Lessons From The Sidelines

Get a handle on the new Standard format before the SCG Open Series in Somerset, New Jersey this weekend as Ari tells you about what he learned from each camera match at #SCGNASH.

This past weekend at the StarCityGames.com Open Series in Nashville, the brewing and speculation about Born of the Gods was settled with results. While I was unable to play, I was able to watch. From round 1 through the finals, these are my observations on the new format.

Round 1, Match 1: R/W Burn (Brad Nelson) Defeats Mono-Black Devotion (Cedric Simon)

The commentators talked about how bad it is to Thoughtseize a burn deck, but that’s a common misconception. It typically trades for something that does more than two damage to you. It’s not great, but if you have a high-end threat that turns the tide, it’s better than nothing at getting you there.

No Chained to the Rocks main makes sense if you are a linear burn deck. The addition of Searing Blood and Satyr Firedrinker gives you enough cards to play a dedicated all burn spell 60. As a result, you can ignore larger creatures in exchange for the plan of just getting them dead. There’s also the fact that the recent surge in U/W Control and the printing of Bile Blight will suppress the number of Master of Waves you need to exile.

The interaction of Oracle of Bones and Toil // Trouble is something I missed. With fuse cards, you can cast it fused if an effect like Oracle of Bones lets you cast it without paying its mana cost. This is opposite to the typical interaction with kicker style mechanics. Not a huge gain, but definitely a cute value play.

Brad’s sideboarded Oracles make a lot of sense and also helped me realize why I was more excited about that card than Flame-Wreathed Phoenix. Not only is U/W Control on the rise, but as I explored last week, Temple of Enlightenment brings Detention Sphere to a number of other decks. As a result, the death trigger of an untributed Flame-Wreathed Phoenix matters much less. I also completely forgot that Phoenix’s haste was tied to the tribute. I no longer want to play the mythic four-drop in or against anything.

Round 1, Match 2: Maze’s End (Robert Tenemak) Defeats U/W Control (Tannon Grace)

Aetherize seems like one of the best Fogs because it can prevent damage the following turn if they can’t recast all of their creatures. I think the commentators said Robert only had one main, and while I wouldn’t play a ton, I could easily see a second being great. The only drawback is that it’s hard to activate Maze’s End and Aetherize on the same early turn.

Everyone was excited about Kiora, the Crashing Wave in Maze’s End, but it’s just hitting me how well positioned all of the abilities are. You have Supreme Verdicts and Aetherize to make the +1 ability closer to a full Fog. The -1 is your Howling Mine and accelerates the Maze’s End kill. The -5 is another win condition, but the important part is that it’s stapled on a card draw spell and Fog. No matter what you need from her, Kiora does good work.

The only bad thing about Kiora is that there are a lot of awkward spots with Defend the Hearth not protecting her if your plan is to win with an ultimate. Not that this makes me want to cut the card; I’m just noting that Kiora in this archetype likely gets even better if another Fog effect is printed in the next set or two.

Tannon Grace’s U/W deck had only one new card: Fated Retribution. I would just like to rant about how awesome that card is. Have you ever cast Rout in Cube (or for a certain percentage of people, Standard)? Instant speed sweeper effects are pretty messed up since they give you more opportunities to untap on an empty board, which is typically the nail in the coffin because you can stick a planeswalker or something similar.

Fated Retribution is also more than just a sweeper. It can rectify a board advantage in control mirrors as it hits planeswalkers. This also applies against the G/R Monsters decks, which leans heavily on Domri Rade and Xenagos, the Reveler as threats that live through a Supreme Verdict. Planar Cleansing already existed to do this, but Fated Retribution leaves behind your Detention Sphere. It doesn’t hit Underworld Connections, but a single matchup specific drawback seems like less of an issue than anti-synergy with your maindeck.

Round 2, Match 1: Bant Walkers (Brian Braun-Duin) Defeats Mono-Black Devotion (Lukas Parson)

Brian was playing ten scry lands. I just want to point out how key those cards are in allowing a specific control color trio to exist. Almost a quarter of Brian’s deck has a freeroll scry between the lands and Dissolve. Not only are his cards consistently powerful, but he has the ability to smooth his draws in a mana-heavy deck. Look for U/W/R’s resurgence after Journey into Nyx comes out.

