Ask the Drama — Road to Regionals: Your Standard Questions Answered!

Get ready for Magic the Gathering Regionals!
In today’s instalment of the Road to Regionals series, Jeroen Remie sifts through his mailbag in search of questions on Standard. He has a look at Solar Pox, at another interesting Black/White deck, and discusses at length some of the ways to combat Dragonstorm. He also looks at a Blue/White Control deck and discusses countermagic. If you’re looking for that all-important edge for Regionals, Jeroen has the article for you!

With Regionals coming up, this is what we at StarCityGames.com call our Standard Push. As such, this week and the next I’ll not be covering the question in a first-come-first-served manner… instead I’ll be focussing on Standard questions, trying to help you guys get ready for Regionals the best way I know how.

Like I said last time, I really only play Magic on MTGO these days, which means that I have little experience with Future Sight in Standard decks. Of course, I still have my usual opinions. That does mean that I could be wrong on some individual cards or decks, but I’ll try and use my experience as a player to guide me here.

Let’s just head into the questions this week:

Zach Adair wants to know about old standby Solar Pox:

I’ve been running Solar Pox lately and it has been doing exceptionally well. It has the nut draw of turn 2 Pox with Flagstones and Urborg in play, and has amazing late game potential. I run 4 maindeck Remands and 2 maindeck Persecutes that have been a nice additions, and have greatly helped the Dragonstorm matchup. My worst matchup is still UR/Tron, since the get to a point where they say “I don’t care what you do anymore, I win”. I added 2 maindeck Ghost Quarter for them, storage lands, GQing my own Flagstones, and Svogthos in dredge.

My question is, how viable do you think this deck can be in the wide-open field that will be Regionals?

2 Akroma, Angel of Wrath
2 Angel of Despair
1 Skeletal Vampire
4 Court Hussar
2 Haakon, Stromgald Scourge

4 Compulsive Research
4 Remand
2 Persecute
1 Zombify
3 Dread Return
4 Smallpox
2 Mortify
2 Damnation
2 Spell Snare

1 Phyrexian Totem
2 Peace of Mind

4 Flagstones of Trokair
4 Watery Grave
4 Godless Shrine
2 Hallowed Fountain
2 Urborg
2 Ghost Quarter
3 Swamp
1 Island


3 Circle of Protection: Red
3 Shadow of Doubt
2 Spell Snare
2 Damnation
2 Faith’s Fetters
3 Extirpate

While the basic strategy of Solar Pox is really strong still, it does have some holes that developed through the changes in the metagame… and they are fairly hard to plug.

First off, you mention that U/R Tron is a tough matchup, and that you tried to fix it. Tron is a deck that basically rose up since the last time Pox was good, and is really one of the reasons Pox started doing badly. I do not think adding two Ghost Quarters will be enough to stop the deck, as it simply doesn’t really care all that much about a full Tron. It is nice if it has it, but if it doesn’t, the deck will continue functioning and certainly not roll over and die. If they have basic lands it becomes an even worse trade, since that means you put yourself behind.

Second, Damnation happened, and with that there’s another reason to skip playing White in the deck. Basically all that is left is Court Hussar as a real reason to play White, which is tricky because of our next point:

There is a lot of non-basic land hate these days.

As any writer on Standard on this site will tell you, playing three-color control is getting incredibly difficult with Magus of the Moon and Detritivore around. Mike Flores and Richard Feldman even make it their main focus when they are building decks to make sure they will not lose the Detritivore battle, either by focusing on two colors, or playing the card themselves.

Now don’t get me wrong, Solar Flare and its Pox variants are still good decks, and the last time Standard was played at a high level – at GP: Kyoto – it even made Top 8, but if you have to navigate through a lot of rounds of tough competition, it can be hard these days to dodge the problem decks and cards…

With shady matchups against Dragonstorm (with only two Persecutes as real weapons), U/R Tron and anything running the Red non-basic-land hate squad, I would play a different deck right now.

