Lessons From The Sidelines

Ari Lax watched every single round of last week’s Standard Open. Read his study to find out what you need to know to succeed at #SCGKC and to survive this very unforgiving format.

One of the first things Cedric and Osyp talked about this weekend was that this Open was a jump off point for a lot of people. Tons of unexpected names like Sam Pardee showed up to work on new Standard, and they expected that anyone going to Pro Tour Magic 2015 who wasn’t there would be watching from home to see what happened.

Count me in the last group.

The same as I did for Born of the Gods and Journey into Nyx, I spent this Saturday and Sunday morning with SCGLive up on the TV and Pro Tour testing on my monitor.

This is a round by round breakdown of my thoughts from watching the event coverage.

Round 1:

Match 1 – Mono-Green (Todd Anderson) wins 2-0 vs Black-Green Devotion (Michael Porter)

Game 1 really shows a key point: You aren’t going to out goldfish Mono-Green.

Game 2 shows the flip side. Look, our mana accelerators died. We can’t cast spells. Michael couldn’t really capitalize, but if he had an early threat of any kind, the game would have been over quickly. Instead Todd drew enough lands and Michael enough do nothings to make up for the early stumble, but I expect that to be the exception rather than the rule.

Match 2 – UW Control (Eric Rill) wins 2-1 vs Mono-Blue Devotion (Lawrence Creech)

We’ve seen this quite a few times before. Nothing really new happening here. Looks like Lawrence just didn’t have a counterspell for everything or quite enough pressure in the last game.

Round 2:

Match 1 – Esper Control (Ted Felicetti ) wins 2-1 vs Mono-Blue Devotion (Reid Duke)

Nightveil Specter is the nuts. Listen to Kyle Boggemes (see his Grand Prix Cincinnati winning list). It gives you cards to fight against Mono-Black and forces them to leave in bad removal and fight your fight of trading cards and playing long. It blocks the mediocre beats and Mutavaults out of Mono-Blue and lets you pull ahead real fast from board parity.

Ultimate Price being consistently terrible is getting pretty funny. Most Blue players board out Cloudfin Raptors and Master of Waves, so you are killing…. Tidebinder Mage? The one or two masters that randomly have to stick around? Yeah, not cutting it in this matchup. Now, out of a different deck that actually cares about those three cards like Monsters, the card is fine, but situationally, it’s terrible out of Esper.

Reid certainly has a lot of Jaces here. It feels like that might even be too many as you have to cut down on important countermagic slots. In my testing for Grand Prix Chicago, I found I was way happier with the Sam Black plan of play all the counterspells and aim them at their Elspeth, Sun’s Champion, Sphinx’s Revelation, and other big threats while letting random creatures chip shot them to death.

Round 3:

Match 1 – Green-White Aggro (Andrew Boswell) wins 2-0 vs Esper Control (Shaheen Soorani)

I’m excited to see Ajani Steadfast in action here. I was initially a bit low on him compared to Ajani Goldmane, but then I realized that if you misused that Ajani twice, you won anyways so the fact that this one doesn’t get another shot really doesn’t matter.

I also really like how Andrew’s deck is positioned here. The threats are all really hard for Esper to handle between Voice of Resurgence and Experiment One, since they live through Supreme Verdict, and the Flash threats of Advent of the Wurm and Boon Satyr against what is basically a tap out control deck. The only issue card for Andrew is Blood Baron of Vizkopa, which honestly is not enough just by itself.

Regarding their description of Ben Friedman as always looking like he came back from a party: At Grand Prix Chicago Ben Friedman rolled in at 11:30am with his luggage, wearing sun glasses and a no sleeve t-shirt. His first words to me were “Hey Ari, are you a doctor? Does my elbow look dislocated?” I can only assume he has wild stories to tell from a normal Tuesday night.

Cedric makes a good point on Sin Collector potentially being good here. I boarded them in during Block Constructed at Pro Tour San Diego, but that format had a lot more Call of the Conclave and Rootborn Defenses.

