Double or Nothing: Setting The Standard

After what seems like months and months of playing OBC, I finally escaped but with only a week before the Bath Monthly Standard tourney – and not a moment too soon, as Jim learns some valuable lessons about Shvartsman Study!

After what seems like months and months of playing OBC, I finally escaped but with only a week before the Bath Monthly Standard tourney. As with all things it takes me a little while to swap from one format to another, so I decided to dig right in and get a good look at the Worlds Standard decks. Only three decks went 6-0 and a bunch went 5-1, so I decided to pick out a few and built them up. I built up the following decks:

…As well as reconstructing my Red/Green beats and Tings decks. After a few hours of furious testing, I’d started to settle on Alex’s deck. The Mono Black Control deck, although fun to play, seemed to be losing to Hunting Grounds too much, as did Victor’s Tog deck. The Madness deck was handing Hunting Grounds its backside.

Since then we’ve built up the Burning Wish version of Tog, and it seems better than the Cunning Wish one, and Sheng Hsun Hsai’s Hunting Grounds deck (that won Grand Prix Taipei) seems to cope much better with U/G Madness than Sylvain’s.

Even so, I was considering playing U/G Madness when I read Alex’s insightful article on his deck on The Sideboard: Blue-Green – A Careful Study and my mind was made up. Here is Alex’s deck.

Alex Shvartsman.dec

Creatures (20):

4x Wild Mongrel

4x Merfolk Looter

4x Arrogant Wurm

1x Aquamoeba

3x Wonder

4x Basking Rootwalla

Other Spells (18):

4x Roar of the Wurm

4x Careful Study

2x Deep Analysis

4x Counterspell

4x Circular Logic

Land (22):

4x Yavimaya Coast

9x Island

7x Forest

2x Centaur Garden

Sideboard (15):

4x Phantom Centaur

4x Spellbane Centaur

3x Unnatural Selection

1x Upheaval

1x Bearscape

2x Sylvan Safekeeper

I’ve made two changes that Alex recommended, adding one Upheaval and a third Unnatural Selection to the sideboard by removing two Safekeepers. I also took out two Forests for two Centaur Gardens. Alex didn’t seem so keen on the idea in his article, but having played the deck with them in I wouldn’t leave them out.

Once you’ve decided on a net deck you need to work out how to sideboard it. I went over this in some detail for an OBC deck in my last article. Sometimes you can just ask the deck’s designer what to take out and bring in and sometimes, as Alex did in his article, they outline it for you.

Given the amount of information Alex gave out, I felt it only fair I went the last nine yards on my own and tried to work out what to bring in and take out from what Alex had written. Here’s what I came up with.

Vs. Tog and Burning Tog.

In: 4x Phantom Centaur, 2x Sylvan Safekeeper, 1x Bearscape, and 1x Upheaval.

Out: 4x Roar of the Wurm, 4x Rootwalla.

Alex suggested that the Phantom Centaurs go in along with the Bearscape. From my experience against Tog, I felt that the Upheaval should also go in and – to stop any targeted removal – in go the Safekeepers as well. Rootwallas come out; even though they give you early beats they’re stopped or killed by pretty much anything. I took the Roars out in a straight swap for the Centaurs. They have the same casting cost (unless you’re hard-casting a Wurm) and I’d like to keep the mana curve of the deck manageable.

Vs. Mono Black Control (MBC).

In: 4x Phantom Centaur, 1x Upheaval

Out: 3x Wonder, 1x Careful Study, 1x Roar of the Wurm.

Against MBC you really don’t need to fly to be able to beat them and, as Careful Study mainly lets you get to Wonder and fill your graveyard, dropping one really isn’t going to kill you in this matchup. Phantom Centaur is a better 4cc creature than Roar of the Wurm, as so we do a straight swap for the fourth Centaur.

Vs. Red/Green Beats.

