Fishing For Answers

Todd highlights a couple of Standard decks he likes from the World Championship and Magic Online. See if you should give one of them a try this weekend at #SCGNY or #SCGSLC!

"Fishing isn’t about the fish. It isn’t a battle between you and the fish. It’s a battle between you and yourself. The fish is just the tool used to measure whether you win or lose."

While fishing is considered a sport, I like to think of it more as meditation.

You sit there all day—beer optional—and stare at the water as you cast, reel, and recast your line over and over again. The monotony can be therapeutic. Once you find your groove, you begin to do it without thinking.

Breathe in, breathe out.

Turn the crank, but not too fast and not too slow. You begin to feel that smooth rhythm that can only be learned after hours of practice.

The perfect speed.

Sure, it can get boring after a while, but it’s all part of the experience. You paddle around in the early morning summer heat trying to find the best spots to cast your line. When one place fails to deliver, you keep moving. Keep trying. Keep searching. 

"The fish like the shade, son. Let’s try near that tree hanging over the water."

I watch as a bug falls from the leaves into the water and a ripple appears to drag it under. It must be a good spot. It has to be this time.

And the cycle begins anew. You load up your bait, with the inevitable prick of your finger. And you start again. Cast, reel. Rinse, repeat.

Magic can also occasionally feel monotonous, and for me it is just as therapeutic. There is something fascinating about flicking the cards between your fingers, waiting in anticipation for each new draw step. Waiting to see if you catch your fish.

And sometimes, the line tenses up.

"Reel it in, but slow it down this time. The fishing line is taut, and the strain can be too much. Lead the fish to you, but don’t rush it. Keep control because he’s the one that’s hooked and you’ve got all day. Eventually, he’ll tire himself out."


That is the key to most games of Magic. As the aggressive player, you have to pick your spot perfectly each and every turn, making sure you don’t overextend. As the control player, you have to lead the opponent into your traps, gaining control of the flow of the game until you can reel them right on in.

Just like fishing, you have to keep casting your line, making sure you don’t reel it in too fast or too slow. Making sure you perform each action with precision and patience. One false move, one small mistake, one action performed out of order and the line snaps and the fish gets away.

Win or lose, you learn something about the game and a little bit about yourself.

Analyzing the World Championship

Last week at the Magic World Championship we didn’t see a lot in the way of innovation in the Standard portion. It felt like almost everyone was playing it a bit too safe, with most pilots preferring Jund or U/W/R Flash. The two decks are obviously very good, but I expected a bit more in the way of aggressive decks and was very surprised at the lack of any sort of Cartel Aristocrat-based strategy.

But I suppose it makes sense if you think about it.

With such a small amount of players to worry about, developing a supposed metagame shouldn’t be all that hard. These are the best players in the world, and it seems likely that most of them will be playing one of the two (supposed) best decks in the format. With the recent success of both U/W/R Flash and Jund in the StarCityGames.com Invitational, it was a no-brainer.

Cartel Aristocrat decks are much better against aggressive metagames and definitely not well suited for combating Bonfire of the Damned and Syncopate over and over. If you think that most of the players in the room are going to be playing one of those two decks, then it would be foolish to pick up any sort of Cartel Aristocrat deck, which is exactly what ended up happening. 

As for aggressive decks, I still think they are solid and deserved more of a showing than they got. I can understand the frustration of playing an aggressive deck against a Thragtusk, so I don’t blame anyone for shying away from this choice either. The downpour of Jund and U/W/R Flash was probably due to the fact that many of these players are biased towards certain archetypes, which heavily influenced their decisions in deckbuilding.

But one of the coolest innovations I saw from the World Championship was the incorporation of Lifebane Zombie in Jund. This was a heavy metagame call, giving the players casting Lifebane Zombie a huge edge in the mirror as well as a potent weapon against annoyances like Ghor-Clan Rampager and all of the green-based creature decks. With Thragtusk running around everywhere and Restoration Angel being the main threat from control decks, it’s no wonder someone got wise and opted to put Lifebane Zombie to good use.

When Lifebane Zombie was first spoiled, I compared it to Vendilion Clique because the two are alike in many ways. Both cost three mana, are 3/1 creatures with evasion, and influence the cards in the other player’s hands. Vendilion Clique was a major player when it was in Standard and continues to be played in Modern and Legacy. While green and white creatures is a bit more specific than "choose a card and put it on the bottom," getting to rob your opponent of a (likely powerful) resource cannot be ignored. The fact that it’s basically unblockable is important to note as well.

