Catching Up With A Split Format

Adrian Sullivan compares the results from two different Standard PTQs: one on Magic Online without M13 cards, and one in real life with M13 cards legal. See the real effect M13 has had on the format.

A few weeks ago, I talked about the natural ebb and flow of Standard, with its rotation schedule which basically starts from a slightly gibbous half-moon up to a full moon, and back down to a gibbous half-moon, again waxing.

One of the things that puts a kink in this imagination of Standard is the constantly split nature of the format. And it is split because of one thing—one huge thing.

It’s not just this, of course, but sometimes it just boils down to is that the release schedules for Magic Online and paper Magic/real life Magic (or whatever you prefer to call it) are out of sync. Here we are, in the midst of a PTQ season, and we have two major different paths to the Pro Tour. In the realm of Magic Online, we are still, in essence, “living in the past.” M13 is not yet available, and the metagame has largely been well defined, explored, and gone over with a fine toothcomb by the Magic Hive Mind, full of its MODO-grinders, continually at work to find the best weapons available have been at that formatfor a long time now.

Meanwhile, simultaneously, we have a fairly fresh format, M13 Standard, which is still being explored even now. But the way that it is being explored is simply…different. There isn’t a way to really grind it like we see in Magic Online. And yet there is a whetstone of sorts in the form of the SCG Open Series, which, while not MODO (Magic Online Digital Objects; for you young whippersnappers, you might call it M.O.L.), still serves as a kind of area to truly temper decks, albeit not as relentlessly as you see online.

These PTQ formats, running in parallel, truly do get to inform each other, but that is largely because of one simple truth: until Return to Ravnica gets printed, paper and digital Magic are only the smallest dash away from each other. Paper Magic is in the true “full moon” stage, whereas digital Magic is just one step behind on this, not quite at the full moon stage. If we were just one step further along in the cycle, the two would be wildly, wildly different, but that is not the case right now.

I know that Sam Black, for example, largely played the exact same thing at the SCG Open Series in St. Louis that he’d been playing in Standard before the rotation. As he saw it, not enough had changed for him to do more than change one or two cards in his deck to respond to the metagame. And as for new cards: zero.

Here is his deck:

What changed? One more Day of Judgment. Impressive use of M13, right? Well, what would he really want from M13? Sometimes, there just aren’t cards that fit your needs in a new set. What is Sam’s deck looking for from the new set? If we stretch, even, maybe we could say the following:

But I wouldn’t recommend any of it, honestly. Kudos to Sam for keeping it as was.

So what does an “old-style” online event look like right now?

Here are the results from this weekend, with 203 people:

And how did this Top 8 even play out?

Delver over Delver, Architect over Delver, Delver over G/R Aggro, and Delver over Naya Pod.

Other than Architect managing to pull off that win in the first round of the Top 8 (it was vanquished in the Top 4), it was all Delver all the time.

This is interesting, to me in a lot of ways. The biggest of which is the sheer, utter dominance of Delver-variants still. In the SCG circuit, after the rotation, we’ve seen an incredible amount of variety. We were seeing a lot of different decks. But it wasn’t so long ago that it felt like the format was largely “done.” Yes, we were seeing Esper taking down Delver on the SCG circuit, but one thing that I think is worth noting is that SCG events are, in my opinion, much easier than PTQs.

Here is the winning Delver list from the online PTQ. Remember, it is pre-M13:

There isn’t really anything too wild about this list, to my mind, other than zero Mana Leaks. This is a Delver deck that has decided it really, quite simply, wants to be able to attack, and it will rely on your fear of Leak to get some work done, slowing you down with Vapor Snag and Gut Shot hopefully taking the role of tempo-advantage for the deck.

It is a Pike list, so it has a fair number of cantrips, but amazingly, despite being a Pike list (even with only two), it only runs two Thought Scour and three Probe (for a total of nine cantrips). Nine cantrips isn’t what we usually associate with Pike decks, but laddy’s deck doesn’t truly feel like a dedicated Pike list, but rather a partial Pike list; maybe this is arbitrary, but I feel like three Pikes is what you need to make the line of being a fully “dedicated” list.

I think the thing that really marks laddy’s list, more than Pike or Leak, is the Phyrexian mana cards, four Gut Shot and three Mutagenic Growth, as well as the inclusion on top of four Geist of Saint Traft of a single Blade Splicer. All of this, to me, says that laddy really wanted to beat green decks. Even no Mana Leak seems like it fits this goal. Right now, this seems like a pretty good call for the most part.

Perhaps, then, this is the way we should expect to see Delver decks move: further away from an aggro-control role and more into and aggro one. The danger, of course, of this move is that it makes you more vulnerable to controlling lists. But do they really exist, in the “past” online or in the now?

This weekend, at a 177-player PTQ in Madison WI, the following Top 8 (my thanks to Misty Mountain Games of Madison and its manager Ben Rislove for this information):

1st — Mono-Green Infect
2nd — Naya Pod
3rd — Mono-Green Infect
4th — Delver
5th — B/R Zombies
6th — G/R Aggro
7th — Naya Pod
8th — Blue Wolf Run

That makes:

2 Naya Pod
2 Mono-Green Infect
1 G/R Aggro
1 B/R Zombies
1 Blue Wolf Run (notably, Brian Kowal)
1 Delver

Mono-Green Infect put not only two people into the Top 8 (one of them contributing to my failed PTQ attempt, defeating me in round 4), but it was the number one player at the end of the Swiss.

While I don’t have access to the new lists verbatim so-to-speak, I watched them up until I left, and I can tell you that I only saw the following new cards:

The Delver list didn’t have Talrand, so literally those two cards were it.

And, unsurprising to many, I’m sure, it won:

To win, this deck first beat Zombies, then Mono-green Infect before finally defeating Naya Pod in the finals. For the most part this deck is incredibly straightforward, actively going with a Yuuya-style (twelve cantrips, Geist, Restoration Angel, and Pike), but giving itself a slight nod to Sword of War and Peace still.

What makes this decklist and this Top 8 so worth noticing?

177 players is a really large PTQ. Further, Madison PTQs are quite strong by comparison with many events, though, to be fair, the Madison events are much better known for the strength of the competition in Limited rather than Constructed.

But this deck shows that M13 really hasn’t changed the world. Usually, that is the case, particular at “full moon,” but it really is worth noting that you don’t have to do much with whatever deck you used to be playing as opposed to what you’re playing now.

Of course, there is one big new thing:

While I don’t have the lists for the two Mono-Green Infect lists, I’m pretty sure I can do a rough guess. Do note, this is based on what I saw, not what was actually in the deck, so I could be wildly off:

This deck gets a ton of value out of Rancor, and I think Rancor will go down as the most influential card on the current Standard out of M13 simply because it makes a whole slew of cards much better.

Similarly, I know that G/R Aggro gaining Rancor does a lot for it as well, speeding up clocks and making certain kinds of delaying tactics like Timely Reinforcements much less useful.

While it may be depressing to some that Delver won “before” and is winning now “anew,” it still seems to me that Standard is something to be excited about. I’m certainly seeing far more variety in the new Standard than I was before, both in the SCG Open Series and in real-world PTQs. Unless Mono-Green Infect really delivers a KO punch to the metagame, I think this variety is going to continue as well. And even if it does, I think the meta can react to it.

I, for one, am still trying to make Mono Red work. I may have to wait til Return to Ravnica, though…

Until next week,

Adrian Sullivan