Narrowing Down Standard

GerryT has #SCGINVI to prep for, and #SCGDEN is this weekend. So what deck will it be? Gerry chronicles the overrated, the underrated, and everything in between!

With #SCGDEN and #SCGINVI on the horizon, my sights are set on Standard and Modern. First, I’ve got #SCGDEN coming up this weekend, so I’ve been working on
Standard. Basically, I’ve been going through the decks in Standard, attempting to cross some off the list and narrow my options.

The Overrated

After playing with Abzan Aggro a lot, I’m not sure what the appeal is. How is this 35% of the metagame for every Grand Prix Day 2? To be fair, I thought I
was going to play this deck for a while. My initial results were great and then I started running into bad matchups. Rally, Esper Dragons, Eldrazi Ramp,
and Atarka Red are all very difficult. While those aren’t a huge portion of the metagame individually, you’ll likely run into some of them over the course
of a tournament.

Despite that, I like my list. Cutting some Shambling Vents is becoming popular practice, although that does affect your Esper and Atarka Red matchups.
Ideally, you get to curve out in most matchups, so lowering the amount of lands that enter the battlefield tapped is great, but the mana still isn’t
perfect. Having 26 lands helps alleviate that issue, but I’ve considered going up to 27 on more than one occasion.

One of my constant issues with the deck was mulliganing opening hands that only had two lands. Oftentimes, you’d be short a color, or in order to have all
three colors you’d have to stunt your own development. Even then, there was no guarantee that the third land you’d draw would get you out of those bad
spots. I always felt like having more land would help with those issues, but then I’d want to be a “bigger” Abzan deck.

A three mana 4/4 is powerful a lot of the time, especially since there’s removal like Fiery Impulse running around. Sometimes you blank your opponent’s
removal just by having the biggest, baddest creature on the battlefield. There are definitely matchups where a (mostly) vanilla 4/4 isn’t impressing anyone
though. I’ll get into the bigger Abzan deck later.

I cut two Shambling Vents for a Polluted Delta and a Swamp, which made me want a Prairie Stream. Suddenly, I had 11 blue sources and could consider
sideboarding some counterspells if I wanted. Overloading on reactive cards seemed like a bad idea, but having a card that could lock the game up against
Esper Dragons or Rally seemed nice. Alternatively, the Polluted Delta could be a Bloodstained Mire, the Prairie Stream could be a Cinder Glade, and I could
sideboard something like Radiant Flames.

It’s not difficult to build your sideboard to beat Atarka Red, Esper Dragons, Eldrazi Ramp, or Rally individually, but beating each of them is nearly
impossible, especially when you have to keep the mirror in consideration. Secure the Wastes is excellent against Dragon Fodder and Foul-Tongue Invocation,
and Duress is basically great against each of those decks, so I looked for spots where I could overlap when possible. Still, it wasn’t enough. You have to
pick your spots.

One of the biggest issues in the Esper Dragons matchup was Jace, Vryn’s Prodigy. You want to side out the Dromoka’s Commands, so you’re left with very few
ways to interact with it. By playing some Silkwraps, you’re consolidating sideboard slots while also making yourself better against Jace. However, having
two removal spells for their four Jaces is hardly a great place to be, especially considering the games where you draw Silkwrap and they don’t have Jace.

Ultimately, I wanted something like Utter End, but a big, clunky removal spell wasn’t the right fit for this deck. Again, a bigger Abzan deck was calling

At this point, I think the maindeck Heir of the Wilds are standard, as they should be. Hangarback Walker isn’t aggressive, and it’s abysmal in the mirror
match, but the metagame might circle around to a point where Hangarback is the correct choice. For example, it’s the best two-drop for fighting Ugin, the
Spirit Dragon, Foul-Tongue Invocation, and it’s slightly better than Heir of the Wilds against Atarka Red. Evolutionary Leap out of the sideboard is
particularly impressive against some decks. Still, I think Heir wins out for right now.

Assuming you’re not going out of your way to be able to deal with a Jace, you need a healthy amount of sideboard cards against Esper Dragons. The maindeck
can’t kill a Dragonlord Ojutai outside of Abzan Charm, but you have to play on their terms in order to make that happen. Some Self-Inflicted Wounds might
seem like a good answer, but they are often less reliant on Dragonlord Ojutai in the sideboard games.

What you need is a way to overload their removal, Dig Through Times, and Jace, Telepath Unbound (since I assume Jace will get active), and Painful Truths
is the best option for that. Some people are siding additional Den Protectors, and that’s fine, but ideally you’d want both. Painful Truths is something
that is difficult for them to fight.

All of these issues lead me to trying other Abzan Aggro decks, including the one that took down #SCGKC.

The Correctly Rated

I tried this deck and wanted it to be good, but add a color, cut a land? No, thank you.

This deck is kind of a trainwreck.

With normal Abzan Aggro, your sequencing is generally:

Turn 1: Fetch Forest, play Warden of the First Tree

Turn 2: Fetch Plains, level Warden of the First Tree (or play Heir of the Wilds)

Turn 3: Fetch Smoldering Marsh or Sunken Hollow, play Anafenza, the Foremost or Abzan Charm

Turn 4: Fetch Canopy Vista, play Siege Rhino or Gideon, Ally of Zendikar

With Jeskai Black, you can often cast Mantis Rider and Crackling Doom with ease. Sure, sometimes the basic Island or basic Swamp gets in the way, or your
only way to fetch black or red mana is by getting a Smoldering Marsh, but for the most part, it works out fine.

In Abzan Aggro, trying to play Crackling Doom alongside Warden of the First Tree means there are going to be many turns where you effectively spend four
mana on Crackling Doom – W/B/R plus a Forest that just sits there not doing anything.

Is Crackling Doom worth four mana?

