Innovations – An Article on Standard

Make plans to join us at SCG 5K Dallas!
Wednesday, August 26th – With the StarCityGames.com $5000 Dallas Standard Open this Saturday, Patrick Chapin takes a look the strategies he believes to be the strongest in the current metagame. If you haven’t guessed by now, the decks he suggests all contain a little land by the name of Reflecting Pool…

My advice on Standard?

Play Five-Color Control.

Oh, that doesn’t quite meet the minimum word count? How about this:

Play Five-Color Control. Play Five-Color Control. Play Five-Color Control. Play Five-Color Control. Play Five-Color Control. Play Five-Color Control. Play Five-Color Control. Play Five-Color Control. Play Five Color Control. Play Five-Color Control. Play Five-Color Control. Play Five-Color Control. Play Five-Color Control. Play Five-Color Control. Play Five-Color Control. Play Five-Color Control. Play Five-Color Control. Play Five Color Control. Play Five-Color Control. Play Five-Color Control. Play Five-Color Control. Play Five-Color Control. Play Five-Color Control. Play Five-Color Control. Play Five-Color Control. Play Five Color Control. Play Five-Color Control. Play Five-Color Control. Play Five-Color Control. Play Five-Color Control. Play Five-Color Control. Play Five-Color Control. Play Five-Color Control. Play Five-Color Control. Play Five-Color Control Play Five-Color Control. Play Five-Color Control. Play Five-Color Control. Play Five-Color Control. Play Five-Color Control. Play Five-Color Control. Play Five-Color Control.

The problem is that, if you aren’t on board at this point, it seems unlikely that with 72 hours left in the format, you move all in on Five-Color. Who knows… better late than never. There are some hot tournaments this weekend, giving you one more chance to flex nuts in Standard before the format degenerates into Five-Color Cascade: The Format (You might want to read up on our Hawaii deck…).

I have been a writing a variety of non-Standard articles lately, despite the PTQ season being Standard, because I really don’t have much more to say. Five-Color Control is the best. Five-Color Blood (or Jund) is the other good strategy. It is not that tough. I would still play almost the exact same deck this week that I would have played three weeks ago.

As such, I wrote an article for this week called “The Template.” It is the epitome of generic Magic article, going so far as to remove the actual Magic content, since it is not about specific Magic content. Rather, it is a template that outlines how one might write a Magic article. It was designed to be an aide to both Magic writers and aspiring writers, but alas, it would appear that the article was a little too far out there, hence no appearance on Monday. However, it’s still getting an airing, on the free side of the site today. Go check it out!

Anyway, this article is not about that article, or even the ice around my neck (yo). This article is about Standard.

Innovator on the mic
Straight Wafo, no Remixes
Props to Kyle Sanchez
And Fabiano for Grixis

I suppose there is not a lot to say on this list, but let me touch all the bases. First of all, yes I play 4 Cruel Ultimatums. I only play Identity Crisis because I can’t play five.

Yeah, really.

Next, I know a lot of people don’t like Broken Ambitions, but I think you still want some, though you need some Negates too.

A Runed Halo main is sweet, as it helps against Figure of Destiny, Anathemancer, Mistbind Clique, Mutavault, Cruel Ultimatum, and more. It is really nice to have somewhere, and a second would not be out of the question, but it is weak to Maelstrom Pulse.

I also still have Doom Blade because every kid and their mother is creeping with Baneslayer Angel, and I am not having it. I also am not one to sleep on Faeries, no matter how much they may get beat up by the other kids.

Speaking of Baneslayer Angel… yeah, I still have zero. Why would I want Baneslayer Angel? Don’t get me wrong, it is an awesome card, and it will win many times over next several years, but why is that what I am looking for? I can’t reliably protect it, like those Glen Elendra Archmage decks do. My opponent is likely going to have a hand full of removal. Baneslayer is overplayed anyway, so everyone has outs. To me, the way I play this deck, Baneslayer is a five-mana Funeral Charm.

Wafo-Tapa calls Broodmate Dragon “The Savior” for a reason. First of all, whereas Baneslayer is weak against White decks, Broodmate is the best card in the format. Next of all, whereas Baneslayer usually trades with one card in their hand during your discard step, Broodmate doesn’t just take two cards, he often takes your discard step and their main phase to kill, if they even can.

You know the real difference between people who play Baneslayers and people who play Broodmates? People who play Baneslayers always want to put her in play and ride her to victory all night long. People who play Broodmates know that often you discard the Broodmate Dragon instead of playing it because, in the Five-Color Mirror, “doing something” equals “losing.”

I know you are probably saying “just discard the Baneslayer.” Sure, if it were that easy. The problem is, you can know that it is right to not play anything, and when you sit there with eleven mana in play, four blanks in hand, a Cryptic Command, a Negate, and a Baneslayer in hand, you are gonna break. Be honest! You know you will. You will not be able to resist the allure of gaining five life a turn. You will play the Baneslayer with double counter back-up.

Then you will lose.

That is not what the Five-Color Mirror is about. It’s funny, but it is always the people with Baneslayer that do this. I am not saying it is something about them, I am saying that it is something about human nature and Baneslayer.