Shaheen has Brimaz, King of Oreskos post board, but that card seems like a necessary evil here. It doesn’t really beat the opposing three-drops out of G/W, and is quite embarrassing versus Loxodon Smiter. It also isn’t in a good spot to start a race as it’s not like the G/W deck just has one card that fights Brimaz profitably. If you get in the first attack, they probably have another 4/4 or 5/5 to make the next attack equally as bad. It does work in extending the game into a phase where you can compete, but it’s more of a speed bump than an actual threat. I’m still on Nightveil Specter’s team as that card is actually backbreaking in certain matchups.

I don’t know if I like Gods Willing too much here, but it may be great in the context of the rest of your deck being stellar against Verdict. I’ve had bad experiences trying to play situational counters against the control decks in this format because their cards have so much raw power. You need all your cards to be action and have very little room to draw blanks.

Match 2 – Esper Control (Gerard Fabiano) wins 2-0 vs Green-black Devotion (Avery Wilson)

The removal and sweepers control deck versus the “has to build up a board presence” deck. Nissa, Worldwaker is a big gain in the matchup, but you are still fairly far behind on a fundamental level.

Archangel of Thune yet again shines at beating up decks that have to play creatures. The card was at its worst when people were playing Planar Cleansing and opponents could flood the board and force a sweep to kill the Angel, but with Detention Sphere to turn off any racing potential, the card gets out of hand very quickly.

Cedric mentioned he thought Nissa, Worldwaker was dominating in Todd’s match earlier against Black Devotion, but honestly it felt somewhat interchangeable to me. It’s a great threat, but in those games basically anything that costs more than four would have been enough in that slot. That’s one of the issues with the Green deck though; you either do all the things or are a clunky deck.

Round 4:

Match 1 – Mono-Blue Devotion (Ross Merriam) wins 2-0 vs Slivers (Roy Reese)



Let’s goooooooo!

A lot of the discussion here is about Mutavaults versus Sliver Hivelord. I’m with Cedric that you absolutely can’t play both, but I also have no idea which is better.

Elvish Mystic in this Slivers deck is interesting to me. I’m not entirely sure what it’s going towards, but my instinct is that I don’t like it. The problem with Slivers to me seems like you need color fixing, not necessarily more colorless mana. I guess most of the Slivers cost 1C or 2C (one colored mana and 1-2 colorless) so you do have sinks for the extra green mana, but I’m not sure you are getting far enough with it to make it worth it.

It looks like Roy is also opting for a more midrange-ish build of the deck. I can’t exactly tell how many Syphon Slivers or Venom Slivers he is playing, but the fact that he has both implies he might be going up the curve to Megantic Sliver or something similar. The fact that he has Garruk, Caller of Beasts as a six-drop is another hint in this direction. You can be a much more aggressive list based on lording up early with Predator Sliver and Leeching Sliver, but that deck probably has its own issues that all the aggro decks in this format face. Of course, if you go midrange, you run into the exact issue we saw game 1 of “How do I ever beat a Thassa?” which for a removal-light deck is quite a challenge.

Also, it’s kind of funny blue gives you more of a Voltron payoff than the Sliver deck. Sure, you get a couple of low-end lords in Slivers, but Thassa is likely just better than anything the Sliver deck does.

The game 2 mulligans point out another issue with the deck: the mana. Caves of Kolios plus Galerider Sliver is not a combo.

Match 2 – Black-White Midrange (David Shiels) wins 2-0 vs Chad Kastel (Mono-Green Devotion)

We cut into a game 2 where some Pack Rats are shredding a board with no mana accelerators. That’s more like what I expected. If the green deck doesn’t get out under the black deck, it will lose the midrange game heads up assuming the black deck has any threat.

It’s worth noting that Chad has a Reclamation Sage in play which I would only board in against Black-White of all the Black Devotion variants and only because they have Banishing Light. I’m not even sure Underworld Connections is threatening to you, so it’s very likely you still don’t want it in this matchup.

Match 3 – Esper Control (Mark Constantini) wins 2-1 vs Esper Control (Steven Mann)

The old Esper control mirror. Game 1 takes forever, game 2 either ends the match or creates a round of speed Magic.

Also, Cedric has no right to call Osyp out on musical taste. Of course, I’m immediately corrected on his intent when Cedric starts critiquing Osyp’s choice of Ke$ha’s song as opposed to her entire body of work.

