A lot has happened during my two-week hiatus. I've flown to faraway lands, packed up my belongings and moved to Roanoke, and two of Standard's hottest cards have been banned. Where to start?
My trip to Japan for PT Nagoya didn't quite go as planned. We had been testing for weeks, constantly finding that Tempered Steel was the best aggro deck, and most of the control decks just couldn't handle it. We tried over and over again to beat it, only to realize too late that no one else could really beat it either. When LSV picks up an aggro deck at a Pro Tour and you're not playing the same deck, you're probably in trouble.
We ended up choosing a sub-par B/R Control deck that looked like a Big Red deck with some splashes, which felt really good in testing, but a few alterations left our mana in relatively bad shape, and a lot of our losses came from not having enough black mana, or lands in general. I ended up 3-2 in the Constructed portion of Day 1 and continued my "okay" streak to finish 5-3 and make Day 2. My second day started off okay, and I was 8-4 at one point, but from there I continued to lose three Constructed matches in a row, winning my last round to finish 9-7. I made Top 100, which didn't yield any prize money but scored me an extra pro point, pushing me to eight this season.
After 24 hours of travel, from waking up in Nagoya to hitting my bed at home, Kali and I slept for what seemed like forever. After waking at around 2 am, we went to go get breakfast at Waffle House, came home, and finished packing all of our stuff for the big move.
For those of you who don't know, Kali recently accepted an offer from StarCityGames.com to come work in Roanoke as one of their event coordinators. To say this was her dream job would be an understatement. After packing all our stuff, a bunch of our friends packed into our almost-empty apartment for one last hurrah. Catch Phrase was passed around for hours, low stakes wagering occurring in the background between friends who would rarely see each other again. Games of Commander fired up later on, and I joined in with a friend's Rasputin Dreamweaver deck. Suffice it to say that Blightsteel Colossus and Catastrophe on lands were cast in the same turn. We won that one.
After a lot of hunch-punch and Newcastles later, emotions started to run high. It was a solemn, yet heartwarming farewell that I'll never forget, even as intoxicated as I was. It was the first time I've cried in a while, during a game of Commander no less, but I don't regret it one bit. To everyone who was there, and even those who weren't, I love you guys. I'll do my best to visit often and come see everyone, and I appreciate your friendship and the happiness you've brought me and Kali.
All right, well I know you guys don't care to read too much about my personal life (though a bit splashed in to show I'm human is always refreshing). I know what you guys really came for.
I can completely agree with the banning of Stoneforge Mystic. They really ate their own shoes by banning a card they just put into an event deck, but it was necessary, and I'm really glad they have the gall to admit mistakes. Stoneforge Mystic was too good and allowed you to cheat on mana; tutor effects for cards are too good when they are played for less than their cost. Batterskull was the main culprit, but Stoneforge Mystic was probably too good after the printing of Sword of Feast and Famine to be honest. While I loved playing Caw Blade, I'm glad it's gone. It was easily one of the most dominant decks in history for the format it was in; something had to be done. Hopefully the banning of this card will open up a slew of viable decks for the next few months.
While I agree wholeheartedly with the banning of Stoneforge Mystic, I honestly can't disagree more with the banning of Jace, the Mind Sculptor. They printed Jace to be a powerhouse, making him the face of Worldwake in the process. They knew he'd be amazing and probably bring blue back as the frontrunner color in Standard, seeing as they'd previously been trying to "water down" the power level of blue.
This card would bring about the resurgence of control, and it did. The fact that strong players always chose to play with Jace should be a good thing. He is amazing if left unchecked, but plenty of planeswalkers will end the game if left unmolested for a few turns. I've personally beaten an eight-turn active Jace in Standard because the games come down to more than just raw card advantage. Previously banned cards did something powerful at little cost or little effort. Jace, the Mind Sculptor provides neither of these things, forcing you to make crucial decisions turn after turn, and rewarding strong play.
In the future, I hope they decide to leave cards like this alone. While being their poster child for over a year, Jace has also given players the opportunity to play with exceptionally fun control cards, which is what a lot of people clamor for, casually and competitively.
In the wake of their demise, we have a lot of options. Splinter Twin was left mostly intact, and you have a few ways to go with it. Even during the dominant run of Caw-Blade, Mike Flores performed well with his patented U/R Splinter Twin deck. He was playing a full complement of Jace, the Mind Sculptor to help dig and provide raw card advantage, but with the combo intact, I think it is possible to get around this setback. Here is a revised list:
This list and sideboard are a bit rough, but most lists coming out of the banning will be untuned. I like the concept, and the mana feels so much better than the Grixis Twin list I played a few weeks ago. You have an insane Valakut matchup, which is sure to make a comeback. With the control decks temporarily out of the picture, you can be sure that aggro decks will make a comeback, hence the maindeck Pyroclasms. Combust should probably be somewhere in the sideboard, and I'll be trying to make room for them soon.
