Examining Standard, and Black/Red in Extended

Mr. Remie brings us the latest edition of his Ask Jeroen column, tackling tricky reader-posed questions on all things Magical. Today’s grab-bag of topics includes Jeroen’s thoughts on the post-Champs Standard metagame, an examination of an intriguing Black/Red Extended aggro deck, plus much more!

Hey all, and welcome to another edition of my weekly column. States reports have been around the Web, and I’d like to congratulate our own Mike Flores on winning his State Championship.

So what does all of this mean? No one really knows. The winning decks were very dependant on draws, matchups, and the amount of players that played them. Each state had its own different mini metagame, and this means that even if a deck won an event, that doesn’t automatically make it a great deck. MTGO Standard queues are going to be very exciting, and will lead into Worlds, after which we should really know which of the (at least) fifteen viable decks right now are the real deal, and which are one-trick ponies that depended on surprise value and strong draws.

Up until that point, I’ll be here answering your questions about… well, everything, as you will be able to see in this column. All the questions came from [email protected] again, so email me if you want me to cover your questions.

This week’s first question is by regular questioner Ray Bechtel:

1. By the time this e-mail is answered, Champs will have come and gone. I didn’t attend mine, but oh well, there’s always next year. Hopefully, the decklists are up, and the smoke has cleared. What do you think about the decks that did well?

Your first question basically inspired my intro, and is highly relevant right now. I feel some things have become very clear from looking at the results, and I’ll list a couple of them for you:

  • Aggressive decks are not what wins tourneys. Zoo and Boros were very well presented almost everywhere, and didn’t take home the trophies. This basically means that if you are looking for a 4-2 result, aggression will be a decent enough choice… but if you want to win tournaments, you’d better pick something else. This doesn’t alter the fact that aggressive decks should be in every gauntlet, and your deck has to be able to beat them.
  • Rakdos was nowhere. One of the best decks, in my opinion, and yet it was completely absent.
  • Solar Pox has been adopted as the best version of the Solar Tide Franchise. Whether this is because it is new and exciting, or that it is just better than regular Tide versions, remains to be seen.
  • Ghazi Glare is back, and everywhere. For a while this deck basically disappeared, getting minimal play both on MTGO and in real life, but with the addition of Stonewood Lava Axe and Deranged Hermit, it gained the speed and power it needed to claw its way back to the top.
  • Dragonstorm is not a “good” deck. It’s very inconsistent, with people playing it everywhere (it was one of the most played decks), it made a couple of top 8’s, but failed to actually break through. [Heh. 28 Top 8s and 3 Champs titles, according to Evan… – Craig.]
  • Despite what people feared, Blue is not the big bad. Counterspells are not good enough still, and despite the color seeing much play, it is more as a support color – like Green back in the day – than a main color. Remand and Compulsive Research are basically what you see in Blue. People yell all the time about how Blue is best suited to abuse the good stuff from other colors, like Green, but the main thing it took away from that color seems to be the fact that it is only viable as a support color.

2. How successful do you think Draw-Go decks are going to be? I used to play a Counter-Ghazi deck, but I stopped, because I’m an idiot with counterspells. “Greater Good, you say? Sure, I’ll let it resolve…”

This is answered in my last point. With threats being cheaper and stronger, and counterspells getting worse and worse, Blue Draw-Go style decks seem to be dead in the water. The Blue decks that do succeed have cheap answers, like Lightning Helix, or reanimation tricks. Not your standard “Draw-Go twenty-plus counterspell” decks.

3. White has Faith’s Fetters, Condemn, and Wrath of God. With Akroma around, do you think White might be the best choice for removal spells? How much do you think Akroma will change the format?

Add Lightning Helix and Mortify to that list, and you’ll easily see that White is indeed the best removal color in the format. These don’t stop Akroma, but they do prove that if you want great removal, you should look at White.

As for if Akroma is going to change the format… I don’t think so. Decks don’t seem to change much because of her; they just get better finishers. Voids, Edicts and the White spells take care of her, but don’t float to the top. This means she isn’t that defining — she’s just another, stronger, kill condition. The only strategy I see her truly devaluating is the Skred snow-based control of the KarstenBot school of decks. They can’t touch her, and auto-lose if she hits the board, which means they basically become unplayable.

Next up, Alex Barry:

I was wondering… when you dismissed Tormod’s Crypt as a viable sideboard card in the current Standard metagame, did you think that Jotun Grunt could find a place in more sideboards now that many decks use a win condition of reanimating an Akroma?

I never said Tormod’s Crypt is not a decent sideboard card against some decks, and in some decks sideboards. All I said is that it is not an auto-include in every single sideboard, as it seemed to keep on popping up lately. With the new development of Solar Pox, which is hit very hard by Crypt, it might become very good if that is what your deck needs.

Jotun Grunt, on the other hand, really needs a lot of graveyards to be very full. It is played in Extended because the Fetchlands allow it to stay in play for that one extra turn to deal four more damage, whereas in Standard it will just be a late-game card. As such, I don’t feel it fits a role; in slow decks there are better options, and in fast decks you don’t want late game cards. You generally don’t want reactive cards at all. No Crypt, No Grunt, no nothing. You are better off just killing them.

