I never liked having awkward hands. Day of Judgment also doesn't seem that great right now with so many ramp and control decks running around. It isn't even that good against red decks when you have so many creatures. It seems like a good choice for the sideboard.
#8 Birthing Pod
- 1 Phyrexian Metamorph
- 2 Solemn Simulacrum
- 2 Acidic Slime
- 1 Archon of Justice
- 4 Avacyn's Pilgrim
- 4 Birds of Paradise
- 1 Blade Splicer
- 1 Fiend Hunter
- 3 Llanowar Elves
- 4 Mentor of the Meek
- 2 Phantasmal Image
- 2 Sun Titan
- 2 Viridian Emissary
- 1 Elesh Norn, Grand Cenobite
Reid Duke's version of Pod is by far the best I have seen so far, and I don't see any change being worth it. That said, I don't think this is a very good deck to be playing right now. This isn't a good strategy to beat Wolf Run Ramp, and the deck is slow in general. You don't want to nickel and dime your opponent in card advantage in these colors. Decks are really powerful, and getting Birthing Pod online seems like a slow process.
The other bad thing about this deck is that there could be splash damage from the hate dedicated to Wolf Run Ramp. Not only is that a bad matchup, but the cards people play against it are bad for you as well. More decks will be playing Flashfreeze and ways to deal with Garruk, which makes this strategy even worse.
I do think this is a good deck if you know how to play it and have tested against Wolf Run Ramp. This is not a deck I would be playing right now, since I don't know much about it and would need at least 100 games to feel comfortable.
- 2 Consecrated Sphinx
- 2 Daybreak Ranger
- 1 Inferno Titan
- 4 Skinshifter
- 1 Snapcaster Mage
- 4 Viridian Emissary
- 2 Thrun, the Last Troll
This is the version of RUG Brian Kibler played last weekend in Nashville. Kibler is my favorite person to test with because of how well he learns formats and understands how things work. I can only get behind about half of his decks, though, and this is not one of them.
RUG seems like a very poor choice right now. Not many of the cards have synergy with each other, and that is a big problem. This deck just feels like a mess of mediocre cards that don't stand a chance against the rest of the field. I bet Kibler took 11th because he is just that good and wants to prove it.
If you are serious about playing this deck this weekend, I would definitely check out Kibler's article today. He'll definitely have a different response to the deck than I do, plus updates and strategies. I'll be checking it out as well, since I'm curious how Caravan Vigil made it into his deck.
#10 G/W Tokens, Mono-White Weenie, Mono-Blue Illusions
These decks all tie for tenth place because they are all worth mentioning but should not be played. They all have characteristics that are similar to each other. Each one beats down in a very straightforward way and are positioned poorly in this metagame. Control decks are getting better at dealing with these types of aggressive decks, which just don't hold the same punch as Mono Red or Tempered Steel.
These are not the decks to play if you want to be beating down in this format.
I hope everyone has a wonderful time at States this year. I'll be looking to win my first State Championship and hopefully try to start catching up to my little brother who has three titles so far. States is a very fun tournament, so just remember to enjoy yourself no matter what deck you take to battle. I'll see you guys next week when I talk about my adventure at the tournament.