Worlds marked the conclusion of the Pro Tour season, and I generally do not play too much Magic in the lulls between Grand Prix and Pro Tours. But with the Invitational coming up and Standard actually being interesting for once, I have been playing the format a lot on Magic Online. This will probably come as a shock to anyone who knows me, since I kind of hate MODO.
My Worlds was a little bit of a disappointment. I got 35th, which is certainly a fine finish, but missing Top 32 on tiebreakers cost me Level 6. Still, I suppose getting 29 Pro Points in a year is pretty decent.
After practicing the draft format a ton, I managed to still only go 3-3 in Limited. I went 5-1 in Modern with Zoo, and I will probably write an article about that format as the PTQ season approaches. Today I'm going to talk about Standard, where I went 4-2 with G/W Tokens.
My Initial Foray into Standard, aka “Decks that Suck”
Since I'm usually only interested in the format of the next GP/PT, I did not pay much attention to post-Innistrad Standard at first. I was vaguely aware of a Primeval Titan deck called Wolf Run Ramp, and I knew there was a Solar Flare deck that we weren't supposed to call Solar Flare, but that was about it. It turns out this is actually the most interesting Standard format in recent memory, though. There are a lot of viable decks, and none of them are dominant.
Typically when I'm trying to learn a format, I just pick a relatively linear deck and start playing games on MODO. This time I chose U/W Humans. I'm not quite LSV in my love of 2/2s, but I've been known to pilot a white weenie deck from time to time, so I was really hoping for this deck to be good…but it just wasn't.
I had so many games where I got my opponent to around four life before they took control, and I just had no reach to finish them. The deck is certainly capable of very fast starts and can win that way, but it really struggles in the late game. The main thing it has going for it in that department is Moorland Haunt, which is certainly worth the splash both here and in Illusions. I think Illusions is probably the superior deck, and if you want to hear more about it I encourage you to check out Todd Anderson's “My Illusions, Parts 1-7” right here on this very site!
While I was playing Humans, BillyP had been working on U/B Control with Bloodline Keepers, so I decided to give that a try. I thought it was okay, but I often felt like I was winning by the skin of my teeth and could have just as easily been losing. Having to run super-situational cards like Wring Flesh was pretty annoying. You need a way to stop their one-drop, but the card is almost always dead if you draw it past the first turn—nevermind that it essentially does nothing in control mirrors. Black Sun's Zenith was also a somewhat awkward Wrath, since it would sometimes not be enough to kill their creatures, or they would follow up with a single threat like Hero of Bladehold or Mirran Crusader.
This G/W Tokens Deck Seems Pretty Sweet…
I next decided to give G/W Tokens a try. The deck is all mythics and rares—it pretty much has to be good, right? Orrin, Kitt, and I spent the afternoon MODOing on Ben Seck's TV with the deck. I started about 7-0, and after handing the reigns over to them we were still something like 12-2 on the day. It was pretty obvious that some of our wins were pure luck (i.e. topdecked Elesh Norn), but the deck seemed good so I decided jam a bunch of games over the next couple of days and tweak it based on the expected metagame.
The most immediately obvious thing was that the Overruns were not necessary, and were almost always either “win more” or “crap, I have no board to cast this onto.” Also, Gideon is awesome in the deck given that the format was mostly creature and/or burn decks.
The list Pat Price had given me as a starting point had four Blade Splicer, but with the prevalence of Illusions, Splicer wasn't all that impressive. Vapor Snag is essentially a removal spell against it, and if they copy it with Phantasmal Image you are probably in trouble. Similarly, many games were lost by my Hero of Bladehold being copied and Vapor Snagged.
