Constructed Criticism – That’s Pretty Standard

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Tuesday, April 20th – I hate Standard. I’ll be honest, I am no master when it comes to Standard at the moment, but I do know one thing: Jund is the best deck. It has been written about, blogged about, complained about, and even cried about enough times that I just don’t care to write another article on why you should play Jund and what you should do to beat the mirror.

I hate Standard. I’ll be honest, I am no master when it comes to Standard at the moment, but I do know one thing: Jund is the best deck. It has been written about, blogged about, complained about, and even cried about enough times that I just don’t care to write another article on why you should play Jund and what you should do to beat the mirror. I am an advocate for playing the best deck in most formats, because I think that the title of Best Deck is given only to those decks that can overcome hate and rise to the top with a target on its head. While Jund might be able to accomplish this, there are a few things you really have to know. First of all, Jund is good, but you will probably not win a tournament if you are playing Jund. Sure, someone will win, but why should you win? The mirror matches for Jund are not as skill-intensive as most mirrors in the past, and you will often play the mirror in about 50% or more of your matches in a given tournament. Why is Jund considered the best deck? Because its win percentages are very high against the rest of the field. Why should you stay away from Jund? The mirror is random, and might possibly force you to shoot yourself. Cascading into Lightning Bolt while your opponent hits Blightning after Blightning is so very frustrating, and can lead to some very unfun matches as a result.

While Standard is a pretty big crapshoot, there is hope on the horizon. Rise of the Eldrazi is bringing some new tools to the battlefield in the forms of Vengevine and Wall of Omens. Vengevine is a great weapon for Jund, as well as a great tool for fighting them. Vengevine is great for the mirror, because he can be discarded to Blightning, and also randomly bashes past Wall of Omens, who blocks nearly every creature in your deck otherwise. While a few people have already written about how powerful Vengevine is, I don’t think they have quite figured out his best uses just yet. Craig Wescoe had a few cool ideas with Kor Skyfisher in his article from last week, but he wasn’t playing Ranger of Eos, which I think is a big thumbs down. Ranger of Eos is so amazing with Student of Warfare, and he also combines very well with Vengevine to put a real hurt on the Jund decks. While I don’t think that Vengevine and Wall of Omens go in the same deck, they could potentially be used in tandem with Kor Skyfisher to make for some interesting combos that revolve around the mid or late game.

Wall of Omens is Blue-White Control’s newest addition, and I am positive that it will not disappoint. While being a fantastic target for Path to Exiles of your own casting, it does a stellar job at preventing tons of damage from Jund or other aggressive decks, drawing you a card in the process. Anyone who has ever cast Wall of Blossoms knows that this card is the real deal, and they finally put it into a color that really needed some defense combined with some cantripping. Will Wall of Omens be the card that helps push Blue-White past Jund as far as power level is concerned? I’m not sure, but I sure as hell hope so. If people still think that Sprouting Thrinax is their best bet against decks with Day of Judgment, they are going to have a wake-up call when their opponent runs out a few Wall of Omens, and locks up the board until they can cast Mind Spring for 10, or a Sphinx of Jwar Isle to put the game away.

Blue-White Control has been my deck choice as of late, but I think other people are just building it incorrectly. Sure, Baneslayer is a great way to recoup life, but why on earth would you play something like Baneslayer Angel maindeck when everyone has Path to Exile, Terminate, Maelstrom Pulse, and the like to just put her away? Why would you tap out to cast a spell that just loses you incredible amounts of tempo loss? Sphinx of Jwar Isle is a great threat to put in her stead, and her valuable assets could be delegated to the sideboard against decks that have very few answers. Baneslayer Angel is a great card, but there is just no real reason to play her when you don’t have other lightning rods to target earlier in the game. The reason why she is good in other decks like Naya or BGW is that you play things like Lotus Cobra, Knight of the Reliquary, or Master of the Wild Hunt that all need to be dealt with immediately. By the time you get to the late-game, they will probably be out of removal and your Baneslayer will just finish them off. In a control deck, you have no real targets for Terminate or Path to Exile until you land the Angel. Sure, you can mess up their manabase with Spreading Seas and Tectonic Edge, but they will often draw out of it by the time you are able to kill them. I was having this problem earlier in the year with a deck that played Wall of Denial, Sphinx of Jwar Isle, and Baneslayer Angel. I would blank all of their removal until I cast Baneslayer, and they would finally have a juicy target. LSV went a step ahead of me and moved her to the sideboard. When they sided out their removal, he would bring in Baneslayer Angel and just crush’ em.

So, how do we build the new Blue-White Control? More specifically, what cards do you cut for Wall of Omens? Do you add anything else to the deck besides the new Wall of Blossoms? If so, what other cards do you cut? Here is my pre-Rise of the Eldrazi list for Blue White.

