Level 2-1

Find out what level of the Standard metagame you want to be on for #SCGINVI this weekend by reading Jim Davis’ thoughts about the current state of the format.

No amusing anecdotes this week—we are jumping right in.


Standard is already on the move, and if you blink you might fall behind.

The StarCityGames.com A and B teams caused quite a ruckus at Grand Prix Louisville, putting a combined seven players in the Top 16, which is quite the showing. There were three different decks between them, and in them and the other decks in the Top 16 we can see both the evolution of the format since the Pro Tour and what our target is going to be for this week’s StarCityGames.com Invitational in Indianapolis.

First up is the breakout deck of the tournament, Mono-Black Devotion, which took it down in the hands of fellow author and all-around good guy Brian Braun-Duin:

Clearly an evolution of Kentarou Yamamoto’s deck from the Top 8 of Pro Tour Theros, what is most impressive about this deck is that two nearly identical copies also made Top 8 in the hands of Brad Nelson and Todd Anderson. That is quite a showing for an event as large as a Grand Prix.

This deck can clearly be seen as the next evolution of Standard from Pro Tour Theros. As we saw at Pro Tour Theros in our last article, Mono-Blue Devotion was the breakout deck of the weekend, and the decks that did well were the Mono-Blue Devotion lists that were the most prepared and the control decks that were tuned to defeat the blue menace.

Why did Mono-Blue Devotion do so well?

Before the Pro Tour, we were on level zero. There was little actual information about the format, and it seemed like the big decks were going to be U/W/x Control, G/W Aggro decks, and Mono-Red Aggro. The Mono-Blue Devotion deck completely blew any sort of Mono-Red Aggro or Voice of Resurgence deck out of the water and took the Pro Tour by storm.

The other decks that did well at the Pro Tour were black-based control decks, which were powerful in their own right but also very adept at dealing with the Mono-Blue Devotion deck. Why?

Because Mono-Blue Devotion is a very synergy-based deck that requires a lot of work to make its two best cards, Master of Waves and Thassa, God of the Sea, good, simply going one-for-one with all of their threats has proven to be an excellent foil to the deck. This is very often what we will see in the first weeks of a format.

Mono-Blue Devotion is a very solid level-one deck; it has a plan, it’s consistent, and it makes good use of its best cards. However, it’s not a very complicated deck, and when your deck is literally eight awesome devotion cards and a bunch of substandard creatures hellbent on maximizing your synergy, it’s not difficult to figure out how to disrupt it. While at Pro Tour Theros Mono-Blue Devotion was able to take many people by surprise, and this surprise factor combined with the power level of the deck and the quality of the players piloting it led it to take the Pro Tour by storm. It is not the format’s end boss by a longshot.

We aren’t on level one anymore, and you can consider Grand Prix Louisville to be level two. Brian’s Mono-Black Devotion deck is an excellent level two deck. Brain clearly updated his deck with the lessons from Pro Tour Theros in mind. Nightveil Specter gets the call because it is fantastic against both other black decks that can’t Doom Blade it and Mono-Blue Devotion to block its Nightveil Specters; Lifebane Zombie gets demoted because green and white decks simply aren’t popular anymore. Ultimate Price is a concession to the fact that Doom Blade is dead in mirror matches, and the sideboard saw some minor updates too.

The question is what is the next level?

Thankfully, like Mono-Blue Devotion, this deck is fairly simple: a few good creatures, a literal pile of one-for-one spells, and four Underworld Connections. This is also a deck that is easy to attack because it’s only really coming at you from one angle. It has no mass removal spells and no way to get ahead on cards aside from Underworld Connections. It will have trouble dealing with creatures that are black and looks like it could easily fall behind to a fast creature rush.

This deck is built to beat level one, and it does so admirably. However, now that we are passing level two, it will need to adapt to survive.

Aside from Mono-Blue and Mono-Black Devotion, the other big deck at Grand Prix Louisville was Esper Control, which put an astounding five players in the Top 16:

Esper Control is another deck that’s looking to move to level two with an excellent Mono-Blue Devotion matchup. Again, it has the trifecta of Doom Blade, Hero’s Downfall, and Thoughtseize, but it also goes a little bit further. The Esper deck is completely immune to Doom Blade effects, which effectively blanks six cards in Brian’s winning Mono-Black Devotion deck. It also has good maindeck answers to Underworld Connections and planeswalkers and is not really vulnerable to most of the threats out of the Mono-Black Devotion deck.

If anything, it looks like Esper Control might be the best level-two deck out there.

Aside from being well positioned against the current decks, Esper Control also has the highest individual power level among its cards. There are no Frostburn Weirds or Gray Merchant of Asphodels here. I’m somewhat surprised that Esper didn’t take down the whole event.

So what’s the next level for beating Esper Control?

While Esper Control seems very well positioned at the moment, it is interestingly weak to many of the level-zero decks we talked about—mainly Mono-Red and G/W Aggro. This is something we often see in formats; once decks go too deep into leveling themselves, they will often end up falling prey to the decks that are a number of levels behind them because they have overadapted. While the Mono-Blue Devotion deck and Ashiok, Nightmare Weaver may have taken the aggressive creature decks out of the picture for now, once they start to fade all sorts of old windows will open up again.

The last big archetype in the Top 16 of Louisville was various G/R decks. Last week we looked at Makihito Mihara’s devotion-based G/R deck, so today we are going to look at the more aggressive G/R deck that Brian took down in the finals:

Jon’s solution to the influx of Doom Blades and Thoughtseizes looking to break up devotion was to simply remove the devotion portion of his deck entirely. Focusing more on threat density, Jon’s deck looks to hit hard and fast with powerful bomb after powerful bomb and backs it all up with some powerful planeswalker action.

This deck is interesting because it doesn’t really look like it is trying to solve any niche in the metagame like our last few decks have. It’s simple, streamlined, and full of powerful cards. Time will tell if it’s a contender or not, but right now it’s hard to figure what level it is operating on.

The last deck I want to talk about is one that I am strongly considering playing in the Invitational this weekend, as it looks like it wants to be moving toward the next level above where we currently are at:

What have we looked at so far? Mainly monocolored Devotion decks and slow Esper Control decks. What did we say we wanted to try to do? Present a fast clock that is much more efficient than Doom Blade / Hero’s Downfall, has the ability to take advantage of the life loss from dual lands and Underworld Connections / Thoughtseize, and has the ability to punish the single-minded mentality of Devotion decks.

This deck seems to do all of those things very nicely. It has a very lean 1-2-3 drop curve and has two fantastic spells in Boros Charm and Brave the Elements. Both spells do an excellent job at giving the deck a ton of reach and providing excellent defense against mass removal/traditional removal. You get to play the best one-drop in the format in Soldier of the Pantheon and four Mutavaults, which is a huge plus as well. Banisher Priest is also fantastic against Mono-Blue Devotion since they have almost no way to kill it. The only thing I think it is missing is at least a pair of Burning Earths in the sideboard to help put the game away versus Esper Control.

It looks like the next level is going to be presenting threats that are difficult for the current crop of control decks to answer, but as always it is ever changing. This weekend is exciting for me, as I get to stop spectating and get in the game.

I can’t wait.