Finding My Footing In Standard

Brad Nelson suffered an agonizing tiebreakers situation yet again! His latest near-miss with another high profile top 8 hasn’t derailed his plans to help you, however! #SCGATL is fast approaching and Brad has the exact lists you need to be watching for!

Last week, I wrote about what I predicted from the metagame to show up and which decks I was debating on playing. I was happy with my predictions and preparation since the metagame was, for the most part, exactly what I thought it would be, and W/B Control was very well-positioned for the event. After barely playing any Standard in the past few months, our very own Cedric Phillips took the deck to a 12-3 finish. I ended up drawing due to time in the last round to finish 12-2-1, and Owen Turtenwald took the deck all the way to the Top 8 with a slightly better-tuned version of the deck than Cedric and I had.

One deck that didn’t show up that I previously predicted would have was Sultai Control. It was doing quite well on Magic Online, thanks to its ability to beat up on the decks trying to utilize the power of planeswalkers with early creatures and Dragonlord Silumgar, but it had issues with decks like Mono-White Humans and Four-Color Rite.

I thought the deck would be well-positioned for the weekend, but to my surprise, the only decks left at the top tables at the end of the tournament were mostly based around Thalia’s Lieutenant and Cryptolith Rite. The Human-based decks naturally come out on top in these exchanges, which is why we saw so many of them in the Top 8 of #GPMIN. Bant Humans ended up being a great choice if you could end up in Top 8 contention with only a few rounds left to play.

Outside of G/W Tokens continuing its dominance, #GPMAN and #GPMIN had very different results. Not a single copy of Thalia’s Lieutenant showed up in the Top 8 of #GPMAN while five decks were sporting them at #GPMIN. The European GP did have two copies of Bant Company among the Top 8, but with such limited high finishes in the past month, it’s difficult to say if Bant Company has a chance to break through again. The only thing that is certain about this format is that G/W Tokens is even more of a threat than we previously predicted.

It’s difficult not to respect a deck when it has the largest target on its forehead, yet continues to dominate and win events. We have been seeing a drop in cards like Virulent Plague that might slowly come back into existence after these results, but that can’t even be counted on when this format has so many unique decks attacking from so many different places. That said, Virulent Plague is a great card to attack both W/B Control and G/W Tokens, but it has only found homes in B/G Midrange-based sideboards.

I’m very torn on how I should process all the information I have about G/W Tokens. It’s difficult to say I am not screwing up in my deck selection process when I chose not to play this deck yet continue to see it do so well at every Standard event. That said, I also see two good players piloting the deck fall on their face during an event for every good player doing well with it. A part of me thinks I should just start playing the deck, since I told myself a while ago that I would start playing the best deck at every event I go to, but I have honestly felt that I have. W/B Control might not have been the most popular deck this past weekend, but I truly felt like it was the best deck.

My issue with G/W Tokens stems from my hatred of playing clunky decks. I understand how powerful they can be, but I simply dislike how reliant one must be on the cards they put in their deck. G/W Tokens does have a decent amount of play to it, just like every other deck in the format, but not in the ways I enjoy playing or that I believe amplifies my skills in this game. It might sound like I have an elitist attitude towards the deck, and maybe I do. I’ve always valued a deck’s flexibility over its inherent power level, but sometimes too much. That’s exactly why I am having such a difficult time not justifying playing the deck right now. That, and it’s oddly well positioned for being the most successful deck in the format.

So what makes G/W Tokens so well-positioned? For starters, Four-Color Rite was the deck that was supposed to take down G/W. Now, the deck does do that fairly well, but not as efficiently as other decks normally are at killing their prey. For example, W/B Control is designed to beat up on any Cryptolith Rite strategy and does that very well.

I for one played against various Cryptolith Rite strategies four times this past weekend and only lost two games to the strategy. Both times were after sideboarding in Game 2 when they were on the play. Cryptolith Rite strategies were and still are very cool, but I don’t believe they are beating the test of time because the metagame has adapted to their existence. The metagame has also adjusted for G/W Tokens, but that deck isn’t sharing the same fate as the various Cryptolith Rite decks.

Grixis Control, Naya Planeswalkers, and Sultai Control are all supposed to be good against G/W Tokens as well, but the only one I have confidence in actually beating it at a high enough rate is Sultai Control. In fact, I think Sultai Control is very well-positioned for this upcoming weekend as long as the metagame isn’t controlled by Thalia’s Lieutenant or Cryptolith Rite variants.

This deck has had some modifying done to it ever since Owen Turtenwald debuted it in the Magic Online Quarterly Playoff. Now, I can’t tell you exactly why this deck hasn’t been picking up in popularity. It has efficient removal, a great suite of creatures that all work well together, and Dragonlord Silumgar on the top-end, which is currently the best-positioned card in the format. It’s honestly the closest thing this format has to getting to relive the glory days of Abzan Control. If you miss Abzan, you should really be playing this deck.

What sets Sultai Control ahead of Naya Planeswalkers and Grixis Control is that it can beat W/B Control. The other two decks have a tough time dealing with W/B Control. Sure, they might be a good choice in a very specific metagame, but the format is too open right now to play something that just loses straight-up to one of the best decks in the format. This is where Standard starts to feel a little like Modern.

There are many decks in the format right now, but many of them can be explained away as variants of another deck in the format. For example, Naya Planeswalkers is a cross between W/B Control and G/W Tokens. It has some of the same cards as both decks but is trying to play a more controlling role than not. It has advantages against certain decks in the format, but most of those are the less-played ones.

