The entirety of Season One of the 2019 SCG Tour® is coming to a thrilling conclusion this week. The main event kicks off this Friday, wrapping up with the crowning of a new Invitational champion on Sunday, who will be walking away with their own custom token and a hefty chunk of the $100,000 prize pool ($20,000 of it, to be exact!).
As is always the case, the Invitational features a dual-format structure. Players competing in the Invitational on Friday will play four rounds of Standard, followed by four rounds of Modern, and will repeat this process should they make the second day of competition. With double the formats comes double the preparation necessary to make sure your deck choices are up to snuff. This is magnified even further because the competition will be much stiffer than at your typical SCG Tour® event.
I personally took the week off to give myself what I hope to be more than ample time to prepare my decks. Given this isn't feasible for some, I've taken the liberty of compiling the Top 5 decks for both Modern and Standard that I expect to face at the Invitational for you all and provide some analysis on their strengths and weaknesses. Let's take a look!
#5: Simic Mass Manipulation
The Simic Mass Manipulation deck, initially popularized by Sam Black, has found itself to be a mainstay of this Standard format. It took a while, but players have finally started to tap into the potential of Nissa, Who Shakes the World, a card that didn't see too much play in the early stages of War of the Spark Standard. Her ability to create threats that help pressure opposing planeswalkers (of which there are many these days) and provide an insurmountable mana advantage makes her an integral piece of any ramp shell. As the deck name implies, this particular list utilizes Mass Manipulation as one of its big mana payoffs, as well as Hydroid Krasis and Entrancing Melody.
- Comes in Simic and Bant flavors. The white splash is usually for cards like Teferi, Time Raveler; Shalai, Voice of Plenty; and Deputy of Detention.
- Nissa, Who Shakes the World is the primary engine of the deck. It must be dealt with quickly and at all costs, or you will quickly become buried in any midrange / attrition game.
- Players have begun to play counters to the Control Magic effects this deck utilizes, such as Trostani Discordant, as the end step triggered ability allows players to claim back what is theirs.
- This deck can be soft to Mono-Red Aggro, as it can take a little while to get off the ground if the mana-producing creatures are dealt with too quickly. Llanowar Elves and Paradise Druid having one toughness makes them particularly soft to Goblin Chainwhirler.
- Conversely, this deck excels against any midrange mirror, making it a great option if a field of planeswalker-heavy decks is expected.
#4: Gruul Aggro
- 4 Growth-Chamber Guardian
- 4 Gruul Spellbreaker
- 4 Legion Warboss
- 4 Llanowar Elves
- 4 Rekindling Phoenix
- 3 Skarrgan Hellkite
Gruul Aggro's rise in recent weeks is largely in part due to a very solid Mono-Red Aggro matchup. This fact, combined with having its own explosive draws, lets you punish slower, planeswalker-centric decks by utilizing a heavy amount of creatures with haste and/or riot.
- Excels against Mono-Red, making it a solid choice if this is the expected most played deck.
- Gruul Spellbreaker, Legion Warboss, and Skarrgan Hellkite are nightmares for the Esper and Jeskai Superfriends decks and are typically reasonably capable of pressuring the Command the Dreadhorde decks so that they cannot take over the game with their trademark spell.
- Highly customizable; the deck can be built to be planeswalker-centric with Sarkhan the Masterless, or more creature-centric like the build above.
- Can struggle against Nexus of Fate decks. The presumption is that this deck is no longer worth preparing for in this Standard format, though it's still played in some capacity. Consider cards like Cindervines if you want to shore up this matchup.
#3: Esper / Jeskai Superfriends
- 2 Karn, Scion of Urza
- 4 Narset, Parter of Veils
- 3 Saheeli, Sublime Artificer
- 4 Sarkhan the Masterless
- 1 Teferi, Hero of Dominaria
- 4 Teferi, Time Raveler
- 2 Dovin, Hand of Control
- 3 Kasmina, Enigmatic Mentor
- 1 Liliana, Dreadhorde General
- 4 Narset, Parter of Veils
- 4 Teferi, Hero of Dominaria
- 4 Teferi, Time Raveler
- 1 Ugin, the Ineffable
I have lumped the Jeskai and Esper Superfriends decks together, as while they are obviously quite different in what spells they utilize to carry out their strategy, this strategy overlaps with both decks into being about controlling the battlefield until the planeswalkers dominate the game.
- Esper is typically favored over Jeskai in the head-to-head. A big reason for this is the presence of The Elderspell in the Esper lists.
- Both decks typically struggle against the Command the Dreadhorde decks, as they often have a hard time with those decks going over the top. Jeskai's best route to victory is a quick aggressive kill via Sarkhan the Masterless, and the Esper decks have to try to cheese out a win via The Elderspell plus Teferi, Hero of Dominaria combo kill, which is not routinely feasible.
- Both lists have reasonable tools to beat Mono-Red Aggro; Esper utilizes a high number of Oath of Kaya to keep their life total propped up while answering key problematic permanents, while Jeskai can usually turn the tide via Sarkhan to out-race Red.