Brimaz, King of Oreskos is probably better in U/W Control than in aggro. See also how Tarmogoyf is better when it’s your only threat or more accurately how cards that are individually good get better when every card around them is also individually good. There’s also the natural synergy of having a card that forces your opponent to heavily commit to the board to beat it and having Supreme Verdict in your deck. There’s the post-board man plan synergy of making Cat tokens and pumping them with Archangel of Thune as well.

This Bant Walkers deck feels significantly better than past control decks. Osyp put it best. To paraphrase: "My deck is all good cards. Good luck Thoughtseizing every last one".

Round 3, Match 1: Mono-Black Devotion (Ben Robinson) Defeats Esper Control (Andrew Shrout)

Matthias and Osyp called out one of my biggest issues with Mono-Black Devotion. You are half removal and half dudes and don’t have much draw smoothing to fix that. It’s great when your opponents are midrange decks without removal (Mono-Blue Devotion) but less so when they start splitting into creature-heavy aggressive decks (G/W Aggro) and creature-light control. The classic Rock issue, albeit one somewhat resolved by Pack Rat making your hand blank.

Watching this Esper deck play out, the lack of Kiora was really noticeable. You have fewer threats and card draw and just run out of action more. It also makes Brimaz worse post-board since you can’t curve out and punish their removal spell on it. In Esper, if they answer Brimaz on the spot and you don’t have Jace, Architect of Thought, you’re left passing the next turn instead of keeping up the pressure. Against something like Mono-Black Devotion, this plays you into their aforementioned half and half game.

As always, you beat Thoughtseize by doing redundant and powerful things, not by running out of action.

Round 4, Match 1: U/W Control (Adrian Sullivan) Defeats R/W Devotion (Jeremy Maciolek)

I hated playing against the control decks with devotion, but Hammer of Purphoros is typically enough if it starts working unopposed. I was really impressed with how Jeremy used Chandra, Pyromaster to bait Detention Sphere before laying down the Hammer. There’s a limit to how many Hammers you can play even against control, so preserving them is very important.

I was also pretty impressed with Jeremy’s board plan of Boros Charm and Warleader’s Helix. At first glance it seems like Boros Charm wouldn’t be good in your permanent-based devotion deck, but post-board against control you rarely get the chance to go down that road. There might be better cards, but it’s a solid concession to the terms of the matchup.

Still, this matchup showcased why red devotion decks fell out of the metagame with the recent surge in U/W. The red deck is not resilient against Supreme Verdict when it goes nuts. It’s threat light enough to lose when they don’t have it. When its job was to go over the top of Mono-Black Devotion and Mono-Blue Devotion, it did it well, but it doesn’t have the consistent card power or disruption required to beat U/W Control.

Round 5, Match 1: G/R Monsters (Justin Gregory) Defeats R/W Burn (Brad Nelson)

I’m just now realizing that both R/G planeswalkers count for two devotion toward Xenagos, God of Revels. It seems very easy to hit seven devotion on that guy given that you have so many options that are resilient to removal to enable it. That’s not even counting the trigger, which Osyp astutely noted pushes your 5/5s and 4/4s over a Desecration Demon.

I’m not surprised by the 2-0 result here. Bulky green decks have historically beat up on red decks, and despite Brad’s deck being relatively uninteractive, it isn’t necessarily fast enough to outpace things like turn 3 Polukranos, World Eater or Xenagos, God of Revels. Scavenging Ooze is another huge wrench in the burn game plan.

Round 5, Match 2: Mono-Black Devotion (Thomas Graves) Defeats Mono-Black Devotion (Corey Clifton)

An interesting note on Herald of Torment is that it trumps Nightveil Specter in the sky. Of course, trying to block with a guy that drains you life and dies to Bile Blight isn’t optimal, but if you’re attacking into a Specter, that seems much better. I really don’t like Herald here to begin with, as this black deck doesn’t take full advantage of the bestow granting flying.

