The time has come! The ultimate SCG Tour® 2018 event and the wrap up for Season 2 is this Friday with SCG CON Winter. There's going to be a ton to do for Magic players of all kinds, but if you've clicked on my article today, it's more than likely that you've qualified for the SCG Invitational and are looking for tips on how to best prepare to try to win that $20,000 first place prize and your face on a token!
Split format Constructed events are essentially unique to just SCG Tour® Invitationals, so participating in them is an experience that qualified players get to compete in only twice a year. Having to essentially double the amount of time and preparation that goes into the event can be daunting, but I'm here with the best advice I have to offer for being prepared for the Standard half of the sixteen-round slugfest this weekend.
1. Understanding how your deck operates against the other top decks in Standard is very valuable.
For the first time in a very long time, Standard's top tier is shared by a reasonable number of high power strategies that are all equally capable of taking down a tournament. This is especially remarkable given that this is a format fresh off the heels of a rotation that took away four other sets and only added one.
Since this is the case, a very good strategy for preparing for this event would be to pick one of the best performing decks in the format, construct and practice matchup and sideboarding plans against the other best performing decks, and save yourself the mental energy of figuring things out on the fly during the event. This very much ties into my next tip:
2. The Invitational Metagame will be more similar to the winner's metagame than normal.
At a normal SCG Tour® event, especially in the early rounds, it's more likely that you will encounter some of the tier 1.5-tier 2 decks that exist in the format along with the top brass. This is almost always not the case in Invitationals. One lesson I've learned from the Invitationals I've participated in is that the decks people choose to play almost exclusively consist of tier 1 strategies, especially in Standard. I played three Rakdos Aggro mirrors in the four rounds of Standard I played in the Season 1 invitational this year (I did not make it to Day Two), and I played seven Temur and/or Sultai energy decks at the Invitational that took place one year ago. For such a high stakes tournament, most people choose to leave their pet decks at home in favor of the decks with the highest chance of winning them the tournament. This tournament will be no different. Acknowledging this helps you hone in on exactly what you should be preparing for.
So, what does the winner's metagame right now consist of?
3. The Winner's Metagame in Standard is: Golgari Midrange, Izzet Drakes, Jeskai Control, and Boros Aggro.
These four decks should be in your sights as your prepare for this event. These are the decks that since the beginning of the format have proven themselves as the most consistent and powerful decks to be playing in Standard. If you want the best shot of performing well in the Standard portion of the Invitational, these are the decks that should be on your short list of options.
Let's recap what each deck does, along with some strengths and weaknesses of each:
- 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
While there are multiple tier 1strategies in Standard at the moment, Golgari Midrange is far and away the most popular deck in the format. The deck is, above all else, consistent at doing what it does; while there are other decks in the format that are maybe slightly faster, more powerful, Golgari offers the same gameplan every game: out-valuing the opponent until they can no longer compete with Golgari's top end of Planeswalkers and Carnage Tyrants.
- Creatures utilizing the explore mechanic, like Merfolk Branchwalker and Jadelight Ranger, help you consistently hit your land drops and help filter out bad draws.
- The aforementioned explore creatures work in tandem with Wildgrowth Walker to give aggressive strategies an absolute headache.
- The deck is highly customizable; so many powerful options are at Golgari's disposal that the deck quite frankly can't fit them all.
- If it wants to, it can outgrind any deck in the format. Between Vivien Reid, Vraska, Relic Seeker, Midnight Reaper, The Eldest Reborn, etc., the deck is a two-for-one-generating machine.
- As a midrange deck, it is susceptible to decks that can go "over the top" of it.
- The deck can occasionally spend its time "spinning its wheels." There will be some games you will spend simply casting medium-sized green creatures while your opponent powers up a Crackling Drake and kills you in two turns.
- As an addendum to the previous point, the deck is soft to fliers if not immediately answered.
- Much of Golgari's removal spells, while efficient and usually generating value, are sorcery speed--think Ravenous Chupacabra, The Eldest Reborn, Plaguecrafter, and Vivien Reid's -3 ability. This can be problematic against decks that utilize Dive Down as a one- mana protection spell to protect their creatures.
Conclusion: Golgari Midrange is the most consistent choice across the board. While the deck isn't the most flashy and can sometimes fall short to what the other decks' best draws can do, it trades a slightly lower ceiling in power level for a much higher floor.
Izzet Drakes' rise to glory came first in the hands of Pascal Vieren, who had fantastic finishes in both GP Lille and Pro Tour Guilds of Ravnica. Vieren's take on the deck was a tuned version that eschewed cards like Enigma Drake, Crash Through, and Warlord's Fury in favor of a much sleeker build, which utilizes Goblin Electromancer and tons of draw spells to churn through the deck and power out multiple Arclight Phoenixes in one turn. Owen Turtenwald and many others have been championing the deck as one of if not the best deck in Standard.