Round 5

Match 1 – Jund Monsters (John Paul Chase) wins 2-1 vs Chris McDaniel (Junk Reanimator)

I looked into Junk Reanimator very briefly around when I started playing Dredge. I determined it was basically another midrange deck and not actually a graveyard combo deck, and it looks like Chris is actually trying to take it further along the “go bigger” line.

I have two concerns with this. First, is Sylvan Primordial big enough? It’s just a 6/8 reach. That’s it. For seven mana that almost seems laughable. I’m thinking back to Sundering Titan, Terastodon, and other one sided Armageddons; Sylvan Primordial doesn’t quite stack up. My second concern is this looks like a deck prone to flood. For lack of a better term, your high-drop threats don’t really churn into more threats or immediately end games. You are still playing Magic after playing your seven-drop, and if they answer it, they are only down a card. That’s not an insurmountable disadvantage, and odds are you will draw more bricks than they will from that point.

Fortunately for Chris this is also an issue for Monsters, so he is really just at a threat cost disadvantage he can make up in the value of killing their planeswalkers with Primordial triggers, but against Pack Rat? That might be a problem.

The post-board Sin Collector Chris had points out the threat issue in my mind and seems like a card I would not even consider boarding in. If you are going big, it feels like you shouldn’t have to be exiling their Mizzium Mortars or Putrefy. You also shouldn’t be struggling to fight their Polukranos, but then again, “struggling to fight four-drop threats” is the theme of this format. It’s not like the high end threats besides Elspeth have really been better, and they come with the added cost of missing board parity when they have four drop threats.

Round 6

Match 1 – Black-White Midrange (Dave Shiels) wins 2-0 vs Jund Monsters (Jeff Darran)

This is how Mono-Black beats Monsters. No messing around, just 6/6 Demons and dead you. Just like Faeries versus Jund, why would you be the control when you have such good threats?

Match 2 – Blue-White Control (Harry Corvese) wins 2-1 vs Mike Byrd (Jund Monsters/Walkers)

I have so much respect for Mike just being on the fire up Mutavault and bash when possible early plan against U/W. I remember talking to Harry about the Mono-Black matchup at one point, probably the Open Series in Providence at the start of June, and he went off about how he plays Mutavaults in his deck just to block and kill their Mutavaults because the card is such a big problem.

Remember, we saw Andrew Tenjum notch his first Starcity Open win by bashing with double Mutavault off a mull to five against Eric Rill’s Control deck. 2/2 manland beats are no joke.

Unfortunately, due to Elspeth being the nuts, it wasn’t quite enough. I hope we can all learn an important lesson about properly applying pressure to the control decks.

Round 7

Match 1 – Jund Monsters (Erik Smith) wins 2-1 vs Mono-Blue Devotion (JD Nir)

I don’t really like this matchup from the blue side, but if there’s a way to get there, an early Thassa surely is it. That said, turn 2 Military Intelligence without a one-drop seems like a trap. That’s not actually curving out, but it makes you feel like it is. You don’t get on board until turn 3, and you need to push damage out early, especially in this matchup.

I like Erik’s decision to play Soul of Shandalar. It’s a big threat, gives you a big mana sink to dominate the board, wins the heads up fight against other large threats with first strike, and even if it dies, it helps fight the continuing attrition battle. You obviously can’t play a ton because it’s a six-drop, but the one he has seems appropriate.

Game 2 is much more of what mono-blue needs. No Thassa, but an early Cloudfin Raptor and flying pressure to wrap things up while Erik is low on removal. The last part is key, as if they have removal for your fliers you won’t be pressuring them very well. This game also illustrates how Tidebinder Mage isn’t nearly as backbreaking here as it feels. Sure, Polukranos is tapped, but you can still monstrous it, and the 2/2 Tidebinder can’t force through an 0/3 Sylvan Caryatid.

Polymorphist’s Jest seems quite good here as it gives you a way to regain combat parity with your random guys compared to their fatter early game. Just the threat of it seems like it would get you free points of damage, as there are attacks you can make where the full on block would just lose them the game to a Jest, while they can sacrifice a couple life to possibly live through it.

Deck Tech – Mono-Green Devotion (Todd Anderson)

Todd, you tried with that beard. It’s not working. Leave that business for Brad and CVM. [Editor’s Note: You could not be more wrong. Todd’s facial hair is gaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaas!]

