For those competing this weekend at U.S. Regionals, at this point you’re either putting on those last polishing touches, reviewing potential opponents’ deck lists, trying to decide which deck of your favorites to go with, or cramming for a deck at the last minute. No matter which applies to you, the time for abstract theory is over and the time for decklists decklists decklists is in full swing! In this article, I’ll be covering as many archetypes as I’m capable of, with a focus on the key choices available while keeping an eye toward the metagame as a whole. No deck exists in a vacuum – and after this article is done, hopefully you’ll know where yours stands. Let’s get to it!
Seen by many as the #1 deck to beat in recent weeks, it showed at last weekend’s Magic Online Worlds Qualifier tournaments. R/G was hard to find as the rounds progressed, but Slide and U/G were not. Slide showed up in big numbers, and U/G did as well (armed to the teeth with maindecked Unsummons and anti-Bridge answers in the board). The result was a pretty bad weekend for the former dominant archetype, but don’t count it out just yet – this deck offers an astounding package of speed and power, and probably serves as the single best way to punish unprepared opponents.
Players not as familiar with the various options available to this archetype are well-advised to read Mike Flores‘ thorough treatment, Giant Sized Regionals Primer: Rounding Third. As many have pointed out, most R/G lists currently derive from Kai’s list in an article written back in February: Building for Regionals: Green-Red and Psychatog. That piece is surely the single most influential article written for today’s Standard – and an argument could be made that it’s the most influential deck strategy article ever written, considering what it did to the metagame in the weeks and months following its release. For reference (though you almost surely know it by now), that list is:
Current conventional wisdom is that four Ensnaring Bridges are in for sure, one-time challenger Threaten gets the boot, and consider adding some number of Phantom Centaurs to the main. With that incentive to get those Centaurs main, Blistering Firecats seem increasingly rare in this approach to R/G.
For events that get this level of scrutiny, the metagame can often evolve in days if not hours. With R/G beating a retreat and Slide everywhere, several decks hosed by R/G can consider coming back out to play. In particular, this would seem to open the door for Mono Black Control – which we’ll cover in more depth in just a few minutes. Make no mistake, though: This deck has a phenomenal level of power and can shred a poorly prepared (or unlucky) opponent with gruesome dispatch. Even if it’s no longer the best deck (and it may well be), it’s certainly one of them.
As with the other two articles in his recent series, Flores does a great job of laying the foundation for this archetype with his Giant Sized Regionals Primer: Blue-Green Madness! In addition to that article, I should mention the authority on U/G Madness: Jeff Cunningham. Jeff’s most recent list from Brainburst goes a little something like this:
The Real Regionals U/G
4 Arrogant Wurm
4 Basking Rootwalla
4 Wild Mongrel
4 Careful Study
4 Circular Logic
3 Deep Analysis
3 Quiet Speculation
1 Ray of Revelation
2 Roar of the Wurm
1 City of Brass
Jeff still swears by one City, even now that he’s down to twenty-two lands, and I still swear that just can’t be right. Aside from that the list is solid indeed, packing answers for most everything you could face. Unsummons have been added as an answer to Elephant Guide, and the addition of Looters to the board is a concession that while Aquamoeba may be better against many of the decks in the field, Looters are better in the mirror. And there are a lot of mirrors out there.
Gigapede is the new tech for bringing more game to ‘Tog players, something Zvi and I came across a month or so ago after some discussion about how much we were liking the ability of B/g/r Reanimator to Entomb for Gigapede against Psychatog. U/G doesn’t have Entomb, but what it does have is a whole other set of cards to abuse The Big Bug: Madness, flashback, and Wonder. Anger + ‘Pede is a great thing, but discarding Arrogant Wurm to pick up a ‘Pede and then dropping it next turn (hopefully with a Wonder in the yard) ain’t too shabby either. Tog is forced to answer with Engineered Plague, stretching an already-straining sideboard to the bursting point and typically lessening (or eliminating) the scary cards like Persuasion and especially Callous Oppressor.
Zvi’s resulting article revealing the ‘Pede tech got a lot of attention – something that’s caused a lot of ‘Tog players (and their sideboards) to groan ever since. Given that ‘Tog was one of the few remaining mainstream decks giving it trouble, U/G now clearly looks to be the deck to beat this weekend, and is likely to appear in great numbers.
