CVM’s Spy Network: #SCGCHI From The Sidelines

This week Chris VanMeter looks at the top decks and final results of the new Standard format’s Week One metagame by digging through an entire weekend’s worth of stories and decklists out of #SCGCHI.

The Open Series in Chicago has come and gone. There were some sweet new decks and a bunch of old decks that were augmented by new cards. I’m pretty sad that I couldn’t make it out to the event, as Week One Standard events are generally very fun and I tend to do pretty well in them. I had access to information from both Chris Andersen and the Brad Nelson/Ross Merriam/Todd Anderson brain trust, and had been on G/R Devotion since earlier in the week.

The real reason that I was sad about not being there was because the event was being held on astroturf. I seriously wish that every event was on turf. It’s so much softer than concrete. Your feet feel so much better after a weekend of walking around on astroturf than they do when you’re on concrete. You could even lie down on it if you wanted to.

Busted out of the event? Tired? Take a nap!

All jokes aside (no, I’m serious, I want to always be on astroturf!) there were some real sweet decks that came out of Chicago. The decks that came out on top really weren’t a big surprise. It wasn’t a secret that G/R Devotion was powerful heading into the weekend since it had been dominating events for a few weeks towards the end of the seven-set Standard format. It even gained access to an amazing sideboard card against what is probably its toughest matchup – pure control decks. Gaea’s Revenge is back with a vengeance and you can expect to see it in many sideboards while it’s Standard-legal, so be prepared.

Ross Merriam (who was a handful and is now an armful of points ahead of me on the Season Three leaderboard) was able to make it all the way to the semifinals with a new-ish take on G/R Devotion. Staying in Roanoke the week before and working on the deck with Brad Nelson and Todd Anderson, they came up with a shell that’s basically the same deck as before but without the Deathmist Raptors and featuring Nissa, Vastwood Seer instead.

I feel like both of these cards play a similar role – speed bumps against the aggressive decks and threats that have value both early and late against the control decks. Deathmist Raptor is obviously better against counterspells than Nissa, Vastwood Seer is, but the Borderland Ranger mode on Nissa, Vastwood Seer is extremely important against midrange and control decks.

I’m honestly not sure which route is going to be the best, but I would love to hear what Ross and the rest have to say this week in their articles about the deck they chose and the impact that Nissa, Vastwood Seer had on the games.

The other change is the universally adopted awesomeness of Gaea’s Revenge in the sideboard. Ross and Chranderson both had two copies in their sideboard, but eventual winner Tuan Nguyen had a full four copies of Gaea’s Revenge and two additional copies of Mistcutter Hydra. It seems like this green mage was the one taunting his opponents with “Well, at least all of that arm-waving and arcane babbling you did was impressive.”

I’m not sure just how many control decks Tuan Nguyen played against, but I can imagine that any he did happen to face were pummeled by hasty uncounterable threats. Not a bad place to be considering half of the expected Languish collective was assumed to be on some sort of U/B Control deck.

Tuan Nguyen also eschewed Deathmist Raptor and the third Genesis Hydra for what looks to be an Ashcloud Phoenix, which feels like a Deathmist Raptor, an Ugin, the Spirit Dragon, and a new card in Sword of the Animist. I’m not sure just how good the Sword is here, but it does let our Elvish and Rattleclaw Mystics get in for a little extra damage when needed while also ramping us even harder. It’s also kind of cute in that it makes our Courser of Kruphix a 3/5, which might end up being relevant against Languish or when trying to block something like Siege Rhino, and can gain us some extra life from putting additional lands onto the battlefield.

Overall, I think that this was a very successful weekend for G/R Devotion, and although the deck can sideboard heavily against control I still expect to see an uptick in control players as we head into Richmond this weekend.

Control isn’t the only deck that has some game against G/R Devotion. Longtime Heroic advocate Logan Mize was able to pilot his W/U Heroic deck all the way to the finals in Chicago, surprisingly losing to Tuan Nguyen. Traditionally, G/R Devotion is pretty poorly-positioned against the Heroic strategies (W/U or Bant), and while they can steal some games with turn-three Whisperwood Elementals or by punishing poor mulligan decisions, for the most part G/R is a pretty huge underdog against Heroic.

This is even exacerbated by Logan’s choice to run a full four copies of Aqueous Form and a full set of Ordeal of Heliod alongside the standard Ordeal of Thassa. Most of the time G/R will end up in a racing situation and a single Ordeal of Heliod will put things out of reach, especially when coupled with an unblockable creature.

Logan opted to keep the same Monastery Mentor plan of going wide against decks that don’t have very much removal, but it is also a resilient threat that we can gain value out of even if our opponents do have a lot of removal. It’s important to note that there aren’t any maindeck copies of Treasure Cruise here and Logan has gone down to twenty lands, but since we’re on a full four of basically every Aura that we want in the deck we don’t have to run something like Heliod’s Pilgrim anymore in the straight W/U version.

If your goal is to beat G/R Devotion, I think that Heroic is a great choice for this weekend. Just be prepared for some uphill battles against Abzan and some grindy games against the control decks (where the lack of Treasure Cruises in the main will be felt for sure).

There was another deck that came out of this weekend that also seems to put quite a hurting on G/R Devotion. After starting out 8-0 on Day One, I’m sure that Matthew Tickal was hoping for better than a 34th-place finish, but I have to imagine that once the jig was up people had some idea of how to play against him.

