Magical Hack – States In A Nutshell

The StarCityGames.com $5,000 Standard open Comes to Philadelphia!
Friday, November 21st – With results beginning to trickle in, a solid idea of what happened at States is beginning to form our impressions of what we can expect at Worlds in a few weeks. While there is little enough on the PTQ-level front for Standard, there are events like the upcoming StarCityGames.com $5000 Standard Open in Philadelphia at the start of December, and there’s always Friday Night Magic.

With results beginning to trickle in, a solid idea of what happened at States is beginning to form our impressions of what we can expect at Worlds. While there is little enough on the PTQ-level front for Standard, there are events like the upcoming StarCityGames.com $5000 Standard Open in Philadelphia at the start of December, and there’s always Friday Night Magic. But for those with their eye on the prize even now, the road to Regionals is paved with a firm understanding of the Standard format as it evolves between now and next June, and so taking a good long look at how States played out will help to figure out what is going on in Standard right now.

No one website, not even MagicTheGathering.com, has all of the States decklists available. Between our results listed in the right-hand sidebar here on StarCityGames.com, those to be found in the “Decklists” segment of MagicTheGathering.com, and all the results listed on DeckCheck.net, I was able to compile most (but still not all) of the States results for our analysis. 41 of the 50 U.S. States have reported, however, so we’ll just run with those for the purpose of the analysis. As an added bonus, we have five Canadian provinces with reported results, so we will be tallying the following states and provinces to get our look at Standard right now:

Canadian Provinces:

British Columbia
Nova Scotia

U.S. States:

New Jersey
New Mexico
New York
North Carolina
North Dakota
Rhode Island
South Dakota
West Virginia

Looking just at the winners, we have:

Faeries – 13 / 46 (28.3%)
Kithkin – 9 / 46 (19.6%) [7 regular Kithkin; 2 Kithkin-Backlash decks]
Five-Color Control – 7 / 46 (14.3%) [6 Cruel Control; 1 Singleton Highlander Reflecting Pool Control]
Demigod Red -3 / 46 (6.5%)
Merfolk – 2 / 46 (4.3%)
GB Elves – 2 / 46 (4.3%)
Reveillark – 2 / 46 (4.3%)
Vengeant Aggro – 2 / 46 (4.3%)
Planeswalker Control – 2 / 46 (4.3%)
G/W Aggro – 1 / 46 (2.2%)
Bloom Razer – 1 / 46 (2.2%)
Quillspike Combo – 1 / 46 (2.2%)
Naya Aggro – 1 / 46 (2.2%)

Yes, this does look an awful lot like Lorwyn Block Constructed; the Top 3 glomming all of the victory with the occasional brief respite granted by miscellaneous other decks in small proportions each. It’s even the same Top 3, and for the same reasons: while Standard has widened from its Block Constructed roots, it has not strayed very far from them yet, with just Tenth Edition and Shards of Alara to add to the four sets of the Lorwyn Block with their pernicious influences. Widening this up to look at the entirety of the Top 8 results, instead of just the wins, does give some more hope for the future however:

Faeries – 13 Wins – 77 Total Top 8s

Kithkin – 7 Wins – 47 Total Top 8s
Kithkin Backlash – 2 Wins – 5 Total Top 8s
(Kithkin Total: 9 Wins, 51 Total Top 8s)

5c Control – 7 Wins – 60 Total Top 8s

Demigod Red – 3 Wins – 47 Total Top 8s

Reveillark – 2 Wins – 19 Total Top 8s
Merfolk – 2 Wins – 14 Total Top 8s
GB Elves – 2 Wins – 13 Total Top 8s
Vengeant Aggro – 2 Wins – 9 Total Top 8s
Planeswalker Control – 2 Wins – 5 Total Top 8s

Bloom Razer – 1 Win – 7 Total Top 8s
G/W Aggro – 1 Win – 3 Total Top 8s
Quillspike Combo – 1 Win – 3 Total Top 8s
Naya Aggro – 1 Win – 2 Total Top 8s

