Constructed Criticism – A Look at Standard for Nationals

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Monday, July 6th – I was planning on writing an article about Limited today, but I feel as if Standard post-M10 needs a little bit more attention. It is the Constructed format for Nationals, and thus the most important to me. There are so many cards are leaving the format, destroying “established” decks but spawning very few new ideas.

I was planning on writing an article about Limited today, but I feel as if Standard post-M10 needs a little bit more attention. It is the Constructed format for Nationals, and thus the most important to me. There are so many cards are leaving the format, destroying “established” decks but spawning very few new ideas. Losing 10 Painlands and gaining 5 other lands that don’t tap for mana on turn 1 is going to change the face of the format completely. Hopefully once in the next few weeks I’ll use Draft Recorder to do something akin to “Drafting with the Balefire Liege,” where I go over each pick, why I picked it, as well as in-depth gameplay. It should make for a good article, so expect it sooner rather than later.

Today I would like to talk about (dum dum duhhhh!) Faeries. Paulo Vitor Damo de Longest Name Ever in the History of the Universe Rosa wrote an extensive article about Faeries post-M10, and I would recommend anyone with a premium account to read it for more details about matchups, as well as new threats and maneuvers for fighting those new cards. Losing Underground River is something a lot of people aren’t really taking to heart as much as they should. Sure, you gain the new UB land, Drowned Catacombs, but you lose the ability to effectively cast Thoughtseize on the 1st turn. Without this ability, Thoughtseize becomes much less important for the mirror, and much less valuable in general. Sure, Thoughtseize will still be great on turn 2-5 against a control deck, but it is only good in the mirror for helping beat opposing Bitterblossoms before they hit the table, a la turn 1.

In this case, I think Ponder may be the next best option at getting maximum consistency for hitting Bitterblossom on turn 2 in the Bitterblossom War. If anything, it could just smooth out your draws a bit so you hit your important spells more consistently against opposing aggressive decks, or shuffle away useless fodder against decks where you need to topdeck. Ponder is a great card, and it may be able to give Faeries the ability to “curve” out if they ever want to become a more aggressive deck, much like Merfolk decks in times past. You could also revert to the versions from Block Constructed playing more Swamps in order to cast the Thoughtseizes more consistently in the early game. In those days, mages had to rawdog 4 basic Swamps and 4 Secluded Glen in order to get their Thoughtseizes in there at a relevant time. Infinite mulligans will surely ensue, and Faerie mirrors will continue to suck. Awesome.

In other news, the loss of Faerie Conclave is not a big deal. Having too many lands that come into play tapped could be devastating to your early game against an aggressive deck, and the combination of Secluded Glen, Drowned Catacombs, and Faerie Conclave would have led to awkward draws. Now that Faerie Conclave is out, you don’t have to worry about it anymore. Most lists only played 1-2 anyway, and if you really want to add another man-land to your deck, you could think about playing a singleton Gargoyle Castle. It comes into play untapped, which could be a huge bonus if you need to cast Mistbind Clique, but doesn’t tap for colored mana for Cryptic Command. However, it does trump Great Sable Stag, which is a huge bonus. But I just don’t think it’ll end up making the cut in Faeries, but it definitely should have applications for some other decks in Standard.

If I were to play Faeries, here would be the list I would play:

4 Spellstutter Sprite
4 Scion of Oona
4 Mistbind Clique
3 Vendilion Clique

4 Cryptic Command
4 Bitterblossom
4 Broken Ambitions
4 Agony Warp
2 Jace Beleren
2 Remove Soul

4 Secluded Glen
4 Sunken Ruins
3 Drowned Catacombs
4 Mutavault
7 Island
3 Swamp

2 Puppeteer Clique
4 Deathmark
3 Thoughseize
3 Infest
3 Flashfreeze

To me, this list seems very strong for the new aggressive metagame. Vendilion Clique is a strong threat that removes their best card from their hand, and (usually) trades with one of their best creatures. Unlike Sower of Temptation, Vendilion Clique is a surprise and isn’t susceptible to sorcery speed removal. Sower of Tempation probably deserves a slot, but removal is at such a premium, usually costing 1 or 2 mana, and can just destroy Faeries if they rely on Sower to take control of the game. Sower of Temptation could be a decent answer for dealing with problematic creatures such as Chameleon Colossus, but is still horribly damaged by Volcanic Fallout, as well as all other removal spells while Scion of Oona isn’t in play. I’ve never been the hugest fan of Sower of Temptation, and this format is no different, as most decks lost virtually no good removal spells with the rotation of 10th Edition. I certainly couldn’t fault anyone for playing 2-3 Sowers in the maindeck or sideboard, but I would rather not tap out on my own turn, leaving myself vulnerable to some ridiculous spell. I would almost consider play the new Persuasion variant than Sower, since it is only destroyed by Oblivion Ring and Maelstrom Pulse.

