Pro Tour Guilds of Ravnica proved just how rich and diverse of a format Standard is now. Despite two months of high-level play, the Pro Tour definitely didn't suggest a solved format, and the evolution has continued over the past week. Today, I'd like to take a look at the top 10 pieces of technology to come out of this past weekend.
10. Shivan Fire
With the overwhelming explosion of white aggro at the Pro Tour, Shivan Fire's stock has skyrocketed. These decks are playing sixteen or more one-drops and having a one-mana answer is one of the absolute best ways to avoid letting them pull way ahead on tempo.
This weekend was a great weekend for Jeskai Control, and Michael Hamilton put Shivan Fire to good use in both the maindeck and sideboard of his ninth-place build:
Interestingly, Michael only played one copy of Deafening Clarion, instead relying on a diverse mix of Shivan Fire, Seal Away, Justice Strike, Ixalan's Binding, Settle the Wreckage, and Cleansing Nova to help clean up problematic creatures.
The intriguing diversity in Michael's list didn't stop there, either. His mix of victory conditions was wider than we usually see:
As if that wasn't enough possible angles of attack, Michael's list also features card number nine on our list, out of the sideboard (though one I can't help but wonder if should be in more maindecks).
Siege-Gang Commander is a powerful card in its own right, and the timing might be just about perfect. Having four possible blockers against white aggro or red aggro is huge, and if you untap with it, the sacrifice ability only further takes over the game.
Is it crazy to consider sideboarding Siege-Gang Commander in Mono-Red Aggro? Would full-on Goblins be off the table?
- 2 Dark-Dweller Oracle
- 4 Fanatical Firebrand
- 4 Goblin Chainwhirler
- 1 Goblin Cratermaker
- 4 Goblin Instigator
- 1 Goblin Warchief
- 4 Legion Warboss
- 4 Runaway Steam-Kin
- 4 Siege-Gang Commander
- 4 Volley Veteran
Alternatively, you could sort of take a page out of the Boros playbook and splash white for Conclave Tribunal or something.
Maybe there's just not enough incentive from the Volley Veterans, but I'd at least be interested in kicking the tires on the strategy. It's just so hard to get away from the straightforward red cards like Runaway Steam-Kin, however, and it doesn't take many of those before you might as well give up on Goblins as a tribe.
Of course, one big risk to trying the Goblin route is just how much more vulnerable Goblins is to Golden Demise than traditional red aggro.
While Deafening Clarion has been a more defining card and is certainly more powerful in a vacuum, Golden Demise has surged in popularity and success this week, serving as a sweeper for other color combinations, and in particular, one that lines up well against Dauntless Bodyguard and Adanto Vanguard.
White aggro decks play such a huge number of one-drops, a three-cost sweeper can be game-winning. Usually, Dauntless Bodyguard and Adanto Vanguard are important ways for the white decks to hedge against this, but Golden Demise completely cuts out this counterplay. It isn't without some drawbacks, however.
Benalish Marshal both lives through Golden Demise and sometimes makes creatures like History of Benalia Knight tokens live through it. Tocatli Honor Guard is also a popular sideboard card that can be potentially devastating to a Golgari deck, and it definitely sucks to get stuck behind one with only Golden Demise for removal. Nevertheless, Golden Demise is so effective against the rest of their deck, hopefully you can help blunt some of the effectiveness of Tocatli Honor Guard by sideboarding out two-drop explore creatures, for instance.
- 1 Carnage Tyrant
- 3 Doom Whisperer
- 4 Jadelight Ranger
- 4 Llanowar Elves
- 4 Merfolk Branchwalker
- 2 Ravenous Chupacabra
- 2 Seekers' Squire
- 4 Wildgrowth Walker
Obviously, Deafening Clarion isn't an option here, but the use of Golden Demise along creatures actually big enough to live through it can be deceptively strong. Each Thrashing Brontodon sort of functions like an Icy Manipulator, forcing your opponent to overcommit, meaning the sweeper is that much more effective.
- 3 Carnage Tyrant
- 2 Druid of the Cowl
- 4 Jadelight Ranger
- 4 Llanowar Elves
- 4 Merfolk Branchwalker
- 1 Midnight Reaper
- 3 Ravenous Chupacabra
- 3 Wildgrowth Walker
Golgari was on the rebound this week, with smaller numbers, but a little more success, relatively speaking. Of the many variations, I think Seth's was my favorite. He made the necessary adjustments for gaining ground against these new white decks, while also anticipating a rise in Jeskai Control, which he was extremely well set up against. He also avoided spending too many slots on improving the Selesnya Tokens matchup, possibly anticipating the rest of the format adjusting and suppressing the archetype.
While Selesnya Tokens failed to put anyone in the top 8 at the Pro Tour, it wasn't for lack of Standard success from its pilots. This weekend, Selesnya's results were more modest; however, Nick Prince was a notable exception, with his SCG Classic win in Vegas, armed with some exciting new technology.
