I'm currently sitting in the back of a van on my way to Minneapolis. Most of my Standard legal cards are in the trunk and I have no idea what I'm going to play.
I like my RUG deck a lot but I haven't really played it that much and people I respect have reported that they haven't been happy with it. It's still a consideration but I'm not sure how exactly to update it with AVR. I tried adding several cards I like: Abundant Growth Temporal Mastery Wolfir Avenger and Bonfire of the Damned and played some games and it was definitely playing worse. I'd added too much air. If I play it I'll play a version that's very close to my pre-AVR build since I know that deck is basically functional.
Specifically I think I want to cut one Vapor Snag one Garruk Relentless and one Mana Leak for three Bonfire of the Damned and one Jace Memory Adept for one Tamiyo the Moon Sage. I could also see cutting one Llanowar Elves for one Abundant Growth but I don't think I should. That would leave me with:
- 4 Birds of Paradise
- 3 Consecrated Sphinx
- 4 Huntmaster of the Fells
- 4 Llanowar Elves
- 2 Phantasmal Image
- 1 Snapcaster Mage
- 4 Strangleroot Geist
It's interesting that this deck isn't actually that far from a Pod deck. If it had a Borderland Ranger or two a Phyrexian Metamorph a Zealous Conscripts or two and maybe an Acidic Slime it could do good work with a Birthing Pod. I could even see the deck with a transformational sideboard but I don't think I'm ready for that. My sideboard would probably be:
Vapor Snag is for decks with four-mana creatures; Negate Karn and Jace are for control; Zealous Conscripts are for ramp; Naturalize is something of a catchall; Phyrexian Metamorph is for other midrange creature decks; and the rest is mostly for Delver.
I wish the mana was better but I can't just trim cards for Abundant Growth—over half of my cards give mana which means my other spells need to be high impact. If they just cycle I'll find more lands and flood out. The cost is also an issue since I'm already playing so many one- and two-drops. I could cut Strangleroot Geist for a higher impact card particularly now that Pillar of Flame exists but that's a more radical change to the deck an I'm comfortable with at this point since it would really change what the deck's doing.
When I realized that one of the biggest draws to playing this deck for me is that I just want to play Bonfire of the Damned I realized that means that I think red sweepers are well positioned. Maybe I would just be better off playing Whipflare and Slagstorm instead of creatures. For some people that might mean playing Ramp but that's not really my style. I was thinking Pillar of Flame could go a long way toward breathing new life into Grixis giving it a good answer to Gravecrawler and Strangleroot Geist which had been serious problems for the deck.
I'd want a core of cheap removal spells:
3 (+1) Pillar of Flame: Cheap efficient and uniquely effective.
1 Devil's Play: I want to be able to kill opposing planeswalkers.
A variety of sweepers:
2 Whipflare: Cheap good answer to mana guys Huntmaster Delver's creatures and tokens.
1 Black Sun's Zenith: This gives me another out to big creatures going long and I like the Zenith ability.
Some card draw:
2 Amass the Components: This is a very high impact card draw spell that I think really gives this deck a lot more power.
A few finishers:
24 colored mana-producing lands
I'm not sure about the Sever the Bloodline the Ratchet Bombs and the second Curse of Death's Hold. I think I'd like Olivia Voldaren and Ancient Grudge. I'd also consider one or two counterspells of some sort in the maindeck.
I don't really want to be playing this kind of deck unless I know it's very good so I'll probably try not to play it despite it getting several cards that I think really helps it.
Before Honolulu I wanted to play a Bant Birthing Pod deck based on sacrificing Strangleroot Geist for Drogskol Captain and then getting as many Captains in play as possible. The mana didn't work but it's possible that I can use Cavern of Souls to fix my mana the same why I did in Barcelona.
- 1 Phyrexian Metamorph
- 4 Birds of Paradise
- 1 Blade Splicer
- 1 Borderland Ranger
- 4 Drogskol Captain
- 2 Dungeon Geists
- 4 Llanowar Elves
- 4 Phantasmal Image
- 2 Restoration Angel
- 4 Strangleroot Geist
I like Sun Titan but I don't love any of the five-mana creatures for this deck. I think in game 1 I just want to focus on Captains and then I can board into a chain up to Elesh Norn when that isn't enough.
I'm pretty sure I want a Zealous Conscript in the sideboard even though it's hard to cast. Ideally I won't draw it but if I did I have birds and I could just use Cavern of Souls naming Humans in a pinch. I think it's worth it.
