Magic is more than just a card game. It introduces you to great people and new places on a regular basis, especially if you’re a traveling Magician. All it takes is a good finish or two to pay for your trips, and you can even add a little extra pocket money.
Except when your travels lead you to Las Vegas. Then all that extra income goes out the window…at least for me.
The fates had smiled down upon me for this trip: Magic, vacation, and a sweet surprise for my girlfriend Ashley. I landed in Vegas on Tuesday; the money flew out of my hands, stimulating the economy and ensuring The Mirage would have enough to get through this fiscal quarter without skipping a beat. Of course, it was super fun, nonetheless. My logical side gave way to my fun side, and I had a blast even if my bank account did not.
As the SCG Open Series approached, I justified the lost funds as "expendable SCG Invitational money" and prepared for the second step of the trip.
I had room service set up a romantic dinner for two with champagne. The dinner surprised my girlfriend, and when she sat down to enjoy some steak, I got down on one knee and proposed.
Luckily, she said yes!
The other answer would have ruined the week. Even a SCG Open Series victory may not have soothed the pain. But now that I had enjoyed Vegas and gotten engaged, I could focus on slinging some cards (right after some Jerry Seinfeld standup).
In my articles, I don’t lie. I post decks, and then I actually play the decks I post in big events. In my last article, I said I was going to give Mono-Blue Wizards a whirl, and that is exactly what I did. I preached that Talrand was the answer for Delver and green aggressive decks, and man did he come through 100%. He put games out of reach with infinite Drake tokens and caused many opponents to lose almost instantly, even when I was behind.
I realized that when a deck is all cantrips, you often fall short in the early turns. The major exception is when you flip a Delver of Secrets on turn 2.
This was the first time I’d played Delver outside of Limited, and questions arose from my opponents, fans, and critics…WHAT??? I was accused of selling out by fellow Middle Eastern mage Ali Aintrazi, and I quickly snapped back. I play control religiously and always have, but when a card comes out that piques my interest, I’ll play it. I put control on pause for cards like:
- Greater Good (States 2nd place, used by Frank Karsten to place 2nd at Worlds)
- Avalanche Riders / Momentary Blink (Worlds 2006 Blink Riders 9th)
- Chameleon Colossus / Cloudthresher / Squall Line / I Hate Faeries (U/G/R Midrange Nationals Top 8)
- Ajani Vengeant (Naya Ramp)
- Ajani, Caller of the Pride (Doran Walkersâ€”coming soon!)
- Talrand, Sky Summoner (Mono-Blue Wizards 7th SCG Standard Open: Las Vegas)
- Phyrexian Arena (The Masterpieceâ€”Mike Flores favorite Shaheen deck)
However, I’ll always revert back to control after I try my favorite new cards, but it takes a few tournaments.
Here is the list that gave some of my fans a fit when they saw me piloting it in Vegas.
I landed a sweet Top 8 in Vegas and lost my win-and-in in Washington, DC for another Top 8. It was fun to make all those Drakes. I’d say the majority of my games were won through the usual suspects of Delver and Snapcaster Mage, but Talrand, Sky Summoner usually won one game in each match. I even got a few poison victories. You’d be surprised how often decks can’t deal with Inkmoth Nexus and just get one-shot.
I had to sleeve up Talrand immediately because once rotation kicks in, his playability will sink. We don’t know what’s in Return to Ravnica, but we do know it isn’t Phyrexian mana.
If you do decide to pilot this list, my best advice is to hold as many Gitaxian Probes as you can. I often held two Probes for four turns until I landed Talrand to ensure his army was mighty. Sometimes, you have to use Probes to hit land drops, but if you can possibly live without doing that then you will reap in the benefits after a few turns. This goes for Gut Shot as well, but don’t save those if your opponent has mana dorks out.