#2: Four-Color Dreadhorde
- 4 Jadelight Ranger
- 4 Merfolk Branchwalker
- 3 Paradise Druid
- 4 Wildgrowth Walker
- 1 Massacre Girl
- 1 Trostani Discordant
- 2 Sorin, Vengeful Bloodlord
- 4 Tamiyo, Collector of Tales
- 1 Teferi, Hero of Dominaria
- 4 Teferi, Time Raveler
- 2 Vraska, Golgari Queen
Ever since SCG Syracuse, the Standard metagame (sans Mono-Red) has been focused on going over the top of every other deck, and the Command the Dreadhorde decks are the best at it. The constant exchange of resources, plus lifegain from cards like Wildgrowth Walker, creates a scenario almost impossible to outgrind for most opposing decks, given that Command the Dreadhorde intrinsically favors the player casting the card in any game where there's a constant trade of resources.
- This deck boasts the best end-game in the format, thanks to its namesake card.
- Versions / color counts vary; Sultai and Five-Color versions complement the most popular Four-Color version on occasion.
- The Five-Color version usually features Nicol-Bolas, Dragon God, and aims to combo kill with The Elderspell.
- The Wildgrowth Walker explore package generates the lifegain necessary to fully utilize the power of Command the Dreadhorde. The creature must die on sight if possible, as it frequently threatens to become a far too difficult to handle threat if left unchecked for even a turn.
#1: Mono-Red Aggro
- 4 Fanatical Firebrand
- 4 Ghitu Lavarunner
- 4 Goblin Chainwhirler
- 4 Runaway Steam-Kin
- 4 Viashino Pyromancer
- 20 Mountain
The boogeyman of this Standard format, and the deck that demands the most respect at all times in deckbuilding. This statement will likely remain true for the remainder of this Standard format, as the early aggression combined with a positively busted endgame fueled by Experimental Frenzy and Chandra, Fire Artisan creates quite a handful for just about any deck in the format.
- The premier aggro deck of the format, overshadowing both Gruul and Azorius Aggro.
- It's also the most popular deck in the format, so you should expect to play against this deck on average more than the others.
- Having a plan for both the early aggression and Chandra plus Experimental Frenzy is likely difficult. Answer cards for either of these four-drops usually don't answer the other (see: Mortify and Vraska's Contempt), leading to scenarios where you can be caught without the right answer.
- This deck is the litmus test of Standard; if your deck can't beat Mono-Red consistently, don't bother playing it.
Modern's top tier is arguably more solidified than Standard's, which is quite the bizarre statement given the nature of Modern. However, the Top 5 decks I am about to cover have proven themselves to be quite a bit above the rest in terms of power, and you would be foolish to not select one of these decks to play at the Invitational if your intent is to win in Modern as much as possible.
#5: Azorius Control
The historically made-fun-of Celestial Colonnade decks in Modern received quite a boost in War of the Spark,thanks to powerful planeswalkers that shored up some of their biggest weaknesses. While the deck can still struggle against some of the more obscure decks that pop up here and there in the Modern format, the deck has more than enough tools to stand toe-to-toe with other Tier 1 strategies.
- While Azorius Control has been a mainstay of Modern for some time, this is likely the most powerful and best-positioned the deck has ever been.
- The new additions of Teferi, Time Raveler and Narset, Parter of Veils have changed the dynamic of this deck greatly, providing a more proactive approach in the early-game that puts opponents under pressure to answer them.
- A notable change is the reversion from playing Terminus to playing four-mana Wrath effects like Supreme Verdict. These are usually diversified somewhat into Day of Judgment and Wrath of God to create counterplay against Meddling Mage from the Humans deck.
#4: Mono-Green Tron
While the deck hasn't quite been making waves in the results category in War of the Spark season, Mono-Green Tron had a lot to gain with the addition of Karn, the Great Creator. The new artifact-Wish sideboard engine that some Tron decks have been employing for the last month creates a new angle of attack for the deck, including a Turn 4 combo kill of sorts in tandem with Mycosynth Lattice. While there aren't a lot of midrange decks to feast on at the moment, Tron is still a very powerful, linear option if your primary goal is to try to simply overpower your opponents every game.
- Karn, the Great Creator gave the deck a new angle of attack by allowing it to tutor up powerful artifacts for any given situation, like Ensnaring Bridge, Walking Ballista, Chalice of the Void, and most importantly Mycosynth Lattice, which works with Karn to effectively Armageddon your opponent so long as both remain on the battlefield.
- The deck suffers against some of the faster aggro and combo decks in the format, like Infect, Burn, Storm, and TitanShift, though these decks have a much smaller metagame share than in the past.
- On the flip side, it boasts a favorable Izzet Phoenix matchup, has the tools to keep Dredge in check via Ensnaring Bridge and cards like Relic of Progenitus, can outrace Humans in most cases, and can usually overpower Azorius Control, making it a solid option against the other top decks.
