Conquering Week Two Standard

Tom Ross has two Invitational wins already. How does a player of his ability approach such a high-profile event? The Boss lays out his expectations for #SCGINVI this weekend!

SCG Invitational in Columbus April 15-17!

#SCGBALT gave us a lot of information.

Archetypes are known.

Decklists are known.

Baltimore was the first week. The #SCGINVI in Columbus this weekend is the next week. Pro Tour Shadows over Innistrad is the following weekend. This new Standard format isn’t fully fleshed out, but we’re getting close. I was one of the 21,000+ viewers watching the finals of #SCGBALT, curious to find out which of the 624 entrants would come out on top. In the end it was our 2015 Players’ Champion Jim Davis.

Jim’s deck is very good. We in Roanoke knew that Collected Company was still a card and that Bant Company would port over from old Standard fairly easily. We were concerned a bit about how the mana would play out without fetchlands. It didn’t seem like Jim had much of a problem curving out on his way to another trophy.

What makes Bant Company so strong, particularly this version, is how well it can play a reactive game. Reactive decks are typically not strong during the early weeks of the format, as it’s unclear what you want to be reacting against. However, cards like Collected Company, Duskwatch Recruiter, Bounding Krasis, Ojutai’s Command, Dromoka’s Command, and Archangel Avacyn allow you to pass the turn and react to your opponent’s plays without missing a beat on your own development. With so many instant-speed tricks to play around, opponents have to run into something eventually.

Humans Are Good Too

I tested quite a bit with Humans, including splashing green for Tireless Tracker, Dromoka’s Command, and Sigarda, Heron’s Grace; and with blue for Reflector Mage, Dragonlord Ojutai, and sideboarded counterspells like Negate and Dispel. At the end of it all, it was the Mono-White build that I preferred the most.

Splashing another color opens access to more powerful cards in a vacuum. The awkwardness of the Battle lands and Shadow lands for certain opening draws hindered the deck’s explosiveness too much for my taste. Cards like Dromoka’s Command or Reflector Mage aren’t even superior across the board to the white cards you’d be playing. Compare Tireless Tracker to Bygone Bishop, for example.

Kellen Pastore’s Humans deck differs from many others by these two cards. Gryff’s Boon is a card I recognized as being something that the Humans deck could want… and then I promptly forgot its existence before really trying it. Gryff’s Boon serves a similar function to Madcap Skills, a card I loved despite running the risk of the opponent getting a two-for-one.

Mono-White Humans is an aggro deck without any true form of reach like you’d find in a Burn deck. Gryff’s Boon is pretty close to being a reach card that can get you over the finish line for those last few points of damage. Its real use is getting damage in quickly before the games can develop into the later stages. Oh, and it comes back for four mana. What I liked the most from Kellen’s build is having your four-drop being recurring Gryff’s Boon rather than the traditional Archangel of Tithes.

Hanweir Militia Captain is an inclusion that I don’t like as much, especially without first filling up on Consul’s Lieutenants. Seems a little like a “win more” card in a deck that wants nothing to do with “win more.” Hanweir Militia Captain is indeed good when it flips into Westvale Cult leader, but whatever. You should be in great shape if you start your turn with four creatures on the battlefield, no matter what they are.

Pack Heat for The Small Creatures

There is a severe lack of sweepers being played to punish the swarmy creature decks. Kozilek’s Return is left without a home now that G/R Ramp is worse without Ugin, the Spirit Dragon. Black is a fairly weak color that only has a couple of good creatures, and not all black decks want Languish anyway. I like Flaying Tendrils, especially in a delirium shell along with Dark Petition. Sure, sometimes Always Watching or Thalia’s Lieutenant will make your smaller sweepers less effective, but the times you kill three or four of their creatures will outweigh the times that it’s not super-effective.

It’s really surprising how Fiery Impulse has dropped straight off the scene completely. Old Standard even had Wild Slash, and still Fiery Impulse saw much more play. Humans will be much less effective if people respond to a one-drop creature with a one-drop removal spell like Fiery Impulse or Dead Weight.

Tragic Arrogance was pretty good for me out of the W/B Eldrazi deck’s sideboard last weekend at #SCGBALT. It’s great against basically anything except Esper Control and G/R Ramp. There were a lot of us playing W/B Eldrazi last weekend and some opponents figured out our sideboard plan near the end of the tournament. Moving forward, I’d like to maindeck a copy or two of Tragic Arrogance in my non-token midrange white decks.

Avacyn’s Judgment has been dismissed along with the entire Vampires tribe and madness cards in general as being too underpowered for Standard. Avacyn’s Judgement is very good against people trying to play multiple X/1s against you early, even without a ton of discard outlets to enable madness.

Respect Todd’s Deck

Labeled as U/R Control, this Pyromancer’s Goggles deck plays more like a combo deck than anything. Lightning Axe plus Fiery Impulse. Magmatic Insight plus Drownyard Temple. Pyromancer’s Goggles plus anything red, but especially Fall of the Titans.

