Black Magic – Kyoto Predictions

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Tuesday, February 24th – Pro Tour: Kyoto is fast approaching, and our game’s top players are heading east. Today, Sam Black brings us his thoughts on Standard going into the tournament, breaking down the metagame with reference to recent tournaments, including the top decks from last weekend’s StarCityGames.com $5000 Standard Open!

I leave for Kyoto in about 12 hours. Now is the time when I have to decide which cards to take with me, particularly since I’m just bringing one carry on. That means I should know about as much as I’m going to know going into this tournament, so I’m going to take a stab at predicting what you’ll see in Kyoto.

The first place to look for what to expect in Standard is Worlds. Yes, it’s outdated, but the format hasn’t changed that much, and Worlds has some interesting things to tell us. The Standard decks at Worlds were: R/W, Faeries, Kithkin, Five-Color Control, Mono Red/Blightning, W/B Tokens, G/B Elves/Doran, Reveillark, Merfolk, G/W aggro. Of those, R/W, Mono Red, and Five-Color Contol have the most new tools, so those are the most obvious decks to be on the rise. More of those decks (and the printing of Volcanic Fallout) should push G/B players toward Doran more than Elves, but more likely I think they’ll just play other decks, as I think those are poorly positioned against the early breakthrough deck of this format: R/W.

Red/White had an exciting debut in this format at the Lunatic Moon Convention tournament in Tokyo won by Tomoharu Saito with 5 Red/White decks in the Top 8. The other 3 decks were two Red/Black decks and an interesting Control Swans deck played by Yuya Watanabe. The Japanese site that covered the event seems to have a lot of other interesting details in Japanese, but from what I can gather based on their deck breakdown chart, it looked like a very diverse tournament. The fact that there were that many different decks (no deck name had more than five players, according to their chart) indicates to me that this tournament was not especially indicative of what should be expected in a developed metagame.

At this point I should confess that it isn’t fair to refer to “the Red/White deck.” There are two very different decks at work here. There’s R/W Reveillark with Ranger or Eos, and there’s an aggressive White deck backed by burn spells. The Reveillark players in Tokyo all played Knight of the White Orchid and Mind Stone, even though some American players have recently been cutting one in favor of more lands.

This deck did well at Worlds, and Path to Exile gives it an excellent weapon against Faeries (though admittedly it can be a risky card to maindeck due to being pretty weak in some matchups, including the mirror).

Tomoharu’s deck is a good example of what to expect from this deck, although it is minimized on Forge[/author]-Tender”]Burrenton [author name="Forge"]Forge[/author]-Tenders.

4 Mogg Fanatic
4 Figure of Destiny
4 Knight of the White Orchid
4 Siege-Gang Commander
3 Ranger of Eos
3 Reveillark
4 Mind Stone
4 Spectral Procession
4 Path to Exile
4 Ajani Vengeant
3 Plains
3 Mountain
4 Forge[/author]“]Battlefield [author name="Forge"]Forge[/author]
4 Rugged Prairie
4 Windbrisk Heights
4 Reflecting Pool

3 Banefire
3 Wrath of God
3 Ajani Goldmane
4 Stillmoon Cavalier
2 Forge[/author]-Tender”]Burrenton [author name="Forge"]Forge[/author]-Tender

The new deck shown at this tournament was Yuya’s Control Swan deck:

4 Swans of Bryn Argoll
2 Seismic Assault
4 Pyroclasm
2 Tidings
4 Cryptic Command
4 Broken Ambitions
2 Remove Soul
2 Negate
4 Incinerate
4 Jace Beleren
1 Chandra Nalaar
5 Island
2 Mountain
4 Shivan Reef
4 Cascade Bluffs
4 Crumbling Necropolis
4 Reflecting Pool
4 Mutavault

1 Banefire
3 Volcanic Fallout
1 Negate
3 Plumeveil
3 Vendilion Clique
2 Sower of Temptation
2 Glen Elendra Archmage

This is the closest I’ve seen to a “draw-go” style deck in a long time. It wants to use card advantage from Jace to hit all its land drops and counter most of the opponent’s spells, and it essentially treats card advantage as its win condition. This deck makes excellent use of Pyroclasm and Volcanic Fallout.

Red decks have come a long way. Before Conflux I felt like people played them to beat Faeries, but the decks weren’t even especially good at that. Now I think Red really is favored against Faeries, and it can even beat the Red/White decks depending on how each deck is built. They can have a lot of problems with a prepared control deck, particularly if “prepared” means “playing Wall of Reverence,” but if I had any idea how to play with Red cards, I’d be tempted to put that knowledge to use in Kyoto.

Personally, I’m most impressed by the dedicated burn style as shown by Mitsui Hideo’s deck:

4 Figure of Destiny
4 Hellspark Elemental
4 Boggart Ram-Gang
4 Shambling Remains
4 Tarfire
4 Shard Volley
4 Incinerate
4 Flame Javelin
4 Volcanic Fallout
6 Mountain
4 Auntie’s Hovel
4 Sulfurous Springs
4 Graven Cairns
4 Ghitu Encampment
2 Reflecting Pool

2 Everlasting Torment
3 Spiteful Visions
3 Terror
3 Deathmark
2 Wild Ricochet
2 Goblin Razerunners

On February 21, Richmond had a StarCityGames.com $5000 Standard Open that had seven different decks in the Top 8. The winner was David Irvine W/U/B Lark, and the only deck that took two slots was Blightning. David Irvine deck:

It is well positioned against the midrange decks like W/R Lark that have been excelling in this format, because it has a similar curve, can lock up the board with Sower of Temptation and Stillmoon Cavalier, reset with maindeck Wrath of God, and should eventually win due to stronger card advantage. Again, Path to Exile helps the deck compete against Faeries, giving it an answer to the otherwise awesome tempo swing of Mistbind Clique. Generally, this deck makes a lot of sense to me in the current metagame. Still, I think has been off the radar enough that I don’t think it will make a particularly impressive showing at Kyoto in terms of number of players.