#3: Izzet Phoenix
Izzet Phoenix was, not too long ago, the best deck in Modern by a sizeable margin. Modern's ability to adjust to dominant strategies has since brought this deck down to being just another competitive option. This deck remains one of the best options in the format; hence its placement on this list, as the deck is still capable of blisteringly fast kills via Thing in the Ice and Arclight Phoenix, while also threatening a combo kill via Pyromancer Ascension. These two angles of attack, complemented by two new additions to the deck in Saheeli, Sublime Artificer and Finale of Promise, make the deck very resilient against a lot of the hate thrown its way.
- Uses Thing in the Ice to help control the battlefield and present a very fast clock.
- Arclight Phoenix recursion, planeswalkers and Crackling Drake all give the deck the ability to grind into the late stages of the game.
- Struggles against just about any flavor of big mana deck, as they typically demand you have your fastest goldfish kill (Thing in the Ice transforming on Turn 3 is usually a must to stand a chance here).
- Finale of Promise gives the deck the ability to return Arclight Phoenixes on its own, making it a solid topdeck in games that have gone longer. It does however interact poorly with Teferi, Time Raveler, so keep this in mind if you are playing against a deck using this planeswalker.
The most recent Open-winning deck and most powerful graveyard deck in the format by a reasonable margin, Dredge did what it does best: win a tournament when no one's gunning to beat it. Graveyard hate seemed to be on the downswing heading into SCG Louisville and Oliver Tomajko saw his opportunity and took it. Heading into the Season One Invitational, there may be a slight uptick in graveyard hate, though it is extremely doubtful it would be enough to push Dredge out of being a Top 5 choice for the event. Any Dredge player worth their salt knows how to beat a Leyline of the Void, and if you can do that, there's no reason you shouldn't keep playing this deck.
- Hard to interact with in most Game 1s in the format, usually making it only a requirement to win one of two sideboarded games to take any given match.
- Creeping Chill gives the deck an almost impossible-to-race clock, making any aggro deck an automatic dog in most cases. The card itself is one of the biggest reasons Burn has dropped off in popularity in recent months.
- Lists have begun to utilize Blast Zone, allowing the deck to deal with problematic permanents repeatedly thanks to being able to recur itself with Life from the Loam.
- Again, like some of the other decks listed so far, Dredge can struggle against more combo-style decks in Modern, which are thankfully kept in check by Humans, making them an overall non-issue.
- 4 Champion of the Parish
- 2 Kessig Malcontents
- 3 Kitesail Freebooter
- 4 Mantis Rider
- 4 Meddling Mage
- 4 Noble Hierarch
- 4 Phantasmal Image
- 4 Reflector Mage
- 4 Thalia's Lieutenant
- 4 Thalia, Guardian of Thraben
Humans continues to perform exceptionally well against the field, having only Dredge as the one matchup it consistently struggles against. The list above features a fairly experimental sideboard plan aiming to actually try to beat Dredge, as it is the only top deck in the format I feel that Humans currently cannot consistently beat six out of ten times. The hope here is that losing those sideboard slots to Leyline of the Void that would shore up other matchups doesn't cost too many percentage points there.
Looking at the rest of the field, a resurgence in Azorius Control, particularly with lists moving away from Terminus, makes the deck much softer to Humans than was true in the past, though the deck does deserve some respect, which explains my suggested inclusions of Sin Collector and Gaddock Teeg. Control decks are popular at Invitationals, so I have concluded it would be foolish to ignore it. Kessig Malcontents in the maindeck helps the deck more consistently present Turn 4 lethal, something important in the Tron matchup. Izzet Phoenix went from unfavorable to extremely favorable once Humans figured out how to consistently keep Thing in the Ice from transforming.
- Modern's best aggro deck by a reasonable margin, thanks to featuring a very fast goldfish kill while boasting a boatload of disruption.
- Solid against the other top four decks in Modern save for Dredge, though it remains to be seen if an aggressive sideboard plan featuring graveyard hate is worthwhile to win back percentage points.
- For the Invitational, it makes sense to be slightly more aggressive, utilizing a card like Kessig Malcontents to present lethal more quickly than average.
- Other solid three-drop flex slot options include Thalia, Heretic Cathar or possibly trying Deputy of Detention in the maindeck.
The above guide should provide you with enough information to kick off your testing for each format. In a nutshell, I'd recommend playing Humans and Mono-Red Aggro at the Season One Invitational at SCG CON Summer if your time to prepare for this event is short and you're looking for the absolute safest options, but as always, you should play what you know best.
It is important to remember that you only need to a boast a slightly higher than average record in each format to make the elimination rounds of Invitationals. A 12-4 record (or thereabouts) is typically good enough, meaning you only need to play a deck that can secure you a 6-2 or better record in each format. With that in mind, I would recommend staying within your comfort zone and playing something you know you'll pilot well over trying to metagame too strongly.
Regardless, I sincerely wish all first time and returning Invitational participants the best of luck this weekend. The race to the 2019 Players' Championship is already almost halfway over, and after this coming weekend, we will know a few more of the players who will be joining Joe Lossett at the end of the year.
Will you be one of them?