Brain Pox

If you’re looking for something different to play at your next SCG Standard Open, see the decks that Jesse "Smi77y" Smith thinks have potential, including Mono-Black Pox, Bant Midrange, and G/W Infect.

I’m really not trying to be the "different" guy when it comes to deckbuilding. It’s quite possibly a disease that has my brain thinking that there’s always a better deck that’s undiscovered, and with that thought my journey often continues. Some would call it attention deficit disorder (unsure if I actually have ADD or not), and some might call it crazy. Regardless, my quest for winning more often continues, but perhaps it should be spent playing one deck.

The issue there is the fact I haven’t found a deck I feel is worth grinding. Obviously, many have, so that thought is more of a personal one because there hasn’t been a deck I think is both fun and incredibly powerful. They are out there, however, and a lot of decks are fun. Maybe it’s because we are at the end of a Standard cycle, but once I grab a deck I seem to get bored of it within a day of grinding it.

Don’t get me wrong, Standard is amazing right now because there is an incredible amount of diversity. There are hyper aggro decks like Infect and our Mono Red of the format, B/R Zombies, all the way to heavy midrange strategies and then the occasional control deck. However, despite that, you still know what you are fighting mostly; decks that are popular right now include Delver, Birthing Pod variations, Zombies, and Wolf Run Blue.

It’s difficult to be able to brew something that beats all of these decks and isn’t also a dog to a deck like Mono-Green Infect or control variants. Zombies is a deck I’m a little worn out on, but there are also too many dagger cards at this point such as Celestial Purge, Knight of Glory, and Thragtusk. I ran Zombies in Sunday’s PTQ (and Four-Color Pod in Saturday’s) and regretted playing both.

I didn’t do well.

Four-Color Pod is a great deck. In fact, StarCityGames.com writer Ari Lax won a PTQ with a version of it. However, it’s just a deck that seems to not work for me for whatever reason, despite my experience with Birthing Pod decks. My edge and my close PTQ finishes have always been on the back of strategies that take people by surprise, not by using decks that people know how to hate out. Maybe if I practiced playing correctly against hate cards I’d have more success, but boredom becomes a factor for me. The other issue is despite having an edge in one area, you are gimped in another. Usually, the handicap is the result of playing an overall worse deck. Regardless of that, my brain continues to think that’s correct. Who knows if it is or isn’t.

Results can be deceiving when testing new ideas in the days leading up to the event you’re testing for. This happened to me this past weekend when I was trying to find that edge. A B/W Smallpox deck that looked intriguing yet unrefined popped up on Magic Online. I spent the better part of two days playing in eight-man tournaments testing and tuning the deck; in fact, I won four eight-man queues in a row with the deck.

But for some reason, I still wasn’t convinced the deck was PTQ ready, and that is very rare for me. Usually if I get that kind of win streak, I’m sold on a deck and won’t question it. But the grindy nature of this deck and its vulnerability to opponents’ lucky topdecks made it feel like too big a gamble.

Here is the list I almost played in a PTQ with:

I understand that this list looks super awkward. Seeing how it plays out goes a long way in understanding this unique brew. I’ve always had the belief that black cards are often still misunderstood in terms of their power level. Particularly in the current Standard environment where certain cards are simply too difficult to deal with on the board, ripping them out of your opponent’s hand early can be huge.

Liliana of the Veil feels better than she ever has in a deck like this, eating at your opponent’s hands and eventually locking down your opponent when they end up topdecking. This is a primary strategy in this deck: to keep the board clear and stick a Liliana to stay ahead in board position and eventually stick a win condition when your opponent has no way to answer it (except a lucky topdeck).

And when I’m talking about a win condition, sometimes it’s as small and simple as a Contagion Clasp, which pairs really well with Liliana and poison counters. Speaking of poison counters, this is the deck’s primary win condition, or rather the most simple win condition. However, sometimes a Lashwrithe or a simple Liliana ultimate concession is the way you win. Every game is a long road, but the way the metagame is this deck feeds on creature decks that explode their hand. Sometimes, your early plays can’t contain the board, and that’s why mono-black is the right way to play this deck: because you get Mutilate.

