Featured Article – The Pre-Nationals Metagame

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Thursday, July 31st – U.S. Nationals is nearly here… and Chris Lachmann is prepared! Today, he brings us his take on the metagame and decks to beat going into the event, and shares his gauntlet lists of all the major players from Swans Combo to Elves to Reveillark to Faeries. While the strategies presented here are not about to break new ground, the information is invaluable for those looking for a metagame snapshot before the events of the weekend unfold…

With U.S. Nationals almost upon us, everyone wants to know what the deck to play will be, both for the grinders and the main event. First of all let me say that I won’t just throw out some random decklists at you without testing them. I know you don’t want the minimal time left wasted by testing out some decklist that couldn’t beat an empty seat.

Here is the gauntlet that I came up with to test all my decks against. While the decks are credited to me, of course they weren’t created by me … they just make up my Gauntlet going into tomorrow’s event.

Lots of people would save the best for last, but I just can’t wait. This deck is the 800 pound gorilla in the room right now, having won Australian Nationals. This will be the deck to which I compare everything else, for now at least. At first glance the deck doesn’t seem that good, and it looks like it will have a hard time beating counterspells. However, counterspells do almost nothing against this deck. With seven hand disruption effects maindeck, it can just sit back and wait to clear a path for the combo. It gets even better after sideboarding, when you get to side in three Pact of Negation, and even Imp’s Mischief. The only changes I have been debating to make to this decklist is possibly adding two copies of Cascade Bluffs, the new Blue/Red filter land, in place of some Shivan Reefs to avoid taking more pain. The other cards I don’t like are the Krosan Grips in the sideboard. I can’t really think of an artifact or enchantment that I would want to blow up. With 2 extra spaces in the sideboard, I could see adding the fourth Clique and fourth Pact of Negation.

The way to beat this deck is with some good hand disruption backed up with a fast clock. The deck that does that best is B/G Elves. After playing a bunch of games against the Elves, I considered moving some of the Firespouts to the maindeck to try and slow them down and give me more time to assemble the triforce… I mean combo.

The true and tried archetype of this format along with Faeries. This has been one of the most consistent decks in this format since Pro Tour: Hollywood. This is the deck that I think might keep Swans in check. After playing about 20 games against it, I could only muster 6 wins with the Swans deck. The combination of Thoughtseize and Terrors to break up the combo allows this deck enough time to win with its cheap efficient creatures. One of the reasons that this deck might not see that much play is because of the resurgence of Reveillark decks. Braga’s list is bringing in Faerie Macabre, and probably Krosan Grips for Teferi’s Moat, against the ‘Lark. Against Red decks, Braga had Kitchen Finks, which is a card that has caused most Red decks to include cards like Demigod of Revenge in order to find a way to win around the annoying little ouphe.

Next up is one of the decks that made a few waves at PT: Hollywood and has been picking up steam since then.

This deck was very popular after Pro Tour: Hollywood, since the format was mainly Faeries and Elves and this deck has a good matchup against both of them. This deck was ready for the Swans and other graveyard-related strategies, with 3 Faerie Macabre and 2 Extirpate. It even went so far as to bring in Sudden Death for the Swans. I think the one card this deck is missing is Rite of Consumption. It has ridiculous synergy in this deck, with Gargadon, Husk, and Furystoke Giant. Many times in the late game, the card will just let you win the game on the spot against other decks not sporting counterspells. I think two is the appropriate number, as you never really want to draw more than one, and not until the mid to late game. I think the sideboard will also change, as the Swans deck will be more prevalent than Reveillark. I would probably go up to four Extirpate, as that is the most crippling spell against Swans. I don’t think the Threatens are necessary either. While it is everyone’s dream to Threaten your opponent’s last blocker, come in with the team, then sacrifice their creature to your Husk or Gargadon, this is something I commonly refer to as “movietime.” Basically it would only happen in a movie… a very bad horror film. This deck already excels in creature combat, as it can generate more and bigger creatures than all the decks in the format, and then top that off with a very angry giant.

The next decklist is perhaps the most unique. Only the French could come up with a concoction like this, which Olivier Ruel piloted to a Top 8 recently in Buenos Aires.

