Eye On The Metagame: French And Swedish Nationals

Since the first day the Legions spoiler hit the web, there has been a scramble to build a good deck that includes Withered Wretch and/or Graveborn Muse. Both cards offer very powerful effects, but each had trouble finding the right team to go with them. After some initial practice with Stephane Damizet’s winning zombie deck, I have to say that I’m quite impressed.

Whereas the recent German Nationals has made quite a splash (due at least in part to Kai’s recent Sideboard article), the results from May’s French Nationals seem to have slipped under the radar for many players. However, just like in the German event, Stephane Damizet’s eventual winner has a very strong deck to offer that falls outside the mainstream.

Since the first day the Legions spoiler hit the web, there has been a scramble to build a good deck that includes Withered Wretch and/or Graveborn Muse. Both cards offer very powerful effects, but each had trouble finding the right team to go with them. After some initial practice with this deck, I have to say that I’m quite impressed.

The combination of spells and creatures lends itself to a surprisingly versatile attack that can be difficult to shut down easily. Corrupt and Cabal Archon allow the deck to go straight to the face, Unholy Grotto and Oversold Cemetery add recursion and resilience, and Graveborn Muse adds a badly needed card-drawing engine. Combine all that with a surprisingly quick attack on the ground and you’ve got a very strong and well-balanced archetype. After practicing with various similar decks based on G/B, Clerics, and Zombies, I’ve had far more success with this build than any other related deck, and I highly recommend a good look from anybody looking for a deck in the current environment.

My main complaint is the lack of access to Cabal Therapy – an incredible disruption weapon in a deck like this and a useful way to dump off Muses that become problematic. The problem is keeping enough creatures to power your Oversold Cemeteries, as otherwise the Mesmeric Fiends would be a likely swap. The jury’s still out on how best to get those Therapies into the deck (or at least sideboard) but even without them this archetype is well worth your scrutiny. Lastly, be aware that Damizet also went undefeated in the Swiss rounds with this deck, posing an impressive 9-0 over the course of the two constructed days.

Farid Meraghni resurrected the deck Franck Canu took to first place at the Chicago Masters all the way back in January. While it initially generated quite a bit of buzz, the deck quickly fell out of favor due to difficulty against R/G and a very risky mana base. The retrospect consensus seemed to be that Canu had been pretty lucky with his list and that the archetype was doomed to be a relic.

But with R/G on the decline, the door may be opening again on this deck’s opportunities – and Farid has made some interesting changes to help the deck’s consistency. First off, he’s gone to twenty-five land (from a scant twenty-two in the original) while upping the black count from eight to a more comfortable eleven. Looking at the other changes, Farid’s list adds Llanowar Elves #4, Therapy #3 and #4, and Call of the Herd #4. To add those cards (and the three land) he drops all three Duresses (which move to the sideboard), the fourth Deep Analysis, and two Wild Mongrels… Which means when it’s compared to Canu’s deck, you get the following changes:

+3 Land

+1 Elf

+2 Therapy

+1 Call of the Herd

+2 Phantom Centaur

-2 Mongrel

-1 Deep Analysis

-3 Duress

Notice anything funny about those two lists? (Hint: One is nine cards, the other is only six…)

If you answered”sixty-three cards?!” you’re right! So if nothing else, Farid gets credit for the first sixty-three card deck I’ve seen at a premier event Top 8 in a long, long time. Keeping that in mind, it seems like this list can’t possibly be the best way to go, particularly since you’re committing so many slots to a combo that only gets harder to find the bigger the deck is. Given his 5-1 record in the Swiss and 2-1 in the elimination rounds, however, it may still be worth your time to find a way to get this deck down to proper fighting size.

Covering the other lists in briefer detail, Olivier Ruel played one of the two Wake decks to make Top 4. His deck was able to post a 5-0 performance in the Swiss rounds before losing to Antoine Menard’s U/G deck in the final round of Day 1. His main deck list is pretty standard for a twenty-seven land approach, but his sideboard is worth noting in that it carries almost none of the anti-control cards that many current lists use (such as two Seedtime or Compulsion #4). While this hurts the already poor ‘Tog match-up, it frees up a lot of space for aggro answers, allowing him to run a full four Chastises and two Teroh’s Faithfuls in addition to Exalted Angel #4.

The other Wake deck to make Top 8 was piloted by Willfried Ranque. Ranque went undefeated in the Swiss rounds (though he drew in round 1), losing only in the elimination rounds to eventual winner Damizet. His Wake goes the original route of straight-combo game 1, but retains the Angel option for sideboarded duels.

Two U/G decks made it to the Top 8, but both ended up in 5th-8th. Antione Menard’s deck went 5-0-1 in the Swiss and is most notable for including a ballsy three Centaur Gardens. In combination with two Cities of Brass, that’s a ton of damage to be dishing out to yourself – but he’s able to mitigate that by including a full set of four Unsummons to help out-tempo the aggro decks most likely to punish him for such a painful mana set. The way he makes room for all that is by ditching the Quiet Speculation engine completely, including all copies of Deep Analysis. Not counting Careful Study, that leaves just three Merfolk Looters to do the card-drawing duties, but running the deck this way should improve its matchups against the increasing presence of Withered Wretch in decks and sideboards. Whether others will choose to follow this more focused beatdown approach remains to be seen – but my guess is that you won’t see many similar decks at upcoming events.

