Lessons You Can Take To #SCGCOL

CVM wasn’t in the booth this week, but he saw plenty of #SCGATL on SCGLive! See the takeaways The Bearded One thinks you need to be aware of when you’re studying up for #SCGCOL’s Standard showdown!

#SCGATL is in the books and Oath of the Gatewatch has made its presence in Standard known in a big way. Outside of U/R Prowess and Mono-Black Eldrazi, the new set didn’t really spawn brand new archetypes, but it did have quite the impact on existing strategies – and this is only the first week!

Every single deck in the Top 8 had at least one Oath of the Gatewatch card it in, and there were eight different archetypes in the Top 8. On top of all that, the highest placing Four-Color Rally deck was ninth! I have really high hopes for this Standard format, so high in fact that I went and bought the handful of cards that I was missing for the Mardu Green deck that I was working on so that I could start getting in some games. I posted the list on Friday night, and while there weren’t any copies in the Top 8, Joseph Herrera placed 23rd with almost my exact 60.

The genesis for this strategy was realizing that Goblin Dark-Dwellers is insane and trying to find the best shell for it. Mardu Green started to make quite a surge towards the end of the last Standard format, since getting a fourth color in the Mardu deck is basically free, so why not just play Siege Rhino. With Crackling Doom and Kolaghan’s Command we already have two premium three-mana spells that we can recast with our dark-dwelling Goblins, and then by being Abzan we have access to Abzan Charm and Read the Bones.

Harlan Firer placed 19th with a similar list, with the biggest change of putting Den Protector in the deck. I really wanted to try and find room for Den Protector in my list since I think that it’s absolutely insane with Kolaghan’s Command and gives us something to do early and late, which is important in Mardu since we have so many insane mid- and late-game plays. Having the flexibility of jamming early is perfect.

There was one other Mardu Green deck in the Top 32, and what’s interesting to me is that all three only played 26 lands. Andrew Tenjum placed in the Top 8 of the #SCGCHAR Classic with a 27-land version of Mardu Green, and with adding a five-drop, I really think that 27 is the way to go.

Even though there was great diversity in the Top 8, an old-school deck that everyone loves to hate took the crown in Atlanta.

Congratulations to Korey McDuffie on his well-deserved win with Atarka Red. I am not very surprised that he did so well, though, as one of my primary picks for what I thought would do well this weekend was Atarka Red. In fact, Korey’s list is maybe five cards off the Reckless Bushwhacker list that I wrote about last week.

Having not had enough time to test out the list (since I was so preoccupied with Goblins of the dark-dwelling variety), I assumed that we might want to hedge and keep a couple copies of Temur Battle Rage in the deck. After getting in some games this weekend and watching Korey battle on SCGLive, I can say that it’s not needed. Reckless Bushwhacker is so good at letting us go wide that we no longer need the Temur Battle Rage/Become Immense combo and can focus on being a dedicated aggressive Red Tokens deck.

I fully agree on keeping two copies of Become Immense, though; as Ari Lax has said in the past, “Become Immense is the best burn spell ever.” Getting six damage for just one mana is amazing, and it plays even better in post-board games with Den Protector.

I was pretty impressed with Korey’s “transformational” sideboard as well. Getting some black sources and access to Self-Inflicted Wound is a great way to push through a board of Siege Rhinos and Soulfire Grand Masters, but with the amount of Kalitas, Traitor of Ghet that saw play last weekend, I have to imagine that we’re going to want some copies of Roast as we evolve the deck.

Painful Truths is a card that I have always dreamed of playing in this type of deck. Combined with the bevy of one-mana spells and threats in the deck, it makes it really easy to draw into additional land and present threats on the cheap.

I will say that I wasn’t all that thrilled with trying to go for a little longer game in his finals match against Mono-Green Eldrazi, but Korey had been siding almost his entire 15 for most of the event and it had been working out for him. Den Protector is just straight gas in just about every match.

Atarka Red has always been a real deck, and I am impressed with the different ways that it has evolved over the last few formats from being burn-heavy to going wide, to combo kills, and now back to going wide. The toughest thing in preparing for this deck is that a lot of the sideboard cards are pretty narrow and don’t overlap all too well. In the past we have seen cards like Arashin Cleric and Surge of Righteousness being used, but I actually really like just how good Kalitas, Traitor of Ghet is not only against the field, but also against the aggressive Red strategies.

Both Gerry Thompson and Joe Lossett had copies of Kalitas, Traitor of Ghet in their main and we even saw a handful in the sideboard of different decks. Playing the role of Anafenza, the Foremost against the Rally decks with the added benefit of lifelink against the aggressive decks, the second incarnation of Kalitas is going to see more and more play.

