Fulfilling An Obligation & Keeping Up With Standard

This week Sam builds a Dark Prophecy deck and takes a look at the results of SCG Standard Open: Richmond in preparation for SCG Open Series: New Jersey featuring the Invitational.

People keep expecting me to build a Dark Prophecy deck, so let me get that out of the way.

First off, we’re going to need a lot of Swamps.

19 Swamp
4 Mutavault

We want Mutavault because it’s awesome, it’s a Zombie (which might become relevant at some point), and it’s another creature that can trigger Dark Prophecy.

Next, we need some ways to gain life to make up for the life we’ll lose to Dark Prophecy:

4 Blood Artist
4 Bubbling Cauldron

We’re going to need some creatures to sacrifice:

4 Gravecrawler
4 Festering Newt
2 Butcher Ghoul
2 Thrull Parasite
4 Geralf’s Messenger

Which means we need sacrifice outlets:

3 Corpse Blockade
1 Bloodthrone Vampire

And more ways to get paid for our infrastructure:

3 Skirsdag High Priest
2 Dark Prophecy
1 Bogbrew Witch

Realistically, we’re probably going to need some removal:

3 Tragic Slip

Putting that together:

What’s going on here?

First of all, we’re an aggressive black deck. We have a lot of cheap creatures and ways to make our opponent lose life. We have a very low curve, which is good if we plan to draw extra cards, especially since we have other mana sinks in Mutavault, Gravecrawler, Bubbling Cauldron, Thrull Parasite, and Bogbrew Witch.

Thrull Parasite gives us another one-mana creature to tap for Skirsdag High Priest, more life gain, and, most importantly, resets our Butcher Ghouls and Geralf’s Messengers.

Four probably looks like an insane number of Bubbling Cauldrons, but I think the card is actually very good and important to this deck. We really need to stay alive to get our combos going, and it has the advantage that Cartel Aristocrat has that it’s a sac outlet that isn’t likely to die—except this one even lives through sweepers.

Corpse Blockade is another card that looks really odd in an aggressive black deck. Zombie decks have been bad against aggro, and that’s not where I want to be in this format at this time. Corpse Blockade offers a durable sac outlet that blocks on the ground extremely well against small creatures and will help preserve our life total for Dark Prophecy. Against control decks, you’ll want to side it out, which will limit your sac outlets, but you’ll want to cut Skirsdag High Priest anyway, so that won’t be so important.

I decided to build this deck has a bit of a joke and to fulfill expectations, but I actually like a lot of what’s going on here.

It’s entirely possible that it’s correct to splash another color.

Red gives you threaten effects, Falkenrath Aristocrat, and maybe even Burning Earth; white gives you Cartel Aristocrat, Doomed Traveler, and tempts you to accommodate Xathrid Necromancer, which might be right; green gives you Varolz, the Scar-Striped, which certainly "might" be better than Corpse Blockade; and blue gives you Diregraf Captain and Grimgrin, Corpse-Born, who might secretly be awesome.

That was a fun diversion, but let’s get down to business: figuring out the Standard metagame now that we have some real results.

The StarCityGames.com Open in Richmond gave us a first look at Standard to help us prepare for Grand Prix Calgary and the StarCityGames.com Open Series featuring the Invitational in New Jersey, after which we’ll have quite a bit more data leading up to the World Magic Cup and World Championship, which should solidify the format going into the end the PTQ season.

Next week will probably look completely different, but for now we mostly have this one event to go on. Fortunately, the data here looks pretty good. We see some very good players doing well with decks they know well, so we can assume we’re looking at some pretty reasonable starting lists.

Let’s start our analysis with a huge congratulations to my friend and fellow StarCityGames.com writer AJ Sacher, who won the tournament with a deck I can certainly get behind.

I like his list a lot. When I wrote about the deck, I was worried that the basic package would be short on "oomph" and might need Obzedat, Ghost Council, but if it’s winning without it, that’s great. I’m still a little surprised by only one in the 75, but I don’t know that it’s wrong.

What I’m less happy about is zero Intangible Virtues in the maindeck. I just don’t understand. He has nineteen cards that make tokens, so it’s pretty hard to imagine he wouldn’t want an Intangible Virtue. Bloodthrone Vampire is the weakest card in the deck, but I like the fifth outlet for Blood Artist / Xathrid Necromancer. I suspect the cut is Orzhov Charm or Tragic Slip, but it could be a Gather the Townsfolk; Sorin, Lord of Innistrad; or, oddly, a Champion of the Parish. It’s definitely a tight list, so I’m not expecting a ton of them, but the first just seems so good to me.

