Dissecting The Dirty South

Patrick discusses his thoughts about Standard and Legacy in the wake of SCG Open Series: Atlanta and shares the Burn list he would play at Grand Prix Richmond.

GP Richmond

It’s back.

After a relatively quiet weekend in St. Louis, Mono-Black Devotion came roaring back in Atlanta, claiming the title. B/W Midrange, a Mono-Black Devotion derivative, also posted several Top 8 finishes. Given how dominant Mono-Black Devotion was prior to Born of the Gods, many players were excited for the temporary reprieve two weekends ago. So what happened?

In my mind, the Mono-Black Devotion lists were still playing in last month’s metagame in St. Louis. G/R Monsters showed a ton of traction in Nashville and ran wild in St. Louis in part because most black lists were still playing four copies of Devour Flesh alongside a few Bile Blight (or the opposite) and maindeck Nightveil Specter, which simply doesn’t cut it against large creatures and mana creatures that can easily be thrown away to edict effects.

Bernardo Fonseca’s list shows a better understanding of what’s been going on the last few weeks, and it’s no surprise to see this kind of list win the whole thing. Two copies of Ultimate Price in the maindeck show appropriate respect for G/R Monsters and a correct read that Mono-Blue Devotion would be on the decline (the primary matchup where Doom Blade is significantly better).

Moreover, four copies of Lifebane Zombie replace Nightveil Specter altogether. Unlike the removal suite (which I anticipate fluctuating depending on metagame expectations or personal taste), I expect the switch to Lifebane Zombie to be a permanent thing. Nightveil Specter is pretty anemic outside of the mirror match, so as long as that’s not a distorting presence, the higher-impact Lifebane Zombie should become the creature of choice.

Though Lifebane Zombie is purportedly for G/R Monsters (or at least green and white decks in general), there are other matchups that are dramatically impacted. B/W Midrange, which is essentially Mono-Black Devotion with Blood Baron of Vizkopa, was the "anti-Mono-Black Devotion" black deck prior to Born of the Gods. That may no longer be the case, as Bernardo tellingly beat two copies of the deck en route to his finals appearance. These matches weren’t on camera, so I don’t know the extent to which Lifebane Zombie played a role in those specific games, but this switch is a big deal for game 1.

This combined with the presence of Mizzium Mortars in a bunch of decks really calls into question how many hoops one should be willing to jump through to splash Blood Baron of Vizkopa. If you want other white cards, that’s one thing, and Elspeth, Sun’s Champion; Last Breath; and Revoke Existence are all worthy of some effort. But it always felt to me like the primary rationalization for splashing white in Mono-Black Devotion was Blood Baron, and I feel like the incentive has gone down substantially in the wake of Atlanta.

Speaking of splashing white, Mono-Blue Devotion has been dipping its toes in the water with a deck I’ve been told is the work of regarded streamer Michael Jacob.

If Ephara, God of Polis and Detention Sphere were mono-blue cards, I have no doubt they would be played heavily in Mono-Blue Devotion lists, so it’s not surprising to see something like this crop up now that Temple of Enlightenment is there to tie the room together. Ephara plays a similar role to Jace, Architect of Thought and Bident of Thassa (four-mana sources of card advantage in grindy games), though they all shine in different spots.

Bident is best when your board is advanced but there’s some risk of a sweeper the following turn, Jace is best when you’re behind on board, and Ephara is best when facing a deck that’s trying to overwhelm you with removal. Because they’re all fairly similar in overall functionality and all the cards in question are legendary, I think the correct mixture might be one of each card (or something similar) rather than three copies of what you think the "best" one might be in the abstract.

Detention Sphere is a more significant addition in my mind. Before Mono-Blue Devotion players had to keep in some number of cards like Cyclonic Rift and Rapid Hybridization to fight cards like Desecration Demon and especially Pack Rat despite the fact those cards are poor against the other cards in Mono-Black Devotion (and even against the cards in question sometimes).

No longer.

Detention Sphere is a great answer to the cards in Mono-Black Devotion that cause Mono-Blue Devotion the most headaches and is a stable source of devotion for Thassa, God of the Sea and Ephara, God of the Polis. I do not think this is a strict upgrade, as Rapid Hybridization plays so well with cards like Tidebinder Mage, Cloudfin Raptor, and Thassa that it pains me to see it leave the deck entirely. I also imagine moving the deck in this direction damages the control matchups since it becomes slower and contains more comes into play tapped lands. Maybe Ephara makes up for that, but I’m skeptical.