Let me just say one thing: I love Faeries. I don’t think you understand just how much I love Faeries…I played them for 20 FNMs straight (or possibly more), but I don’t think it will be the best deck in Standard. If I’m saying that Faeries is bad, then you should probably at least consider that it could possibly maybe somewhat fortheloveofgod be bad, or just the wrong decision for a particular tournament. With Great Sable Stag and Volcanic Fallout in the format, people will have access to too many hate cards for you to reliable win matchups that should be easy. Over the last few weeks, I have been playing with Faeries on Magic Online a decent amount, only to lose games I had dominated to a topdecked Volcanic Fallout. This shouldn’t happen, but being uncounterable is very powerful against a deck like Faeries. There aren’t any cards that save you from Volcanic Fallout, so you should just accept that you will likely lose one match to a “prepared” opponent. Wizards has really tried to downgrade the power level of Faeries (unsuccessfully), but when people know that Faeries is good, that in turn makes it less good. On top of all this, Cascade aggro decks are rising in popularity every day, and Cascade is a mechanic built to give Faeries a problem!

Of the decks previously dominating the format pre M10, the only ones that are mostly unaffected by the rotation and are still viable include:

GW Tokens
Jund/5Color Blood

These decks are still strong, and the lack of Wrath of God makes the last 3 even better than they were before. Kithkin has the best curve in Standard, playing out huge threats on turns 1-3, and being able to play ridiculous combat tricks and removal spells for the paltry cost of 1 mana: Path to Exile and Harm’s Way. These two cards will define creature battles for the next few months (or possible years), and I believe that the victor will most certainly be the one who draws the most of these two cards. Battling Kithkin mages might rely more on bombs like Cloudgoat Ranger and Ajani Goldmane, but having the two cheap removal/trick spells against non-White aggro decks is going to be hugely important. Without Wrath of God in the format, I’m not sure if other decks will be able to stay on-par with Kithkin, but time will tell. With Faeries being the default control deck, things are looking good for the little White guys. Cedric Phillips loves them with an unexplainable passion, and I’m starting to come around.

I proposed a list for Kithkin last week, but I am not sure if that is going to be the best list for Nationals. Playtesting over the next few weeks should give me a better idea of what to expect from the format, as well as how the deck performs on a basic level. I’m assuming it is ridiculous, but Forge[/author]-Tender”]Burrenton [author name="Forge"]Forge[/author]-Tenders could come and go depending on their overall importance for stifling Red decks, as well as control decks playing Firespout or Volcanic Fallout. I am seriously expecting Firespout to be a big player at Nationals, since it can kill all Kithkin under a single Honor of the Pure, as well as most Elves, but it has poor synergy with Bloodbraid Elf. I would think that most control decks are going to revert back to Plumeveil-based strategies, much like Lorwyn-Shadowmoor Block Constructed.

With all of these things in mind, I wanted to build a control deck that looked like a concoction of old. Looking back to Gabriel Nassif Five-Color Control deck from PT: Kyoto, you can see how he could easily dominate a “regular” aggressive deck via Plumeveil, Wall of Reverence, as well as Volcanic Fallout and Broodmate Dragon. All of these cards are very hard for Kithkin to deal with, and led him all the way to victory against a field full of aggressive decks in the Top 8. Things now should be no different, and you should look towards these older style control decks in order to learn how to defeat the coming onslaught of white dorks, tokens, and GRB hasted monsters. Without this knowledge, you will likely build your deck incorrectly, leading you down a path that will get you pummeled over and over by the new swarm of decks that are unafraid of Wrath of God, and generally scoff at Volcanic Fallout. Jund and Five-Color Blood even play Volcanic Fallout themselves.

The problem with playing Firespout instead of Volcanic Fallout is, and will always be, Faeries. Volcanic Fallout is just sick against Faeries, but rather mediocre against most other decks, or at least in comparison to Firespout. A lot of decks are built around having creature with three-toughness in order to stay alive after any Pyroclasm effect, but they are very unaware of Firespout. I might suggest building a control deck that plays Firespout maindeck, but sides in 4 Volcanic Fallout against Faeries, or any deck that is vulnerable to the “Volcanic Blowout.” Faeries poses all of the same problems that it has always posed for control decks, but it might be time for control decks to shine if they are built correctly. Time will tell if the pros will be able to build a deck to defeat the new Kithkin menace (or even GW Tokens), and Nationals will be the stomping ground for all of the big names to showcase their new technology.

One card in M10 I would like to talk about is NOT Civic Wayfinder. I don’t know what possessed them to change his creature type, but losing the ability to be an Elf has really hindered this little guy. His new brother Borderland Ranger is a strict downgrade, as his creature type is irrelevant. Human Scout has never been so unimpressive, and especially so when compared to Elf Warrior. The Civic Wayfinder clone is now mostly unplayable since he doesn’t help Wren’s Run Vanquisher, Gilt-Leaf Palace, Bramblewood Paragon, or even Wolf-Skull Shaman. He isn’t even pumped by the new elf lord! In my opinion, downgrading an already mediocre creature was a horrible idea, and made absolutely no sense. I mean, why turn him from an Elf into a Human? This small change, along with the absence of Llanowar Wastes, could give BG Elves a problem with their new manabases. I would expect most dedicated BG Elves decks to die off, only to be replaced with more consistent but less aggressive Rock style decks sporting Lord of Extinction, Great Sable Stag, or some other threats that are difficult to deal with like Kitchen Finks or Murderous Redcap. Without the incentive to play Elves anymore, BG could go in many different directions, and will probably just lead back towards BGw Doran decks. Instead of pushing the format forwards with M10, I feel as if everything is being pushed back.

