CounterBurn, Bant Pod, Illusions, And Heartless Summoning?!

Standard is defined by its manabases, and most of the manabases are horrible. What is the best way to spend your mana? Patrick Chapin covers last weekend’s results and looks to Worlds 2011.

“What was I doing here? What was the meaning of this trip? …Had I really come out here to Las Vegas to work on a story? Who are these people, these faces? Where do they come from?” -Raul Duke, Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas

It’s not altogether clear what impact Las Vegas has on those within its city limits. Is the insanity we saw symptomatic of the city, or is Standard really this alive and dynamic? We are talking about a format that has gone from:

-An all Mono-Red finals with U/W Blade being a top deck to

-Wolf Run Ramp dominating a Solar Flare field to

-U/B Control defeating a Wolf Run Ramp field to

-Wolf Run Green with Dungrove Elder evolving to take the top spot to

-Mono-Black Infect as flavor of the week along with Wolf Run Naya to

-G/W Tokens taking the top spot with W/u Destiny continuing to have success like it did week 1

Despite being the most played archetype, Wolf Run decks did not top 8 the last Grand Prix or top 4 the last SCG Open. This week’s results in Vegas further support the changing of the guard. Wolf Run is no longer the clear best deck in the format. The evidence seems to suggest G/W Tokens may have a better claim to that title. Here is a breakdown of the top 16 from SCG Open: Las Vegas:

SCG Las Vegas Top 16

G/W Tokens 4

U/W Blade 2

W/u Destiny 2

U/w Illusions 2

Bant Pod 2

U/B Control 1

CounterBurn 1

Wolf Run Robot 1

U/B Heartless 1

As you can see, that is a lot of diversity, a lot of exotic brews, a lot of blue and or white aggro decks (69%!), and not a lot of Wolf Run. Let’s take a look at some of the top decks. Up first, your SCG Open: Las Vegas Champion, Jonathan Kornacki:

Kornacki’s U/B list is certainly not the most unusual archetype we are covering today; however, it is notable that U/B “actual” Control has finally put up another big finish (coincidentally, as soon as Dungrove Elder falls off the map). This list is definitely in the same vein as Neeman’s GP winning list. First, he has cut a Consecrated Sphinx, a Wurmcoil Engine, and a Snapcaster Mage for two Liliana of the Veils and a Karn Liberated. I am a fan of this move, as I have been feeling that an over-reliance on “sixes” has made control decks too predictable and easy to pace. Liliana is a great way to have a little more removal without having all the dead cards against people against whom removal is bad. It obviously works well with your flashback cards, but it also helps fight Mirran Crusader.

Karn seems a little slow, but he is the biggest game in town. He lets you be even bigger than Consecrated Sphinx (as he is the perfect follow-up), and he is capable of winning from an awful lot of tough spots. He also helps provide an additional answer to planeswalkers, which is definitely important right now.

Trimming a Wring Flesh, a Dissipate, and a Doom Blade is all understandable, especially since the two Lilianas help make up for the lower spot removal count, plus Visions of Beyond “cycling” means you will draw some of your other eight counterspells more often. Playing too many Dissipates is a bit risky in the current format anyway, as people are playing much lower mana curves than they once were. That said, I am not a big fan of the Visions, as I think the format is too tempo based to “waste” a mana that way, so often.

The second Black Sun’s Zenith is a great addition, and I am not convinced Ratchet Bomb doesn’t have a place. There are just so many white aggro decks; having sweepers (and Alchemies to look for them) is huge.

Finally, Kornacki has a Surgical Extraction maindeck, which he said was really good for him. Jacob Van Lunen and I were asked, while doing SCGLive commentary during Swiss, “Is it time for maindeck Surgical Extraction?” I am still not convinced that it is, but with Skaab Ruinators and Chandra’s Phoenixes in the top four, not to mention flashback cards, Snapcaster Mage, Unburial Rites, and sixes like Primeval Titan and Consecrated Sphinx (which people are usually over-relying on), maybe it’s not so crazy after all.

Kornacki said that Curse of Death’s Hold was his best sideboard card, helping him defeat four G/W Tokens decks in the Swiss. After not losing a single match all day, I would definitely sit up and take notice if you are looking for a control deck in the current meta.

Up next, we have a list that is sure to become a fan favorite. CounterBurn, though perhaps more appropriately “U/R Tempo,” has been showing up a little bit on Magic Online but is only appearing at the top table in paper Magic this week.