In: 4x Phantom Centaur

Out: 2x Basking Rootwalla, 1x Counterspell, 1x Circular Logic

Red/Green is all about creatures. If they get enough and can kill your defence, they win. If your creatures can defend you, you can peck away with some hefty 6/6 fliers for a few turns. Wonder needs to stay in to help you break the creature stall; while Rootwallas, good against many control decks, just don’t cut it. We have enough counterspells to be able to drop one or two to fit in a few big creatures.

Vs. Opposition.

In: 4x Spellbane Centaur, 3x Unnatural Selection

Out: 3x Wonder, 2x Roar of the Wurm, 1x Deep Analysis, 1x Rootwalla

If they can’t tap your creatures, they won’t win: Spellbane Centaur is unfair. Bringing in Unnatural Selection guarantees that they won’t have too many Squirrels to slow down your land army, so why do you need to fly? Roar of the Wurm is a 4cc Sorcery, and you won’t not want to be tapping out too often once you have a few creatures in play, so I’ve dropped one or two of those too.

Vs. Hunting Grounds.

In: 1x Upheaval, 2x Sylvan Safekeeper, and 1x Bearscape.

Out: 4x Roar of the Wurm.

Hunting Grounds can be a very unfair deck, but it relies on Wrath of God, which you can play around or counter, and Repulse. Roar of the Wurm is the biggest fall guy for Repulse – and he’s a 4cc Sorcery whilst Sylvan Safekeeper can stop the few targeted removal spells Hunting Grounds needs to cast to survive. Upheaval is needed in case they look like they’re gaining control – our deck does better in the early game. Bearscape gives you more creatures in a post-Wrath world.

Vs. Blue/Green Madness.

In: 3x Spellbane Centaur, 3x Unnatural Selection

Out: 4x Rootwalla, 2x Deep Analysis.

When sitting down to look at the mirror match I knew, from Alex’s writing, that Spellbane Centaur and Unnatural Selection were meant to come in – but I couldn’t work out for the life of me what is supposed to go out? What do you do when you’re stuck like that? Email the author, of course…

I fired a quick email off to Alex, asking for some tips on the mirror match. His suggestion: Take out Rootwallas and Analyses. I was surprised, but I think I can see why. The matchup is all about who casts what creatures and who gains Wonder. Wonder and Careful Study must, therefore, stay in; Unnatural Selection gives us easy creature kill, and so (hopefully) we won’t be struggling to keep up and need to cast a 4cc Sorcery to draw two cards. The Rootwallas would largely be chump blockers in the matchup, because they’re too small to attack into any Mongrels or Wurms your opponent might still have.

There were still a whole host of decks I didn’t think about – or more appropriately, didn’t have time to think about – such as Trenches, Miss America, Tings, and Black/Green Beats. But I figured that I knew my deck as well as I was going to and that my experience with U/G in OBC might just give me the experience I needed for such a similar deck in Standard.

Round 1: Chris Brown

I’ve played Chris quite a few times before I rolled the die and won the right to play first and kept my hand. Chris had to Mulligan. He very nearly picked up seven cards, but I managed to warn him and he put one back – I’m not getting my opponent a game loss in the first round of a local tourney!

I had one of the best hands I could get and led off with a Mongrel, attacking for four the next turn while making an Arrogant Wurm and a Basking Rootwalla in the process. Next turn I attacked for nine and dropped an Island with Circular Logic in my hand and another couple of cards to stop any spells Chris might have.

So; 1-0 up in two minutes. Not a bad start to the day. I didn’t really know what Chris was playing, though, but had seen some Islands and so decided to take a risk and bring in my Spellbanes.

In: 4x Spellbane Centaur

Out: 1x Careful Study, 2x Roar of the Wurm, 1x Rootwalla.

I took out one Careful Study because I didn’t know if I was playing the mirror or not. If I was, and I lost, I could bring it back in game three. As it turned, out I got lucky and Chris was playing lots of Blue spells, but his deck looked like being a U/G Madness deck with Mongrels and spells – but I saw a turn 3 Spellbane and some Arrogant Wurms. Combined with a Wonder, there was little Chris could do and I we shook hands as I finished him off.

