Unlike my SCG Blue teammates* I failed to cash the Standard portion of the SCG Standard Open in Cincinnati. Like them I played the U/W/R Control deck mostly designed by Brad Nelson.
Before I get into what's going on in Standard I'd like to talk about the outrage over us playing U/W/R Control after touting Zombies as the next big thing.
First of all I love my fans. I love being able to help and teach and share the wisdom I've gained from putting in the hours of work that you guys can't. I quite literally live for the moments when someone sends me an email thanking me for help. I take the time to create technology and you guys occasionally take the time to thank me. Even if I don't respond I read every single tweet email or Facebook message I'm sent and I'm grateful.
I'd like to think that everyone realizes why I do what I do for a living and it's not to mislead in order to gain an edge in my next StarCityGames.com Open Series. My livelihood is based on cultivating a trusting fan base and bringing them information.
Why would I risk my reputation and my job on something as trivial as $2400?
For those doubters out there do you really think I would jeopardize everything to hoist another trophy?
I've written about the decks I'm going to play in upcoming tournaments and been chastised for it by my peers. I'm a firm believer that it doesn't affect my tournament performance much if at all but it affects that of those around me positively. There might be some technology that I'd save for a SCG Invitational or Pro Tour but that doesn't mean we spread misinformation before every tournament.
Our jobs wouldn't last long if that were the case and I plan on being here for a while. I've tried living other lives but it always ends up back here. Being here feels like home whereas no other place does. I love this game this community and this website and I wouldn't trade it for anything. All I ask in return is that you give us the benefit of the doubt every once in a while.
To be perfectly frank I can win money playing Magic without spreading misinformation** as can Brad Nelson.*** On top of that Zombies is actually awesome as evident by its three Top 8 appearances in Cincinnati. I was knocked out by Zombies in Cincy and Brad lost to Joe Bernal playing Zombies. U/W/R Control is about as good against Zombies as any deck can be but even if we did "fix" the metagame we weren't exactly making it easy on ourselves.
U/W/R Control was one of the few decks I was considering playing from the get go which I talked about and shared my current list of. Brad and I filmed a playtesting video where he played with his at the time most recent Zombie list that he was dead set on playing in Cincinnati. After that BBD gave Brad a solid thrashing with his Solar Flare deck. After that Brad made it a point to try various control decks and ultimately settled on something close to what I had posted in a recent article.
Information moves quickly and while Brad had abandoned Zombies as his deck of choice that didn't mean he couldn't share what he had learned. It made sense for him to write an article on Zombies even though it was no longer what he was playing.
I know that everyone on the Internet just wants to be heard but take a step back and examine the facts before you jump on the bandwagon.
Most Magic players are very smart people. Nearly all professional Magic players are very smart people. As such they realize the equity they gain from trying to rig a metagame in their favor is eclipsed by the equity they gain from being helpful writers.
Again I appreciate every single one of you who enjoys my work. Never in my life did I think I would be at the place I am today. Despite my past despite the fact that like everyone I have good and bad days you guys still put your trust in me. That just means that every time I sit down to write another article I feel like I have to earn it all over again.
The short version of the story is that I went 4-2 drop playing the same 75 as Brad and Todd losing to Mono Red splashing Snapcaster Mage / Izzet Charm and Jund Zombies. I liked the decklist and felt it was close to being optimal for what it was but I didn't enjoy playing a tap-out strategy nor did I think it was the best control deck.
What is? Well I'm working on that.
Aside from Azorius Charm and Syncopate the deck had a hard time interacting on its opponent's turns. Cards like Wolfir Silverheart Sublime Archangel Silverblade Paladin and Rancor were all frightening especially for a player with planeswalkers in play.
In the end those cards didn't matter much and I defeated every G/W deck I played against. Those cards might seem well positioned against planeswalkers and they are but Azorius Charm is too much of a gigantic beating for them to ever beat you.
In Ari Lax's article this week he cited my round 1 feature match against G/W Midrange as a reason for sweepers being bad in Standard but he couldn't have been more wrong. Yes I was using Terminus on every single Wolfir Silverheart and every single Arbor Elf with a Rancor but that doesn't mean sweepers are bad.
