Blame Kibler

Patrick Chapin writes about the state of the Standard metagame after the Saturday SCG Open in Salt Lake City and what decks might be well positioned in the coming week.

Blame Kibler.

Yeah, we’ve heard that before. Doesn’t mean it isn’t true, nor does it mean we shouldn’t blame Kibler even if it wasn’t.

He can take it.

But what did he do this time?

The usual. Broke it.

See, Jund is the best deck in the format. It has lots of good matchups and performs well against the field as a whole. It’s rock solid. The thing is that it’s so good and so popular that the top of the metagame ends up being just a crazy amount of Jund, so if you have a good solid deck that happens to have edge over Jund, you are looking pretty damn good if you make it to the final rounds still in contention.

With two rounds left to play, nine of the Top 16 decks in the Saturday StarCityGames.com Standard Open in Salt Lake City were Jund. However, the rest of the decks at the top were the most anti-Jund decks in the entire tournament. The result? When the Top 8 was announced, just two Jund decks made it. Jund lost at just about every possible opportunity in the final two rounds.

So if Jund was winning like mad all day but just had a hell of a time in the last two rounds, who was doing the winning? Well, with two rounds left, there were three Dragonmaster G/R decks in the Top 16. So how many in the final Top 8?


Yeah, Dragonmaster G/R was pretty good against the field at the end of the event, including a Dragonmaster mirror match in the finals. The archetype stormed on the scene during the Magic World Cup, where most teams realized it was not only one of the best decks in the format but a particularly not greedy deck, leaving tons of great options for the other two decks (given that the format was team Unified Standard).

Now, a week later, Dragonmaster G/R has proven itself a major player in individual events thanks to the power of Burning Earth out of a two-color aggro deck’s sideboard combined with the innovation of removing the big green creatures with big red creatures to better dodge Lifebane Zombie.

Besides, Dragons. Yeah, basically Dragons, that is. They don’t call him the Dragonmaster for nothing.

None of the Dragonmaster G/R decks in the Top 8 strayed very far from Kibler’s blueprint. For reference, here are the two builds that reached Top 4. The first, piloted by Saturday’s champion Jacob Tobey, is very nearly a carbon copy of Kibler’s list except for the adoption of Kibler’s suggested update of Chandra Pyromaster replacing Gruul War Chant as well as a Gruul Guildgate instead of the Kessig Wolf Run and an extra Volcanic Strength.

The other Dragonmaster G/R deck in the finals was also a nearly identical clone but with the twist of two maindeck Volcanic Strengths in place of a Domri Rade and the 24th land. Again, Chandra Pyromaster in the sideboard, alongside a couple other new tricks like Fog and Bonfire of the Damned.

It’s been one month, and already the best deck in the format contains the new Chandra? That’s cute.

That it’s a sideboard card for this deck is probably asterisk worthy to some, but you play a match with your 75, not your 60. Of course, this is just the first of many successful Chandra Pyromaster decks to come. The card is a quality card, and despite how glutted the four spot is for red decks, Chandra is already finding homes.

As for Dragonmaster G/R as a whole, I refer you to Kibler’s latest article, where he explains the archetype in great detail. While this article is post-Worlds, it is worth pointing out that he has been writing about this deck since before M14 was even released. At its core, it’s a good solid mana curve, quality creatures at every drop, a very low amount of dedicated removal (though a relatively high amount of interaction thanks to cards like Domri Rade and Ghor-Clan Rampager), a very consistent proactive game plan, and, of course, the mighty Burning Earth sideboard plan.

Why do we keep coming back to Burning Earth? Well, the two biggest strategies in the format as of two weeks ago were U/W/R Flash and Jund. Burning Earth is just fantastic against both. Jund really doesn’t have much ability to play spells after a Burning Earth, nor a lot of ways to remove it. You get a couple more spells, but you have so little life to work with that most of the time your options just become so constricted. The U/W/R Flash decks actually get it even worse since they have less proactive elements to try to race with and are even more slavishly reliant on tapping lots of mana. Every Think Twice is just so bad when you are taking a damage per mana tapped. At least Jund can play something like a Thragtusk and try to win with that.

An interesting byproduct of the rapid onset of a Burning Earth-centric format has been the nearly complete collapse of U/W/R Flash as a pillar of the format. The archetype has just not been able to recover from this new trend in deckbuilding. This has led to a relatively unstable metagame in which the two biggest pillars are Jund and a deck with edge over Jund, Dragonmaster G/R.