1 Birthing Pod
1 Deceiver Exarch
1 Zealous Conscripts
1 Acidic Slime
1 Archon of Justice
2 Sun Titan
1 Elesh Norn Grand Cenobite
1 Wurmcoil Engine
2 Jace Memory Adept
1 Venser the Sojourner
1 Stonehorn Dignitary
The biggest problem with this is that I'm not actually sure it's powerful or consistent enough and it might just be a worse version of other Pod decks. I did play a few games with an earlier version against my roommate and it performed very well. I just wish I could play around 20 two-player queues with it on Magic Online to make sure it has game against the field.
I could also just play a minor update on Cuneo's U/W Control deck. I think Terminus helps the deck a lot since it kills Thrun and undying creatures. That would probably look something like:
I'm worried about Cavern of Souls but I think it won't be that big of a problem. I have Sun Titans instead of Flashfreeze or counterspells to try to beat Wolf Run Ramp by overpowering them rather than countering their stuff.
It looks like Delver Wolf Run Ramp and G/R Aggro are the primary decks to beat. I'm not really interested in playing any of them. I'm probably just underestimating Delver because it's been too long since I played Standard but for some reason it doesn't look that impressive to me right now.
More testing would definitely help but between being in Barcelona and AVR not being on Magic Online I have to make do with what I have.
The above was written in the car as I mentioned. The day before the tournament is way too early for me to really settle on a deck and that night I spoke to Reid Duke Gaudenis Vidugiris and Patrick Chapin. Gaudenis was just going to play his Birthing Pod deck because it's really all he's been playing in Standard. Reid was playing a Grixis deck that sounded pretty good and was mostly similar to what I'd been thinking about and Patrick wanted to play anything with Lingering Souls and Tamiyo.
I convinced him that it was worth playing red for Pillar of Flame and Whipflare and that we could minimize black not playing any actual black spells to make the mana work. I think I decided to play this deck rather than something else partially just for the experience of building it but also because I've generally been impressed by Lingering Souls whenever I play it. I hadn't really played it in control in Standard and it sounded good with Tamiyo the Moon Sage.
Patrick and I texted some Friday night and then met up Saturday before the tournament to work out the details. Michael Jacob sat next to us and offered some commentary despite the fact that he was going to play G/R Aggro. I tried to get him to cut as many Huntmaster of the Fells as possible.
Patrick and I got a lot of things wrong and I feel like a lot of what happened was a matter of taking suggestions that sounded reasonable but were counterproductive to the game plan I'd imagined. For example Patrick said he would rather have a Desperate Ravings than an Amass the Components. That's fine; it makes sense. Desperate Ravings is probably a better card but it's a grindy incremental advantage kind of card and I really wanted something that could truly put you ahead.
Amass the Components was already a hedge from the Blue Sun's Zenith that I actually wanted in that slot but I'd already talked myself down from there. Now I'd accidentally fallen down a slippery slope and turned a Blue Sun's Zenith into a Desperate Ravings—those cards are very different. When I'm doing that kind of thing of course I end up with too much mana.
Andrew Cuneo has mentioned that he never wins with Patrick's decks. It's strange since they both play control whenever possible but they actually have remarkably different styles. I was approaching control in Standard from the Cuneo school because my experience had mostly been playing his U/W deck but I was also intentionally trying to build this deck the way I imagined Patrick would (which was made easier by the fact that he was involved and I was basically trying to build a deck he would want to play rather than building a deck for myself).
Patrick's recent control decks are basically just battlecruiser decks. He's not trying to lock up the game; he's trying to buy time to play a bomb they can't deal with. Andrew is a serious draw-go style control player. He really isn't ever trying to win a game; he just wants to get absurdly far ahead of his opponent on every possible resource.
My hybrid didn't have enough win conditions for Patrick's style or enough inevitability for Andrew's.
Lingering Souls was horrible. This isn't surprising once I figured out what went wrong. The purpose of Lingering Souls is largely to buy time to play a real threat. In the Cuneo school they don't really do anything. Time isn't a resource you care about when your deck is purely about attrition. I was so threat light that I'd stall for a while stabilize fail to kill my opponent and let them grind their way back into the game with virtually anything.
After sideboarding I got to fix some of the problems but not enough. Having a very weak deck in game 1 eventually caught up with me so despite making Day 2 I quickly lost three rounds to exit the tournament.
I left feeling good about Standard though. The format feels very young and unexplored. People are generally playing pretty bad versions of pretty bad decks and trying a lot of new things. It's nice to start a format without a premiere event to build decks for everyone since we get to watch a slow evolution this way. It would have been easy to have a big edge in this Grand Prix if there'd been more time between it and Barcelona.
I'm looking forward to working on Standard which is somewhat awkward since next weekend I'll be playing Block at Grand Prix Anaheim.
Fortunately I have excuses to keep working on Standard both to keep making relevant videos for this site and to prepare for the World Cup Qualifiers.
Thanks for reading
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