As a very recent alternative approach, Rogier Maaten took the following all the way to a Dutch National Champion title:
If nothing else, it shows just how good Phantom Centaur is in Standard right now.
The Flores article for this one can be found at: Giant-Sized Regionals Primer: Psychatog. One of the more commonly-cited lists after the original Budde list is the following Justin Gary list from over at Brainburst:
1 Chainer’s Edict
4 Circular Logic
3 Deep Analysis
4 Force Spike
3 Ghastly Demise
3 Darkwater Catacombs
4 Lonely Sandbar
4 Polluted Delta
4 Underground River
Note that this is in the pre-Gigapede days, and you probably need to have some number (zero does not count) of Engineered Plagues available to run ‘Tog this weekend. For most players with a similar sideboard to above, that means the Persuasions, Oppressors, and/or Persecute will probably have the biggest targets on them. You hate to see any of these cards go – but you’ve got to have an answer to the ‘Pede, and you can only fit so much.
Part of the problem is that you want different creature solutions for different decks right now – Oppressor and Plague for U/G, Persuasion for R/G, and Edicts for Centaurs. As the anti-creature card multitasking spreads thinner and thinner, it gets more and more difficult to fit everything while maintaining a board that can still handle control. For me, this is just one more reason that The Atog That Must Be Referred To By Nickname just isn’t as sexy as he used to be. It’s certainly a good deck, but I agree with Kai when he said,”Psychatog doesn’t seem to be that hot and certainly didn’t post impressive results.” When Kai speaks, we all listen… But when he bad-mouths a control deck we really have to pay some attention.
R/G may be less popular, but certainly still looks to be one of the three most popular decks, which hurts as well. Players will try this, and it’s the best true control deck left, but at this point I expect only around one in ten players brave (or stubborn) enough to show up with Tog.
Finally, it should also be pointed out that some revival of ZevAtog has shown up in the last few days, but even Zev admits that it’s still a work in progress. That means it’s almost surely too late for U.S. Regionals players to consider this deck without taking a serious gamble, but it doesn’t hurt to be familiar with the list in case you run into one.
Wake has resurfaced a bit in recent weeks, making several appearances at the Magic Online festivities (where it didn’t do spectacularly) and also the recent Dutch Nationals (where it did better). Jelger Wiegersma took the following version to second place and a slot on one of the better national teams:
3 Exalted Angel
1 Ray of Revelation
1 Moment’s Peace
1 Krosan Reclamation
1 Circular Logic
3 Teroh’s Faithful
1 Ray of Distortion
1 Elephant Ambush
1 Exalted Angel
1 Flash of Insight
Angels are the new addition here, arriving in a combo-punch with boarded Teroh’s Faithful to terrorize the aggro decks. For those who aren’t already intimately familiar with this archetype, it’s almost positively too late to try it now… But it’s also a good reference point for what your opponent’s list may look like if you face this, as some number of Angels main now looks to be the standard.
Easily the most complicated mainstream deck in Standard right now, Wake suffers from some consistency issues that stem from its mana base and its need to have the right cards at the right time. It’s not a pure control deck, and as such will have trouble with more dedicated control like Tog, especially once the four Duresses come in.
The real fear for this deck is all the Upheavals showing up in recent U/G lists – something that makes Wake players frown and then shuffle for the next. Don’t get me wrong; this is still a solid deck if you’re proficient, but there are significant risks to going this way. Players looking for a way to deal with the sea of U/G out there may well be better served by Slide or MBC, which is much better against U/G and R/G and which also would seem to benefit the most by seeing ‘Tog in such decline from its heyday.
Various B/G control and aggro-control approaches picked up a lot of buzz a few weeks ago, but their performance doesn’t seem to have panned out enough to back up the talk. A big part of the problem seems to be R/G and Compost – but unlike MBC, the B/G deck has trouble with Slide and it isn’t a cakewalk against some of the other creature decks either. Personally, I’d much rather have the power (and improved mana) of MBC under the throttle if I was going to make The Black Gamble.