I tried Baneslayer a lot. I did the same thing. I would know better, know better, and I would not be able to help myself. Eventually, by the time I figured out to just stop doing that, I realized that if you don’t just put Baneslayer out there, it is hard for her to be better than the Double Dragon.

Baneslayer in this deck is just rolling the dice and hoping you steal a free win. Double Dragon actually is worse more often, but it happens to be good in the exact situations where you actually need help. I can’t fault you for wanting to Baneslayer, though. I am just saying that I personally am not into that sort of thing in this deck. I will be Baneslaying a lot for years to come, but not here, not now.

It should also be noted that Baneslayer Angel is particularly good at helping reasonable players who do not play ultra tight, as she is very forgiving. She can help clean up a lot of messes and can get you out of tight jams, such as being on four life against a Red deck. Personally, I think with tight play, she is a safety net one doesn’t need, but if you are trying to win a PTQ, there is nothing wrong with being realistic about needing a crutch, and that is what she is, to me (in this deck).

Anyway, I know 4 Cruels and an Identity Crisis is a lot of high end stuff, but this format is really not that fast anymore, and the guy who is a little bigger has the edge. The only fast decks I have much respect for are the Bloodbraid decks, and Cruel is good against them.

Playing against Jund and Five-Color Blood are similar experiences. Bloodbraid is nuts and Anathemancer is their best weapon, but you have nice ones too, like Plumeveil. Board in the Kitchen Finks, Walls of Reverence, and Runed Halo. Board out Volcanic Fallouts, Doom Blades, Negates, and one more card depending on their build.

This match-up can be tough, as they can set their cascades to beat you if they want, but fortunately, most people who play Five-Color Blood decks still play sketchy manabases. I will tell you what Five-Color Blood build would scare me… Gerard Fabiano Grixis deck (which does look kind of sweet, and is one of my favorite Fabiano decks ever) could be hybridized with Five-Color Blood. I will suggest a list for such an experiment, but so as to avoid jumping around too much, let me cover the rest of the Five-Color Control material first.

In the mirror, DON’T DO ANYTHING. It is usually right to discard Broodmate rather than play it. Eventually, your opponent’s will breaks and you win when he tries to do something, or you both sculpt the perfect hand and you start the fight with an Esper Charm to make him discard when his hand is already perfect. It is not the end of the world to get hit with a Cruel Ultimatum, as you can just Cruel back, often improving your position. Usually, it is a bad idea to waste countermagic on Draw 2’s. The beatdown plan rarely works.

Sideboarding depends on their build and plan, but a reasonable default would be:

+2 Negate, +1 Identity Crisis, +1 Essence Scatter, +1 Runed Halo, +3 Kitchen Finks, +3 Great Sable Stags
-2 Firespout, -2 Volcanic Fallout, -3 Plumeveil, -2 Hallowed Burial, -2 Broodmate Dragons

Doom Blade and Pithing Needle should also be considered. By the way, I know I say this a lot, but it always seems like I encounter people who never even think about it… when you play control mirrors, always ask yourself if it is actually better to play, or if perhaps you should choose to draw. So many people just “auto-play,” without even considering that it might be better to draw.

For instance, in many Five-Color Control mirrors, all you are doing is playing land anyway. Choosing to draw is often right, although if your opponent has a lot of Planeswalkers, this could be less true. I am not saying you should always choose to draw. I am just saying take the ten seconds it takes to stop and think about it. For instance, if I played against Wafo-Tapa in a Standard event tomorrow, I would choose to draw, game 1, in the dark. Five-Color pre-boarded is an especially good place to choose to draw in the mirror, if you know their deck. You are just going to be discarding dead cards for turns anyway, so the extra card is useful for helping hit your land drops, whereas the tempo from the play dissipates after the seventh turn of draw-go.

If you take nothing else away from this article, please consider choosing to draw more often, and not just with control or in Standard. I chose to draw first every single time but one in Hawaii and Nationals. I always play Five-Color Control in Shards draft, and have found that I would rather be on the draw against anyone except a hyper aggro U/W Esper deck. It was very telling to me that, in Hawaii, most of the people I played would just choose to play after I beat them when I chose to draw, whereas Nicolay Potovin, Jelger Wiegersma, and Shuhei Nakamura all chose to draw against me, after I beat them when I chose to draw.

Just think about it.

It is certainly not always going to be right to draw, in fact it is pretty generally better in Magic to play first, as you would think, but I find myself choosing to draw first most of the time in about 30% of formats, maybe more, which is way more than most people, I would think. What Nicolay, Jelger, and Shuhei realized is that even if they want to play first for their deck, it is possible that I want to draw more than they want to play and that they should choose to draw just to deny me the ability to get what I want.

Okay, back to sideboarding:

Against Kithkin, you don’t need to change much, as it is pretty easy.

+1 Hallowed Burial, +1 Volcanic Fallout
-1 Identity Crisis, -1 Negate or Broken Ambitions

Combo Elves is actually even easier, as it is just too hard for them to combo through sweepers, permission, card draw, discard, and good answers to their back-up plan. Just don’t lose to post-sideboard Oversouls and Sable Stags (or Chameleon Colossus).

