Innovations – Mono-Red, Polymorph, and U/W Control in Standard

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Monday, April 26th – With Rise of the Eldrazi now officially in the Standard mix, Patrick Chapin examines three decks that have huge potential in the evolving metagame. Are Jund’s days of dominance finally coming to an end? Let Patrick lead the way…

This weekend I had the pleasure of spending time in Madison at the B-Razz and Matt Severa estate. If you want to get your draft game up, Madison is one of the best places to do so. So far, I have been enjoying Rise of the Eldrazi draft quite a bit; however, I do think that this format is a very deep and nuanced one. As a result, I think I am going to have to draft a fair bit more before I can speak very confidently about it. Instead, I want to look a little deeper into the Standard format, as we have also had a chance to play a bit of Standard, and I am excited to see how the format is shaping up.

The first strategy I want to talk about is one that is not yet getting the hype it deserves. While Mono-Red has been a fringe deck – at times Tier 2 – for a while, Rise of the Eldrazi gives it so many awesome new tools, I think it is probably legit Tier 1, or at the very least Tier 1.5 if people prepare for it.

As you can see, I make heavy use of new RoE cards, featuring not only the hotly debated Kargan Dragonlord, but also Forked Bolt and Staggershock to compliment the burn suit, as well as Traitorous Instinct as an upgrade out of the board over Mark of Mutiny (though it is unclear if this really is an upgrade or if I am asking to be a mana short). In addition, the printing of Devastating Summons radically alters the landscape for both Standard and Block, as its use in conjunction with Goblin Bushwhacker is absolutely absurd.

Before I go much further into the deck, let’s talk a little about Devastating Summons. To begin with, what is the soonest you can play it and Bushwhack? Well, a turn 3 Devastating Summons for all your land and a Bushwhacker is 10 damage. That is a lot of freaking damage! Add in a Goblin Guide and almost anything, and you are looking at a turn 3 goldfish! This is Standard, remember, it is totally realistic to think that your opponent will spend their turn 2 tapping out for a Everflowing Chalice or something. A turn 3 kill in this world is super sick.

Okay, so the nut draw is sweet. Is that all there is to it? While D.S. leads to possible turn 3’s, it generally provides good chances to turn 4 through resistance. Not only do you get 12 damage from the combo straight up, each of your other guys gets an additional +1/+0. Another possibility on turn 4 is to make two 2/2’s twice (using two Devastating Summons), leading to 14 damage (you can pull a similar move on turn 3, make two 2/2’s and two 1/1’s, adding up to 12 on turn 3). Obviously Devastating Summons is sick with Goblin Bushwhacker, but you might be hesitant to play the full 4, fearing a draw without one. Let’s look at scenarios that can arise in non-Bushwhacker games.

To begin with, imagine you lead with Goblin Guide, followed by Goblin Guide and Devastating Summons for two 2/2’s. That is 8 power of creatures on turn 2, with an opponent already at 14. Who cares that you don’t have any land? It doesn’t lock you out of having an impact on the board. It is totally reasonable to follow up with a turn 3 Lightning Bolt, Burst Lightning, Forked Bolt, or Teetering Peaks. As you can see, if it very realistic to imagine opening so fast that the opponent just can’t beat the tempo boost it provides. Even if you don’t draw Goblin Guide, the ability to just add so much power to the board for so little mana is not to be underestimated. I know it sounds scary at first, but just think of it as a really efficient way to convert a resource of which you have a surplus (extra lands as the game continues) into a useful one. For instance, imagine when you have 5 land, just sacrificing 3, adding two more threats, while pitching lands that perhaps at the time were not needed. Finally, you don’t always have to play it immediately. Sometimes you just wait until you have a Bushwhacker.

Devastating Summons is definitely a thinking Red Mage’s card and it will take some practice to really get it, but it is worth working with it a bit. Michael Jacob is one of the best Red Mages I know, and during out first 10 games, he must have “punted” with it at least 5 times. The most common theme in the type of mistakes made are not being aggressive enough with it. Most of the time you are not sure if you should “push” with it, you probably should.