Round 6, Match 1: B/W Midrange (Andrew Tenjum) U/W/R Control (Chris Yarbrough)

My previous comment about this color trio in control showing up post Journey into Nyx may have been an overstatement. To be fair, the difference between four and eight scry lands in a color trio is way different than eight versus twelve, especially if playing the full twelve isn’t even optimal. That said, not having the full set of blue Temples does hurt one of the main draws of the red splash, which is Counterflux. It’s doable to make your mana fit casting double blue spells, but a full set of nonblue lands constrains your options. You start getting mana bases that either don’t work when you don’t draw Temple of Triumph or have issues finding double blue.

Assemble the Legion is a nice draw to the W/R color pairing, but it seems like the control decks already had the Mono-Black Devotion matchup on lock.

Andrew Tenjum’s choice of heavier white in his deck seems great for this metagame. Blood Baron of Vizkopa is good against anyone attacking with Brimaz. Obzedat, Ghost Council is good against those playing control, and Revoke Existence is a huge gain in the mirror to beat Underworld Connections and against anyone trying to Assemble the Legion.

Chris Yarbrough opted to play Renounce the Guilds, but it’s hard for me to see removing Detention Sphere from the deck. It was out of the sideboard here, but even in this matchup where it handled Obzedat, it was awkward that it didn’t kill Underworld Connections. Revoke Existence might bridge the gap, but it seems that against anything but the B/W five-drops (Obzedat and Blood Baron) you would rather have the versatility of Detention Sphere.

Also, Fated Retribution kills Obzedat. Just saying it’s a nice card.

Round 7, Match 1: G/R Monsters (Kent Ketter) Defeats Bant Control (Skylar Canada)

Sylvan Caryatid. Man, it makes so much sense. You have up to eight planeswalkers you want to ramp into. There’s the "anti-synergy" with Supreme Verdict, except because it’s a 0/3 it’s often holding down a creature and forcing them to extend further into a sweeper. It even makes Fated Retribution come down a turn earlier!

Also, that game 1 board state is exactly why my team dismissed control decks for Pro Tour Theros. Domri Rade plus Xenagos, the Reveler is pretty close to insurmountable.

That said, game 2 showcased the flipside of G/R Monsters being a bunch of threats that are slightly more expensive than U/W’s answers. The deck consistently supplies threats, but their relative strength against the control deck’s removal varies a large amount. Kiora is also a huge issue since you’re much more reliant on single threats.

On the subject of slightly overcosted threats, Mistcutter Hydra’s stock went up against control. Before he was just a clunky haste guy. I wouldn’t have actively wanted him in the matchup, but he wasn’t terrible. Now he is a guy that can’t be locked down by Kiora, the Crashing Wave. I wouldn’t max out on Hydras in the matchup, but two or three seems prudent if you’re trying to battle the new planeswalker. Mono-Blue Devotion also suffers splash damage from this additional pressure to maindeck a protection from blue creature.

Round 8, Match 1: Bant Walkers (Brian Braun-Duin) Defeats Mono-Blue Devotion (Danny Strunk)

We all know how this one goes. Mono-Blue Devotion needs a Bident of Thassa or a Jace, Architect of Thought. Danny didn’t cast one in a relevant time frame, so he died.

Todd made a good point about how Jace, Architect of Thought is much worse now that the Bant deck can answer with Kiora, the Crashing Wave on a presumably threat-light board. Kiora also handles Bident relatively well, first cutting off a guy on a swing, then pulling heat from your life total, and after that making your sweepers to stabilize matter a lot more despite their squad of Ophidians.

Todd also talked about how he dislikes counters in the matchup. I think you want a nonzero number of them, but lots of people overload on them. Worse is that lots of people overload on the wrong spread of them. There still hasn’t been an appropriate reaction to the addition of Archangel of Thune. You want more Dissolves and maybe more Thassa’s Rebuffs. On the flip side, play slightly fewer Negates, definitely fewer Dispels, and a couple fewer Gainsays.

Of course, the rest of the format is also worse for Mono-Blue Devotion, so the solution may just be play fewer Islands.