U/R Tempo seeks to put down a reasonably fast clock, using cheap burn and permission as high tempo plays. You can’t really “control” the game, but you can try to use each Mana Leak, each Vapor Snag, each Incinerate, each Snapcaster Mage as a Time Walk, so that your Delver wins the race. CounterBurn is a more evolved take on Mono Red, figuring that the burn is great against these white creatures and planeswalkers, but that a different strategy is needed for combating Wolf Run. Enter Mana Leak. By the time you Mana Leak a Primeval Titan, then Vapor Snag the Wurmcoil, you could have already finished them off.

Another strength of U/R Tempo is its low land count. This is somewhat counterintuitive, after all the talk we hear about playing “enough land.” However, this deck is built in the same vein as Legacy tempo decks that capitalize on low land counts to ensure that they draw a higher concentration of spells in the middle game. This is made possible by a very low mana curve and Ponders to help smooth out draws. The payoff? U/R Tempo is 15% less likely to draw a land each turn of the middle game than a normal blue deck.

The problem with U/R Tempo is its manabase. If you thought Solar Flare had a bad manabase, you will hate U/R Tempo’s. Nine Mountains, nine Islands, and four Sulfur Falls? This is the Constructed equivalent of the “six-six-six” manabase. Can it work? Absolutely, but this is not the road to consistency. You really want to cast Delver and Noble turn one. With nine Islands, you are actually only 64% to play your Delver on turn one. Those aren’t the worst odds, but they are not good. Before anyone tries to correct my math, remember, if you draw a Delver, you only have six other cards that could be the Island you are looking for.

Up next, we have two more appearances by Birthing Pod. One of the most hotly discussed strategies early on, it has finally really come into its own thanks to its fantastic matchup against G/W Tokens:

Bant Pod is able to produce a lot of early blockers giving it time to set up against G/W Tokens. Skaab Ruinator is exceptional for fighting planeswalkers. Acidic Slime is very effective against Oblivion Ring. Most of all though, Elesh Norn is an endgame that totally trumps G/W’s strategy.

These latest Bant Pod decks have shed a lot of the unnecessary bullets, getting more and more streamlined. Hollowhenge, Razor Hippogriff, Sylvok Replica, Viridian Corrupter, Tree of Redemption, and more are all set aside. Oblivion Ring appears to be the new choice to fill that Forked Bolt/Nature’s Claim/Dismember slot.

As far as Pod decks go, it would appear that Bant has definitely established itself as the primary color combination. Avacyn’s Pilgrim and two sets of Scars lands give it an edge over the other Pod combinations (at least those with blue for Ruinator), but Bant Pod’s manabase is still one of its bigger weaknesses (a common theme in Standard). This is probably one of the most important reasons for G/W’s success. It has a very consistent manabase, and a lot of its mana does other things (mana creatures get counters and attack; the four Townships are like free Ajanis).

The Bant Pod decks aren’t great against Wolf Run, but with Wolf Run on the decline, this might not be that big a deal. I don’t love the Venser aspect of the deck, but more than a few of these white aggro decks are going to struggle with the Stonehorn lock.

Moving on, it’s interesting to see that the only Wolf Run deck to top 16 SCG Open: Vegas was an unusual one:

Gray piloted Travis Woo Wolf Run Brown deck, which is a Wolf Run Ramp deck warped around Glimmerpost. I realize that sounds like a funny card to warp your deck around, but as anyone who tested for PT Philly can tell you, Primeval Titan fetching up two Glimmerposts is just brutal against aggro decks. Often the first one you randomly draw doesn’t seem like a big deal, but then you Titan and gain six life, putting you safely out of range (as well as threatening to gain even more next turn).

Copper Myr is comical, of course, but is a concession to the large number of colorless sources utilized. These colorless sources are very spell-like in their execution, giving the deck the feeling of having card draw, despite not really having much. Buried Ruin has been seeing a little more play recently and is going to climb even more. It is easy to joke about because of how much weaker it is than Academy Ruins; however it is a good way to “cycle” a land later in the game. Standard has such bad mana, if you are able to capitalize on your manabase a little bit, it can be a significant edge.

Wolf Run Brown has more ramp than most Wolf Run decks (Spheres, Palladium Myr, etc.), as well as more giant Monsters. It makes this room by abandoning planeswalkers or almost any interaction at all. No sweepers, no spot removal (outside two Beast Within), no Acidic Slime, no Garruk Relentless; this is not a deck interested in interaction. Glimmerposts can help give you time against aggro (and looked awesome, from what I watched). Personally, I am not sure it is safe to not interact with Hero of Bladehold, but this list does some really great things against opponents who don’t kill its Palladium Myr. This variation has a huge weakness to Infect, but with so much G/W Tokens, that is not a matchup we are likely to face often.

