A Look at Standard – Worlds

As we all know, Dragonstorm took the top spot at Worlds this year. Of course, the top deck – or even a list of the Top 8 decks – doesn’t tell the whole story. There are many rounds of Magic at Worlds, and a fair few decks that posted 5-1 or better. Today, Josh looks at some of the more interesting ways to battle Dragonstorm, and shares his thoughts on the ideal build for Boros in Standard.

I’m back from Paris. I’m glad to see the forums for my last article were fairly active, and I am contemplating a well-thought-out response that I will post (or may have already posted by the time you are reading this) to those participating. Thanks.

This article is about Standard. The next will be about Draft, and the one after tackles Extended, as those are the three formats that were played and tested for Worlds this year.

I think I’d like to dive right in… maybe I’ll have a better intro next time.

Before the tournament, I felt this Standard format was not a good one. The environment is very large, and the Timeshifted cards make the format bigger and add extra dimensions to the deck-building game – this is, of course, good. However, enabling twenty or more solid decks is not. Before you all start preparing your verbal assaults, let me say that I do think diversity is good… to an extent. I’ve played in hundreds, maybe thousands, of Magic Online queues. I’ve played decks for three straight days before the online metagame changed from Deck X to Deck Y, and then I had to compensate either with a different deck or a different maindeck configuration. It shouldn’t be like that. It shouldn’t be “everyone trying to beat one deck,” and then, slowly, “everyone trying to beat the deck that beats that deck,” and so on.

That’s the “danger” of declaring a best deck. It happens after roughly every event. After Hawaii you saw a sea of Red / Green; after Worlds ’05, a sea of Green / White; and in both cases the field slowly adjusted to first beating those decks, and then beating those decks.

Now, conversely, if there are twenty viable decks you simply can’t prepare thoroughly. Pick three and try to beat them. Pick five. Pick ten. You’ll come up short. You’ll spend a round playing against a deck from a budget-deck-article on the sideboard and losing to it, only to get a, “I bet you didn’t test that matchup!” after he 2-0ed you. Your best bet in such a wide-open field is to test against the extremes. Beat the fastest beatdown deck, and the slower ones should be easy. Beat the most controlling control decks, and the ones that aren’t quite as focused should be easy. This generally leaves you open to combo, but you can’t really find decks that are just 100% against the field, or else it wouldn’t be a twenty-deck metagame…

So, going into Worlds I had some ideas. I knew there’d be a lot of Red beatdown and a lot of control. It seemed to make sense that Glare would be represented, as it had quite the showing at Worldwide Champs events, and again, it stood to reason that the decks gaining popularity in the weeks leading to Worlds (namely U/G aggro with Mystic Snake, Spectral Force and Scryb Ranger – and the appropriate fixings). Control decks were probably of the order of Solar Fire and mid-range Lightning Angel variations. A smattering of Tron decks probably wouldn’t fare too well against the brutal randomness that could result in a Zoo pairing so bad you might not have bothered to sideboard any cards for it. I knew about Dragonstorm, but I didn’t think it would be as big as it was. That’s what I thought.

In a large format, you have a few options. Play what you like and know how to play, or play something that is very powerful and rugged. Those options did not translate well for me. There have only been a few decks I’ve actually enjoyed playing in all my years. Survival of the Fittest, circa Urza’s Saga with Great Whale capability, was one. More recently, I really liked playing Red Deck Wins in Extended ’05. I liked my Red deck from Nationals, and I liked our Standard deck from Worlds last year. I also really liked our Extended deck from last year, which was Astral Slide – I love the cycling mechanic. Unfortunately for me, I couldn’t play any of these decks. I couldn’t even play a copy of a copy of a copy of any of these decks. There just wasn’t anything similar.