- This deck possesses some of the most powerful starts in the format so much that many decks simply cannot keep up with it. Goblin Electromancer's power is no less apparent in Standard than it is in Modern, as the cost reduction ability on the card makes casting three or more spells in a turn trivial, and it helps your bury your opponent in both cards and an army of 3/2s.
- The deck possesses a swath of threats that all attack at different angles, making the deck difficult to hate out. Murmuring Mystic allows you to go wide with your spells and keep the lower to the ground aggro decks in check. Ral, Izzet Viceroy gives the deck the ability to go long against the control and midrange decks in the format. Niv-Mizzet, Parun is just a threat that must be answered immediately and usually generates a staggering amount of card advantage, even in the event that it dies immediately.
- Due to the large amount of draw spells the deck utilizes, you see well over 30 cards in a game of reasonable length, meaning it's easy to rely on a given gameplan from game to game.
- While Izzet Drakes does a great job of getting ahead and staying ahead, the deck struggles to play from behind. Goblin Electromancer is fairly fragile, and savvy opponents will know to kill the Goblin on sight, especially if they've ever been on the receiving end of a turn-3 spell chain that returned multiple Arclight Phoenixes. Without the mana reduction engine, it makes it difficult to catch up at times.
- If Arclight Phoenix feels like hanging out in the bottom half of your library instead of the top half, the deck's power level flattens considerably.
- While this weakness is technically avoidable, the deck ends up drawing a good amount of air sometimes, and failing to properly time your draw spells can lead to awkward draws and boardstates that quickly become difficult to crawl out of.
Conclusion: Izzet Drakes is an R&D masterpiece that is both incredibly fun to play and very powerful. The deck is a little less straightforward than some of its competitors in the format, and has a reasonable learning curve if you want to get the most mileage out of the deck, but the juice is well worth the squeeze.
Jeskai has felt like the silent killer of this Standard format. Overshadowed by all of the talk of Golgari Midrange and Izzet Drakes, Jeskai Control has been the winning deck of two of this Standard format's Grand Prix, with both lists utilizing very different core gameplans. Eli Kassis took down Grand Prix New Jersey with a build utilizing Azor's Gateway to cast enormous, game-ending Expansion//Explosions, while Adrian Sullivan used Treasure Map to help cast Niv-Mizzet, Parun ahead of schedule. The crossover between the two decks is Teferi, Hero of Dominaria and Deafening Clarion, and lists frequently max out at four copies due to how well they are positioned in the metagame.
- Most of the current builds of Jeskai, like Adrian Sullivan's Grand Prix-winning list, utilize Niv-Mizzet as its win condition. Gerry Thompson did a good job of explaining why this is a good thing.
- The combination of Niv Mizzet, along with Teferi, gives you the best end game in the format. As long as you don't stumble, it quickly becomes easy to bury your opponent in cards. Curving Teferi into Niv-Mizzet is backbreaking.
- Deafening Clarion is one of the best cards in the deck because it lines up so well against the rest of the format. It not only sweeps up most of the creatures the top tier decks are playing but the ability to give something like Crackling Drake or Niv-Mizzet, Parun lifelink to crawl back from a low life total is incredible.
- Mana, mana, mana. Jeskai Control is essentially the only three-color deck in the format, and some of the color requirements are quite heavy. It isn't infrequent that one of your first six land drops is one of the few basic Plains that the deck plays, which makes casting Niv-Mizzet on time an issue.
- Some creatures exist in the format that prey on what Jeskai does best. Adanto Vanguard can be very difficult to deal with, as well as History of Benalia, as they can quickly overwhelm Deafening Clarion and require more unique answers (like Seal Away) to deal with.
- The power level of Niv-Mizzet, Parun, at this stage, is very well known. Well prepared opponents have a slew of answers to cleanly deal with the creature and can usually add additional copies to their deck, such as:
This makes it important moving forward to not completely lean on Niv-Mizzet alone to win games, and it gives the deck a target of sorts placed on its head in that regard.
Conclusion: Jeskai's strong performance comes from the fact the deck has an incredibly powerful suite of tools at its disposal to tackle any metagame it wants to. Combined with the fact that it gets to play a high amount of copies of the best creature in Standard, it makes for a powerful option that gives you lots of opportunities to outplay your opponents, draw lots of cards, and win longer, drawn out games.
The Boros Aggro decks in this Standard format, much like many of the other top decks, have come in all shapes and sizes. At Pro Tour Guilds of Ravnica, we saw a variety of different builds, such as LSV's version designed to win the mirror with Ajani's Pridemate and builds like the version above that leaned on Heroic Reinforcements to end games with an enormous battlefield of "anthem-ed" creatures. Regardless of the builds, the core of the deck and its power comes from cards like Legion's Landing, Venerated Loxodon, and History of Benalia--all cards that do a ton of heavy lifting on their own to help you win games.
