War of the Spark Standard is moving fast.
Did you blink and miss a week of crazy developments after SCG Richmond? No worries! Here’s your wrap0up leading into SCG Syracuse
1. Planeswalker Stax
Let the name-drops begin, because everyone who is anyone appears to be working on this deck.
2nd place at a 142 player MCQ. Deck is incredibly good, incredibly fun. It actually felt like playing prison in standard. Would play again.https://t.co/6PnvfPaeOj
— Zac Elsik (@utdzac) May 6, 2019
Last week, Zak Elsik posted a MCQ Top 8ing Azorius SuperFriends list he got via Ben Ragan. He described it as a Stax-style deck, with the various static abilities of the War of the Spark planeswalkers layering to shut off your opponent’s best routes out of a heavy planeswalker battlefield.
Then this deck was played in the weekly Fandom Legends event on Arena to another Top 8 finish by H0lydiva.
- 1 Teferi, Hero of Dominaria
- 3 Dovin, Hand of Control
- 3 Teferi, Time Raveler
- 2 Kasmina, Enigmatic Mentor
- 1 Saheeli, Sublime Artificer
- 3 Narset, Parter of Veils
- 1 Ugin, the Ineffable
MPL member John Rolf had a similar take on Jeskai SuperFriends, but added Sarkhan the Masterless to actually win the game instead of being king of the durdles.
blazed my way from gold to mythic with this w/ this new creation dropping only two matches along the way! fairly confident this is tier1. sarkhan is busted here. sideboard guide coming tomorrow if anyone interested in trying it out @arenadecklists pic.twitter.com/AoqwBIHV6I
— John Rolf (@JRolfMTG) May 10, 2019
sb guide i promised yesterday. thought the @efropoker idea of karn over chandra was smart so i made that change. also added some lyras to the board to make the red matchup better. deck still needs some tuning but i’m excited to see where it goes!! @arenadecklists pic.twitter.com/At6snEQhzh
— John Rolf (@JRolfMTG) May 11, 2019
I really, really enjoy the slowly decreasing number of Teferi, Hero of Dominaria in these lists. Best card in Standard? Nah, don’t need that. Why would you play instants to use the mana on anyways?
Okay, fine, planeswalker that Shriekmaws planeswalkers is still good. Teferi can stay, but only a couple.
13-2 or something this morning, climbed from #9 to #2 with my version of @JRolfMTG ‘s Jeskai Walkers off stream. Clarions are super powerful vs aggro. Exp/Expl makes us immune flooding etc. Teferi -3 answers everything @ArenaDecklists pic.twitter.com/mc9Kx0HuCg
— Savjz (@Savjz) May 11, 2019
On a serious note, I think Deafening Clarion makes a ton of sense in these lists. It lands before your key planeswalkers and works for a huge life swing with Sarkhan the Masterless if you ever need it.
2. Life in the Arena Decklists Era
I mentioned a H0lydiva Top 8 in a Fandom Legends weekly Arena event. We have those, Twitch Rivals, MPL Weekly pod play, and just the stream of Mythic tier lists from Arena Decklists to factor in now.
What even is a Fandom Legends event in the scale of Magic metagames? What does a Top 8 in one of them mean, or a Mythic list from Magic Arena? How do we filter that into metagame expectations?
Well, a Fandom Legends event is small, sixteen players. All reasonable to great players, but it’s not far off from “Yeah, I won my local Legacy event of all ringers with Belcher this week.” And as anyone with any background in good statistics could tell you, self-reported decklists are dicey at best. And Mythic ranking isn’t the most accurate record of how good a deck is, as evidenced by some of the cards stuck on my Arena account from copied Mythic decklists
I think it’s reasonable to put any of these lists in the same category as a Magic Online 5-0 League list. These decks aren’t surviving through filtered, iterated metagames the same way a SCG Tour Standard Open shapes up over fifteen rounds and hundreds of players. They go 5-2 against a few other professionals or hit a multiple-round heater against what is effectively the Round 1 field of a large event in the Ladder queues.
So take Arena decklists as sources of ideas, but not true indications of quality. They imply promise, not certainty.
3. Yet Another Hero Deck
Let’s talk about a deck with that certainty others might be lacking. Bant Midrange might have been incapable of beating Mono-Red Aggro at SCG Richmond, but it sure best up the rest of the metagame.
My initial reaction was adding the explore / Wildgrowth Walker package to the deck a la Wyatt Darby, but a different plan might actually be right for bolstering your early-game.
