Innovations – Snow Red and U/G/w Blink in Standard

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With Worlds around the corner, all eyes are turning to New York. As usual, a good portion of the Magic Extravaganza takes place with sixty-cards decks crafted from the Standard cardpool, and every pro and his pal is searching for the Next Big Standard Thing. Patrick looks at a successful deck from States – Skred Red – and also tilts his cap toward a new deck with a powerful pedigree…

Today, I am going to take a look at two interesting strategies that step outside the mainstream strategies of Cryptic Command Blue decks, Makeshift Mannequin, Elves, B/G TarmoRack, and Red Aggro.

Up first, a strategy that was popularized at States this year, primarily in the Midwest. Brandon Scheel, Bill Stark, and Cedric Phillips were among those that made Top 8 at their States with Snow-Red.

Skred is the Snow Plow. It is Swords to Plowshares 2006, a card secreted in Ice Age Block to the present day. It is powerful beyond easy understanding. It costs one mana.
Michael J Flores

Flores may have possibly gone a little out there, claiming that Skred was the best card in the format, taking over from Spell Snare, but there is no question that it is very powerful and one of the strongest incentives to play Snow, if not the strongest. It provides valuable early tempo, but easily takes down troublesome creatures like Tarmogoyf with value, making it a strong card late game. The beauty is that Skred will have a use versus almost all of your opponents and there is almost no way that your opponent can avoid you getting mana advantage with it.

If you kill their creature, you will probably have spent less mana on it than they did. If they try to stop your Skred, it will likely cost them more than one mana to do so. No matter how you slice it, Skred is ruthlessly efficient and extraordinarily hard to fight. It may not grant a huge edge, but like other format defining cards like Spell Snare, Remand, and Sakura-Tribe Elder, it just provides a small edge so reliably that it is just better than taking chances with a card that is handled effectively by some other card.

Skred has found many homes, since its printing a little over a year ago. It originally saw play in U/r Control decks, R/G KarstenBotBabyKiller land destruction decks, and Mono-Red Sligh. Now it has re-emerged in a Mono-Red Control strategy revolving around Chandra Nalaar and Stuffy Doll.

These decks take control with early Red removal and some solid defensive creatures, like Phyrexian Ironfoot, Stalking Yeti, Martyr of Ashes, and the above mentioned Stuffy Doll. Scrying Sheets, Chandra, and board sweepers are all vehicles to achieve card advantage with. The late game plan is usually to combo out by doing massive amounts of damage to your Stuffy Doll, particularly with Skred, Chandra, Martyr, Mouth of Ronom, and Molten Disaster. This combined with a few points snuck in here and there threatens to kill an opponent from a relatively high life total out of nowhere.

Here are some examples of Snow-Red decks from States.

Incinerate serves a similar role to Skred, though it’s obviously not in the same league. Still, it provides early defense, particularly against troublesome creatures such as Oona’s Prowler, Treetop Village, and Flamekin Acolyte.

Molten Disaster is your Demonfire going long. Sneaking in a few points here and there can quickly put your opponent into a bind where you can threaten to Molten Disaster them out rather quickly. It is not uncommon to see an endstep Skred on a Stuffy Doll knock an opponent from 20 to 12, followed by an untap and Molten Disaster with Split Second for 6.

In addition, Molten Disaster provides early defense against creature rushes and deals with many key cards like Garruk Wildspeaker.

Martyr of Ashes is a bit of a back-up Molten Disaster in terms of creature sweeping, though it serves a different secondary purpose. It can be a very useful tool to slip in under a wave of countermagic. An early Martyr can do a lot of damage if the opponent has no Desert, and later can keep Teferi off the table or threaten to deal some serious damage to a Doll. It is important to hold this guy against many aggro decks until you can play him and use him if they try to murder-death-kill it. He is too vital to your anti-aggro plan to trade with a Mogg Fanatic or Tarfire. Martyr is especially noteworthy at fighting Siege-Gang Commander and Mogg War Marshal.

Phyrexian Ironfoot is the perfect creature for this deck, and would be played even if it was not a snow-creature. It’s an efficient body, has a useful ability, and is the ideal size for a format run by Shriekmaw, Nameless Inversion, Tarfire, and Incinerate. In addition, he is the man for the job of fighting Call tokens, Beast tokens, and Treetop Villages.

Stalking Yeti is not nearly so versatile and powerful, but he can be a nice defender, serving as removal and a snow-threat, plus he is inherent card advantage. I just wish you could Stalk your own Doll…

Stuffy Doll is the centerpiece of the whole strategy. Skred, Molten Disaster, Martyr, Mouth, and Chandra are all capable of dealing a large amount of damage to it quickly. On top of this, so many opponents are just kold to a turn 4 Doll completely locking up the ground. Obviously Nameless Inversion and Profane Command can fight him, as can Cryptic Command, but many people have no real answer. The one-a-turn adds up too. A few points here and there and you can very easily reach a point where you can just go off on ways to damage your Doll.