Blightning Beatdown – 0 Wins – 11 Total Top 8s
Jund Ramp – 0 Wins – 6 Total Top 8s
Elementals – 0 Wins – 6 Total Top 8s
Doran – 0 Wins – 5 Total Top 8s
Bant Aggro – 0 Wins – 5 Total Top 8s
Bant Control – 0 Wins – 5 Total Top 8s
Red/White Aggro (Non-Kithkin Tribal) – 0 Wins – 3 Total Top 8s
Torrent – 0 Wins – 2 Total Top 8s
Mono-Black Aggro (Zombies!) – 0 Wins – 2 Total Top 8s

U/W Non-Merfolk Fish – 0 Wins – 1 Total Top 8
Esper Non-Merfolk Fish – 0 Wins – 1 Total Top 8
Bant Ramp – 0 Wins – 1 Total Top 8
U/R Hybrid.dec – 0 Wins – 1 Total Top 8
Dauntless Dourbark Treefolk.dec – 0 Wins – 1 Total Top 8
Wizards – 0 Wins – 1 Total Top 8
B/W/R Aggro – 0 Wins – 1 Total Top 8
B/W Aggro – 0 Wins – 1 Total Top 8
G/W/B Non-Doran Aggro – 0 Wins – 1 Total Top 8
Red/Green Aggro – 0 Wins – 1 Total Top 8
Naya Planeswalker Aggro – 0 Wins – 1 Total Top 8
R/G/W Knights Aggro – 0 Wins – 1 Total Top 8
Jund Tokens – 0 Wins – 1 Total Top 8
Jund LD – 0 Wins – 1 Total Top 8
Red/White Control – 0 Wins – 1 Total Top 8
Black/White Midrange – 0 Wins – 1 Total Top 8
Black/White Control – 0 Wins – 1 Total Top 8

You can see new archetypes beginning to emerge, in addition to some noise mixed in among the signal. The two non-Merfolk Fish decks were probably better-suited as Merfolk decks, just by looking at how well the Merfolk decks did by comparison… two wins and fourteen Top 8s is nothing to sneeze at. (This also likely means that my last-minute curiosity, wondering whether there was any really compelling reason to keep to the Merfolk tribe for Richard Feldman‘s Merfolk deck, has been proven in battle as ‘strictly worse than the same deck using Merfolk’, which shouldn’t be a big surprise in this Tribal world.) But seeing “miscellaneous aggro deck” making the cut to the Top 8 multiple times in multiple places, it goes to show that while The Best Decks are The Best for a reason, their positions are not insurmountable.

Looking at new and emergent deck archetypes, we see a few good ones. Bloom Razer is a deck based around some positive interactions, such as Hybrid/gold creatures and Bloom Tender, that can take advantage of powerful acceleration to play Realm Razer as an Armageddon early in the game. Blightning Beatdown is a curious Red deck that put up good numbers for a non-Demigod-based Red deck, and G/B Elves appeared literally off of the radar to claim almost as many slots overall as the Merfolk deck popularized by Richard Feldman here on Star City Games in the weeks leading up to States. Reveillark likewise took a lot of slots, but with a lot of versions… including some non-Blue versions, like Red/White Lark and Black/White Lark, showing that it’s not all about the Mulldrifters. And Mike Flores latest creation, Jund Ramp, catches the eye even if it didn’t manage to catch any slots, simply due to the potential within its 60 cards.

If we were simply trying to figure out which of the old decks to play, rather than any of the new, we could look at these statistics for Top 8 Conversion rates… figure out which of the decks has the best chance of winning once it makes Top 8, and see if it happens to also be the deck that is most likely to make the Top 8. Admittedly, we can’t do that last part quite as successfully as I would like, since we would really need to know the amounts of them present in the Swiss to gauge how well they converted into a presence in the Top 8s. We are instead going to gauge “sheer number of Top 8s” as the factor for deciding if a deck was most likely to make the Top 8, so if the deck that happens to convert the most Top 8 appearances into wins, percentage-wise, also happens to be Faeries, then we have a solid argument for never playing anything other than Faeries from here unto the next expansion (and maybe after then as well). Looking only at decks with wins, then, we see the following:

“Tier One” Winning Decks:
Kithkin Backlash: 5 Top 8s, 2 Wins: 40% Conversion Rate
Faeries: 77 Top 8s, 13 Wins: 16.9% Conversion Rate
Regular Kithkin: 47 Top 8s, 7 Wins: 14.9% Conversion Rate
Five-Color Control: 60 Top 8s, 7 Wins: 11.7% Conversion Rate

