Fantastic Of Mogis

Get a handle on the current Standard metagame before SCG Open Series: Cleveland this weekend by reading what Mike Flores thinks about the results of last weekend’s tournaments.

First-turn Vampires and fourth-turn Werewolves have officially been shoved aside for first-turn heroes and fourth-turn indestructible deities. This past weekend we saw the first results of Theros in Standard, and they were interesting. Here on StarCityGames.com side the Standard Open in Worcester, Massachusetts showcased a wide variety of control decks that honestly look very little like one another, a pair of Mono-Red Aggro decks that similarly hail from Terminus and Trantor respectively, and more big monsters than you can shake a stick at (without, you know, it being gobbled up, snapped by Hydra jaws, or incinerated).

Meanwhile a $5K in Waco, Texas had even more twists and turns, dipping into even more archetypes (like straight White Weenie), surprising non-archetypes like Big Dega, and more daring angles on the known favorites.

Here’s how the two tournaments shook out:

SCG Standard Open: Worcester


$5K in Waco


Two Different Looks at Mono-Red Aggro, or “Fantastic of Mogis”

Amid the flashier Hydras, Dragons, card drawing, and new (and returning) planeswalkers, the biggest winner of the past weekend was an aggro deck with an awkward, front-heavy four-drop; meanwhile a former Player of the Year made the same Top 8 with a different red deck that looks almost nothing like the winning deck . . . and to be honest features a substantially disparate card set.

The big winner from last weekend’s Standard Open was Phillip Bertorelli and his version of Mono-Red Aggro.

Phillip’s is a relatively straightforward creature deck; it is in fact essentially half creatures. Getting lots of creatures into play, including pip-heavy ones like Ash Zealot (and pip-heavy ones that drive more pips onto the battlefield like Burning-Tree Emissary), drives the defining card of this strategy:

Fanatic of Mogis isn’t necessarily the most obvious card to play. It in fact has quite a few things going against it. It costs four mana. It only has one pip in the top-right corner, so its 187 ability isn’t particularly imposing by its lonesome. It is hardly the most dangerous creature you can imagine for the cost once it is in play.

But the upside is fairly breathtaking.

Turn 1 Rakdos Cackler.

Turn 2 in for two (18).

Burning-Tree Emissary into Firefist Striker.

Turn 3 attack with everybody (Firefist Striker stopping any shenanigans) (12).

Boros Reckoner.

Turn 4 Fanatic of Mogis!

Before we even consider attacks we can count the pips.

Rakdos Cackler (1)

Burning-Tree Emissary (3)

Firefist Striker (4)

Boros Reckoner (7)

Fanatic of Mogis itself (8)

Can you work out four damage between your four creatures already on the battlefield, one of which prevents blocking and one of which is Boros Reckoner? Not a tough equation there.

Phillip included a fair number of new (or at least weird) cards; the most interesting thing to me is his choice to run only two Shocks but all four copies of returning instant Magma Jet (Magma Jet is in fact one of my favorite cards of all time). Table that for a moment.

Shock is one of the better cards against opposing aggro, and Phillip ran only the two. Frostburn Weird on the other hand is a pretty good blocker and gives you two pips for Fanatic of Mogis. Hammer of Purphoros gives the deck some very substantial resistance to control strategies and sweep in particular, plus something to do with your excess lands.

Which brings me to my primary criticism of this deck.

Not taking anything away from Phillip’s accomplishment—not just winning a big and high-profile tournament but doing so the first week of an exciting new set—I feel like the mana here is a bit ambitious. Offensively this deck does not have an impressive curve. There is only Rakdos Cackler on one. The deck only has 21 lands but a huge glut of strategic four-mana cards, including the defining offensive one and the best sideboard card . . .

Just something to keep in mind if you are considering the first week’s big winner.

Owen Turtenwald deck is simpler and more single-minded but also less intuitive in a way and built with more technology incorporated.

This is a deck heavy on the fast one-drops. Foundry Street Denizen? Owen is a mage who wants to hit his one-drop. Firedrinker Satyr is a Jackal Pup for the new age. Again with the one-drops.

What this deck wants to do is hit a one-drop on turn 1 and follow up with a Goblin Shortcutter on turn 2 (and get in for two) or perhaps a Firefist Striker, ideally off of a Mutavault. Mutavault as an attacker sets up the Firefist Striker’s battalion, and the spare third-turn mana can be used on either more one-drops or a Shock to get a creature out of the way.

The “obvious” three is Boros Reckoner, but Owen played that only in his sideboard. Instead he wants to attack very consistently and force though small packets of damage by screwing up blocks. And offensively the above Mutavault setup does not play automatically with the RRR Reckoner.