- It's fast. Boros Aggro is the premier aggro deck of the format as it stands. This is in part due to the recent decline in Goblin Chainwhirler and Mono-Red Aggro lists falling out of favor. This deck does a good job of burying your opponents in threats that only a sweeper can realistically handle.
- If Niv-Mizzet, Parun is the best creature in Standard, I'd like to think Adanto Vanguard is not too far behind. This card is an enormous headache for any deck trying to use damage or destroy-based removal to deal with it, and has the ability to win games almost completely on its own if left unchecked.
- The sideboard or "pivot" plan that the deck has access to is unique enough to overcome additional sweepers post-board. Ajani, Adversary of Tyrants, Experimental Frenzy, and Banefire, along with a flipped Legion's Landing, go a long way towards rebuilding a boardstate in the face of Deafening Clarions, Ritual of Soots, and Cleansing Novas.
- Poor lategame. The deck is full of 2/1s and 1/1s for one mana, and if your opponent is able to stave off your initial assault, it is nearly impossible to crawl back into a game where your opponent resolves Niv-Mizzet and kills every creature you topdeck in the mid to lategame. This becomes less of a problem postboard, but is still an issue.
- They utilize a lot of enchantments to solve a lot of their problems, primarily Conclave Tribunal. Legion's Landing, Baffling End, Experimental Frenzy, and History of Benalia create a density of enchantments high enough that opponents are likely to note it. For example, Jeskai Control typically brings in Invoke the Divine, since it can be a blowout to destroy a Conclave Tribunal, exiling their Niv-Mizzet and eating a creature in combat.
- Weakness to sweepers. Outside of Adanto Vanguard, the deck can struggle recovering. If your first three plays of the game are three one-drops with the hope of flipping Legion's Landing on turn 3 and your opponent casts Deafening Clarion, you are left with only a few cards in hand and end up drastically far behind.
Conclusion: Boros Aggro is the leanest and meanest deck in the format, and its best draws give little wiggle room for an opponent to stumble. The power level of a majority of the deck is very, very low but is backed up by some of the best cards in Standard to help the deck cross the finish line.
4. The Tier 1.5/2 strategies (Mono-Red Aggro, Selesnya Tokens, Mono-Blue Tempo, and Boros Angels) are still strong enough that you should also consider them, though slightly less.
The following decks have all been waiting in the wings for their time in this Standard format, but it is safe to say that, at this point, they aren't a big enough part of the winner's metagame to definitively call them tier 1. That being said, the decks are all still powerful enough that is it likely you will encounter them in some number. Be sure to analyze the following decks and understand what they do best:
- 4 Thorn Lieutenant
- 3 Emmara, Soul of the Accord
- 1 Lyra Dawnbringer
- 2 Shalai, Voice of Plenty
- 3 Trostani Discordant
- 4 Fanatical Firebrand
- 4 Ghitu Lavarunner
- 4 Goblin Chainwhirler
- 2 Rekindling Phoenix
- 4 Runaway Steam-Kin
- 4 Viashino Pyromancer
- 22 Mountain
- 20 Island
- 4 Adanto Vanguard
- 4 Rekindling Phoenix
- 4 Resplendent Angel
- 4 Tocatli Honor Guard
- 3 Aurelia, Exemplar of Justice
- 3 Lyra Dawnbringer
5. Have a gameplan against the best creature in Standard: Niv- Mizzet, Parun.
Many of the writers on this website in the last few weeks have spent a good amount of time talking about how powerful Niv-Mizzet is, and I've talked at length about the card multiple times throughout this article thus far. At this point, however, I wanted to hammer home the importance of not bringing a list to the SCG Invitational that is cold to this card. I might be entering into hot take territory here with this, but Niv-Mizzet reminds me a lot of another six-mana threat that dominated Standard a few years back that usually couldn't be beaten if its controller untapped with it:
Have a plan. Look for answers that aren't instants and sorceries to deal with Niv if possible.
Do not come to this tournament without a plan for Niv-Mizzet, Parun. Period.
Last week , I covered the pillars of the Modern format and its current top contenders to help prepare you for SCG Baltimore. Lucky for you, Modern's metagame moves at a glacially slow pace, so everything in that article still applies. Now that you have a better idea on how to tackle the Standard metagame for the Invitational, go give that a look to get a quick refresh.
Sound off on the comments which two decks you plan to register for the Invitational below. As for me, I'll probably end up scrambling to pick from one of four decks in each format the night before the event, like I always do.
Will you be the next Invitational Champion?