Round 9, Match 1: Mono-Blue Devotion (Michael Majors) Defeats Mono-Blue Devotion (Eric Grey)

"Michael just drew more of his sideboard cards" – Todd Anderson

Round 9, Match 2: U/W/R Control (Chris Yarbrough) Defeats Bant Walkers (Brian Braun-Duin)

While Brimaz does answer Brimaz (the token generated on the block makes it so the attacker dies, so no one does anything), Bant Walkers being light on effective answers to that card in the mirror match seems like a pretty big drawback. The other decks can leave in Doom Blades or Mizzium Mortars. You have to leave in Supreme Verdict, which requires tapping a lot more mana and leaving less counter mana up.

Of course, access to Kiora may just be more important. Sticking an early planeswalker is pretty hard to beat unless you have the early Brimaz to pressure it.

Round 10, Match 1: Mono-Black Devotion (Cody Howard) Defeats G/B Devotion (Shane Giachetti)

I’m pretty sure I’ve never seen a deck play Golgari Guildgate and win a match unless it’s just finding it off Maze’s End.

Also, I’m pretty sure Nessian Demolok isn’t close to playable. Would a 3GG 6/6 in Standard be stirring up a lot of trouble? Yeah, I didn’t think so. This one even has a drawback. Looks like an Acidic Slime, but isn’t even remotely similar.

Round 10, Match 2: U/W Control (Will Newberry) Draws With U/W Devotion (Chase Cagel)

I played against something similar to this U/W Devotion deck at Pro Tour Theros. My understanding is that the Russian group all played it and performed fairly well, though a lot of that may have just been how well all Master of Waves decks were positioned that weekend.

Overall, I really like where this deck is compared to Mono-Blue Devotion right now.

You have legitimate removal for not only Pack Rat but post-board Archangel of Thune against U/W Control. Not that Rapid Hybridization can’t be used as a pseudo Dispel for their spot removal, but Detention Sphere does a lot of great things like killing Elspeth, Sun’s Champion.

Ephara, God of the Polis seems awesome. It’s probably a little less powerful than Bident of Thassa as a card draw spell, but I think the ability to split your threats of this kind is important. Most of this is due to the fact that Bident of Thassa; Ephara; and Jace, Architect of Thought are all blanks in multiples, but some of that is also the fact that Ephara can become a creature and beat down. This lets you hedge your anti-control card draw engine against other matchups like the mirror, where Bident may just be a blank but a 6/5 is still a 6/5.

The card I played against at the Pro Tour that was very impressive was Lavinia of the Tenth, but I’m unsure if it really has a place in this metagame. It’s a huge game breaker in the mirror, but besides that I’m not sure where it fits. The aggressive decks are mostly burn, and the other decks are all heavy removal or massive creatures and trying to attack with smaller guys.

My one issue is that I think Chase was a little heavy on the nonlinear spells. He seemed really heavy on nonsense like Revoke Existence and light on Tidebinder Mage. If you want to go down the road of blue control using Master of Waves as a Huntmaster of the Fells, that’s one thing, but don’t try to make Thassa, God of the Sea happen alongside it.

Quarterfinals, Match 1: G/R Monsters (Kent Ketter) Defeats B/W Midrange (Jesse Butler)

Alms Beast is really cool and is probably better than Desecration Demon against things that don’t fly. Unfortunately, basically every threat in the format is either a swarm of tokens (Elspeth, Sun’s Champion; Master of Waves; Pack Rat) or has evasion (Nightveil Specter, Blood Baron of Vizkopa, Desecration Demon, Stormbreath Dragon). Stick with the Demon.

I really haven’t seen Courser of Kruphix be impressive. It’s a 2/4 that conditionally draws a card. Unless I’m very wrong about Fanatic of Xenagos, I assume that card actually does something, while the 2/4 maybe replaces itself at best. Boon Satyr is also still a card, so we don’t have to play a 2/4 do nothing. I guess do nothing is a bit harsh because it does gain some life, but most Standard matches are won via snowballing advantages, not races or chip shot damage.

I would not board in Revoke Existence here. It answers the one Xenagos, God of Revels and Courser of Kruphix, but it doesn’t interact with most of the actual threats. Also, this is another reason to go with Fanatic of Xenagos over either of the enchantment creatures. If they do board in enchantment removal against you, it’s completely blank unless you draw your one- or two-of God that presumably already got in a trigger for some value.

