Constructed Criticism – Standard After Nationals

Find out what you can do to circumvent Caw-Blade; play a deck that can beat it, not join it. Todd Anderson elaborates on the decks in Standard with a fighting chance.

After this weekend, there can be no doubt that Caw-Blade is the real deal, but it isn’t nearly as unbeatable as it used to be. Birthing Pod has been heralded as a good matchup by our own Patrick Chapin who placed 9th on tiebreakers at US Nationals, and Ali Aintrazi is our new National Champion with UB Control, busting up a few Caw-Blade decks in the process. From here, we can only assume that all of the other decks in the format need to evolve, or just get out of the way entirely.

The Top 8 decklists can be found here.

Aggro decks were foretold to do poorly at the event by countless pros, if only because of the existence of Timely Reinforcements and the willingness by Caw-Blade pilots to start them in their 75. Timely Reinforcements often plays like a Spectral Procession hopped up on Mountain Dew and can really give aggressive strategies like Goblins or Vampires a reason to reconsider deck choices. With someone having the full four after sideboarding, they will usually have all the wind knocked out of their sails after the third turn. Three creatures and a whopping six life is nothing to sneeze at, and aggro decks really need to figure out how to beat the card if they want to be successful in Standard.

Personally, I played UR Splinter Twin because that is the deck I feel most confident with in Standard, and my results didn’t disappoint. After the first day, I was 4-0 in Standard and 2-1 in Draft, leaving me only seven more rounds to prove that I was worthy of a shot at glory, but my second draft fell apart, and I was out of contention with an 0-3 record in the second draft. I thought I had figured out M12 Limited, but I had only reached the tip of the iceberg. I don’t think even ten or even twenty more drafts would have prepared me enough though. I missed an early signal that green was open and was also under the impression that green was a bad color, which ultimately ended in me receiving the scraps of a BR Bloodthirst deck, and ultimately failing to get the job done.

I played another few rounds of Standard, finally losing one in round 13, to end Standard at 6-1, and I dropped to try and qualify for the Midwest Masters Series. Unfortunately, I went 3-2 in that tournament and slept in the following day, choosing to spend my time hanging out with friends and selling cards to pay for the trip. For whatever its worth, here is the UR Twin deck I played:

I felt like my list was really solid, and I didn’t lose a Caw-Blade match until the seventh round of Standard, beating it three times otherwise. I won’t say that Splinter Twin has an amazing Caw-Blade matchup or anything because it doesn’t. It has a solid matchup against them, and it only gets better when they begin to cut Spellskite from their list, like a lot of the guys in the Top 8. It is much easier for you to beat a Consecrated Sphinx than a Spellskite, since they will almost always be tapping out for the Sphinx. If left unmolested, it is virtually impossible to beat an active Sphinx, so keep that in mind when planning out your combo turn.

Other decks in the format have a lot of options to play around with, but none interest me so much as Hero of Oxid Ridge. There was a lot of buzz about that card this past weekend, and for good reason. It utterly smashes Caw-Blade should it resolve, keeping all of their potential dorks from blocking. It hits really hard too, with four power of haste as well as battle cry. I expect every aggressive red deck to incorporate some number of these in the maindeck and sideboard, if only to get around the overwhelming power of Timely Reinforcements. Koth of the Hammer is no longer where you really want to be, since even the control decks are getting aggressive. Squadron Hawk and Timely Reinforcements are just two of the reasons why Hero of Oxid Ridge is currently better suited to the Red Deck’s needs.

Another approach would be to refrain from playing too many creatures with a single point of toughness. Creatures that trade with a single Squadron Hawk or Soldier token are probably going to end up getting you blown out. Try to go a little bigger, or make your creatures with one toughness really do something. Bloodghast is a fine exception, as is Lotus Cobra, but don’t get caught battling up with cards like Furnace Scamp because they will only get you in trouble.

