Down And Dirty – Metagaming Standard: Snow Strategies

Read Kyle Sanchez every Thursday... at StarCityGames.com!
Grand Prix: Krakow taught the world that, as usual, Islands are the lands to beat. Of course, Lorwyn also offers the Standard deckbuilder a number of strong Tribal options. So, where should you lay your hat? With the guys, or with the spells? Kyle thinks you can do better than merely opting for the control or aggro options. He presents three interesting Standard decks that seem ideally metagamed to the current environment…

Blurb: Grand Prix: Krakow taught the world that, as usual, Islands are the lands to beat. Of course, Lorwyn also offers the Standard deckbuilder a number of strong Tribal options. So, where should you lay your hat? With the guys, or with the spells? Kyle thinks you can do better than merely opting for the control or aggro options. He presents three interesting Standard deck that seem ideally metagamed to the current environment…

Metagaming is no unfamiliar task. It’s done in preparation for tournaments all around the World every day. It’s the act of altering your card evaluations to consider how good they are in regards to what everyone else is playing.

The Standard format is rapidly evolving to become one of the most diverse we’ve ever seen. There are so many strategies and off the wall tactics running around that it is almost impossible to have that cozy “prepared” feeling before entering a tournament. States proved that all the various tribal themes – Goblin, Elves, Kithkin, Faeries, and Merfolk – have a serious place in this format, and are forces to be reckoned with. After Grand Prix: Krakow, everyone discovered that Islands are in fact the best land in all the… land? The Top 8 there had seven decks featuring Blue-producing lands, which has caused an overwhelming flux of Islands to dominate this format. Still, each of the Blue decks has holes that can be attacked, and with the tribal based decks all being extremely vulnerable to mass removal, it seems it could be easy enough to make some decks that can deal with Islands and a horde of creatures.

Snow-based decks have “been around” for a little over a year now with little to no success found. However, it is my firm belief that the best way to beat an Island is to have a way to gain card advantage without actually casting anything, and Scrying Sheets accomplishes that task better than any other card in the format. So with that, I’ve designed a few decks with Sheets for Island, and a plethora of removal to take care of those pesky walking Crusades that are the backbone for all the tribal decks.

The most important aspect of building a metagame deck is making sure you don’t get too lost in the act of metagaming. For instance, in some warped metagames like that when Affinity was legal, it became pretty standard practice to include 6-8 artifact removal spells maindeck in literally every deck. This is pretty common knowledge. However, actually think about how that can be applied to today’s Standard. If the tribal decks became a dominating force, people would naturally include more Wrath of God, Damnation, Pyroclasm, or Molten Disaster in their decks to combat the cheap efficient creatures. In doing so you will lose a lot of ground against the Island decks that feature a very small amount of creatures, most of which have some built in protection ability, such as Guile’s shuffle-back-in ability, or the fact that Teferi cheats against your sorcery speed removal spells (and your instant speed removal, for that matter).

Getting lost in metagaming means that you will devote too many cards for one or several matchups, and lose a fair amount of ground in other matchups, giving your deck negatives in some areas. One way to stop this trend is by ensuring that you have a potent proactive game plan that can be utilized against whatever deck you might come across. Phyrexian Ironfoot is that game plan, because he dies to very few spells in the format – namely Incinerate and Shriekmaw, which are current weapons of choice for many decks – and can attack and block all in one motion, with the only drawback being you need to actually play Snow lands to utilize him. Another one of the factors that makes Ironfoot so good is that he can stop a team of 3/3 Beasts or Elephants almost entirely by himself.

Yeah, that’s 35 snow permanents. For being such a cold-centric deck it sure is providing a hearty amount of warmth to my pants.

My first incarnation of this deck had Wrath of God to support the Planeswalkers, but after playing several games I wanted a more diverse creature package other than just Ironfoot, and made some cuts to add some snow dudes with Ohran Viper and Adarkar Valkyrie. This may look like a bit of a hodge-podge of good cards thrown together, but it was actually well thought out, with testing to back it up. Adarkar Valkyrie and Into the North are cards that have seemed to have been lost in action ever since Time Spiral stirred things up, but they are extremely brutal cards in their own right. If you untap with Valkyrie there is really no reason not to win against the aggro decks. She’s huge, flying, vigilant, and she even steals your opponent’s dooders when you clear them out in combat (or with Chandra or Skred). Into the North is a two-mana tutor that’ll fix your mana by searching for the snow duals, fetch a Mouth of Ronom to deal with a Teferi or Ironfoot, or even search out an uncounterable card drawing engine in Scrying Sheets. It really does it all. Plus it’s a sorcery for Goyf!

The curve is pretty sick in this one. On turn 2, after playing one of the eight comes-into-play-tapped lands, you have the option to accelerate/fix your mana with Coldsteel Heart and Into The North or simply drop Goyf against any of the Island decks and wait for him to get big. On the next turn, if you’re playing against aggro you can drop Viper, Ironfoot, or Garruk to start building an army while holding theirs off with superior creatures. If you’re playing against a Blue deck, run Ironfoot out before you attack into their counters to give Goyf a 3 or 4 power, since Ironfoot is one of those cherished cards that adds both artifact and creature to the graveyard Goyf food. From turn 4 on you can play the big spell game by dropping Planewalkers to obliterate your opponents with card advantage, Valkyrie to obliterate your opponents with card advantage, or turn your lands into spells and obliterate your opponent with card advantage. Pretty straightforward.

