Constructed Criticism – The Pulse of Standard: Prepping for Regionals and PTQs

Read Todd Anderson every week... at StarCityGames.com
Monday, April 27th – The entire spoiler is out for Alara Reborn, and everyone seems ravenous for new technology for whatever format their heart desires. Pros rummage through articles and articles from various websites looking for Alara Block Constructed ideas, while average Joes pillage material for upcoming Pro Tour Qualifiers for PT: Austin, as well as Regionals. With all of this in mind, I figured I would begin by focusing on Standard, since this is the format most relevant to me.

The entire spoiler is out for Alara Reborn, and everyone seems ravenous for new technology for whatever format their heart desires. Pros rummage through articles and articles from various websites looking for Alara Block Constructed ideas, while average Joes pillage material for upcoming Pro Tour Qualifiers for PT: Austin, as well as Regionals. With all of this in mind, I figured I would begin by focusing on Standard, since this is the format most relevant to me. I plan on battling in my local Regionals to try qualifying for Nationals, as well as approximately 1,000 PTQs in my local area. Standard is going to be all the rage, as the Pro Tour will likely fall by the wayside, since ABC (Alara Block Constructed) is a mostly irrelevant format for your average player. Those of us not on the gravy train to Honolulu could really care less about a format defined by Elspeth, Knight Errant; Broodmate Dragon; and Martial Coup. To be fair, ABC is a fun format, and will play a defining role in crowning the champion of Pro Tour: Honolulu. To me the format is pretty boring, since the aggressive decks can’t win on very early turns, leaving control decks the challenge of surviving until turn 7-12 in order to take control of the game. With the addition of new cards from Alara Reborn, I’ll wait to see if anyone breaks the tournament open with new technology, but I won’t hold my breath.

The entire spoiler is now up for Alara Reborn, and I am pretty excited to get my hands of a few cards. Last week I talked about Maelstrom Pulse, and how it will be a defining card for Standard for the next year and a few months. I still believe this to be true, and think it will play a huge role in defining Standard as a whole. Green-Black decks have problems with Planeswalkers, and this card gives them a fine answer. It also gives them the ability to deal with Token Generators like Bitterblossom and Spectral Procession, or take control of the tokens if they start to grow too large. Being a catch-all that can sweep tokens off the table is something that should not be taken lightly. From recent experience with GB Elves, I can safely say that Token-based decks give the little pointy-eared tribe a lot of trouble. Ajani Goldmane + Spectral Procession is really hard to race, but with Maelstrom Pulse you can sweep their team and then directly attack the problematic Planeswalker.

While other cards are bound to make a splash, I figured I would go over my list for GB Elves post Alara Reborn that I will begin testing with in preparation for Regionals, as well as a few matchups I plan on facing and how to sideboard for each.

Maelstrom Elves

4 Llanowar Elves
4 Wolf-Skull Shaman
4 Wren’s Run Vanquisher
4 Kitchen Finks
3 Civic Wayfinder
4 Wilt-leaf Liege

3 Terror
4 Maelstrom Pulse
4 Thoughtseize
3 Profane Command
4 Llanowar Wastes
4 Gilt-Leaf Palace
3 Mutavault
4 Treetop Village
4 Forest
2 Swamp
2 Twilight Mire

3 Guttural Response
1 Loxodon Warhammer
4 Cloudthresher
3 Mind Shatter
4 Infest

This deck is one of the few aggressive decks in the format that can effectively defend against Volcanic Fallout. With a stellar curve, you will often overrun your control opponent before they know what to do. You have the necessary tools to attack decks like Faeries with Terror, and aggressive curve, and removal for Sower of Temptation and Bitterblossom via Maelstrom Pulse. On top of that, Maelstrom Pulse gives you the ability to successfully deal problematic permanents while you keep attacking with your little green dorks. You are Rock. Most decks have a hard time beating you, but the same can be said for you as well. Better players thrive on Rock-style decks because it allows for a lot of outplaying your opponent. Cards like Profane Command and Wilt-Leaf Liege will often steal victory out of nowhere from your opponent, leaving them scratching their heads thinking about what went wrong or how unlucky they got.

