Identifying the Enemy
It’s autumn in the Northeast, and that means changing leaves, changing weather, and changing of Standard. Theros is finally legal, and that means an influx of 249 new cards in Standard. And just as importantly, our 896 friends (and enemies) from Innistrad, Dark Ascension, Avacyn Restored, and Magic 2013 are leaving us. So what is a mage to do in a brand new format?
Identify “the enemy.”
Tackling a brand new format means picking out what “level zero” is: the deck that is so obvious in power that it’s going to be played by a large percentage of the room. Once you have a target, you can start molding your game plan to take on the expected metagame.
One of the early favorites is Esper. Sphinx’s Revelation was one of the most powerful cards before rotation, but it was most often played in Flash archetypes that played a more tempo-oriented game. “True Control” wasn’t really playable. But with the exit of many of Esper’s natural predators like Restoration Angel and Thundermaw Hellkite control players are pouncing on the chance to play with their blue, black, and white cards.
“There’s a lot of Esper here,” says 2-time Grand Prix top 8 competitor Mogan Chang. He credits those numbers to one of Theros’ planeswalkers. “People finally realized just how good Ashiok, Nightmare Weaver is. At first, a lot of people were like, ‘it doesn’t protect itself,’ and stopped there… but it’s a three mana planeswalker that goes to five loyalty right away. I remember Jace Beleren; there’s more than one way to protect a planeswalker.”
The tools to protect Ashiok include Far//Away, Azorius Charm, Doom Blade, and Theros’ hot property Thoughtseize backed up by the raw power of Sphinx’s Revelation, Jace, Architect of Thought, and AEtherling are too much for many to resist.
Another early favorite is Selesnya Aggro. Craig Wescoe emerged victorious at Pro Tour: Dragon’s Maze behind the strength of Voice of Resurgence, Loxodon Smiter, and friends, and Theros brings some excellent new toys for the big beaters. Namely, Fleecemane Lion has brought a lot of attention to the archetype. “Even just the threat of Monstrous is good enough,” says StarCityGames.com writer Anthony Lowry, who is playing green and white today. “Often I’ll just leave up five mana for a few turns while attacking for three. Make them make the first move, because I can use Monstrosity in response.”
The fact that the threats of G/W are so hard to answer for an aggro deck make it an extremely popular choice. In addition to the Lion’s potential indestructibility and hexproof, the instant speed threats of Advent of the Wurm and Boon Satyr (or “Boom Satyr,” as Anthony calls it), the regeneration on Experiment One, the two lives of Voice of Resurgence, and hard to deal with permanents like Ajani, Caller of the Pride and Spear of Heliod make the archetype surprisingly resilient.
Another popular choice week one has been red aggro. Mono Red, particularly “Big Red,” is a very popular choice this weekend for a few reasons. Among them, Purphoros, God of the Forge gives red a card they’ve sorely needed in the past: a card that makes the ‘bad’ late game top-decks like Rakdos Cackler and Burning-Tree Emissary good again! Similarly, Fanatic of Mogis has been popping up in the four slot as well. Firedrinker Satyr, aka ‘Jackal Pump,’ gives red another two power one-drop to apply pressure, while both Magma Jet and Lightning Strike slot in nicely alongside Mizzium Mortars to deliver the beats.
One problem that many have with the Mono Red decks is that it has an inherent weakness to the G/W Aggro decks I mentioned earlier. Those Selesnya decks, in turn, are slightly weaker to Esper Control… and Esper, as you might have guessed, traditionally has trouble with quick red decks.
All three of these decks have popped up in big numbers today. Will one of week one “enemies” take the title, or will an unexpected champion arise? Tune in all day at #SCGWOR to find out!