It’s been a busy time. Aside from prepping for a gaming trade show for the company I work for, I’ve also been getting ready for my Magic panel talk show, Planes Talkers, which debuts at Grand Prix
Minneapolis. So while I’ve been prepping Modern to get ready for both the Grand Prix and be ready for the show (featuring Brian Kibler,
Craig Wescoe, and Shaun McLaren), I knew I’d be needing to get ready for SCG Cincinnati as well.
And that meant taking a long, hard look at Journey into Nyx, and what it means for Standard.
Well, the world is different.
The world is the same.
It’s just the way that it goes when it comes to the cyclical nature of Standard. Standard is designed to be a rotating format, and so you can see the
shifts come into play on the regular, working their influence on even the most powerful of decks.
After Born of the Gods was released, when Sam Black came to battle with Mono-Blue Devotion with no new cards, a lot of people stood up and took
notice because that is a pretty significant event for a deck when a new set comes out. More recently, Chris VanMeter opted out, but this time in Monsters. Usually, there are cards that just make sense for a deck, so not making a change is a surprise.
For some decks, those shifts are incredibly minor. For example, for my U/W Control deck, Born of the Gods meant an upgrade on lands and eventually the
inclusion of Fated Retribution, primarily as an answer to Monsters. In Journey into Nyx, two cards really stuck out to me for U/W Control:
I certainly wasn’t alone in this conclusion; it might be safe to say that this was the obvious thing to note. Eric Rill took his build of U/W Control and
marched right into the finals of the event:
I went through much the same journey with my own list. Here is my pre-Journey into Nyx list from Top 8 of SCG Milwaukee, where, like Eric Rill, I was
defeated in the finals by Pack Rats:
For SCG Cincinnati, I managed to fit into my maindeck a single Deicide and a Banishing Light, but it was a bit of a journey to get to that point.
Ultimately, the cards that I was the least excited about in my deck were Azorius Charm and Fated Retribution, with Syncopate coming in as a “dishonorable
mention.” All of them were basically cards of contingency. None of them exactly did what I wanted them to do, but they made the cut because they
accomplished several things.
Fated Retribution was the most recent inclusion in the deck, a response to the problems that a Monsters deck of any color combination could present. It
helped that Fated Retribution was powerful enough that it could be useful against anyone. The problem with this was that it was an incredibly
expensive card, and against a lot of decks, you might only really be taking out one card from your opponent with it, at least if they played it properly.
Syncopate was, in essence, a split card that read “Counter on Turn 2” and “Pray That This Works.” The power of the second-turn counter was actually really
important, but at the same time, this card could become dead very, very quickly. One copy ended up making the card feel like it was an analog to the
two-mana removal in the deck as well as a very weak Dissolve later in the game.
Azorius Charm was the hard one to reckon with. The card felt, to me, like it was just a bad card at doing everything. The upside was that all of the things
that it could do were all things that were quite reasonable, and the ability to just draw a card with it was always a saving grace. Against other control
decks, an Azorius Charm wouldn’t get in the way like an extraneous removal spell might. Also, in any matchup, having some Azorius Charms could be
a way to shrink your deck and give you functionally slightly more mana.
Finding room for two cards can be a ton of work when you’re dealing with a deck as tight as this. In the end, I did end up cutting both of the Azorius
Charms and leaving the other cards. At the end of the day, though, I felt like this was a mistake. I spent many conversations with numerous people about
the choice (most notably Ronny Serio and John Paul Roney), and in the end, my decision was largely based on fear that I would lose out on the power of
Fated Retribution. I felt somewhat awkward about making the changes I did without having physically tested any of them – most of my pre-event playtesting
is done on Magic Online, and the new cards weren’t available – but, without the means to be able to really get in-person testing done, you do what you can.
Theory-crafting can be a great way to get from point A towards point B, but nothing really replaces grinding it out and testing.
Here is the list I played in Cincinnati (dropping at 4-2-1):
Decklist aficionados might notice that Render Silent was moved to the main, replacing a Dissolve. This change felt great. I was already boarding Render
Silent in against everyone, and unlike some cards that you board in against everyone, it wasn’t a response to what their deck was becoming, it was
just a good card to have in the mix against basically every opponent. The extra room in my sideboard ending up making me have enough room for a Dispel that
I’ve wanted to have many times. Another Deicide found its way into the sideboard, along with an Opportunity, kicking out Keening Appartion (sniffle) and
Domestication, a card that seemed like was past its prime, given the huge lack of Nightveil Specters as of late.