Each card in your deck is at its most efficient cost possible. Since most decks opt for removal like Path to Exile, Wilt-Leaf Liege gets the nod over Chameleon Colossus, since he can protect your entire team from Volcanic Fallout. Wolf-Skull Shaman is a recent addition to the deck that has picked up popularity on Magic Online. I followed suit, but opted for Kitchen Finks for more consistency against both aggro and control instead of the very fragile Imperious Perfect. Most of the time, Imperious Perfect has a huge target on his head, while being very easy to deal with and making you even more vulnerable to Volcanic Fallout. When was the last time you played him post combat? I would guess approximately… never, which will almost always leave you vulnerable to a Volcanic Fallout before your creatures even get a single attack in. Kitchen Finks has the handle ability to block opposing creatures (which almost never happens with Perfect), on top of usually gaining 4 life and surviving a few trips to the play area. He is resilient to most removal and is a great clock in tandem with Wilt-Leaf Liege. I would recommend playing 4.

Thoughtseize is a staple that should stay a consistent 4 of in the maindeck. It is even good against aggressive decks, since most of them have a few late-game spells that tend to break your strategy wide open. It can also protect you from removal from opposing control decks, as well as keeping them off crucial spells that could help facilitate their game plan. There is a reason that Thoughtseize is usually called “Cash-seize.” It is definitely worth the heavy pricetag.

One card that may seem questionable is Civic Wayfinder, but he has proven himself for a long time now, seeing 4 copies in Charles Gindy Elves deck from Pro Tour: Hollywood last year. He helps you cast your late game spells like Profane Command and Wilt-Leaf Liege, as well as those very large and expensive Cloudthreshers in the sideboard (as well as Mind Shatter). He’s a great manafixer and will make your deck run smoothly, which is almost all that you can ask for in a creature. Some people might consider replacing him with Wilt-Leaf Cavaliers, but I honestly would never do that. Getting a land out of your deck is very powerful in a deck that runs only 23 lands. Llanowar Elves can be vulnerable to early Mogg Fanatics or Volcanic Fallouts, and leave you with only 2-3 lands to play your spells with. This can be a very awkward situation, and should be eliminated if at all possible.

Your matchups in Standard will likely include the following decks:

BW Tokens
Five-Color Control
Kithkin (RW and Mono-white)
Elves Mirror
Doran (Dark Bant and Traditional BGW)
RW Boat Brew

These decks, as well as some decks based around new popular mechanics like Cascade, should be what you face against in the earlier part of the Standard Season. I would recommend testing against lists presented by pros and writers in the next few weeks, as they will likely be the best builds possible for testing in your gauntlet. Until the season gets underway, I would recommend staying away from these new archetypes, or just trying to ease them into existing strategies. Not everyone can be a genius, and proven strategies should always be what you test against and test with in the early parts of a given season.

As far as sideboarding and matchups are concerned with the BG Elves deck, here is how I would side for each matchup:

Against BW Tokens:

+4 Infest, +4 Cloudthresher
-4 Wolf-Skull Shaman, -3 Terror, -1 Profane Command

Profane Command is a little less powerful in the matchup than in most, since the fear aspect is slightly diminished due to the presence of Bitterblossom and Tidehollow Sculler. Your game 1 should be very difficult, since they can overrun you quickly. Your Maelstrom Pulses should be utilized to deal with their most effect threat, and not wasted on smaller threats like Knight of Meadowgrain. Spectral Procession and Bitterblossom are your worst enemies here, and your sideboard Infests and Cloudthreshers should give them a real headache, especially when dealing with combat math earlier in the game. Often they will refuse to block your attacking creatures early in the game in hopes of using Glorious Anthem or Ajani Goldmane to pump their creatures for more effective combat. Don’t waste your removal, and remember that you are (usually) the aggressor. Your Wolf-Skull Shamans are a bit awkward since they die easily to Infest, but you need Llanowar Elves early to help develop your board, and Wolf-Skull Shaman is rarely effective early in the game. Games 2-3 become significantly easier with the sweepers. Some lists may decide to play Hurricane instead of Infest, which is a very great idea in the right metagame. However, if your metagame is full of Kithkin, Hurricane can seem quite poor when you need another sweeper effect. If you plan on playing against a lot of Faeries, or BW Tokens as the primary aggressive white deck, then you’ll probably do fine with playing Hurricane instead. In this case, Wolf-Skull Shaman is still decent, and you should probably side out Kitchen Finks since he rarely blocks their Knights of Meadowgrain, and his 2/1 form gets destroyed by all tokens.