Quarterfinals, Match 2: U/W/R Control (Chris Yarbrough) Defeats Mono-Blue Devotion (Michael Majors)

The post-board Assemble the Legion is definitely interesting. I guess it’s probably better than Aetherling since it can’t be Gainsayed, and you probably need more than just Elspeth, Sun’s Champion to close and pressure Jace, Memory Adept with, so it’s a debate between it and Stormbreath Dragon. Assemble lives through Supreme Verdict, so I guess it gets a slight nod there.

This whole Brimaz versus Domestication thing is way too next level for me. If you care that much, just hedge with your Rapid Hybridizations. Don’t lose non-Brimaz games by drawing blanks

Semifinals, Match 1: G/R Monsters (Kent Ketter) Defeats B/W Midrange (Dylan Harris)

Overloading Hero’s Downfall is a big deal here. While Desecration Demon can one-shot planeswalkers, both Domri Rade and Xenagos, the Reveler have built-in ways to keep feeding it creatures if necessary. The fact that you have seven planeswalkers that are all must answers means that the B/W deck is behind at dealing with one of your threat classes.

Play or draw seems massive here. B/W capitalizes with an earlier Lifebane Zombie, a Desecration Demon attack one planeswalker activation earlier, Pack Rat suddenly making planeswalkers almost impossible to defend, and just general removal versus threat timing. G/R on the play gets to pull way ahead with Elvish Mystic, to put B/W on the back foot with respect to removal timing, and another few answers to Pack Rat with Domri Rade -2s. The big thing here is that both decks are one-for-ones and threats without any big sweeping comeback.

Semifinals, Match 2: Mono-Blue Devotion (Eric Gray) Defeats U/W/R Control (Chris Yarbrough)

Okay, I’m sold. Jace, Memory Adept does nothing, especially with the U/W decks boarding in even more creatures to attack it with (Archangel of Thune and/or Brimaz, King of Oreskos). Aetherling actually might do something if you hit the lands and more importantly can win games where you’re behind.

Finals: Mono-Blue Devotion (Eric Gray) Defeats G/R Monsters (Kent Ketter)

We learned this lesson back in October. Since G/R didn’t get another Flametongue Kavu that kills Master of Waves beyond Polukranos, World Eater, nothing really changed.

Of course, in our testing the more aggressive builds with Reverent Hunter did perform significantly better than the Sylvan Caryatid builds. Keep that in mind if you want to work on the G/R Monsters deck.

The Takeaway

  • Brimaz is making an impact, but mostly as a control threat. It’s currently sitting in sideboards and coming in against everything, but that’s mostly a situation where your opponent is going to have excessive removal game 1. Even if they leave in removal game 2, they can’t afford to leave in enough to make sure it lines up with Brimaz. Adding Brimaz to the planeswalker lineup of must answer threats stretches cards like Hero’s Downfall and Detention Sphere to their max.
  • The biggest change from Born of the Gods comes from Temple of Enlightenment. The blue control decks are no longer limited to playing Esper if they want three colors with multiple matching scry lands. While the red splash in U/W is limited to eight scry lands instead of the full twelve, that’s much less of a difference than the full double up from four to eight.
  • Control gained a lot of ground against Mono-Black Devotion and B/W Midrange. More threats in the form of Brimaz and Kiora, more draw consistency thanks to scry lands, and just generally a higher power level because of Temple of Enlightenment making splashes more reasonable, which makes your deck much more powerful against Thoughtseize.
  • There were zero Kioras in the Top 8. This isn’t indicative of the card being bad. If anything, it’s probably the third best card in Born of the Gods behind Brimaz and Temple of Enlightenment. The issue is, as Brian Braun-Duin has noted since the event, that his list was not well positioned in control mirrors. Part of this is the fact that you don’t have a two-mana answer to Brimaz, but that seems fixable. It may be time for Glare of Heresy to make a comeback since even if they don’t have Brimaz it answers Detention Sphere; Elspeth, Sun’s Champion; or in the case of Chris Yarbrough’s deck Assemble the Legion.
  • So far these are the same archetypes as before. The matchups are basically the same as before. It’s likely something changes soon, but for now if you are PTQing, your biggest challenge is going to be making the correct updates given the new set.