Feature Article – Brainstorming Standard with Conflux

Richmond, Virginia hosts the first StarCityGames.com $5,000 Standard Open of 2009!
Thursday, January 29th – With the new Conflux cards arriving this weekend, and becoming legal for Constructed play on the day of their release a week later, 2008 Rookie of the Year Aaron Nicastri brainstorms his own personal view of the Standard metagame in the post-Conflux world…

Recently, when I have been asked what I would play in pre-Conflux Standard, my response has been this:

Red White Boat Brew
White Weenie (Kithkin)
Black Red Blightning
Black White Tokens

All the other decks seem bad to me. With this in mind, I’m going to walk through the new Standard format post-Conflux as I see it, and explain why I didn’t or don’t like the other decks, as well as try to give some insight into the format as a whole

We now have the entire Conflux spoiler, and it looks like there will be some Standard gems, or at least cards that will significantly change the current run of things. First, I would like to comment on how much Faeries is going to be hosed by the introduction of Volcanic Fallout, Scattershot Archer, and Celestial Purge. Don’t forget that, on top of Bitterblossom, Purge kills Ajani Goldmane, Demigod of Revenge, Figure of Destiny, Boggart Ram-Gang, and more. It seems that each of Faeries’ opposing colors got something significant to combat them in Conflux.

So, Faeries. It has not had the best results recently, and thus it has dropped out of favor. It is currently still considered Tier 1, and has posted too many results across the months to be considered otherwise. Conflux brings it Countersquall, which could be very good, but it’s hardly as good as the new hate this deck is facing. Countersquall should prove most effective against Five-Color Control and the mirror match, where it can hit critical Cryptic Commands and can change the clock. It also handles Ajani Goldmanes, Spectral Procession, burn spells, and Bitterblossom.

In Conflux Standard, I think Faeries will actually drop to Tier 2, or at least it will see low turnouts at Pro Tour: Kyoto. Maybe after PT: Kyoto there could be somewhat of a recurrence, but the deck appears to be silenced for now. My reasoning for not liking this strategy is I feel that, when it gets behind in a matchup, it does not have the tools to fight its way back into games (with the exception of runner, runner, runner). Fast aggro decks like Kithkin are in front, and singular faeries are very weak creatures; no drop except a Mistbind Clique can stabilize the ground warfare.

Five-Color Control’s greatest nemesis has been Faeries, and the multicolored strategy has a host of new and exciting cards, such as Martial Coup; Banefire; Wall of Reverence; Nico Bolas, Planeswalker, etc. Personally, I think the only new card that will immediately slot into Five-Color Control is Volcanic Fallout. Volcanic Fallout on its own could be enough to swing a bad matchup to a favorable one, and the card is also good against R/W Boat Brew, B/W Tokens, B/R Blightning, White Weenie, and Elves. Currently I think Volcanic Fallout is the best card in Conflux; it’s the card this deck has really been waiting for. Five-Color Control could return to Tier 1 in Conflux Standard, thanks to the high power-level of its creatures, good non-damaging lands, and game-altering spells like Cruel Ultimatum, but its card draw is very weak. The best card draw is Esper Charm, Courier’s Capsule, and Mulldrifter, all of which remind me of Council of the Soratami (does anyone remember Thirst for Knowledge/ Fact of Fiction? Man, they were great). Because of the weaknesses here, I will be leaning on other strategies. If Five-Color Control is the new Tier 1, we need to look at decks that provide it with the biggest headaches, and then evaluate which decks would drop a notch if Five-Color Control was the format powerhouse. The decks I see as good, or at least those that have a fighting chance with Five-Color Control, are Elves, B/R Blightning, B/W Tokens, and R/W Boat Brew. Kithkin and other White Weenie decks, along with the Planeswalker deck, seem very underpowered.

Black/Green Elves is an interesting deck. With Tarmogoyf leaving the format what seems like an age ago, it seemed to have died, but it has surged recently with Wolf-Skull Shaman filling Goyf’s position. Conflux brings Scepter of Fugue. I think one of the big things in this format will be how control stands up to Scepter of Fugue – it may even slot into Five-Color Control for the mirror, where it could be particularly devastating. I think this card is possibly the second-best card in this set. While the Elf deck does not have Tidehollow Sculler or Blightning, it does have a host of playable man-lands, which can be very problematic for control decks. I was a big fan of the Elf deck all the way back in Hollywood, when I choose to play it, but I had access to Gaea’s Anthem and Boreal Druid (Boreal Druid gave me seven one-drop elf accelerators), which I think made the deck faster and better, or at least more consistent. When I pick up the Elf deck right now, I just feel like I’m trying to get lucky on turn 1 Llanowar Elf and big Profane Commands. This deck will feel the burn of Volcanic Fallout due to its large number of small men, I don’t know if Wolf-Skull Shaman can even be played now, and Mutavault gets significantly worse. On the plus side, Wren’s Run Vanquisher and Treetop Village still do their jobs, but I can’t see this deck being better then Tier 2.