- 1 Shalai, Voice of Plenty
- 3 Deputy of Detention
- 4 Hydroid Krasis
- 4 Frilled Mystic
- 1 Angel of Grace
- 4 Hero of Precinct One
- 4 Incubation Druid
This list from a Magic Online MCQ takes a big step in the right direction. Hero of Precinct One is vulnerable to Shock, but if the red player is forced to react to your plays, you have some room to bridge to your actual threats. This list also cuts down significantly on the do-nothing planeswalkers for cards that do something, namely no Vivien, Champion of the Wilds.
I do worry about the loss of top-end power in midrange mirrors with this list. Hydroid Krasis is fine, but God-Eternal Oketra is in a different class. It’s like Carnage Tyrant, where you skip the whole grinding them out of resources and just get to the part where they die. I struggle to believe Settle the Wreckage or Angel of Grace is actually better than a true unbeatable mythic rare. You do already have your fair share of unbeatable five-mana mythics with Teferi, Hero of Dominaria, but see the previous lesson about Teferi with few cheap instants.
4. Vivien Reid Is Not the Future of Green Midrange
- 4 Llanowar Elves
- 2 Hostage Taker
- 4 Wildgrowth Walker
- 4 Merfolk Branchwalker
- 1 Thrashing Brontodon
- 4 Jadelight Ranger
- 1 District Guide
- 4 Hydroid Krasis
- 1 Karn, Scion of Urza
- 2 Vivien Reid
- 1 Vraska, Golgari Queen
- 1 Liliana, Dreadhorde General
- 1 Davriel, Rogue Shadowmage
- 2 Nissa, Who Shakes the World
- 1 Ugin, the Ineffable
The old Sultai Midrange shell is flawed.
War of the Spark Standard is not currently about running your opponent out of cards. Vivien Reid doesn’t directly fight opposing planeswalkers the way it fought the old artifact and enchantment value engines.
Build a better Sultai deck. Actively try to win the game.
Nissa, Who Shakes the World battles into opposing planeswalkers and does so incrementally. A 3/3 isn’t obviously outclassed in the format, Nissa joins Vivien in activating up to six loyalty, and wow is that static ability good with Hydroid Krasis. If there weren’t so many other reasonable options, this would be the “Nissa is the future of Sultai” section.
Evolution Sage is a super-interesting card that has popped up in lists. The explore package was one of the things I highlighted when proliferate’s return was first announced and pairing it with planeswalkers makes it reliably good. It even proliferates Nissa animated lands.
I’ve been back to brewing with my pet project. It still needs tweaks, but I’ve had some accidental rank-ups with this because it beats the @TeamNovaMTG inspired bant decks that’re all over ladder. Oketra and a couple 4/4s? K. I’ll draw 20 and gain 100. @arenadecklists pic.twitter.com/8SAO1H3La9
— lewk (@lucasfaley) May 9, 2019
Okay, this might just be getting too cute. I have doubts about a six-mana conditional sorcery-speed threat when combo, control, and aggro are the top decks, but keep the Bolas’s Citadel lists in mind as the format bogs down to midrange.
This all said, if you want a card draw spell, you should play Vivien Reid. She isn’t a horrible card, but she also isn’t the second-best planeswalker behind Teferi, Hero of Dominaria anymore.
5. Gruul Is Solidly Sarkhan
Jim Davis fired off a planeswalker-heavy Gruul Midrange deck last week, maximizing Sarkhan the Masterless as the five-drop of the week. While his review of it on The Cedric A Phillips Podcast was less than glowing, that may have been more of the filler’s fault than the killer side of the deck.
- 4 Llanowar Elves
- 4 Rekindling Phoenix
- 4 Goblin Chainwhirler
- 4 Gruul Spellbreaker
- 4 Growth-Chamber Guardian
“Too many things that die to Goblin Chainwhirler” was the main complaint Jim had, and this list has less of that. Maybe I was a little too ambitious calling for Paradise Druid last week.
A minor, weird, and nice rules corner case: planeswalkers keep their loyalty abilities after you activate Sarkhan the Masterless and can use them, but aren’t planeswalkers. Domri, Anarch of Bolas can fight as a Dragon, and even do so by removing its last two loyalty while still surviving as an attacker until it turns back into a zero-loyalty pumpkin at end of turn.
6. Finale Phoenix Hits Beyond Modern
Izzet Phoenix did make a brief appearance at Mythic Championship Cleveland but was promptly returned to the dumpster by Esper Control and a wide spread of other decks. Why is it back again?
The starting point is Shock being great against red. Augur of Bolas, Arclight Phoenix, and Crackling Drake are all strong blockers in these decks that red is not good at pushing through. I specifically called out the fourth toughness on a blocker as the turning point, and Crackling Drake has caused months of issues for red decks as the perfect example of this.