On the other hand, rugged powerful decks could take any form. Dragonstorm is definitely one of these decks. It doesn’t really matter what it’s playing against, it has a plan and a goal. At the same time, if your opponent’s hand is bad, they’re probably dead. Slow? Dead. Don’t know what to do? Dead. Can’t win because they didn’t expect Dragonstorm? Dead. Quite a few variables that seem to favor you. In exchange for those variables you pay a price on inconsistency. For anyone familiar with Pattern of Rebirth-style decks, where you could often draw a seven- or eight-mana creature or enchantment that you simply had no way of doing anything with, drawing the wrong card at the wrong time is quite painful and frustrating. But your good hands are good.

Mihara won the event with Dragonstorm.

Get used to seeing this decklist, because I am pretty sure it won’t be the last time you see it. It is definitely gaining popularity on Magic Online as I write this. The decklist doesn’t seem too spectacular to me. It is very “no-frills” – Mihara literally has four of all of his cards, except the Hunted Dragons that are essentially redundant copies of Bogardan Hellkite. He has tons of cards to set up – Telling Time, Remand, and Gigadrowse are all cards that simultaneously fix something while buying time.

To beat this deck you have to do one of two things. The traditional beatdown route will work, as always. Play a bunch of guys and smash their face. If you’re faster than they are, you win. Since they’re the one with Remands this probably won’t pan out, but it is definitely possible. Any hiccup in their draw or any missed land drop for them is probably lethal. Similarly, your hand needs to be good. It is basically two decks goldfishing in this scenario, since neither deck particularly interacts with the other. Dragonstorm will probably win the majority of these games. Sideboard cards help both sides. Cards like Honorable Passage make it harder for them to kill you, as well as possibly doing the final five or six damage to them, courtesy of one of their Dragons. Still, I don’t like it. The second plan will be covered when I discuss the deck I played in the event.

Boros was out in full force at this tournament. People joke about Boros and say “I’m just gonna play Boros in both formats, yada yada,” and to most people it is a safe deck that will probably get them to 4-2… but still, with a random field, nothing is safe. It did well though, propelling four people to 6-0 after Day 1. I liken this to the days of Affinity’s success. People never respect the aggressive decks enough. They think they beat them, but they really don’t. They try to win the wrong way… they do the wrong things, they build their decks and sideboards wrong. They get it wrong, and somehow four people manage to 6-0 with a deck that no one thought was very good going into the event. Happens all the time.

Tsuyoshi Fujita went 6-0 with this build:

This decklist is fairly masterful. If I had this decklist before the event I would have played it. Tsuyoshi’s decks are always interesting when standing side-by-side with the “norm.” His deck opts for the fewest creatures of any Boros deck that did well, with just thirteen. His deck functions much like Zoo: he is expecting to get four or six damage from his guys and then finish with burn. This is, of course, why his deck features the largest component of burn of any of the decks. This also explains why his deck features the largest quantity of land. Even the guy with four four-drops in his deck played less land than he did. Demonfire and roughly infinity burn ensures excellent inevitability against decks that are not equipped to handle such things. Even against decks with Firemane Angel he might be able to finish them off, since he has both the mana and the spells to get the job done.

His sideboard is also fantastic, and I’d expect nothing less. With Paladin En-Vec for the mirror and Cloudchaser Kestrel to deal with opposing Worship and Circle of Protection, as well as Solifuge and Rain of Gore to shore up control matchups, and lastly Honorable Passages wherever they fit, (Hellkites, Mirrors, Zoo). Passage is fairly versatile these days.

It’s not surprising that he went 6-0. I think his list is excellent, and should you want to play Boros in an upcoming Standard event, I’d recommend this one.

But honestly, I can’t really recommend Boros. In the open metagame, if your plan is good and your deck is good you’re gonna do well, assuming you play well and get the requisite amount of luck. He accomplished all of these things and 6-0ed. Now, however, it’s a different story.

We are basically immediately after Worlds — “immediately” being the important measurement of time in this case. Dragonstorm is the deck to play and the deck to beat. People are thinking about the mirror match right now. Yes, right now. I’m not going to lie to you, and I’m not going to pretend I am a Dragonstorm master, because I am not. I goldfished the deck a bunch, which I guess is very similar to actually playing it since interactions are minimal between it and its opponent’s deck, but that doesn’t really qualify me. I couldn’t even say if Mihara’s deck was particularly good… it seems good, but again, I don’t know enough about it.

