If you're like me you scour the results of the major events every time they come around. Obviously the biggest events size-wise are things like Grand Prix. The Grand Prix circuit not only has the most people by far at them but you also see some of the world's best players at them.
I don't think I'm saying anything all that shocking when I say that the SCG Open Series does not make as big of a splash in the consciousness of Magic players as the Grand Prix circuit. Our events are smaller for one and there are not nearly as many world-class players at the Opens. All you have to do is look at the player lists to confirm that.
All of that being said it seems to me that the SCG Open Series influences Standard and certainly Legacy far more than the Grand Prix circuit. Take Caw-Blade for example. This deck broke out on the Pro Tour but it was the simple relentless reliability of the SCG Open Series that ended up honing and sharpening the deck. Regardless of the fact that there were only a few Pro Tour mainstays that would show up to the circuit what you would have is many hundred players showing up armed with the information from the previous week to do it all over again. If anything is the paper analog to Magic Online currently that analog is the StarCityGames.com Open Series.
One thing that has become reliable from these SCG tournaments is the rough barometer that is has on a stable metagame. While for the national stage the only two names that are likely to make a splash from this most recent event are Travis Woo and Michael Hetrick (playing WG Elves and Bant Pod respectively) most SCG events are filled with local ringers. Last week's SCG Open Series in Minneapolis had Stephan Hink and Brandon Nelson facing off two names you may or may not know outside of the Midwest. But if you are in the Midwest they are names you are fairly likely to know as top players: Brandon and Stephan both have a solid Pro Tour history and Stephan has been a Minnesota State Champ.
But if SCG events are a barometer for what is going on in Standard what are we to make of this?
For the sake of clarity even though there are significant differences between the sub-archetypes I've lumped all of the Zombie decks together and all of the G/W/x Pod lists together (Bant Naya Four-Color). What emerges is a tale of two tournaments.
There are lots of ways to weigh the results of a Magic tournament. It is a tricky business and any choice you make is going to have some problems.
Take making your weighting top-heavy. It would look like Zombies for example made more of a splash in Minneapolis than Delver did. This is a hard claim though when you consider that half of the Top 8 and half of the Top 16 was Delver. And yet it is important to acknowledge Zombies did win the whole shebang defeating two Delver decks 2-1 along the way. Really only Zombies and Delver made a huge splash if you're thinking about it in terms of overall though Brandon Nelson running Naya Pod certainly kept that list in the running for being noticed.
So what the heck happened to Delver in Portland?
Zombies of numerous stripes came to town among other things most notably Infect. Between these two decks six of the Top 8 was gobbled up leaving only Travis Woo with G/W Elves and Nate Sletteland with Naya Pod representing any other deck (and neither of them had any compatriots playing the same archetype in Top 16 even if Hetrick was close with Bant Pod).
Now both Zombies and Infect have contentious matchups against Delver; depending on whom you ask you get a different response about what wins. If you ask the Croatians who busted out an amazing record with Infect they'll tell you that it is a positive matchup. Many other people disagree. Perhaps this comment from Grgur Petric Maretic one of those 4-0 Croatians from the World Magic Cup is the most illuminating:
"I definitely think the matchup is positive for Infect but it is by far the hardest one to play correctly. I'd say it's harder than playing Delver correctly."
If Grgur is correct it had only been a few days that any writing had been out about the power of Infect in Standard by the time that Minneapolis happened. In addition this would mean that there were really only a few days to practice the deck. Grgur posted his sideboard plan for Infect against Delver in the comments of my article but this was largely the first time we'd seen anything like this available for public consumption and some decisions (-4 Gut Shot for example) might not seem particularly intuitive.
Given the prevalence of Infect at the tournament I think a part of it was simply that enough time had passed to make people who were trying get the hang of the deck play with it.
Zombies on the other hand was largely a known quantity going into the event. Even with a bump from the victory in Minneapolis would that be enough to make it snag seven of the Top 16 lists? That seems like a lot.
One thing to consider is the influence of regional metagames. Metagames are largely influenced by the people that end up being leaders and their interests simply draw the rest of a community with it. This is part of the reason that Madison Magic is so highly attuned to Limited (to the detriment of its Constructed play) why Chicago has long had a history with aggressive red decks and why variants of White Weenie tend to reign supreme in Indiana. While metagames can make certain preferences not be tenable at the moment (oh red decks we hardly knew ye) people tend to make their decisions based on what they're comfortable with. These things are often largely influenced by their own play history which in turn is influenced by their local metagame.
I know the Minneapolis area's metagame pretty well. All told Minneapolis is pretty conservative and you tend to see players in this region going with the classically successful decks. Like everywhere there are certainly players here who depart from the expected. Among the best players in this area there is some real discipline when it comes to deck choice and a lot of players who do choose to go off of the beaten path usually have done a fair amount of rigorous testing and are still largely within familiar archetype space.