I’m sure his zombie-making ability was underappreciated initially since we’re so used to zombies entering the battlefield tapped as of late, but the ones generated when our opponents creatures die will enter the battlefield ready for blocking duty. This is pretty huge, as it allows Kalitas to be offensive and defensive at the same time. Just don’t forget that those pesky goblin tokens aren’t going to trigger his ability!

Last week I gushed a bit about how amazing I thought that Chandra, Flamecaller was, and I was very impressed with seeing her work for Gerry Thompson and his Jeskai Black deck last weekend.

With Magmatic Insight, Treasure Cruise, and Painful Truths, Gerry’s build of Jeskai Black has plenty of ways to generate card advantage. Adding Chandra, Flamecaller to the Jeskai Black deck was genius, and while I thought that it might have been the way to go, I was so enamored with Goblin Dark-Dwellers last week that I didn’t spend the time needed to get to Jeskai Black for her. Thank you to Gerry for figuring it out!

I didn’t get to see every game that Gerry played on camera, but I really hope that at some point during the weekend he was able to play Chandra, Flamecaller with a Kalitas, Traitor of Ghet on the battlefield and her use her –X ability for three or less and kill a bunch of creatures and make a bunch of zombie tokens.

I like that Gerry and the rest of the Roanoke crew read the format and determined just how good Disdainful Stroke was going to be. As the Atarka Red deck starts to regulate the format over the next few events I can imagine that its stock is going to go down, but for now I really like Disdainful Stroke and would keep it going forward.

With so many different decks being played and Oath of the Gatewatch cards seeing play, I’d have to say that I think the one with the biggest impact would have to be Sylvan Advocate.

Abzan decks of every flavor have been in the market for a great two-drop for quite some time. Ever since Fleecemane Lion left, combined with the lack of Urborg, Tomb of Yawgmoth and no B/G Battle land making Raksasha Deathdealer almost unplayable, Abzan has gone through options like Heir of the Wilds and Snapping Gnarlid.

While Sylvan Advocate might not be as amazing on defense as Heir of the Wilds or be as aggressive as Snapping Gnarlid, it fits the role right in the middle perfectly. Not trading with Wild Slash and requiring that Fiery Impulse be turned on with Spell Mastery is right where we want to be for a two-drop, and much like the famed two-drops of Abzan past (Fleecemane and Deathdealer), Sylvan Advocate is effective early on and as the games starts to go long. Being a “Tarmogoyf” later in the game as a 4/5 is just what we’re looking for; not to mention that Abzan is the perfect color combination to take advantage of the extra ability tacked onto the personal +2/+2.

Giving creature-lands +2/2 is pretty sweet, especially when we consider that the ones that Abzan has access to are baseline 2/3 lifelink (Shambling Vent) and 2/2 deathtouch (Hissing Quagmire) and only require three mana to activate.

The deck that seemed to take best advantage of all this over the weekend was Andy Ferguson’s Abzan Company deck. Resembling something that you might see in Modern, Andy’s fine squad of creatures with converted mana three or less maximized the impact that his Collected Companies had on the game, but unlike in Modern, there aren’t any mana creatures to “brick” with.

Honestly, if I had to pick a deck from the Top 8 of #SCGATL that had the biggest legs and will likely have a breakout weekend in Columbus, it would be something along these lines.

One of the other Oath of the Gatewatch cards that makes an appearance here is Matter Reshaper, which seems tailor-made for a Collected Company strategy.

Hitting every single card in the deck except for the ten spells is a pretty high percentage that we’re going to be getting insane value off our Matter Reshaper. This allows us to play whatever role we need to with the card, be it pressuring our opponent and forcing their hand of removal spells or being defensive and giving us resilience against aggressive attacks with chump blocks.

Ayli, Eternal Pilgrim is another new card that seems pretty sweet here too. I imagine there might be games where we actually get to 30 or more life and start using her additional ability, but just by being a 2/3 deathtouch it has great stats, and the life gainability is no slouch either.

Having incidental lifegain in the main is becoming more and more important in Standard. Cards are all so powerful and line up against each other so well that simply getting one more draw step from gaining incremental life can easily mean the difference between a win and a loss.

Andy also decided to play a copy of Kalitas, Traitor of Ghet in his sideboard to combat Rally. I wonder if it might be worth playing some number of Hallowed Moonlight as well, since the addition of Reflector Mage in Rally changes the dynamic significantly.