Our U/W/R Control deck (which was mostly developed by Brad Nelson) wants to keep the board clear in order for our planeswalkers to take over. Sure I could let that Rancored Elf live for a turn and hope to draw out the two-for-one but making sure he couldn't pair it with Wolfir Silverheart or Silverblade Paladin and kill my Jace was more important.
It wasn't that every single threat was so powerful that I needed to trade my six-mana sweeper for them; it was just the line of play that the game dictated I make in order to win. Planeswalkers are a key part of U/W/R Control and Dreadbore was a huge factor in my loss to Zombies. In order to protect to them you really want some sweepers.
Here's the big secret about Standard: there are basically zero decks in the format that play well from behind.
Let that soak in for a moment.
What that means is that either your deck is focused on gaining a tempo advantage and maintaining it (ala Delver last season) or squashing their tempo (probably by killing all of their creatures) and then playing something like Jace Tamiyo or Entreat the Angels in order to never let them back in the game.
"Who's The Beatdown?" is a timeless classic and in this format there are days when it feels like everyone is the beatdown—when you have no way to play from behind you're forced into the beatdown role even if you can't race your opponent.
At this point it looks like only Angel of Serenity decks have inevitability. From my experience with U/W/R Control even if I Entreated for two Angels I would be better off attempting to race them rather than playing a long game and using my Angels to clear the board. There are just so many powerful things going on that you can't risk drawing land Pillar of Flame to their Wolfir Silverheart Silverblade Paladin.
Just getting them dead is often the best course of action for 'controlling' the game. Because of that U/W/R Control has planeswalkers and Entreats aplenty and even has Geist of Saint Traft in the sideboard. Against my Mono Red opponent I knew I had to side in Geists in order to either kill him or race him with Azorius Charm. Sadly I didn't figure out that Geist should have been my plan against Jund Zombies as well. Ditto for Joe Bernal's deck.
Sweepers are important because otherwise once they're ahead you're drawing dead. Your planeswalkers will never live (unless your opponent wants them to) and you'll never to catch up to them having three reasonable creatures in play.
While I was using my sweepers as one-for-ones I believe it was correct but it had nothing to do with sweepers being bad in the format. Without them he very easily could have curved out and I wouldn't have been able to do anything about it.
I played this in a recent playtesting video that hasn't been posted yet:
This deck was awesome! Veilborn Ghoul plus Faithless Looting might be the real deal for control decks as long as you have other things that take advantage of it as well such as Sphinx of the Chimes Liliana of the Veil and Izzet Charm.
I can do better though. While Sphinx was insane Izzet Charm underperformed yet again and Liliana was also mediocre. Since those cards are part of the card advantage engine and I'll likely be cutting them I might want the fourth Sphinx in there.
Mortars is pretty good when you're behind against an aggressive deck as it's the only way to catch up. The other removal is fantastic as well but I needed to be curving out in order to keep up. Even if I did something like Thragtusk was continually a problem. Once again Rakdos Keyrune provides the answer so I'd play something like this going forward:
This is much better. Not only do I get to scale back on BB spells but I get to increase my blue count and streamline the deck. In control decks like these casting a spell for XY is almost always easier than casting one for XX so you should take that into consideration.
It's entirely possible I should try to build my deck to be a Sphinx of the Chimes deck with multiples four-ofs but that's tough in today's world. There isn't a removal spell that's strictly better than another so drawing multiples of one aside from Pillar of Flame is usually pretty bad. They have diverse threats and we need diverse answers.
Olivia Voldaren is another nice card. In the past I liked Niv-Mizzet Dracogenius over her but I've recently changed my mine. I pictured Niv against super aggressive decks and control decks and he seemed great. Olivia on the other hand shines in what would probably be a tough matchup: G/W Midrange.
As I've said Thragtusk is a huge problem even after you add Keyrunes but Olivia solves that problem and any others quite easily.
