Feature Article – Ten Things You Need To Know About Pre-Hollywood Standard

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Wednesday, May 7th – In his first article for StarCityGames.com, Constructed master and Grand Prix Top 8 stalwart Gerry Thompson, fresh from his cameo appearances in Patrick Chapin articles, brings us the lowdown on the Standard format going into Pro Tour: Hollywood. These ten invaluable tips are in perfect time for the Star City Games Mega-Magic Weekend! If you’re looking for an edge on the competition, look no further…

I don’t do much these days except play Magic Online somewhere around eight hours a day*. It’s not even that I like Magic that much… I just hate everything else. This is my life and I’ve become accustomed to it, so please don’t judge me. The point is that I play a ton of matches, and I win a lot of them, so you should probably listen to what I have to say.

Sadly, I can’t just ship my Standard list because I’m putting forth a feeble effort to win Pro Tour: Hollywood, but there’s plenty of things I’ve learned about this format that so many others don’t seem to be catching onto. Most of you guys probably don’t need a sick list until Regionals anyway, and I’m sure I’ll be able to provide one when that time comes.

Here are the ten things you need to know about Standard going into the Pro Tour…

1) Primal Command is absurd. Elves, Doran, R/G Mana Ramp, and R/g Aggro are all huge players in this format, and Primal Command is probably the single best card against all of them. I wish I’d had these in my Worlds deck, but like many others I fall into a trap of dismissing a card before I try it. You really have to be on the wrong end of a firm Primal Commanding to truly appreciate how powerful it is.

2) Dragon’s Claw is no longer good, unless you’re also playing close to Mono-Red. This isn’t just because of Smash to Smithereens, although that certainly helps the anti-Claw argument. The real reason is that by the time the PT rolls around, you can expect the Red Aggro decks to be creature-based again. Tattermunge Maniac and Boggart Ram-Gang are both sick additions to the R/g deck. Not only that, but Fire-Lit Thicket allows you to splash Tarmogoyf and Treetop Village easily.

One thing I learned from the matches I played with U/w Merfolk was that Dragon’s Claw was at its best when it was chopping the effectiveness of their spells in thirds or halves, but if Countryside Crusher managed to resolve, I literally could no longer win. I was in The Abyss. I had to splash Burrenton Forge Tender and Teferi’s Moat just to make sure that Crusher didn’t straight up beat me by itself. Dragon’s Claw just isn’t good against constant sources of damage, especially when they’re Tarmogoyf– or Crusher-sized animals.

Stop playing Dragon’s Claw! Look somewhere else for your life gain (like, I don’t know, Primal Command?). As I said, if you’re planning on running the Claw in your own Red deck, that seems fine. Not only because you’ll get double duty out of the Claw, but also because you’ll have plenty of removal or blockers to handle their dudes.

3) Everlasting Torment is terrible. Just one season ago, I was playing UGW Blink in Nationals and had boarded up to four Riftwatcher and four Hierarch against a burn-based R/b deck. On the play game 2, he played turn 2 and turn 3 Rain of Gore. The game wasn’t close. Not only did he fail to put any pressure on me, but if I needed a quick life gain fix, I could just bounce the Rain of Gores with Venser/Cloudskate plus Blink. The Rain of Gores were basically a double mulligan.

Everlasting Torment is like Rain of Gore except strictly worse in the context for which you’re using it. Not only is it an extra mana, but it doesn’t actually deal them damage… it just prevents them from gaining four life off their Finks. They still get a 3/2 persister which is very nice against you, especially since you didn’t play a relevant spell on turn 3. Not only that, but they can still get mileage out most of their life gain cards if they’re on the play.

Everlasting Torment is one of those cards that might be good if you started the game with it in play and you could guarantee you would only draw one. Even then, it’s sketchy. They just don’t make Sulfuric Vortexes like they used to.

Honestly, I shouldn’t be writing stuff like this. I’m typically the dude running the deck with the life gain to beat the donks playing the Red decks, and I love it when they play narrow crap like Rain of Gore against me. I’m paraphrasing Rich Hoaen here, but “If the random dudes manage to catch up enough to the point where I can no longer win, perhaps I will quit this game that has a stranglehold on my life.”

Basically, I’m here to help.

4) Most of your decks should probably have Terror instead of Nameless Inversion. Terror is just a more consistent card unless you really need Inversion to pump your Tarmogoyfs or fix your mana.

5) Your Faerie deck shouldn’t have any Swamps or Sunken Ruins. They suck. They don’t help you cast anything you couldn’t already cast. The manabase is about as close to pristine as you can get in this format, so what you should be looking for is more ways to suspend Ancestral on turn 1. Pendelhaven is an awesome land, and you should probably have two.

Pestermite is good, but Vendilion Clique isn’t. Personally, I like to make card choices that will improve my bad matchups while not hurting my good matchups. Pestermite versus Vendilion Clique is one of these “choices.” On one hand, you’ve got Pestermite which is Fog on a stick. He slows down the aggro decks by a turn, which is crucial when you’ve got a Bitterblossom in play that is slowly killing you. Vendilion Clique, on the other hand, does nothing. It will most likely be the first blocker with power enough to trade that you have, but good luck getting it to not die in a fire.

Is Vendilion Clique really going to be useful against any deck that isn’t Dragonstorm? Most of the decks in this format have enough overlapping cards that you won’t ever have that “Yes! I Cliqued away his Dragonstorm so I won. Good thing his deck only has four relevant cards!” moment. You’re going to Clique away their creature or removal spell, and guess what? They’ll probably draw another creature or removal spell. You sure showed them.

