The time has finally arrived, and it is a well-expected time! Scourge is finally legal, and Standard as we know it will have to change and adapt to the new power cards that have been released by our fellows at Wizards. It's a time for deck deconstruction and tweaking; now, everyone has to sit down and think how much the new set will affect Standard, what new archetypes will emerge, how the existing archetypes can improve, and what archetypes (if any) are no longer viable.
Since the introduction of Onslaught, a very strong archetype became recognized by anyone who spent some time with the cards; I am talking about the Astral Slide/Lightning Rift interaction and the tremendous control it could have over the, prominent at the time, creature-based decks like U/G Madness, Sligh and R/G Beatdown. We're talking about a control deck that features creature removal, mass removal and tremendous card advantage when the aforementioned enchantments are in the game. This deck has emerged, passed through millions of analyses, and taken over a Pro Tour.
I've been playing Slide even before Pro Tour: Venice, starting almost when I realized the interaction between Astral Slide and Cartographer. The deck I started building and have been playing ever since is a W/R Slide deck with a splash of green for the immense possibilities it offers against many decks. Here is my last decklist, just before Scourge gets in:
2 Windswept Heath
2 Wooded Foothills
2 Nantuko Monastery
4 Secluded Steppe
4 Forgotten Cave
4 Tranquil Thicket
4 Astral Slide
4 Lightning Rift
4 Slice and Dice
4 Renewed Faith
3 Krosan Tusker
3 Wrath of God
3 Exalted Angel
2 Teroh's Faithful
2 Burning Wish
This makes us a deck with twenty-eight lands, which is highly consistent given the three colors and the twelve lands that have this bad habit of coming into play tapped. On the other hand it is also highly aggressive, since with twenty-four cyclers and the Cartographer recursion, the Lightning Rift is always guaranteed to have fuel.
A small card analysis on some of the cards that I consider vital:
The two Burning Wishes add unmatched versatility, especially in the mirror where you have the opportunity of Wishing for Cleansing Meditation thus sealing the game, and against Mono-Black where Morningtide is indispensable. What's more, the Pillage provides maindeck artifact destruction (mainly used for Mirari) and the fourth Wrath of God, if the three maindecked don't show up.
The Nantuko Monasteries are a game themselves, since a 4/4 First Strike after a Wrath of God is game-ending most of the time - and as for threshold? We're talking about the deck that has the least trouble reaching it.
The Boils in the Sideboard are the only cards that give you a shot against Psychatog and Cunning Wake, and are also effective against U/G - although that game should be yours anyway.
Now, after this small analysis, let me get to the last pre-Scourge standard tournament I attended, in which the deck made me happy and showed its potential in the current metagame.
The tournament was held at Kaissa, Athens, the largest game store in the city, and had no less than forty people when it started - a big number for an FNM Standard. Having arrived almost an hour earlier, I had the chance to inspect the field and check out what kinds of decks were around. Within half an hour I had counted no less than seven Elf decks, which made me switch the Gerrard's Wisdom in my sideboard for a Pyroclasm, just in case...
(I didn't need it for a second, since the four Slice and Dice and the Wraths proved more than enough to handle the pointy-eared weenies).
I knew the elf deck very well, since I had built it and playtested against it after an article on StarCityGames by John Wayne Davis. It's a very fun deck to play since it can reliably produce fourth-turn kills, although its vulnerability to a single, cycled Slice and Dice on the third turn is discouraging. I had given my Elf deck to a friend of mine, since his Zombie deck was not ready yet and he definitely wanted to play the last pre-Scourge tournament - so we tweaked the Elf Deck a little by adding four Hurricanes in the Sideboard! And the most impressive part is that it actually won games like this when he was ahead in life and played a Hurricane for fifteen to end the game. I see potential there...
Match 1: George Antonopoulos, Elves
The first match of the day was rather easy; I didn't have any Slice and Dices at the beginning, but I didn't need them anyway. The guy was running Kamahl, Fist of Krosa maindeck which would give him the lead if it stayed in game for more than one main phase - but I removed it with Astral Slide each time, not giving him the chance to activate it or do any tricks against my Wrath of God (making my lands into creatures would indeed be devastating!). The Exalted Angel and the Monasteries won both games, but I was in complete control all the time.