The other part is another trend I pointed out last week. Cry of the Carnarium is just not really a big deal right now, and Esper Control without it struggles to find more exile effects than you find Arclight Phoenix.
Can we please stop playing Discovery, though? It is not friends with Finale of Promise, as it has converted mana cost equal to its combined parts when in the graveyard and not on the stack. Play something you can recast without Finale-ing for seven.
Also, yet another spot Teferi, Time Raveler is good by locking out Finale of Promise casting spells as it resolves. How does Arrester’s Admonition with upside matter so often?
7. We Found the Real Ral Combo
Okay so Splinter Twin ™ is GREAT. We even had t5 kills. @AutumnLilyMTG is great and raided us with like 200 people, and we got to combo kill someone the next match.
Deck here: https://t.co/MEEwSOwj3G
T5 clip: https://t.co/alfoqheWEC@arenadecklists pic.twitter.com/arz8vAnizg
— yoman5 (@yoman_5) May 7, 2019
Oops, here we go again.
- Minus Ral, Storm Conduit, leaving it alive.
- Cast Finale of Devastation, X at least four.
- Find Naru Meha, Master Wizard with the Finale copy.
- It enters the battlefield, copy the original Finale again.
- Find another Naru Meha, repeat.
- It legend-rules the first, which you can Reanimate with the Finale copies.
- Repeat until Ral triggers run them out of life.
Alternatively, Matt Nass and Sam Pardee found a different chain for a bit less mana. If you Neoform a three-drop to start, you don’t go infinite but you can chain Spark Doubles to copy Naru Meha prior to resolving the last Neoforms. Five Naru Mehas with a +1/+1 counter is forty power alone, and you get seven Ral triggers plus another for each extra Naru Meha you legend through, which is probably lethal. Sadly there’s no good haste granter to finish with for a true combo kill.
Okay, this is maybe not quite the same as Felidar Guardian plus Saheeli Rai. You can’t cast the combo in either order; leading on Finale of Devastation and then casting Ral, Storm Conduit doesn’t do anything. The pieces also don’t combo with battlefield presence producers or do it for free, the way you could copy or Flicker Rogue Refiner. Even copying Opt pushes you into the clunky five-mana range for immediate value.
But even with this caveat, Ral and Naru Meha still add up to two reasonable cards that go infinite together. Keep a close eye on this one.
8. The Elderspell Is Very Playable
The format has gone full Ouroboros this week, consuming the things it just brought up.
The Elderspell is now a solid Standard playable. It kills planeswalkers. All the planeswalkers.
If anything keeps Vivien Reid alive in Standard, it is using The Elderspell boosts to get through to ultimate. You don’t even need an ultimate to make the bonus loyalty good. The Elderspell plays great small-ball with Narset, Parter of Veils.
Did I mention this week that Narset is two Azcanta, the Sunken Ruin activations, aka Dig Through Time? If not, just your weekly reminder that she is the most powerful card in War of the Spark.
SCG Syracuse Implications
A bump in four-toughness threats and various Phoenixes? Sounds like a Lava Coil weekend.
Mono-Red Aggro is still fine in the face of this light resistance. Not insane like SCG Richmond, but still totally fine. If you are a red mage, do your thing.
Gruul seems like it checks off the “good bodies versus red and Lava Coil” boxes. I also don’t mind haste and trample Gruul Spellbreaker against planeswalker decks. Despite my prior statement about Sarkhan the Masterless I would take another look at Skarrgan Hellkite. Haste is just the traditional planeswalker answer, and the +1/+1 option on riot pushes it out of Lava Coil range.
Noncreature counterspells are at a high point. Stopping Simic Nexus, Esper Control, and Jeskai SuperFriends is good stuff. Teferi, Time Raveler and Narset, Parter of Veils dodge Disdainful Stroke, so Negate and Spell Pierce are notably better.
I still like the position of a good Grixis deck. The planeswalker kill on Nicol Bolas, Dragon-God gets better literally every day. You might even catch me with a couple of copies of Nicol Bolas, the Ravager as a worse Basilica Bell-Haunt against Mono-Red Aggro. I wish I could play Crackling Drake the same way I want to play Elite Guardmage in Esper Midrange, but UURR Drake into UBBBR Nicol Bolas is a task you need Vivid Creek for, not Watery Grave.
Regardless, I would expect a much broader top-table metagame at SCG Syracuse compared to SCG Richmonnd. We established the linear strategic threats, and now we’re establishing a variety of answers. Just having the exact right answers for last event’s decks won’t be enough. Pack those but try to play broad-spectrum powerful threats and answers when clearing the specific hurdles of Mono-Red Aggro, Esper Control, and Simic Nexus.