Abrupt Decay In Standard

Find out why Michael thinks the trifecta of Abrupt Decay, Hero’s Downfall, and Thoughtseize is where you want to be at for Standard at #SCGVB and #SCGPROV.

Good morning to all of my readers, especially those of you who were disillusioned with my Thoughtseize piece last week. I want to extend a personal thank you for you folks returning since I know there are some who stated they wouldn’t be back after disagreeing with my points (or declaring the piece “worthless”).

Before I jump into our content today, I want to take a moment to clarify a few things that I didn’t do a great job of discussing last week. First, I didn’t mean to come off as saying that Thoughtseize is too powerful or that it can’t be beat; I do know that it is a powerful card (arguably the best in Standard), but my frustration was with the increased variance it places on a game and the utter inability to interact with that at all. The way I view it is like my opponent sits down and declares, “We have to start with six cards apiece. No, this isn’t up for discussion.”  That was the heart of my issue, and my attempts to be witty/clever/talk in jest took away from that.

(On that same note, my declarations that I’d consider quitting Standard were completely in jest and apparently looked like I was simply whining about a card I didn’t like; my apologies, that wasn’t my intent.)

With all of that out of the way, let’s get off the ol’ soapbox now and talk Magic like civilized people. Enough complaining already, am I right?

Standard these days is an awesome format. While I know this is a statement that will be disagreed with regardless of when I say it (three years in the future, last week, two years ago, etc.), I love the fact that you can play any color you want to in Standard and be competitive. In fact, as long as you have a solid powerful core and you know your deck and the ins and outs, I’d say you’re even favored in most matchups. The decks are all close in power level, with no one card lording over the rest. Yes, I know I just wrote a manifesto about my hatred for Thoughtseize, but that isn’t singlehandedly winning games like, say, Stoneforge Mystic and Jace, the Mind Sculptor.

As such, you pretty much never know what you’re going to get from week to week, match to match, hell, even game to game sometimes. The threats being presented are not all wrapped up in a neat bow and easily answered by the likes of Supreme Verdict, Doom Blade, or Ratchet Bomb.

For the most part, Detention Sphere does a great job of being a versatile answer.

Abrupt Decay is like the predator that eats not only most of the same things that Detention Sphere does but also the Sphere itself.

Since its printing, Abrupt Decay has seen a ton of tournament play . . . in older formats. It’s a card, like many in the past, whose play increased post-rotation due to the format fundamentally shifting. No longer is the format all about Thragtusk, Thundermaw Hellkite, and Angel of Serenity; now we have cards like Nightveil Specter, Domri Rade, and Underworld Connections greasing the pistons in the engines of tier 1 decks. While Abrupt Decay isn’t a card that answers everything (Gods; Jace, Architect of Thought; and Garruk, Caller of Beasts immediately come to mind among others), the fact that it preys on a lot of the same cards that Detention Sphere does while killing Detention Sphere itself and being in the same colors as the best card in Standard makes it a card I’m actively looking to play in the coming weeks.

Let’s take a look at how useful Abrupt Decay is against the main decks in the format; one of the biggest issues before when running Decay was how dead it tended to be against a lot of decks. How many matchups is Decay a dead card in these days? Here’s a (non-comprehensive) list of cards that Abrupt Decay cleanly answers:

Mono-Black Devotion: Pack Rat, Underworld Connections, Nightveil Specter

Mono-Blue Devotion: Every creature not named Thassa, God of the Sea or Master of Waves (which incidentally helps make those cards worse)

Esper Control: Detention Sphere

Mono-Red Aggro: Everything except Fanatic of Mogis and Stormbreath Dragon (if they play those cards at all)

White-Based Aggro: Everything

G/W Aggro: Everything

G/R Devotion: Mana dorks, Domri Rade, Burning-Tree Emissary (devotion count)

While the card fluctuates, it’s never truly a dead card. Even in the matchup with the least targets, Esper Control, it’s probably the card I want the most since it’s an uncounterable instant-speed version of whatever it is they deemed scary and important enough to put underneath a Detention Sphere.