While Lifebane Zombie hasn’t hit the scene quite as hard as I predicted, it’s beginning to make waves. The B/G Midrange deck that Brad Nelson recorded a video with last week put Lifebane Zombie to work, helping clock the opponent while stripping them of a potentially devastating threat. B/G Midrange tries to grind the opponent out with a lot of removal, so something like Huntmaster of the Fells or Thragtusk can be backbreaking and exiling that creature is just a bonus. When that creature ends up being Restoration Angel or Angel of Serenity out of Junk Reanimator, the potential card advantage gained goes up in spades.

I’m not certain that Jund is the best place for Lifebane Zombie at the moment, but if you want an edge in the mirror, then it is certainly the card to help out. Jund mirrors are always a grind, so finding small ways to gain incremental card advantage is important. The fact that Lifebane Zombie matches up so well against most of Standard’s top decks is also a plus.

Spotlighting Standard

While there are certainly a lot of options for viable decks in Standard, Jund as the top contender can’t be ignored. With so many top finishes over the last few weeks, Jund is the enemy that everyone is gunning for. However, it is worth noting that Jund is particularly tough to hate out. I talked a bit about how you can get a leg up on Jund in one of my previous articles, which you can read here.

While I think Syncopate and Dissipate are easily two of the best cards for fighting Jund, they don’t fit into every deck. Aggressive strategies have to prepare for a slugfest featuring the format’s best removal spells coupled with some of the more annoying threats we’ve seen in quite some time. While Thragtusk doesn’t quite end the game in the same way as the Primeval Titans of old, it does a startling efficient job at making the game feel over when it hits play.

I don’t want to continue harping on how you should go about beating Jund, but the answers are there and you should be utilizing them. For starters, Brian Kibler played an awesome list at the World Championship, and you should be paying attention:

Now this is a Burning Earth deck! At the StarCityGames.com Classic in Knoxville this past weekend, this deck was running rampant! People were excited to set the ground on fire, and the Jund decks weren’t too pleased to be facing off against it. I think that Brian definitely made a solid metagame call with his concoction, especially if he expected the field to be full of Jund and U/W/R Flash.

This is easily the hardest card in Standard for Jund to deal with. The lack of basic lands in the Jund deck leads to some very one-sided games, where any amount of pressure with this as a follow up is lights out. A lot has been said about Burning Earth in the past few weeks, but I can’t stress enough how powerful this card is when fighting against such a grindy midrange deck like Jund. Every spell they cast will deal them a ton of damage, and their life-gaining threats no longer gain them life! Aggressive players rejoice! You have a new toy to play with.

An interesting side effect of Burning Earth being in the metagame is that the Jund players will want to play a few basic lands to compensate. This all but guarantees a lack of Cavern of Souls, which makes counterspells even stronger against them in the long run. Time will tell whether or not this phenomenon will last, but I can tell you now that playing a few basic lands in Jund will not save you from all of your lands being set on fire. Whether or not people figure this out and try to play a few Cavern of Souls is another point entirely.

But as for the rest of Kibler’s deck, it seems well suited to combat a lot of different archetypes. With such an aggressive curve as well as a bit of mana acceleration, you can just run over a lot of decks. Hellrider and Thundermaw Hellkite are a little rough on the mana, but when the deck curves out perfectly it’s very hard to beat. Domri Rade is also an absolute monster in this deck, as you have an excess of ways to cast it on turn 2 and protect it when you need to. Strangleroot Geist and Flinthoof Boar are built for attacking, but both can sit back and hold the fort when necessary.

Mizzium Mortars as the removal spell of choice instead of Bonfire of the Damned is definitely something I can get behind. There are so many creatures you need to push out of the way so that your cadre of hasty creatures can punch through. The fact that you can still overload it against decks where Bonfire of the Damned is potent is a solid point in its favor. Olivia Voldaren and her kin are incredibly annoying if you allow them to untap, so having Domri Rade and Mizzium Mortars to send her packing immediately is a plus, whereas you would need to miracle Bonfire at just the right time to rid yourself of her.

The current outlier for me in this deck is Scavenging Ooze. I can understand wanting access to it out of the sideboard since Junk Reanimator is still around and Angel of Serenity is a huge pain. However, you don’t have nearly as much removal as a deck like Jund to fully utilize the ability on Scavenging Ooze. Sure, you can occasionally exile a Ghor-Clan Rampager mid-attack after a bloodrush, but I don’t think it’s quite good enough to make the cut in this deck. While I don’t know what creature would fit the bill better, it seems like the only creature that is out of place.

