I attended the StarCityGames.com Open Series in St. Louis this past weekend and had a great time. I lost playing for Top 8 in the Standard Open and lost pretty early in the Legacy Open because I threw away a match to a horrible mistake. But I ground it out and walked away with the same prize as I did in the Standard tournament. I doubt you really care about the fun I had talking to people and gaming; I imagine you're more interested in hearing how the new Standard looked on its debut weekend.
If I had to sum it up in one word, I'd say "delusional."
Late in the tournament, somewhere around round 6, at x-1 I played against a Grixis deck with roughly ten (not exaggerating) creatures that cost 6-8 mana. Do you understand the sheer audacity of someone to show up with that deck in a tournament in which Mana Leak is a legal card? He didn't even play Cavern of Souls!
I don't mean to belittle him or his accomplishment. He chose a deck that could really punish people for playing creatures instead of spells. "Nice Thragtusk; I'll play another Titan." If there was a spot to pick for this deck, it was this tournament, and he made it pretty far with it because he somehow managed to avoid playing against a single Island until we played.
Rancor is a great card, but people weren't even bothering to put it on hexproof creatures. They'd just cast it on whatever they happened to have. Two of my opponents just ran it straight into Vapor Snag. One was surprised when it didn't return to his hand.
If you really want you can play decks like this, but you should at least acknowledge the kinds of steps you have to take to beat blue decks, like playing hexproof creatures or at least waiting until they're tapped out to play Rancor. But somehow, for this tournament, no one really needed to worry about that stuff because everyone was happy to play entirely sorcery speed decks and hope to draw Bonfire of the Damned at a better time than their opponent did.
I simply didn't understand what was happening.
People just took it even further than I thought they would.
I thought they'd slow down their blue decks by splashing green or by adding Talrand, which would make them worse against Day of Judgment. Instead, they just stopped playing blue entirely.
Let me explain a potential way of looking at M13.
If you assume that the best cards in M13 are Thragtusk and Thundermaw Hellkite (I'm not saying they are; just hear me out on the thought experiment), what decks does that make better and what does it makes worse?
Consider the answer: it makes red and green decks worse.
This probably sounds odd since red and green got new good cards. A little counterintuitive, but there's logic here.
When I'm drafting, the best thing I could possibly pass at the end of a pack is a sideboard card for a deck I'm not playing, because it means a worse deck might beat a better deck since it has something that isn't useful against me.
Thundermaw Hellkite and Thragtusk are best against red and green decks. They're good enough that they start arms races between red and green decks. The decks that are more warped to beat the other decks like them survive, and what's left is a deck that's less prepared to beat the rest of the field.
Thundermaw Hellkite might look like an "anti-fliers" card, but that's just not what's going on here. Dragons have a long history of being sideboard cards or maindeck trumps for G/R mirrors. This guy has some incidental perks that make him less embarrassing against other decks, but red and green are the colors that have the hardest time dealing with this kind of thing.
My deck may not have gotten anything, but it got a lot better. Red and green aren't the only ones that started preying on themselves.
As I've already alluded to, Delver got Talrand, a card that will serve primarily to make Delver worse because people might play it. The best thing Talrand does is beat the mirror or maybe green decks. It's horrible against decks with real removal, particularly sweepers. Delver will play Talrand because Cavern of Souls can realistically force it through Mana Leak, it can't get Gut Shotted, and it can come down early enough and have a dramatic enough impact that you won't just lose if they Vapor Snag it. It can take over a game. It's not there because it's a great card that makes your deck better against the field; it's there to exploit a weakness in a specific deck, which means it can make the deck worse against everyone else.
I'm glad I didn't have to start playing any new cards to win my mirror.
I played the same U/W Midrange deck I'd been playing before M13, with no new cards if that wasn't clear:
This was the second time I played two Hero of Bladehold, and they were the worst cards in my list by far. I played them because I wanted a better plan against Wolf Run Ramp, but I never saw anyone playing it. That seemed weird to me because I assumed it would be a good choice against a bunch of midrange creature decks, and it seemed obvious to me that that's what the format would be, so I wanted to be prepared. In the future, I might just stop bothering. Another Gut Shot and a Celestial Purge would have been pretty nice.