Of the two takes on Mono-Red Aggro from the Worcester Top 8, Owen’s seems the faster and more consistent at applying pressure early, though in opposition as ever the pip-counting Fanatic of Mogis allows for a more powerful endgame via the winner’s deck. It’s not clear which style of red deck will emerge as the metagame favorite; they are deceptively different strategies that focus on different points in the game.

Three Very Different Looks at Esper Control

If you raised an eyebrow at the fast early game versus Fanatic of Mogis split in Mono-Red Aggro, I am wondering about your gut take on Esper Control, which was the most popular archetype in the Open Top 8.

In a sense we had three decks with many things in common: colors, splits of Temples (all three played three of each appropriate scry Temple), Azorius Charms and Dissolves (four and six respectively across the board) . . .  Yet these were three decks that stood apart from one another.

Grand Prix and Top 8 Magic Mockvitational Champion Christian Calcano was the only one of the three Esper decks to make it out of the Open quarterfinals. He played what I would read as the most straightforward of the three. A mix of permission and removal, including tons and tons of point removal, as well as going over the top on sweepers; maindeck and sideboard Merciless Eviction, in addition to the full number of Supreme Verdicts.

Merciless Eviction is actually an interesting play here since Calcano played only Jace, Architect of Thought as a planeswalker. Running a couple of copies of that card could dig Calcano out of the wrong side of a Super Friends lockdown.

Speaking of a Super Friends lockdown, Jared Boettcher deck is capable of some board positions we haven’t seen in Standard for two or three years. Boettcher could run three planeswalkers at the same time, each building advantages without spending incremental mana.

Ashiok, Nightmare Weaver is an instant invite to a double take. My initial read of this card was that it was unplayable maindeck but unbeatable after sideboard. Boettcher clearly had a better initial read than YT! Ashiok, Nightmare Weaver comes down on turn 3, potentially ahead of an opposing Dissolve, and then just murders the bejeezus out of the opposing control player. It really doesn’t take very long for Ashiok to wipe the floor with a player who can’t easily beat up or remove it. The Millstone ability can kill you. The -2 can give you an inevitable threat. The ultimate is pretty easy to set up given that games will generally go ten-plus turns with neither player attacking the other.

If U/W and Esper decks continue to be as popular—and successful—as they were in the first week, Ashiok will be anything but maindeck unplayable . . . way more on the unbeatable game 1 side given the right opponents on the other side of the table.

Fat men!

Calcano’s deck was highly diversified. Jared’s was the Super Friends of 2013. Andrew Davis’ deck is like an echo of Tapout. Though he played many of the same support cards as the other Esper decks, he topped up on Orzhov fatties as multidimensional finishers. Big blockers, life gainers, awfully hard to kill . . . and inevitable in the right matchups.

Obviously Obzedat is your man (well, Spirit) when you are up against another control deck, and Blood Baron of Vizkopa excels when attacking and blocking against small white or black creatures. But all of them are powerhouses, and a deck with Azorius Charm; Jace, Architect of Thought; and Sphinx’s Revelation can pick which ones to draw depending on the opponent.

The big thing unifying the Esper strategy over U/W is a little one-drop sorcery in the sideboard.

Each of these players ran three or four copies of Thoughtseize in the sideboard. That card is both strategic and opportunistic murder in a mirror. You can use what would have been a missed mana on turn 1, or you can wait until right before your opponent takes a big turn to preempt his planeswalker, big creature tapout, or to clear a counterspell. Small cost and big game on maybe the best spell in Theros.

Quicken Is Still the Em Effin’ Truth

Max Tietze outlasted Christian Calcano’s sideboarded Thoughtseizes to make it to the Open finals.

U/W Control has a mite of the Super Friends angle (though obviously not the mirror-crushing Ashiok). Its biggest advantage is clean mana, with sixteen basic lands to help beat Burning Earth. Though of course a two-color deck is going to lack the flexibility of Thoughtseize, black point removal, and the varied Dimir or Orzhov threats. It can make up for this with cards like Ratchet Bomb and Celestial Flare.

And of course Quicken! Tietze played one.

The 5K in Waco was won by a U/W deck with three Quickens! Quicken is a great one-mana cantrip that you can burn on turn 1 to find lands, and of course it is highly synergistic with, you know, sorceries.

Blanchard played even more Divinations than Tietze did, which by nature makes his Quickens more useful as well.

Though he played a planeswalker-kill strategy, Blanchard took advantage of sixteen sources of white mana to set up a semi-transformation with the capability to run turn 2 Precinct Captain out of the side.

There Be Dragons! (and Hydras, the Occasional Satyr, and So On)

My friend Brian David-Marshall has been talking up Ember Swallower in a Big Red shell since the card was spoiled.