Todd lost in the semifinals to Mono-White Humans, but that’s a matchup that can easily be shored up with more removal. There’s a lot of incremental value here with the madness cards, Drownyard Temple Regrowths, and X-for-one burn spells like Kozilek’s Return and Fall of the Titans.

One aspect that makes this deck so hard to beat is that its creatures are potent but there are few of them. If you sideboard in Silkwraps, then you could just lose to Chandra, Flamecaller or Pyromancer’s Goggles. Go low on removal and you can lose to a turn 2 Jace, Vryn’s Prodigy. I want to say be prepared to beat this deck, but I’m not even sure the best way to go about doing so. Maybe I’ll figure that out before #SCGINVI, maybe not. Or maybe I’ll join him.

Surprisingly Absent From #SCGBALT

Sure, a few copies of these slipped into the Top 64, but definitely not the turnout that I expected for these cards. Maybe I underestimated how potent the Humans deck would be as the go-to aggro deck.

I kinda thought that Vampires was overhyped. I still expected it to be a deck. The tribe is pushed so hard! Maybe people (myself included) started brewing Vampires early into the spoiler season of Shadows over Innistrad and just played with and failed with the few options that were available at the time. I think the best way to build Vampires is as a very fast and direct-damage-oriented version featuring Alms of the Vein. Sadly, low-curve red and black aggro has empirically been beaten by Mono-White strategies that go slightly bigger. Once people figure out a good way to beat Humans, then Vampires have a chance.

What to Avoid In Standard

Just not enough red or black creatures to warrant playing Surge of Righteousness in your sideboards. Silkwrap does most of the same unconditionally. No longer is there a Become Immense + Temur Battle Rage combo to worry about. Hidden Dragonslayer is pretty good right now and a better lifegain card in general too.

Mono-Red Eldrazi is too weak, as are other one-color + colorless decks. Play another color. There were some R/W Eldrazi decks at #SCGBALT that had okay showings. W/B Eldrazi did pretty well mostly on the strengths of Archangel Avacyn, Eldrazi Displacer, and Shambling Vent.

The loss of Tomb of the Spirit Dragon is a bigger blow to Mono-Red Eldrazi than is clearly apparent. Freeroll lifegain to outrace people with was enormous. The colorless options left are largely redundant. Westvale Abbey looked like it’d be great in a monocolored deck with tokens in it… but it’s not. You don’t need more token makers with your lands after Foundry of the Consuls.

Play Clip Wings instead. You won’t face a player with a Mindbreak Demon and a Thopter token, I promise. You will face Ormendahl, Profane Prince, though.

Ramp sucks. Ignore it.

These cards are to have more racing power against the non-interactive G/R Ramp matchup. If #SCGBALT taught us anything, it’s that G/R Ramp isn’t nearly as frightening as it once was with Ugin, the Spirit Dragon.

With Virulent Plague and Tragic Arrogance showing up in decently high numbers, I’d avoid playing any deck that’s heavily reliant on creature tokens. Cryptolith Rite decks certainly look fun and cool, but they are grossly inconsistent and shut out after sideboard by these cards. If you play with tokens, only play them in moderation, like with Gideon, Ally of Zendikar.

Cards I’m Interested in Exploring More

Loam Dryad is tight. The new Noble Hierarch, basically. Doesn’t get bounced by Awoken Horror.

Seriously, though, I think Loam Dryad is a bit overlooked and maybe even dismissed after people were unimpressed with Cryptolith Rite decks. It enables a two-drop into Outnumber or another one-drop as well as a four-drop on turn 3. The 1/2 body needs a little help or else it gets outclassed quickly, so we aim to either grow it bigger with Nissa, Voice of Zendikar or to end the game quickly.

Yeah, it’s a little strange to want to explore cards that are clear Standard staples. Honestly, there wasn’t much I really loved about the W/B Eldrazi deck from #SCGBALT other than these two cards. Nothing from black was particularly impressive outside of Shambling Vent and, to a much lesser extent, Ayli, Eternal Pilgrim. I’ll be working along with Michael Majors on this duo as he has similar stances on these two cards (and the W/B Eldrazi deck).

With the (justified) rising popularity of Archangel Avacyn, flying creatures like Linvala, the Preserver that go just a little bit bigger are in a nice spot. Mindwrack Demon also slots into this category, but I don’t want to dip into black moving forward if I don’t have to. The 5/5 body also rumbles well against Archangel of Tithes and even bounces off of it if Always Watching is involved on their side.

Week Two at #SCGINVI

Sadly, I don’t have a Standard deck that I’m all about right now. Not a great place to be and not where I was when I won previous Invitationals. I probably should’ve just been jamming endless hours with only Humans this past month. I do like being the aggressive deck, but I hate that it’s so popular and has such a huge target on its head.

Oh, and there’s Modern to worry about too.

See ya in Columbus!

SCG Invitational in Columbus April 15-17!