The sideboard contains one of my least favorite cards:

Trust me, I’ve tried it out, and it just isn’t good enough. I would almost always rather have a creature than this enchantment, but there are some specific situations where Gruul War Chant does some awesome things. The biggest downside to Gruul War Chant is that it seems great in theory but is always lacking when it comes down to the actual games. Sure, you can get around their singleton Thragtusk with your two attackers, but these are sideboarded games. They’re going to have much more removal than normal, and the likelihood of you having that many creatures in play isn’t very high.

The argument for Gruul War Chant against something like Junk Aristocrats is also pretty miserable. I would much rather have a sweeper effect like Bonfire of the Damned or even Electrickery in its place, so that leaves me with the following question:

What is this card good against?

I feel like this is the biggest "new" deck to come out of the World Championship, and I fully expect it to continue rising in popularity due to the nature of the beast. With Jund running around everywhere, someone has to put it in its place; leave it to The Dragonmaster to use mana accelerators and a bunch of Dragons to show the world how it’s done. Bravo.

Outside of the World Championship, M14 hit Magic Online recently, and there have been some interesting results. After battling a bit with my fair share of the new set, I can safely say that there are a lot of goodies in the set but that the cards all seem fair. Unlike the core sets of the last few years, we’re not looking at Primeval Titan or Thundermaw Hellkite. We’re looking at Scavenging Ooze, Mutavault, Lifebane Zombie, and Xathrid Necromancer. These cards aren’t backbreaking on their own, but they are definitely subtle role players that will shape the future of Standard to come.

All of these cards have made a significant impact on Standard, but the most notable one is Scavenging Ooze in Jund. The ability of Scavenging Ooze to dominate graveyard-based decks while also providing you with a solid body and the ability to gain a ton of life is just unheard of from a two-drop creature. I would put Scavenging Ooze against Voice of Resurgence for "Best Two-Drop in Standard," and I honestly don’t know which one would win. If the recent success of Jund is any indication, I’d say that Scavenging Ooze would be the clear winner, though both are very powerful cards.

But with the influx of all these new cards, the coolest deck I’ve seen come out of everything is this little number:

While probably a little light on lands, this version of The Aristocrats (let’s call it Act IV: The Tokening) is just absurd! With so many value-based creatures, Cartel Aristocrat has never had so much fun! It’s interesting to see how well Gather the Townsfolk fits into this particular shell, giving you a multitude of ways to abuse the Human and token synergies. With Xathrid Necromancer and Skirsdag High Priest, the shenanigans are endless!

This version of The Aristocrats looks eerily similar to AJ Sacher W/B Humans deck that won the StarCityGames.com Standard Open in Richmond, but it splashes red solely for Falkenrath Aristocrat. This gives you another sacrifice outlet as well as a big finisher that is pretty tough to deal with. With so much synergy and some awesome tricks, I would recommend this list to anyone who has any experience playing Cartel Aristocrat over the last few months.

While you are still a little soft to Bonfire of the Damned, having two different creatures that are able to survive it on their own is huge. The added benefit of Xathrid Necromancer, Doomed Traveler, and even Champion of the Parish being able to survive that backbreaking spell means you’re more resilient than most token strategies. Falkenrath Aristocrat is still very vulnerable to Tragic Slip, but I see fewer and fewer of those every time I look over decklists.

While I think this particular list might need a little work, it looks very strong. As a sideboard full of two-ofs is almost never correct, and 23 lands seems a bit shallow. I fully expect this deck to evolve over the next few weeks into what could be the "next big thing." While Jund is still around and still a pain in the ass, this deck can definitely give it a run for its money. The Aristocrats has always exceled against Jund when they’ve had access to threaten effects, and the splash of red in this particular version might be all you need to get around Thragtusk, Olivia Voldaren, and Huntmaster of the Fells. Along with Lifebane Zombie out of the board, this deck has literally everything!

I’m looking forward to trying out some of these sweet new Standard brews, and I hope you are too. M14 has given us a lot of stuff to play with, and I’m quite happy with how Standard is shaping up despite the fact that mean ol’ Jund deck keeps winning everything.

*grumble grumble*

Todd Anderson
@strong_sad on Twitter
strong sad on Magic Online