Another tip is that Inkmoth Nexus can and will one-shot an opponent, so if a game is looking hopeless there is always an out. In DC, one of my opponents had a Titan, Thragtusk and another fatty on board but fell to Inkmoth Nexus. He not only lost that game to poison, but he also fell to the same exact strategy game 2. Wolf Run Ramp decks only play one Inkmoth Nexus, and that is simply not enough to save them when your entire deck is cantrips and answers to 1/1s.
My last tip is don’t play against Josh Cho because he is extremely lucky and will knock you out in the win-and-in round with his magical Cho-Hawk.
What do I want to play next in Standard? So many sets to choose from should make a guy like me happy. It doesn’t. This feels like the lame duck session of Congress where nothing gets done. I could come up with a cool deck that breaks the format, but it will become completely obsolete after rotation. My motivation is stifled by Return to Ravnica being so close.
Some people come up with a sweet deck and then improve on it week after week, tournament after tournament. It usually pays off great dividends. Other players are just tournament masters that can pick up whatever the flavor of the week is and dominate… That’s not even close to me or many of my readers, I suspect.
I’ll try to pick up cards for my Doran Walkers list and run that on the FNM circuit. I think all the Standard Grand Prix are finished until the new set is released, and if that is the case, then my next article will address Limited or Legacy instead of Standard.
Speaking of Legacy, what happened in Vegas and in DC? I lost both win-and-ins… Man, I am good at that! Both losses were to RUG Delver, which, simply put, is just a bad matchup. Both matches went to game 3 and appeared close, but the advantage definitely goes to Delver. I played the same old list, and as I told Reid Duke in DC, I can’t really change gears with an archetype if it continues to work and produce good results. For reference, here is the list I played in DC, which is very similar to the list I played a few weeks back in Vegas.
I shoved a Llawan in the sideboard to have a silver bullet against an unlucky Merfolk player, but in both tournaments I only played against the Fish one time total. I think Merfolk can be a powerful choice, but it has a rough matchup against Maverick and other non-blue aggro decks. It is a deck that I never want to play against, and that one Merfolk player did beat me. Besides that, I added an Engineered Explosives to the main, which was fantastic all day.
A lot of people poke fun at Stoneblade and other Legacy decks for their inclusion of one-ofs and think that when they draw those bullets they’re just "lucky." In a deck with Brainstorms and Ponders, a one-of has a much greater chance to be seen than in a Modern or Standard deck. The one Engineered Explosives popped up quite a few times and allowed me to destroy two Tarmagoyfs on camera to reel in a victory against RUG Delver last weekend. Besides that, it gives outs to many things in the format and is one card I don’t board out.
So how do we improve our RUG Delver matchup? There is no easy answer to that question.
Esper Stoneblade has good matchups across the board in my opinion. To say a deck is 45% against the field is an outdated and incorrect statistic. Against combo decks, the sideboard turns Stoneblade into a hate machine with the ability to answer spells prior to being cast, on the stack before resolution, and when crap hits the fan. I have outraced Progenitus, Blasted away a Sneak Attack, Surgical Extractioned a win condition, and in the same breath Snapcastered the other one; the list goes on and on.
Having answers is always slightly worse than having the threat that requires those answers, but if you are experienced enough and play tightly, I say Esper Stoneblade has the advantage against most of the field.
However, playing against RUG Delver sucks. There are some things here and there we can change, like cut a Jace to add an Explosives or cut a Snapcaster to add a Path to Exile, but when doing things like that we can easily turn some of our good matchups into much worse ones.
I will alter the sideboard a bit by adding another Engineered Explosives and maybe another basic to the maindeck, but besides that I won’t be changing the list much. For now, I’d suggest dropping the one of Wasteland for another Island and the Llawan in the board for another Explosives.
The beauty of Legacy is its diversity, as most people know. I used to dig at Legacy every chance I got and would poke fun at the Hatfield masters and Legacy mega-fan David Gearhart, but not anymore. Although I like the other formats better, I have grown to like Legacy, where true control doesn’t flourish but some elements remain at the top tier. When I am rich and can afford a much bigger Legacy collection, I will toy with it as much as I do with Standard, but at this point Esper Stoneblade fits my play style the best in Legacy.