The other card that showed up in the Top 8 that I think is going to have a big impact on Standard is Reflector Mage. Emma Handy placed ninth with a Rally list including the card, but we also saw Willie Porges slot Reflector Mage into his Abzan Blue deck. Like Ari alludes to in his exceptional article on SCG Premium earlier this week, playing Oath of Nissa gives us the additional “lands” that Ben Rubin’s 64-card Abzan deck from #GPOAK had without actually playing the four extra cards.

I think that this is just the beginning for Reflector Mage, and being a 2/3 body is just so insane combined with the “Time Walk” bounce ability. I think this card is begging to be put onto the battlefield with Collected Company or to be played alongside some aggressive cards like Anafenza, the Foremost.

Card for card, Abzan usually has the edge. Anafenza, the Foremost; Siege Rhino; Gideon, Ally of Zendikar; Den Protector — all of these cards just line up so well against everything else in the format that the tempo gained from Reflector Mage can just be absolutely backbreaking. Making your opponent spend a turn recasting a creature an entire turn after you bounced it, and we get a 2/3 body that we can use with our Dromoka’s Commands or just send into the red zone? That’s just perfect.

I can’t wait to see where else we see Reflector Mage show up. Esper? Jeskai? Bant + a fourth color?

The Eldrazi also made their Titanic Presence known at #SCGATL. Mono-Green Eldrazi made it all the way to the finals in the hands of Chris Brickey. Going hard on the ramp with such platinum hits as Leaf Gilder and Bane of Bala Ged, Brickey’s choice for the weekend is one I really like. While I thought that Atarka Red would have been a good choice for the weekend, I wouldn’t have anticipated Red-based aggro from most other players, which seem to be his worst matchup, and even though he ran into Korey at the wrong time, his performance over the weekend was very impressive.

Looking over the handful of Eldrazi decks that did well on the weekend, we see a couple of trends along the builds.

Besides Brickey’s second-place list, all the others were G/R. This is primarily to take advantage of cards like Kozilek’s Return and removal like Roast. We also saw some Chandra, Flamecaller get up in the mix.

It’s pretty unanimous that World Breaker is insane. That was the one card that I was the most impressed with when seeing any of the Eldrazi Ramp decks in action. Hitting a land, being a huge body that can block just about anything, and having the ability to recur is great. It also is at the seven-mana sweet spot, which triggers Sanctum of Ugin and the backside of Kozilek’s Return.

I don’t think we are remotely close to seeing the end of World Breaker. In fact, I think that there might even be a spot for it in a G/B Eldrazi deck in Modern. Casting it on the cheap with Eldrazi Temple, Eye of Ugin, and Urborg, Tomb of Yawgmoth isn’t all that tough, and I think that it has some amazing impact in some bad matchups. How is Affinity expecting to beat this card? Infect? Yeah, I know that these decks have perfect draws and cards like Blighted Agent, but World Breaker can even block Etched Champion. Devoid, baby!

World Breaker seems absolutely bonkers in Modern in a deck that can ramp it quickly. I hope I can acquire the Eye of Ugin; Urborg, Tomb of Yawgmoth; and Eldrazi Temples I need for #SCGRegionals.

Kozliek, the Great Distortion only shows up in some of the decks, and I was correct in my assessment that it would be a singleton. The ability to find it off Sanctum of Ugin is perfect, and while its effect is extremely powerful, we don’t ever really want or need to find more than one over the course of a game.

Thought-Knot Seer is in every deck and is insane. I thought the card was going to be great. Now we know the card is great, and I imagine that we might even see some decks try to find ways to play it as we move forward. It takes their best card, and even though they get a replacement card after they spend resources getting rid of it…well, a random over their best card and making them use resources to get rid of it? Sign me up.

The biggest surprise was that almost half of the Eldrazi ramp decks were utilizing Ruin in Their Wake. At first glance I didn’t think that it was going to be good enough or worth playing some number of Wastes in your deck to give you access to a simple Rampant Growth, but with Evolving Wilds being able to find Wastes and the deck not having many super-early plays anyway, the opportunity cost isn’t as high as I initially thought it was. Ali Aintrazi was in the running for a Top 8 berth pretty deep into the event. He ended up finishing 16th with his G/R Eldrazi deck, and I think it’s pretty sweet!

Where do we go from here? I think that we’re going to see a lot of Collected Company decks at #SCGCOL. It lines up pretty well against the aggressive strategies and the control strategies, and with cards like Infinite Obliteration and Transgress the Mind out of the sideboard, it can even rumble in the jungle with the ramp decks.

If I could pick an interaction that becomes a thing, it would definitely be these two cards…

Goblins gotta stick together!

Go get ’em at #SCGCOL!