Black Magic – Predicting Standard In The Wake Of Pro Tour Paris

Wednesday, February 16 – Sam Black, who made 26th in Paris, discusses the latest versions of U/W Control and where Standard will go from there. Check it out to see how the format will evolve for StarCityGames.com Open: Washington DC.

The obvious breakout deck from the beginning of Pro Tour Paris was U/W Stoneforge Mystic.

The deck dominated the Swiss well before it won the tournament, and it will define Standard going forward.

When a deck dominates a tournament as this one did, players are forced to either play it or try to beat it. Personally, my first impulse in this case
is to play it, and it’s hard to imagine not wanting to play this deck. This isn’t a one-trick pony like Valakut that just tries to get to six mana,
cast a Primeval Titan, and hope the game’s over. This deck does everything.

It has a fast, proactive plan with heavy control elements. It can develop a board presence without depleting its hand size. Stoneforge Mystic, Squadron
Hawk, and Jace, the Mind Sculptor all threaten useful permanent development while immediately replacing themselves with a card in your hand.

Stoneforge Mystic with Sword of Feast and Famine in particular allows the deck to move into overdrive where it can play spells (which immediately
replace themselves so more spells can be played next turn), then attack and untap with mana up to defend itself with a large counter suite.

This allows the deck to play like Faeries, developing the board while always having mana available in the opponent’s main phase to counter their
attempts to recover; only this deck is even more powerful because you can play both threats and answers in the same set of turns. Stoneforge Mystic has
been aptly compared to Bitterblossom in this deck.

I could easily see this shell making the transition to Extended in the very near future.

The decklist as a departure from Caw-Go at Worlds is brilliantly straightforward. The design replaces Spreading Seas with Stoneforge Mystic as a way to
aggressively impact the board for two mana without spending a card. At face value, the loss of Spreading Seas might appear to hurt the Valakut matchup,
but in reality, the Stoneforge Mystic plan is even better against Valakut, allowing its controller to put a clock on Valakut players while attacking
their hand and countering their acceleration.

My biggest fears going forward and playing this deck are the fact that everyone will be trying to beat this deck and the mirror match. I don’t
generally shy away from a control mirror, especially one like this with an aggressive component, but until I have some experience with the deck, I’d be
concerned about getting draws in mirror matches. Consider Ben Stark vs. Tom Martel’s Top 8 match, which took over three hours. That was for best of
five, but still, you won’t have close to that kind of time in Swiss rounds of a tournament.

Also, with a list that’s so well constructed, how can you change it to adapt for the mirror?

I took some time to talk to a few players who played the deck at Pro Tour Paris, and their suggestions were pretty clear. Brian Kibler said that Day of
Judgment and the hard counters were the weakest cards in the mirror. Day of Judgment is never going to be an exciting card in a U/W Control mirror, but
it’s most likely necessary for the rest of the format. The weakness of hard counters is a departure from U/W Control matchups we’ve seen recently,
where those cards were gold. The problem is that the game is all about Stoneforge Mystic and fighting over Sword of Feast and Famine, but Stoic
Rebuttal is just too slow for that, and Deprive probably sets you back too far on turn 2.

Ben Stark suggested that in the future it might be correct to switch Sylvok Lifestaff, one of the worst cards in the mirror, for Sword of Body and Mind
in the maindeck. He also suggested adding Baneslayer Angel to the maindeck, which is convenient, because its traditional role as an anti-aggro card
could possibly allow it to replace some number of Day of Judgments, eliminating a card that underperforms in the mirror.

Kibler, an expert on adding big creatures to decks, suggested that Sun Titan could perform exceptionally well in the mirror. He and Ben Stark agreed
that, as more players pick up the deck, it would make sense to include more Divine Offerings. In fact, the field might be so dominated by Stoneforge
Mystic and Tezzeret that Divine Offering can see maindeck play, which should be good news to the few of you who still hope to play Valakut (start by
making sure your sideboard has four copies of Nature’s Claim).

