With #SCGCON this weekend featuring a plethora of awesome formats, I thought I'd take the week to give y'all the rundown on what I'd play in each format and why. With the huge variety of event types, event formats, and special activities, there's bound to be something for each and every kind of Magic player. Personally, I lean toward the competitive side of things, but this weekend I'll be doing commentary alongside Cedric Philips and the rest of the SCG Tour® crew, so I'll be looking down with a bird's eye view on all the action as well as cruising the tournament hall looking for cool things to do.
There's a lot to dig into, so let's begin!
Love it or hate it, Standard is certainly a format.
But that's not necessarily Standard's fault, now is it?
Regardless, Standard is an important part of #SCGCON, and as such, I'm bottle-necked into thinking about it and relaying to you any important information I can give you on the subject. So, here's my big Standard suggestion. Are you ready? Here it comes.
Play a red deck.
That's it. Well, that's not all of it, but you should probably be piloting a deck with four copies of Goblin Chainwhirler. If anything, Goblin Chainwhirler helps to alleviate some of the pressure that would normally be put on an aggressive red strategy. You can't get under them because Goblin Chainwhirler just wrecks their battlefield. You can't really go over them because they come at you with recurring threats like Scrapheap Scrounger, as well as hard-hitters like Chandra, Torch of Defiance, Hazoret the Fervent, and Glorybringer.
I'm sure Brad Nelson will continue to make the argument that U/W Control is your best bet, and he stuck to his guns at the Pro Tour, piloting an older take on the archetype and using Approach of the Second Sun as his primary win condition. And the one match he was on camera, his deck performed beautifully. I know he was 6-0 in Standard at one point until the wheels fell off due to a punt, but I'll let him tell that story. If you glean any information out of this, just realize that one of the best Standard players in the world chose to play U/W Control, made a match-losing mistake, and a guy who was playing in his second Pro Tour took down the whole thing with Mono-Red Aggro.
So whatever flavor of red you decide to play, just make sure you're playing red.
- I don't think Heart of Kiran is very good. It shines against the early removal of U/W Control thanks to its ability to get around Seal Away, and is solid in some spots against Fumigate, but overall I kinda hate it. Corey Baumeister went 8-0 in a recent Magic Online Championship Monthly Qualifier with a version of R/B Aggro that didn't play Heart of Kiran, and the deck just felt good.
- Cast your removal spells wisely. Using your mana efficiently isn't always as important as making sure you have Chandra's Defeat to take down their Chandra, Torch of Defiance or Glorybringer. Abrade is usually pretty important for taking care of Heart of Kiran or sideboard Aethersphere Harvesters. And while Unlicensed Disintegration can deal damage to an opponent if you hold onto it until you find an artifact, it might just be worth the damage swings from the opponent to cast it earlier rather than sitting on your hands. This is even more important if you're playing Hazoret the Fervent (which you should be).
- Siege-Gang Commander is not that good in the mirror. Just make sure you have four copies of Glorybringer after sideboard. Flying is a huge deal when the ground gets mucked up by Goblin Chainwhirler, Pia Nalaar, Kari Zev, Skyship Raider, and Soul-Scar Mage. If you already have four copies of Glorybringer after sideboard, you don't really need more five-drops.
- Be careful how you build your sideboard and be aware of how many black cards you're bringing in at a time. Your deck is very light on the black splash, so having several copies of Duress, Doomfall, and other similar cards could get you into trouble if you're unable to cast them.
- Play a Swamp.
- Don't play Spire of Industry.
I know what you're thinking. "Oh Todd, why even bother with Modern? You only talk about Humans and how good it is. We all know what you're going to say." Well, you're partially right, but you're only seeing part of the picture.
The reason I like Humans in Modern is because it's powerful, proactive, disruptive, and has a very good clock. Very few other decks in Modern can boast all these attributes, which is why Humans is such a unique and good deck. Sure, there are faster decks, and more disruptive decks, but nothing really matches up here. And above all else, it's consistent.
There's a very good reason why Sam Cocchiarella took down SCG Minneapolis while playing Humans for the first time. If you're not familiar with Modern and find yourself playing the Invitational, Humans is probably the deck you're most likely to succeed with. With that said, Humans has a gigantic target on its head at the moment, and as far as I know it only won a single SCG Regionals last weekend. Modern is still up in the air, even if we do have something of a current "best deck." Having a "best deck" in a particular format just means we need to be cognizant of how we build our decks, sideboard, and choose our initial strategy in the first place.
I've talked at length about the strengths and weaknesses of Humans, so let's try something different.
I deferred to my good friend and current ward Gerry Thompson for his take on Mardu Pyromancer. I feel like this is one of the Modern decks that can give Humans a headache, though they have a strange way of overcoming all the removal and beating you down through multiple Young Pyromancer tokens. Regardless, if you draw the right removal at the right time and can follow it up with either Lingering Souls or Bedlam Reveler for pressure, you should be in great shape. You can also cold them entirely via Blood Moon plus a Kolaghan's Command for their Aether Vials.