4 Knight of the White Orchid
3 Sphinx of Jwar Isle

3 Path to Exile
3 Oblivion Ring
4 Spreading Seas
4 Day of Judgment
3 Mind Spring
3 Martial Coup
2 Elspeth, Knight Errant
3 Jace, the Mind Sculptor
4 Fieldmist Borderpost
1 Everflowing Chalice

4 Glacial Fortress
4 Celestial Colonnade
4 Island
1 Arid Mesa
7 Plains
3 Tectonic Edge

3 Baneslayer Angel
4 Kor Firewalker
3 Flashfreeze
4 Negate
1 Devout Lightcaster

While this might not be the best list, this is the one I have had the most success with as of late. Jund has a lot of trouble dealing with your bombs, since they all out-class theirs by a wide margin. The way Jund beats you is with early pressure backed up by a few key disruptive spells like Blightning, or post-board Duresses. While Maelstrom Pulse killing one of your Planeswalkers might hurt a little, they provide you with a solid speed-bump while giving you some value. Even if Elspeth only makes a 1/1, she usually takes their entire turn, and gives you a valuable pad to your life total, or possibly a blocker to protect a future Planeswalker. Mind Spring, and Martial Coup, if given enough time, virtually win the game on their own. Jund has no choice but to overextend against you, which makes Day of Judgment and Martial Coup that much better. If your opponent is spending their time ripping your hand apart, Mind Spring can just put you right back in the game when you are behind on resources. Occasionally, you will have to Mind Spring for 1-3 to get yourself out of a bad mana draw, but when given enough time Mind Spring is just absurd.

Spreading Seas and Tectonic Edge are where your deck really shines against Jund. Most versions of Jund are cutting the mana accelerants and just play more lands in their place. This is great news for you, because you can hit their relevant color sources with Spreading Seas or Edge and they will probably not be able to cast more than one spell a turn for the rest of the game. If they end up using Maelstrom Pulse to kill the Spreading Seas, then you have already drawn a card, used up their card, and prevented them from doing anything for an entire turn. I cannot stress how good that card is against Jund, and I would not play a Blue deck without 4 Spreading Seas in the 75. They are fine maindeck, because most Standard decks play manlands, which can give control problems. While Wall of Omens will give you a bit of protection from Stirring Wildwood, the rest of the lands will still put a beating on you if you aren’t playing enough ways to deal with them. You don’t want to have to use cards like Path to Exile on the manlands, because then they are not being used to kill the on-board threats your opponent is killing you with.

Now, looking at this list, it is going to be very difficult to fit a card like Oust into the maindeck, not to mention Wall of Omens. Testing will help flesh out the numbers a bit, but I am just not certain what needs to go. There isn’t a definite “bad card” in the deck, but my initial instincts are to cut some of the Wrath effects since they have no synergy with the wall. Day of Judgment is pretty strong against the Ally deck, as well as the Naya deck, so that might be incorrect. However, Day of Judgment is not amazing against Jund or the mirror, so those might need to be the focus for the maindeck. Day of Judgment is a fine sideboard card, and I could see moving 1-2 of those to the sideboard in place of Wall of Omens. For anyone wanting to cut Knight of the White Orchid, you have clearly not played with the deck. He is just so invaluable, being the only real white card that accelerates you in the format. He is also a great blocker, and having multiples lets you first-strike people out of the game. Even if they “blow you out” in combat, you have still gotten value out of them. Plus, it isn’t like you aren’t about to Martial Coup them to death in a few turns anyway.

One recommendation for the maindeck is playing the 4th Path to Exile. Having more targets for your own creature in Wall of Omens gives the card a bit more reach, which is what you want out of your spells. This deck loves accelerating into your bombs, so using Path on your Wall so that you can cast Martial Coup a turn earlier can be invaluable. Additionally, Path to Exile works pretty well with Knight of the White Orchid, since you are keeping parity with their “acceleration” with your own. Oblivion Ring is not nearly as good as it used to be, since most decks are relying less and less on Planeswalkers to do their dirty work. However, that might change when Gideon Jura becomes legal, since he is such a powerhouse. He might deserve a slot in the deck too, but I’m not completely sold on him in a non-aggressive deck. His +2 ability that forces your opponent to attack him is not at all relevant when you don’t have an army in play staring at your opponent’s Bloodbraid Elves and Sprouting Thrinaxes. But, when that situation does occur, he is quite amazing. He lets you make insanely profitable blocks, and they have to get 8 points of damage on Gideon in order to not get bashed in the face by a 6/6 on the following turn. On top of that, he can just Deathstroke creatures that have been on the offensive the turn prior, which is pretty sick. Most Planeswalkers can’t kill creatures very easily, and Gideon can do it for just -2 loyalty.