Alex Nuber:

Do you think Shimian Specter is playable in Standard? What about other formats?

Hey Alex. I am going to give you the short answer first, and then I’ll elaborate.

No, I don’t think Shimian Specter is playable right now.

There are a few reasons for this. It is vulnerable, expensive, and it doesn’t really influence the current board situation much, but the best way to say it is that Hypnotic Specter, which is arguably better then his newest brother, is completely unplayable in the current format.

The power level in Standard hasn’t been this high in a long time. Turn 4 or 5 kills are the norm, which means that four mana 2/2s that do not really influence the board or the game state immediately will simply not be good enough. I like the design of the card and the possibilities, but right now is not the time…

Richard Stachurski has a pet deck for FNM:

On Friday Nights I run a U/W control deck…

1 Akroma, Angel of Wrath
2 Aeon Chronicler
1 Sacred Mesa
4 Compulsive Research
3 Telling Time
4 Wrath Of God
4 Mana Leak
4 Remand
4 Rune Snag
4 Rewind
4 Faith’s Fetters

5 Island
2 Plains
4 Adarkar Wastes
4 Azorius Chancery
4 Hallowed Fountain
1 Prahv, Spires Of Order
1 Urza’s Factory
4 Flagstones Of Trokair

I have two questions

First: when Future Sight becomes legal, I want to run Nimbus Maze. Already, I’ve found Azorius Chancery to be lacking in quality, with Detritivore running around with random Avalanche Riders. Plus I often find my self playing Chancery with two lands in play and allowing my opponent to drop a threat and swing away. Therefore, I was thinking of dropping those four Chanceries for four Nimbus Mazes. With the addition of Nimbus, I’d want to run more Plains. In conclusion I was thinking of cutting Flagstones for four Plains. Do you feel that’d there would be enough Plains / Islands for Nimbus to be played as a dual land?

Don’t forget that Hallowed Fountain also counts as both, and basically turns on the entire Maze by itself, which means that that should be plenty of basics in there for that purpose. Like you said, Detritivore is a big threat these days, and should be looked at as a real threat. This means that you should play as many basic lands as possible, and even think about Pull From Eternity in your sideboard, as it can definitely give your deck problems.

Second: I really don’t like so many soft counters in my deck. I’ve lost many a game because Mono Green has six lands out, and Remanding / Mana Leaking a Silhana Ledgewalker is like pissing in the wind. Is Cancel – or are any of the new counterspells from Future Sight – powerful enough to make a splash in Standard?

When you have a deck that has a lot of cheap counters already, it is usually a fine plan to pull a couple of the situational ones and add three mana or four mana counters in there. You are right in thinking that playing too many situational counters like this is not what you want. Cancel seems like the best choice right now, but Rewind can also be just what you need as it helps a lot in battling Dragonstorm and the like.

Another new option for your deck is Judge Unworthy, which can be a great creature kill spell as well as a way to find what you need out of your next draws. Another counter that might also mix the two-mana cost with the late-game usage is Logic Knot. Just keep in mind to always test the changes you make.

Alex Barry has a bunch of questions:

First, if you had to play in a major Standard tournament tomorrow, what deck would you play and why?

A couple of weeks ago I got the same question, and back then I said Dralnu. I feel that deck has the best answers to anything that might show up across from you, as well as have a good matchup against Dragonstorm. It just seems like the most powerful deck. Now though, I am not so sure, as I feel like I really don’t want to play control right now. That means that I would either play R/G with some Blood Moon action both maindeck and board, Richard Feldman awesome-looking B/W deck he posted yesterday (if I had the time to test a little, of course), or Project X, which is very powerful but very under the radar because you can’t click fast enough to play it on MTGO.

Second, how big of an impact do you feel Future Sight will have on the Standard metagame in particular, and will new, truly competitive decks become viable because of Future Sight cards?