- Kill everything your opponent plays without hesitation. If it attacks, blocks, or taps for mana, it deserves a Lightning Bolt. You just want to empty your hand to cast Bedlam Reveler, and you will often need all the mana you can muster after casting Bedlam Reveler to play catchup.
- Don't play Plains. Even with Blood Moon in your deck, you can cast Lingering Souls via Manamorphose or after discarding it to Faithless Looting/Bedlam Reveler.
- Try to fetch basic lands early, even if you might end up getting punished later. You definitely want at least one Swamp on the battlefield when you cast Blood Moon, and keeping your life total high is important in a number of matchups.
- Against decks like Jund, try to save Dreadbore for Liliana of the Veil, but don't be afraid to burn your Dreadbore on a hard-to-kill creature, like Tarmogoyf. As the game goes longer, the odds they draw a discard spell to take it from you increases, so just keep that in mind.
Grixis Delver? I guess?
Honestly, Legacy is pretty silly at the moment. Most decks play Deathrite Shaman, and the winning list from the Team Grand Prix in Toronto a few weeks ago didn't even play Force of Will in the maindeck. This has happened in the past in the hands of Brian Braun-Duin, when the format becomes much more "fair" and much less about explosive combo decks. Awkwardly, Magic Online is swamped with B/R Reanimator at the moment, but that trend hasn't quite broken through into live tournaments just yet.
I don't suggest going into #SCGCON playing a busted, albeit vulnerable, combo deck. Combo decks tend to have a bad Delver matchup, and especially so after sideboard if they're blue-based. Thanks to upgrades like Pyroblast and Cabal Therapy, along with all the soft counterspells and Force of Will in the maindeck, fighting through all that hate backed by a fast clock is quite difficult. But I also don't think it's smart to go into an open field in Legacy without Force of Will. Lucas Siow's Four-Color Leovold without Force of Will was a metagame call. In a Team Constructed tournament, I think it's safe to say that most of the Legacy players will have a ton of experience in the format, and that usually means they're playing a fair Brainstorm deck of some kind. People on your team are more likely to convince you to play the "best deck" in the format as opposed to some homebrew.
At Grand Prix Seattle a few months ago, I chose to play Sneak and Show. For some reason, I didn't lose to Grixis Delver, but instead struggled to defeat players using the Four-Color Leovold deck. Leovold, Emissary of Trest is particularly annoying to beat with Sneak and Show, since you don't have any removal for it. They also have ways to beat a single fat creature you play, thanks to their maindeck inclusion of both Baleful Strix and Diabolic Edict. It's weird, but you can just lose to their ragtag bunch of threats coupled with a few pieces of disruption, and you aren't even guaranteed to win if you assemble Show and Tell plus Large Creature. But even still, I think Show and Tell is a resilient and powerful combo deck, so if you want to play a combo deck, I'd suggest just slamming Show and Tell.
- Just slam your Sneak Attacks and Show and Tells. If your opponent has the answer, you have a ton of ways to dig for another piece of the combo. Your easiest way to win is to catch your opponent off-guard with an early/fast Show and Tell or Sneak Attack. Don't play around Daze, Spell Pierce, or Force of Will. Don't try to wait until you have one or two ways to protect yourself. Use your cheap counterspells to snag their discard spells, Brainstorm, etc.
- Don't be afraid to cast Show and Tell with nothing in your hand. If you're playing against a blue deck, chances are they're insanely afraid of you resolving a Show and Tell. If you have two copies and nothing else to do, sometimes it's worth it to run the bluff of casting Show and Tell with nothing in hand to put onto the battlefield. If you're able to successfully bait out a Force of Will or Spell Pierce, that means they have one less card to fight you later on when you actually assemble the combo.
- Use Show and Tell to put Sneak Attack on the battlefield often. I use Show and Tell as a bait spell of sorts on occasion when the card I actually want on the battlefield is Sneak Attack. In some ways, Show and Tell can act as a Ritual effect, gaining you that extra mana you need to attack them with Emrakul, the Aeons Torn immediately. Sometimes putting in a big creature isn't good enough, because your opponent can just cast Jace, the Mind Sculptor or something else to kill it before you get to attack.
- Don't sideboard too much, but when you do, don't be afraid to side out Force of Will. If your opponent has Force of Will, chances are you don't want your own copies.
I don't have a ton to say about Pauper other than I know what I like and I will play exactly that.
No bells or whistles. Just good, clean aggression coupled with some disruption, removal, and card advantage. I love this deck. I love Skred and Lightning Bolt. I love Ninja of the Deep Hours, even though I get stuck with it in my hand quite often.
- You can play the control role. Don't be afraid to be defensive. Even though Delver of Secrets is a fairly aggressive card, you have the ability to grind people out with Augur of Bolas, Gush, and Ninja of the Deep Hours.