Ken Kilmer asks the following question:

I have been working on an MTGO Extended deck for several months. It started as Boros Deck Wins with a splash for Dark Confidant, but my experience with BDW led me to believe that the deck sucked, so I migrated to a more controlling Rakdos build with an LD package…

The general plan is to use Chrome Mox to drop an early Slith Firewalker or Dark Confidant, and then use burn and Land Destruction to control their side of the board or finish them off.

My online rating has improved by more than 100 points playing this deck in Extended Premier Events, but I can’t seem to break into a Top 8. Most of the time I seem to go X-2 and finish just short of Top 8.

I have decent match-ups against the expected field for game 1, and I think my sideboard improves most of my bad matchups… the deck I seem to have no luck against is the U/W control deck that recently gained in popularity. Their use of Signets makes my LD less than optimal (if I can get it past their countermagic), and post-sideboard the matchup only gets worse because they know to play around my land destruction.

With Time Spiral I will probably be adding Sudden ShockRift Bolt, Avalanche Riders and Magus of the Scroll look interesting too, but maybe not much better than cards already in the deck.

I think that I could lose one or two Withered Wretch in the maindeck. Pithing Needle seems like a great card for the cost, and it helps with some match-ups, but I haven’t found match-ups where it is huge.

Could you please give me some feedback on the deck in general, and suggest ways that I could improve the U/W control matchup specifically? Any thoughts you have on how this deck could get better with Time Spiral would be welcome too…

B/R Land Destruction

2 Grim Lavamancer
3 Slith Firewalker
4 Dark Confidant
4 Withered Wretch
2 Genju of the Spires
3 Seal of Fire
3 Lava Dart
3 Smother
4 Magma Jet
4 Molten Rain
4 Pillage
3 Chrome Mox
1 Wooded Foothills
2 Barbarian Ring
2 Swamp
4 Mountain
4 Bloodstained Mire
4 Blood Crypt
4 Sulfurous Springs

3 Leyline of the Void
3 Chainer’s Edict
3 Shattering Spree
3 Pithing Needle
3 Rain of Gore

This deck looks like a very competitive, very solid deck, one that you have obviously given a lot of thought to. This means that it is different to a lot of the other decks I generally see, which are usually earlier in their development.

To be honest, I find it hard to comment on this deck without testing it a whole lot. In general, I’ll give you some pointers off the top of my head:

Sudden Shock
Yes, this card belongs in the deck, as I feel it is just plain better than Smother in almost every matchup.

A little focus on the numbers
I have a feeling Sudden Shock will fix this, but playing two-ofs is usually not a great idea, and should be avoided most of the time. Especially with beatdown decks, as there you want a decklist that is as flat as possible, having as many four-ofs as possible.

The sideboard needs a lot of work
Playing random three-of copies of “good” cards doesn’t mean they make your deck better in a certain matchup. Leyline of the Void is a good card, but does it improve your matchups or does it slow you down? You mention Pithing Needle as a good card, but you have no clue what you really want it against… that makes it a versatile maindeck card, but not a good sideboard card. (However, don’t play it in this deck – it is not great for aggressive strategies).

The sideboard is where you feel the deck is lacking most – you mention you have good matchups game 1, but hurt game 2 and 3. Fix this, and you will have a great deck. Focus on the matchups that are weak, and devise a plan to beat them. You will not win by adding a bunch of reactive cards – stay active, make them deal, and figure out something to battle the superior end-game. Maybe even a card like Char or Flames of the Blood Hand will fix it.

I don’t like the other cards you mention from Time Spiral for the deck. Magus seems worse than Lavamancer, Rift Bolt seems slow, and Avalanche Riders doesn’t belong at all, since this is not a dedicated Land Destruction deck… it’s more a beatdown deck with disruption.

I hope this helped a little, as going into this further would require more testing than I can do right now. Just make sure you don’t get emotionally attached to this deck, and that you stay open for better versions of the same idea, like maybe Boros Deck Wins, which might have better sideboard options and the same gameplan maindeck. Good luck!

The next questions came by way of frequent e-mailer Sy Johnston:

How useful do you find Spell Snare to be in the new environment? Do you feel that it is maindeck worthy, should be left for the sideboard, or not at all? Of course, it should depend on the deck it’s being considered for, and in this case I’m talking about the U/G Simic list that you played updated for Time Spiral.

I feel like Spell Snare right now is not a very good option for maindecks. It used to be very good because of one card – Umezawa’s Jitte. This was the main gameplan of the U/G deck: to beat this card, and win with it. With the Evil Fork finally gone, the card lacks focus in supporting the main theme — namely, support the early threats. This means it is a sideboard card at best, as where in the past every deck had important two-mana cards, they now might not have any at all.

