Figure out what you want to play this weekend in Standard at SCG Open Series: Milwaukee as Mark tells you what he’s thinking about sleeving up!

Time to go to work.

Time to make the donuts.

Time to use outdated commercial slang.

This weekend I finally get to leave the house to play some tournament Magic, and I couldn’t be happier. I get to travel to the city of Orlando, home of a giant anthropomorphic mouse, Hogwarts, and screaming children, for a $5000 tournament. I like money! I like Magic!

What am I going to play?

That’s a tricky question because the last time I put it in your hands, you picked Maze’s End.

Oh yeah. I didn’t tell you how that went.

I think this sums up how I felt when I saw the results of what deck I’d be playing at FNM.

I can’t blame you. I can only blame myself for putting it on the list at the urging of so many people.

The short version of the story is I went 0-2, dropping and literally going to Wal-Mart, buying a carton of ice cream, and bringing it back to the card shop. I ate the entire thing in order to drown my sorrows. Sometimes you have all ten Guildgates in play and don’t draw a Maze’s End. Sometimes you have an opening hand with two Fog effects and then never draw another one.

In short, the deck sucked.

This weekend is going to be different, though, because I’ve already got it narrowed down to two decks to play and feel pretty happy about both choices.

Let’s talk turkey.

Or decks.

Let’s talk decks instead.

Forget about turkey.

The last few weeks have been hella confusing if you’re a deckbuilder, and the games of rock-paper-scissors have become even more complicated, introducing new things to jan-ken-pon like dune buggies, meteors, and this guy.

Just when you think it’s cool to throw paper, they throw meteor, and you’re dead in the water.

That’s what picking a deck in Standard has felt like recently.

For those of you that paid attention to everything that happened this past weekend, Esper Control was routed as the most powerful deck in the format amongst a sea of black-based devotion decks and burn, ensuring that as much as we’d like to believe that the format is solved, it’s still in a constant state of flux with no end in sight.

The clear winner this weekend without a doubt was Mono-Black Devotion and other black decks.

Influx of decks incoming!

Derrick Sheets ascended to Super Saiyan this weekend by winning the SCG Season One Invitational in Charlotte. His weapon of choice? B/R Devotion.

This deck has everything powerful that I like. Do you remember this picture?

Me & Rakdos

My wife loved it so much the first time that I thought I’d share it again. Nothing says love like replacing a woman’s head with The Lord of Riots.

This weekend B/R Devotion is my go-to deck simply because it does so much against so many different strategies. It completely invalidates other decks by playing more powerful cards than any deck out there except Esper Control. My greatest fear with this deck is playing against Blood Baron of Vizkopa, but cards like Lifebane Zombie and Rakdos’s Return ease my worries.

Is this the best deck in the format right now?

That remains to be seen, but I feel like it has all of the tools to beat just about anything out there effectively. That kind of confidence means a lot when you head into a big tournament. One change I’m interesting in making is cutting Sire of Insanity for another copy of Slaughter Games. Sire doesn’t strike me as the best thing to be doing against control decks when you can just neuter them entirely with an uncounterable hoser. Sire of Insanity used to be the premier way to wreck a deck playing Sphinx’s Revelation, but without Cavern of Souls to power it out in a way that can’t be dealt with, I think his stock has dropped considerably.

Next up is B/W Midrange, sported by Jacob "Won’t You Be My" Neighbors.

The Standard Open saw Jacob finish second as he fell to U/W Devotion, but it’s clear that B/W Midrange is a powerful deck that has earned its place in the format as tier 1.

Last is the progenitor of these black strategies in Mono-Black Devotion.

Forget bells. Forget whistles. Forget splashes. I like this deck like I like my vodka: without mixers.

Yuuya Watanabe and other freak of nature Shuhei Nakamura both made Top 8 of Grand Prix Beijing with very similar builds of Mono-Black Devotion. Yuuya won the entire thing, you know, because he’s Yuuya Watanabe.

This deck takes all the purest and most powerful elements of Mono-Black Devotion and battles with them in such a way that I find it very difficult to believe Yuuya ever could lose to Blood Baron of Vizkopa between four copies of Lifebane Zombie and four copies of Devour Flesh. One thing I love about his deck is the extra copy of Duress, giving him five Thoughtseize effects for all of those Burn and Esper decks out there.

What makes black decks such a good choice at the moment is that they’re the best catchall decks in the format. While they don’t do anything absurdly powerful like cast a Sphinx’s Revelation for ten, they do everything that they do well and have very few exploitable weaknesses.

Aggro decks? Removal for days.

Control decks? Thoughtseize for days.

Midrange decks? Pack Rat for days.