Apparently, there is some benefit perhaps after all to playing the Painter’s Servant/Chaotic Backlash combo in your Kithkin decks. It is also likely that this is suffering from the “small numbers” problem, as any number of wins greater than zero amongst a sample population of five decks is going to have a 20% or better conversion rate using the guidelines we’ve set up, beating the other contenders who had a good deal more than five decks in the Top 8. That we are even clarifying the difference between Backlash and non-Backlash Kithkin is of relevance, because if we “correct” the Kithkin numbers to be for all Kithkin decks combined, we see 52 Top 8s, 9 Wins, and a 17.3% conversion rate… better than that of Faeries, the presumed best deck going out of States just by the sheer number of wins and appearances in the Top 8, when it is the strong performance of this sub-archetype that is the only thing that puts Kithkin even in the running against Faeries’ top title: the combo-kill potential of the Kithkin Backlash deck gives it an extra dimension of threats that more traditional Kithkin are lacking, and those more traditional Kithkin are likewise beneath Faeries as far as converting a Top 8 appearance at States into an actual win.

“Tier Two” Winning Decks:
Naya Aggro: 2 Top 8s, 1 Win: 50% Conversion Rate
Planeswalker Control: 5 Top 8s, 2 Wins: 40% Conversion Rate
G/W Aggro: 3 Top 8s, 1 Win: 33.3% Conversion Rate
Quillspike Combo: 3 Top 8s, 1 Win: 33.3% Conversion Rate
Vengeant Aggro: 9 Top 8s, 2 Wins: 22.2% Conversion Rate
GB Elves: 13 Top 8s, 2 Wins: 15.4% Conversion Rate
Merfolk: 14 Top 8s, 2 Wins: 14.3% Conversion Rate
Bloom Razer: 7 Top 8s, 1 Win: 14.3% Conversion Rate
Reveillark 19 Top 8s, 2 Wins: 10.5% Conversion Rate
Demigod Red: 47 Top 8s, 3 Wins: 6.4% Conversion Rate

Talk about small numbers problems! Naya Aggro appeared twice but actually won one of those Top 8s, so it is the “clear best deck” using this guideline before correcting for, you know, logic and statistical acumen. As we add more Top 8s these numbers get more firm, and thus are better to compare to the Tier One decks… which shows us that perhaps a second look at the Vengeant Aggro, Merfolk, and Elves archetypes is warranted. It also tells us that we should give serious consideration to going and dying in a fire instead of playing Demigod Red if we want to win a Standard tournament; it ties regular Kithkin in number of Top 8s, but has fewer than half as many wins as Kithkin does. Its presumed advantage in a Faeries metagame didn’t even convert into a strong showing at States; imagine what would happen if you took it into a less-biased metagame than we saw in this Top 8, with less of a dominance of its presumed ‘prey’ deck… as the format gets more explored and we are actually given reason to consider non-Faeries options, the already meager showing of the Demigod Red deck turns downright abysmal as it starves to death without feasting upon its ‘easy’ matchup. Friends don’t let friends play Demigod Red.

… But as we look into more innovation, perhaps there is room for Demigod of Revenge outside of Demigod Red? I’m finding myself fascinated by the idea of playing Demigod in a Jund Ramp-style deck, just as a potent threat that dodges countermagic instead of how Broodmate Dragon dodges mass removal. I find something about the Jund deck sticks to my mind as something worth developing, perhaps it’s just the quality of Jund Charm in this metagame but the strategy nearly worked in its current form and might be made to work in a more developed form than as we saw it in the Top 8s at States. Now, Michael J. Flores can hardly be called a novice when it comes to deck design, so clearly “something” was right about the Jund deck he put forward… but I find a different tactical approach to the format might invigorate the archetype, to make it a better deck in this format instead of a better deck in the abstract. Mike tends to focus on in-context metagaming, it’s true, but with better information coming out of States, we can perhaps put it into a better context than he had going into States, and thus find a new take on the Jund Ramp deck following after States.