Without having tested much, (I wish I had, but I spent last weekend playing in the Gold PTQ and MOCS on Magic Online—I made the Top 8 of both, but I really doubt more than 1% of readers are interested in DGR Sealed at this point), I’m guessing this deck has a close matchup against Jund and U/W/R Control. Both were close to slightly bad with decks like this before, but I think Xathrid Necromancer helps significantly in both.

Thinking about the aggressive matchups, it always felt like they should be pretty good based on how good you were at getting in the way, but often you’d be just a little too slow. This deck drops the curve a little, and, more importantly, usually won’t take any damage from its lands, so I’m guessing it’s quite good against the aggressive red decks.

If I were to build a deck specifically to attack this deck, I would either look to go over them with creatures in a non-interactive way (Elves) or play a good control deck with four copies of Terminus and some other sweepers, possibly including Curse of Death’s Hold and Ratchet Bomb.

The next deck we’re going to look at is probably the most important deck in the format.

Andrew Boswell finished second with:

This has 75 of 75 cards in common with Jund Midrange expert Owen Turtenwald thirteenth place deck. I’d consider this the "stock Jund" list for this week’s testing and expect most opponents to play something very similar to it this weekend.

On Twitter over the weekend, I saw Pat Cox asking for suggestions on ways for Jund to combat Burning Earth:

Patrick Chapin suggested a complete overhaul of the mana. Golgari Charm was another reasonable option I saw presented. This list opts to ignore it instead, which seems like a completely reasonable plan until people demonstrate that they’re actually going to have it. This means that if you’re trying to beat Jund Midrange, having it could be one approach.

All reports I’ve heard from all sources indicate that Scavenging Ooze has been overperforming in Standard. I don’t personally understand how this is possible since in my experience the card has simply read "1G: win the game." I don’t really know how it could be better than that, but I might be biased by exclusively playing against it in Legacy while playing Zombies.

Really, I’m not the least bit surprised that this card has been outstanding in Jund, which is the perfect deck for everything Scavenging Ooze has to offer. Sadly, this makes me a little less excited about Gravecrawler and Geralf’s Messenger in the Dark Prophecy deck at the beginning of this article, but it’s not too hard for that deck to answer the Ooze or play around it if the opponent wants to use their mana.

Jund Midrange’s removal suite at this point is an adorable mix of a little of everything, which is exactly how WotC drew it up by printing a variety of removal spells that all have different strengths and weaknesses.

For the most part, this is exactly the Jund Midrange deck you’re used to, but now it has Scavenging Ooze. One exception that I’ll note is that this sideboard is extremely hostile to Bant Hexproof, with three Liliana of the Veil and two Barter in Blood, and it’s not clear that it’s warranted given that this deck lost in the finals against a deck that edicts are terrible against. None of those cards are in the maindeck, so it’s not like Andrew was trying to edict AJ, but those sideboard slots could be dedicated to cards that are better against B/W, like Pillar of Flame or Thundermaw Hellkite.

Richard Nguyen brought mono-green to the table with this deck:

Richard really merged two decks together. He has an aggressive deck that accelerates Predator Ooze and Wolfir Silverheart and makes them trample spliced on to a big mana Elves + Garruk, Caller of Beasts deck. This gives him multiple angles of attack at a very low cost since the two parts play very well together. Ranger’s Guile is an interesting choice that does a lot here, particularly avoiding blowouts when an opponent kills a creature in response to Rancor or kills a Wolfir Silverheart in combat but also protecting Predator Ooze from Detention Sphere or Azorius Charm.

This is likely the best new linear deck, and I certainly think green aggro will remain a staple of this format.

It’s worth noting that this is another problem I’d feel most comfortable solving with Terminus. Unfortunately, though, I think Terminus decks don’t match up well against Jund Midrange.

William Jensen also made the Top 8 with a U/W/R Flash list he got from U/W/R Flash expert Matt Costa, so this is another deck I’d definitely pay attention to. This version is on the more controlling side, with Think Twice over Geist of Saint Traft. I’m disappointed that a deck with Augur of Bolas, Snapcaster Mage, and Think Twice can’t play Thought Scour, but I’m certainly less experienced with building these decks than they are.