The last approach I would recommend is to become more midrange, though that thought is a lot more dangerous. My first inclination would be to play Birthing Pod, since it gives you a toolbox that lets you attack various decks from a lot of different angles. You also get to play with Inferno Titan in a reasonable shell, allowing you to keep opposing 1/1s off the table fairly easily. One thing to note about the Birthing Pod decks is that they’re not very interactive with decks like Valakut and Splinter Twin. They do have some disruption like Acidic Slime and whatnot, but that will not always be enough to keep them in check. But, you can’t expect to beat everything. When control is the top dog in the format, it is probably best to play a deck that has a pretty good matchup against them. Birthing Pod is probably the right call for anyone looking to beat Caw-Blade multiple times next weekend. Just don’t expect to win the tournament unless you play against it a lot.

I am honestly under the impression that Valakut could make a real return to the format. My main concern before was that Splinter Twin was such a horrendous matchup that you almost couldn’t afford to play the deck. However, with some recent tweaks and a few cards to help the Caw-Blade matchup, there is a lot you can do with the deck that has been left virtually unexplored.

For starters, I think Oracle of Mul Daya should be seeing a lot more play from the Valakut decks, since the card is just bonkers against anyone playing control. Secondly, Solemn Simulacrum doesn’t have a place in the deck. I know a lot of you want to jam your Sad Robots into play, but Valakut needs Oracle of Mul Daya in that slot and can’t really afford to play mediocre accelerators. Thirdly, splashing black out of the sideboard for Memoricide is probably the technology you want to move forward with. Reactive answers like Combust are easily played around by cards like Mutagenic Growth, but they will often only have 4-6 ways to counter Memoricide, and that’s assuming you just jam it with four mana.

Green Sun’s Zenith is where you want to start with Valakut, but not necessarily where you want to finish. It gives the deck a lot more consistency but also leaves you more vulnerable to Mana Leak. I wouldn’t recommend Summoning Trap, as I loathe that card, but I would recommend playing around Mana Leak to the best of your ability with Zenith. You don’t always have to go after Primeval Titan when they’re representing untapped mana, and you can often settle for an Oracle of Mul Daya instead. Green Sun’s Zenith is such a powerful card, acting as a Rampant Growth when you grab Birds of Paradise or ramping you further by grabbing a second Overgrown Battlement. The fact that it can also grab Primeval Titan in the late game is just ridiculous.

If I were playing Valakut tomorrow, here is the list I would start with:

Since Nature’s Claim has so many targets in this format, it is not uncommon for most Valakut lists to play some in the maindeck. Mono Red is the only real matchup where you won’t have a valid target, but I think you get enough value out of your other matchups to play the card in the maindeck. As you can see, we eliminated a lot of the older nuisances like Harrow and Khalni Heart Expedition in favor of more utility creatures and the like. Green Sun’s Zenith and Rampant Growth are almost interchangeable thanks to the addition of Birds of Paradise, but Zenith is obviously much more potent in the late game.

Harrow was cut simply due to the large number of Mana Leaks and Spell Pierces in the format. You can’t have your opponent blow you out when you’re trying to ramp, making it much more of a liability. Harrow and Khalni Heart Expedition went hand in hand, with one making the other that much better, so cutting one effectively forces you to cut both. I say good riddance, as both of those cards often made for some awkward draws that forced you to make bad decisions to progress your board.

With the addition of Rampant Growth, the deck gets much more consistent. You can hit your four-drop much more easily, making Oracle of Mul Daya that much better. You can also splash black much more easily and cast Memoricide on the third turn rather consistently. Cultivate is just a bit too slow and is much more vulnerable to Spell Pierce since you can’t cast it until turn 3, forcing me to leave it on the sidelines. It doesn’t fit the curve where you need it to fit, and it is just a tad too slow against the aggro decks as well. A fine card in its own right, Cultivate will surely see play again somewhere down the line, but right now is not its time to shine.

The singleton Obstinate Baloth is there for a good reason: to give you five virtual copies against aggro with Green Sun’s Zenith. Aggro decks are likely to pose a problem, and having access to a way to gain life before you combo out with Primeval Titan is really good. Obstinate Baloth is also a fairly large threat, since a 4/4 is nothing to sneeze at. People will most likely be taken aback when you search one out, but that won’t make it any less devastating to the board state.