The beauty of Abrupt Decay right now is that it shares a color with the other two best answers in Standard, Thoughtseize and Hero’s Downfall. Combined, these three cards give you the option of answering any permanent, though cards like Assemble the Legion are rough if you can’t nab it with a timely Thoughtseize. Even though I do hate that the card was printed, I fully understand the power of Thoughtseize and its ability to let you sculpt a perfect game plan, something that’s quite nice when you have two cards that do drastically different things but can answer some of the same cards in Abrupt Decay and Hero’s Downfall.

Here’s what I mean:

Your Mono-Black Devotion opponent just played a Nightveil Specter on turn 3. You have both Hero’s Downfall and Abrupt Decay in hand; which do you cast to kill it?

Let’s pretend we didn’t have the ubiquitous early Thoughtseize for a second; our opponent hasn’t done anything of relevance up to this point, and it’s their first play. Let’s say we decide to use the Abrupt Decay to kill it; how are we going to answer the follow-up Underworld Connections the next turn?

On the other hand, let’s say we answer it with Hero’s Downfall, wanting to play around a possible Underworld Connections; again, we’re left dead to rights when they drop a Desecration Demon on our faces the following turn.

I know this speaks more to the power level of Thoughtseize than Abrupt Decay, but in that situation having the knowledge of what their follow-up play would be is huge in determining how we answer the threats our opponent presents. It’s why Thoughtseize and Hero’s Downfall work so well together and why I think that adding Abrupt Decay to that equation gives you even more ability to plan ahead and answer the diverse cornucopia of threats that we’re presented with in Standard right now.

The question(s) then become:

1. What deck do I want to run that plays the requisite colors needed to play Abrupt Decay?

2. How many Abrupt Decays do I run in said deck?

The first question is tough since right now there really aren’t many decks that want to be devoted to the Golgari guild. I truly find this shocking, as the Golgari have done their best to provide us with the tools necessary to compete in Standard. I’m going to work to rectify this disparity this week.

So with that being said, the first place I’d look to is the deck that Brian Kibler charged into battle with in Los Angeles a couple of weekends ago, Golgari Aggro:

I honestly think one of the main reasons people haven’t explored Golgari decks further is the lack of a G/B scry land, which hurts but shouldn’t keep us from rocking those colors. Here we see a powerful creature package backed by Thoughtseize, Hero’s Downfall, and Abrupt Decay. This is a deck I’m seriously considering playing in Standard even though I dismissed it early as “just another Kibler G/B deck” since I essentially did the exact same thing last season with the Predator Ooze deck he was rocking. I’ve already talked in depth about how I think the trio of Abrupt Decay, Thoughtseize, and Hero’s Downfall give you game against literally anything, but it’s the thought he’s put into the creature base that has me excited to run this.

Boon Satyr is a card that I’m astonished has fallen off the map as much as it has. In my article last week, I discussed a G/W build with Satyr, and my opponents almost always audibly groaned when I had the Satyr. There’s just nothing to stop the Satyr from coming into play when you bestow it, so even value-seeking opponents are left frustrated when they want to kill your creature in response to the bestow.

Sure, you killed my Loxodon Smiter, but I still get my 4/2 and you’re tapped out. My turn?

I’ve written entire articles on my love for Varolz, the Scar-Striped, and the same holds true today as it did then; I love getting value even after my creatures have stopped walking the living earth. If you haven’t cast a Reaper of the Wilds and watched your opponent squirm yet, you should probably try it once or twice. It’s kind of fun.

In all reality, this is probably a better version of the G/W deck I talked about last week; it aims to pressure the opponent with undercosted green fatties while being resilient. However, this deck gets to play the three cards I think I want to be playing right now in addition to Reaper and the other Golgari aggressive cards that still inexplicably don’t get the love they deserve, Lotleth Troll and Dreg Manger.

Let’s say we don’t want to be attacking early and often. Let’s say we want to play control. The big question becomes “is having access to Abrupt Decay really worth not having access to the Azorius cards in control decks like Supreme Verdict; Sphinx’s Revelation; Detention Sphere; and Elspeth, Sun’s Champion? I’m not sure the answer is yes since in Esper you can just run Detention Sphere instead of Abrupt Decay, but I want to explore the option.