Chandra was originally a very misunderstood Planeswalker, much like Liliana Vess. She can be a source of card advantage removal, shooting a creature as soon as she comes into play, which will hopefully stabilize things enough so that she build up enough counters to shoot down something else. If your opponent is not all out attacking you, she threatens to go Ultimate in three turns, which I have yet to see anyone survive. In addition, she has so much loyalty that even if she goes down in combat, she will absorb a fair amount of damage, a very useful feature in a Mono-Red Control deck. My goodness, is she sick versus Mannequin!

Disintegrate is a bit of a 5th Demonfire, a strategy discussed in my article on Flagburner here. Storage lands help make the dream of torching someone out a reality. It can serve as early removal, as well as another must-counter threat later.

Coldsteel Heart and Mind Stone are crucial to this archetype. With so many five-drops and X spells, it is important to get around the one-land-per-turn rule. Between the Heart’s interaction with Sheets and Mind Stone’s natural ability, both can ensure a higher mana count without flooding you as often.

The sideboard is fairly straightforward. Pithing Needle is used to deal with Planeswalkers, Treetop, and particularly Greater Gargadon (which can be devastating when combined with Threaten).

Serrated Arrows is a useful anti-aggro card shining against decks like Faeries (which can dodge the sweepers on account of flying). In addition, it is very powerful in the mirror (as Doll is so key).

Bottle Gnomes is very helpful in combating burn strategies, which traditionally give many board control decks like Snow-Red problems.

Brandon went with a Green splash in the board, which may be a little ambitious, but certainly makes good use of Tarmogoyf. In addition, Ancient Grudge has always been one of the best sideboard cards available to mages able to cast it.

Finally there’s Detritivore, a creature very near and dear to my heart. I could even see running this guy maindeck. An uncounterable source of destructive card advantage helps add a much needed dimension to your anti-control plan.

The typical game against aggro plays out like this. You open with a turn 2 artifact accelerator, followed by removal and development. Burn on opposing creatures and establishing a board presence with Yeti and Ironfoot buys time to drop a five-mana card and start taking over. Once you drop Chandra or Doll, you just play to keep things under control long enough for your bomb to win it. Either you’re hitting Ultimate, or you’re just comboing out with Doll… either course is a fine finishing plan.

Against control, you play a different sort of game. You try to avoid getting wrecked on tempo, and sneak in damage where you can. It is crucial to build card advantage with Sheets, as you have fewer cards that need to be countered than most. It is a recipe for failure to just tap out turn 5 for Chandra, as you will typically just get ruined by Snag or Command. Try to set up turns where you can play multiple threats. Detritivore is so good for fighting these people.

Will Snow-Red establish a presence Worlds? Will there be some new technology to aid it in its difficult Blue control matchups? We shall see. This strategy is definitely on my short list of decks to play at Worlds, although I personally favor more mana denial. I even run Icy Manipulator, but I am just a Miser.

We still have time for a look at another Standard deck. This one is flying under the radar so far, but it might be a sleeper hit later this week in New York.

Now, personally, I have trouble with the idea of only three Tarmogoyf, but DJ swears that it is correct and that he would much rather just have three more Wall of Roots.

This deck has not seen major tournament play yet. However, six consecutive FNM’s and City Champs Tournament first places has to be an indicator that it is at least worth examining this concept. DJ is a fine player, but one area he particularly excels at is deck building, often with Blue Midrange decks. There is a whole class of up and coming Pros originating from RIW Hobbies in Michigan, and DJ is one of the masterminds behind many of their decks. Keep your eyes on him, as I predict a high finish for him at Pro Tour: Hollywood, and he isn’t even qualified yet. Mark my words…

The idea is simple enough. Develop a board position with card advantage creatures and Planeswalkers, then slowly grind your opponent into nothingness with your never-ending stream of two-for-ones, which tend to start chaining together.

This deck is pretty much the definition of “with value,” as he has over twenty sources of card advantage, as well as the possibility of some tremendous tempo plays, such as Blink, Garruk into Goyf or Snag, and Venser or Snake into untap and Mulldrifter. In addition, Aeon Chronicler, manlands, and massive mana acceleration provide many powerful plans to choose from against control, aside from a large amount of card advantage threats.

Fighting aggro decks is simply a matter of dropping creatures at a similar rate to them, but packing some fatties and so many two-for-ones that they just can’t keep up. DJ did mention that he was having trouble with a U/G tempo deck, as well as a particular build of R/G, but it would appear that only the fastest of tempo-based aggro decks can compete with his ability to tie up the board with monsters while keeping a full grip.

I had suggested Riftwing Cloudskate to DJ, but he says that he tried it and it didn’t do enough. He says he had better things to do early, and never wanted to pay five main-phase for it. He already has plenty of things to Blink, so why does he need to play something to make his Blinks better? I am not positive on this, as it feels like Riftwing should be good, but I cannot argue with his results.

I think the Jace is a little out of place and should probably be the 4th Goyf, but DJ is known for his love of Planeswalkers. I suspect Jace may be appearing maindeck as a concession to DJ’s love of playing with him. Really though, I can’t blame him. Jace is definitely my idea of a good time.

Alright, I gotta get ready for Worlds in a few days. Wish me luck. If anyone has any suggestions for Standard or Legacy, I am all ears. Please feel free to private msg me.

Anyone have any Time Vaults I can borrow…?

Patrick Chapin
“The Innovator”