As far as the rest of the deck goes, I selected cards that I thought would be better suited to more games where I have few lands, hence the lower curve than many Mono-Red decks. In addition, I have declined to use Hellspark on account for what I am sure will be the huge popularity of Wall of Omens, though it is possible that Hell’s Thunder is appropriate. It may be a mistake to not use Earthquake, but I guess so far it has just seemed like there will be an increase in decks like U/W, Polymorph, and Jund, where Earthquake is not as good as it could be.

I have already discussed the Dragonlord at length, but I would like to remind you that while he looks awkward as a two-drop (since he doesn’t level immediately), it should be remembered that he makes a truly awesome three-drop, since he not only levels smoothly during the next two turns, he also leaves you with mana to spare to interact with your opponent. It should also be remembered that he is most definitely NOT a Dragon, not even when he is Level 8. This means Baneslayer can get bent.

Surely nearly every Mono-Red player at this point is aware of how Unstable Footing leaves a Kor Firewalker dead when it blocks a Plated Geopede, but it is still worth mentioning, as it will surely come up a lot more than it did. I chose not to include a splash color, but it is totally reasonable to consider one. White not only features the classic standby, Ajani Vengeant, as well as great sideboard options, it also opens up the possibility of Ranger of Eos, if you let your curve get a little higher. If you do add Ranger and Ajani Vengeant, Evolving Wilds and Terramorphic Expanses are nice options in moderation. White (mostly Ranger) does slow the deck down a bit, but it does increase the relative value of the Devastating Summons. Many people like adding Black to decks like this, usually for Blightning, but I don’t see much reason, as Blightning is a card that has dropped a bit in my estimation.

Most people will probably never consider Mono-Red, but if you are the type that does consider it, now is a particularly good time to give it a shot. Even if you don’t, though, you really should build a copy for your gauntlet, because if your deck can’t hang with Mono-Red, your deck is probably too slow. Let’s move on…

Polymorph is a strategy that was just starting to get some buzz before Rise of the Eldrazi, most notably at a UK Nationals qualifier as discussed by Alex West here. As you can see, I have looked to him for suggestions, primarily on sideboard ideas, however I do think that RoE offers a ton of great options that should be incorporated.

To begin with, I have moved away from Garruk, partially for mana considerations and partially just because I don’t like the guy. Wall of Omens makes Beasts a lot less effective, and Growth Spasm reduces the need to use it as a token generator. In addition, Deprive (on Khalni Garden) is yet another way to feed the Polymorph.

Growth Spasm is a card that I am kind of surprised that everyone I talk to is against. Maybe I am wrong, but I don’t think the ability to ramp to 4 on 3 is that important. Besides, I am interested in ramping into 6 mana on turn 4 (Deprive backup). Growth Spasm certainly shines here. You might notice a lack of Awakening Zones and that is by design. I do love the card, but I am not in love with it here, as I do not have Emrakul to save up for. Just as an enabler for Polymorph, I think Garruk is probably better. This deck also have a low curve, so it is a little bit of a waste.

I mentioned Deprive earlier. This is a controversial card that has everyone talking. “It’s the closest we have to Counterspell…” “The worst thing you can do as a control deck is bounce your own land…” These kind of debates go back and forth, and I think these people should just try it. I was optimistic about the card, but more than anything as a tempo card in some aggro deck. After trying it, I gotta tell ya, that card is sweet. The ability to replay Halimar Depths (or Khalni Garden, or Kabira Crossroads, etc) is remarkable. The key to understanding why Deprive is so good is to start by looking at the ability to reset your lands as a plus, since beyond the first few turns, it usually is.

Next, we analyze when we have to cast Deprive. My hope with a deck like this is that you are probably not going to Deprive until the turn where it matters. These decks were already using Negate and Deprive is going to be mostly better most of the time, since you aren’t always getting Blightninged on turn 3. I am interested in Deprive in U/W, but could see cutting some. Deprive in U/G, however, is unreal, and it seems crazy to not play the maximum. I think Brian Kowal is right when he says that it is sort of like Daze, where people are underestimating it at first because they just imagine what it feels like to have to bounce a land, but the truth is, when you have to counter something, you really want to be able to count on it being countered.