I definitely feel like the biggest mistake of my changes was taking out Azorius Charm. They were certainly a kind of glue that was holding together all of
the things that the deck can do. In talking to Eric Rill about Azorius Charm, he said that he loved his four copies of the card. While I
definitely can’t say that I’ve ever loved Azorius Charm, at the same time, I did feel like I was missing out in not having them.
If I were to play this list again, I’d put them back in, and I’d cut Fated Retribution and Deicide number two to the sideboard. This would definitely
require some reworking of the rest of the board, but I feel like I need to see a few more Standard events to see how it would play out.
One player I defeated in the Swiss, Mike Abner, played my deck to ninth place. He made some very slight modifications to the main deck (-1 Disperse, +1
Dissolve) and went from a 1-1-1 record after we played to an endless string of wins after that. Seeing his success with the very minimal changes he made
hammered home for me the probability that I likely shifted the deck too much. Here is his list:
Both Abner and Rill played Nyx-Fleece Ram in their lists, but I don’t know that I think this is worthwhile. Nyx-Fleece Ram is primarily for the most
aggressive of lists, but I haven’t historically had any problems with the hyper-aggressive decks, or with Burn, for that matter. If I haven’t needed it for
the matchups where it is going to be most powerful, I don’t see the need for the card, at least in U/W Control. I could definitely see it being a great
option in three-color decks like Esper Control, though.
Other than my minor quibble there (and a general dislike of Pithing Needle), I think Abner’s build was definitely much more suited to the event, and his
results reflect that. Playing him, he played the deck quite well, and while I came out on top, I think that the loss of Azorius Charm probably affected me
quite badly all day. I spent time talking to all of the successful U/W and Esper players I knew, and they all seemed to either be fine with their Azorius
Charms, or actively love them like Eric Rill.
Of course, all of this being said, I’m not certain that there is any room left for U/W Control, now. Andrew Tenjum may have just shoved it out of the
When I think about playing U/W Control against this package of cards, I cringe:
I struggle to imagine being able to overcome the post-sideboard games without luck or a dramatic reimagining of Sphinx’s Revelation decks. This is
definitely the fault of Temple of Malady, to be sure. Making Abrupt Decay castable is a huge deal. Back at Grand Prix Louisville, even without any real
discard, my BUG Midrange deck was slapping Esper around, fully on the back of Abrupt Decay and good support spells.
Playing that deck, one of my small takeaways is that I think Andrew Tenjum may have overestimated his mana requirements. I imagine that both Golgari
Guildgate could be removed for either two green-based Temples or a Temple and a Swamp. I know that the natural weapons of a more traditional black deck are
frightening in their own right. Comfortably adding that splash feels almost unfair. However you build it, it is hard to imagine being sitting on the other
side of the table from the deck with Temple of Enlightenment and feeling comfortable.
Finally, while I won’t be playing Standard this weekend, I am going to be playing Modern at Grand Prix Minneapolis this weekend. As I mentioned at the top
of the article, I’m hosting a Magic panel at the event. It’s going to be called Planes Talkers, and I’m pretty excited about it. For this first Planes Talkers, the panel
will be two-time Pro Tour Champion Brian Kibler, Pro Tour Champion Craig Wescoe, and Pro Tour Champion Shaun McLaren; we’ll be joined by head judge Toby
Elliott, and the five of us will discuss the Grand Prix and the format of Modern in general, taking questions from our live audience and from
Twitter. I’m really excited about the event, and I think it is going to be an awesome way to kick off my Grand Prix weekend. If you can’t come to
Minneapolis, we’ll be streaming it live, as well at twitch.tv/legion_events, so you can watch and send me tweets for questions for the panel!
As for the event itself, I’m thinking about several different decks for the event. At the last Modern GP, I played U/W Control (primarily designed by Brian
Kowal). The deck was good, but I didn’t do very well with it. Before that, I played Obliterator Rock (back before it was hip *wink*) and I finished in the
This time around, I’m thinking about a lot of different decks, but they nearly all include this card:
Here is one of my major front-runners, Cruel Control.
I’m still tinkering with this deck, but I’m pretty pleased about where it is.
I’ll see you this weekend in Minnesota!