Flores would suggest we start here:

Mike Flores Jund Mana Ramp
Top 16, New York State Championship

8 Forest
4 Fire-Lit Thicket
4 Treetop Village
4 Savage Lands
2 Swamp
1 Mountain

4 Chameleon Colossus
4 Civic Wayfinder
4 Cloudthresher
4 Kitchen Finks
2 Farhaven Elf
1 Broodmate Dragon

4 Firespout
4 Gift of the Gargantuan
4 Jund Charm
4 Rampant Growth
2 Primal Command

4 Guttural Response
3 Mind Shatter
2 Broodmate Dragon
2 Lash Out
2 Primal Command
2 Shriekmaw

There are parts to this I like, and there are parts to this I don’t. Surprise, surprise, I know. But like many Flores decks, this deck is just too… darned… Green. Parts of it that I like:

4 Chameleon Colossus
4 Civic Wayfinder
4 Kitchen Finks

4 Firespout
4 Gift of the Gargantuan
4 Jund Charm
4 Rampant Growth
2 Primal Command

To be fair, that’s a solid portion of the deck. Much of it is, in fact, Green. I’m going to hell for this, I can tell already. Because I see all these Gifts of the Gargantuans and Primal Commands, and think “wouldn’t it be neat if I used these to find more Demigods of Revenge?” Further proof that really, there just is no talking to me! I also want a Hellkite Overlord, because what’s better than that, honestly?

Clearly this insane plan requires re-tooling of the manabase, because presently all the lands tap for Green… the traitors. I guess when you start with the default position of wanting Cloudthreshers, this is how we roll. I for one doubt we need Faerie-specific Wraths #9-12, even if Faeries is poised as the Deck to Beat, and wouldn’t even object to shaving a Charm or Firespout to the sideboard (… let’s be honest, it’s Firespout; Charm’s instant speed makes it too valuable against Faeries, and its “does something else” mode really helps against control matchups) to find room for Stuff.

Going insane because it seems fun to do, we reach the following:

4 Chameleon Colossus
4 Civic Wayfinder
4 Kitchen Finks
4 Demigod of Revenge
1 Broodmate Dragon
1 Hellkite Overlord

4 Gift of the Gargantuan
4 Jund Charm
4 Rampant Growth
3 Firespout
2 Primal Command
2 Fertile Ground

4 Savage Lands
4 Fire-Lit Thicket
4 Twilight Mire
4 Llanowar Wastes
2 Treetop Village
2 Forest
2 Mountain
1 Swamp

4 Shriekmaw
4 Cloudthresher
4 Guttural Response
2 Mind Shatter
1 Firespout

Key in my mind here is that there isn’t too much that doesn’t produce Green, but also not so much Green that we can’t reasonably filter it into five Red and/or Black as-needed with filter lands or the innate qualities of Savage Lands. Where Flores has a mighty twelve primary Green-and-only-Green sources, I have… four? Twelve primary Green sources and eight Hybrid lands is not too much Hybrid mana, though additional Hybrid lands would clearly push that envelope further, in my experience trying to make mana-bases work in Block Constructed… and if we’re worried about too much pain, well, one use of Llanowar Wastes should realistically lead to a pain-free colored source, with Fertile Ground, Rampant Growth and Civic Wayfinder all in the color-fixing business.

Sure, it’s likely insanity… a base-Green deck “splashing” Demigod of Revenge. Ludicrous… so ludicrous, in fact, we’ve gone to plaid. But instead of worrying about the format feeling stagnant, I find my trip through statistics gives hope… there is no clear best deck, and even the top tier decks have their weaknesses. Five-Color Control has a hard time converting a Top 8 appearance into a tournament win, for example, while Faeries is presumably prey for the weak-but-popular Red decks that are out there, and Kithkin can’t beat a Five-Color Control deck or a good Faeries player who is properly sideboarding four Infests if its life depends on it. Other deck options exist and are worthy of exploration, and simply put… if the rest of the metagame refuses to move, it’s a sitting duck target for everyone else to draw a bead on.

If anything, seeing the States results renews my creativity rather than stifles it… a curiosity, I know, since there is so very little appearing at States that actually seems innovative. There is just enough innovation, and a good smattering of other decks that are feasible to play in the metagame, that I expect good things for the coming weeks of Standard tournaments leading up to Worlds, rather than boredom.

Sean McKeown
s_mckeown @ hotmail.com