Fact Or Fiction: Welcome To New Standard!

New format, new changes to the IQ program, new everything! Standard is in the air, and that means Brad Nelson and Brian Braun-Duin are looking to argue over the topics that matter most in Magic heading to #SCCATL!

[CEDitor’s Note: Hello everyone and welcome to another edition of Fact or Fiction! In this column, two Premium writers will answer
five questions provided by yours truly on Magic-related topics. At the end, you have the opportunity to vote on who won the head-to-head battle. This week,
we have the reigning Open Series Players’ Champion and North Dakota’s favorite son Brad Nelson doing battle against Grand Prix Oklahoma City runner up and
ninth place aficionado Brian Braun-Duin!]

With Brian DeMars victory last weekend at #SCGINDY, Atarka Red is the deck to beat this weekend at #SCGATL.

Brad Nelson – Fact: Brian DeMars did something really innovative this past weekend. Everyone thought that Atarka Red was going to be
weakened with the passing of Stoke the Flames and Lightning Strike, making Arashin Cleric all any deck needed to easily fly past the deck. Knowing this,
Brian played a list that ignored the small body and lifegain that Arashin Cleric provided by combo killing most players with Titan’s Strength, Become
Immense, and Temur Battle Rage. This combo was only expected out of G/R Landfall decks so he surprised many players with almost unimaginable wins.

Things will be different now that the combo builds of Atarka Red are out in the open. Players will most likely be prepared for this by playing more instant
speed removal and less copies of Arashin Cleric. Will this mean that players will stick to Hordeling Outburst or try to do what DeMars did this past
weekend? We won’t know until we get there, but the deck will certainly be on everyone’s radar like it was this past weekend.

Brian Braun-Duin – Fiction: While Atarka Red is a very powerful deck and it’s still important to be prepared for it, red decks are at
their best when people don’t have them on their radar. This will not be the case. Atarka Red was a known quantity going into #SCGINDY, and after it won the
tournament, it will be the first deck on people’s mind to prepare against. Expect Arashin Cleric and Surge of Righteousness to be bountiful. I think the
only reason Atarka Red won the event was because it was a powerful proactive deck that punished people for having untuned decklists and trying to get too
cute. Lists are getting more tuned, and cuteness will diminish over time until the world is nothing but a sea of Siege Rhinos rumbling happily off into the

For #SCGATL, it’s going to be important to be two steps ahead of the metagame, not just one. One step ahead is to prepare for beating Atarka Red, as it did
just win. Two steps ahead is going to prepare to beat the decks that are going to prey on the rest of the format. Judging from the rest of the top 8, it
looks like Jeskai variants (including lists splashing for Crackling Doom) and Esper Dragons are these decks that were able to successfully beat up on all
the other decks.

If I were going to the Open Series in Atlanta, I would be looking to play either one of those two archetypes, or I would be looking for a list that has
game against those two decks. If everyone is gunning to beat Atarka Red, then over the course of the tournament, it is going to fall further and further
down in the standings, and you’ll need to be able to beat the decks that rise to the top. I’m betting it’ll be Jeskai and Esper Dragons, but I guess we’ll
just have to wait and see.


After watching Gerry Thompson slice and dice his way through the Swiss of #SCGINDY, you believe his Five-Color Bring to Light deck is the real deal.

Brad Nelson – Fiction: Bring to Light may be a sweet card, but its place in competitive Magic is more limiting than you would think after
Gerry’s dominance at #SCGINDY. This strategy is very exploitable by simply playing Disdainful Stroke in the sideboard of a deck that’s relatively
aggressive. Gerry was afraid of that and many other strategies going into the event, but he was called to play the deck by a very wise and old entity.

Weeks ago, Gerry’s girlfriend Kaitlin was hosting her parents while they were in town visiting from South Carolina. They desperately wanted to hike a
mountain while in Washington, but the only option was Mount Rainier. This wasn’t the safest place to hike, so Kaitlin asked Gerry if he wouldn’t mind
accompanying them. This really wasn’t Gerry’s scene, nor did he think him being there would help more than piece of mind, but he was a good boyfriend, so
he packed a bag and went along for the ride.

Now Mount Rainier isn’t a mountain you can hike all the way up. It’s rather unsafe, being an active volcano and also one of the largest mountains in the
contiguous United States. They planned to only go halfway, but little did Gerry know that he would not be leaving anything behind on this journey.

