[Welcome back to Fact or Fiction! Today, Approach of the Second Sun haters Ari Lax and Brad Nelson give their takes on five statements inspired by Grand Prix Memphis and what looks to be a great Standard format. Read their responses and vote for the winner at the end!]
Mono-Red Aggro is the deck to beat heading into GP Memphis.
Ari Lax: Fact. A good sign that a deck is the "deck to beat" is that literally no one has beaten it.
Mono-Red Aggro won the last Magic Online PTQ. It won the Magic Online PTQ before that. It won the Quarterly Magic Online Championship Series playoff. It won two of the three post-Rivals of Ixalan SCG Tour® Classics, and the third basically doesn't count because if Todd Stevens can win a SCG Tour Open with G/W Company, there is clearly no correlation between him winning and the deck being good.
It makes no sense to me, but the results don't lie. This Mono-Red deck doesn't even have very good cards. Your one-drops are Raging Goblins with upside. It plays 23 lands, which is basically asking to draw five or six in a game which is basically lethal for this deck. Hazoret the Fervent is just so darn good that the other 56 cards in your deck only have to be barely capable of winning games and easy to cast to make it work.
Brad Nelson: Fact. Mono-Red Aggro will be the deck to beat, as well as the deck to justify not playing. It's not as good as it once was, but that doesn't mean it's not picking up the wins. It has a good aggressive curve, plus multiple mythic rares that win the game if left unchecked. The deck just has the "it" factor when it comes to what it takes to win games of Magic.
That doesn't mean Mono-Red Aggro isn't exploitable, in theory. The deck has holes and players can design decks to beat it. Those decks just might not beat anything else. Mono-Red Aggro's biggest benefit is how other decks have to be designed. You can't simply just respect Mono-Red Aggro which will bite you sometimes when you lose the die roll against the deck and keep a sketchy hand in the matchup. Red decks have historically received free wins due to this and that isn't stopping anytime soon.
2. Midrange decks like Grixis Energy and Sultai Midrange will thrive at GP Memphis.
Ari Lax: Fiction. A really smart StarCityGames.com® writer recently said about Sultai Midrange: "I'm no longer sold this deck is amazing. At least not in this configuration, anyway." They also said "I believe Grixis Energy to be an outdated strategy."
Who could this charming, intelligent individual be? They are just so right all the time!
You know what the one thing these Mono-Red cards are good against? Blocking, especially with small creatures you can Shock or Abrade out of the way. You know what being a midrange deck usually entails? Trying to play two-drop creatures to block.
Brad Nelson: Fiction. These decks are good, but they're being pulled in too many directions right now. Mono-Red Aggro, Tokens, Control, and God-Pharaoh's Gift all need specific answers and specific threats that thrive against them. It's just too difficult to know the right mixture for midrange decks at the moment.
That doesn't mean some won't get it right through prowess or simple dumb luck. These midrange decks are extremely powerful and if someone finds the right mixture, they may have a recipe for success going into this weekend. They'll just have to know exactly what metagame is going to show up!
3. At least one Approach of the Second Sun deck will Top 8 GP Memphis.
Ari Lax: Fiction. In testing for Pro Tour Ixalan, we referred to Approach decks as the Time Vampire. You knew the outcome was going to be you winning 90% of the time, but your opponent got to take 35 minutes of your time for the 10% chance you literally don't play game 2 or 3. It also had to be literally game 1, as I think I won off multiple mulligans to five and once almost a mulligan to four against Approach. I did lose a lot sometimes, but at that point I had elected to put Bone Picker in my deck and make even my creatures into mulligans against control.
Rivals of Ixalan did not make the deck any better. The problem with the deck is almost anything can just sideboard out all the dead cards, throw a stream of great threats at you, and eventually something will just slip through on a mismatch and you will die. Or worse, they will have Duress or Negate. You need some non-Duress-able, non-Negate-able early threat to take over games with that also aren't just outclassed by whatever Chandra, Torch of Defiance level cards they throw at you in return. At that point, why even bother with the Approach stuff? Look at U/B Control: just put your copies of The Scarab God in the main deck and don't goof around with seven mana sorceries.
But if you want to play it, at least you get to enjoy a lot of time spent losing every round.
Brad Nelson: Fiction. No.
That would have been all I wrote, but Cedric asked for at least a couple paragraphs for each answer. Since "no" isn't two paragraphs, I guess I fill
out this question with a poem I wrote called "Ten Things I Hate About Blue."
