Looking Forward To M13 Standard And Modern

After the first weekend of Standard with M13, Valeriy Shunkov goes over his first impressions of the format from SCG Open Series: St. Louis. He also highlights two Modern Birthing Pod combo decks for those attending GP Columbus.

The very first weekend of the new Standard with M13 has come and gone, and it’s time to analyze what did actually happen, what did not, and what will happen later. Standard is constantly evolving, and we surely want to be at the front of this process to have an edge at the upcoming SCG Open Series: Las Vegas (or any other Standard event you’re going to attend). For those who are choosing Modern at GP Columbus, the second part of this article is dedicated to my favorite format and its two Birthing Pod decks.

First Impressions of the New Standard

The SCG Standard Open in St. Louis showed us some very interesting decks and strategies. What I liked is that not only Talrand, Sky Summoner, Rancor, and Thragtusk showed some beats as expected, but unexpected sleepers also saw play. Who thought of Trading Post and Elvish Visionary being important Constructed cards? Who thought that Battle of Wits was not only the geek’s toy, but a real deck to be considered?

The most important card, which was overlooked during spoiler season, is Trading Post. Honestly, I was not really impressed by the Trading Post decks I saw from the SCG Standard Open in St. Louis. The feature match between Joe Bernal and Anthony Eason ended 1-0 in the favor of the glass hammer aggressive deck. Mono-Black Control spent forty minutes losing a game against G/R Elves—a deck that it’s supposed to eat for breakfast! And what about the matchups that were supposed to be tough?

Anthony’s deck includes an astonishing nine expensive sweepers and zero spot removal. Sure, all those sweepers are great against 2/2 creatures (Geist of Saint Traft, Talrand, Sky Summoner, and Huntmaster of the Fells), but I definitely have no idea how he can survive until turn 6 without at least some Go for the Throats; Wolfir Silverheart is a huge problem, postboard Ancient Grudges into acceleration easily spell "die before you can cast your threats," and even one well-timed Mana Leak could ruin his day!

Looking at this build, I’d rather have one or two Staff of Nin as my expensive cantrip of choice, especially with seven lifelink creatures already in the deck. Buuut…seven sweepers (not counting Curse of Death’s Hold) and a bunch of artifact creatures? Why not use some Karn Liberated and Sorin Markov? Some weeks ago, I mentioned B/W Control, which had some success in Magic Online even before Mutilate was printed. Moreover, using Trading Post to sacrifice Ichor Wellspring and Mycosynth Wellspring is much more interesting than sacrificing a squeezed Sphere of the Suns. So my attempt for Mono-Black Trading Post is the following:

Joe Bernal Elves (which can also be attributed to Travis Woo) ended up with a reasonable 7-3 record, and, I think, has some potential. The deck truly breaks stereotypes: it has three copies of Soul of the Harvest when Primeval Titan is still legal in the format! In fact, this deck wants drawing cards much more than having Kessig Wolf Run in play; it has the luxury of Ezuri, Renegade Leader driven Overrun and access to a lot of mana, so a six-mana Glimpse of Nature with an attached body is actually better than the fearsome Titan.

Looks very interesting, right? But this list is a little bit rough for me, though I really want to see a pair of Cavern of Souls, Acidic Slime, and Craterhoof Behemoth in the maindeck (instead of two Forests, Wolfir Silverheart, and Huntmaster of the Fells). The deck is at its heart a glass hammer, so let’s maximize our chances to win in the glass hammer style! Though I like Joe’s decision to have a backup plan of sideboarding into a kind of G/R Aggro deck with Thragtusk, Huntmaster of the Fells and Sword of War and Peace.

Adam Prosak Wizards is another deck where the newcomer pushed the generally accepted favorite out of the maindeck.

You can see his deck tech here.

Talrand, Sky Summoner is a very good card, and underestimating him was my huge mistake. Four mana is a lot in current Standard, but Talrand is from Huntmaster of the Fells’ tribe: a 2/2 for four which gets out of control very fast. I’m sure I’m not brave enough to have three Talrands in an eighteen-land deck (and four Restoration Angels in the nineteen-land postboard version), but Adam’s deck is otherwise exciting.

The addition of Talrand, Sky Summoner into Delver decks means that they will be much more vulnerable to both Huntmaster of the Fells and Bonfire of the Damned. Restoration Angel was a card that turned Delver’s matchup against G/R Aggro from negative to even, and I see no way how the newcomer can help there. This is why Adam still has his Angels in the sideboard and why I expect different builds of Delver to be viable alongside U/W, U/W/B and U/W/R Midrange decks which surely don’t need Talrand.

One more home for Talrand, Sky Summoner is a U/G Delver deck, which also saw some play this past weekend. I tried Fettergeist at Talrand’s place, but I concluded that the deck just needs two extremely powerful four-mana creatures over some cheaper regular beaters. U/G is much more straight aggressive than other Delver builds, so some risk of a Bonfire of the Damned blowout is acceptable. This is the corrected build of the U/G Quirion Dryad deck from my previous article.