Rally the Ancestors is something that’s been attempted before multiple times, but primarily with the goal of putting Siege Rhino and Gray Merchant of Asphodel onto the battlefield for huge amounts of life drain. The problem with this is that it takes a whopping six or seven mana to actually accomplish this.

With the reprinting of Nantuko Husk in Magic Origins, though, Matthew has found ways to kill outright while only needing to Rally for three. Five mana is much easier to obtain, so this build is just going to have an easier time of it because its Rallies are cheap.

His deck is a full five colors, although it is primarily G/B and splashing white for Rally the Ancestors and some sideboard cards, blue for Jace, Vryn’s Prodigy, and red for some copies of Kolaghan’s Command out of the sideboard… and it has quite a few moving parts.

First off, since Rally the Ancestors wants you to have a stocked graveyard, there are plenty of cards that are focused on doing just that. Satyr Wayfinder, Gather the Pack, and Jace, Vryn’s Prodigy are all great at filling our graveyard. In fact, there was a game where I saw Matthew cast a Gather the Pack, then use Jace, Vryn’s Prodigy and flip it into Jace, Telepath Unbound and then flashback the Gather the Pack. His opponent then attacked Jace to kill it (which puts it back into its owner’s graveyard as a creature), and then watch in horror as he died the following turn.

Elvish Mystic and Sylvan Caryatid are the mana accelerants, which work very well since we have a plethora of two- and three-mana spells. We really aren’t ramping into one big spell, but getting to a point where we are casting multiple spells in a turn before our opponents is very important.

Matthew also has the Deathmist Raptor + Den Protector combo in the deck, and since we are already self-milling pretty hard, why not? The interesting cards, however, are the black three-drops in the deck.

These three create the engine for the deck. The way Rally the Ancestors works is that it will only exile the creatures that are brought back with it if they are on the battlefield when the delayed trigger happens at the beginning of your next upkeep. This means that we can Rally the Ancestors and get back a bunch of creatures, Mogis’s Marauder can give Nantuko Husk haste and intimidate, and when we sacrifice most or all of the creatures we brought back to the Nantuko Husk it will become quite large. This gets even better if we have a Grim Haruspex in play: now we are drawing a card for each creature that we sacrifice.

If the ensuing attack doesn’t kill our opponent, we can then just sacrifice everything to the Nantuko Husk, including itself, to prevent them from being exiled and then just do it all over again with the next Rally the Ancestors, naturally drawn off the Grim Haruspex triggers. This Rally will be even bigger, though, since we likely brought back some number of Satyr Wayfinders with the first Rally.

We can even give Jace, Vryn’s Prodigy haste with one of the Mogis’s Maurader triggers and tap it to transform into Jace, Telepath Unbound, which will then remain in play past the end of the next upkeep and let us flashback Rally the Ancestors.

This is an extremely sweet deck, and one that I’m surprised was found already for Week One. Props to Matthew Tickal and his Midwest crew for building the deck. It definitely was a blast to watch over the course of the weekend. Make sure you check out the deck tech that was recorded in The Sideboard with Nick Miller over the weekend for more information about Matthew’s deck.

Even though Matthew didn’t make it to the Top Eight, we did see a new deck get into the elimination rounds. Well, new in that U/W Control isn’t exactly new, but Jeff Hoogland take on it is quite different.

Jeff’s deck is headlined by what I picked as the most underrated card from the set: Hangarback Walker. When I first saw the card, I didn’t think too much of it, but the more that I tried to brew and test different Shrapnel Blast-based decks with Hangarback Walker, the more and more impressed I became with the card. Coming down early and demanding a removal spell is pretty important, and even when they do have it right away you still get some value with a 1/1 Flying Thopter. When they don’t have an answer right away, then we get to start growing it and turn it into quite the formidable attacker.

These are all scenarios when we have it on turn two. When we don’t, we can just play it later on as a 2/2 for four or a 3/3 for six, which isn’t the absolute worst rate when you factor in the Thopters you get once it dies.

Hangarback Walker also helps facilitate the other new card that Jeff’s deck is built around: Thopter Spy Network. With a Bitterblossom-like effect that only requires us to have an artifact on the battlefield, this can be accomplished with the resilient Hangarback Walker or simply by having a Darksteel Citadel on the battlefield.

Filling out the deck with the standard fare of countermagic and card draw with Elspeth, Sun’s Champion and Ugin the Spirit Dragon on the top, we have a pretty sweet control deck that gets to take advantage of some of the new synergies.

It’s important to note that both Hangarback Walker and Thopter Spy Network are very good against something like Languish, which happens to kill the Dragonlord Ojutai this deck would otherwise normally be expected to play.

If this deck is something that you’re interested in, make sure you check out the deck tech that Jeff did in The Sideboard with Nick Miller over the weekend.

We can see from the results in Chicago that G/R Devotion was the king in the end, but there are definitely some strategies out there that can put a hurting on it.

This weekend we will be coming to Richmond for the Open Series, and while a lot of players are heading to Dallas for the GP and to prepare for Pro Tour Magic Origins in Vancouver the following weekend, I have to imagine everyone atop the Season Three leaderboard will be there battling for points.

There’s a pretty good chance that I’m just chomping on everyone with Dragonlord Atarka!