I feel like the biggest impact Future Sight will have on the standard metagame is the new dredge deck that is bound to pop up. Some writers like Mike Flores disregard the deck as viable, but I feel that right now it is a sleeper, waiting to explode on the scene. There is sure to be hate all around, but the fact that people won’t expect it as much will mean it will do fairly well.

As for completely new decks, if you don’t count the dredge deck (which is only about 20 cards new), I think Regionals is a bit early for that, and we’ll have to wait until Regionals is over to see what will really come out of Future Sight. It is a top-notch Constructed set, so there is bound to be a lot of stuff.

Finally, and on a slightly different note… when you build a Sealed deck, what thought processes do you go through to figure out which colors you should be in? My Limited rating is currently 1800+ and I feel like this is a major obstacle preventing me from becoming truly competitive.

Well Alex, technically I am not allowed to answer this question today, but let’s just hope Craig ain’t looking huh… [I’m looking the other way… – Craig.]

The first thing I do, of course, is sort my cards by color, cutting the completely unplayable ones immediately. From there I try and take a quick glance over each color and try and see which color is the deepest, which one has the most guys, which one has the most creature-kill spells, and which has the most bombs. Based on that, it is then time to lay out what you think are the best colors. It is very important to have a good mana-curve in Sealed deck, because falling behind makes it hard to recover, but power and consistency are more important.

From there it’s just preferences and experience, but following those steps will guarantee a decent build.

Okay boss, back to the Standard questions it is!

Alex Bortolan’s main questions are about Standard, so he’s in, despite starting off:

What’s the most skill intensive format, and what’s the least?

I feel that Team Rochester Draft is the most skill intensive format, as it has the lowest luck factor in the game. Just look at past teams that won these events, like YMG and Phoenix Foundation, and you’ll see that they often include the best players of that time. There are so many layers to it, with ways to out-draft your opponents as well as out-play them…

The least skill intensive format on the other hand is 2HG draft, which I feel is just picking the two best cards in each pack and making your own Sealed deck that way. Sure, there is some skill involved, but the drafting itself is just monkey-work. Draft is supposed to be a lot of thinking….

Funny how one replaced the other, isn’t it!

Do you like Craig Ferguson?

Well, since I had to Google him to find out who it is, I am gonna have to say… who? I don’t have a clue.

I’m toying with an aggro-discard deck for Regionals…I expect to face lots of Dragonstorm and Teferi / Dralnu decks, so I want to be able to beat them. Gruul may be a force, but I’ll just sideboard versus them, as my meta is usually control / combo

This is the build I’m trying now:

4 Godless Shrine
4 Caves of Koilos
2 Flagstones of Trokair
2 Urborg, Tomb of Yawgmoth
1 Plains
9 Swamp

4 Dark Confidant
4 Shrieking Grotesque
4 Dimir Guildmage
3 Jotun Grunt
2 Phyrexian Totem
4 Stupor
2 Persecute
4 Smallpox
3 Sudden Death
4 Tendrils of Corruption
4 Funeral Charm

What I’m asking here is: can a discard strategy work versus Dragonstorm? For now I’ve been doing quite well, but I don’t know how to consider my local testing. Some guys are good but are not familiar with Dragonstorm, and I’m afraid I may go to Regionals and find more experienced players who know how to play versus discard.

Well, isn’t that a coincidence. Richard Feldman wrote an article about a deck that looks just like this yesterday, but you both seemed to have come to different conclusions.

I feel the best way to beat Dragonstorm is discard, as it is really the only strategy that isn’t hampered by the almighty Gigadrowse. With that being said though, I like the direct approach better then the random approach, with Castigate and Persecute being a lot better then cards like Funeral Charm. On top of that you seem to be overdoing it a little bit with the discard, and are skimping on actual good cards like Ghost Council, which I believe to be perfect for a deck like this.