Out of the sideboard you also get Skithiryx, the Blight Dragon as an aggressive win condition. But he’s only good against decks that don’t easily answer your black spells; you still have to be wary of cards like Celestial Purge and Ancient Grudge, both of which can impact your wins. Speaking of Ancient Grudge, Nihil Spellbomb is a powerful card in this deck. It’s almost good enough to have two maindeck as it has quite a few applications:

  1. It removes undying, which is particularly useful after a Mutilate.
  2. It removes flashback cards, while you draw a card hence gaining some value.
  3. It wipes the graveyards of Delver decks, which makes Snapcaster Mage worse as well as Runechanter’s Pike.
  4. You can play it on turn 1 and sit on it as you dump your hand via Smallpox and Liliana and then get a card in the late game if needed.
  5. It helps you hit your lands in the worst-case scenario or helps dig for a win condition or answer.

To clarify exactly what the goal of this deck is, I actually call it an aggro deck funnily enough. Instead of attacking your opponent’s life, you are attacking their hand. Therefore, cards like Despise and Smallpox eating at your opponents resources does a whole lot more than you’d expect. Once you destroy your opponent’s hand and get some form of board presence via Lashwrithe, Liliana, or Inkmoth Nexus, you start to take out your opponent by sitting back on your cards while attacking.

Sometimes, just +1ing Liliana each turn is correct; in fact, it’s almost always correct. Other than slowly chipping away at your opponent’s life, occasionally you can simply win quickly with Lashwrithe + Inkmoth Nexus, which was the true power of my original Mono-Black Infect deck. It’s no different here.

In the future, I’ll be looking at black cards in a different context because of this deck. It has taught me a lot about black’s power level. But then again, so has Blood Artist, which is another powerful way black handles its depth.

Deck Updates and Lists with Potential

With the comeback of ramp strategies, last week’s deck, Bant Midrange, definitely needs a few changes unfortunately. I still think Mana Leak is a powerful card overall, and it feels necessary to add more because the ramp matchup is fairly tough. Surprisingly, Mana Leak feels good against Delver decks as well, which was a slightly weaker matchup than I originally thought. For those interested in an update, here’s what I’m running.

This list ensures Zombies won’t be an issue, but at the same time it combats Delver matchups better as well as ramp. The addition of two Gut Shots in the main also helps make sure Birthing Pod decks don’t get ahead too quickly. There is plenty of potential for this list to shine in the last couple months of Standard.

If you don’t already, looking through this page for decklists each day can be fun and informative. Here are some impressive lists that have shown potential and that you may want to personally consider.

This list looks like it’s all over the place; however, I’ve seen it 4-0 at least once along with a few other showings. It uses some powerful cards and theoretically has answers to any deck. I’m unsure of its consistency, but I like this midrange type of deck as it’s in the right colors to have answers to any deck.

A buddy of mine, Atmapalazzo, has championed a G/W Infect list, opting for Ajani instead of Wild Defiance. The advantage here seems to be that you have more evasion as well as incremental advantage with his +1. Overall, Ajani does seem more powerful than Wild Defiance, but it’s at the cost of the mana base. Access to Oblivion Ring can be relevant too, however. If you hiccup on your game plan, white can perhaps dodge the answers that hit the board.

Infect is on its last days as a viable strategy. Occasionally, it will show up in other formats, but if it’s your style enjoy one of the Infect lists in this article while you can! If you aren’t well versed or excited about any of the top lists, it really is possible to do well with anything at this point. You just have to really know your matchups well along with having a solid and focused game plan and quite a bit of testing (more than most people either have time for or are willing to put in).

It’s shaping up to be an exciting end to the Scars of Mirrodin block set in Standard. Is there something out there that can dominate in the last couple of months that has gone unnoticed?