Before I go too much further, I should probably give you the list we played:
- 4 Avacyn's Pilgrim
- 4 Birds of Paradise
- 2 Blade Splicer
- 1 Fiend Hunter
- 2 Geist-Honored Monk
- 3 Hero of Bladehold
- 4 Mirran Crusader
- 2 Mikaeus, the Lunarch
- 2 Thrun, the Last Troll
The main thing people balked at when I showed them the deck was cutting one Hero of Bladehold. Hero is obviously insane, but she dies very easily in this format. I was talking to Dave Shiels the night before the tournament and he said he was always afraid to cast it, and I had to agree I always cast basically any other card first. Hero is susceptible to both spot removal and Vapor Snag, whereas if you cast a planeswalker you only have to worry about counterspells. Even Mirran Crusader at least dodges half the removal, and you aren't dead if they copy it.
Thrun dodges all of these problems, so I wanted to move him into the maindeck. He is of course best against blue decks, but he is also fine against the aggro decks as a roadblock—hexproof is a really stupid ability. The deck already has enough issues with the curve being too high if your mana dork dies, so I went down to three Heroes.
The sideboard is fairly standard, with the only weird thing being Tumble Magnet. We figured Illusions would be popular, and the card seemed awesome against them. I never played against Illusions in the tournament and, hindsight being 20/20, wished they were Creeping Corrosions. Orrin claims he almost suggested a miser's Corrosion in the board, but thought I'd give him crap since Tempered Steel wasn't popular. Oops!
I ended up going 4-2 in Standard. I beat Red, Tempered Steel, U/B Control, and Humans. I lost to Tempered Steel and the crazy Grixis deck with Olivia Voldaren. Grixis seemed nigh-unwinnable and I think I got lucky to beat U/B, but I felt pretty favored against all of the creature decks, since you just go over the top with all of your planeswalkers.
I was relatively happy with the deck for the tournament, and I have still been tweaking it on MODO. I think the main change that needs to be made is to put Elesh Norn in the maindeck. The card is such a game-ending blowout when you tutor for it that I always want access to it. Sure, the card stinks against control, but the format is largely creature decks at the moment and we are talking about a one-of.
What I've currently been piloting on MODO is the above deck with:
Also, with a new sideboard of:
2 Gut Shot
The main purpose of Mikaeus was to give you something to cast on turn 2 if your mana dork died, but with how many Gut Shots and Mortarpods people are playing, he was just dying whenever I cast him. You can wait to cast him until you have more mana, but the deck already has a ton of better drops. I would not be opposed to leaving a miser's copy in, but I wouldn't want two.
I tried the Gut Shots main per Richard Bland's list, but found them to be a little too useless in the matchups where you don't want them. At least Mortarpod can get pumped with Gavony Township, burn your opponent out from low life, kill larger creatures via deathtouch Wolves, etc.
I do still like Gut Shot on the draw, so I have some in the sideboard. There are a lot of one-drops that it is important to kill before their turn 2: Birds/Pilgrim, Champion of the Parish, Stromkirk Noble (or basically any red one-drop to keep them off Stormblood Berserker).
How Will the Metagame Change Post-Worlds?
Well the first question is really, what was the metagame like at Worlds? Thankfully Wizards answered that for us in this very informative article on the Mothership.
The first three were no surprise to me, but Wolf Run and Solar Flare's numbers definitely illustrate how different the MODO metagame can be from the real life one. In two weeks of testing, BillyP and I had combined played against Wolf Run once on MODO, and I think I played against Solar Flare three times tops. While I constantly played against U/B and Humans, they were a tiny part of the field.
The breakout deck of the tournament was Tempered Steel, which we all thought would be good post-rotation and then completely forgot about apparently. As I'm sure is obvious to most of you, this deck will not be good in the coming weeks. It is too easy to hate out via powerful sideboard cards like Ancient Grudge and Creeping Corrosion. Since sideboarding those cards is the knee-jerk reaction, you should build your deck such that you do not take splash damage from the hate. For example, I think Precursor Golem was great in the Grixis deck for the tournament, but in a world of Ancient Grudges and Slagstorms it is probably not what you want to be spending five mana on.