Victor van den Broek, Black-Green for Regionals
3 City of Brass
4 Birds of Paradise
3 Llanowar Elves
3 Wirewood Herald
2 Stronghold Assassin
1 Caller of the Claw
3 Nantuko Husk
3 Ravenous Baloth
2 Faceless Butcher
2 Phantom Centaur
4 Cabal Therapy
3 Oversold Cemetery
4 Living Wish
While there are many, many different approaches to B/G available, most of them will typically reduce down to either something like the above, or something more controlling and reminiscent of”The Rock” (often distinguished by the presence of Walls). Several interesting discussions on this archetype can be found on the Star City boards, and the various arguments for more disruptive or more controlling versions serve as a good background to the defining choices facing this color combination.
The most recent high-profile list comes from Kai’s last Sideboard article:
There are also many, many three-color versions running around right now. Sometimes it’s Black for disruption and Undead Gladiator, sometimes it’s green for Krosan Tusker and/or Cartographer. During the Worlds qualifier, I saw some pretty extreme things being done to make this deck have some game against ‘Tog – but to be honest, Tog just doesn’t seem common enough to warrant this anymore. With that in mind, these Slide decks didn’t seem to appear in the same numbers as the rounds went on, so it seems likely that all the extra bias against control may have cost them in the other matchups.
My belief is that this deck is so damn powerful against so much of the field that I wouldn’t jeopardize things by using fifteen sideboard cards to have more game against pure control. For me, the logic is that Regionals only requires a Top 8 performance, so I’d much rather have the a solid board overall that allows me to demolish the rest of the field. You can afford a loss – and if you house almost everything else, that’s a pretty damn good bet in such a difficult field to navigate.
Last I checked, Tog decks represented somewhere around 10% to 20% of all decks, and that was while it was still quite popular. With Tog now declining in numbers, it seems quite reasonable that you’ll only face one (or no) Tog opponents in the Swiss. And with a deck that seems to completely dismantle most of the remaining decks, that would seem to shoot Slide right into the top of Tier 1 (and right into a Nationals-qualifying berth). Kai said in his article that this is one of the main decks he would consider for this weekend, and I couldn’t agree more.
The noise has been so loud that the message itself has, to a certain extent, become too distorted to be accurate. The problem isn’t Compost – it’s Compost in R/G! Compost from U/G, Beasts and other such is actually not that big a deal thanks to the likes of Visara and (if you want it) uber-thug Eastern Paladin.
So the real issue is R/G and Compost. Most reports agree that game 1 for this matchup is actually even or a bit favorable – and if you want it badly enough, it’s not unreasonable for MBC to have something more of an edge game 1 against R/G. That means they will often need to sweep game 2 and 3. With this in mind, many players have begun biasing their MBC boards to help this match out, since the deck is so good in many of the remaining matchups. A popular approach currently would seem to be overloading on creatures, since they represent reusable resources. I’ve seen things as extreme as going to four Nantuko Shades, four Visaras, and two or three Paladins… And this certainly can work. It’s not ideal, but it seems to give the MBC deck enough play that this is worth considering. One thing that seems out is trying to use four Duress and four Cabal Therapies to catch Compost preemptively – something that doesn’t seem to work often enough, slowing and weakening the deck while allowing the opponent plenty of time to draw further Composts. Plus, you normally have to take out some pretty good stuff to pull off that kind of sideboard, often leaving a deck that can’t keep up card for card game 2.
With all that in mind, it’s important to point out that many have followed Justin Gary’s declaration that MBC is”dead.” But in combination with Compost being much less sexy against ‘Tog, and in an environment where everybody wishes they had a bunch more sideboard slots to work with (and the use of”wish” in this sentence isn’t a coincidence), it’s increasingly likely that opponents may not have the previously standard four-pack of Composts in the first place. Even if they do, you’ve still got some game against R/G game 2, and the deck seems fantastic against much of the remaining field. Beating out an environment as spread out as this one often means taking calculated risks, and MBC seems like a great one to me right now.
And oh yeah; if you expect a swarm of U/G and Slide, this deck can make for a very pleasant day.
For reference, the most recent strong list I’ve seen is from Kai’s article:
3 Cabal Coffers
2 Undead Gladiator
2 Visara the Dreadful
4 Chainer’s Edict
2 Tainted Pact
4 Diabolic Tutor
1 Haunting Echoes
2 Skeletal Scrying
With Slide everywhere and U/G packing answers to Bridge (not to mention maindecked answers to Elephant Guide), R/G looks to be in retreat mode – something borne out by the Magic Online events last weekend. Given that, MBC may stand poised to go absolutely nuts this weekend. Kai lists this as one of his favorite decks for this weekend, and I agree completely.
