With Scourge looming ever closer, there has been a real crimp in deck analysis for the current Standard format – and judging by my inbox, I’m not the only one wishing there were a few more articles for today’s format. Fortunately, we’ve had some significant events in the last few weeks to give us an intriguing look at how this dizzying environment continues to shape up. Amazingly, the format looks to have become even more diverse. Seriously – has there ever been a format even close to this wide open? Let’s start with the recent German Nationals, where Dirk Baberowski was able to take 1st with the following Elves deck.
Variants on this archetype have been around for some time now but the Elves have been gaining serious momentum since around the time of the World Championships Qualifier on Magic Online, where Tammy Ehrhart was able to make Top 8 with the following list.
Initially dismissed by many as an amusing oddity, the archetype turns out to be an absolute wrecking ball against U/G Madness (often the most-played deck in Standard) and brings serious game to many of the other decks in the format as well. The Magic Online event was no tea party, and doubters should know that Peter Szigeti won the SoCal Regionals with a similar build and an 8-0 record (plus two intentional draws).
Slide and Goblins are your worst matchups, but those archetypes have dropped significantly in popularity (and success). R/G can also be difficult but it’s not unwinnable, and in return you get a bye against deck-to-beat U/G, and good matchups against Tog, MonoBlack Control, and most rogue decks.
However, the other problem for this deck is Wake, which rose to prominence at nearly the same time. With zero disruption (except for raw speed) and a complete reliance on the attack phase, the best the Elves can do is hope for Wake players to stutter in the early turns. Wins that do come tend to be at the hands of a missing (or uncastable) Wrath of God and/or Moment’s Peace. With enough mana open and a Wirewood Herald in play, you can also sometimes steal a win by leaving Caller of the Claw mana up to answer their Wrath, but normally Wake will be able to set up a counter for this in time.
That all changes with Dirk’s deck, however. By including the full four-pack of Flaring Pain (and the mana to cast it) this version is able to drastically improve the Wake matchup, bringing it from nearly unwinnable to roughly even or better, particularly if the opponent isn’t on their toes or doesn’t know what’s coming.
With Goblins and Slide on the decline and even R/G showing difficulty staying in the Tier 1 hangouts, this deck has what it takes to win events. Your #1 fear is Engineered Plague, and those have already shown a marked increase in many lists, but it’s very difficult to have answers for everything in a format like this. My guess is that the archetype will continue to do well, perhaps leading to a cycle of increasing Plagues, decreasing Elf victories, decreasing Plagues, increasing Elf wins, and so on. Certainly the deck is likely to make an impact at the upcoming Nationals events and Grinders still remaining in this format – if nothing else, players will be forced to take yet another strong deck into account when trying to force all those answers into one tiny little sideboard.
As to other directions to take the deck, I’ve been fairly unhappy with the Coat of Arms and I miss having at least one Tribal Forcemage to fetch out as an Overrun-like effect when needed. One thing I’ve heard several people suggest is instead splashing White for Shared Triumph, a card that both increases the deck’s power while also allowing a built-in answer to Plague that keeps you from having to play guessing games with Naturalize against any deck with swamps. I haven’t had a chance to try this out – but if you’re willing to eat the loss in the Wake matchup, this could be a good way to answer the Plague issue without watering the deck down.
Speaking of Swamps, what about Thomas Neumaier’s Reanimator deck at the German Nationals? Or Peer Kroger’s?
Thomas Neumaier took his deck to a 6-0 performance in the Standard event, and extended that streak to an impressive 8-0 before losing to Dirk in the finals, giving pause to those who’ve labeled Reanimator as”inconsistent.” That the deck is for real is further bolstered by the presence of Peer KrÃ¶ger in the Top 4 with a similar build. Starting with the two main decks, the players agree on the core of:
4 Burning Wish
3 Buried Alive
Both players include seven dedicated removal spells, Neumaier with four Smothers and 3 Innocent Bloods, KrÃ¶ger with two Smothers, two Innocent Bloods, and three Chainer’s Edicts. Things get more interesting when we move to the actual reanimation spells:
Neumaier: 3 Zombify, 2 Stitch Together, 4 Doomed Necromancer
KrÃ¶ger: 4 Zombify, 3 Stitch Together
KrÃ¶ger breaks a lot of new ground with this approach, running a seemingly scant seven reanimation spells. Whether or not this is an improvement over the more typical nine remains to be seen, but for those who seek to emulate this I would make sure not to remove any of the three Entombs, at least while you get used to this configuration. Without the Entombs, your Burning Wishes will be forced to get graveyard loading in the form of Buried Alive much more often. With those two”extra” reanimation slots saved, KrÃ¶ger gets space for a Cabal Therapy and a Recoup. Testing will show if you can get away with skimping on combo parts this way… But if you can, these are certainly good cards to use the space on. Recoup in particular is handy in that it can reuse previous parts of the combo, as well as help force through what combo you did manage to draw when facing disruption.
When it comes to the creatures, both players went with a mere five targets, which is also considerably lower than many other approaches out there. Doing so is how they’ve gained space for the Entombs, meaning that they have fewer reanimation targets but more ways to get them into the graveyard. This means that the creatures that do make the cut have to offer as much impact as possible. With that in mind, both players agreed on all but one card by including one each of Phantom Nishoba, Visara, Undead Gladiator, and Anger. KrÃ¶ger’s version includes a Symbiotic Wurm, whereas Neumaier opts for Arcanis, leaving the Wurm in the board.