No sideboarding was necessary, I chose to wait and see if he had any Steely Resolves and act accordingly in the third game, but I never saw any.
Games: 2-0, Matches 1-0
Match 2: Spiros Karagiannis, Aqualube (or W/U Slide, or Waterslide)
He was unlucky enough to not have playtested the mirror, whereas I had played more than enough matches versus CounterSlide, putting me ahead in the experience needed to win the game (Thanks, Zoo!).
We both played well in the first game; I had a turn 2 Rift, whereas he had a turn 3 Astral Slide. He got his Teroh's Faithful out first, but at the beginning he forgot to Slide him out each time I cycled a card. When he realized the omission, he already had an Angel and a second Astral Slide out and was at forty-something life, whereas I had my Monasteries and two Rifts and was balancing out the match. He had countered a lot of my stuff including, two of my Slides and an Angel, but at some point I topdecked a Burning Wish. I first attempted to play the Astral Slide I was holding in hand, but he countered - and then I cast Burning Wish for Cleansing Meditation and got rid of his three Astral Slides. (I knew he didn't have another counter by the look on his face during his last draw step.) His next attack wasn't enough to beat me (I was at around twenty due to Renewed Faiths and a Teroh's Faithful of mine), and I played a Wrath of God and an Angel of my own in my next main phase. Game over.
The Slide mirror is a very time-consuming game, so the second game was almost impossible to finish. At some point people came by our table during the extra rounds only to see three Exalted Angels and an Auramancer on the table. No one could finish the game, so we called it a draw and I got my second win.
I must say that the Boils were not very devastating since he had many nonbasic lands, including Adarkar Wastes, but the Ray of Revelation provides tremendous card advantage in the mirror for an extremely low mana cost.
Games 1-0, Matches 2-0
Match 3: Makis Tsiagklis, B/R Land Destruction
This guy had made a quite good choice for the current metagame although the Land Destruction deck is one of the most irritating decks to play against. Never mind, people - 8th edition will bury that deck so enjoy it while you can!
He took the first game although I had made a turn 2 Lightning Rift because he had a Land Destruction spell each turn from 3 to 7, following it up with a Magnivore. A bit difficult to win from that position...
Or the second game, I boarded in 2 Composts and I cast a turn 2 Compost, turn 3 Lightning Rift, turn 4 Burning Wish for Morningtide (I wanted to clean the graveyards so as to make his Magnivores useless) - but I chose to not play Morningtide yet and waited to cycle a Renewed Faith at his end of turn step. He untaps and played Price of Glory, and we had a long debate with the judge on whether or not I could cycle my Renewed Faith in response to the enchantment being played, with both of them saying that I couldn't because he played it quickly without giving me the chance to respond.
It proved that neither him or the judge knew how exactly the stack works, and after asking the shopkeeper (who is a judge himself), I was proven to be right. The Renewed Faith brought another one, and I played the second Compost on my turn, not having seen any Magnivores yet and mistakenly holding on to that Morningtide. Next turn he punishes me by playing Haunting Echoes, catching Krosan Tuskers, Renewed Faiths, and Tranquil Thickets in my graveyard. Luckily, it was not as devastating as it seemed and over the next two turns I made an Astral Slide and a morphed Exalted Angel, which I was careful enough to slide out at the end of each of my turns so as to prevent him from using his Innocent Bloods and Chainer's Edicts. I won this one just five minutes before the end of time.
He had the bad habit of pile shuffling his deck twice before each game, so the next five minutes were spent shuffling his deck. Suffice it to say that he got out a turn 4 Braids, Cabal Minion and I didn't have mana to cycle her out, so I had to sacrifice a land during my upkeep - but in his next upkeep, he sacrificed her and played a Magnivore. The round was called and the outcome was an unfortunate draw.