Against Five-Color Control:
+3 Guttural Response, +3 Mind Shatter
-4 Maelstrom Pulse, -1 Llanowar Elves, -1 Terror (if they have a lot of targets i.e. Plumeveil, leave in Terror for another Llanowar Elves or Wolf-Skull Shaman)

Working in a hostile environment can be tricky for you. A lot of games will come down to you drawing an early Thoughtseize for their Wrath of God or Volcanic Fallout, then overrunning them with small creatures. They’ll draw a lot of cards in a few turns, and hopefully you can apply sufficient pressure without overextending onto the board. Most Five-Color Control lists don’t play Wrath of God maindeck, making your Wilt-Leaf Liege incredible by saving your threats from Volcanic Fallout. Thoughtseize is the best card in this matchup.

After game 1, you get 6 stellar cards to side in against them. Mind Shatter can be crippling if they run into it by casting Mulldrifter or a mid-combat Plumeveil. A lot of times you can protect the Mind Shatter with the Guttural Response, and blow them completely out of the water. Maelstrom Pulse is rather poor here, unless they are running the Planeswalker version of Five-Color. In that case, I would likely leave in a few of your Maelstrom Pulses for other cards. Sorcery speed removal is not how you beat Five-Color, and you should maximize your efficient cards after sideboarding, while eliminating the possibility of drawing your dead cards. Guttural Response has a ton of targets, since they usually have Esper Charm as well as 8 or so Blue counterspells, and sometimes even things like Bant Charm. This matchup is fairly difficult, but you are probably the strongest aggro deck against them, since most of your better threats can’t be beaten by Volcanic Fallout.

Against Faeries:
+4 Cloudthresher, +3 Guttural Response
-3 Profane Command, -2 Maelstrom Pulse, -2 Wolf-Skull Shaman

This is probably one of the tougher matchups for you, since your creatures are vulnerable to all of their removal spells. But the ability to avoid dying to Volcanic Fallout makes Wilt-Leaf Liege superior to Chameleon Colossus (who is clearly better in this matchup). Wolf-Skull Shaman is one of your weaker threats, as well as Maelstrom Pulse since it is sorcery speed. Leaving a few in your deck on the play is much better since you can usually destroy Bitterblossom unimpeded, as well as kill Sower of Temptation if they tap out for that. You need to keep in your Civic Wayfinders so that you can consistently cast Cloudthresher, and Kitchen Finks is pretty ridiculous, padding your life in a race while being a 2-1 against removal. Profane Command is usually good against every deck, but you rarely have targets for the –X/-X ability, making it rather feeble against a deck full of flash creatures and tokens. The fear ability is also weak because the Bitterblossom tokens are black. Keep these things in mind while sideboarding, and prepare for all of their sideboard cards accordingly. They should be bringing in some form of removal like Agony Warp and/or Deathmark, but they lack mass removal of any kind, so feel free to overextend.

Against Kithkin:
+4 Infest, +1 Loxodon Warhammer
-4 Wolf-Skull Shaman, -1 Llanowar Elves

Since you are siding in Infest, you should side out creatures that die to Infest. Keep in mind that Maelstrom Pulse can devastate them by obliterating their Planeswalker, Spectral Procession Tokens, or if they play multiple copies of Figure of Destiny or other Kithkin. Maelstrom Pulse is your shiny new toy against this deck, as it handles all of the cards that normally give you problems. You can even destroy their Glorious Anthem pre-combat to make their creatures much weaker when deciding blockers, eliminating their tempo advantage from swarming the board. If you end up blowing them out by destroying Spectral Procession tokens, often you will generate enough tempo to force through lethal in a few turns with Profane Command. They have no outs to Profane Command, so don’t waste it early on a creature unless you’re also reanimating a Wren’s Run Vanquisher or other large creature in combat. Thoughtseize is fine because it can hit their devastating effects. If you find that you are drawing it too often in the late game, I could see siding 1-2 out in favor of Cloudthreshers to surprise attack their Spectral Processions.