The Splinter Twin decks are fine, but I just don't know how good they'll be when facing down a Vampire deck with approximately a million spot removal spells and discard effects. In my last Standard event, I started off 6-0 with a Grixis version, losing only to Caw-Blade decks in the last three rounds. With those out of the picture, only time will tell if Splinter Twin is as good as everyone thinks it is.
Speaking of Valakut decks, Primeval Titan shot up in price right after they announced the bannings earlier this week. While some people may have forgotten how good Valakut was, I haven't, and I'll probably be battling with it over the next few weeks as long as I know how to shore up my Splinter Twin matchup. You don't have the luxury to maindeck Nature's Claim, since no one is playing Stoneforge Mystic anymore, which will make you undeniably vulnerable to Splinter Twin in the first game. When M12 comes out, you'll have access to Rampant Growth again, which will only make the deck stronger.
Here is my current list for Valakut:
Again, this list is rough, but I think it's pretty strong. I'm uncertain on the numbers for the accelerants, but I still think people will be playing Spell Pierce in force in Splinter Twin decks, making Harrow a liability. It still gives you the best chance to combo-kill your opponent, so it gets the extra slot over the third Cultivate. I've left Lotus Cobra out of the list intentionally, since most people will be playing spot removal like Lightning Bolt to help with the inevitable onslaught of creature decks.
When Rampant Growth becomes legal, this deck is surely going to become even better, which is saying a lot since it is already at Tier 1. Rampant Growth will in turn make Oracle of Mul Daya that much better, giving you another way to jam him into play on turn 3. Now, if only they reprinted Dryad Arbor, the deck would be absurd.
Vampires is a deck that has been doing relatively well over the last few Standard events, and hopefully it will only get better with cheap Batterskulls out of the picture. This list by Matthew Landstrom took down the Standard Open in Indianapolis a few weeks ago, but I'm sure that lists will change to incorporate the absence of Stoneforge Mystic and Jace, the Mind Sculptor.
- 4 Bloodghast
- 4 Gatekeeper of Malakir
- 4 Kalastria Highborn
- 3 Manic Vandal
- 4 Pulse Tracker
- 4 Vampire Lacerator
- 3 Viscera Seer
This deck goes a long way towards crushing creature-based decks. Your aggro side is pretty absurd most of the time, and Kalastria Highborn gives you the ability to Fireball someone out of nowhere with a sacrifice outlet. The suite of removal in the maindeck will probably stay the same, since Dismember and Go for the Throat are strong against Valakut's early creatures and Splinter Twin's combo. Having access to the format's best removal in a world full of creatures can't be bad, and I'm willing to bet that this deck only gets better with time. Crush is likely irrelevant in the sideboard, so you can easily replace that with something like Combust, more Dark Tutelages, or discard spells like Duress.
I'm more of a fan of Act of Aggression in the board now that Splinter Twin is sure to come to the forefront, since it can kill Splinter Twin decks on the spot if they try to combo off. For those of you who don't know how it works:
They cast Splinter Twin targeting Deceiver Exarch. In response, you cast Act of Aggression, stealing the Exarch. The Splinter Twin resolves on the Exarch. During their end step, you make approximately a million creatures that stick around, untap, and attack with for lethal. The triggers from the tokens won't be put on the stack until the next end step, since you activated them during your opponent's end step.
While there are sure to be plenty of aggro decks cropping up over the next few weeks, this is the one I would start with. Not a lot of them can handle a draw featuring multiple Gatekeepers of Malakir. If this deck could be good in a world full of Stoneforge Mystic and Jace, the Mind Sculptor, imagine what it can do with those cards out of the way.
I don't even know where to begin in constructing a control deck without Jace, the Mind Sculptor. I don't even know if it can realistically be done. He's just so good and will be sorely missed. Jace Beleren just can't fill that role and especially so now that aggro decks are sure to repopulate the field. The next few weeks of Standard will be interesting to watch. Hopefully the banning of Jace won't come back and bite Wizards of the Coast in the ass, but we'll see. Without the Blue Man, Primeval Titan might just come out and run wild.
Before I go, I would like to thank everyone again who made my time in Alabama an enjoyable one. My friends and family will be sorely missed, and I can only hope that you guys travel around from tournament to tournament so we get to hang out all the time. I'll do my best to visit when I can, but it is not a short drive. We've already begun the process of meeting and greeting new people here in Roanoke, but I'm not sure if I'll ever actually get over the loss of so many close friends in my life.
For those of you who don't know, I grew up moving between the households of my mother and father in a constant custody battle along with my two siblings. Whenever I had to move, I would always leave a ton of people behind, never to be heard from again. It started to become easier and easier to leave, because I learned to never really get attached to them.
When I started high school in Birmingham, I didn't have to leave anymore. My friends back then are still my friends today, and for that I am truly thankful. To all my friends and family, and to everyone who reads this (and even those who don't), I love you guys. Thanks for making Alabama my home.
strong sad on MOL
P.S. Roll Tide!