About halfway up, Gerry was regretting his decision to join Kaitlin and her parents. They weren’t going to be at any risk, and they even wanted to stop for
a picnic not even a quarter of the way into their journey. They all settled down for a quick lunch, and Kaitlin and her mother started unpacking the food.
Habitually, Gerry pulled his phone out of his pocket even though there hasn’t been a signal since they got there, but to his surprise he had a bar. A quick
step to the right and a second bar appeared.

“I have a signal babe, I’m going to check how Todd’s doing at the Open,” he said to Kaitlin as he walked into the horizon. Losing track of time and
distance, Gerry was only focused on getting the pages to load to get the updates on the weekend’s events. He finally looked up, but the terrain had
changed. He looked around, but had no clue what direction he had taken to get here. Oddly, the footprints that should have been in the snow were not there.
It is as if he was placed in his spot, just like the snowflakes gently resting on top of him.

Unsure of what to do, Gerry started trying to use his GPS to find the closest manned location. “No signal, why is there no signal?” Unsure of what to do,
he picked the most logical direction and started to walk. He walked and walked and walked.

Beginning to lose faith, Gerry started to panic that he might never see another person again. He began running without caution hoping that his fate would
change. The sun began setting as if it was connected to his hope. A cave with protection from the elements would be his resting ground for the night. It
would be a night without the lack of risk, without food, and without outlets. As he crouched in the back of the cave, he wrote a letter to Kaitlin on his
phone in preparation for the worst.

The worst would not be his fate this evening. In fact, he woke up rather spry for someone whose only comfort for the night was a sweatshirt stuffed with
crinkled up decklist sheets from his notebook he never goes without.

He couldn’t believe his eyes as he awoke. Outside the cave stood a shadow no taller than Andrea Mengucci. As Gerry walked towards the first person he’s
ever seen since his last, the shadow began to take image. In front of him was an old withered man. Stoic and stern he asked, Gerry to answer one simple

“Do you play or draw in MD5 Draft?”

“Draw, duh” Gerry replied to the Old Man. The man nodded and turned around. Confused, Gerry started to follow him even though he didn’t know where this
journey would take him. He hoped it would end in a Tombstone. The pizza variety.

Gerry spent the next month with the Old Man as a freak blizzard hit Mount Rainier. He learned many secrets from the man, as they both played countless
games of Magic together. Multiple times throughout their times together Gerry wanted to know the man’s past. Every time he asked, the man simply chuckled
and told him it wasn’t relevant. The only thing relevant was that Gerry kept playing games with the man.

The storm finally dissipated and Gerry was able to try to find Kaitlin and make sure she knew that he was all right. He needed to go, but wanted to know
why this man was here and how he knew how to help him many weeks ago. The man once again smirked and told him it wasn’t relevant. Frustrated due to the
man’s cryptic nature, Gerry began to abruptly pack his things in preparation for his journey home. Once packed, he left without saying goodbye. As he got
to the gate outside of the cabin, he could hear the front door creaking open. Almost involuntary, Gerry quickly turned around to get something from the man
that wasn’t Magic-related.

“My name is not important, but my lessons are,” the man yelled across the yard. “Life is more enriching when there are twenty of them, tame Dragons keep
seven, and be brought into enlightenment once the Eldrazi are upon us.”

Gerry finally made it back to civilization. He was greeted by an elated girlfriend and a newfound connection to the game he has always loved. For some
reason, his time on the mountain had gifted him with abilities beyond his usual skill level. Almost omniscient, he masterfully maneuvered his way through
difficult board positions. He was unable to be stop preparing for the Open. His lessons he learned from the old man directed him towards the deck even
though he was uneasy with the archetype. He just had faith in what the man had taught him.

TL:DR = Bring to Light is not that good, but Gerry is absurdly talented and could win with a ham sandwich.

Brian Braun-Duin – Fiction: Does Gerry Thompson even believe his deck is the real deal? I think Bring to Light is a very
powerful card, and I think Bring to Light is going to spawn an archetype that is a viable deck choice in the weeks to come. However, I don’t believe his
specific list is “The Truth” as far as Bring to Light is concerned. Gerry is a very smart guy and great at building decks, but he’s not a prophet. Bring to
Light is the kind of card where you can play literally anything in your deck and it’s important to tune it to fit the respective metagame.