The advantage of playing with discard is that there is really no real way to play against it when it is played this heavily. If you are looking to beat Dragonstorm, a deck like this might be the way. I still recommend reading Richard’s article, as it’s very informative.

Is Ignorant Bliss a reason not to try the discard way?

Sure, the Bliss is annoying for a deck like yours, and it is an awesome foil to a card like Persecute, but you have so much discard already that the lone Bliss will often not be enough. What are they going to do when you hit them with a turn 2 Castigate, a turn 3 Stupor, and a turn 4 Persecute… sure, that one spell he countered with the Bliss will be gone, but the rest will still resolve. It’s annoying, but not a reason to avoid play the deck.

Am I the only one liking Dimir Guildmage? A 2/2 for two mana dude who aggros and lets you do something with your mana? In a deck which is not afraid of tapping out?

It seems that way. It’s not because the Guildmage is bad per se, just that he doesn’t do enough. Since most of the time the game is over by that time, his ability will often do nothing… especially since you will be drawing more discard as well. He’s just not worth the slot.

All the cards in the deck ask for an answer. Grotesque? Again, am I the only one loving it? Discard a card, 2/1 flier asking for an answer or else beating undisturbed?

This guy actually sees a fair amount of play, so you are not alone here. The problem is that he really doesn’t beat that hard, and he just dies to one of the most popular guys around right now, Sulfur Elemental. That means he is often just a three-mana discard spell, with the beats being inadequate or non-existent, which is not worth it when you can also play Stupor. I feel he is fine in the deck, though.

I’m trying to build a working deck… I’m not exactly sure about the Cry of Contrition / Smallpox / Mindlash Sliver configuration some decks play…

There are so many different ways to build the deck, and there is only one way to find out which is best: test, test, test.

Should I just grab Dragonstorm and play it? Is it that resistant to disruption?

You should play what you feel is the best deck to play. Dragonstorm is one of the, if not the, best deck out there right now, and is a very solid choice as it is very good against what most people think is enough hate. If you don’t like playing combo decks though, or have little time to test the deck and fear being unable to pilot it past the hate, then you should not play it at all.

Should I go Red and play Rix Maadi and Rise / Fall?

Like I said, there are many options, and the only way to find out is to test. I really like Castigate over the R/B options though, so I would stick with B/W, but change your deck to add that card. I don’t think you can handle a three-color manabase though, so I wouldn’t go B/R/W. Rise / Fall after all isn’t that much better than, say, Stupor, and Rix Maadi seems unnecessary.

Castigate is not in the list because it didn’t do all that well… I thought that versus Dragonstorm it would have been like surgical removal, but it just was not optimal…

And here I am constantly talking about how Castigate makes this deck so good and such a good choice right now. I would definitely play it, as it is one of the best discard spells in your arsenal. Can you tell me why it isn’t optimal?

Should Hypnotic Specter go there? The point is that you’re not sure he will net you some advantage…

Which is exactly why he isn’t good enough for the deck. I wouldn’t play him, as I explained a little earlier in this article.

Do you watch / know / like “Anthony Bourdain, no reservations”?

Once again you had me going to Google, so once again my answer has to be no… never heard of it. Should I? Would I? Could I?

Do you have any ritual or lucky charm you bring with you to tournaments?

I used to… I had stuff like lucky dice, a lucky necklace and that kinda crap, but I forced myself to stop doing that as lucky charms and such can really only distract you, and, well, there really is no such thing as a lucky charm.

Thin girls or curvy girls?

If you have ever seen me, you will know that a skinny girl would just be snapped in half trying to just hug me… let alone anything else. Nope, I am gonna have to say curvy… which I happen to prefer anyway.

And on that high note I’ll leave y’all to your testing. See you guys next week with some more Standard stuff to prep you for Regionals. That means that if you want some last minute help, be sure to send it to me ASAP at [email protected] with a big REGIONALS in the subject line. Also, direct questions work best for the column, so be sure to add those as well.