In a field like this, there’s no possible way I can address everything, but there’s plenty of other good stuff to choose from. In particular, don’t miss the following Star City articles from Rob Dougherty:
Rob’s one of the game’s greatest players and has always been one of my favorite writers, so I’m very glad to see him writing so much recently. (I’m sure I’m not the only one, given how popular these articles have been!) All of the above make for great reading, and playing the Elvish Succession deck he’s currently writing about is the most fun I’ve had with a competitive standard deck this season, if not ever.
This deck looks to have dropped some in popularity, surely at least in part due to incidental hate like main deck bounce. That said, it’s certainly still a viable choice, especially if you want to”metagame the metagame” by betting that all this aggro means a sea of Slide and MBC. I still greatly prefer the B/g/r hybrid to the straight B/R version. If you missed it, I would still recommend something along the lines of the final list from my recent article:
1 Akroma, Angel of Wrath
1 Arcanis the Omnipotent
1 Butcher Orgg
1 Phantom Nishoba
1 Symbiotic Wurm
1 Visara the Dreadful
4 Doomed Necromancer
3 Buried Alive
4 Burning Wish
2 Sickening Dreams
1 Last Rites
2 Stitch Together
4 Bloodstained Mire
4 Wooded Foothills
2 City of Brass
A couple patterns I noticed in email responses I got on this article – First, yes, you can certainly add Smothers to this deck, but if you do it at the expense of the Sickening Dreams and don’t add any other way to discard cards, the deck loses power and consistency. For those who want three or four Smothers main, you’ll probably need to de-emphasize the Entombs and extra reanimation spells to gain the space while maintaining enough discard outlets. Having only one Last Rites and nothing else as a discard outlet is a frown (and a short day).
Second, it is entirely possible at this point that Butcher Orgg is no longer needed. There were still enough Goblins scrambling around when I wrote that article that I felt I needed this, and he tended to get me around a lot of situations I couldn’t otherwise wiggle out of – but it seems he may be a luxury at this point. There’s one slot right there for all you Smother fans!
Oops – they all went back in their holes and closed the door. Was this really a defining deck not all that long ago? The Goblin union’s woes began about the time the R/G beatdown party starting getting its groove on. The nail in the coffin may have been the day that we all realized that even Psychatog can beat it. How humiliating!
But all is not lost for the die-hard Goblin player. The deck is still quite reasonable against current metagame leader U/G, especially with access to Goblin Sharpshooter, and it’s also quite capable of beating up bad or unlucky opponents in a way that few other decks can match. I’m not interested in goblins anymore, but I think at least some still will be. The most promising recent list I’ve seen comes from a great English Nationals report from King of the Mountain Dan Paskins over at Brainburst:
4x Goblin Piledriver
4x Goblin Grappler
4x Goblin Sledder
4x Grim Lavamancer
4x Lava Dart
4x Volcanic Hammer
4x Blistering Firecat
4x Wooded Foothills
4x Bloodstained Mire
4x Barbarian Ring
3x Goblin Burrows
2x Goblin Raider
The version sporting black from the Masters event disappeared shortly after it came out – partly because the newly popular R/G beatdown was so good against it, and partly because it turns out that the mana is an absolute pile. Really.
As to the U/G version, beatdown is still a problem and while your mana isn’t as bad as the three-color version, it’s not rock solid either. The nail in this one was the re-inclusion of all those Quiet Speculations into the U/G masses, particularly those with a Ray main. Having Spec for Rays available makes the U/G Madness deck Opposition’s nightmare. And guess which deck is likely to be first or second most commonly seen this weekend? Yeah, I think so too.
Zombies, Graveborn Muse, etc
Again, this has similar issues to the B/G decks. Lots of hype, not much performance, and a real problem with both R/G and Compost as well as headaches from Slide depending on your version. Some of these will show up – but I’d much rather have something with the brutal power of MBC if I’m going to brave Compost like this.