Gerry built a deck that was tuned to beat an unknown field. The field is no longer unknown, which means you can make a great deal of changes to his deck to
fight what you perceive the new top decks to be. I expect to see Bring to Light continue to be successful, but I doubt it will be by that exact list.
Instead, I suspect it will be a series of new threats and new answers set up to beat the top decks of the week. For example, Esper Dragons did really well
last weekend, so I could see slotting in a Crackling Doom for another answer to Dragonlord Ojutai. Small changes like that make a huge difference when you
can go through your entire deck, and I expect that those small changes are what makes or breaks Bring to Light.

Crackling Doom is a card that is worth splashing for.

Brad Nelson – Fact: This past weekend in Indianapolis showcased many Jeskai players, but the best performing ones had a light splash for
Crackling Doom. It’s pretty easy to take this information and assume that these lists did better than the three-color variants due to this light splash.

The advantage to playing this card is that it allows Jeskai to play a catch-all removal spell instead of playing multiple different cards that help it deal
with random threats. This is what the deck had to do in the past if it wanted to beat Siege Rhino, but Valorous Stance and Roast are extremely situational.
Crackling Doom is not. It also kills Dragonlord Ojutai. It’s just great!

Brian Braun-Duin – Fact: The thing about splashing for a card like Crackling Doom is that it’s actually fairly easy to do. To make
three-color manabases work with lots of fetchlands, you actually need some off color Battle lands in order to make it possible for your fetchlands to find
the right colors. For example, Polluted Delta finds Prairie Stream, meaning it’s a fetchland for Jeskai decks that can get an Island or a Plains. It’s
capable of finding both blue and white sources. If you add a Smoldering Marsh to the deck, all of a sudden Polluted Delta finds all three colors in Jeskai,
as it can now find a red source. Smoldering Marsh is just a non-basic Mountain in the deck, but simply having access to it improves your Polluted Deltas
significantly. Likewise, a card like Bloodstained Mire only finds Mountains, but if you add a Sunken Hollow to the deck, it can now also find an Island,
making it a more versatile fetchland.

All of a sudden, by virtue of simply having the best Jeskai manabase available, you also randomly have two black producing Battle lands in the deck. That
makes a splash for Crackling Doom super easy to pull off. The question then becomes: is it worth it?

I think the answer is a definite yes. Crackling Doom is a powerful card that deals with what is generally their best creature, no matter what. I lost a
game to Jeskai Black last night where I was holding a Valorous Stance and a Dromoka’s Command, but Crackling Doom took out my threat anyway. Against a burn
spell, I could have countered it with Dromoka’s Command, and against a destroy spell like Valorous Stance, I could have protected my creature with my own
Valorous Stance. But against Crackling Doom, I was helpless. Similarly, having an instant speed answer to a card like Dragonlord Ojutai, even while it is
untapped, is an enormous tempo swing and an easy way to beat that deck. Splashing this card gives decks an added dimension when it comes to their removal
spells that is extremely valuable.

That’s not even taking into account the two damage. A lot of decks are playing double digit fetchlands, which means they will deal themselves a bunch of
damage over the course of the game. Slapping on an extra two damage is not insignificant. That damage adds up, especially if you’re slapping them with
Mantis Riders or adding on with things like Siege Rhino. Pretty soon they look down at their scorepad and it says “six” on it, and then they look again,
and there is a one-way ticket to browntown peeking out from behind it. They’re just dead.

With two copies of Esper Dragons making the top 8 of #SCGINDY, it should be taken more seriously as a tier 1 deck.

Brad Nelson – Fact: Esper Dragons will never be the best deck in the format, but that doesn’t make it a bad deck. It’s extremely powerful
when it draws the correct spells but also whenever an opponent stumbles. I have always feared playing this deck due to how powerful it can be when it draws
well, and many of the new removal spells like Complete Disregard allow for the deck to deal with many problematic spells like Hangarback Walker and
Deathmist Raptor. I would be surprised if we don’t see more Esper Dragons in the near future now that the format is starting to solidify.

Brian Braun-Duin – Fact: Esper Dragons was always able to linger on in last year’s format as a tier two contender, but it simply couldn’t
compete with Abzan Control in terms of power level. Den Protector loops along with Thoughtseize and powerful planeswalkers was generally too much for Esper
Dragons to handle. The funny thing about dropping four sets and adding a new one is that things change. Den Protector seems to be a much weaker card than
it once was, and Esper Dragons didn’t really lose anything important with the rotation and instead gained a much superior manabase.