After boarding, Infest is your biggest trump card, but it can be easily nullified by a Glorious Anthem as long as they don’t draw many team-pumping effects. You should use it early before they stick one of their Glorious Anthems or Ajani Goldmanes, or two copies of Wizened Cenn. Traditionally, Kithkin was a difficult matchup, but I believe most people who play a white aggressive deck will choose either BW Tokens or Boat Brew, both of which you have a better matchup again.

Elves Mirror:
+1 Loxodon Warhammer
-1 Thoughtseize

Your maindeck is pretty amazing for the mirror match, since you aren’t very vulnerable to Maelstrom Pulse. Kitchen Finks shines here, as he usually generates a 2-1 advantage in combat situations, while keeping your life total strong, as well as getting pumped to a 5/4 with Wilt-Leaf Liege in play. Your Wilt-Leaf Lieges and Wolf-Skull Shamans shine, since they are creatures that your opponent must deal with immediately, or quickly get blown out by them. Be wary of walking into Terror with Wilt-Leaf Liege, since a mid-combat Terror can make all of your creatures trade unfavorably with theirs. The same is true for them as well.

Maelstrom Pulse is great against the mirror as long as you don’t play your spells into your own Maelstrom Pulses. If you target their Civic Wayfinder, it will destroy your Civic Wayfinder as well, so keep that in mind in playtesting, as well as the bigger tournaments you play in. Most Elves decks will play sub-par creatures like Imperious Perfect, which is not impervious to your removal spells, where you have Kitchen Finks to bulldoze them. When they have Imperious Perfect in play, they are also more susceptible to mid-combat tricks with Terror. If you catch your opponent off guard, then you can make very favorable trades with your Civic Wayfinders and Kitchen Finks. If your opponent’s deck is a true mirror match, then Maelstrom Pulse goes down in value. In these scenarios, I would recommend siding in a few Cloudthreshers for surprise blocks that can overwhelm your opponent in a short period of time. Profane Command is a standout card in this matchup, as it will often win the game singlehandedly on its own.

Against Dark Bant or Doran:
+3 Cloudthresher
-3 Terror

Terror is fairly weak against Doran-style decks, as they usually have Black creatures or creatures that have protection from black (see Chameleon Colossus, Doran, and Tidehollow Sculler). Maelstrom Pulse is amazing in this matchup, as they will often only have 2-3 threats in order to battle with, and if you can remove 1 or 2 of them with Pulse, you can gain a huge tempo advantage. They play along the lines of 30 mana sources, with 4 Birds of Paradise and 4 Noble Hierarch, so you should be able to out-card them on quality. If they’re playing Dark Bant, you can probably leave in a few of the Terrors to replace Thoughtseize, since you often will be left drawing them late in the game with your opponent sitting on an empty hand. Profane Command is another MVP here, since it can kill most of their creatures, or give your team Fear so you can swing for the win. On top of that, you can reanimate your Wren’s Run Vanquishers, which are amazing against their team of 4/4’s, 5/5’s, and 3/4 monsters. On top of that, Vanquisher laughs heartily at Exalted from Noble Hierarch, as he will always trade in combat with a larger creatures in this matchup. You don’t have very many good sideboard cards, but various strategies play Spectral Procession and/or Birds of Paradise, so Cloudthresher kills those on top of being larger than any of their creatures. You don’t have many (if any) bad cards for this matchup, and your sideboarding should reflect this. Terror is the only standout, and it is still fine against a lot of versions of Doran.