Portland on the other hand I don't know nearly as well. It does appear that there is a larger history of going rogue in Portland perhaps because of the influence of players like Woo. Without too much knowledge of their internal metagame this is largely conjecture but I wouldn't be surprised if the following is true: a lot more people in Portland are willing to take risks. There were more chances to test out the Croatian versions of Infect more people were playing good anti-Delver decks in Zombies and Infect (if they are indeed good anti-Delver decks) and perhaps given the very little time left in the current Standard maybe enough people were just sick of playing Delver that it made a difference in the metagame.
Portland's Two Stars
Clearly Zombies and Infect lists were the huge things to take note of in Portland. For the second week in a row (and with many more in recent history) B/R Zombies won an SCG Standard Open.
Here is champion Quinn Kennedy's list:
- 2 Phyrexian Metamorph
- 4 Blood Artist
- 4 Diregraf Ghoul
- 3 Falkenrath Aristocrat
- 2 Fume Spitter
- 4 Geralf's Messenger
- 4 Gravecrawler
All in all this is a pretty straightforward list. It packs a little bit of reach via Brimstone Volley and some slightly interesting choices in its creatures (Falkenrath Aristocrat and Phyrexian Metamorph) but these aren't so uncommon as to be shocks. What was this Zombie list as well as the other two Zombie lists doing in order to rise to the top?
What if we look at all of the Top 8 Zombie lists each of which was a slightly different sub-archetype—B/R B/U and Pod—and look at what they had in common for clues to what might make them all function so well?
Here is the baseline for all three decks:
2 Phyrexian Metamorph
2 Blood Artist (the non-Pod lists ran 4)
4 Diregraf Ghoul
1 Fume Spitter (2 was average)
4 Geralf's Messenger
2 Tragic Slip
2 instant black removal
That is 45 cards. If you also include the other major commonalities (most ran 4 Blood Artist 2 Fume Spitter and 3 Sign in Blood) you're talking over 50 cards settled. That is a pretty well discovered deck.
The deck is just simply a very solid aggressive deck. Properly played and mulliganed it is capable of producing consistent aggressive draws with a fair amount of removal to stay ahead on the board and this is regardless of whether it is dipping into red or blue or using Birthing Pod.
Similarly the Infect list feels pretty well discovered too.
Here is Greg Galloway's 4th place list:
Here is the baseline for the three Top 8 decks:
4 Ichorclaw Myr
1 Blight Mamba
4 Glistener Elf
1 Viridian Corrupter
1 Green Sun's Zenith
3 Wild Defiance
2 Apostle's Blessing (most ran 4)
2 Gut Shot (most ran more)
2 Mental Misstep (most ran more)
4 Mutagenic Growth
2 Titanic Growth (most ran 4)
Again we're talking 51 cards (up to 57) that are the essential baseline of the deck. With very little variance though all of these lists are just a little off of the Croatian list with usually just a slightly different protection package.
The Rogue Outlier
Of course it is unsurprising to see something come from Travis Woo that is wildly different than everything else going on in the room. Here is his list:
- 4 Palladium Myr
- 4 Arbor Elf
- 4 Avacyn's Pilgrim
- 4 Birds of Paradise
- 4 Elvish Archdruid
- 4 Llanowar Elves
- 4 Primeval Titan
- 1 Thragtusk
- 1 Wolfir Silverheart
Savvy SCG Open Series viewers might remember Kurt Crane's list from Buffalo which was similar in some respects but was more actively going for a combo finish:
- 4 Arbor Elf
- 4 Birds of Paradise
- 1 Craterhoof Behemoth
- 4 Elvish Archdruid
- 4 Elvish Visionary
- 4 Llanowar Elves
- 4 Restoration Angel
- 3 Soul of the Harvest
- 2 Village Bell-Ringer
- 1 Ezuri, Renegade Leader
Sadly for Kurt and for Travis they were stuck in the bridesmaid role here and didn't get to be the bride. Alas.
The big difference between these decks is pretty simple: Kurt is going for the potential to just run away with the game on the back of Soul of the Harvest as a living Glimpse of Nature. Contrast this with Travis Woo who is trying to simply overpower you with mana and exploit a lack of removal in a "fair fight."
Woo's deck lives in the attack phase and looks built to win with several potent attacks. The use of Primeval Titan here is telling; Woo just wants to get value immediately and then smack you around with Townships and Swords and other enhancements. Contrast this with Crane who really is looking to generally go off in one turn and doesn't even have access to Township.
Woo has been pretty publicly working on this list for a while. The most exciting thing about it for most of us is the Palladium Myr which makes it possible to hit the six-mana mark on turn 3 (wow!) and even without doing that is a reasonable-sized body.
Crane mentioned in Buffalo that he was well aware of the existence of Woo's deck when he built his own but that he was going in another direction because he felt it was possible in the metagame of that moment to just combo off.
Personally I can see reasons for either case.
In the next weeks we're counting down the days until we can bid adieu to a ton of sets again and welcome in the new: Return to Ravnica. I for one can't wait for us to end living in the days of Magic's Full Moon.
Until next week
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