Matches: 1-0, Games: 2-0.

The first match of the day can often set the tone for your attitude for the rest of the day. A win leaves me feeling positive, a loss leaves me under pressure to win, pressure to keep up with how well my friends are doing. Hopefully my positive attitude would bear fruit.

Round 2: Shane Silk-Reeves

As with most of the players I played during the day, I’ve played against Shane many times before, but not so much recently. I’d already seen that he was playing MBC, and hoped that the hours and hours of playing U/G vs. MBC in OBC would give me the edge.

My opening hand of a Wonder, a Roar of the Wurm, and five lands just wasn’t good enough so I threw it in and took another six. My six-card hand of a Mongrel, three Rootwallas and two Forests looked just fine, especially with Shane going first, and I sat back to play.

I lead off, again with the Mongrel and used the Rootwallas to keep it alive for the first few attacks. I drew into a Roar of the Wurm and discarded it, attacking for three, before casting it. Shane sees yet another removal spell and I let my Mongrel die, with another creature in my hand to protect the Wurm token. I attacked for six and dropped a Merfolk Looter, happy to be able to kill it for the win. Shane dug for an answer but didn’t find one and we moved on to the next game.

In: 4x Phantom Centaur, 1x Bearscape, 1x Upheaval,

Out: 3x Wonder, 1x Careful Study, 2x Roar of the Wurm.

Shane lost the first match due to lack of Swamps. He only saw five lands before I killed him, and only three were Swamps. The second game went even worse for him, as I saw plenty of creatures and took chunks out of his life total, whilst he sat there with two Swamps and a Cabal Coffers in play.

Matches: 2-0, Games: 4-0.

If U/G Madness does anything, it punishes your opponents if they have a bad draw or stall on land. I really can’t decide whether some Psychatog variant or U/G is the best deck in Standard right now, but I’m certain that it’s one of them – and all U/G loses when Onslaught rotates in are the Yavimaya Coasts

Round 3: Ryan Taylor

“I knew it couldn’t last” were the first words from Ryan’s mouth when we sat down. Ryan later said that he was joking, but it gave me a psychological advantage straight away as I felt that Ryan was being defeatist. Even if he wasn’t, it removed any sense of jitters I might have had and we got down to playing.

I won the die roll but had to mulligan; one-land hands – with or without a Careful Study – just don’t do it for me. Ryan chose to put his seven cards back, too, and I kicked off the party with a Centaur Garden and a Basking Rootwalla. Ryan’s new hand didn’t look that good as he didn’t do much for a while apart from Terminate my Wild Mongrel. Eventually he cast Anger: He hit me with it for a few turns until I could get a Roar token into play to slow the beats. A second Roar token showed up and pretty soon we were on to game two.

In: 4x Phantom Centaur, 2x Safekeeper,

Out: 4x Rootwalla, 1x Careful Study, 1x Wonder.

I really didn’t know exactly what Ryan was playing, but I knew he had Green, Red, and Black spells in his deck. The Rootwallas seemed too vulnerable and so I took them out for something that Ryan would have more problems with: Phantom Centaurs. I also added the Safekeepers to frustrate his targeted removal. I didn’t know whether the Wonders were important or not, so I chose to drop one – and a Careful Study. I could always put them back in if I lost anyway.

Ryan chose to keep his hand but I had to mulligan again. This time Ryan came out of the blocks fast with his own Wild Mongrel, after killing a few of my creatures. He hit me for one and decided to cast Browbeat. I knew that he might have burn, and had Anger, so he was probably quite an aggressive deck. On the other hand I had a hand full of cards, including a few counterspells, whilst Ryan had only three. I paid the five life.

I finally managed to get an Arrogant Wurm to stay on the table whilst Ryan was a little low on land. I untapped and felt much more secure with three counter spells in my hand and all the mana I needed to cast them. Few turns later I dropped another critter and started the beats: Ryan’s life went 20-16-11-0.