An increasingly evident trend in Blue decks nowadays is their inability to deal with particular permanents or a mass of creatures, and you can attack them from both angles with this deck. Planewalkers create a complicating task of trying to figure out exactly how to deal with it. The worst part is the Chandra and Garruk attack them from different angles with increasing threats. You can ding the control players until you obtain eight loyalty with Chandra, and which point you dome them for 10. And with Garruck you can create a mass of 3/3 Beasts, all the while giving you even more mana to play more threats.

The removal suite has been up in the air. Skred or Incinerate? Which is better? Incinerate deals with Planewalkers, but Skred deals with Goyf, Ironfoot, and Teferi. Yeah, not even close, and Oblivion Ring gives you an answer to those pesky Planeswalkers.

After a bit of testing, the UB Mannequin deck seems to be the biggest thorn in this deck’s side… however, Phyrexian Ironfoot is a huge problem for them, since none of their ground pounders can attack into him safely. Pyroclasm after sideboarding is the prime weapon to destroy all of UB’s creatures. They think they are all smart when they bring in Sower of Temptation for your Goyfs and Ironfeet, but Pyroclasm completely shatters that plan. Razormane Masticore is the fatty boom boom of choice to bring in against the helpless creature decks because of being hard to kill and easy to maintain with the help of Scrying Sheets.

Seal of Primordium and Ancient Grudge are very close in their functionality, with Ancient Grudge being much better against Lens and Relic decks. However, Seal can deal with Oblivion Ring and Sacred Mesa, both of which are on the up right now. Detritivore is just another way to gain considerable card advantage against control decks that can’t be countered. Dark Depths may seem kind of random, but against Elves and Goblins oftentimes you can get into some pretty strange creature stalls. In those situations, Dark Depths actually is a pretty good tutorable answer to just blow them out in one swoop, leaving Goyf back as a huge defender the entire time. Look at it this way: it has like Suspend-7 or so, providing you have enough lands and a reasonable creature stall.

This deck really plays a lot like the U/B Teachings decks, except at sorcery speed. A bunch of card draw supported by Wrath effects and a proactive control plan to overwhelm the opponent with gigantic card advantage.

This is an example of a control deck that has uncounterable card advantage against control decks, with Detritivore, Scrying Sheets, and Aeon Chronicler, and enough mana acceleration to make them very lethal very quickly. All of this deck’s spells are dreadful for the control decks to deal with, and most of the time all you need to do is land a Sacred Mesa or Suspend an Aeon Chronicler for 6+, and ride the tokens and cards drawn to victory.

It also boasts five Wrath spells in the sixty card pile to accommodate for the creature matchups, with the 5th turning into removal for opposing Oblivion Rings. Chandra is just as lethal against creature decks as control decks, since she turns into a Wrath + 10 to the dome if you can protect her for two combat phases. And with Ironfoot and a hearty amount of Wraths to protect her, she can be seen doing absurd amounts of damage, pumping her loyalty as high as seventeen in one game.

Oblivion Ring is the answer-all for the deck, from Planeswalkers to Relics or Goyfs. Coldsteel Heart and Coalition Relic make mana sources 26-32, supported with enough card draw to keep incoming properties up and interest high.

Another variation I had of this deck included Lightning Angels and Boom/Bust to provide a quick and lethal path to victory, with some opponents conceding as early as turn cinco.

Not nearly as many snow permanents as the other lists I’ve presented, but it still has the staying power to be a big competitor. With all of the artifact mana in the deck you can fairly consistently get an Angel or Chronicler down beforehand, to set up a quick clock to kill them before they recover from losing all their lands. The only problem is that Angel and Chronicler are both vulnerable to Shriekmaw, which has proven a difficult card to deal with.

Scrying Sheets and Boom/Bust just have so much synergy. One draws a surplus of lands for you while the other acts like a Changeling Berserker in Teferi’s Scroll Room. Boom/Bust’s synergies continue when you take a glance at the lands in the deck. With a well-timed Terramorphic Expanse or Mouth of Ronom you can target your land, then sacrifice it for its effect to negate any loss on your side. Seems like a lot of work for a two mana Stone Rain, but the synergies are there.

To me, all of the signs of this format points to a slow attrition deck with ample creature removal and uncounterable engines to disrupt control decks… however, the real problem with this theory lies in the “in between” decks. The midrange decks with both aggro and control aspects that can attack you from various angles, like Faeries or Merfolk. Both can put a surprisingly quick clock on you then ride countermagic to victory. But usually those kind of decks have huge problems with a certain card, like Pyroclasm – a cheap card that can potentially wipe their board — or, more importantly, awkward draws. Those midrange decks tend to be unbalanced and can often stumble if they draw too many parts of one side of the deck, like too many counters with no threats, or too many creatures without backup.

The best plan for decks like that is to have a good sideboard with enough options to combat their unique choices. For instance, one very familiar deck that was very easy to hate out is GoyfRack. Dodecapod was such a problem to their strategy that if you had one well timed or multiples GoyfRack would crumble.

I guess you could call that metagaming your sideboard?

Meh, I’ll let LaPille write about that one.

Thanks for reading,


Top 5 Picks

1) Reckoner — Radiohead
2) Together We Will Live Forever – Clint Marshall
3) Ooh La La – The Dirty Bops
4) 9 to 5 — Dolly Parton
5) Misery Business – Paramore