While decks like this often seem greedy, they really aren’t. In this format it’s easy to play a spell for 2GGGG and then pay 1UUU or BBX for another spell. If Swans wasn’t in the format I would say that this would be the type of deck to play. The only game this deck has against Swans is to try and power out an early Mind Shatter for 2 or 3 and try hitting a part of the combo. Other than that, it is hard to sit back on counters with all the hand disruption the Swan deck offers. It absolutely crushes most creature decks, and did well against Faeries in testing, with the Cloudthreshers, Makeshift Mannequins, and just as many counters as the Fae.

Sometimes the problem with playing an unfocused strategy like this is that you lose to your own deck. Sometimes you can draw half your deck and not find the Cloudthresher or Firespout you need. On the flipside, you will often win many games due to the unpredictability of your deck.

If I were to play this deck I would make some changes. First off I would make the deck sixty cards, cutting a Careful Consideration since there is such a thing as drawing too many cards. Next I would add another Pact of Negation for the Platinum Angel, since I think that card again falls into the realm of movietime. I guess if you beat your opponent with a Platinum Angel he might tilt so hard he will fall out of his chair and not be able to finish the match, but other than that I don’t think a one-of Platinum Angel will do much in most matches. So if you really want to play this deck, I would suggest fitting in some combination of Thoughtseize, Extirpate, and Sudden Death to disrupt the Swan combo out of the sideboard.

Here are the rest of the decklists in the pre-Nationals metagame, since I know I will get hounded if I don’t post them all.

Just a small change I would make to this Top 8 deck from Buenos Aires. While playing against Swans, my playtest partner kept complaining that he could draw his whole deck but would still be a turn short of going off because he couldn’t get anything into his graveyard. For this reason I think the deck needs to play some combination of Bonded Fetch and Mulldrifters so it can instantly dump Vensers into the graveyard.

Next up is the format’s Red deck of choice, which seems to be Shuhei Red.

The only card I don’t like in this deck is the Blood Knight. I think it would be better as either Keldon Marauders, or perhaps Stigma Lasher can make an appearance to negate cards like Kitchen Finks and Primal Command. A very straightforward deck to play… just deal as much damage as you can with your guys, and then finish with your burn.

Finally, the deck that seems like it’s been around since the Stone Age: Faeries.

This is the deck that everyone’s favorite JSSer Brett Blackman played in Buenos Aires. The main difference here is the inclusion of Commandeer in the sideboard. After the tournament, Brett told me he would go up to four Commandeer since it is the ultimate trump in the Bitterblossom wars.

To recap, here are the decks that I believe are viable in this format, and the archetypes you should be testing against:

Seismic Swan
G/B Elves
Shuhei Red
Quick n’ Toast
R/B Tokens
R/G Big Mana

I didn’t include decklists for either Merfolk or Big Mana because I don’t think those decks will show up in numbers. Big Mana in particular offers no game against the Swans combo deck, and thus is obsolete in this format.

If I wasn’t qualified for Nats and had to grind in, I would choose a deck that does well against Faeries and Red decks, as people love to play simple Red decks in grinders so that they don’t get worn out after playing in four straight tournaments. Also, many people will play Faeries just because they have been playing it for so long in both Standard and Block.

The deck that I will most likely be playing is the Swans deck, as it is very resilient to hate and has enough disruption to fight through counterspells and opposing disruption. One thing to remember when playing the deck is to not walk into the split second spells from Black decks. I’m sure a lot of decks that have access to them will be playing both Sudden Death and Extirpate. Try and probe your opponent with a Thoughtseize or Vendilion Clique before trying to combo out. I’m also toying with ways to make the Elves matchup better, which will probably include playing some Firespouts main. I’m meddling with the sideboard as you can easily access any color with your Vivid lands and Gemstone Mines.

Feel free to ask me questions at Nats. There is a good chance that Nats will be one of my last major tournaments for a while, as I will be relocating to Curacao the week after. Feel free to seek me out, challenge me to a draft, or come out and grab a couple drinks with me and all the awesome people that will be there. Most of the time you remember a tournament not for what happens in the actual event, but for what happens when you’re done slinging spells and are having fun with your friends.

Until Nats…

Chris Lachmann