After seeing Christopher’s deck I am pretty convinced that the cards that might make Big Red tick are just better in a deck with green’s mana acceleration. Not only can G/R pop out the big monstrosity threats faster than red alone, but a deck with Elvish Mystic and Sylvan Caryatid can simply operate better post Ember Swallower (all other things held equal) than one that runs just on lands.

One of the things that seems most dangerous about this deck to me is its ability to build card advantage. Domri Rade and Chandra, Pyromaster? Jeez. You can get swept and just sit there drawing cards with a planeswalker.

Stormbreath Dragon is jumping right into Thundermaw Hellkite’s old slot in the Gruul and Naya curves as a four-of on 5.

Napolitano’s Naya is largely an echo of the previous generation of Naya decks—all great creatures, with the three-drops in particular being outstanding. While it’s sad that the rules forbids me from channeling my inner Brian Kibler by enchanting my Stormbreath Dragon with Unflinching Courage, I’m looking forward to pushing it into the red zone. I’m not too greedy, either – it doesn’t have-have to be monstrous when I smack the opposing G/R player with it.

I just want to note one card that Andres Hernandez ran in his version of G/R Monsters:

With a turn 2 down payment on Satyr Hedonist, he could explode out with a turn 3 Stormbreath Dragon. The similar decks from the Open Top 8 ran Sylvan Caryatid instead. Obviously that card has different incentives, but the Hedonist is explosive like the days of Seething Song into Arc-Slogger.

Just something to consider if you are in the market for monsters.

Interesting Also-Rans

Big Dega

This is the kind of deck that can really reward you for drawing your cards in the right order. Chained to the Rocks—another of the most celebrated cards from early Theros reads—gets a spot as a cheap removal card here, but on the other side of the curve we see huge costs and huge threats.

The mana in this deck is actually pretty nicely laid out despite the massive casting costs. Every land in the deck can help make a Boros Reckoner (hopefully on turn 3). Boros Reckoner and Desecration Demon actually do a great job of holding down the fort. Then it’s time for the really big threats on 5 and 6. As with the Esper implementation of Obzedat and Blood Baron of Vizkopa, one five is better against control and the other is better in fights, but both have substantial upsides. With Read the Bones and Underworld Connections as the card advantage in this nonblue control deck, the life-gain capabilities of both five-drops actually help keep cards flowing.

One fun thing to note: Obzedat, Ghost Council breaks the rules on Whip of Erebos. You can exile Obzedat to itself, Whip of Erebos approves (“hey, it’s exiled!”), and then Obzedat will return per normal (“wait a minute—that wasn’t the deal!”) Could be something to build on as we see more and more Theros in big tournaments.

Ajani Ascendant

Ajani, Caller of the Pride saw play in two different archetypes in Waco, as did Soldier of the Pantheon.

I don’t know about you, but I find this White Weenie deck pretty intriguing. Soldier of the Pantheon is an absolute monster on turn 1, especially against decks that are planning to start on Rakdos Cackler and/or Burning-Tree Emissary.

The insane pips on the mono-white casting costs (which are no stretch at all) set up Heliod, God of the Sun nicely. Almost anything into a Boros Reckoner lines up Heliod’s devotion . . . then it’s all about beating down and making Brave the Elements look like a cross-format all-star.

Per usual, White Weenie has almost no way to win outside of the red zone. Great creatures, nice interactions . . . but never forget that one basic limitation.

Two additional cards of note here:

Watchwolf was considered almost obviously too good when it first came out, and Fleecemane Lion makes Watchwolf look pretty bad. Boon Satyr has been touted quite a bit recently, and in this G/W deck we see a potential place for it. My guess is that it spends most of its time as a 4/2 flash creature rather than as a creature enchantment, not only because White played relatively thin on lands (only 22) but because of the curve dependencies on cards like Experiment One. As a creature Boon Satyr can play four power on turn 3 (like Loxodon Smiter), following up on Fleecemane Lion’s three on 2 and setting up Advent of the Wurm’s five on 4.

Though largely dependent on the red zone like White Weenie, Selesnya can get haste-like impact out of Boon Satyr, Advent of the Wurm, Selesnya Charm, and to a lesser extent Rootborn Defenses. You can exploit an opponent tapping out for a compelling instant and really take the starch out of their sweep.

One thing that struck me about this first weekend is how truly varied the decks are at this stage. We often say you can “just play anything,” but in this case that actually seems true—at least for now. There are control decks and even more controlling decks. There are beatdown decks and beatdown decks with reach. And there be monsters! As well as cases where the monsters are the reach.

Tune into this weekend’s SCG Standard Open in Cleveland for more looks at this developing format . . . still weeks ahead of Pro Tour Theros.


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