This past weekend I tuned into the SCGLive coverage of SCG Open Series: Los Angeles whenever I got the chance. During the Top 8 of the Standard Open I caught Cedric Phillips mentioning how B/R Zombies has "dominated" Standard for a few weeks now because it won the majority of Standard Opens in the last three weeks. Patrick Chapin then proceeded to shoot down that assessment; he basically believes that U/W Delver has continued to dominate Standard despite not winning the last few large Standard events. Cedric then asked Patrick "What does it take for you to consider a deck dominant?"
This kind of discussion always intrigues me because so many people have very different opinions about what is "top tier" or what "dominates" a metagame. There's no doubt that U/W Delver has been the most dominant deck in the format for most of its time in the current Standard format but there's also no doubt that B/R Zombies has become (and will continue to be) a formidable force.
Does a deck not winning for the majority of the format mean that it can't become dominant? I'd argue that when or how long a deck takes to become a force doesn't really matter in terms of its dominance level. For reference Mythic Conscription (which happens to be a Cedric Philips deck!) became the best deck in a format only after the core set went live and before rotation basically at the end of a Standard cycle. But it consistently took over the format week after week despite Jund still being the powerhouse it was.
It almost feels like Zombies is doing the same thing. On Magic Online it has truly revamped the way people have to sideboard and prepare for Daily Events and Premier Events. In fact Falkenrath Aristocrat is now one of the most expensive mythics on Magic Online that is Standard legal.
When we discuss decks dominance what level of competition are we talking about? This is a question that I've discussed with many people. The majority of Magic players don't compete in highly competitive events like SCG Open Series and Grand Prix. Their metagames often consist of Magic Online Daily Events FNMs and perhaps local 1K events or events for booster boxes. Decks often compete differently depending on player level but also in the short term or long term.
Zombies is a deck that can prey on random decks that are unprepared for it. Delver often does the same but it is much more difficult to pilot. Therefore on a smaller scale I'd argue that Zombies is perhaps the most dominant deck the one people don't see publicly as much.
I'm not arguing that Zombies is a better deck than Delver because it really isn't and I think that's been proven. But that doesn't mean that Zombies hasn't displayed a certain level of dominance on all levels. I'm also under the belief that it suffers from a deep understanding of the right and wrong plays. Zombies' win percentage doesn't really change all that much whether it's piloted by a very skilled player or not but Delver's success really depends on the skill of the player piloting it. That really ends up showing towards the later rounds in larger events.
If it weren't for Zombies Delver would have continued putting up ridiculous numbers in Top 8s. Zombies has kept Delver in check by forcing it to tailor its sideboard for the Zombies matchup. This ends up hurting Delver's capability against the field on which it had such a firm grip.
Delver has a little more consistency than Zombies but that's mostly due to Ponder which is quite a bit too powerful for its own good in a Standard environment. At one point B/U Zombies was winning tournaments with Ponder in it; consistency is what generally puts players into the Top 8 of tournaments. Sure some people get lucky and just draw well all day but a player with Ponder can get there based mostly on skill and a lot less on "good luck."
Zombies is a close second in terms of consistency despite a lack of Ponder because of its ability to attack quickly and find reach in the late game. It has eight or more turn 1 options to start attacking turn 2. It's the Mono Red of the format which is why we saw Patrick Sullivan piloting it this past weekend to an 18th place finish at the SCG Standard Open in Los Angeles.
The deck "craps out" on you just a little more than Delver but it sticks to its game plan far better than other decks that lack Ponder and even has more consistency than some decks with it. B/R has the reach but perhaps we could see B/U make a splash in the final weeks.
Based on a pretty steady metagame here's a B/U list I'd consider running in the last couple SCG Standard Opens featuring the current format:
- 4 Blood Artist
- 2 Bloodthrone Vampire
- 4 Diregraf Ghoul
- 2 Fume Spitter
- 4 Geralf's Messenger
- 4 Gravecrawler
- 4 Phantasmal Image
Losing reach for Phantasmal Image and consistency may or may not be the key to last-minute dominance but the base Zombies strategy is there so you really can't go wrong. Bloodthrone Vampire often pairs well with Phantasmal Image if you manage to copy undying triggers. Also B/U hinges a little more on Blood Artist for reach and overextending with Phantasmal Image copying the Artist. But I've been over this in past articles.
I guess the point of my discussion about dominance was to highlight how we have different opinions of what dominates and what doesn't depending on our definition of the metagame. The metagame can be your local FNM or the national stage because you travel to every event you can whether as a career or a hobby.
So when you read about what the best deck is give it deeper thought and ask yourself why. Ask yourself why the writer thinks it's the best deck and consider what their metagame might be. Because for most of us Zombies probably is the most dominant deck right now and will be continue to be heading into the new Standard (though I believe it's actually a little overhyped).
The next time you're talking about the metagame consider everything I've said here. It's not always so cut and dry because every deck and every meta has a weak spot.
Perhaps we can figure out the most dominant deck for your new meta!
My good friend Jorge Paniagua is a big fan of U/W variant decks. He's consistently run Delver and also Haunted Humans. This past weekend he brought up the fact that he's a fan of Lyev Skyknight and it didn't take long for me to agree. I threw out a list to him and we were able to tune it a bit into this. Keep in mind that this list has Jund and Zombies in mind as frontrunners out of the gate.
- 4 Champion of the Parish
- 2 Judge's Familiar
- 4 Knight of Glory
- 2 Loyal Cathar
- 4 Lyev Skyknight
- 4 Precinct Captain
- 3 Restoration Angel
- 3 Geist of Saint Traft
The idea is to be an aggressive Humans deck that shouldn't have to overextend too much. This is possible with Precinct Captain and Lyev Skyknight because both either have evasion or are solid stand-alone cards. But against decks that can't wipe you out with removal you can go more all-in. Ajani adds a little more power and acts as a finisher or perhaps a win condition in certain situations.
Lingering Souls could be a problem but luckily we have Oblivion Pulse… I mean Detention Sphere. This deck has some awesome removal along with life gain for the Zombies matchup. With Azorius Charm and Thragtusk among other cards Zombies may actually take a bigger hit than most people think.
Who's going to be the one that finds the deck that wins those early metagame tournaments? Give this deck a shot and tune it up—it might just be you!
Prove your dominance in your own meta with a consistent powerful deck by determining which deck has the capability to do that in your unique playing environment.