Besides that snafu, the deck looks pretty solid and well-rounded. Not too much out of expectations going on here. These are the Green Devotion cards, this is how you play them.

Round 8

Match 1 – Green-White Aggro (Andrew Boswell) wins 2-1 vs Jund Midrange (Rudy Briksza)

The Jund Planeswalkers deck was succeeding pre-Magic 2015, so I’m not surprised to see Rudy doing well here. Llanowar Wastes, Liliana Vess, Nissa, Worldwaker, and Garruk, Apex Predator are all powerful potential additions to the archetype.

That said, game 1 we saw one of the downsides of moving away from Polukranos, World Eater and Stormbreath Dragon. You play a planeswalker, but its immediate impact doesn’t trump multiple 4/4-sized creatures that run it down. I would imagine this Jund deck is metagamed against the typical Standard deck full of a few huge threats and some marginal ones as opposed to all solid beaters. In the first case, you can hold off the rabble with planeswalker activations and Sylvan Caryatids while saving removal for the Desecration Demon or Advent of the Wurm, but in the later you really need to kill everything and play a huge threat of your own or die. Rudy’s deck isn’t the best positioned to do that, so he really has to get his first walker out under Andrew’s curve and hope to stack repeatable effects to win. Of course, I could easily be wrong about the composition of his deck as he had Desecration Demon and Stormbreath Dragon game 3, but I think you want a mix of fat and walkers similar to traditional Monsters.

On the subject of “Why hasn’t Advent of the Wurm seen more play?” it had to fight Thragtusk last year and Thassa or Desecration Demon this year. Just the wrong size at the wrong time.

Looking at game 3, it really shows that this deck is completely different with and without Sylvan Caryatid, even more so than the typical Monsters deck. Polukranos stabilizes board states, but Planeswalkers require a certain level of stability to land profitably.

Interesting note from game 3: Banishing Light landed on a Courser of Kruphix, and after thinking about it that card might be the second best thing to hit with it. In fact, their best card is Stormbreath Dragon which you can’t Banishing Light. Not saying the card is bad, but it’s not the shining star you would assume a kill spell would be in the little green deck against the big green deck.

Round 9

Match 1 – Mono-Blue Devotion (Andrew Jessup) wins 2-1 vs Black-White Devotion (David Shiels)

It might look like what mattered game 1 was the Bident of Thassa keeping the game going, but all it did was cement the lead Andrew had with Judge’s Familiar and multiple two-drops. Bident is great at making comebacks impossible, especially those involving Desecration Demon, but if you aren’t on board early, there isn’t anything Bident is going to do to solve that.

In classic Dave Shiels fashion, there are ten minutes on the clock after a typical Mono-Blue game 1 and a Pack Rat versus a five-card hand game 2. Be aware of the clock, and if your opponent is taking too long, don’t be afraid to do something about it.

Deck Tech – Slivers (Roy Reese)

I now understand why there are Elvish Mystics: You have to get to triple green for Chord of Calling.

Round 10

Match 1 – Green-White Aggro (Andrew Boswell) wins 2-0 vs Black-White Midrange (Ben Friedman)

Banishing Light is a huge gain for the Green-White deck for the exact reason we saw game 1 here. It kills Pack Rat on the play and it kills Desecration Demon any time, both of which the Green-White deck really needed. There are still too many issues with the Mono-Blue matchup for Banishing Light to fix them, but it also does good work there.

That said, I do think this matchup went the way it should. The issue with Green-White isn’t that it loses to Black and Esper. The issue with Green-White is you struggle against Stormbreath Dragon and Tidebinder Mage.

Match 2 – Black-White Midrange (Lloyd Kurth) wins 2-1 vs Mono-Blue Devotion (Andrew Jessup)

Nothing new to see here, we’ve been doing this since last fall. Move along.

Top 8

It’s 7:45am on a Sunday as I turn on the stream. I may regret this decision later.

Fun fact: I played Rakdos Cackler in every Standard event I played between it being printed and when I played Dredge this last March. It might take quite a bit of convincing for me to not just jam Stephen Reed’s Experiment One-Rakdos CacklerBoros Charm deck.