Of course there’s always the chance that you’ll draw the wrong half of your deck in game 1, but the capabilities after boarding is what makes this deck such an attractive option. Always having an answer is never a bad thing.

Aside from black-based decks, of which there are many, I love Esper Control.

Love me some Esper.

While it might not be the best choice at the moment with everyone gunning for it, I’ve had a lot success online with Esper and have found it very difficult to turn away from it.

Harry Corvese, who might be one of the sexiest men alive, proved Esper still has some chops by being the only person the entire weekend to Top 8 with it. Take that in.

Harry’s build is super close to what I’ve been playing the last two weeks.

For those of you that haven’t gotten the memo, Nightveil Specter is the new truth because people can’t handle the truth.

A few days ago at FNM, I played against a good friend of mine, Chase, who is a very competent control player. He was set on the more Brad Nelson like list from Cincinnati, while I was sporting the man plan in my board. He quickly toppled me game 1, but after board I brought in my Specters.

In both games I resolved Nightveil Specter when I was way behind, and in both games a few attacks from it started generating the card advantage I needed to scrape my way back into things. Eventually Specter took over, and Chase scooped his cards. Before the match, we wondered aloud if Specter was going to make a difference. By the end of the match, I think we both understood why it’s so potent.

One of the cards Harry played that I moved away from is Blind Obedience. I haven’t been overly impressed with it, finding that Doom Blade kills the things that matter the most like Stormbreath Dragon and Mistcutter Hydra instead of just delaying them for a turn. I’m certainly going to have to do more testing to figure out which is better.

I think it says a lot about the state of the format when a deck goes from being an unstoppable killing machine like Esper Control last weekend to only sporting a singleton Top 8 in three huge tournaments this weekend.

Last week I wrote about staying ahead of the curve when it comes to the evolution of Standard, and I felt like for once my article nailed it. I predicted that Esper was about to take it on the chin for the week and that the decks that prey on it would rise to the top, which they did.

Jund Monsters fell off the map a little bit, but that’s to be expected. If Esper isn’t the deck of the week, Monsters, which does well in a format full of Esper, is naturally going to have trouble dealing with the decks that beat it. Black with its plethora of removal and fast blitz style decks make for big frowns for Jund, so if the format shifts to compensate for those decks, I’d expect Monsters to continue its freefall.


This weekend.

What am I doing?

It’s hard to say, but here is what I’m testing:

I tried to stay away from changing a lot from Eric Froehlich’s initial list because I think what he was doing last week was the best thing possible that a deck like this could be attempting. One of my happiest additions to the sideboard has been Mizzium Mortars, which I think is a card that this kind of deck should be playing in order to deal with he who shall not be named.

*whispers Blood Baron of Vizkopa*

Aside from that the extra removal is going to come in handy against another deck that I feel like is going to surge in the coming weeks, and that’s this beast:

Tom Ross, aside from having a silky smooth voice, has shown a masterful knowledge of how to beat decks that should be bad matchups. In his article last week, Tom dissected Esper Control and how to best attack it, taking his own advice and sporting this glorious R/G deck in Charlotte that kills with precision and speed, essentially ignoring whatever your opponent is doing and just beating the piss out of them.

This is why I really like playing more ways to deal with problematic cards. Pharika’s Cure, a card which is very powerful against his strategy, is bad against cards like Fanatic of Xenagos. Mizzium Mortars kills it dead. Is it rewarding to be greedy and hope that you draw one of your nine red sources? What if you ever get to overload it? Is that the dream?

If I were to work on an Esper Control list, this is the one I would start with, at least maindeck.

One important thing to note is that Marius went 7-1 in the Standard portion of #SCGINVI with his Esper Control build.

It’s easy to become very results oriented with what won this Invitational, but some of the most important decks can be found in the 7-1 or better lists. These show the cream of the crop essentially for what did well in the Standard portion, meaning if these people won a few more Legacy matches, they would have made Top 8 without batting an eyelash.

Marius and his deck did a great job during the Standard section, but I’m not a fan of his board. I’d change it to something like this:

2 Archangel of Thune
4 Nightveil Specter
2 Blood Baron of Vizkopa
2 Dispel
2 Revoke Existence
3 Thoughtseize

I think Thoughtseize in the main is extremely powerful, and I’d be more inclined to play them over at least a single Last Breath and an Azorius Charm. I just think the card is too good to not play right now.

So what does the future hold for me this weekend?

Well, as always, I value your input and can’t wait to hear what you say in the comments about it. If you have any builds of Esper Control or black-based devotion decks, I’d love to check them out and see what kind of technology you’ve been doing well with.

But just in case I go 0-2 drop, there is one last question I’d like to ask you . . .

Disney or Hogwarts?