Going Upstairs in Knoxville

Patrick Sullivan breaks down the top-performing decks of #SCGKNOX, contrasting them with last week’s results, and takes a look at the Standard metagame going into #SCGSTATES.

Spring 2014 State Championships

When Andrew Tenjum won the first StarCityGames.com Standard Open with Journey into Nyx in Cincinnati, there
was a collective groan from much of the community. Mono-Black Devotion, scourge of Standard for the better part of a year, won again. And now that the deck
can easily incorporate Abrupt Decay and other green cards though Temple of Malady, the deck got even better. For many players hoping for something
dramatically different with the new set, Cincinnati proved disappointing. The most obvious Week 1 deck won the whole thing, beating another obvious Week 1
deck, U/W Control with Banishing Light, in the finals. Even the “newest” deck in the Top 8, Jeff Hoogland’s Junk deck, was a derivative of a previous deck.
For a Standard format that’s been defined by a large amount of stagnation, Cincinnati appeared to do little to address this.

In spite of the finals, I was fairly optimistic after the tournament. In my opinion, much of the damage done to Standard has been because of the power
level and density of non-texturized reactive cards like Hero’s Downfall, Detention Sphere (and now Banishing Light), Thoughtseize, and so on. Although
Abrupt Decay is a very powerful card, it does care very much about opposing text boxes (or mana costs, at least). In a world where people are going out of
their way to splash Abrupt Decay, your high-cost permanents are much more valuable, and the opposite is also true. Also, people going out of their way to
splash for any card is going to open up space for aggressive strategies to pick up percentage points, as those decks are primarily about capitalizing on
free points of damage and inefficiencies opened up by the non-basic lands.

The short version of this is that I believe the metagame is more likely to fluctuate and evolve when Abrupt Decay is a card people have easy access to,
which they now do because of the quality mana fixing. The terms of engagement are clear-play with expensive stuff, or try to flood the board with
non-synergistic permanents. If people are doing this, Abrupt Decay is not worth going out of your way to cast. If people are playing with lots of Domri
Rades and Detention Spheres, Abrupt Decay is awesome and worth considerable effort to play. This is far more texture to deck construction than we’ve seen
since Theros block entered Standard.

I’m extrapolating a bit here, but Knoxville appeared to confirm this theory. Abrupt Decay was all over the place, and the successful and unsuccessful
archetypes were defined, in large part, by their soundness against Abrupt Decay and the decks incorporating it.

First off, the winning deck, which is about as well-suited to fight Abrupt Decay as any deck in Standard.

Tyler Winn had a reasonable showing in Cincinnati with a very similar deck last weekend and won the whole thing in Knoxville. This deck is quite robust
against Abrupt DecayEidolon of the Great Revel is parity on mana and deals damage (as opposed to something like Ash Zealot in that scenario), Chandra’s
Phoenix comes right back, and Chained to the Rocks can be an effective tool even if it’s only delaying a creature for a turn or two, given how fast this
deck is. Further, this deck is obviously good at taking advantage of free points of damage and opponents not casting spells on time because of dual lands.

Eidolon of the Great Revel is the big addition here. I was skeptical of this card’s application in Standard, but it’s a great call in this metagame. It’s a
large upgrade from Ash Zealot against Mono-Black Devotion and various control decks, and the decks that are likely to punish you for it (mostly Monsters)
aren’t that present currently. In short, this deck does two things very well-it largely ignores Abrupt Decay and is extremely aggressive. The Burn matchup
is already pretty rough for Black Devotion, and the green splash makes it even worse, as the lands are a hindrance and Staff of the Death Magus gets some
amount worse, if one chooses to sideboard that card. I anticipate that some list like Tyler’s will be a popular and powerful metagame choice as long as
Abrupt Decay is a prevalent maindeck card.

Speaking of Abrupt Decay, I’m surprised it took us this long to get here.