The end result is simple. The deck is much stronger. It was something that was on my radar going into the tournament as a deck that would likely perform
well. After the event, my opinion has not changed. The deck is still very powerful and not something to take lightly. Even now, in testing, I still find
myself losing a lot to it despite building my deck with Esper Dragons in mind.

I’m expecting Esper Dragons to be the premier control deck of the new format, and I think it will be on-and-off the kind of deck that crushes a tournament
every so often when people stop giving it credit. It’s certainly possible to build your deck to beat it and have a powerful plan against the deck, but
doing so means sacrifices in other areas. When people aren’t willing to make those sacrifices, that’s when Dragonlord Ojutai will swoop down and take
control. Personally, when it comes to sacrifices, I prefer to make them do it.

That Self-Inflicted Wound life.

Open Series points from IQs for 2016
was the right decision for the Open Series.

Brad Nelson – Fact: I don’t really have much personally invested into this system, as I’m your current and future Open Series Players’
Champion, but I know a bad system when I see it. IQs are designed to allow for players at the local level to qualify for Invitationals. They award points
so that players who don’t win it all don’t feel like they have to start from scratch like the Pro Tour Qualifier system. Instead, players can accumulate
points to qualify for the Invitationals in a different way.

The introduction of the Players’ Championship added alternate value to IQs, which gave the grinders of the circuit a reason to compete in as many as they
could play in. This isn’t a bad place to be as a tournament organizer since having more people participate in events is a good thing, but it can also
discourage players from attending if extremely talented players are continuously “sharking” the events.

Another reason to change this flawed system might be a controversial one for me to bring up, but it’s true. I have no idea who some of these people on the
leaderboard are! I understand this is mostly due to my own ignorance, but I don’t like a system that awards slots for the Players’ Championship that I
haven’t seen perform well on the Open Series. To qualify last year, I traveled eight weeks in a row to Opens during the tail end of the season. I top 8’d
many Opens and showed why I deserved my slot. For a fan of the series, it was easy to see why I qualified. That isn’t the case this year. Some of the
players in contention have proven themselves on the Open Series, but some have simply just played every IQ in their local area. To me, that isn’t a great
way to showcase a tournament series. It’s great that things are changing for the better, and I look forward to the audience being able to know all sixteen
members of the tournament on a much deeper level than they will this year.

Brian Braun-Duin – Fact: This accomplishes a few things. The first is that it makes the Invitationals a more exclusive event. It will be
harder to qualify for an Invitational, therefore, they will be smaller and more elite. For an event that is run only a handful of times a year, it’s
important that this event feels important. When 600-700 players show up for an Invitational, it actually stops feeling like an Invitational and starts
feeling like a large Open Series.

To provide some perspective, if the Magic Pro Tour had 1500 players instead of about 400-500 players, it would feel a lot less like a Pro Tour and a lot
more like a Grand Prix. That loss of exclusivity makes the coverage a lot less enjoyable since you aren’t really seeing the best of the best, and it also
makes it less meaningful from a player’s perspective since the event you worked so hard to qualify for just feels like any other tournament rather than
something special.

More than this, cutting points from IQs will improve the Players’ Championship. Right now, qualifying for the Players’ Championship is easier to accomplish
by playing in IQs than it is by playing in actual Open Series events. If the goal of this tournament is to showcase the best players the Open Series has to
offer, then you want it to be filled with the players you see in the top 8 of all these Open Series events.

For example, Chris Andersen has top 8’d an astronomically high number of SCG Opens this year, but isn’t even likely to make the Players’ Championship
because he’s fallen behind the people who are racking up points from IQs. He is a player who has displayed a huge dominance over the tournament series and
should be represented in the tournament at the end of the year, but he is unable to keep up.

By removing Open Series points from IQs, the Players’ Championship is going to be filled with the best of the Open Series who routinely crush those
tournaments. Currently, there are going to be a lot of those slots filled with people who nobody knows because they just stick to playing in their local
IQs and earning points that way. I’m not trying to take anything away from those players. They’ve worked hard to make it, and I’m sure they are more than
capable Magicians. I just don’t think it is good from a coverage perspective, or a player’s perspective, and I’m glad they made this change.

I know personally I had no interest in making a run for the Players’ Championship when it would mean I have to grind a handful of IQs every week instead of
playing in bigger and more enjoyable events. With the new change, I might also make a change and see if I can make it next year.