Finally, there is the mana – both players agree on the standard twenty-five lands, but how they use those slots shows some interesting differences:
4 Barren Moor
4 Bloodstained Mire
2 Sulfurous Springs
1 Shadowblood Ridge
4 Barren Moor
4 Bloodstained Mire
KrÃ¶ger’s version includes dual lands at the expense of some true mountains, giving him one extra red source for eleven total, as compared to the more straight-forward mana of Neumaier. KrÃ¶ger’s version gets to go up to twenty Black sources rather than eighteen, but I’m not sure that tradeoff is worth the loss of two Mountains, making it that much harder to get Anger online when it counts.
After spending some time with each list, my impression is that Neumaier has the better listing. My feeling is that having the extra Entombs gets a lot better when you also have the full nine reanimation spells, making the deck more likely to combo and thus more consistent, more resilient against disruption, and more likely to be able to use Wish optimally. I like the two extra cards that KrÃ¶ger gains by skimping on two reanimation slots, but I suspect the price isn’t quite worth it. With such a powerful deck, I’d prefer consistency over getting too fancy.
I also prefer Neumaier’s removal base, mostly because I think four Smothers are a must with so many Withered Wretches running about. In terms of the creature base, I think it’s a dead heat as both Arcanis and Wurm have so much to recommend them that I still can’t pick between them and they each serve many of the same roles. Forced to choose on the spot, I’d go with Neumaier, putting Arcanis main and saving the Wurm for game 2. (Then again, I’d be splashing green for the Genesis/Gigapede duo, which makes Wurm more impressive since you can keep dropping him out and you already have long-term staying power from your recursion – but that’s just me…)
Lastly there’s the mana, and I’m going to give Neumaier the nod on this one as well, as I think lowering the odds of getting an actual Mountain into play early can really hurt the deck’s chances. It’s amazing how much worse this deck is when it doesn’t have Haste available.
Since we covered 2nd and 4th in the same section, I ended up skipping over the third man to make the German team this year – Falk Berhardt, playing a Psychatog deck. If there’s one theme to this event’s Top 4, it must be”expected the unexpected.” Falk’s is wild for his inclusion of an amazing seven bounce spells – something I haven’t seen in ‘Tog in a very long time. By dropping his Black removal down to only four Smothers, Falk could care less about Compost, and all that bounce combined with Standstill can cause real fits for several creature strategies. The tradeoff is that several of those bounce spells have come at the cost of Compulsion and other card drawing, making this deck considerably worse against opposing control decks. Instead, he keeps most of the anti-control in the board, gunning for the aggro decks game 1. As an added bonus, this build is near-invincible against Reanimator decks – something that hasn’t mattered in a while, but sure came into play this time!
For the remaining decks of the event’s Top 8, I’m going to go into less detail, starting with Jan Brinkmann’s MBC. Since it has straightforward main deck, there’s not much of note to comment on for this one. Instead, it’s the sideboard that makes this one interesting. Disrupting Scepter is interesting anti-control tech that I’ve seen move in and out of popularity, but I wonder how well you can force it through with only four Duresses as early disruption? Ensnaring Bridge is something I saw start popping up around the time of Regionals as one possible answer to the R/G Compost problem, sometimes in conjunction with Laquatus’ Champions – something to keep in mind if you expect a sizable R/G showing and still want to take MBC to the dance.
The first time I saw this list, I had to do a double-take to verify that the Grim Lavamancers really were in Bernd Brendmuhl’s Sligh sideboard. Considering their value against both Control and Aggro decks, I’m still really surprised to see this guy warming the bench. I suppose an argument can be made that two Petrified Fields indicates he’s really hoping to get that Barbarian Ring action going, but more likely I’m guessing that this was the only way he could make room for Browbeat and still keep a high Goblin count. However, Kai reports that Bernd came to German Nationals unqualified and managed to take this deck to a 6-0 in the grinder, then a 5-1 in the Standard event (losing only to Neumaier’s Reanimator). That’s an impressive enough run that the deck deserves a second look, but it’ll take a lot of playtesting to convince me that the Lavamancers aren’t starting material.
White/Green Madness, meet Blue/Green Madness in Maxim Barkmann’s hybrid build. Why pick when you can have both? Normally one of the scarier parts of attempting something like this is the mana, but given that the Blue/Green deck already typically has two or three Cities of Brass and that both share White as a allied color, it’s easier than you might think to get the extra colored mana. In fact, note that this deck’s color breakdown works out to:
That’s pretty good all things considered, and allows for a more versatile deck as well as specific power cards like Worship. There have been a lot of attempts at mixing various degrees of White into the U/G archetype, and this is one of the better versions I’ve seen.
Holger Althues’ four-Undead Gladiator Monoblack Control build reminds me of StarCityGames author Tomi Walamies‘ article Punishment: The Deck They Shoulda Used At The Masters, and a good look at both lists suggests more than a passing resemblance. The sideboards are quite different however, leaning even more heavily on Scepter than the other MBC Top 8 list, and skipping on the Bridge plan to instead go for Visara overload. I also really like the anti-control approach here, which allows upping the 1cc discard to eight by including four Cabal Therapy, making those Scepters more likely to hit play. This hasn’t been as popular an approach as some other MBC versions, but I think it’s well worth a second look from anyone thinking about this archetype.
And with that we’ll come to a (merciful) close, at least for now. I’ll next be looking at the curiously-overlooked French Nationals in an article I hope to have done in the next day or two – at which point we can use the data from those two articles to take a good look at the metagame implications of all these results. Until then!