+1 Hallowed Burial, +1 Volcanic Fallout, +1 Essence Scatter, +1 Runed Halo, +2 Kitchen Finks
-1 Identity Crisis, -3 Plumeveil, -2 Broodmate Dragon

Various Red/x aggro decks are stressful and require tight play, but actually all play out very similar to Jund decks, so practicing against one helps with others. The six white life gain damage prevention cards are obvious, but beyond that, look to adjust the permission in your deck to fit your opponent’s game plan.

Merfolk is certainly a challenging match-up, if they are configured like Adrian Sullivan and play tight, but I don’t think it is actually as bad as some say. Game 1 is really a matter of pacing them, and I found that the match-up seemed to go from 70-30 to 50-50 (game 1) after half a dozen games to learn the speed of it. Post sideboard games are actually deceptively hard, though, as Glen Elendra Archmage works extraordinarily well in their deck, especially when combined with Harm’s Way for the Fallout you were counting on. Name Glen Elendra Archmage with Pithing Needle, unless you need to name Mutavault.

+1 Volcanic Fallout, +1 Essence Scatter, +1 Pithing Needle, +2 Great Sable Stag
-2 Cruel Ultimatum, -1 Identity Crisis, -2 Negate

This is one match-up where you will have to adjust your plan depending on what they do. Consider Negate staying, Broodmates leaving, Finks coming in, more or fewer sweepers, cutting a Plumeveil, keeping a third Ultimatum, and more.

Against Time Sieve, you are a dog no question, but you have plenty of play, so tough it out and don’t get greedy. They don’t really have that many cards in their deck you have to stop, so just try to stop those. Put out an early guy and protect yourself, looking for an opening to put a hole in their head. The main things you need to counter are Open the Vault, Cryptic Command, Tezzeret the Seeker, and Howling Mine. Even letting them keep a Time Sieve isn’t that bad. If there is a lot of Time Sieve in your area, putting a Relic of Progenitus in your sideboard might be a good move.

+1 Pithing Needle, +2 Negate, +2 Great Sable Stag, +3 Kitchen Finks, +1 Identity Crisis
-1 Doom Blade, -1 Runed Halo, -2 Firespout, -2 Hallowed Burial, -1 Volcanic Fallout,
-2 Broodmate Dragons

Faeries is not the most popular deck right now, but I still have a lot of respect for it. It doesn’t really have the tools to beat Five-Color Control or Blood (I am not all about the Red Faeries), but they are still good at beating up all the random decks people brew up to beat Five-Color. Time Sieve? Reveillark? Maybe it is time to go over to the Dark Side. Let’s just say, if I did not play Five-Color Control or Five-Color Blood, there is little doubt that I would rock traditional Faeries.

+1 Volcanic Fallout, +2 Great Sable Stag, +1 Essence Scatter, +1 Negate, +1 Pithing Needle, +2 Wall of Reverence
-1 Identity Crisis, -1 Broodmate Dragons, -1 Runed Halo, -2 Hallowed Burial, -1 Cruel Ultimatum, -2 Firespouts

I would consider keeping one Firespout or boarding in the fourth Negate, and you might sideboard Finks in the right scenario, but keep him out most of the time.

There are plenty of other decks in Standard at the moment, but at the end of the day, the way I see the format, there are:

1. Five-Color Control
2. The Bloodbraid ElfAnathemancer Spectrum
3. Decks that put a ton of creatures into play (Kithkin, Elves, etc)
4. Faeries
5. Mediocre U/W decks (both Merfolk and Baneslayer-Lark)
6. Weird Combo decks
7. Generic bad Green Creature decks (Doran, Naya, B/G, Ivan Drago)

Pretty much any deck listed here is probably like one of these and can be treated as such.

The most interesting new concept I have seen recently is Gerard Fabiano Grixis deck. For reference:

I am not sure of the exact list that Brian Six piloted to a Top 4 finish at this past weekend’s PTQ, but I know that it was a bit similar, adding a couple of Mulldrifters, and maybe one other creature, like Shriekmaw or something. I do agree the deck could use more men.

Personally, the man I want is, as usual, Bloodbraid Elf.

As you can see, this is just a straight update of Gerard’s deck, attempting to force 4 Bloodbraid Elf, which I think is perfectly reasonable. One should also consider Sign in Blood, as it might very well be a nice way to make up for the shortage of card draw in this build, while helping recoup the lost turn 2 play due to no Putrid Leech.

The problem I see with this deck is twofold. First of all, Volcanic Fallout is pretty awful in this list, though you are never going to beat swarm decks without it, and even with it, it is tough. Second of all, why aren’t you playing Putrid Leech?

The problem I have with this deck is that, at the end of the day, why aren’t you just playing Five-Color Blood if this is what you are trying to do?

Okay, I am out of here for today. I hope this article is helpful to you this weekend, even if you are not playing all Five-Colors. If you write about Magic, or it is something that interests you, or if you have ever read a Magic article ever in your entire life, be sure to check out “The Template,” over on the free side.

See you next week, when I talk Zendikar and maybe Extended.

Patrick Chapin
“The Innovator”