Invisible Stalker, Runechanter’s Pike, and Rancor had to go in favor of additional cantrips and countermagic. While I still want to have some Rancor, it’s a little bit "good when everything is good and bad when everything is bad" in this deck—a clear indicator of a card that doesn’t really belong in the deck. I would also like to play red for Bonfire of the Damned (and possibly Huntmaster of the Fells in the sideboard), but I couldn’t figure out a mana base that would be good enough to work.

That’s all about Standard for today. The first impression has come and gone, and it’s time for analysis now. My schedule unfortunately doesn’t allow me to do so (it’s 7 AM on Sunday in Moscow right now; I’m watching video coverage of the quarterfinals and my deadline is before the Top 4 matches start tomorrow), so I’m going to continue this article with some thoughts on Modern; if you’re interested in Standard information, be ready to check this very website tomorrow and every day for great articles from my colleagues.

Two Birthing Pod Combo Decks in Modern

Modern is my favorite format, so I just can’t ignore upcoming the Grand Prix even during release weekend. I wish good luck to everyone playing at GP Columbus and want to provide some thoughts about two Birthing Pod combo decks coexisting in this awesome format.

Melira Combo has existed in Modern since the very beginning of the format and became a staple after the last bannings. However, nothing stays the same, and Grand Prix Yokohama revealed a new idea packed into similar core: Naya Pod. The combo is Kiki-Jiki, Mirror Breaker and Restoration Angel (or Village Bell-Ringer as a fifth copy that’s easier to find with Chord of Calling).

The main advantage of the R/W combo over traditional U/R Splinter Twin or RUG Pod Splinter Twin (which also exists in the format) is Restoration Angel’s insane quality. The weakness is slower speed due to the higher cost of the combo pieces; this is why the Birthing Pod midrange version is better than any kind of straight combo.

The main advantage of R/W combo over Melira is again card quality (such a huge difference between Restoration Angel and Viscera Seer) and a fewer quantity of combo pieces, which is extremely important for creature-based combos due to their vulnerability to such a common preboard hate as removal. Its downsides are its inability to win at instant speed and a significantly higher mana curve. Mana curve is extremely important for the beatdown plan, which is often the default one.

Here are two decklists from a recent Magic Online Daily Event; Melira is from the famous deck’s champion, Andrew Cuneo. Let’s compare the decks’ mana curves:

G/W/B: 9-6-7-3-1-1

R/G/W: 6-6-7-6-5-0

In addition, Melira has three Thoughtseizes instead of five-mana creatures.

Generally, Melira is better against straight aggro (like Affinity or Burn) and other combo decks (due to a better "disruption plus beatdown" plan), but it is weaker against Jund and Mana Leak decks. Its higher mana curve forces you to use Wall of Roots to enable survival through early aggro, which is a little bit clunky with Kiki-Jiki, Mirror Breaker’s mana cost and a ton of non-green double costs. Green walls are often supported by Spellskite or Wall of Omens, while as a Melira player I definitely prefer to Thalia, Guardian of Thraben, Saffi Eriksdotter, or any other utility creature which is a reasonable attacker.

Speaking of reasonable attackers, I would definitely like to see a Melira deck with the following:

-1 Wall of Roots, +1 Noble Hierarch (more one-drops, exalted matters)

-1 Harmonic Sliver, +1 Qasali Pridemage (same purpose, more aggressive)

-1 Eternal Witness, +1 Saffi Eriksdotter (same purpose, more aggressive)

-1 Sun Titan, +1 Thalia, Guardian of Thraben (Titan is just too slow for me)

– 1 Golgari Rot Farm, -1 Horizon Canopy, +2 Gavony Township (with Dryad Arbor also considered as a candidate to be substituted with a third Gavony Township)

I would also consider cutting Wall of Roots or Thoughtseize in favor of a second Murderous Redcap or Fulminator Mage for R/G Tron (which will be unfairly popular). Two sideboarded copies of Lingering Souls and Sigarda, Host of Herons are where I want to be in matchups like Jund or U/W/R Delver, where comboing off is very unlikely for Melira and there is a necessity to sideboard into a straight aggro deck.

The Naya Pod deck has the powerful Restoration Angel plus Kitchen Finks plan, so there is no need to have as many good creatures in the sideboard; you can have cute things like Sowing Salt against one very annoying matchup (R/G Combo Tron). I’m perfectly fine with cwllc’s maindeck, but his sideboard has Creeping Corrosion and Ancient Grudge over Kataki, War’s Wage. Really? A four-mana sorcery instead of a cheap and devastating Tutorable creature? Affinity is a thing in this format, especially at large tournaments.

What I recommend to try in Naya Pod as an experiment is Grand Abolisher. With the fact that only two creatures must be resolved and protected, it’s better to switch off an opponent’s countermagic alongside removal (which can be done by Spellskite). There is no luxury to be able to find four creatures in Melira, but Naya Pod would be able to do that, especially with Restoration Angel as a combo piece and Abolisher’s protection from removal.

I’d probably play Melira at the Grand Prix, but it’s mostly because of my own passion for the deck (and because it would work for a European GP), but Naya Pod would probably be better choice for an American GP like Columbus due to the expected larger percentage of U/W decks.

Whatever you’re going to play this weekend, good luck!

Valeriy Shunkov