Matches: 3-0, games: 6-0.

I had a good look at Ryan’s deck and he’d basically taken a G/R deck and added black for Terminate and Chainer’s Edict. The mana worked well enough, but I never really felt under too much pressure – not the way a really aggressive G/R deck can make you feel. He ended the day with three wins from seven and picked up a booster, but the deck really needed more, and faster, threats.

Round 4: Roy Williams.

Roy has consistently done well at bath tourneys, and I know that if I can beat him I’ll not only be 4-0, but I’ll probably make top eight (with three rounds to go I’d only need to win one and then ID to be sure).

Unfortunately, my good-looking opening hand was spoiled by not seeing a third land for some time, whilst Roy dropped land after land, followed by Flametongue after Flametongue to give him the early win.

In: 4x Phantom Centaur, 1x Bearscape, 1x Upheaval,

Out: 4x Roar of the Wurm, 1x Wonder, 1x Rootwalla.

I knew that Roy was playing Burning Tog, but forgot to bring in the Safekeepers. Although you’re allowed to have a sideboarding plan, and you can read it between rounds just fine, you can’t read it during a match.

Game two went all my way, with Roy double-mulliganing and then missing a few land drops and me seeing the counterspells I needed to stop any removal he might have thought about casting.

Game three went Roy’s way again, as I had to mulligan, kept a two-forest hand and didn’t see any Blue mana until after turn 6. The deck really needs Blue and Green mana on turn three, but I figured I’d be okay with a couple of Mongrels, a Rootwalla, Roar of the Wurm, and an Arrogant Wurm. I was wrong.

Matches: 3-1, Games: 7-2.

So; two game losses and both of them down to mana problems. I probably should have mulliganed by six-card hand in game three, and that’s down to my inexperience in this matchup. To try and help out a little – for both Roy and my sakes – carried on playing and we got another four games in before time was called. Players kept coming up and asking what the score was and our answers of”3-2 to Jim” and”4-3 to Roy” confused the hell out of them.

An aggressive start is important, and so I’d start with Mongrel, then Looter – but often I tried out Looter followed by Mongrel, and that gave me good results as long as I had gone first and they had to tap out in their main phase to Fire/Ice it before it went active.

Round 5: Manveer Samra

I didn’t really know what Manveer was playing, but my opening hand was just fine and I kicked off well. Manveer dropper a few Green creatures and seemed to have Blue mana a counterspells too, but I kept hitting with my (now) flying men and my Mongrel went almost all the way, only being joined by a Wurm for the last attack.

In: 4x Spellbane Centaur, 3x Unnatural Selection.

Out: 2x Wonder, 3x Roar of the Wurm, 1x Careful Study, 1x Basking Rootwalla.

Having only seen U/G Madness cards, you may wonder why I’m adding the extra Spellbane: Well, Manveer played a Deserted Temple in the closing turns of our last game, and Temple is usually used to power up Squirrel Nests. Manveer didn’t need to play it, but I was sure he was playing Squirrel Opposition. If I was wrong, I’ve only sideboarded in one extra card than I would for the mirror match anyway.

I decided to keep in one Wonder in the end, because Manveer had shown me a whole host of non-Squirrel creatures and I knew that I might just have to break a creature stand-off later in the game.

It turned out that I was right – but Manveer never really had a chance, as he didn’t see any green mana until quite late in the game. He countered a few of my spells, but I managed to resolve a Wonder, much to his amusement, and it dealt him eight damage before it was joined by a Mongrel for the last few turns of damage.

Matches: 4-1, Games: 9-2.

Again, I can’t stress enough how well this deck punishes decks that have bad draws. So far two of my opponents have been screwed for one colour of mana and the deck has eaten them alive.

Round 6: Neil Pearce

I was on top of the world at four wins and only one loss. I knew I was going home with a positive record – and if I could only beat Neil, I’d have a good shot at winning the tourney! However, this match contained my worst moment of the day – even though I won.

