Fact Or Fiction: SCG Tour Commentator Clash!

Two SCG Syracuse commentators, five questions…one winner! Cedric Phillips and Craig Krempels tackle topics such as Ramunap Red’s future and whether Todd Stevens’s latest Modern masterpiece is Tier 1!

[Welcome to Fact or Fiction! This week, our SCG Syracuse broadcasters Cedric Phillips and Craig Krempels take on five pressing Magic questions. Read their answers and vote for the winner in the poll at the end!]

1. With five copies in the Top 8 of Pro Tour Hour of Devastation, Ramunap Red is the best deck in Standard.

Cedric Phillips: Fact. But maybe for not the reason you think. Obviously Ramunap Red is a very good deck, as it put five players into the Top 8 at Pro Tour Hour of Devastation. But what I stated earlier this week in my breakdown of the Top 8, I will state once again here:

Ramunap Red isn’t an average-power-level red deck that happens to be a fine choice within the metagame. Ramunap Red isn’t a low-power-level red deck that is attempting to take advantage of a very specific metagame. Ramunap Red is a high-power-level red deck that sets the metagame.

But one thing I also think that Ramunap Red can do that people are overlooking? It can adjust and overcome a hostile metagame. Right now, everyone is gunning for Ramunap Red and I think they’re going to be in for a rude awakening when they see that not only can the deck beat their creative answers, but they might come to table with cards that people aren’t expecting. Remember – there are a lot of really good red cards in this Standard format. And there are a lot of really good nonred cards that Ramunap Red can cast that are seriously underplayed (hello, Thought-Knot Seer and Reality Smasher).

If you think Ramunap Red is dead to stuff like Gifted Aetherborn and Kalitas, Traitor of Ghet, think again, my friend. This deck can adjust to what you’re doing, chew it up, and spit it out. Good luck.

Craig Krempels: Fact. At last week’s Pro Tour, all the big teams knew that Ramunap Red was the deck to beat. They worked for nearly a fortnight trying to find decks that were good against the deck but were also solid against the rest of the field. The end result? Most of the teams couldn’t find a list that checked off both of those boxes. Even Shaheen Soorani settled on playing Ramunap Red because the deck is just that good!

The reason this red deck is the best deck, and better than most other red decks we have seen recently, is that it plays extremely well in all phases of the game. It has brutally punishing starts that steal wins if the opponent stumbles for even a second. As things advance into the midgame, rivals still need to be wary of all the haste creatures and the various effects that make it impossible to block. In the late-game, Hazoret the Fervent is an absolute haymaker that usually goes unanswered because the opposition had to expend so many resources surviving the early turns.

A last point of emphasis: this deck does not flood out! Dumping mana into Hazoret, sacrificing Deserts to Ramunap Ruins, and returning an Earthshaker Khenra with eternalize are all powerful effects that give this red deck reach to close out games and add usefulness to what were typically dead land draws in the past. I don’t even have the space to properly acknowledge other all-stars such as Bomat Courier or Chandra, Torch of Defiance.

2. Due to B/G’s flexible and customizable nature, it will wind up being the best deck in Standard prior to the introduction of Ixalan.

Cedric: Fact. I think it will take some time for players to find the best build of B/G because the metagame is heavily in flux right now, but once things settle down some, B/G will be able to come with the right threats and answers to clean up the metagame. Right now, it’s debatable whether B/G Energy, B/G Delirium, or B/G Constrictor is the best version of the deck, but I think in time the true answer will reveal itself.

Look at some of the two-drops B/G can play:

Which of these is the best? Great question! But I imagine that answer becomes a lot clearer once this wacky (and admittedly awesome) Standard metagame settles down. And once that becomes clear, we’ll likely have a better idea which removal to play; which five-drops to play (Verdurous Gearhulk versus Ishkanah, Grafwidow); and if a Traverse the Ulvenwald package is good or not.

As much as I love Ramunap Red and Zombies right now, I think B/G comes out on top when things are said and done.

Craig: Fiction. While B/G may be one of the best ways to beat back the red tide, it relies heavily on having a maindeck tuned specifically for that matchup. As this current metagame develops, I do not think that the B/G deck will have the tools to stay on top of everything. The issue is that if B/G starts to grab more of the metagame pie, opponents will adapt to this with bigger decks that go over the top of B/G. In an arms race, I would take Torrential Gearhulk over Verdurous Gearhulk every time.

There is also the fact that the highly tuned B/G deck that we saw in the Top 8 of the Pro Tour, which was designed specifically with Ramunap Red in mind, still only had a small edge in that matchup. The red deck was so good that even opponents that were gunning for it couldn’t find ways to pick up more than a couple of percentage points in the matchup.

3. Even though the deck receives a ton of praise, Death’s Shadow isn’t actually the best deck in Modern.

Cedric: Fiction. But I’m not saying fiction with a lot of confidence here. I’ve watched a lot of Death Shadow matches with Craig over the past few months, and every time I finish watching the deck play, win or lose, I always think to myself, “My goodness that deck is absurd.” It’s weird to have a deck be so intrinsically powerful and not win at the rate that people expect. Speaking solely about the Grixis version, the deck is full of entirely one-mana spells, and the spells that cost more mana kill a creature or two-for-one the opponent into next week!