My friend Rob started working on a BUG Control deck that was essentially a B/G Devotion deck that he modified to add a card he really liked, Ashiok, Nightmare Weaver (granted, his love of Ashiok came from me selling him on the card, but testing has shown Ashiok to be extremely overrated). While the deck started out as a deck focused on trying to make the most out of Ashiok, we’ve since shifted it to a more U/B Control splashing green deck.

Here’s where we’re currently at:

Basically, in this deck I want to be more proactive than Esper Control. Reaper of the Wilds really is that good of a card, a hard-hitting threat that’s both hard to deal with and helps find more ways to deal with the threats being presented. Against any deck not running Supreme Verdict, as long as you play carefully Reaper of the Wilds is pretty easy to keep on the board. Even against decks running Devour Flesh, you have Omenspeakers to protect your Reaper.

Speaking of Omenspeaker, you may be questioning its inclusion; I wrote a couple of weeks ago about my appreciation for Omenspeaker, and I think those arguments apply even more these days when the range of decks you may face from round to round varies as much as it does. When you may face Rakdos Cackler or Supreme Verdict in any given round, there are very different cards you want for each matchup, and Omenspeaker helps to smooth out your draws. In fact, between Omenspeaker, the eight Temples, Dissolve, and Reaper of the Wilds, this deck gives you a ton of library manipulation to go with the hard card draw in Pilfered Plans; Opportunity; and Jace, Architect of Thought.

We have the trifecta I wrote about earlier in addition to a card I wonder why we’re not seeing more of in Far // Away; with less and less “enters the battlefield” trigger creatures in Standard to worry about, I really figured Far // Away would have a more profound effect on Standard.

The singletons also pull a ton of weight while filling multiple roles. The Syncopate can be looked at either as a fourth counterspell or as a two-mana removal spell on turn 2. Having a Syncopate leads your opponent to play around future Syncopates, which is good for you without you having to run potentially dead copies later in the game. Gaze of Granite is a great catchall while also being a three-mana one-sided sweeper effect against G/W Tokens. Late game it just answers everything, which is a nice thing to have access to in a deck that can dig as hard as this one can.

Is it better than Esper Control? I’m not certain, and the cynical side of me worries that Esper is just better in most phases. I do like the high level of library manipulation, though, and I’ve already went in depth on how much I love Abrupt Decay. As I’m writing this, I’m preparing for Grand Prix Washington DC, so I wasn’t able to play Friday Night Magic; however, Rob went out and rocked the BUG Control deck. I’m fairly confident that the deck has the tools to take on most decks in Standard, as the answer suite is flexible to take care of any threat.

Oh, and when you’re done demoralizing your opponents, Aetherling is there to wipe up the pieces.

If GP DC were Standard instead of Legacy, I’m 90% certain that I’d play the G/B Aggro deck; it’s got the types of cards I want to be playing right now and has flexible answers for the problems you may face in Standard. To be honest, this is partially because Rob and I are still working on the BUG Control deck, tuning it to get the numbers right. If I go to FNM next week, I’ll probably rock BUG to get a better feel for some other matchups.

Hopefully you’re reading this thinking, “Man, I was hoping Michael was able to write a tournament report really quickly after his GP DC win” at this point, as I hope I do well at the Grand Prix. Lucky you, you’ll know exactly how the tournament went by the time you get here. As I’m writing this, all I can do is hope . . . and reread Drew Levin excellent article series from last week.

That man is a lifesaver for guys like me who follow the format but don’t have the time to dedicate a ton of in order to learn the ins and outs of each deck.

If you have any cards/strategies you want me to touch on in a future article, please post it in the comments. I could cover the same decks that are doing well week to week, but I like trying to explore new ideas or possibilities like the BUG deck.

Until then,

Michael Martin

@mikemartinlfs on Twitter

Think for Our Self Blog

Mikemartinlfs (at) gmail (dot) com