The game started well, as I dropped an early Wild Mongrel and Neil missed his third land drop. I kept going in for a few turns, countering important spells until Neil was on eight life and I had six cards in hand. He didn’t have any counters – but had Threshold. I attacked and discarded my hand to kill him. In response, he killed the Mongrel with an active Barbarian Ring.

I was furious. How dare he? How dare he leave us both top decking when I was in total control of the game and should win?

I wasn’t annoyed at Neil, though – I was annoyed at myself. I’m playing against a red deck and he has a Barbarian Ring on the table. At the very least, I should have checked to see if it was active – but I forgot. The real problem was that, unlike a thousand times before, I hadn’t discarded one card to the Mongrel and let it resolve, then another, then another. That way, if Neil tries to kill it, I can discard cards in response to keep it alive and still win.

I told him that it was a friendly tourney and if he wanted to play”that way,” then we bloody well would. He decided to take it back, let my Mongrel live and lose the game. I should have told him”No, you killed it, lets keep playing” but I didn’t. I wanted to win and now he probably, quite rightly, thinks I’m a total a–hole.

Let’s face it: I behaved like one. I made a mistake and got all pissy about it. I’ve been trying to be calm at Magic tourneys recently. To not get stressed when I lose a game or a match, but I lost it because I wanted to win and I made a mistake that might have lost me the match. If I’d have been the judge and seen it I’d probably have given myself a Warning for Unsportsmanlike Conduct, maybe even a Game Loss.

In: 4x Phantom Centaur.

Out: 4x Rootwalla.

I sideboarded assuming he was playing a red burn deck and bought in all my big creatures, taking out the little ones. Unfortunately, he was playing an Ensnaring Bridge/Grafted Skullcap deck and I played right into his hands. I managed to get him down to seven life before he resolves a Skullcap and I couldn’t attack any more, but I decided to keep playing – I did have two Deep Analysis in the deck, after all. Neil cast Dark Suspicions and started to do me a little damage every turn. I figured that I’d cast out all of my creatures, draw into a Deep Analysis, cast it at Neal twice and come in for the win.

It wasn’t to be: Neil dropped another two Skullcaps and a second Suspicions shortly afterwards. Losing two life a turn, I wasn’t going to be able to flash the Analysis back and so I cast it and attacked for two with a Mongrel. I dealt the last damage I was going to and Neil won the game shortly afterwards.

In: 4x Rootwalla, 1x Upheaval.

Out: 4x Roar of the Wurm, 1x Wonder.

I bought my small critters back in and an Upheaval, as it’s my only way to win if he casts Bridge and Skullcap. I took out my biggest creatures and a Wonder; my creatures don’t need to fly after all. I left the other Wonders in as they’re 2/2 and might slip under a Bridge for a few turns.

I kept a good hand but Neil had to Mulligan… Twice. My turn 1 Rootwalla was quickly joined by a turn 2 Mongrel and they kicked Neil down to nine before they were joined by an end-of-turn Arrogant Wurm for the win whilst Neil was still stuck on land.

Matches: 5-1, Games: 11-3.

The best player doesn’t win: Luck doesn’t care if you’re a gentleman or a cad. Luck certainly did Neil no favours against me, and I behaved badly in our first game. We had a long chat about it and I tried to explain away the error in the first game – but what I should have done was apologise. Neil kept apologising to me! He said that he was being petty because someone had screwed him over in a previous match. I should have set the record straight – I didn’t. Next time I see him, I will.

I asked Neil where he’d got the deck list, as it had been quite popular about a year ago, but he’d built it himself. He didn’t know any of the URLs for StarCity, The Sideboard, Magicthegathering.com or anything. I gave him a list of the places I read daily and wished him luck against his next opponent.

Round 7: Madog Williams.

Finally, the last round.

With five wins and a loss, I only needed a draw to make top eight and get the points I needed to qualify for the Bath Magic Invitational at the end of the year. With this in mind, I asked Madog if he’d ID, but he said”No” and we moved on to the match.