Rune Snag is also very good, and you should probably try to work that into your list somehow. You probably shouldn’t cut Spellstutter Sprites for them, like some other people have been doing.

Honestly, you could make a ton of terrible choices when you make your Faerie deck and you’re still about even money to win the tournament just by showing up. It’s like they took Dralnu at its prime, removed the requisite skill necessary to pilot the deck, and voila! Faerie deck. If the PT doesn’t have three Faerie decks in the Top 8, it’s because not enough people were playing it.

6) Merfolk is no longer a good deck. At the time of its peak, Neil Reeves and I had won roughly ten premier events with various Merfolk lists in the span of a couple of weeks. Reveillark and Faeries were about the easiest matches possible, and they was seemingly the only decks the masses were playing. However, Reveillark is (rightfully) dead now, and it seems like people are getting sick of Faeries. I’m not sure how people get sick of winning, but that’s the only reason I can think of as to why anyone would drop Faeries for something else.

RG Mana Ramp was a difficult matchup before Neil and I figured out the right side boarding plan (4 Reveillark, 4 Flashfreeze), and some children in the know started playing GB Elves because it beat up on my fishies. There would be roughly ten of these children in each premier event, and half of them would make Top 8. Winning the tournament becomes extremely difficult at that point. If I was lucky, I would be able to negotiate a split with one of them before losing five minutes later.

That said, if the format becomes what it once was, Merfolk becomes attractive again. The trick was to pretend like you’re a Grizzly Bear based aggro deck game 1 while you morph into a control deck for the second game. Their Sulfurous Blasts and Pyroclasms don’t compare well to your Ancestrals, Cryptic Commands, and Reveillarks.

7) Reflecting Pool is the best card I have ever seen in my life. I don’t know how I can convince myself to play something that isn’t four or five colors until this card rotates out. Nothing made me happier than being able to play Teferi, Damnation, Bogardan Hellkite, Return to Dust, and Gaea’s Blessing in the same deck, and I can continue on living out those dreams thanks to Reflecting Pool (not necessarily with those cards, but you get the idea).

8) How often is your target for Incinerate a creature as opposed to their nug? I bet it’s a lot. If that’s the case, why aren’t you playing Lash Out instead of Incinerate? I’m not going to say that it’s 100% correct, but it’s certainly worth considering. LSV and Owen Turtenwald are the ones who turned me onto this and they couldn’t be more right. In both cases, they were talking about replacing Incinerate in slower, midranges deck (RG Mana Ramp and Goblins, respectively), but in both cases they were right and it just seemed so obvious after the fact.

9) Raking Canopy is not the end of Faeries. Some other authors have been over this already, but I have to back them up. Faeries doesn’t really care about the Canopy as long as you aren’t also trying to kill them. If you feel safe behind your Canopy, think again. Faeries switches into defense mode and a few turns down the road you find it’s hard to bust through their army of Bitterblossom tokens, a bunch of manlands with mana untapped, and a Scion of Oona.

You have to take the initiative. Merfolk was excellent at doing this against opponents who don’t interact with them in the first two or three turns. Faeries is setting up, meanwhile Merfolk is going off with Reejerey and Banneret, vomiting five guys into play.

Kithkin, Elves, Merfolk, and R/g Aggro have the best shot of beating Faeries because they have aggressive mana curves. I’m sure even Bill Stark Clanger deck could beat Faeries in a game or two. Trust me when I say you don’t want to play the waiting game against them.

There are certain exceptions to this rule, like most rules. Reveillark, for example, has a much better end game than Faeries does. If Reveillark can find a couple of Raking Canopies early, they could be well on their way to buying some time to go infinite. Splashing Raking Canopy and being able to piece together your combo is capable because of two cards I already talked about: Reflecting Pool and Primal Command.

10) Murderous Redcap is not as good as advertised. Surely in a previous format this card would have been an all star, but Wizards has gone a long way in pushing the power of creatures. 1/1s and 2/2s just aren’t as good as they used to be, and there just aren’t enough little animals running around in this metagame for Redcap to be as good as he should be.

11) Garruk may make a comeback at PT: Hollywood. As of late, I’ve seen a significant drop in the number of planeswalkers. With Faeries and Reveillark chock full of fliers, Garruk didn’t live long in the old metagame. However, with Reveillark taking a dive and most savvy metagamers out there looking for a way to beat Faeries instead of joining them, Garruk is poised to make his big return.

Sulfurous Blast was the great Garruk catchall, but most new lists that I’ve seen run Firespout instead.

At Worlds, Garruk was the card to beat. Green mirrors were decided by who went first and got the free 3/3. That situation is probably going to happen again at the Pro Tour. Granted, Cloudthresher is still around, but he often doesn’t come down early enough to solve the problem.

I promised ten things, and provided eleven. I’m just a giving person.

I hope this article will help you in your future endeavors, unless of course you are playing against me. I will probably be taking a look at Block next since there has been some requests for that. Despite it being the next PTQ format, almost no one has written anything about it. If you any questions or comments, hit me up in the forums. I will most likely reply promptly as I have nothing to do in between rounds.


* I don’t actually play that much right now because of MTGO Version 3, and the fact that the Constructed queues don’t work at the time of writing, but this is not an exaggeration.