There seems to be a huge hole in the format as far as dedicated control decks are concerned, but the format seems poised to receive a wake-up call in the near future. Without the fear of Wrath of God, there are a plethora of new tricks and removal spells for aggressive players to walk into, which is a good thing for control players to capitalize on. I can already imagine a field full of Plumeveils ready to pounce upon the little white hobbits, but GW Tokens is a deck people aren’t taking seriously enough. Without a deck able to easily play Zealous Persecution, GW Tokens is nicely set up to be a powerful contender again. GW Tokens has won the last two StarCityGames $5K events, beating BW Tokens in the finals of one of those tournaments, but without any fear of Zealous Persecution or Wrath of God, there is little to fear for the Overrun deck. The two biggest cards you lose from 10th Edition are Treetop Village and Brushland, which hurts a lot! While you do gain a different GW dual land, you lose one of the best manlands ever printed. This loss could prove devastating for the deck, but the core of the deck is still there. You can still play Noble Hierarch (relatively) easily, as well as all the other creatures. Overrun should still prove to be a huge gameplayer in Standard, as it was reprinted in M10.

With the entire spoiler up, I don’t think there are many cards I would change out of the GW Tokens deck, since it was so strong before the rotation. Here is my current list that I will be battling with while testing for Nationals:

4 Noble Hierarch
3 Path to Exile
4 Steward of Valeron
4 Kitchen Finks
3 Dauntless Escort
4 Wilt-Leaf Liege
3 Ajani Goldmane
1 Garruk Wildspeaker
2 Overrun
4 Cloudgoat Ranger
4 Spectral Procession

4 Sunpetal Grove
4 Wooded Bastion
4 Windbrisk Heights
4 Forest
6 Plains
2 Terramorphic Expanse

4 Forge[/author]-Tender”]Burrenton [author name="Forge"]Forge[/author]-Tender
1 Path to Exile
4 Great Sable Stag
3 Cloudthresher
1 Dauntless Escort
2 Wispmare

The maindeck is incredibly similar to the list that one the Minnesota 5K, and rightfully so. That list seemed very solid, and lacked a lot of the weaknesses of older versions of GW Overrun. I never understood the need for Qasali Pridemage over Steward of Valeron, since accelerating into an earlier Cloudgoat Ranger is one of the best plans against any BW Tokens deck. Now with BW being non-existent, there is virtually no reason to play Qasali Pridemage. Even having 4 targets against most White decks via Honor of the Pure, I don’t think Pridemage is good enough. Honor of the Pure is fine, but you will likely just rely on resolving an Ajani, Wilt-Leaf Liege, or Overrun against other White-based aggressive decks. I think Honor of the Pure probably deserves a lot here, but previous iterations didn’t include Glorious Anthem, so it is possible that Honor of the Pure isn’t necessary for this version of Tokens.

I don’t think that the deck really needs Brushland to function properly, just more explosively. While Brushland leads to an ability to have “broken” draws via turn 1 Noble Hierarch and turn 2 Spectral Procession, a lot of decks will be set up to handle this draw in swift fashion. Terramorphic Expanse is a decent dual land, and helps your Sunpetal Groves come into play untapped on turn 2 more consistently. Terramorphic Expanse just makes the new duals much better, and gives you more incentive to play a consistent manabase built upon basic lands, even though it is still full of non-basics. It functions like a dual land that counts as a basic, and hurts you less against decks playing Anathemancer. However, like I said before, the loss of Treetop Village could end up being devastating, but I won’t be sure until further testing. The deck lost very little with the rotation, and should hold up very well against the new Kithkin decks that look to dominate Standard.

In closing, I would like to point out that the Five-Color Control deck that won PT: Kyoto did not play Wrath of God in the maindeck, and still crushed aggressive players left and right. Kithkin are still very vulnerable to a timely Volcanic Fallout, as the control players will likely still play Esper Charm to destroy Honor of the Pure, as well as Cryptic Command to bounce it. Plumeveil still poses a huge problem for aggressive strategies, and one of these decks could end up dominating US Nationals. Hopefully people won’t skimp on the Forge[/author]-Tender”]Burrenton [author name="Forge"]Forge[/author]-Tenders and end up getting KO’ed by a timely Firespout. Time will tell if Kithkin will live up to the hype, but many players have used Kithkin to do well recently and Wrath of God still exists in current Standard. While Reveillark and Five-Color Control strategies don’t pop up very often in current tournaments, they may just be the answer to the format once M10 is legal. Good luck battling, and pray you don’t get paired against Firespout.

Todd Anderson
strong sad on MOL
[email protected]