For reference, here are the two Jund decks that made Top 8 of the Saturday Open. First, Top 4 competitor David Hunting using a fairly standard Lifebane Zombie Jund. Lifebane Zombie definitely helps regain some much needed percentage out of Jund against Dragonmaster G/R despite Hellrider and Thundermaw Hellkite replacing Kalonian Hydra and Wolfir Silverheart at the top of the curve.

Lifebane Zombie is just a totally rude card. Every time you hit a Huntmaster of the Fells, Thragtusk, or Restoration Angel, you are gaining such an incredible amount of percentage in the matchup from the two-for-one. However, what really makes the card shine is that even when it “misses” you still have a three-power evasion creature, not to mention the invaluable information of knowing their hand.

Do they have a Supreme Verdict?

Do they have an Olivia Voldaren?

Do they have Azorius Charm?

Do they have a Falkenrath Aristocrat?

Do they have a Sphinx’s Revelation?

This kind of information can be monumental in finding the best lines of play.

As for the rest of the deck, well, it’s Jund. It’s not particularly complicated strategically, but there can be great depth in terms of the tactical decision-making.

The other Jund list to Top 8 was in the hands of newly elected Hall of Fame class of 2013 member William “Huey” Jensen. This is Huey’s fourth straight StarCityGames.com Open Top 8. We’re not just talking one a weekend—literally the last four events he has played he has made Top 8. That’s not even the end of it. He has played in fifteen Opens this year and is averaging better than a Top 16 per event!

During this four-Open run, Huey has made Top 8 with four different decks (across both Standard and Legacy). This weekend he went with classic Duke Jund:

While Jund has been an excellent choice over the past month, I think it’s pretty clear Dragonmaster G/R is going to require some adaptation. Doom Blade has already been gaining in popularity. What other little changes can Jund make to give itself more answers to Hellrider and Thundermaw Hellkite? What can it do to not lose to Burning Earth? Can it use more basics? Borderland Ranger? Evolving Wilds? Or is something like Ratchet Bomb a more effective solution?

It makes the mana slightly less smooth, but what if we tried bending the mana base to support Evolving Wilds? For instance, what about something like:

2 Kessig Wolf Run
3 Evolving Wilds
4 Blood Crypt
3 Stomping Ground
3 Overgrown Tomb
4 Woodland Cemetery
4 Rootbound Crag
2 Swamp
2 Forest
1 Mountain

This mana base is almost as consistent but has the added benefit of letting us mostly play through Burning Earth. The only card really hurt from this change is Mizzium Mortars, but even that is not necessarily a problem.

Not only does this give us five basics, but it gives us seven ways to find them (Evolving Wilds and Farseek), meaning if we want we can generally arrange to have at least a few basics by the time they drop Burning Earth. This doesn’t completely remove the threat, but one of each basic goes a long way towards letting us continue to play spells. Thragtusk only costing two life is a lot better than costing five. Olivia Voldaren costing one life is not so bad. Spot removal not costing life makes a world of difference.

Another possible solution is to cut a color, letting us fill up on basics. Bryce Felt made Top 4 with a midrange deck that has some similarities to Jund (without red) but really is a true Rock deck. Are we going to see a move towards more two-color decks?

Obviously Burning Earth could still do something, but having half basics is a lot more than half of the battle. As an added bonus, we get Mutilate as a sweeper that works particularly well with Desecration Demon (and sometimes Scavenging Ooze).

With Saturday’s tournament completely dominated by Dragonmaster G/R, what does this hold for Sunday’s Standard event? It’s not just that Dragonmaster G/R thrashed the format, but the most popular deck from the World Championship (U/W/R Flash) has completely disappeared. There wasn’t a single U/W/R Flash deck anywhere close to the top tables. Without U/W/R decks to prey on, Esper and U/B don’t really have a purpose in the format either.

So is control dead?


Yeah, yeah, let me guess, Grixis?

Burning Earth isn’t exactly the clearest signal that it’s time to move into a three-color control deck with few basics, no life gain, and problems removing enchantments. On top of all this, having access to Nephalia Drownyard isn’t really worth all that much at the moment, and the format is so fast and aggressive that the Cavern of Souls + Aetherling plan is a little bigger than we need for most matchups.

That said, if I were hellbent on working on Grixis, I might experiment with a mana base somewhat along these lines:

4 Evolving Wilds
3 Steam Vents
2 Watery Grave
2 Blood Crypt
4 Drowned Catacombs
2 Sulfur Falls
2 Dragonskull Summit
3 Island
2 Swamp
2 Mountain

We might also make use of a few Rakdos Keyrunes for added mana that doesn’t burn as well as incorporating some Ratchet Bombs. Gilded Lotus is also a possibility but kind of takes you down a different path than we really want to go down I suspect. That said, if you are on some Ral Zarek type of time, Gilded Lotus does give you oodles of mana. I’m just not sure we even want to play many expensive cards.