The addition of Ratchet Bomb in conjunction with Pillar of Flame solidifies this deck as one that I’d rather not play against with W/B Humans, and I have to imagine it would do very well against the aggressive green decks since it has lots of cheap removal for their mana creatures and Azorius Charm for their durable attackers with just enough sweepers to approach nightmare territory.

The problem with this deck is likely the same as with Terminus decks. While it’s very well set up against the creature decks, it’s just not that good against Jund Midrange. Sphinx’s Revelation can certainly win you some games, but overall your cards are low impact enough that it’s not that uncommon for them to just grind you out anyway. If I knew what this deck could do about that, it would probably have already been done.

Looking further, we see an interesting Mono-White Humans deck with which Joshua Everly finished in eighth place:

My first thought is to question whether this deck really wants to be mono-white. I haven’t loved Dryad Militant in the past, and Avacyn’s Pilgrim is extremely easy to splash. The more I think about it, the more Dryad Militant seems reasonable now. It doesn’t power up Champion of the Parish, but you should be doing pretty well when you have him. I’m suddenly interested in Dryad Militant when I hadn’t been before because Imposing Sovereign makes it much less likely to get blocked, which means you get much more mileage out of your two-power one-drop. Additionally, it gives you a free two damage when you’re alpha striking with Brave the Elements, which Avacyn’s Pilgrim doesn’t do.

Avacyn’s Pilgrim lets you move up the curve, play something like Sublime Archangel, and better supports Silverblade Paladin, which I’m surprised to see omitted from this deck, but it’s actually all pretty internally consistent. We want to attack with our one-drop and play a two-drop on turn 2. Even if we could play a three-drop on turn 2, we’ll often be more interested in getting Imposing Sovereign or Thalia, Guardian of Thraben into play anyway. Our three-drops don’t want to come into play early, as Banisher Priest needs a target and Frontline Medic needs battalion.

If I were to splash a color, it’s likely that red is actually the color I’d want for Lightning Mauler and possibly Firemane Avenger, but that seems a little ambitious. And besides, Clifftop Retreat would really cut into our turn 1 white sources when we’re supporting Mutavault.

I wrote before that I didn’t think I’d ever want Banisher Priest over Fiend Hunter. Well, I was wrong. This deck is different, and Banisher Priest is clearly better. We have no way to take advantage of the different wording on Fiend Hunter, their removal will already be extremely taxed, and every point of power is extremely important because we definitely intend to attack with this creature.

I really like the way this maindeck is built.

The sideboard mostly makes sense. I’m not sure that Purify the Grave is really necessary at this point thanks to Scavenging Ooze. Immortal Servitude is cute, but I’m skeptical that it’s really the best thing we can do there. I also wonder if we’d like some Riders of Gavony.

Looking beyond the Top 8, we see a cluster of Bant Hexproof decks, all of which chose to include Gladecover Scout and two of which used Fiendslayer Paladin. Maybe Jund Midrange really does need those Barter in Bloods.

I’m more impressed by the Fiendslayer Paladins than the Gladecover Scouts, but I suspect both are right to play even if you’re often looking to enchant something better than a Scout and might side it out pretty often.

I probably dismissed this deck too quickly when I suggested that Jund might not need all those edicts. It’s been extremely powerful before when opponents weren’t ready, and it’s only gotten better. I feel like this is another example of a non-interactive creature deck that should be able to go bigger than what W/B is doing.

I think there’s some chance Ratchet Bomb is still underplayed as an answer to this deck that’s still very serviceable against all the aggressive Human decks.

Overall, I think the format is in a great place right now. Most of the old decks are still competitive, but they got new tools, so you should be able to update your old deck and still compete while keeping it fresh. If you were sick of all the old matchups, there are a variety of new options that do good things.

This format really needed Mutavault to give monocolor decks access to a high-impact colorless land. It was awkward when multicolor mana bases just provided a better foundation because they were they only way to really get value out of lands.

I look forward to next week when I can actually talk about the format with some personal experience after the StarCityGames.com Invitational. Wish me luck if you’re into that kind of thing.

Thanks for reading,

@samuelhblack on Twitter