With the rise of Jund Monsters and Godless Shrine in Mono-Blue Devotion, it was only a matter of time before someone did this.

I don’t have a lot of comments on the specifics of this list. It looks fine, though I would add the fourth Mutavault and three more sideboard cards (Act of Treason most likely) if I were to play it myself. This is noteworthy to me as a general barometer of how many scry lands and Ravnica duals people are adding to decks. I do not think Mono-Red Aggro is a very powerful deck in an objective sense, but if people are messing around with too many fancy lands, this deck has real game.

In my experience playing a similar deck, the U/W Control matchup is pretty bad, and the Esper Control matchup is quite positive; the only substantial difference between the two decks in that matchup is the lands. I’m sure this deck has a much better matchup against Jund Monsters than G/R Monsters for much the same reason. It doesn’t require much metagame correction to make Mono-Red Aggro disappear, but it’s probably a semi-legitimate choice for the time being given how many nonbasics people are cramming into their decks.

As far as Legacy goes, I just want to make sure everyone sees this.

This deck is a real nice one. Tom Ross nearly made Top 8 of St. Louis the previous weekend and banged out a Top 4 in Atlanta with this G/U Infect deck (which Tom credits largely to Olle Rade). It has all the hallmarks of the busted combo decks in Legacy—an extremely fast uncontested kill, cantrips to cobble together the elements, and some cheap disruption of its own—while also being able to win a "normal" game by beating down. This deck is also quite challenging to play against, as Crop Rotation into Inkmoth Nexus at the end of the opponent’s turn means no one is ever really safe to tap out.

If you think this deck folds to a Bolt or Plow, think again, as I watched Tom (on the draw) defeat turn 1 Thoughtseize, turn 2 Stoneforge Mystic for Umezawa’s Jitte, turn 3 Lingering Souls, turn 4 Jitte equip on to Souls token with one back on defense plus Force of Will. Only when Michael Majors presented Jitte plus about twenty pieces of relevant one-mana disruption did Ross succumb. This deck is far more challenging to play than it looks on paper because nearly every opponent has relevant disruption against you (since creature removal counts), and Tom showed a lot of experience in his matches. I wouldn’t pick this up with no practice, but I’ve seen enough to believe this deck is for real in the hands of a skilled pilot.

As I’m writing this, Grand Prix Richmond has over three thousand people preregistered, and there’s some chance it will break Grand Prix Las Vegas’ all-time attendance record. It goes without saying that this is an incredible accomplishment for StarCityGames.com and Wizards of the Coast, especially the latter. Though I think the marketing efforts, forward momentum, and location are a greater influence on attendance than the format, it’s still an amazing feat that this many people are attending a non-Standard, non-Legacy Constructed Grand Prix. Congratulations to everyone who made this happen.

I’m not playing in Richmond, but I did test with Brian Kibler and company a marginal amount for Pro Tour Born of the Gods. Expecting lots of Zoo, I put together this gauntlet build of R/W Burn.

Quite frankly, this deck isn’t very good. The white cards are in no way worth the extra damage you take, and even Searing Blaze and Lightning Helix aren’t enough to generate a positive matchup against Affinity (demonstrated to me in stark terms when Ben Lundquist took about ten straight matches against me). Also, the format is so fast that it’s not clear you can afford to play this many expensive cards. If I were to play Burn in Richmond this weekend, I would play the following list.

Yes, eight Searing effects is a little extreme, but I believe it’s a requirement to have a positive matchup against decks like Birthing Pod and Affinity. Plus the cards aren’t even dead against U/W/R Control. And it’s likely that the Richmond metagame will be more creature oriented than what we saw at the Pro Tour given the preferences of each group of players.

Regardless of what you decide to play, Grand Prix Richmond is an excellent chance to qualify for the Pro Tour. When tournaments get this large, it means that players who normally don’t attend are coming out of the woodwork, which means putting together a 13-2 isn’t nearly as daunting as it would be under normal circumstances. And because Modern is so vast and the games so complicated, having the best possible handle on your deck is more important than playing the best objective deck. I know that’s a sentiment that gets expressed all the time, but I think it’s truer for this tournament than nearly any other.

Beyond that, appreciate being a part of history. Richmond will be a record-shattering event, and it represents another watershed moment in Magic’s history. I won’t be there, but I’ll be watching it from home and can’t wait to see what people cook up in wake of the Pro Tour.

GP Richmond