Wolf Run will likely spike in popularity due to its favorable Tempered Steel matchup and Iyanaga's build being good against creature decks in general. Plus, you know, it won Worlds. While I was rooting for Luis in Top 8, from looking at the brackets it was fairly obvious Iyanaga was going to win the tournament. Six of the other decks were white creature decks that Wolf Run is good against, and the lone losable matchup (Mono Red) had to get through two bad matchups of its own to face him.
In these types of situations where there is a breakout deck that is easily hated, the question is usually whether you should play the deck that beats the breakout deck, or should you play the deck that beats that deck?
At Grand Prix Seattle a few years ago, Seismic Swans had won the GP the previous weekend, so everyone was gunning for it by playing Faeries. I figured I'd probably be better off playing B/W Tokens since it beat Faeries. I played Faeries five or six times, Swans zero times, and ended up losing playing for Top 8.
The corollary to B/W Tokens in this case would be a control deck. I really don't expect a lot of people to be playing Tempered Steel, but I do think you will encounter plenty of Wolf Run. I have been playing against it a ton on MODO lately, as opposed to the previous “once ever.”
If you expect people to shy away from Tempered Steel and other white creature decks, you could get really crazy and play Red since it is good against control and seems reasonable against Wolf Run. According to the data in the Wizards article, Red actually loses to Wolf Run, but I don't understand how that could be right. Wolf Run is worse than Valakut in every way, including not having Overgrown Battlement or Obstinate Baloth, and Valakut still lost to Red pretty handily.
Let's Give this Grixis Deck a Whirl
Since I'm firmly in the “No way in hell I'm playing Mono Red in a tournament” camp, I've been exploring control decks lately. Of particular interest to me has been the Grixis deck that Chapin talks about here. I've been known to play an Inferno Titan or two, and the card is very strong right now.
Whenever I play G/W against Wolf Run and they tap six mana, I cross my fingers that it is Primeval Titan or Wurmcoil Engine. If it is one of those guys, I Oblivion Ring it and win. If it is Inferno Titan, I no longer have a board. Because of this, I think Wolf Run is not a very good deck overall, so I'm glad someone came up with another place to play Inferno Titan.
I've been trying various things in the deck on MODO, and here's where I am at right now.
As I said earlier, I don't think you can reasonably play Precursor Golem with artifact hate and control decks with real spot removal on the rise, though the card is very, very good against G/W. Their removal is Fiend Hunter, Garruk, Oblivion Ring, and Mortarpod on a deathtouch Wolf. All of these things only kill one Golem! I was very sad when Sam Black cast the Precursor against me.
I am also not a fan of Liliana of the Veil. I can understand why Solar Flare runs it, since making yourself discard is synergistic in the deck, but I don't think other control decks want it. It's pretty low impact in a world of tokens and Moorland Haunts. BillyP, BenS, and I all independently eschewed the card in the U/B builds we were trying, so that was good enough for me to leave it out of Grixis for the moment.
The other big change was to add more Inferno Titans. Lots of Inferno Titans. Hey, he's why I wanted to play the deck, after all! I started at three, but early in the game you often have to discard win conditions to Forbidden Alchemy while looking for lands or removal.
Tribute to Hunger is for Thrun, which is the card that has been giving me the most issues. Liliana is also an answer, so I could see that argument for keeping her in the deck. But with so much instant card draw, I'd rather not be tapping down on my turn early on. Tribute lets you leave a counter up and negates the damage you took by waiting until end of turn.
Anyway, I've been piloting the deck online and it is pretty much as good as advertised against Illusions, Humans, and G/W, though you do lose the occasional game to all of your lands coming into play tapped. The G/W matchup is closer than I'd thought based on the beating I took at Worlds, since planeswalkers are absurd and you have a have a hard time dealing with them once in play.
The control mirrors seem about even. You are disadvantaged in the number of counterspells you run, but you somewhat make up for that by having a higher threat density to run into their counters while getting one to stick. Olivia is also pretty sweet, since her low mana cost lets you get to the point where you can present a threat with a counterspell up much sooner.