See Beyond is another card that is on everyone’s “to try list.” Let me save you a little time. See Beyond is the future. That card is the closest thing to Brainstorm we have had since Brainstorm. It is probably going to see regular play in every format, even Vintage and Legacy. The card is essentially just Divination for 1 mana less. It is a Blue Night’s Whisper, but instead of paying 2 life, you get to shuffle your Progenitus (or extra Path, Land, Daze, whatever) back in. See Beyond is quietly one of the best cards in the set, but rather than being flashy like Jace, is merely better than you should be getting (like Brainstorm). Every Blue control deck and combo deck in Standard should start with 4 of this card unless they have a compelling reason to do otherwise.

Even though Into the Roil has been around, I would like to note that I am pushing towards it a bit more, since it not only interacts with other people’s Polymorphs, it gives us answers to Gideon (which we sorely need). In addition, it is pretty easy to “cycle it,” making the opportunity cost fairly low, with a great potential upside (like Into the Roil on a five-power Geopede). Can Polymorph defend fast enough to compete with Mono-Red and still be durable enough to fight through the various U/W decks? I am not yet sure. Mono-Red and U/W are two match-ups where I think it is pretty clear that Iona is better than Emrakul, which is a big part of the reason I continue to go that route.

I have not yet explored it, but I would at some point like to take a look at combining Summoning Trap with Polymorph. Yes, you will need a lot more monsters, but it is at least worth thinking about, especially if you can actually cast the Terastodons, Kozileks, or whatever. If Mono-Red is one of the defining aggro strategies and U/G is the combo deck, U/W Control is the default control strategy. There seems to be a lot of debate about the relative differences between U/W Control (with Counterspell) vs Tap-Out U/W, with both having their advantages.

It is pretty clear that Tap-Out U/W is the more popular of the two, though a number of strong players I know tell me that Tap-Out is better against Jund and Mythic than Classic, though it is pretty terrible in the mirror. I know not everyone agrees with this position, but it is the people who played Tap-Out at the GP that tell me that they lose to U/W with Counterspells (again, posting better Mythic and Jund records), so take that for what it is worth.

A relatively recent trend is to hybridize the two a little, adding a lite countermagic suit, so as to gain an edge in the mirror, while retaining most of Tap-Out’s strength against Mythic and Jund. More and more pros are coming to the opinion that U/W is just the best strategy (at least pre-Rise) and with its numbers increasing, the mirror is becoming more and more of an issue. In fact, in many tournaments, players are starting to find U/W as popular as Jund(!), though obviously not putting up the kind of winning numbers Jund was (a feat that is rivaled by few).

If Tap-Out is more your style, I simply recommend finding room for 4 Wall of Omens and 4 See Beyonds, as well as experimenting to find the right number of Gideons. That guy is really pretty excellent as I have to say, I think the claims of his awesomeness were not unfounded and I am no longer unsure of whether he would live up to the grand claims made about him. The list that is about to follow contains Oust (partially as an experiment), but Tap-Out has to go with Path instead to actually have ways to interact with Polymorph (whereas Counterspell U/W has plenty of answers, obviously). Another card you may want to try is Deprive here as well. It is a lot worse without Halimar Depths, but a small amount of countermagic can be pivotal in the control match-ups, and Deprive is probably the best of the bunch. It is nice to be able to protect your Mind Spring, and Deprive is more versatile than Negate. Cancel is fine, but the extra mana is better saved than spent. You laugh, but the interaction with Knight of the White Orchid is not a joke. Another card I did not try yet, but one I want, is Survival Cache. At its best, it is an instant speed Divination with a 4 point life swing. Even at its worst, it more than counters a Lightning Bolt. It may be a bit unreliable, but I bet it finds a lot of homes (though likely just not that many Blue ones…)

Keep in mind, this is just where I am at after a day of gaming, so expect these numbers to change, but this should give you an idea of some of where I am at on things. It is a little distressing how fast the Red deck is, meaning game 1 is very tough, but our sideboard is pretty sick in that area. Overall, we are looking solid against the mirror, Polymorph, and Mythic, though our Jund match-ups is a little soft game 1, and our Naya match-up is probably soft if they are on Vengevine.