Abrupt Decay frequently shows up in the sideboard of Jund Monsters, but rarely in the maindeck. Given what happened in Cincinnati, I believe this was an
excellent call. Elliot is essentially swapping Mizzium Mortars, which makes a lot of sense. It’s probably a net-neutral swap against Black Devotion (can’t
catch you up against Pack Rat in certain situations, can’t kill Gray Merchant of Asphodel, can kill Underworld Connections), but dramatically improves your
Sphinx’s Revelation matchups, as your replacing your worst card with something that can blow up Detention Spheres and Banishing Lights, their best cards
against you. The big cost is against other creature decks, where overloading Mizzium Mortars is a common path to victory, but those decks are among your
better matchups and currently underrepresented anyway.

All is not lost for attacking strategies, however. Brave Naya made its debut in the elimination rounds this weekend.

This deck isn’t explicitly good against the card Abrupt Decay, but it’s still punishing against controlling strategies in a general sense. The deck is
fast, merciless, and can kill out of nowhere with cards like Ghor-Clan Rampager and Boros Charm. Mana Confluence represents a big upgrade to the mana for
decks like this, as casting your spells on time was the biggest thing holding decks like this (and Naya Hexproof, among others) back. This deck demands
that you have your removal spells on time, which isn’t the easiest thing for Black Devotion with green to do, even if Abrupt Decay is a great answer to
cards like Boros Reckoner and Loxodon Smiter. You would likely be better served just playing Swamps and Doom Blades against this deck, but that’s not where
the metagame is at present.

The total sum of this is very tough for decks like Esper and U/W. Even though those decks performed fine (Cam Adkins in the Top 8 with Esper, three other
Revelation decks in the Top 16), it was certainly a regression from what went on in Cincinnati. Abrupt Decay is challenging for a deck leaning on Detention
Sphere to shoulder a heavy load: Planeswalkers, Underworld Connections, removal for large creatures, and so on. There has been no widespread adaptation to
this yet, and I think Revelation players need to consider playing a much more proactive shell-more Hero’s Downfalls and Thoughtseizes, and fewer Detention
Spheres and Banishing Lights.

It’s hard for me to fathom the metagame evolving to a spot where people starting cutting Detention Sphere altogether, but at minimum it can no longer be
the entire axis of the matchup, which it often is against Black Devotion and Monsters. A straight U/W shell can only give you so many options, but moving
into a third color can provide enough options to fight Planeswalkers and enchantments. A splash can also give you more ways to fight decks like Brave Naya,
where you need some spot removal to bridge the gap towards Supreme Verdict (which can’t be leaned on exclusively because of Boros Charm). Sphinx’s
Revelation decks have played essentially the same shell since the block constructed Pro Tour, but with the way things are right now, I think some wholesale
reevaluation is in order.

Outside of the Top 8, lots of Mono-Black Aggro appeared on camera. With Gnarled Scarhide and Master of the Feast, the deck picked up some powerful new
tools, and it was fringe competitive before Journey into Nyx came out. I feel that this deck has some serious legs, and I’m going to devote the next couple
of weeks to working on it. I think the emphasis on Master of the Feast and Herald of Torment might be an error given how ubiquitous Abrupt Decay is (maybe
just cap out on Mogis’s Marauder?). Also, I suspect that playing Thoughtseize main is a mistake people are making, since it’s hard to “cut a path” with a
deck that cares about every card the opponent has (every creature is a blocker, and every removal spell matters) and in a deck where one mana is a big
cost, but in any case I think there’s something there. There are so many reasonable creatures to choose from that the deck can be built in a variety of
ways, and some mixture of Doom Blades and discard spells makes for a potentially potent sideboard.

For the time being, Abrupt Decay is defining the metagame, and for the better in my opinion. It was all over the place, in a variety of decks, but Tyler
Winn’s Burn deck showed a path to beat it and many other deckbuilding decisions are being informed by it. For many decks, especially Sphinx’s Revelation
decks, adaptation has been slow, but that’s likely to change with States this weekend and New Jersey the week after. Even though it’s a slow, subtle shift,
the presence of Abrupt Decay has the potential to make Standard a much more fluid, dynamic format than we’ve seen in the last few months.

Spring 2014 State Championships