Against Blightning:
X Thoughtseize
+X Cloudthresher
+1 Loxodon Warhammer

Depending on the style of deck you’re playing against, Thoughtseize can be amazing or horrible. If they packing a lot of burn spells, then Thoughtseize is awful and should be sided out. Your only good option to side in is Loxodon Warhammer. If they’re playing Bitterblossom and Demigod of Revenge, then Cloudthresher can be pretty amazing. Your Kitchen Finks are good in this matchup, as most Blightning Decks don’t play Magma Spray anymore. You can often race them with your early beaters, and remove their better threats via Terror and Maelstrom Pulse while swinging in with your horde of 2/2’s and 3/3’s. This is probably one of your worst matchups if they’re playing lots of burn and Volcanic Fallout, but you can usually race them if you get a good draw, and an early Thoughtseize can be invaluable. If they’re playing the list with Jund Hackblade, Figure of Destiny, Tattermunge Maniac, and any other creature that dies to Infest, it could be a better substitute than Cloudthresher.

RW Boat Brew:
+2 Cloudthresher, +3 Mind Shatter
-4 Wilt-Leaf Liege, -1 Terror

Boat Brew is your worst matchup by far. With plenty of ways to out-creature you, as well as Wrath effects and card advantage, you will likely be on the backpedal after turn 4. Ajani Vengeant is a huge pain, as he will almost always kill your creature, gain them 3 life, and keep a land tapped for a few turns. They have access to a multitude of annoying creatures like Fulminator Mage, Reveillark, and Siege-Gang Commander. Spectral Procession can give you headaches as well, since you will rarely have the capacity to deal with all of the tokens aside from a lucky Maelstrom Pulse. Their Windbrisk Heights are more devastating than any other deck’s, since they have the ability to play token generators like Siege-Gang Commander, or other bombs like Ajani Vengeant, Balefire Liege, or even another Spectral Procession. Their threats are larger than yours, and they have a better late game. If you have to face them, then your gameplan should be to put as much pressure on them as possible in game 1, as they will not likely have Wrath of God.

Games 2 and 3 are much trickier, since they side in Wrath of God. They’ll probably sit back and try to bait you into overextending, so here is where Mind Shatter shines. They are a very slow midrange deck that is very vulnerable to Mind Shatter. They have a lot of ways to recoup card advantage, so try to use Mind Shatter to hit their entire hand if you can. Likely the 1 or 2 cards you miss will be Siege-Gang Commander, Spectral Procession, Reveillark Wrath of God, or Ranger of Eos. Even Flamekin Harbinger gives them significant value, since they can tutor Reveillarks infinitely, leaving you defenseless to their late game plan. Your only real out is Profane Command, but they will often keep you off enough lands for it to matter with Fulminator Mage and Ajani Vengeant. Like I said, this is probably your worst matchup, and you should hope to dodge it if you want to win the tournament. Otherwise, you have a pretty decent matchup % against the rest of the field. I don’t expect Boat Brew to be very popular early on in the season, since RW didn’t gain a ton of new cards from Alara Reborn. Often in the early stages of a season, the metagame will reflect largely upon the new set, as people try to fit the new cards into existing archetypes, and I especially feel this is true with Maelstrom Pulse. This hot new Vindicate proxy should entice people to sport Doran decks, or Elves mirrors, so be ready to battle against turn 1 Llanowar Elves for quite a while.

With a healthy format ahead, I feel like there is not a “best deck,” and any of these strong archetypes are fine choices for PTQ’s and Regionals. I expect most people to be playing decks they are familiar with, hoping to add a new twist from the newest set. I don’t recommend this, since likely the cards you’re playing with are inferior to existing cards for those archetypes. I don’t feel as if the new set will create any deck, but it could easily make another deck stronger if put through rigorous battle. Maelstrom Pulse is just one of those cards that “feels good and looks good,” so people will automatically be drawn to it. Vindicate has been a staple for Standard and Extended in the past, and this new look-alike will be sure to make an impact on the Standard metagame.

Feel free to ask any questions in the forums, and I’ll try to respond as soon as I can. Thanks.

Todd Anderson
strong sad on MTGO
[email protected]