So why doesn’t this deck win more? Truthfully, I’m not sure. You would think a deck that can do what Death’s Shadow does would be racking up the first-place trophies, but that simply isn’t happening. Its results aren’t poor, but I think our community at large has been expecting more – especially at GP Las Vegas, where all the best people in the room played the deck and none of them managed to make the elimination rounds.

I will say this – Death’s Shadow is a great de facto best deck to have in Modern, even if it isn’t the best deck. It’s fun to play with, fun to play against, fun to observe, and fun to metagame against. Even if the numbers don’t bear out that it’s the best deck (perhaps that title belongs to Eldrazi Tron?), the illusion of it being the best deck is a good thing for the format.

Craig: Fiction. I hope everyone playing Modern understands that Death’s Shadow is the best deck in the format. This does not mean that you have to be playing with Death’s Shadow in order to have a chance to win the tournament, or that every other competitive deck has a poor matchup against Death’s Shadow. Players just need to know that the current modern landscape has been warped by a singular powerful deck and that they had better show up to tournaments with a strategy against that deck. Some evidence to support this? Lightning Bolt is rarely seen being cast these days. It is just too poor of a spell against the best deck in the format.

The Death’s Shadow creatures are cheap, and they are massive. The deck has excellent disruption, both proactive in the form of discard and reactive in the form of counterspells and graveyard recursion. The deck has ridiculous velocity, meaning it sees a ton of cards each game, adding to consistency and helping it find specific cards needed for various situations. And finally, Death’s Shadow gives its pilot a ridiculous edge in matchups against inexperienced opponents. Many players simply do not understand the implications of attacking a Death’s Shadow player at different points in the game. Put it all together and you have a recipe for deck that stands at Tier 1 by itself.

4. After his Team Constructed win at SCG Atlanta, Todd Stevens’s G/W Company deck, as strange as it looks, should be considered a Tier 1Modern deck.

Cedric: Fact. Let’s take a look at Todd Stevens’s Modern resume, shall we?

  • Created Bant Company. Deck was/is busted.
  • Created Eldrazi Tron. Deck was/is busted.
  • Created W/R Prison. Deck wasn’t/isn’t busted, but he sure won with it a lot.

Now we have another crazy Todd Stevens brew and you want me to tell you that it’s not awesome? That’s just not going to happen. Look, I don’t “get” this G/W Company deck, but he keeps cleaning people up with it. You couldn’t pay me to register it in a Modern tournament because it doesn’t look like it does anything, but at this point, I can readily admit that Handsome Todd is a much better Modern player than I am.

So if you’re curious about what a trip to Value Town looks like, sleeve this thing up and have a blast. You’ll probably win a lot more than I think.

Craig: Fiction. I have seen Todd streaming this G/W Company concoction a lot recently and having success doing it. Then he took the deck to a major SCG tournament and put it through those proving grounds. So why am I still not a believer?

Well, we have seen this sort of thing before.

Jeff Hoogland used to trample all over people with his Kiki-Chord home-brew, but when other people picked up the deck, it couldn’t find the same levels of success. You see, I am skeptical of the possibility of many G/W Company decks emulating Todd’s list making their way into the elimination rounds of our Opens.

While it may seem like I am discounting Todd as a deckbuilder, I think it is more accurate to say that I am complimenting him as a player. He really puts in the reps to understand every matchup, and he gains edges both by being more prepared than his opponents and by them not knowing what exactly what to expect out of his rogue builds. I think Todd would be a top player with many, many different archetypes because he is that good, and right now he has chosen this G/W Company deck to be his favored archetype. The G/W deck is not Tier 1, but Todd is.

5. An unexpected deck will win the Modern Open in Syracuse this weekend.

Cedric: Fiction. Death’s Shadow is winning this week. Deal with it.

Craig: Fiction. This is the question that has me the least certain. Modern is a wonderfully shifting format, with new decks and forgotten foes weaving in and out of the metagame all the time. Ignore Burn for too long and you will be roasted to a crisp. Start shaving a few Stony Silences from your sideboard and Affinity will make you regret it. Storm, Dredge, Tron, Scapeshift, Death’s Shadow, Merfolk, Control variants, Living End, Hate Bears! The list goes on and on. What do we really expect and which decks count as unexpected? Honestly, I would not be shocked if an entirely new archetype caught us all off-guard this weekend.

But this question is really asking what I think is most likely to happen. In my eyes, Death’s Shadow is still Enemy Number One and has the best chance of winning every Modern tournament for the foreseeable future. I have already highlighted what makes it the best deck in the format, but I did not really delve into just how adaptable the deck is. It can shift from being more controlling to more aggressive by swapping a few cards or by completely switching a color. The sideboard has evolved along with the metagame so that Death’s Shadow often feels one step ahead. For a while people, thought Lingering Souls were a deciding factor against the deck, but it adapted. Affinity surged to the top for a while, but, again, Death’s Shadow adapted. As long as people are willing to put in the time, I think this deck will continue to have the tools to stay in front of the field.