The second plan against Dragonstorm, which now seems all too relevant, is to have Wrath of God and the ability to gain life. If this is your strategy, the game will play out a few ways. You gain life, forcing them to go off for the full amount or to slow-play their combo, producing one dragon at a time, trying to whittle you down, weakening their overall ability to combo (fewer dragons, less damage.) This is very good for you, as long as you don’t also lose to the remaining few dragons when they do combo you — chances are, as they’ve been doing nothing the whole game but building their hand, they can combo you whenever they want after a while if you leave yourself open. If they choose not to slow-play, all they do is knock you down to roughly one life. Ideally you untap and Wrath of God their team, surviving. They probably can’t win after that, so they’re probably not going to let the game play out like this. If you’re gaining life, they’re probably going to be looking into the first option instead.

All their dragons give them value after you’ve dealt with it, unless you are Condemning Hunted Dragon, but that’s just one scenario and doesn’t often happen — or matter. Mihara’s deck can storm for six and deal 32 damage in one turn… that’s a lot of life to gain, considering how fast you’d have to do it. However, if they fear Remands or Condemns or both, they will be forced to slow-play or suffer, at least for enough time to set up Gigadrowse which might take some time depending on how you are playing.

The deck I played at Worlds this year was a deck capable of gaining life. If I had faced off against Dragonstorm I would have employed a lifegain-into-Wrath strategy, but I don’t know how well I would have fared. It seems dicey, though I do not believe the default was to include four Gigadrowses and two Hunted Dragons – Mihara succeeded as the only Dragonstorm deck to crack the Top 8, and he went on the win the whole thing, so perhaps he is on to something.

The answer is to play non-reactive cards that stop their strategy. Circle of Protection won’t cut it if your lands are tapped. The same goes for the aforementioned Condemns and Honorable Passages. You need something that will protect you if it is in play, no questions asked.

Teferi is an excellent weapon against decks full of Suspend cards, but Mihara’s deck has just Lotus Bloom rather than the usual Ancestral Visions — he opts for perhaps a more consistent Telling Time. However, Teferi combined with the other countermeasures means they are less likely to Gigadrowse you, and without the added Lotus mana to benefit from, they will probably be hard pressed to Dragonstorm you out fast enough. I don’t think Teferi is ideal, but it should definitely be on your mind if it isn’t already on your deck-reg sheet.

The last card I want to mention is Ivory Mask. I didn’t play Ivory Mask in my deck, but Mihara’s deck has roughly no outs against it. Their best plan involves their normal Dragonstorm strategy or casting their Dragons slowly, making you answer each one, but if you manage to do that, or kill them first (their combo is a lot slower if the Hellkites didn’t deal twenty to you, obviously) then obviously you’ve succeeded. Sure, it isn’t an auto-win – you still have to actually defeat them, and they can still defeat you – but a combination of Masks and Teferis goes a very long way towards defeating their strategy.

If you aren’t playing a control deck… you’re out of luck. No, just kidding. I think if you aren’t playing a control deck you need to be playing Zoo, because I don’t think Boros is fast enough, or you need to be playing Blue for Remands and other light permission spells. Generally, assuming you mulligan frequently and get a good, fast draw, they won’t have time to Gigadrowse you, and anything you do along the way to slow them down is very good. As a last-ditch effort, Remanding a couple of Dragonstorm copies will certainly leave them unable to kill you, and at the mercy of your counter-attack. Fast Spectral Forces backed by a smattering of countermagic is probably good enough to take it down; you just need to know when to mulligan. I’d sideboard Teferis in Green / Blue and hope to combine it with Remand and a fast clock to close the deal. I don’t think going overboard with Shadow of Doubt and Trickbind is really worthwhile, considering how good Teferi is, and how bad diluting your deck is.

In my next article, which will be very soon, I will discuss at length the deck I played, and the full day of Standard I played at Worlds.

Thanks for reading.

Josh Ravitz