- Kill any creature you see if you don't have an Augur of Bolas to keep it in check. This is certainly matchup-dependent, but I would rarely recommend trying to use Lightning Bolt to burn your opponent out.
After sideboard, you can transition to a full-blown control deck quite easily. Swirling Sandstorm is a blowout against nearly all the creature decks, and hitting threshold isn't that difficult. Just be aware of your role in the matchup. If your opponent has a ton of cheap creatures and wants to attack, chances are you should be siding out counterspells in favor of cheap removal. And while Delver of Secrets attacking isn't exactly the best gameplan for beating an aggressive deck, I find it difficult to want to trim any creature in any matchup. You need ways to play Ninja of the Deep Hours, etc.
No Banned List Modern
I talked quite a bit about NBL Modern last week, so I'm just going to point you here . But honestly, I don't know what the "best deck" for NBL Modern actually is. No one does. The format is unexplored territory. Sure, there are some busted interactions and a few decks that look pretty sweet, but what if Stoneforge Mystic is just the best thing you can be doing? What if Mental Misstep isn't actually good because everyone builds their deck to ignore it? Or not be completely obliterated by it? The same goes for Chalice of the Void here.
Even though I didn't talk about it much last week, I think Colorless Eldrazi might actually be the best deck, if only because it presents and insanely fast clock while having access to Chalice of the Void on the first turn. And while it might not end up being a great call for the NBL metagame, I'm currently picking it as the strategy I expect to put multiple copies into the Top 8.
- 2 Spellskite
- 4 Eldrazi Mimic
- 4 Endless One
- 4 Matter Reshaper
- 4 Reality Smasher
- 4 Simian Spirit Guide
- 4 Thought-Knot Seer
If you remember correctly, the maindeck is exactly the same as the one Luis Scott-Vargas used to Top 4 the Modern Pro Tour where Eldrazi wrecked up the place. This version of the deck ultimately fell to the U/R Eldrazi deck by Jiachen Tao, but I think the U/R version was a pure metagame call. It was better in the Eldrazi "mirrors," but ultimately worse against the field (though still extremely busted).
- If you're on the play in the dark and have two copies of Chalice of the Void, don't be afraid to cast one of them for X=0. If you end up battling against Affinity or some other weirdo deck, like Hypergenesis, it could be the only thing that saves you from imminent doom.
- Mulligan most hands without a two-mana land. Unless you know the matchup, you want explosive starts, and that means having hands that either play Chalice of the Void for X=1 on the first turn or one of your lands that help you power out your Eldrazi at lightning speed.
- Don't get discouraged if you lose a round or two. The format is weird, and you're bound to play against some stuff you're not prepared for. Just hope for the best, make your best judgment calls, and hope you get some good pairings and/or draws as the tournament progresses. Even though the NBL Modern Open is bound to be very large, you can afford two losses on the first day. Just keep trucking and keep casting your big, dumb Eldrazi.
I dunno y'all. Probably just play something with Paradoxical Outcome and/or the Time Vault-Voltaic Key combo? Every time I've played with or against Paradoxical Outcome on the Versus Series, the person playing Vault-Key won very easily. But I'm not a Vintage aficionado, so I'll just tell you what deck I'd play.
- 1 Black Lotus
- 1 Mana Crypt
- 1 Mana Vault
- 1 Mox Emerald
- 1 Mox Jet
- 1 Mox Pearl
- 1 Mox Ruby
- 1 Mox Sapphire
- 2 Sensei's Divining Top
- 1 Sol Ring
- 1 Time Vault
- 1 Voltaic Key
- 1 Ancestral Recall
- 1 Brainstorm
- 1 Dig Through Time
- 4 Force of Will
- 1 Gush
- 1 Hurkyl's Recall
- 4 Paradoxical Outcome
- 1 Vampiric Tutor
- 3 Mox Opal
- 1 Balance
- 1 Demonic Tutor
- 1 Fragmentize
- 1 Gitaxian Probe
- 1 Merchant Scroll
- 1 Ponder
- 4 Preordain
- 1 Time Walk
- 1 Tinker
- 1 Treasure Cruise
The Atog Lord is a true Magic Online grinder, and his version of Paradoxical Outcome looks pretty sweet. No quick tips here. If you are coming to #SCGCON to play Vintage, chances are you know more about the format than I do.
Well, that's it! That's all the Constructed formats featured this weekend at #SCGCON. And while I won't be participating in the events themselves, I will be happily viewing them from the sidelines, and bringing you all the action at twitch.tv/SCGTour. This will be the first Invitational I haven't played in like seven years. In some ways, it feels strange not being knee-deep in the testing process, but I'm excited for what the future holds. I'd just like to let Cedric Philips know that I'm excited for the opportunity to show y'all what I can do in the booth. And after such a positive response from the community after SCG Baltimore a short while ago, I can't wait to get back in the booth alongside Cedric, Matthias Hunt, Ryan Overturf, and yes, even Nick Miller.
See ya in Roanoke this weekend for all the festivities!