Black/Red Blightning has proven itself to have pretty good matchups against Faeries and Five-Color Control while competing in races with most other decks. Blightning has become particularly important as more Ajani Goldmanes find their way into main decks. Nyaxthid and increased hand disruption like Scepter of Fugue could be a real strategy. Kerderect Parasite could be good in the sideboard, or could make a new breed of this deck, having a similar function to Spiteful Visions. Alternately, you could choose to build from a control base with Volcanic Fallout, man-lands, and X/3 men… who knows? Malfegor could be truly broken. I’d also like to follow up on the possible change in two- and three-drops for this deck as it currently exists… I think Goblin Outlander will make the cut in this heavy-White environment, but I think Shambling Remains is very outclassed by its bigger and hasty alternates. Whatever happens, this deck is here to stay, and I think the best build will be Tier 1.

Black/White can probably now be split into two paths: a hand disruption deck, built with Sculler and Scepter, and cards like Rotting Rats; and Black/White Tokens. The Token deck seemed to try to do both these things at the same time, and I found it a little unfocused, especially as it usually had Thoughtseize and very few ways to produce Black mana on turn 1 of the game (not that it particularly needed to cast Thoughtseize on turn 1, due to being able to drop one off curve with the Thoughtseize on any particular turn during the game). With Conflux, the disruption path has really picked up some gas. The token side of the deck, unfortunately, did not pick up any real toys, but is clearly a good deck. I think this deck is Tier 2 because I don’t think it has been built correctly yet… maybe an unfocussed list is best because it is more robust to differing strategies.

Red/White Boat Brew has been a solid contender due to its Reveillark-based resilience and strong mid-range game, but by the look of things it has failed to pick up any significant cards. Maybe Martial Coup or Banefire could come in from the sideboard, but it seems an unlikely path. I still like this deck, and I think the recent inclusion of Fulminator Mage maindeck is a must if the format moves towards Five-Color Control. I would also like to say that I think Flamekin Harbinger is amazing in this deck, and the only reason I did not play it at Worlds is because I didn’t think of it. If Faeries drops to Tier 2, the deck will not have to play Flame Javelin, which was just a versatile means of killing Mistbind Clique. This will allow some space to bring more creatures back in. This deck has provided the format with a man-based control deck that can out-attrition Five-Color Control, this will certainly remain a head-turner, especially if Faeries and White Weenie shrink in popularity. I think it is the third Tier 1 deck.

Kithkin/White Weenie, like many of the other decks, seems to have gained nothing. I don’t think Path to Exile will see any play in Standard [Controversial… – Craig, amused]. However, I don’t think a lot of these decks require new cards. Kithkin will be a little hurt by Volcanic Fallout, and seems to have the least tools to stabilize after being Wrathed. The fortunate thing is Pyroclasm effects can actually help to make Glorious Anthem and Rustic Clachan better cards, which is part of the reason why I’m annoyed Gaea’s Anthem is gone from Elves. I think Kithkin takes a little bit of a beating as Five-Color Control improves… maybe it runs Reveillark over Cloudgoat Ranger to counteract this… and so I think like Faeries will sit at Tier 2.

I’ve finished with the current strong decks, and it’s a short list. I’m not trying to reduce the format to this and only this, but many strategies are constantly appearing and disappearing, and to list them on the same level as the above-mentioned is unfair to the proven strategies. Now, what will we see arise from Conflux?

It seems to me like Naya/Bant beatdown could work. There tools for a straight burn deck seem to be coming together, with Banefire and Quenchable Fire alongside cards like Hell’s Thunder and Flame Javelin. Ranger of Eos has found a new friend in Scattershot Archer (as has been pointed out). Noble Heirach is probably better than Birds of Paradise, at least for Bant, and certainly both could be played… it seems likely that we could see turn 1 accelerator, turn 2 Woolly Thoctar / Rhox War Monk, turn 3 Rafiq of the Many / Cliffrunner Behemoth. Both paths are fast and equally scary (Ranger of Eos could find play in both these decks, searching for Wild Nacatl, Noble Hierach, Scattershot Archers, Mogg Fanatic, Akrasan Squire, etc). Both of these strategies, on the play with a curving draw, would find it hard to lose to Faeries, and could be far in front of a Blightning or Boat Brew deck. Five-Color Control, if built to handle these kinds of decks could be problematic, so maybe the agro options presented above will stay at Tier 2. However, a straight burn strategy with Banefire to finish out games could really be problematic for Five-Color Control, and, if efficient enough, it could just get there against some of the slower decks in the format. It is, however, unlikely that a deck employing this strategy would ascend higher than Tier 2.

One thing is for certain: Conflux is going to shake up the Standard metagame. How things play out will become clear as we pass the prerelease and finally get the new cardboard into our eager hands. Enjoy the prerelease this weekend, and thanks for reading!