Match 1 – Mono-Blue Devotion (Ross Merriam) Black-White Midrange (Lloyd Kurth)

There’s a lesson to learn from game 1 regarding Pack Rat and Cyclonic Rift. I don’t know if Lloyd was supposed to attack with the token and leave the real Rat to block, letting Rift kill both but leaving him at a higher life total, or leave back the token and attack with the real Rat, letting Rift force in damage but leaving him with a Rat. Regardless, this is an actual consideration against Mono-Blue and really any deck with bounce spells.

Ross’s mechanics appear to include making turn decisions while Thassa scrying. That’s really good play and hides as much information as possible.

Match 2 – Mono-Blue Devotion (Dylan Donigan) Green-White Aggro (Andrew Boswell)

The Ajani Steadfast + Skylasher combo is quite brutal here. It holds off way more than Unflinching Courage would, and the Skylasher protects Ajani. Also, Ajani granting First Strike means it wins the 3/3 Skylasher heads up against a Frog Lizard or two Mutavaults.

Top 4

Match 1 – Green-White Aggro (Andrew Boswell) wins 2-1 vs Mono-Black Devotion (Jonathan Morawski)

This matchup seems very close, though so does every Mono-Black matchup. Desecration Demon is certainly a problem for the Green-White deck, and I think two Banishing Light might be skimping a bit, but as we saw in game 3 where Jonathan flooded out, Demon does need some help to take a game here. The Green-White deck is dense enough on creatures that it can profitably sacrifice creatures to force attacks through the 6/6.

Game 3 as well as some past games makes me think four Mana Confluence might be one too many. Yes you need the mana to work, and yes it does let you play more Plains for Sunblade Elf, but there is a definitely cost to drawing multiple Confluences.

Match 2 – Mono-Black Devotion (Danny Jessup) wins 2-1 vs Black-White Midrange (Lloyd Kurth)

Game 2 brings up a good point involving Elspeth, Sun’s Champion and Pack Rat. There are definite concerns with going too big into Elspeth -3 range while still avoiding Bile Blight. Keeping a Mutavault around so three Pack Rats can fight either threat is the sweet spot.


The Only Match – Mono-Black Devotion (Danny Jessup) wins 2-0 vs Green-White Aggro (Andrew Boswell)

No matter what, this is a win for Andrew Shrout who managed to feature Green-White six times in thirteen rounds.

I actually think Andrew is less happy for Danny to advance as opposed to Lloyd Kurth. Lloyd didn’t have any main deck Blood Baron of Vizkopa and only had two sideboard copies of the vampire, meaning the more relevant part of his deck was likely the more painful and slower mana base. That said, Lloyd did have maindeck Lifebane Zombies and Banishing Lights for Voice of Resurgence, so it’s not quite that clear cut.

Game 1 illustrates good sequencing. Removal early then Pack Rat later is better than Pack Rat then removal here because you can use a single turn later on to make two Rats and more rapidly size up out of range.

Game 2 was one of the classic problems with playing against Mono-Black. You need answers to their threats as they probably will outclass yours. You need lands to play threats that are on the same level as theirs, and you want certain powerful non-threat cards to make your deck good. That’s a lot of moving parts, and it’s easy for you to not draw the right one or for Thoughtseize or for removal to run you out of threats. That’s the problem people have been trying to solve for almost a year now, and there hasn’t been a reliable answer just yet.

Winner Interview – Mono-Black Devotion (Danny Jessup)

Not much to say here. This is the deck. These are the cards. They beat you, and they do it well.

The Takeaway:

Osyp and Cedric really hit this on the head at the end.

-Mono-Blue and Mono-Black are still the targets with the Blue-White or Esper pillar still fiddling around to adjust to the slightly more diverse metagame that resulted from the new set release.

-As Cedric said, the scary thing is that Mono-Black, already the “best deck”, gained from Magic 2015.

-Mono-Green is definitely a thing. It still has some of the consistency issues it had before, but it looks like Nissa, Worldwaker helps bridge the threat gap that previously just had Polukranos. Chord of Calling helps answer the question of what you do with all that mana.

-There was a fast dropoff in deck diversity going into the later rounds, but I don’t think that means new brews can’t work. It just means the existing decks are very punishing. You really need to make a cohesive and well-tuned list before you can expect any success in this format.