Suggestions For What To Play
I don’t have any tournaments left on a large scale, but if you do I have some suggestions on what to battle with. If you love Delver and want to snag wins from those experienced U/W Delver fans in Standard for another month or so, battle with Mono-Blue Wizards. Talrand is a game stealer against the Delver mirror as well as the other matchups I spoke about earlier. Also, Runechanter’s Pike is still pretty good and better than the more expensive Swords on the side of the enemy. I mean, who plays Sword of Body and Mind anyway?
If you are like me and only have local tournaments left before rotation, then you can join me and battle with Doran Walkers. I am making no official changes to the list since my last article, but a few things you can try to add are:
- Viridian Emissary – Early pressure / Ramp
- More Ajani – He is insane in this deck and only being a two-of doesn’t feel right.
- Maindeck Day of Judgment – If you are expecting more Pod than Delver.
- Swords – I think they deserve a spot in here. This deck can easily produce the mana needed to feed the Sword strategy, but you would need to cut a few wielders to fit them in.
All the cards listed above were in the original build at some point but were cut due to what I saw most on Magic Online. I think that you can’t run the same list in every location and time due to the variety of decks that pop up depending on the metagame. I will be active on Twitter with official changes after this weekend of playing to see what deserves a concrete spot, but one thing is for sureâ€”pick up another Ajani. 🙂
And in Legacy, my unbiased, expert opinion is…*drum roll*…Esper Stoneblade! I spent a few minutes previously explaining the advantages of the deck, so I won’t bother you all with repeating those points. I do think anyone can pick this deck up and after a few weeks of playing it get to the level of understanding that can propel you past the ever-shifting Legacy metagame that you will see week to week.
Last but not least, M13 Limited. I have drafted this set quite a few times, and I have to say that I really enjoy it. Each color combination is viable, as they have been in most base sets, but something is different. The interaction and synergy between cards in M13 is a ten out of ten as far as base sets go. It isn’t the old Grizzly Bear into your Grizzly Bear with an epic Giant Growth as previous sets have been, but a true Draft format with a slew of spells to interact with the creatures. The creatures are also very powerful, especially when you dedicate yourself to two colors and get the bonuses from doing so. A 3/2 regenerator for two and a 4/4 trampler for four is a nice touch to the uncommon pool provided.
Flavor-wise, the Limited format also delivers. Everything from blue Drake flyers combating an exalted B/W deck to G/R super aggro Flunkies battling R/B removal… Each color combination is viable and can be crafted with success. Compared to the god-awful Avacyn Restored Limited format, I give M13 an A+. So my official suggestion as what to play in M13 Limited is anything synergistic, but my personal favorite deck to draft is blue/x flyers. Big surprise, right?
Next time we chat, more Return to Ravnica spoilers will be out in the open. Right before a rotation is my favorite time, and I’m sure many of you agree that it is very fun and exciting. I look forward to resurfacing with a new control deck that will be very similar to the old ones. The biggest things I look for when a new set is replacing many of the old are replacement cards. I will be listing all the rotating control elements of my Planeswalker Control deck and old U/B and U/W Control decks to begin rebuilding using the spoilers.
Another thing we will be doing is predicting what the new metagame will look like and more specifically what new aggro decks we will have to defend against. I have always done well in the first tournament out of the gates in September/October due to the ability for a control deck to defend well against a new field. I guarantee our new control deck will include mass removal, card draw, and hard to kill win conditions (planeswalkers galore more than likely), so be sure to hold on to all those mythics that are sticking around. I will also be involved in coverage for @SCGLive early next year to bring a clear control bias to the booth, and I hope you all will enjoy my antics through video as well.
Thanks again for reading guys, and see you next time.
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