My observations seem to indicate that most creatures in Time Spiral Standard that jump into combat have a toughness of three. Do you perceive the critical number of three toughness to be a problem for the U/G Simic deck (using the current Ravitz and Flores list)? Of course, the deck you’re playing against influences how you deal with their creatures, but personally I like to play a deck that is fairly even against the field. In order to do that, I have to play cards that attack the common traits shared among the gauntlet. Since most of the decks’ creatures seem to have a critical toughness of three (or virtual toughness, if you want to block Knight of the Holy Nimbus), I want to make sure that I can push through or block them. Do you feel that the current U/G list needs to address this? Or do you feel its current cards address it just fine? Does Moldervine Cloak deal with it completely? Or does it sometimes walk you into an unfortunate two-for-one, making you wish it had been another card?

The U/G decks gameplan is never to really enter into combat. Your guys are there simply to put a clock on the opponent, and to gain card advantage. This means that you do not really care all that much about the toughness of your opponent’s creatures, (which is more a concern for decks like Rakdos, where this new focus on three is very important regarding deck construction).

The fact that you don’t like to fight means your deck becomes weak versus a lot of decks with creatures, and that is basically why Cloak entered the deck, as it fixed this problem and gave you an out versus creature decks. These decks also tend to be unable to two-for-one you, which makes Cloak even better.

I do not feel there is a whole lot more that U/G decks can do to address this problem, as if you expect a lot of three-butt creatures around, you would be wiser playing another deck.

Todd Jones is next, with his first ever question:

I’ve been doing a lot of reading lately about the new Standard, and it seems like for the most part everyone has completely forgotten about Lightning Angel. I was wondering what your thoughts were on an updated version of Star Spangled Slaughter. I was thinking something like the following

4 Seal of Fire
4 Savannah Lions
4 Unstable Mutation
4 Soltari Priest
4 Knight of the Holy Nimbus
4 Remand
4 Lightning Helix
4 Psionic Blast
4 Lightning Angel
2 Giant Solifuge
4 Shivan Reef
4 Forge[/author]“]Battlefield [author name="Forge"]Forge[/author]
4 Adarkar Wastes
4 Hallowed Fountain
4 Sacred Foundry
2 Steam Vents

It seems like some advantages of having Blue in the deck are Psionic Blast over Char, and (while it’s not Moldervine Cloak) Unstable Mutation.

On the other hand, is a four-butt just not big enough in a world filled with Psionic Blasts and Chars? Also, this deck really wants to have double-White on turn 2 but still have Blue and Red available, which makes for a really painful manabase.

Hi Todd.

Like you said yourself, you are basically only splashing for Lightning Angel, and then you’re forcing yourself into playing cards like Psionic Blast over Char and Unstable Mutation over Moldervine Cloak. To me, that means you are just playing Blue because of one card —one that isn’t even that great – and in doing so, you’re making your deck worse than other versions of R/W.

This seemed to have happened because you saw a limited card that you tried to build a deck around, instead of starting with a strategy and building upon that. Despite the lands being available, taking too much damage will still lose you games, especially since you don’t want your lands to come into play tapped. This is a beatdown deck, after all.

Decide what you want to do. You want an Angel deck? Go for Mike Flores States winning deck called “This Girl”.

Want to be R/W based beatdown? Stick to the more stable Boros. You’d better have a very good reason to splash when you do, and right now you are better off just playing some more two-drops, Griffin Guide, and regular Char.

Fellow Dutch forum dweller Dimitri asks me the following question:

What do you think of Marco van Basten?

Hey Dimitri! Nice question there, buddy…

Marco van Basten, as some of you might know, is the Manager of the Dutch National Soccer team, and has been known for his completely random decisions regarding the squad. I tend to be pretty vocal about his choices.

I think the man is an idiot, and has no clue what he is doing. The best thing that could happen for “our” squad would be if he got up and quit. This doesn’t mean I don’t respect him as a great player from the past, but really… he just sucks as a manager.

For those of you that want to know why he asked me this question, he referred to me as the Marco van Basten of the Dutch Magic scene, at which I immediately took a lot of offence, which was not meant as such. Apparently, some people still think he is awesome…

That’s it for this week, kids! Keep those questions coming, as the more of Time Spiral we see, the more interesting it becomes. [email protected] is the place to be, y’all!


PS: I normally dislike posting random chat-logs, but this one had me laughing so hard I had to share it with you all:

[rhoaen] so pack 1 I opens stormbind
[rhoaen] pack 2 I opens stonebrow
[rhoaen] classic modo making me play forests =[
[Sadeg] p3 kird ape?
[Sadeg] I’m green like every single draft
[JelgerW] yeah, same
[JelgerW] green is so good
[Sadeg] still haven’t lost
[Sadeg] yeah agreed
[rhoaen] I’m losing di
[Riptide] I’m always get shipped tromp umpteenth
[rhoaen] (except when I play forests) 🙁
[Riptide] but no other green cards
[rhoaen] I think my record in TS drafts on modo is
[Riptide] except spectral force 3rd
[rhoaen] 3-9
[rhoaen] (matches)
[JelgerW] I’m 9-0 today
[JelgerW] 6-0 with green decks
[Riptide] do you play the finals?
[JelgerW] yes
[JelgerW] gotta get the full 4 packs