Fighting Oppression

Anthony Lowry has sampled a ton of Standard decks recently and learned something profoundly important about the format as a result. Read his #SCGINVI thoughts and what he took away from the event.

Standard is a very oppressive format.

It’s not because of any particular card or cards. Sure, Thoughtseize may not be the healthiest card in existence, but there are ways to beat it. Mutavault
is the best card in the format, but that doesn’t really make it oppressive in my eyes. Every format has to have a best card or cards, and I think many
become misguided and correlate best with oppressive.

Regardless, Standard is incredibly oppressive, and it’s the players making it that way.

There are so many players that I know that do so well in Standard, just by going into each event, week in and week out, with the same weapon they went in
with since early on in Standard. From lower stakes events like FNM, I’ll run into the same player playing Mono-Black Devotion since early on in Theros, and
be terrified. Chris VanMeter has been absolutely obliterating people in the Open Series with Stormbreath Dragon and company, and has been for a very long
time now. I know that if I ever played him, I’d be in for a real butt kicking if I let up at all.

This is oppressive to the format, and it’s a great thing.

Players are being rewarded for choosing a deck, jamming it, getting better and better with it in the long run, and seeing their playstyle mature and
develop. While I, along with a ton of other people I know, are floundering around, trying to get an edge in the wrong ways. Before, you could just pick the
best deck and go coast to coast with it. I understand keeping that up this time around too, as it’s been that way for so long. But this time, you get
punished so hard for it.

The best deck in the format is the one you have the most experience and familiarity with. Don’t let anyone else tell you otherwise.

This is what I realized after SCG Providence.

I was expecting more Mono-Blue Devotion in Providence, and I wasn’t quite comfortable with the positions of the two decks I usually played: Burn and
Monsters. I tried to look to other decks to find an edge as much as possible and thought I found one with this build of Esper Control:

I wasn’t quite ready to pull the trigger on the Planar Cleansing plan like Jim Davis and others were doing. In fact, I wanted to play even more Banishing
Lights going in. After some careful deliberation with Noah Walker and Mark Nestico, I decided that I was better off just being as unconditional as possible
and raise my spell quality. Because of this, the mana was pretty stretched, so the Mana Confluence made the cut to assist. Thoughtseize kind of felt like a
crutch, but I played it anyway because I knew that I wasn’t well vested in the mirror.

This was where my tournament was lost, and it wasn’t set to begin for another 36 hours.

I overcompensated for my lack of experience of modern day Sphinx’s Revelation decks, and the evidence is littered all over the list. The aforementioned
Thoughtseizes, the Notion Thief, the Fated Retribution; they all were crutches and really bit me throughout the entire event. When those cards weren’t
there to save me, I found myself scrambling for resources, making awful plays, and getting punished for almost everything. Basically, any situation where I
didn’t curve out very well, I lost on the spot. I was realizing this by round 2, and although I was 2-0 at that point, I was definitely not feeling good
about it. The way I played changed because of this as well; Scrying differently with Temples and Dissolves, gauging Supreme Verdicts differently, you name
it, it was out of whack. The deck was solid, but I wasn’t solid with it.

I quickly ended up out of contention.

I was getting completely destroyed by players who knew what they were doing with their weapons of choice. I was getting savagely outplayed on the majority
of critical turns, and I was making some embarrassing blunders. This was a huge lesson for me going into the Invitational in Columbus for Standard, a
lesson that immediately took heed to. I just have to play what I’ve been playing, and master it. It’s been stressed countless times by other writers and
players, but I know that while I do listen to them, I can’t help but try to play what I feel is the best deck for a particular tournament. This is a tough
pill to swallow, but I simply should not be doing that. I need to work on finding my strengths, maximizing them, and not be so quick to change when I have
a few rough outings.

I began going back to R/W Burn, a deck that I’ve made the most runs with this season, and I began wondering why I stopped playing the deck in the first
place. Everything about it is exactly what I feel comfortable doing in Standard, and I know for a fact that that this will give me the best shot in the
long, ultra-grindy eight (hopefully eleven!) rounds of the Standard portion of the event. The only issue was how to get it ready for Columbus.

I started with Shouta Yasooka’s list from Japan’s God of Standard event and looked to adapt it to what I was looking to expect from the best players at the
event. Unfortunately, this can mean a whole smattering of decks. Regardless, I knew that if I just went with the tried and true shell, and maximize my
preferences within, then I definitely could make a run.

Not much has changed from Shouta’s list, but I swear, I’m not looking for an excuse to play Chandra, Pyromaster again. I added an additional temple to give
me some more scry action with my Chandras and Prophetic Flamespeakers out of the board, though I’m unsure if it should be a Temple of Malice or Temple of
Silence. If I wind up playing Temple of Malice, then I think I have to play a second Mana Confluence. This makes me somewhat weaker in the mirror due to
the life loss, but I don’t think I can skimp on the white sources. If I play Temple of Silence, I may have to mulligan a bit more often because of the
awkward Temple of Silence + Mutavault hands. I could also forego both options and play a second Boros Guildgate, but I’d have to lean way more heavily on
my Magma Jets, something I don’t want to be doing against blue control decks because of Dissolve in the midgame, and mana management in the late game.

