Black Magic – Analyzing the StarCityGames.com Los Angeles Open Standard Results

The StarCityGames.com Open Series returns to Dallas/Fort Worth!
Tuesday, January 5th – This past weekend, Luis Scott-Vargas rocked through the field at the StarCityGames.com Los Angeles Standard Open, piloting a powerful UWR Control deck that posted great numbers against the metagame. Today, Sam Black analyses the numbers behind the tournament, and suggests why Vargas’s UWR could spell a New Age of Standard for the StarCityGames.com Dallas / Fort Worth Open this coming weekend…

If you haven’t seen it, results from this weekend’s StarCityGames.com Los Angeles Open Standard tournament are up and posted, with more data than any tournament I’ve ever seen, all in a sortable spreadsheet that makes all kinds of data easily accessible. If you haven’t downloaded it, I highly recommend checking it out. Jared did a great job with it, and I’m hoping WotC follows suit for Pro Tour and Grand Prix coverage in the future (hoping for this from a GP seems a little ambitious, but the data would be amazing).

The spreadsheet shows what deck every player played, and then who played who and what the results are, which you can just look at by deck. Thus it’s extremely easy to see which side of the matchup is favored, and by how much, based on those results. It’s important to remember when doing this, of course, that the numbers aren’t everything. Actual matchups will sometimes change substantially based on exact card selection. It’s easy to imagine a chart like this in an extreme example that tells you that Rock was winning 70% of its matches against Dredge, but there’s nothing about the archetype that makes it win most of the time; perhaps the players that were playing Rock all just happened to have 6 slots in their sideboards dedicated to the matchup. If someone at a future event saw that Dredge didn’t look like something to worry about, since their deck wins 70% of the time anyway, and cut most of the hate from the board, they’d probably lose most of that percentage. Still, there is a lot of value to the data, particularly when looking at decks that were played by several different players (to help minimize the impact of the skill of the pilot).

On an even simpler level, this gives us better data about actual numbers in the metagame of the tournament, not just the metagame at the top, as we had with States. Let’s start looking at some numbers. The field:

There were 315 total decks.

31% Jund: 95

9% Red: 28

8% UWR Control: 24

7% Grixis: 22

4% Vampires: 14

3% Boros Bushwhacker: 11

3% Eldrazi Green: 11

3% Bant: 10

3% Knightfall: 10

29% Other

These numbers are striking, but not surprising. Jund is the deck. It’s the only deck that more than 10% of the field is playing. The results of this tournament lead me to believe that trend will continue, although UWR Control is in position to spike to more than 10% for the next Open weekend in Dallas, as I’ll explain.

Before looking at the data as only this new data lets us, let’s take a moment to view the results in the more traditional way: examining the top finishing decks.

The most obvious point is that Luis won with UWR Control. People would be interested in the deck just because Luis (and a number of other very good players) played it, even if it didn’t win, and they’d be interested in the winning deck regardless of who played it. Combining the two is a recipe for the deck to get some serious attention. Any other result from this tournament pales in comparison to that.

The second place deck was a pretty standard Jund affair, notable only in that it has both Garruk and Master of the Wild Hunt, with 2 Oran-Rief, the Vastwood. Also, the sideboard looks pretty tight, and particularly good for a field with so much URx Control (more UWR Control + Grixis than Red + Boros). Fourth place is also Jund, and so is sixth, so 37.5% of the Top 8 is Jund, which is about what one would expect.

In third place we see the return of Eldrazi Green. The rest of the Top 8 features another UWR Control deck (so it’s not just Luis’s mastery), Grixis, and Red.

Nothing there seems all that new or surprising. So far, the only story of the tournament is Luis’s deck.

Now let’s start taking advantage of these results. First, let’s see how each of the decks above performed, just in straight win percentage against the field (ignoring byes and draws):

Jund: 53% (note that this number is pulled strongly toward 50% by the large number of mirror matches)
Red: 53%
UWR Control: 62%
Grixis: 46%
Vampires: 47%
Boros Bushwhacker: 52%
Eldrazi Green: 46%
Bant: 39%
Knightfall: 54%

If Luis winning this tournament didn’t convince you to take this UWR deck seriously, those numbers probably should. I don’t know what else someone could take away from this.

So, let’s try to get a better grasp on this deck. Let’s start with its matchups, based on the same set of results, this time taking the win percentage of the UWR Control deck against the other decks in the field:

Jund: 63%
Red: 83%
Grixis: 46%
Vampires: 75%
Boros Bushwhacker: 60%
Eldrazi Green: 100% (2 matches / 4-1 in games)
Bant: 1-0-1 (3-2-1 in games)
Knightfall: 33% (3-5 in games)
Other: 62%

These numbers actually make the deck look even better. Consider this in light of the first set of data. Even knowing that Grixis is the best way to get an edge on this deck (discounting Knightfall for the moment due to the low amount of data), would you really want to bring Grixis, knowing that it was unfavored against the rest of the field in this tournament? Maybe, but it would take some courage. Look at it from the other side. The first set of numbers would probably tell someone who wanted to play Jund or Red that their choice was pretty good if they’re comfortable with the deck, since it’s favored against the field, but what happens to those numbers if UWR picks up as much as it might? I would not want to play Red when I’m 17% to beat the hot new deck, but someone else might want to play Red knowing that despite taking such a beating in that matchup, it still won 53% of its matches… and if you play UWR Control, you’ll get to beat those people.