I would suggest playing Naya Planeswalkers in a metagame filled with G/W Tokens, Mono-White Humans, and Cryptolith Rite. I wouldn’t play the deck if Ruinous Path was going to be played in high numbers, since both Sultai and W/B Control have good matchups against this deck. The same goes for Grixis Control. The deck has a very good matchup against Cryptolith Rite and G/W Tokens but is abysmal against W/B Control

With all of this information, and even more left unsaid, I’m putting together a list of decks that I think will be well-positioned this weekend at #SCGATL and one for those that most likely won’t do that well.

The Hits

G/W Tokens

It doesn’t take a genius to predict that the current best deck will continue to do well. In all honesty, I don’t think this deck should continue to be the most dominant deck in the format, but things won’t move as quickly as one would hope. It will take a few more weeks for things to change around again making this deck a weaker choice.

W/B Control

This is another deck that should begin to lose some ground in the metagame, but won’t because people will either not hear my cries that Cryptolith Rite is bad or won’t listen. We won’t see Cryptolith Rite be the most-played deck anymore, but I would still guess it will take up roughly 12% of the metagame. That is enough to justify playing W/B Control with a good plan for the G/W Tokens and the mirror match.

Sultai Control (Brad’s Pick of the Week)

I’m hoping that my predictions on this deck are as objective as they can be, but for some reason I truly believe this deck is great. It is currently set up to be good against the decks that are continuing their dominance and weakest against those that are slowly being pushed out of the metagame.

I will be honest and say my testing with this deck against Thalia’s Lieutenant is rather limited, but it hasn’t been bad enough to consider those matchups unwinnable. Plus, how can you really be that bad against a Human decks when you are packing four Ultimate Price and four Languish?

Bant Humans

Even though I am not the biggest fan of this deck, that doesn’t mean I don’t predict it will continue on the up and up. Like I said earlier and often, Cryptolith Rite players aren’t going anywhere, which is great for this deck. Thalia’s Lieutenant allows for these creature decks to overpower Cryptolith Rite in the early- and mid-game, never letting them stabilize. I’m also not completely convinced that my predictions on this deck are correct. If they aren’t, then this deck might just be the next best thing in Standard. I may have to go back and test this a little bit more before I head all the way to Costa Rica to play some Magic.

The Near-Misses

Mostly Mono-White Humans

For some reason this deck isn’t as bad as I predicted. I honestly believed this to be the worst deck in Standard and couldn’t for the life of me understand why people were playing it. That said, I was mostly playing decks like G/R Goggles Ramp and W/B Control. The other deck I worked on was Bant Company with a very good sideboard plan for this matchup. I haven’t been playing the decks that are weak to a swarm of Savannah Lions.

I believe the short-term metagame will slowly move away from Four-Color Rite, while decks like W/B Control become more popular. That will not make Mostly Mono-White Humans a particulairly good choice in the next couple of weeks. Once we see W/B Control being pushed out by Sultai Control or something similar, we might see the deck come back again. It’s just a belief of mine, but anything can happen. It’s too difficult to look that far into the future when it comes to metagame predictions.

Bant Company

I really don’t know what to say about this deck, since I am insanely subjective about it. I love this deck and wish it was the best deck in the format! I would play it all the time! Sadly it’s not, and I have to think long and hard as to why two copies of the deck showed up in the Top 8 of #GPMAN.

It could have been a fluke, made possible by a unique Day 2 metagame, or it might still be the best deck in the format. For now I will look at it with a cautious eye, and by that I mean “play my third competitive League with the deck after I finish writing this article.” I can only see myself playing this deck at #GPCR if it shows me something it hasn’t already, but I don’t believe it will.

The Misses

Any Color Rite

I don’t want to sound like a broken record, but I just want to hammer this one home. Cryptolith Rite is a very cool card and was great at the Pro Tour, but I don’t think it has put up the numbers to justify its dominance as the mos- played deck in the format. It was great at pushing Bant Company out of the format as well fighting the good fight against G/W Tokens, but the metagame has shifted against it and the deck can’t keep up.

The competitive side of me wants each and every one of you Cryptolith Rite lovers to tell me to fly a kite and continue playing the deck, but this is my job and I plan to do just that. I can’t sit idly by as so many of you keep playing these decks to middling finishes. If the deck were good, it would have put more than one copy in the Top 8s this weekend. Enough said.

Grixis Control

With the death of Cryptolith Rite comes the death of Grixis Control.

Naya Planeswalkers

It’s difficult to call a deck that barely saw any play bad, but I did have high hopes for this one. The biggest problem this deck faces is that it doesn’t have any removal for planeswalkers before Dragonlord Atarka comes down. That’s just not fast enough in my opinion. The deck plays at a slightly slower pace than the rest of the format, making it a tough choice for me to justify.

I really don’t even know what to say as for the rest of the format. There are so many decks out there right now that it’s impossible for me to get much practice in with all of them. Two new U/R decks popped up in the past couple weeks. One plays 2/1 fliers with flash, while the other ramps up to Ulamog, the Ceaseless Hunger. I know it’s my job to figure this all out, but there aren’t enough hours in the days.

Next week I’m going to take a stab at trying to figure out all of these rogue decks, since I will have a week break before #GPPIT and #SCGORL. So far I haven’t been impressed by many of them in my playtesting on Magic Online, but maybe there’s something you’re seeing that I’m missing. Is there?