As I said, I just started testing Standard, in preparation for DC, so I am still a way off, but so far, U/W looks to be one of the most promising avenues to explore and will surely be one of the pillars of the metagame. Will U/W continue to be two of the most popular archetypes, or will they further blend together? I do not yet know, though it is important to note just how many quality cards U/W has to choose from, leaving a lot of room in the metagame for diversity even among U/W decks.

I am experimenting with an Oust instead of Path, as I really just don’t want to give my opponent that land. That said, Path may just be better on account of Polymorph, Bloodbraid Elf, Vengevine, manlands, and the ability to do it to your own Wall of Omens. Anyone that doesn’t have 4 Wall of Omens in their U/W Control deck (Tap-Out or Counterspell) should really consider adding them. The opportunity cost is so low, and they are so good against both Jund and Mono-Red.

I was playing with 4 Baneslayers maindeck prior to Rise of the Eldrazi, and it is possible that I just need to put them back in, but for now I am experimenting with 2 Gideons and so far, I have been happy with him. He is sort of a 6/6 Nekrataal for 5, yet he dodges Day of Judgment, Gatekeeper of Malakir, and more. In addition, he ends up saving you 8-20 life or more.

I may be a little greedy with all the Deprive action, but so far I have been pretty happy with the card. It should be remembered that Deprive means far more often will you be able to stick a Baneslayer and protect it. In fact, that is part of why I am thinking of going back to more Path (to hit my Wall and help reach Baneslayer + Deprive faster).

The list I have provided here for U/W is more suited for pilots that are considering playing U/W themselves, as opposed to a gauntlet deck. If you just want a U/W for your gauntlet, you should take your Tap-Out list, cut Spreading Seas, shave a few numbers, and force in Wall of Omens, See Beyond, and maybe 1-2 Gideons.

I don’t have anything new to offer on Jund yet, but your gauntlet Jund deck should probably have no Rise of the Eldrazi (or maybe 1 Sarkhan the Mad, just so they NEVER know…), but I recommend Jund players experiment with Eldrazi Monument. I don’t think it is the best time for Jund, but the deck is still awesome, so make sure to approach playtesting with an open mind and honest reflection on the what you are observing.

I listed some Vengevine decks, both Naya and G/W, last week, and I recommend a Boss Naya with Vengevine being somewhere in your gauntlet, making it Jund, U/W, Mono-Red, Polymorph, and Naya (cover all these bases and you should be good). They are all different enough that I highly recommend getting in games against all five. There are a lot of nuances to the gameplay that greatly favor players with a little experience with the match-ups. I am not yet sure how best to update Mythic, but I am guessing the first thing you do is add 2-4 Gideons. Beyond that, I guess it depends on where you see the format going (Vengevine is an option, but I suspect you don’t want it unless you add Rangers). I think Mythic is probably a little less important to put into the gauntlet simply because it really does see less play on account of it containing so many hard-to-obtain chase rares. In addition, it is not actually that fundamentally different from Naya, so you probably don’t need both. That said, if you want a sixth deck for the gauntlet, let it be Mythic, not Vampires, heh. Open the Vaults is a solid deck, but I just haven’t seen it getting the numbers to justify a slot yet, though it may rise in popularity with the addition of Rise.

I would like to try an experiment, if you would be so kind as to indulge me:

Thanks again to everyone for the lively discussion last week. Any requests for next week? Also, big congratulations to David Williams for taking home first place in the World Poker Tour! Got there, boys!

See ya in the forums!

Patrick Chapin
“The Innovator”