Absolutely not. You’re better off trying to solve those problems other ways. The idea of having an Edict, maybe some Radiant Flames, and maybe some Rending
Volleys is certainly appealing, but you can’t do it alongside Warden of the First Tree. Loading up on Llanowar Wastes is possible, but then you probably
need a basic Mountain to curve into Turn 4 Canopy Vista + Gideon, Ally of Zendikar.

Maybe Adrian’s deck is good.

The Incredibly Overrated

This is one of the best decks in Standard, yet it’s also completely horrid.

Most of your cards key off each other, which is great — If everything works out, you have one of the most powerful decks in the format. On the other hand,
when things don’t come together, you probably have the crappiest deck in the format. You’ve got a pile of Force Spikes, Dig Through Times that you never
seem to be able to cast, and Jace, Vryn’s Prodigies that turn on your opponent’s otherwise dead removal.

While the upside is there, the downside means I’m off it.

The Underrated

This deck fell out of favor, but I think it’s poised for a big comeback. It’s currently my frontrunner for #SCGDEN, and possibly the #SCGINVI.

If you want a deck that has a shot against Abzan Aggro, Atarka Red, Esper Dragons, Rally, and Eldrazi Ramp, you could certainly do worse. The combination
of early removal, counterspells, and efficient threats go a long way towards beating each of those decks.

All I have to do is make a good decklist and not make any mistakes. Should be easy, right?

Since Jeskai Black has a lower raw level on average compared to each of the other decks, you kind of need things to break your way. It’s similar to Esper
Dragons in that regard, but that’s only assuming your opponents’ decks are operating at their peak. Even if your cards aren’t lining up against theirs, you
still have respectable cards, not Force Spikes for double the mana cost.

I’m off the Kolaghan’s Command hype-train. How many Shocks does one deck need, really? Four and the Roasts should do the trick against Monastery
Swiftspear, Warden of the First Tree, and Jace, Vryn’s Prodigy. Drawing multiple Shocks isn’t what Jeskai Black wants to be doing these days. You need to
be able to kill Siege Rhinos and whatnot.

I like Jeskai Black a lot, but like I said, I need the decklist to be good.

The Enemy

If all else fails, we can always attack with small red creatures. Based on how the format is right now, Atarka Red appears to be the clear favorite over
R/G Landfall. The ability to go wide and invalidate removal spells seems much better than having a little resiliency. If you cared, you could even play
some Den Protectors in Atarka Red, which would likely be better than the random Outpost Sieges I often see.

It feels very difficult to beat this deck unless you’re a pile of cards that directly interact with the Become Immenses and Temur Battle Rages. Ideally,
I’d want a deck that has Duress and/or Dispel alongside something to deal with a horde of Goblin tokens. Sometimes Arashin Cleric is enough, but most of
the time it trades with a Titan’s Strength.

When you continually lose to a deck with all your other decks, at what point should you actually pick up that deck and start playing it?

The Masterpiece

That’s right, the secret to health, happiness, and a long, fulfilling life is to cut a color.

I’m going to spend five mana on Bring to Light every time but only be able to get four mana’s worth of a card out of it. Is that still a good deal? Well,
I’m willing to argue that a Bring to Light with full domain wasn’t a great deal to begin with, but hear me out.

If there were a card that stabilized the mid-game, similarly to Elspeth, Sun’s Champion, Abzan Control might actually be a thing. I tried Dragonlord Atarka
and was not a fan. I won a bunch with Bring to Light despite the deck feeling like a clunker, so I decided to revisit it.

The five-drop tutor targets weren’t very impressive anyway, plus making all five colors was not easy. However, making four colors is actually quite easy.
Opulent Palace with eight fetchlands that can find basic Plains makes it trivial. Playing tri-lands is probably something I was missing in the original
Bring to Light deck, especially the ones that wanted Duress and Fiery Impulse early. Unfortunately, the five-color deck needed to play all five Battle
lands, but this one can get away with only three. Overall, the mana has been incredibly smooth.

With Abzan Charm and Painful Truths, this deck is often outdrawing its opponents. Sweepers can catch you back up, and Siege Rhino helps offset the life
loss. Plus, Jace, Vryn’s Prodigy just runs people over. You kind of need something to tie it all together, and I think Bring to Light does that, even at
just two copies. It just means you have a threat when you need it, a sweeper when you need it, and it makes your Jaces even more powerful.

Silkwrap is probably the best two-mana removal spell. While Esper Dragons doesn’t have Ojutai’s Command, being able to exile Jace, Vryn’s Prodigy is a big
deal against decks like Jeskai Black. The obvious downside is Dromoka’s Command, but it’s rare for Abzan Aggro to get the devastating two-for-one. The real
issue is not being able to interact with a Become Immense, which is why my fourth two-drop removal spell is an Ultimate Price.

Past that, I think everything is pretty normal-looking, numbers-wise. The only other consideration I had was trying to stay threat-dense while also needing
to play a bunch of mana sources. Makihito Mihara rectified that at #PTBFZ by playing Gideon, Ally of Zendikar, so clearly I wanted to try that. As it turns
out, Gideon is still not great in reactive decks. While I love that Gideon encourages people to overextend into Languish, there isn’t enough action to
defend it in this deck.

In its place, I have some Den Protectors (which Mihara also had, heh), which have been exactly fine. Unfortunately, most of my spells cost a thousand mana,
so Den Protector isn’t exactly at peak efficiency in this deck. Perhaps if I had Murderous Cut instead of Tasigur, the Golden Fang, but Tasigur often does
Murderous Cut’s job better.


The Reality

I think I’m playing Jeskai, but I’ll have Wednesday and Thursday to help me figure it out. While I don’t have much on the line for #SCGDEN, I’d still like
to win, so wish me luck!