Up next, we have an update to the Illusion strategy that was briefly popular a month ago:

It’s very interesting that we see two more blue tempo decks that are very much from the same school of thought as the U/R Tempo deck that finished second. Delver of Secrets has really come into his own and appears to be making an excellent claim to being the best double-faced card.

Getting an early advantage, then Time Walking your opponent a few times seems to be a winning strategy in Standard at the moment. Without Galvanic Blast, Incinerate, or Brimstone Volley, U/w Illusions relies on more creatures, Vapor Snags, and even Gut Shots to interact with the board. Splashing Moorland Haunt is very interesting, especially as a four-of. This gives the Illusion deck a lot more staying power, especially since the Haunt tokens fly (which is so big in the current format).

Innistrad has many themes, but it appears that the Business-Lands are the most important theme for current Standard, with Kessig Wolf Run, Gavony Township, and Moorland Haunt all being three of the ten best cards in the format. (Inkmoth Nexus, Mana Leak, Sword of Feast and Famine, Snapcaster Mage, Mirran Crusader, Hero of Bladehold, Primeval Titan, and Consecrated Sphinx are the other eight cards I would put on my Big Ten list.) 

The final decklist we are taking a look at today is probably the spiciest of them of them all:

Mukhar was one of a few guys who test together that piloted their U/B Heartless Summoning deck, this past weekend. Here is the primary game plan:

Turn 2: Heartless Summoning

Turn 3: Solemn Simulacrum

Turn 4: Rune-Scarred Demon or Sphinx of Uthuun

Turn 5: Copy the Demon or Sphinx many times and end up with an Entomber Exarch or Rune-Scarred Demon in hand!

Playing a second Heartless Summoning can be risky, but it makes it possible to play all your Metamorphs for free. You definitely aren’t going to go this route every game, but it is something to keep in mind.

Mukhar doesn’t use Myr Superion, since he does not have Grand Architect to complement the Summoning. Playing cards that are only good when you have Summoning is risky business in a deck that is already really strong when it draws its key card, but weak when it doesn’t. In fact, if I were to pinpoint this strategy’s biggest weakness, it is that it is a very clumsy and underpowered U/B Control deck when it doesn’t draw Summoning. That said, Summoning is so good with the Sphinx/Demon chains, I suspect there is more to this archetype than just a single-week gimmick. It is going to take some tuning, but there is a deck here, as Heartless Summoning is just that strong of a card. In many ways, it is an indestructible Lotus Cobra!

While this list is still very rough, very raw, it has potential to be improved if we can figure out how to:

1) Find Heartless Summoning better

2) Win without Heartless Summoning better

3) Streamline it (Do you need so many Rune-Scarred Demon targets, that mix of spells?)

4) Improve its early defense (Could stand to increase its defense against a white aggro swarm)

Interestingly, this deck really is the same sort of deck as Wolf Run Ramp! All it seeks to do is hang out and ramp up to a relatively fast endgame that goes over the top of most opponents. What lessons can we learn from Wolf Run Ramp to tune Heartless U/B?

With what might be the last “big” World Championships just a week away, we are at an exciting time in the evolution of the Standard metagame. G/W Tokens is the top dog, followed by Wolf Run, U/W Blade, W/u Human, and a variety of blue tempo decks. If you are playing in something locally or preparing for an event in the next few weeks, I recommend getting some games in against all the decks from today’s column that you have not yet faced. At this point, you have probably already played a fair bit against Tokens, Wolf Run, Solar Flare, and so on. A few games against U/R Tempo, Bant Pod, Illusions, and Heartless Summoning might be very illuminating (though I wouldn’t tune your deck to beat these decks, rather just get some experience).

What should your deck be able to beat? White aggro is looking to be over half the field, at least for the next few weeks, and is definitely step 1 (and step 3, and step 5…). Wolf Run is the other big factor, of course. At the end of the day, we have to remember, Standard is a format defined by manabases. Most manabases people are using are a little weak. The best decks make good use of their manabase as an extension of their deck. In tuning a deck for the weeks to come, I think the order I would go through the gauntlet is:

1) Gavony Township

2) Kessig Wolf Run

3) Moorland Haunt (with Inkmoth Nexus)

4) Moorland Haunt (with tons of Plains)

5) Nephalia Drownyard or Isolated Chapel

Thanks for joining me, this week. I gotta get back to testing with the guys here in sunny southern California. See you next week!

Patrick Chapin
“The Innovator”

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