Skipping over Karim Aouidad’s more typical U/G list, we come to a pair of mono-black decks. Alexandre ran an AggroControl approach that packs more removal and discard than the Champion’s deck, running only sixteen creatures to the Champ’s twenty-seven. The differences between the two decks (and the pure mono-Black control deck that got Yann Hamon to 8th) really highlight the range of roles available to black right now. With access to so much good removal, disruption, and a surprisingly good creature base, there’s a lot more options than one deck can fit. My own experience is that you’re probably best off focusing on one or the other (control or aggro). While I’ve had decent results with this more middle-of-the-way approach, I’ve been more impressed with the power black gains from focusing more specifically on either Control or Aggro.

Before we start trying to piece together the metagame as a whole, let’s take a quick look at a breakdown of the recent Swedish Nationals Top 8, posted June 2nd on www.decklab.com:

Swedish Nationals, 2003

1st: MBC (Mono-black control)

2nd: G/B Oversold Cemetery

3rd: Wake

4th: Tog

5th – 8th: Wake

5th – 8th: Wake

5th – 8th: MBC

5th – 8th: U/G

Keeping that in mind, here’s the Top 8 breakdowns from the other two events:

German Nationals, 2003

1st: Elves

2nd: Reanimator

3rd: Tog (some resemblance to Zevatog)

4th: Reanimator

5th – 8th: MBC

5th – 8th: MBC

5th – 8th: U/G/W Madness

5th – 8th: Goblins

French Nationals, 2003

1st: Zombies

2nd: U/G/B Opposition

3rd: Wake

4th: Wake

5th – 8th: U/G

5th – 8th: U/G

5th – 8th: MBC

5th – 8th: Black AggroControl

Adding all that up, we get:

Wake: 5

MBC: 5

U/G: 4 (including one U/G/W Madness hybrid)

Tog: 2

Reanimator: 2

G/B: 1

Elves: 1

Goblins: 1

U/G/B Opposition: 1

Zombies: 1

Black AggroControl: 1

Now, keep in mind that this is just looking at archetypes that made the Top 8 – it doesn’t take into account how much each deck was played. Also, keep in mind that some number of these players made Top 8 more on their drafting record than their performance in the Standard competition.

That said, it’s still interesting to note the trends as long as you take it with a healthy grain of salt. That Wake, MBC, and U/G are showing up at the top in such numbers will surprise few who’ve been tracking this environment. Perhaps most surprising is the complete absence of even one R/G deck in any of the Top 8s I’ve covered. Also, note just how many different decks we’re talking about here – that’s eleven different decks in only twenty-four slots!

For a better look at the decks showing up in the first place, let’s look at the stats from Day 1 of German Nationals, courtesy of the excellent coverage over on German-language site www.planetmtg.de:

U/G: 28

Tog: 24

R/G: 16

MBC: 14

Zombies: 12

Wake: 12

Reanimator: 9

Goblins: 7

Slide: 5

Beasts: 5

Opposition: 3

G/W Beatdown: 3

Elves: 2

I wasn’t able to track down similar stats for the other two events, but a single event gives a good feel for where things are currently. While U/G, Tog, and R/G are still the three most-played decks, several other decks are rising to challenge the original Tier 1. R/G seems the most vulnerable, commonly showing up at events as one of the three most-played decks but finishing disappointingly as a whole given the numbers showing up with the deck.

Interestingly, if you take the Zombies category out of that list, the top five remaining decks make up what I have lately been considering the current Tier 1 group – namely, Wake, Tog, MBC, U/G, and R/G. However, with R/G seeming to continue its downward trend in success, and given how impressed I am with the Elves deck (as played by Dirk Baberowski), I’d currently list my tentative Tier 1 as:






In addition, I’d list the French Champion’s deck as potentially Tier 1 or close. I’m impressed with the deck but I haven’t had the chance to test it enough to add it to the Tier 1 without some results from other events to back it up. Elves, on the other hand, I’ve tested extensively over the last week, and I’m convinced that it is worthy of the Tier 1 slot though it’s considerably more open to hate than the other Tier 1 decks – which would suggest that it’s place will be tentative (or cyclical).

As to the better Tier 2 decks, for now I would add Reanimator, R/G, Zombies, and B/G to the top of that list. Looking at that list (and keeping in mind the decline of R/G) I’d also have to add that Goblins would seem to be back in the running for this category as well.

Which leads to the most telling conclusion of all for this environment: There are a staggering number of decks to choose from – and even many of the”Tier 2″ decks are completely viable! In a format with so many decks to prepare for, it’s impossible to come armed for everything, which makes it considerably easier for the second-tier decks to come to the party and go home happy. In fact, as the number of viable decks grows, the division between”Tier 1″ and”Tier 2″ is going to get increasingly difficult to make. Yes, there will be leading archetypes… But I suspect you’re going to see a continued blurring of where exactly to draw the line between the two tiers, if one can be drawn at all.

With all that in mind, I think it’s true more than ever that the key at this point is going in with what you know. In a format this spread out, there’s a lot of influence from deck and matchup knowledge. Practice hard, know your deck and as many of its matchups as possible, and there’s easily nine or more decks you can reasonably bring to the event with the aim of coming home a winner. Hats off to Wizards for what is almost surely the most diverse Standard format in history, and here’s to hoping that Scourge continues the trend.

Scott Johns