The other big question is Mizzium Mortars, and further, how much of a heavy midrange deck I want to be. I think a lot of players make the mistake that
Burn’s goal is to solely kill as quickly as possible. While a lot of that is true, you’ll also have to figure out when and how to develop future turns via
translation of resources, and subsequently, when said resources are worth expending to ensure your chances of victory are very high. Sometimes, throwing
out a Warleader’s Helix into five mana against blue control is worth their Sphinx’s Revelation so you can make sure your Boros Charms get through, for
example. The deck is so exceedingly sensitive, that the slightest misstep in sequencing can mean the game.

Anyways, I’m thinking that the Mortars is a fine option to have when needing to deal with things like Blood Baron of Vizkopa, Courser of Kruphix, and
Stormbreath Dragon. Since we’re not playing Searing Blood, I want to have something to pick things off that isn’t Shock. Searing Blood doesn’t make the cut
because of the expected inflation of blue control, and to be quite honest, it’s just not very good against the decks everyone says it’s good against (aside
from very specific situations and against small aggro decks). I think that it kind of stinks against Mono-Blue Devotion, especially on the draw against
Judge’s Familiar. Their curve just makes things awkward for the card, and I often wound up siding them out for upgraded removal. Now that we aren’t playing
them at all, we can focus on pushing developing our board with Young Pyromancer, and keeping Master of Waves at bay. I may consider another Mizzium Mortars
in the sideboard, but it’ll be difficult to find a cut.

I used to be a huge fan of Toil // Trouble in the main, but even with the expected influx of blue control, it’s simply not that good against everything
else. Sure, you’ll sometimes get a three mana Lava Spike, but the tempo advantage that Shock provides you is so much more important against almost
everything else, that you’re better off bringing them in for when you don’t need Chained to the Rocks. Reprisal was the spot here, and I could see playing
a copy somewhere to deal with Polukranos, Desecration Demon, and other troublesome creatures.

On Thursday, there were Last Chance Qualifiers going on, and I considered jamming a few to get a feel for the deck, but after talking with Joe Bernal about
the deck some, and getting some games in, I wasn’t really feeling it. It generally doesn’t take much for me to get into a deck and stick with it, but for
some reason, I was really flailing with the deck. I wasn’t sure what to do, but I was able to put Jund Monsters together and run with that. It wasn’t a
total loss though, as I was able to learn more about the holes in Burn’s game, which helped me better understand the matchup for the long run, and that was
very valuable for me against Jesse Butler in round 1 of the Invitational, where I felt that I played pretty solid, despite losing.

Standard was looking pretty solid for me, but Legacy was an entirely different animal. I knew that I didn’t have enough experience with my newfound weapon
of choice, Burning Reanimator, but I had to stick to what I’ve been told: find a deck, get good with it, and stick with it for as long as you can. I was
second guessing myself initially. The deck is incredibly difficult if you aren’t well versed in Storm or Reanimator tactics, and this deck had both! Was I
not ready to take this to an Invitational? Was I just being blind and not playing a “real” deck? Why would the same people telling me to play a “real” deck
try and get me to “do whatever I want” then?

I had to clear my head of all this nonsense, I had an Invitational to jam.

…I had…

Fast forwarding to round 7 of 8, I’m sitting at 3-3 against Tyler Wilkerson. I knew he was on some form of Painter, so I knew I had to be as aggressive as
possible. Unfortunately, my turn one Sire of Insanity was not enough in game 1, and I wound up getting Grindstoned out in games 1 and 3.

I’m unsure if I could have done too many things differently in Legacy, but from now on, if I’m unsure what to go for, I’m just going to get Griselbrand.
Even if I hesitate for the slightest second, just get Griselbrand and figure it out from there.

Switching gears back to Standard, I knew I wanted to play Ajani, Mentor of Heroes. After seeing it in action twice in the Standard portion of the
Invitational, I was beyond impressed by the shells, and I knew I had to get my fix. After talking with the Stormbreath Dragon master himself, Kent Ketter,
I came up with this:

This deck was fan-freaking-tastic! I know that the numbers weren’t exactly where I wanted them to be, but I really enjoyed the fact that I could be a
Monsters deck with huge, over the top cards for mirrors and attrition heavy decks in Elspeth and Ajani. It sucks that I couldn’t get Domri Rade in the
deck, since the minimum creature requirement for Domri is about twenty five. The more planeswalkers we added, the worse Domri got, but the better Ajani
got, so the deck’s major pivot point shifts toward the middle of the mid-game, as opposed to the end of the early game.

I started off rocky, losing a close one to Jund Monsters in round 1, then rattled off five straight before falling off later on. I’ll definitely look to
play this again when given the chance, but I gotta figure out how to cover up the holes in the plan. The games where you don’t have an Elvish a Mystic or
Sylvan Caryatid are a huge drag, and I wouldn’t mind having an extra dork.

Here’s an updated list:

Now, I want to say that this is good against Jund Monsters, and it certainly feels like it. It’s hard for me to back that up when I’ve lost all of my
matches against it throughout the weekend. It’s a serious case of results oriented thinking and small sample size, I know, but I’ll still be working on it.
Elspeth seems to break the late game very well, especially if they’re exhausting their Dreadbores. Setessan Tactics is more meant for Mono-Blue Devotion,
but being able to take down a Stormbreath Dragon from the ground, while also being an instant speed mini Overrun with your plethora of tokens is not to be

Monsters is the place to be for me, regardless of the flavor. I kind of wish I stuck with it the whole season, but I know that if I stick with it from here
on out, I’ll be better prepared for what comes.