One of the fundamental basics of the Grixis deck I was working on for recent Standard is the need for mana efficiency. Divination was much better than Think Twice or Desperate Ravings (not even factoring in a card like Quicken).

I definitely do not advocate a Quicken approach, but it’s not the worst. Obviously you’d want Divination over instant speed draw, but the main appeal is being able to play sweepers and sorcery speed removal (like Dreadbore and Mizzium Mortars) at instant speed. That isn’t terrible against Dragonmaster G/R, though we do need to keep track of what we’re trying to accomplish.

Quicken is good when you have a lot of sorceries but also a lot of counterspells. That doesn’t sound like current Standard.

Quicken is good when you have to face a lot of counterspell decks that tap out for instant-speed threats (like Sphinx’s Revelation), letting us surprise them with a card like Rakdos’s Return.

Except those decks are not winning. Which means we are really just trying to upgrade (?) our Dreadbores into Murders. I’m not super excited by this prospect. Yes, even if and when it’s wrong, it’s not that wrong, so at least it isn’t embarrassing, but each time you cast Quicken you are losing almost a third of a card’s worth of mana. Yeah, a lot of time you were wasting that mana anyway, but in a three-color deck like Grixis your mana is a lot tighter than a U/W deck that can just Thought Scour with reckless abandon. Grixis does need to play more of an instant-speed game if it’s going to compete in a world with this much haste, but is Quicken really the way?

Is one out of three Quickens giving you a full card’s worth of value (beyond the cantrip)? I’m not sure I believe it.

Of course, you could Quicken in U/W, where you have both Supreme Verdict and Terminus. That could be decent, but I still question where you are getting more value than you get from Thought Scour. The ability to fuel Snapcaster Mage and Moorland Haunt is not trivial. Maybe. I don’t know. What I do know is that I don’t even like Thought Scour in U/W Control, so that’s not the question I’m really concerned about.

Speaking of U/W, I find the prospect of playing straight U/W Control pretty appealing, perhaps something along the lines of the U/W list piloted by Luis Scott-Vargas to a Top 8 finish this past weekend in a StarCityGames.com Invitational Qualifier in Denver:

This build can play the same control game that has been so good against most of the random decks in the format while having a pretty thorough immunity to Burning Earth. What’s more is if the format shifts to fight Dragonmaster G/R, that means fewer Drownyards, fewer Cavern of Souls, and fewer Rakdos’s Returns.

I like Celestial Flare as both an answer to Geist of Saint Traft and as added help against haste creatures. I do wonder if a Blind Obedience or two should find its way into the sideboard. Whatever we’re going to do, we need to make up for the lack of Pillar of Flame, Searing Spear, and Warleader’s Helix.

The last two weeks we have seen the rise of Burning Earth, which could prompt us to see where else we can fit it. For instance:

The fundamental flaw in this approach is having missed its window. Burning Earth is supposed to prey on three-color decks like U/W/R Flash and Jund. Now that Burning Earth has completely owned the past couple of weeks, there are a lot less victims to beat up on, more decks built with resilient mana bases, and more Burning Earth semi-mirrors. If you were going to go this route, last week would have been the time to do it.

This week we want to beat the most popular deck (Jund), the new hotness that beats Jund (Dragonmaster G/R), and decks we think people will switch to in order to beat them. One archetype that caught my eye is the winner of the Classic Series in Knoxville a week ago:

Perdue’s list presents brawler after brawler, beating both Dragonmaster G/R and Jund by having too many must-answer threats and bigger bodies. Archangel of Thune surprises a lot of people with how quickly it can just run away with the game. The Trostani combo is particularly nice, but Scavenging Ooze is also pretty incredible as a teammate.

If you get multiple threats down with five or more toughness, there’s not really a lot Jund or G/R can do. G/R just got smashed every time I saw the two battle, and Jund was all-in on Olivia Voldaren (which could be answered when it was fast enough to matter).

This list is pretty weak against control, but if control is at a low point, it might be perfectly positioned this week. Of course, this list also makes Lifebane Zombie look even better than it already does. What else can we do with it besides Jund and B/R? Is there any chance there’s some sort of U/B/x tempo deck with a fair number of creatures?

I’m not at all sure what the next month of Standard is going to be like, but I do know two things:

1. The format is a much different format than it was two weeks ago, and most of our assumptions should be thrown out.

2. Blame Kibler.

Patrick Chapin
“The Innovator”

Next Level Deckbuilding