Games 1-1, Matches 2-0-1
Match 4: Charidimos Chalkiadakis, Elves
This is my friend Harry, with my elf deck. He was unfortunate enough to get paired with me. I still had a serious shot for the prizes so I couldn't give him a draw, but I promised to give him some boosters if I won the tournament. We played it out and he was also unfortunate enough to see me cycle a Slice and Dice on turn 3. Both games.
He didn't have a chance, so we just had a break.
Games 2-0, Matches 3-0-1
And we went to the last round, with me still having a chance for second place; there were two other people with 4-0 and another one with 3-0-1.
Match 5: Dimitris Petridis, Cunning Wake
Bah! I have a chance to get second place and my last match is the hardest one I could get. Of course, he was the only one playing Wake that day.
I didn't know that - and on top of it, I mulliganed my first no-land hand. The next six cards I draw contain only one mountain, but also an Astral Slide, Lightning Rift, Exalted Angel and a Wrath of God. Thinking of the small odds of not drawing a land from my twenty-eight land deck, I mistakenly decide to keep it - and that's exactly what happens. I don't draw a land for the next five turns. I play the mountain, discard the Exalted Angel and the Wrath of God, seeing only plains and islands on his side of the table. I concede game one on the sixth round, sure enough he is playing Wake and still happy when I hear him saying that he still doesn't know what I'm playing. I quickly side in the boils, Ray of Revelation, and Auramancers and hope for the best.
Game two I lay a turn 2 Rift and I follow up in the next turns with Exalted Angel, Nantuko Monasteries and the rest my deck has to offer. He can only Cunning Wish for Ray of Revelation to destroy the enchantments he cannot counter, and get Chastise for the Exalted Angel and Nantuko Monastery.... And that's exactly what he does, but it is not enough. I Boil three of his Islands and after a while he concedes so as to have some time to play the third game.
Game 3 my draws are not so decent and I also have the disadvantage of playing against a counter-heavy deck with no counters myself. He makes a turn 5 Mirari's Wake, and my only option is to Wish for Cleansing Meditation to take it out since I haven't drawn any Rays yet. Fortunately, he didn't have another Mirari's Wake for the rest of the game, but he played Mirari a couple of turns after. My Slides and Rifts either got countered or destroyed by Ray of Revelation, and Mirari got him to an endless array of Wishing for his answers in his sideboard. He was careless enough to maindeck the Chastise for the last game, so he didn't have that as an answer, but he didn't seem to need it as he was in control. What's more, my Boils weren't showing up and I only had an Auramancer and a Monastery in play to exercise some pressure and enchantment recursion. Time passed and people came around our table, since we were the only ones still playing. That included the judge so we couldn't arrange for a concession, and the game ended in a draw after the extra rounds just when he was starting to breed elephant tokens. A very good game.
Games 1-1, Matches 3-0-2
Thus, the Astral Slide deck passed through the grinder undefeated and I finished 7th , just in place for a 1-booster prize.
I strongly believe that Scourge will only make this deck stronger. Plenty of candidates exist for maindeck and sideboard. I have already made the changes and have started playtesting them so as to be sure that it still has the edge against creature-based decks and a more than decent shot against control. My current changes have as follows:
2 Gilded Light
I have yet to playtest against the Goblin deck, which may have become too fast for even Slide to handle. If I find a problem, I will consider the Wing Shards solution and move a Gilded Light in the sideboard in place of the third Boil. I don't consider Eternal Dragon as a viable choice given the current build, since it is too mana-intensive and I don't think that it is necessary given the three Exalted Angels and two Nantuko Monasteries - which, I repeat, are indispensable.
As for the much-dreaded Stabilizer I still believe that no one will maindeck it - and in the second game, one Break Asunder main and the second as a Wish target give you the odds against it. Should it be used extensively by Zombies and Goblins, we can replace one Ray of Revelation for a Naturalize and maindeck it in the second game. I will be back with the results of the extensive playtesting, in an effort to cover Slide as it evolves through the sets.
May you never need to hold that thought, no matter what Pemmin says.