Song of Freyalise is a really interesting turn 3 or turn 4 play for Selesnya Tokens, functioning as a sort of ritual the turn you play it, setting up a massive mana boost the following turn, letting you drop most of your hand and setting up the kill, for the following turn.
- 4 Thorn Lieutenant
- 3 Emmara, Soul of the Accord
- 1 Lyra Dawnbringer
- 2 Shalai, Voice of Plenty
- 3 Trostani Discordant
While Song of Freyalise isn't necessarily what you want against Jeskai Control, it is a powerful weapon for filling the battlefield quickly against white aggro or Golgari and something I would definitely try moving forward. I still don't think I'd want to be caught up in the collateral damage from folks targeting white aggro, but if your metagame is closer to the Classic metagame than the Grand Prix metagame (less Jeskai, more Golgari), this could be a good pick.
Nicol Bolas is back, thanks in large part to Justin Andrus's role in the rise of Golden Demise. While Nicol Bolas isn't at his best against fast white aggro, it does have a ton of value against the Jeskai decks that were all the rage this weekend. While Justin kept two of his three in the sideboard, they provided a powerful weapon against control decks trying to fight his heavy Planeswalker/Enchantment-based strategy.
With Ral, Izzet Viceroy and Karn, Scion of Urza to accompany his basically unheard of three Search for Azcantas and two plus two The Eldest Reborn, Justin's list is built for winning card advantage battles on the table like few other decks in the format even begin to aspire to.
While I might be biased towards the one true God-Pharaoh, this list looks super exciting to me and I'm going to be working on it in the week to come. I'm particularly interested in getting to play Chart a Course, which I think is just so underrated. I know people play it, but I really think they should be playing it a lot more.
Even with just six maindeck creatures, it looks great in Justin's deck. The filtering and smoothing is fine and it helps power up Search for Azcanta and Ral, Izzet Viceroy. Besides, Ravenous Chupacabra is great for triggering the bonus and Karn's token is frequently left on the battlefield, even when an opponent has a removal spell they could have potentially used.
Chart a Course is nothing new in Izzet, but I especially like the direction former player of the year and current team World Champion Owen Turtenwald took the archetype by including a full playset of Radical Ideas and two Tormenting Voice for even more Chart a Course-like action.
Arclight Phoenix is obviously key to these decks anyway, but Owen's version is extra-long on ways to get an extra card out of the Phoenix (by discarding it, instead of playing it), while also being longer on ways to bring it back multiple times.
Perhaps the most interesting part about Owen's deck, however, is his use of the number four card in our countdown.
Entrancing Melody has been gaining respect as a sideboard option for Izzet decks, but this weekend, Owen moved one to the maindeck and it looked good with so many possible ways to loot it away in the wrong matchups.
While I don't think Jeskai gets enough value out of Entrancing Melody to make it worth our while, I could possibly see it showing up in Grixis or some other new blue deck with creatures. We've already seen it make waves in Mono-Blue Aggro. What about in surveil-heavy Dimir?
Speaking of Mono-Blue Aggro, another Mono-Blue Aggro staple found a new maindeck home this weekend. Grand Prix Milwaukee champion Adrian Sullivan may have revolutionized the face of Jeskai Control with his radical and brilliant new take on the popular archetype.
3. Dive Down
While there's a lot to unpack with Adrian's list, his use of two copies of Dive Down in a deck with just seven creatures just leaps out at you from the page. I can only imagine the looks on the faces of the countless people that went to kill Niv-Mizzet (possibly drawing Adrian a card, possibly not), when he played a Dive Down to save it (drawing another card, himself) and allow him to untap with arguably the most powerful threat in the format.
This one is honestly a little surprising to me, but it does seem like it might be better against Vivien Reid decks. I'm gonna have to play some games to see this one for myself.
Check out this new classic Adrian Sullivan masterpiece:
Adrian has never been afraid to kill sacred cows, and here we seem him running Jeskai with zero copies of three of the most popular counterspells.
Treasure Map, in particular, is fascinating in Adrian's list. With zero copies of Chemister's Insight and zero copies of Azor's Gateway, Adrian is really relying on the filtering from Treasure Map early, combined with the raw card advantage it affords later.
With four copies of Niv-Mizzet, it's no surprise to see Adrian packing zero copies of Plains. However, the use of four Treasure Maps and a Spell Swindle actually really cleverly increases the reliability of Settle the Wreckage, Cleansing Nova, and Lyra Dawnbringer, all of which are typical additions against decks you'd want Spell Swindle against (like Golgari).
1. Treasure Map
Treasure Map has already a format staple, particularly in the sideboard of red decks, but I think Adrian makes a compelling case for the card being tried in basically any slower strategy. It helps smooth a little early, without being too slow. Then, it helps give you enough cards to get over the hump in the mid-game.
Not every tournament is won by the most exciting technology in the room, but sometimes it is, and this weekend's triumph by Adrian Sullivan is a triumph for the format as a whole. One of the godfathers of Magic strategy winning a Grand Prix 25 years later with a brilliant array of unusual card choices preying on the predictable and pushing the format forward is truly beautiful to see.
Congratulations, Adrian! Well played.