Beating the decks that did well is actually even better than it might look at first. Yes, it means that you’ll be well positioned if those decks get more popular, but even if they don’t, if we assume those are the decks that are doing well in this format, and that they’ll continue to do well, the odds that you play them increase as the day goes on, and that means you’re even more likely to play against them. If you’re trying to win a tournament, it’s extremely important to have a good matchup against the decks that win, not just the decks that are widely played.

The hate in this format has been relatively weak, and the “best deck” has been the deck to play as a result. I don’t expect Jund to stop being the most popular deck is just a week, but these results provide an extremely compelling argument to me that Luis and company simply broke it, and UWR is the best deck, especially while people can’t really afford to gun for it while Jund is still out in force. Although, let’s explore that claim briefly. What if people did decide to trust the metagame to react strongly to this deck? What if everyone stopped playing Red (a terrible matchup for Grixis)? What would happen to their numbers then? That pulls their percentage up to 49%. That’s not really good enough to sell me, especially once we realize that Grixis really just won one more match against UWR than it did, it’s basically just a coin flip as far as we can tell.

To me, the conclusion is that the only place to go from here is to take a serious look at the deck:

The deck has no creatures that can be targeted in the main deck. It makes use of Spreading Seas without going all in on the plan and playing Convincing Mirage, which I like. It splits card draw into 2 each of Divination, Jace, and Mind Spring, another decision that I like, since Jace is legendary and the others are better at different points of the game. It also essentially plays Mind Spring over Sphinx of Lost Truths, which I like, particularly in a deck without Cruel Ultimatum to get value from the creature. The planeswalkers are all particularly good against other control decks, of course. The Wall of Denials are amazing against Red (and better than Path in the mirror, where they stop opposing Sphinxes). Earthquake, Lightning Bolt, Path to Exile, and Flashfreeze supplement the Wall for early defense. It’s a good deck, and a lot of solid choices were made. It’s worth noting in the mirror that 2 Spreading Seas can put them off Red forever, since they have no way to deal with enchantments main.

The most likely change I see happening to this deck is switching out some number of maindeck Flashfreezes to some counter that’s better in the mirror while still acceptable in other matches. The problem is that switching to Essence Scatter might actually be worse in the mirror, and Negate is pretty big sacrifice against Boros. Still, I would consider swapping one or two Flashfreezes to the board to bring in a Negate or two, or maybe a Negate and a Cancel. The next thing I’d want in the mirror is Pithing Needle in the board, except that it would turn off my own copies of relevant mirror targets. Into the Roil might be an acceptable replacement as a way to deal with Ajani and Luminarch Ascension. I’m also not in love with the Mind Controls, and I could see replacing them with more Oblivion Rings (or Needles or Into the Roil) to help answer Planeswalkers and Ascensions in the mirror.

As for the Knightfall matchup, on which there’s not a lot of data, I can see it going either way. The mana from a deck like that is much more resistant to Spreading Seas disruption, since a lot of the cards cost colorless mana and there are accelerators like Hierarch, Birds, or Lotus Cobra. With so much of the removal (Bolt, Earthquake, and Ajani) being damage-based, cards like Rhox War Monk seem like they could be very good against this deck; also, Emeria Angel can’t be countered by Flashfreeze, and if it makes 2 tokes off a fetch land the turn it enters the battlefield, those tokens could be surprisingly frustrating for this deck to handle. If I didn’t want to play a bunch of control mirrors, this is the deck I’d be most optimistic about. If other people think like me and the deck rises in popularity, the UWR deck could shift the matchup pretty dramatically by adding a few Day of Judgments to the sideboard, I think.

I’m very interested to see if this tournament is just a fluke, as the one dominated by Eldrazi Green turned out to be, or if this is the beginning of a major shift in Standard. I’m honestly inclined to think it’s the beginning of a major change, and if it is, I’m excited to see how quickly that change takes place. I don’t know how quickly people react to data this compelling, and that’s what I’m most excited to learn from next week’s results.

For now, I don’t think it’s too early to start testing against this as a serious portion of your gauntlet. Also, I’m pretty excited about imagining the new Jace in this deck in a month. It’s going to take some pretty serious cards in Worldwake to deal with the few control cards we’ve already seen.

Oh, and since I’ve been playing a lot of Extended in the last week, and as we’re in a PTQ season, I should probably mention what I’ve noticed online. I’ve played against Scapeshift dramatically more than I’ve played against any other deck. Really, startlingly more. Given that I’ve mostly been playing Faeries, and that Zoo and Red are the other decks I’ve been seeing the most, Scapeshift is where I’ve been winning all my packs. I assume the deck is good, given how much play it’s seeing, but it’s really bad against Faeries. Boseiju has not been close to enough to fix that problem. On the other hand, I’ve never been able to beat a turn 1 Goblin Guide, so maybe losing to Faeries isn’t that big a deal. The Doran deck that won the online PTQ is looking surprisingly reasonable. Big creatures, disruption, fast clock, all the best cards. I think that’s probably my pick for best Extended deck at the moment. I think the discard puts it over the top against combo decks, particularly Scapeshift, which I assume has a great matchup against Rubin Zoo to account for its popularity.

That’s all I have for Extended at the moment.

Thanks for reading…