My opening hand was good and I started with a Basking Rootwalla, which Madog followed with a Plains and a Spurnmage Advocate.

Hmm. I’d better keep my graveyard pretty empty.

I dropped a Wild Mongrel, discarded a Wonder, and flew in for another one. The next turn I pumped my Mongrel by discarding a Roar of the Wurm. Cast the Roar from the graveyard, leaving just the Wonder in there, and attacked for four. Next turn I flew in for nine damage, leaving myself two blue mana untapped for the Counterspell in my hand. I didn’t need it and we moved on to the next game.

In: 3x Unnatural Selection, 1x Upheaval, and 1x Bearscape.

Out: 4x Careful Study, 1x Roar of the Wurm.

Of all the decks I could have played, this is one I wished I’d have had more practice against. Two months ago, Madog won the Bath tourney with this deck and then he won an OBC tourney with his version of it too. He has a lot of experience and I really didn’t know what to take out. I knew that I needed the Wonders, but that making my graveyard big could be a real problem. Unnatural Selection is important, because I can kill multiples of creatures and keep his bird population to a minimum. Bearscape can help me keep my graveyard to a minimum, too. Upheaval might help me get out of a bad spot.

Game two went Madog’s way: I was stuck on low land for a while, but managed to get a Selection and a Bearscape into play. Meanwhile Madog was filling his graveyard up with Battle Screeches and a pair of Meddling Mages kept my best spells in my hand. Eventually a pair of Divine Sacraments sealed my fate and we moved to game three.

I took a good opening hand for the third game with Blue and Green mana, a couple of creatures and counter spells, and started well with a turn 2 Mongrel. Madog followed with a turn two Meddling Mage. Luckily for me, I had more spells and discarded a Wonder to fly in for a few turns. Time was ticking out though and time was called with Madog on five life, me on nineteen. I could see that Madog could make at least five bird tokens, but he only had two attacks. If I attacked I would be defenceless and Madog could nearly kill me if he draw a Divine Sacrament.

So I decided to play to not lose and sat back and did nothing. Madog took his two draws but didn’t see anything to help him, and we shook hands over the draw.

Matches: 5-1-1, Games: 12-4.

When all was said and done, I had the second best tie breakers in the tourney, as I’d lost to the winner of the tournament (Roy Williams) and drawn against the third place player (Madog). One of my other opponents made top eight too, and so I came second at the top of the sixteen-point bracket. Roy won, going undefeated with six wins and a draw.

The top eight played:

  • 1st Roy Williams playing Burning Tog.

  • 2nd Jim Grimmett playing U/G Madness.

  • 3rd Madog Williams playing U/W Quiet Speculation.

  • 4th Richard Williams playing G/W Toolbox.

  • 5th Nat James playing G/W Beats with Battle Screech.

  • 6th Manveer Samra playing Squirrel Opposition.

  • 7th Ian Roberts playing GWb beats (Deeds, Vindicates, Mongers, Lynxes).

  • 8th Anwar Tarafder playing GWb beats (Deeds, Vindicates, Mongers, Lynxes).

I’m back playing Standard. I have a little attitude problem for certain, but I’m hoping it was a blip in what has been a year of gentlemanly play. I certainly had a lot of luck, and my opponents had lots of luck, too – bad luck. I felt that Alex’s deck is one of the best decks in Standard right now, and I’m hoping it gets some play post-Onslaught, too.

If I were going to play the deck again I’d make two (tiny) changes: The one Aquamoeba would come out for a 23rd land, probably an Island. I’d also love to add one Rushing River to the sideboard against random cards that you’re not expecting that wreck you. It might not be focused, but it’s a necessity in a local tourney believe me. What would I take out? One of the four Spellbane Centaurs, probably – all the other cards were excellent, but there isn’t much Opposition where I’m playing at the moment.

Cheers, Jim Grimmett.

Team PhatBeats,

Team Diaspora and

Level 2 DCI judge.