The Wolf Run matchup actually is not as good as I'd expected, since counterspells are typically good against these type of decks. Thrun is definitely an issue, and it is also hard to get to the point where you can cast a six drop threat without fear of them just dropping a Primeval Titan and forever blanking your Mana Leaks. Olivia lets you present a threat sooner, but they have these Slagstorms that have just been sitting dead in their hand until you cast her.
Now here's where things really fall apart: Mono Red. After playing G/W so much, I'd forgotten how much of a pain in the ass Mono Red is when you don't have access to white. Oblivion Ring gets rid of Shrine of Burning Rage and Timely Reinforcement invalidates their whole deck, but Grixis colors don't have access to sweet cards like these. If they resolve a turn 2 Shrine, you are basically dead. I played against Gindy the other day, and he cast Manabarbs against me. I did not even know this card was legal, but I cannot imagine a situation where you win after they resolve it.
Another issue I have had with the deck is that your fourth land too frequently comes into play tapped. It is not uncommon to lack a basic land at this point, and that means all of your nonbasics will come in tapped. This might not seem like a big deal, but it means that you actually need to have a second Mana Leak as opposed to a Mana Leak or a Snapcaster Mage.
The other control deck that I think is worth consideration is U/B. BenS wanted to play it over the “team deck” (which turned out to be Tempered Steel) if I'd help him work on it, but by the time he came to me I'd already dismissed the archetype. We played some matches with me piloting G/W, and I went something like 1-5. Clearly I was not playing hard enough when I was piloting U/B.
A lot of why Ben was winning was due to how he was playing the deck. Typically my opponents would tap out to Black Sun's Zenith my Mirran Crusader at earliest opportunity, giving me a window to resolve a Hero of Bladehold or planeswalker. Ben would just leave up counters and removal until he could cast Zenith with a counter up. As he put it, “I'll take 12. Who cares? It's not like you have burn.”
I forget the exact list, but he was piloting a version of Jeremy Neeman's GP winning deck along the lines of:
So, What Should You Play Right Now?
I really like the idea of the Grixis deck, and I plan on continuing to work on it this week. Based on my results so far, however, it would be hard for me to recommend it. I think the most reasonable choices at the moment are: Wolf Run, U/B Control, Mono Red, and G/W Tokens.
I might be somewhat biased against Wolf Run because of how much Valakut I played and how much worse the deck is in a vacuum. It seems very mopey on paper, but I've played against it a lot lately and it's hard to argue that it isn't powerful. Iyanaga's list is very strong against creature decks, which make up a large portion of the field.
U/B Control had a really poor showing at Worlds, but if Wolf Run geared towards creatures is all over the place, now might be the time to play counterspells. The G/W matchup is not nearly as bad as the data shows. My win against it involved my opponent getting manascrewed, and as I described earlier BenS was beating me handily by playing tight.
I don't know if playing Mono Red is ever a “good” choice, but it seems a lot more reasonable right now than usual. Assuming white creature decks will be somewhat depressed by Wolf Run, and control decks are on the rise to combat Wolf Run, Red is actually fairly well-positioned right now. It pretty much boils down to whether you think you'll only play against two or less decks with Timely Reinforcements in the Swiss, and get lucky against one of them? Which isn't totally ridiculous—I do it all the time with Zoo in Legacy, except replace “Timely Reinforcements” with “all combo decks.”
If the St. Louis Open Series were tomorrow, I would probably stick with G/W Tokens simply based on comfort level. Illusions and Humans have a better Wolf Run matchup according to the Worlds data, but with how removal-heavy Iyanaga's list is, I'm not sure any creature deck is hoping to be paired against Wolf Run right now. G/W Tokens at least has the advantage of being good against the other creature decks, and planeswalkers give it some ability to go long against control.
That's all I've got for today. Hopefully those of you going to the Open or the Invitational found this helpful. I'll be at both tournaments, so I'll see you there!
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