While Standard is changing, I don’t want to speculate too much about how things will change. I don’t think that Eldrazi Ramp decks will be relevant, but All is Dust can be such a disgusting beating. I could see a Ramp deck that uses All is Dust as a sweeper for creatures and Planeswalkers, but I will be surprised if anyone uses Emrakul, the Aeons Torn in the Top 8 of any relevant event. I am not going to pull a Kyle Sanchez and say that I will eat all Emrakul’s I find if he does become a tournament staple, but 15 mana is just absurd. He is only ridiculous when you actually cast him, since his Time Walk ability gives you the chance to untap and attack before they get a chance to cast Gatekeeper of Malakir or what have you. I think that Iona, Shield of Emeria will still be the main target for Polymorph decks, since locking a deck out of their primary color will save your bacon more often than having a 15/15 with Protection from Colored Spells hanging back on defense. Some people might try something like Polymorph to cheat the Eldrazi into play, but I don’t think that is where their true value lies. Casting them gives you their added abilities, which is probably what you are aiming for when ramping into the 10+ mana range. Still, having am Emrakul in play on Turn 3 or 4 with Polymorph is pretty sweet.

With the decrease in popularity of Boss Naya, I think that some particular decks are primed for a comeback. Vengevine could make Eldrazi Green into a real deck again, since he works very well with cards like Elvish Visionary and an absurd number of cheap creatures. Additionally, Blightning was one of your biggest problems when playing against Jund, so that might give you reason to battle again. I might stay away from the Nissa Revanes and Garruk Wildspeakers, since they will just make you more susceptible to Blightning than you need to be. Wolfbriar Elemental is probably enough gas to make your late-game against them ridiculous. He is Green’s version of Martial Coup and Mind Spring, and can be just as devastating to Jund. Additionally, Vengevine can make the drawback on Eldrazi Monument almost irrelevant, since you can plan your turn out to recur him if you have a few creatures left in the grip. I will also say that I never had any trouble beating a deck that didn’t have Blightning when I played Eldrazi Green a few months ago. Wrath effects were somewhat of a joke, and very few people play Counterspells anymore. Additionally, no one really plays Earthquake except for Mono-Red (or Black-Red), which was one of the format’s more problematic cards for you.

While Eldrazi Green might not be the “answer” to the format that it was a few months ago, it could still be a viable strategy since it is very off the radar. It hasn’t really put up any relevant numbers as of late, but it has only gotten better since last November. Cards like Wolfbriar Elemental, Bestial Menace, and Arbor Elf give you better options than you previously had, and Vengevine could put the deck over the top. With Naya losing popularity, there are fewer decks playing Basilisk Collar and Cunning Sparkmage, which is one of the reasons I shelved the deck after the last Pro Tour. I think that if people want to play a mediocre mid-range deck, they will just play Jund. Naya isn’t any more interesting or diverse than Jund, and just has worse matchups against the rest of the field. Wild Nacatl is just not something you want to be doing in Standard, and I would recommend staying as far away from the deck as possible. Jund is just better against the field, and you are not really even favored against an opponent packing Deathmark and Bituminous Blast in their 75.

Another problem I’ve seen in Standard is that people are just attacking Jund in the wrong ways. Their weakness lies in their manabase, since no deck can really fight them in a 1-for-1 battle. Sure, the Blue-White deck has ways to draw out of sticky situations, but they are only given that time due to their ability to efficiently attack Jund’s manabase with Spreading Seas and Tectonic Edge. I really wish they would print a few more mana-denial cards like Spreading Seas, since it is clearly not format warping, but still gives greedy decks problems. Spreading Seas being able to draw a card is what really makes it good, since there have been plenty of “turn your land into a Swamp” fodder cards printed over the last few years. In fact, Rise of the Eldrazi even has one! Maybe they’ll print a 3-mana version of Spreading Seas that can attach itself to multiple lands in M11…

Grand Prix: Washington DC is coming up soon, and the format is Standard. I will be focusing on Zendikar Block and Standard over the next few weeks, since those are the relevant formats for the Grand Prix and Pro Tour: San Juan, so let me know if there is anything in particular you would like me to write about. Unfortunately, I am unable to battle with new cards on Magic Online before either tournament, so most ideas and decks will be purely speculative. If I get some locals to brew up some Standard lists, I’ll be sure to battle against them and let you know the results. I’m looking forward to having a few new weapons to combat the menace that is Jund. Every format needs a bad boy, and Jund just so happens to be the one for Standard. Jund can’t really help that it is a mid-range deck that plays all of the best cards in the format. It is just a color combination after all.

Thanks for reading.

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