Another option is to build a hybrid of the American Caw-Go update and Naoki Nakada’s Top 4 deck that went undefeated in the Swiss with only a single
Deprive for countermagic.

Throughout the tournament, Nakada played as though he had Mana Leak, and control players had to play around it, but when he needed threats and answers
for aggressive decks, he always had them. His plan worked beautifully until he played against an opponent in the Top 4 that had access to his list. The
opponent then knew he could resolve spells whenever he wanted. I wouldn’t recommend playing Nakada’s exact list, as playing cards from his deck that
aren’t in Ben Stark’s deck will likely tip your opponent off to the possibility that you can’t actually counter spells. His deck shows that the
archetype can work without counters, but it might be correct to play something like 3-4 counterspells main, just to keep people honest, while making
room for awesome trumps like Tumble Magnet or Sun Titan. That deck might look something like this:

For those of you who don’t want to play the deck everyone’s gunning for, don’t like U/W Control, don’t have Jace, the Mind Sculptor, or are looking for
alternatives for any other reason, you do have options.

Brian Kibler suggested Elves as the worst matchup for this deck. Vengevine and Ezuri, Renegade Leader pose a particular problem for it, and the
maindeck we saw in Paris was generally tuned for other control decks.

Ben Stark agreed that his list was weak against aggressive decks but, facing a Top 8 where he dreaded playing against Paul Rietzl Boros deck, cited
Rietzl’s exact list (specifically because of Hero of Oxid Ridge) as the deck’s worst matchup:

Ben Stark did manage to win that match in Paris, but Paul was the favorite, and Boros is more heavily favored in a match of just three games.

Paul’s Boros deck is a deck to take seriously going forward. Paul beat U/W six times in the Swiss and said the matchup felt something like a mirror,
except you have Koth and Hero of Oxid Ridge as your four-drops, which trump their Jaces, and you have better creatures. You’re not afraid of Day of
Judgment because of equipment.

Rietzl recommends Bonehoard as a key card for the mirror and Divine Offering or Into the Core as upgrades over Mirran Crusader or Arc Trail to adapt
the deck to the future of Standard.

If Boros becomes the deck to beat, rising to the top by preying on U/W decks, it will be important to understand how to beat Boros. Paul notes that
Ratchet Bomb is far too slow and that swords allow Boros to diversify its curve enough that the card is actively bad against them. Pyroclasm and
Slagstorm are by far the most effective countermeasures, although Arc Trail and Lightning Bolt are respectable alternatives. He lists Valakut with
maindeck Pyroclasms as his worst matchup, although I’d add R/B Vampires with Arc Trails based on my experience.

U/B Control may have been the biggest loser of this tournament, and it’s certainly a deck I’d want to avoid in the near future. Its matchup against U/W
is atrocious, and I don’t see a compelling reason to play the deck right now.

I expect the metagame to play out something like this over the next few weeks: U/W Mystic will spike in popularity as people clamor to try out the
deck. This will lead to an arms race between U/W decks in the mirror that will make them somewhat softer against the rest of the field, which can pave
the way for aggressive decks to beat the U/W Control decks. Then we will see Elves and Boros spike in popularity and with successful finishes. This, in
turn, will lead to a resurgence of decks that prey on aggro decks like Valakut with Pyroclasm, R/B Vampires, and Patrick Chapin Tezzeret deck with
Pyroclasms and Slagstorms. These decks probably still won’t be great against U/W Mystic, which I don’t expect to entirely leave the field anytime soon,
since the deck does such intrinsically powerful things.

Ultimately, all of these decks will be present to varying degrees at all times, and the waves won’t necessarily be obvious. Predicting how long any
step will take or where a metagame will go at any given point will be as difficult as it always is. People will always try to play a modified rock
metagamed to try to beat paper, such as U/W Mystic with more anti-creature cards or Valakut with Nature’s Claims.

And that’s your metagame for today.

Thanks for Reading,