Black Magic – Standard After Worlds: Predicting the States Metagame

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Tuesday, December 1st – With the 2009 State Championships this weekend, and a StarCityGames.com $5000 Standard Open in St Louis the following week, all eyes are turning to the current Standard metagame. Sam Black investigates the stronger decks emerging from Worlds, and predicts the makeup of the field for the big day…

Predicting the metagame for States is a little weird. The tournament appeals to so many more casual players, and the field will often have a lot more “other” decks than larger tournaments, or even PTQs. This year will be much easier than previous years, as a result of the timing. Historically, States has been the first tournament after the Fall set is released, when a format is completely unexplored. At this point, we’ve had several large tournaments (thanks to the StarCityGames.com $5000 Standard Opens) leading up to Worlds, which will really set the stage for States. This year it might actually be possible to metagame for States for once… and there’s also the StarCityGames.com $5000 Standard Open in St Louis the following week to consider.

So, as everyone will be turning to Worlds for results, the question is what people will conclude when they look at the coverage of that event. Worlds is an interesting tournament to try to understand, because so few matches are played in any given format. The Top 8 decks are generally the decks that get the most press, but for the most part, the 6-0 decks have done more to prove themselves. Another stance would be to conclude that 6 matches isn’t much of a sample size, and instead to trust that good players have put sufficient work into the format, and just look at what certain pros a player respects played in the tournament, almost regardless of record. Finally, and this might be the most common approach for States, one can just read through the “Top Standard Decks” and look for something that looks fun or appealing in whatever way a player is looking for.

The laziest approach is to look at the Top 8 decks, and there of course we see 3 Jund, 2 Naya, Mono White, Bant, and Boros. All of the Jund lists are very traditional. Terry Soh aggressive take on Naya is very interesting, and I wouldn’t be too surprised to see others try playing Colossal Might at States. For the most part, I would expect Andre Coimbra deck to be substantially more represented than Terry’s deck, since he won. Bram’s performance, particularly given that he went undefeated in the Standard portion of Worlds, should help Boros continue to be among the most played decks. I like Bucher’s deck a lot, and I’m curious to see where people will settle on that archetype, comparing what Manuel’s deck is doing to what Cedric’s GW Token deck is doing. I think the decks are similar, and I wonder if Cedric will be able to convince people to move away from Baneslayer Angel. Personally, I think I like using Rhox War Monk and Knight of the Reliquary to tax spot removal to stick a Baneslayer more than trying to blank removal by playing tokens, but neither plan is terrible. I also love Manuel’s 4 sideboard Grizzled Leotaus. I honestly don’t know what to think about Cavaglieri’s deck. It doesn’t really look aggressive enough for Steppe Lynx, except that the card is aggressive enough to make the deck sufficiently aggressive on its own, if that makes sense. I like the Soul Wardens, which help race, to make up for Lynx’s inability to block, particularly againt Boros. I don’t understand playing Mono White and not playing Emeria, the Sky Ruin in this format.

Approaching the format by looking at 6-0 decks paints an even more Jund-heavy picture. Seven decks: four Jund, one Vampires, one Howling Mine, one Boros. In the undefeated Jund decks we see the addition of Siege-Gang Commander, who I still love despite my personal performance at Worlds, and that leads to the first real split in Jund as an archetype. I suspect that Putrid Leech Jund will continue to be played much more heavily than Rampant Growth/Siege-Gang Commander Jund, but both will be present at States. Vampires had all but left the metagame for Worlds, with only four players at the event (less than 1%) playing the deck, but the fact that it pulled a 6-0 despite having so few pilots could do a lot to refuel interest in the deck. I’m confident that Vampires will be more than 1% of the field. I think there is a certain subset of players that will absolutely love Calafell’s deck, and I think that subset is numerous enough that it’s a deck that’s worth acknowledging in preparation for States. I expect it to be the deck with the greatest increase in popularity (over Vampires). I don’t expect the deck to do well, by the way, I just expect it to be played by players who like that kind of deck. Joel didn’t play against Jund in Worlds, and Maelstrom Pulse seems like a huge problem for the deck. Still, many decks have terrible matchups against the deck, and I think it’s probably worth thinking about a plan for for this tournament (I would love to see someone bring in a couple Unstable Footings against this deck).

For reference:

The noteworthy aspect of this deck to me is honestly how basic it is. There’s not really any new innovation here; Antonenko just played a normal Vampire deck and won all his rounds with it.