I loved my deck, and I was extremely happy with my deck choice. I didn't finish especially well, but a ten-round tournament is very long and a lot of things can go wrong. I took two losses in nine rounds and drew into Top 32 because the prizes are the same from 9th to 32nd.
I was also very impressed by Adam Prosak's deck:
The card I'm least impressed by here is Mutagenic Growth. It can do nice things with Talrand, but since he's not likely to get in combat, I don't think that's the best thing you could be doing. I imagine one would get a lot more mileage out of extra Gut Shots or Mental Missteps. Or the third and fourth Mana Leak, but I'd probably want to move the Restoration Angels to the maindeck and the Talrands to the sideboard if I made that change.
Decks like this stand to get a huge advantage out of people playing around Mana Leaks when they don't have them, but it's very dangerous if people ever start to figure out what you're up to. However, as long as the format is warped so heavily toward Bird of Paradise decks, this might be a reasonable direction to try as long as Thragtusk doesn't suddenly become a problem for you.
However, if you're more in the "beat them" school of thought, I think now is an excellent time to try to play big spells. This format has a lot of powerful spells that can go over the top of G/R and Delver if they don't have counterspells.
Just before the tournament, I strongly considered switching to a variation on Patrick Chapin's Four-Color Nicol Bolas Ramp:
I didn't because I was much more familiar with my deck (having never played a game with the ramp deck) and I didn't have a sideboard or anything worked out. As soon as I get a chance, I'd like to work on this strategy. I know that I'd start with a few changes.
First of all, I'd switch up the threats. I love Karn, and I'd want 1-2 of him. I would also want to sneak a Griselbrand in there, mostly just because I can. I'd also consider a Garruk, Primal Hunter, and I'd play only 1-2 Grave Titans and two Nicol Bolas, Planeswalkers. I think I'd want to play a Naturalize main, and I believe I could get away with maybe only two Sphere of the Suns and two Ranger's Path's. There's a lot of wiggle room, of course, but it looks like something that could be very well positioned as long as you're ready for Zealous Conscripts. (I recommend discard, but I'm not sure about whether it should be Despise, Appetite for Brains, or Memoricide. I suspect not Appetite for Brains.)
This deck is really just an example of the kind of thing you can play in this format as long as people ignore blue. I don't know how long the honeymoon with M13 will last before people get back to the business of casting Mana Leak and Restoration Angel, but until that happens, the sky's the limit if you want to try to go big. I've heard that a B/W Control deck has been popping up a lot on Magic Online. That sounds like the kind of thing that never beats a blue control deck, but if you just want to kill a bunch of creatures, I bet it does it really well.
If I were just in the market for a fun deck to try and something that would catch people's attention at an FNM, I might to look to build a deck without any colored spells. Maybe something like:
If I weren't sticking to the theme, I might play Griselbrand for fun and maybe some kind of sweeper, like Whipflare. Or perhaps Doom Blade to kill a big creature since I'm a little worried about relying entirely on Perilous Myr and Spine of Ish Sah for removal, even if it does look like Perilous Myr can do a lot of work. Glissa, the Traitor would be another card to consider, as would Ratchet Bomb.
This doesn't look like a real deck, but I'm not entirely sure it isn't. It has a lot of life gain, which isn't normally a selling point, but it has a pretty strong late game with an absurd amount of recursion and card advantage to back it up. It feels slow, but I don't know if the grindy, control elements can get it there. I assume it's weak against Ancient Grudge, but you shouldn't have to play against large numbers of those and you're remarkably good at getting your artifacts back thanks to Buried Ruin. Sun Titan is another card I'd think about.
It feels very wrong to play all artifacts and no Tezzeret, Agent of Bolas, but life gain doesn't really play well with planeswalkers. Particularly if it's one of your primary means of defense, which it feels like it might be in this deck.
Even with Cavern of Souls, I imagine this deck would be a joke if I had to play it against a Delver deck, but if all I have to do is go bigger than Thragtusk and Rancor, I feel like I can do that with anything. This is my "ham sandwich."
Then again, maybe they all know something I don't know. It's happened before.
Thanks for reading,
@samuelhblack on Twitter