I hate the way you mock me,
because your cards are all unfair.
I hate the way you ruin formats,
I hate that you don't even care.
I hate your big dumb counterspells,
and the way you control my mind.
I hate you so much I want to quit,
but we've already ran out of time.
I hate the way you're always right,
even when that's a blatant lie.
I hate it when you make me wait,
just in hopes I'll be led awry.
I hate it when you say you'll change,
then just bounce and never call.
Mostly I hate how you think you're so great,
but you're not,
not even a little bit,
not even at all.
Approach sucks! [ CEDitor's Note: For those of you wondering at home, Brad just got a significant raise. Quoting 10 Things I Hate About You is how you get to the pay window.]
4. Someone will figure out the perfect build of God-Pharaoh's Gift and take GP Memphis by surprise.
Ari Lax: Fiction. God-Pharaoh's Gift is an awesome card, but oh wow is it poorly positioned right now. Every deck in this format just has Abrade or Cast Out. The best anti-control cards stop your non-creature keystones, leaving you vulnerable. People are just playing multiple Scavenger Grounds in their main deck because it is good. All the removal exiles, so getting to six creatures for Gate to the Afterlife range isn't easy.
The easy trap to fall into is looking at Angel of Invention and realizing it is basically a one-card combo versus Mono-Red Aggro, which is true. The issue is it is not that against Glorybringer decks and is a one card nonbo against The Scarab God just beating you with your own stuff. Oh look, a Champion of Wits is in your graveyard? Don't mind if I do.
The perfect build of God-Pharaoh's Gift is this: You cut all the cards that set up God-Pharaoh's Gift, add The Scarab God, and realize that activating that card requires a lot less work and is just as unbeatable.
Wait, didn't I just say that about a different deck? The Scarab God is really messed up.
Brad Nelson: Fiction. I'm not saying someone won't break open how God-Pharaoh's Gift is supposed to be designed, but that doesn't correlate to it doing well. The deck just has a fail rate when things don't line up perfectly. When that happens Mono-Red Aggro pressures it too much or decks with The Scarab God get their namesake down before things get out of hand. There's just too many things that can go wrong.
Another issue is that there's a lot of random removal for artifacts right now. Abrade is in G/R Monsters and some even play Naturalize. There's enchantment-based removal spells, graveyard hate, and the best card in the format beats the strategy straight up. The card is powerful, but it isn't good enough to take on the entire format all by itself.
5. The token decks in Standard (W/G Tokens and W/B Tokens) will break out at GP Memphis.
Ari Lax: A bit of Fact. A bit of Fiction. W/B Tokens is a pretty good deck. It does something pretty powerful in terms of scrying with Hidden Stockpile into your over the top engine of Anointed Procession. It is also notably one of the few decks that actually is baseline good against Mono-Red Aggro. Even with Rampaging Ferocidon the matchup wasn't great, and with the stock W/B Tokens lists now starting matches with both Regal Caracal and Sunscourge Champion I'm skeptical it gets much better than "bad" from the Red side. If we saw it do very well this weekend, I wouldn't be surprised.
The one thing holding W/B Tokens back is if people show up with green or white cards. Once your opponent starts packing Naturalize or Ixalan's Binding and Cast Out, things can get dicey. Once again, Negate and Duress are also annoying tools against your cool nonsense deck the same way they were against God-Pharaoh's Gift and Approach of the Second Sun. If you can pair enchantment removal with any other of these things, including just more enchantment removal, it can get real hard for the W/B Tokens player to get anywhere.
W/G Tokens, on the other hand, tries to curve out and not interact, except nothing it does on-curve is better than the opposing decks, and whatever big thing it is trying to accomplish is disrupted by basic removal and sweepers that are good against Mono-Red Aggro. It's just not a good deck.
Brad Nelson: Fact. I'd be shocked if W/B Tokens has a breakout performance, but do think W/G Tokens will. Vampires is just a little too weak. Call to the Feast is actually a really amazing card, but the rest of the deck lacks the power needed to compete with Standard's biggest threats. The deck also doesn't have Appeal, which is a knockout card for W/G Tokens. All-in-all W/B Tokens is a deck that just exploits people not respecting it, but only W/G Tokens can handle the decks once they care about them.
W/G Tokens is on my short list of decks I'd feel comfortable playing in Memphis if I didn't already have a frontrunner. That doesn't mean I'm not still bringing the deck with me just in case.