I’ve left this for last because it’s one I don’t feel qualified to evaluate, and I want to be up front about that. When I make big claims, I want something to stand on – and the simple truth is that I can’t seem to get my bearings when it comes to this deck. I ran several versions over a three-week period, and it seemed like the mana was shaky (especially if the mana critters were in jeopardy) and the Wish engine too slow. I found U/G madness to be a real headache, even with three Reprisals main. Tog seemed better than some claimed, but at the same time I found that it could be hard to put them away in time before the ‘Heave clock ran out on me, and game 2 meant Persuasion/Oppressor action was problematic or worse. (HEY! Those were mine – give ’em back!)
I’ve heard a real mix of reports on Beasts… And judging by the forums on various Magic sites, I’m not the only one that’s not sure how to judge this archetype. For now, my opinion is that it seems like a solid Tier 2 deck, but if it really is weak against U/G madness it’s hard to consider it any better than that right now.
Even Further Reading:
This didn’t fit neatly into any other category so I’m just going to give it its own. Ted Knutson wrote an outstanding Regionals overview recently (Mixed kNuts: Warrior Needs Food… Badly! Or The Required Regionals Gauntlet), and I highly recommend it to anyone that missed it. Also, make sure to comb through the Star City forum that goes with the article, as Ted does an incredible job here. The resulting dialogue (even the”bad” ideas from some posters) offers valuable insight into both the metagame and common player perspectives.
At this point, U/G strikes me as clearly the deck to beat. It’s doing well, showing up everywhere, and there are several different successful approaches that can be taken. With that in mind, I wouldn’t take anything to Regionals this weekend that has real trouble with U/G. For me, that means Opposition is out, and I don’t have a Tog listing I’m thrilled with enough to go that route either. It also means I’m not willing to play Beasts.
So what would I consider good choices this weekend for the as-yet undecided who feel up to playing anything? My main advice is to give MBC and Slide a good hard look over the next 24 hours. Pick one and see which you’re more comfortable with. If you like MBC, spend a few hours playing sideboarded duels against R/G – in particular, try Kai’s list and also try the four-Visara version to see which you like better. Once you get something that seems reasonable, I would try a series of two out of three matches. If you can come close to 50%, MBC’s your deck, and U/G and Slide players everywhere will tremble in your presence while you thank them for eliminating R/G from your bracket. (Hey, you’re evil – stay in character!)
If not, I think Slide is an amazing choice. It means you’re betting against facing more than one Tog player… But that’s not a bad bet right now. Pretty much everything out there has at least one or more bad matchups, and Slide’s good matchups are better than most. That’s a real plus with so many decks to worry about. If Tog is indeed showing up around one in ten decks, Slide looks like a damn fine deck indeed. Damn fine.
And if that doesn’t’ work? Well, there’s always Turn 1 Careful Study.
Joking aside, there is one very important thing I want to stress here. I’ve mentioned it several times in these articles, but it bears repeating: In a format that is so diverse, the best bet is usually to go with whatever deck you feel comfortable with and understand best. That’s been true in many Constructed formats over the years, but I think this may be the most balanced Standard environment ever, so it’s even more important.
I’m sure I can go better with Reanimator than many others might do with a Tier 1 deck… But I’m also sure that there are plenty of other specialists out there who would do as well or better with their own favorite deck even though I might suck eggs with it. (Such as Beasts, evidently.) With so many decks to prepare for it’s very difficult to have a deep understanding of all the possible matchups, particularly when it comes to building and playing a good sideboard. The average player intimately familiar with Beasts (that sounded worse than I intended) is going to do a lot better than the average player who only knows Psychatog from some limited experience.
But isn’t it a little late to be getting advice like this?
Actually, I think this is the most important time to keep this advice in mind. If you’re like most Magic players (myself included), it can be very scary contemplating taking a”Tier 2″ deck to a big event. Everybody keeps telling you how these other decks are better, so why would you play this one? (“You’re playing that?”) The answer is, as long as that’s the best deck that you can play well, it’s the best deck to bring.
My opinions, as expressed above, are based on my own testing and experiences with the decks – your experience may differ radically! Knowing this is true will make it a lot easier to get through the inevitable storms of doubt that plague so many of us just prior to an event – and that’s exactly where we are time-wise as most of you read this. If you’ve done your practice, you know your deck and its match-ups, and you know that you play that deck better than any other, stick to your guns. You’ll be glad you did.
And so we conclude this mammoth series. I hope you’ve found my Countdown to Regionals articles helpful, and I wish you all the best of luck in your upcoming events!
Have fun, kick ass, and be nice to newbies!