Going forward I definitely want to explore the Sphinx of the Chimes / Veilborn Ghoul interaction. Most control decks don't have hard card drawing and if they do it's super expensive (Sphinx's Revelation). Six is also the magic toughness not five. Thragtusk as always continues to be a thorn in my side. Sphinx alleviates some of those issues at least against decks without Rancor Silverblade Paladin Gavony Township Wolfir Silverheart Sublime Archangel and Ajani Caller of the Pride.
Faith's Shield was a card I saw some G/W players running and it seemed pretty good. I know that from the control side I didn't like my Detention Sphere doing nothing or my Azorius Charm getting countered. The same thing applies here but with spot removal and Tamiyo triggers. That should be a card that all Selesnya decks consider running possibly as a sideboard option against control.
If this wasn't the deck to beat already it certainly is now. Both Joe Bernal and Daniel Casky made Top 8 with Zombie decks that looked super far advanced past anything else.
- 4 Blood Artist
- 4 Diregraf Ghoul
- 4 Falkenrath Aristocrat
- 4 Geralf's Messenger
- 4 Gravecrawler
- 4 Rakdos Cackler
- 4 Diregraf Ghoul
- 4 Dreg Mangler
- 4 Geralf's Messenger
- 4 Gravecrawler
- 2 Knight of Infamy
- 4 Lotleth Troll
- 4 Rakdos Cackler
Joe's deck is a descendant of Red Deck Wins and functions the same. Post-board he has Underworld Connections to outdraw control decks with Dreadbore and Sever the Bloodline to deal with their threats.
On the other hand Daniel stuck to pure aggression playing the full amount of Rancors one-drops and Dreg Manglers and featuring the soon to be all-star Crippling Blight. That card single-handedly beats things that would otherwise brick wall you like Vampire Nighthawk Seraph of Dawn Thragtusk and sometimes Angel of Serenity. There are dangers of losing a racing situation even if those cards have -1/-1 and can't block but you would have probably lost anyway.
Restoration Angel is the real killer one that isn't seeing nearly enough play right now. Granted there isn't a great shell for her but she'll make her return someday.
Both of these Zombie builds are playable this weekend and there is little I would change in either. Bernal's deck looks close to perfect while I would only make cosmetic changes to Daniel's.
I would consider switching Dead Weight or Ultimate Price for other cards as I don't like either of them very much. Knight of Infamy could also become Highborn Ghoul but the Knight is probably better especially if the Selesnya infestation continues. Also if we're to assume anything from Joe Bernal's performance it's that Guildgates are likely better than Cavern of Souls.
The sideboard is where I have the most grievances. Tormod's Crypt is likely just a bad Deathrite Shaman and two Golgari Charms is probably not enough. Quad Duress is also probably wrong as Appetite for Brains hits more things that you're scared of. I would also prefer to have an answer to Entreat the Angels in my sideboard but maybe Rancor and Knight of Infamy are enough.
One other thing to note is that of the three Zombie decks in Top 8 none of them had a single Sign in Blood in their 75. Perhaps that's reason enough to cut them and focus on aggression instead.
I recently played this in a not yet posted playtesting video:
Despite my lackluster performance (i.e. Brad rolling me with Rancor Crippling Blight and Deathrite Shaman) I think this deck is awesome and probably the best shell of Reanimator. Obviously more Pillar of Flames would help.
I'm also not sure what Lingering Souls is actually good against. The creature decks probably have Rancor and the control decks ignore Souls with Jace. Cutting them would allow you to have fewer white sources and stabilize the mana base.
While I'll be in San Jose and Seattle the next couple weeks I'll be playing Standard on Magic Online the first chance I get. I have a feeling that we've just scratched the surface and that with each week new awesome decks will pop up. For now I like Zombies Reanimator and some sort of control which is pretty obvious from this article.
Unless I come up with something better I want to try B/G Zombies with Crippling Blight. That deck seems poised to dominate as it has great answers to ways that people are trying to fight it.
As always I appreciate each and every one of you guys which is why I try to stay active in the comments section of articles and on Twitter. Thanks for reading.
@G3RRYT on Twitter
*** Despite what his recent tournament results have shown.