Acidic Slime is very similar in this regard, giving you outs to random things like Oblivion Ring, or keeping your opponent off their late drops. The singleton Acidic Slime just gives Green Sun’s Zenith that much more value. Sometimes you just need to kill something. Acidic Slime has been in Valakut lists for a long time, but not necessarily maindeck, though it has gotten more popular since the printing of Green Sun’s Zenith.

I cut Avenger of Zendikar from the deck completely due to the fact that he dies to Dismember with his trigger to make plants on the stack almost every single time. Sure, he’s a 5/5 and a decent target for Green Sun’s Zenith, but the fact that the plants will almost never amount to anything but saplings makes me wary to include him. There may come a time where you want a lot of blockers, and Avenger of Zendikar will be your man, but he’s left such a sour taste in my mouth every time I’ve seen him enter play in the last few months. You would be best to stay away from him too.

The sideboard is fairly straightforward, other than the splashed Memoricides. The Swamp can’t be in the maindeck because it could be the difference between life and death when it comes to casting your Primeval Titan on the ultimate turn. If you draw the Swamp instead of a green source, your day might end right then and there. Best leave it in the sideboard for your sideboard cards, since it has absolutely no function in the maindeck other than helping to take a few less damage from Dismember.

The Memoricides shouldn’t be sided in against every control deck or anything, but mostly reserved for combo decks. You can usually beat a Grave Titan, but you can’t usually beat a Deceiver Exarch with a Dispel on backup. Memoricide is an aggressive answer, where almost every other answer is reactive. Those answers usually give them plenty of time to set up the perfect hand against you before comboing off. With Memoricide, they don’t have that luxury and actually just lose if you resolve it on the third turn. I scooped multiple games at Nationals to a resolved turn 3 Memoricide while playing Splinter Twin (though I ended up winning the matches, but that is not the point).

Memoricide is also insane in the mirror, since the deck revolves around resolving a Primeval Titan. I would expect many people to adopt this strategy for the mirror, as well as against Splinter Twin, so it is probably correct to sideboard in some more threats as well. Memoricide is traditionally pretty good against decks relying on a single card to take them to an easy victory, so be prepared. You aren’t as cold to the card as Splinter Twin, but it is no cakewalk to win afterwards either.

The Pyroclasms and Obstinate Baloths are for trouncing aggro decks and allow you a lot of breathing room to set up your win conditions. While a lot of decks will have cards like Act of Aggression against you, you will often just have to go into the matchup with a mindset of hoping they don’t have it or just hoping they’re a little short on the amount of damage they’re dealing. With a full set of Obstinate Baloths and Pyroclasms, you should be able to slow them down enough so that it is safe to cast your Primeval Titan.

While Valakut is nothing new to Standard, it has been declining in popularity in favor of Caw-Blade, but I think it is currently well positioned so long as it is built correctly. No one is playing garbage like Spreading Seas, and Mana Leak is a pretty bad counterspell against you and easy to play around to boot. I think people are just afraid of losing to random aggro decks and don’t want to play a deck vulnerable to Act of Aggression. I don’t blame them, since it is quite the beating, but Mono Red should lose a lot of popularity after this weekend. Timely Reinforcements is just a ridiculous card and gives UW Control the boost they need to make it back on top against a field full of cheap, aggressive dorks. To boot, the card is also fine in the mirror, which says a lot about its versatility. When your opponent leads with Squadron Hawk, that gives you room to cast it for full value, and three 1/1s for a single card is better than the entire Squadron Hawk package if you ask me, if only because of the amount of tempo and board presence it generates for such a low cost.

There are a lot of tournaments over the next few weeks, and we’ll be able to see just how good UW Control really is. SCG Richmond is this weekend, and Grand Prix Pittsburgh is coming up soon. I’ll try to be at both, but my current work schedule is in flux. Hopefully it won’t ruin any of my plans, but we’ll just have to wait and see. Wish me luck!

Thanks for reading.


strong sad on MOL