The conclusion is that I expect the most played decks to be R/W Lark, Faeries, Blightning, Five-Color Control, R/W Aggro, and B/W Tokens in approximately that order.

R/W Lark has proven itself at this point and I’ll be surprised if there are no copies of the deck in the Top 8. Meanwhile, I expect a small drop in the number of B/W Tokens players since Worlds as I think the deck is in a similar position to R/W, except that I think R/W is favored when they play each other. Playing Bitterblossom for your tokens with Volcanic Fallout in the format just doesn’t seem like the best way for a deck like that to get guys.

I was concerned that Blightning would have problems with R/W because the old Mono Red deck was mostly held back by Kithkin, and I know that the R/W deck was designed with Mono Red in mind, but Volcanic Fallout and better burn spells (including Hellspark Elemental) seem to have given the deck the tools it needs to win the matchup if it’s built properly and the R/W deck ignores the matchup, as I feel Saito did. If it can beat that deck and Wall of Reverence is not heavily played, I think burn decks in general might put up their best results in years.

Personally, I intend to plan for the same clunky midrange control decks that have been doing well in smaller tournaments to rise to the top in the middle of the PT, such that if I’m doing well with Faeries, which I expect to be playing, I’ll be well positioned. In general, I think playing a deck that wasn’t great against Faeries and adding a few Path to Exiles will certainly make the matchup a lot closer, but often still won’t be enough. I think a lot of Faeries players will run into burn decks that are doing well and may suffer as a result, but that the rest of the field is still relatively good for Faeries.

It’s particularly difficult to comment on Five-Color Control’s matchups now, because, as I worked to demonstrate last week, there are a lot of different ways to build that deck, and which route you go will very heavily influence the matchups. The tools are certainly there, and I expect at least one player will find the proper balance and Top 8 with Five-Color Control.

R/W Aggro or Kithkin splashing Red basically has the most efficient creatures in the format and one of the best clocks. It can race Red decks, and Banefire might give it the reach it needs to finish off Faerie and Five-Color decks that it would previously have only been able to almost kill. I think it’s worst against the midrange decks that can play a similar number of creatures and overwhelm with more powerful spells like Siege-Gang Commander and Reveillark, especially with Wrath of God out of the sideboard. On the other hand, it’s capable of coming out fast enough to force those decks to chump block before they’re ready, get Windbrisk Heights advantage by being the aggressor, and put it away before the midrange deck can stabilize. Additionally, none of the new cards are really great against this deck. Path to Exile is very poorly situated to deal with the creatures in this deck as they’re small and have to be dealt with early, but the new land can let the deck cast things like Cloudgoat Ranger or Wilt-Leaf Liege. Volcanic Fallout is basically just a bad Firespout, as two Wizened Cenns make your team immune to it, Burrenton-Forge Tender still stops it, and the two damage is usually good for the Kithkin player.

I don’t think these old decks are the only decks we’ll see in Kyoto. I don’t expect any new decks to be overwhelmingly popular or successful, but I expect other strategies to make an appearance. Ancient Ziggurat and Noble Hierarch are a tempting combination, and they will see play together. In addition to the expected Doran/Woolly Thoctar style aggro decks, I’ve heard about a Bant Aggro deck that uses Birds of Paradise and Noble Hierarch to consistently play Cephalid Constable or Cold-Eyed Selkie, which, followed up by Rafiq of the Many or simply paired with exalted from a Noble Hierarch, can lock up a game in short order. Those starts are backed by Negate, Bant Charm, Cryptic Command, and potentially even Hindering Light to ensure their creatures go the distance.

Jund Mana Ramp has been a consistent Tier 2 deck, trying to maximize the power of Garruk to cast over-the-top Jund cards like Broodmate Dragon and Violent Ultimatum. These decks now have the option to splash Nicol Bolas for more over-the-top fun.

A dedicated Esper/artifact deck, with or without Tezzeret the Seeker, could make an appearance, but I’m not too optimistic about its performance at this point.

Ultimately, I’d expect the Top 8 breakdown to be something like: 2 Faeries, 2 R/W Lark, 2 Blightning, 1 Five-Color Control, 1 other, but it won’t be exactly that of course.

As for the Limited portion I don’t have too much to say, except I think this set really rewards staying open, following signals, and just taking the best cards. Despite claims I’ve heard that the less reliable manabases encouraged by this set create higher variance, I think that the successful players in the Limited portion of this event will be people who are generally good drafters and solid players, rather than merely those players who have in some way solved the format. That said, I like the Black cards this time around.

I have to finish preparing for my trip. When I get back next week, I hope to have some excellent stories to tell from my trip to Japan. Wish me luck.