The one Path to Exile is the strangest looking number in this deck to me, but it doesn’t seem terrible. The fact that it only costs one mana is very significant in a deck that’s drawing this many cards, but killing all of an opponent’s creatures isn’t really part of the plan, so you don’t want too many. I’m not sure that it’s right to play one rather than not, but I wouldn’t necessarily cut it before playing the deck. The Baneslayers are a lot worse when people know about them, but they’re still probably worth having, even if they might come in less if you suspect your opponent will be prepared for them. I could also see just having one or two to keep people honest, rather than a full set. It’s also a little strange that this deck doesn’t have Hindering Light anywhere, particularly since it appears that one of the most important uses for countermagic in this deck is to protect your card drawing engines.

Looking at the “Top Standard Decks” is harder as a method of predicting what people are going to do, but scrolling through I see a huge amount of Jund, of course, and a lot of Boros. Aside from the decks mentioned above, the other decks present are: the UWR control deck…

Note that this deck, like Calafell’s contains 4 maindeck Flashfreeze, which might be the best blue card in Standard right now. Also note the 4 Spreading Seas in the board.

Conley’s ramp deck…

Note that this deck isn’t just doing random powerful things; there’s a heavy land destruction theme at work here. Also note the 4 Cruel Ultimatum sideboard from the deck with 4 Forests and no Islands. I know I wouldn’t have seen it coming.

There was also a lone showing of the Eldrazi Green deck (which is much worse than the deck’s supporters would have expected, and lends a lot of credibility to the claim that the Andersons’ success with the deck was primarily based on taking people by surprise, rather than demonstrating a new dominant deck. There’s a small but impressive number of Mono Red (or nearly Mono Red) decks. Dave Kearney’s Bant deck is noteworthy for its 35 creatures, which makes it substantially different from other decks like it:

I personally don’t like the use of Dauntless Escort over Rhox War Monk, but I think the Aven Mimeomancers are interesting and the deck manages to include an impressive amount of card advantage between Boarderland Ranger, Ranger of Eos, and Sphinx of Lost Truths.

Julien de Graat had an interesting inclusion of 4 Sigil of Distinction, which is very interesting when supported by 4 Birds of Paradise, 4 Noble Hierarch, 4 Lotus Cobra, and 4 Knight of the Reliquary. I’m sure he got a lot of value out of the surprise factor of that card, but I would guess that it’s still sufficiently under the radar to catch most players at States off guard. Beyond those decks, everything falls into the other known archetypes.

There are two other developments with Jund that are worth noting. The first is the possible inclusion of Vampire Nighthawk in the maindeck, and the second, which I think will be more important for States, is the tendency by American pros to cut Garruk Wildspeaker for Master of the Wild Hunt, who suddenly became very popular. I’m not exactly sure how much I like Master of the Wild Hunt, but I think the poor showing by the Eldrazi Green deck, which I assume he’s awesome against, lowers his value slightly.

There was a lot of innovation at Worlds. Joel’s deck was an extreme example, but a lot of the other cards or archetypes hadn’t really been explored. I don’t mean to imply that looking a the results from Worlds is the only way to choose a deck, or even the only way to choose a winning deck. I think it’s the easiest way to figure out what to prepare again to ensure that you’re preparing against things that are likely to show up, but there are new decks to be built in this format, and there are a lot of players who will try.

More players will just play Jund though. And they’ll probably do better.

As for what all this means, if I had to try to put some numbers on things, I would expect about 33% Jund, 14% Boros, 11% Naya, 6% Jacerator, 6% Bant, 5% UWx Control, 4% Eldrazi Green, 4% Red, 4% Vampires, 3% GWb, 3% GW, 3% Mono White, 4% other.

I would probably either play Jund or something with Emeria Angel. It’s also hard for me to imagine playing Blue without access to Flashfreeze. (If the above percentages right, it’s actively good against about 80% of the field. I think that’s enough to make up for the less than 20% of the time it’s dead to justify playinng it main.)

I think Worlds ultimately showed that, while other decks compete, Jund really doesn’t have a serious weakness. Everyone knew Jund would be over 25% of the field, even people who were being conservative about it, and people still weren’t able to punish people for bringing it. Joel Calafel managed to 6-0 by punishing people for trying to punish Jund, which to me only further demonstrates how hopeless the situation is.

The most important thing to do for this year’s States is to have clear and comprehensive plans with whatever you play against all the major decks. You know what they are, and you have a good idea of how present each will be, so it should be fairly easy to do the rest.

Good luck at States, and the following week’s StarCityGames.com $5000 Standard Open in St. Louis, and thanks for reading…