Ultimately, Magic is a game of skill. Otherwise, you wouldn’t see the same people like LSV, Yuuya, Edgar, and Conley dominate every event. There
is some variance involved, but everyone accepts that it’s a necessary evil when you’re dealing with a card game.
So then Caw-Blade came along, and Standard became probably the most skill-intensive format we’ve seen in a long while. You could play Valakut,
Vampires, RDW, U/G, etc. The possibilities seemed endless, and the winners were usually the ones who were more prepared or played better.
Clearly this was unacceptable and something needed to be banned.
In poker, you can sit down at a table, barely know the rules, and double your stack in the first hand. How often do you think the person who just
doubled up becomes addicted to that rush?
Poker is now widely popular, whereas tournament attendance for Standard has plummeted. VS System, another TCG, was very skill intensive, and it
didn’t last long. Granted, there was no casual market, but even tournament attendance was low.
The masses have spoken. They don’t want to play a skill-based game. Everyone wants that chance to win, to feel that rush of excitement. And they
certainly don’t want to have to work for it.
Magic needs that draw that poker has. A new player needs to be able to sit down and have a chance to win large enough that they can envision it.
Otherwise, why would they continue playing? No one wants to continually have their face shoved into the mud over and over again. There needs to be a
silver lining. There needs to be the hope that they can pull a foil mythic rare out of a pack.
There needs to be variance.
This upsets me for mostly one reason. The people who complain about variance and how unlucky they get are the reason why Magic needs variance. If there
weren’t variance, those types of players would rarely win because they aren’t interested in getting better or learning from their mistakes.
Honestly, that’s a mild annoyance. I can deal with people’s incessant baby whining if I have to, but I’d rather not. All I ask is
that everyone take Magic for what it is and stop complaining about it.
Yes, Caw-Blade was dominant, but no one was helpless. You could have learned the intricacies of the mirror match, listened to Patrick Sullivan or Mike
Flores. There were options, but most people took the “stamp my feet, cry about it, don’t go to tournaments” approach.
In my not-so-humble opinion, the players out there need to take a different approach. From my experience, figuring out how to deal with the current
situation is much better than thinking about how things could have been, what they used to be, or what they could be.
Caw-Blade was the best deck, and you should have just dealt with the situation instead of complaining about it. The grass is always going to be greener
on the other side, so what’s the point of looking at things like that? You’ll never be happy unless you just accept things for what they
are, assuming they are out of your control.
Everyone without a Top 8 wants one. If you have a string of Top 8s but no wins, suddenly you want to win a tournament. Once you win a tournament, you
find something else to be unhappy about. Your life will never be complete, and you will always want more.
As a result, people are going to complain, oftentimes just for the sake of complaining. Now that Mystic and Jace are gone, my win percentage will
probably go down a little bit. I also don’t have byes anymore, which will further hinder my success, but I’m not complaining. I’m
just going to make the best choices I can, play some great Magic, and let the chips fall where they may.
You should do the same.
Anyway, onto the real meat:
And that’s exactly what it is. It isn’t old Standard, minus Jace, plus some new cards. It’s a brand new format, and it will probably
be easier to approach it that way.
Sure, there are decks from old Standard that are playable, like Splinter Twin, U/x Control, WW Quest, RDW, and so on, but it’s more complicated
Tezzeret, Agent of Bolas, Karn Liberated, the Swords, Deceiver Exarch, and various other playables are things that people didn’t really get to
experiment with before because Caw-Blade was holding everything else down.
Some say that Valakut is the obvious best choice, but I think Wizards did a great job predicting that Valakut wouldn’t need to be banned either.
U/W and U/B were already fine against Valakut with their Spreading Seas, counterspells, and either Leyline of Sanctity or discard, and I don’t
feel like that’s going to change.
Valakut didn’t gain much, while U/B can now focus on Tezzeret for example. Let me tell you that Tezzeret puts the pressure on Valakut in a way
that U/B never had access to before. RDW and Splinter Twin both seem well equipped to handle Valakut as well.
Surgical Extraction, while kind of a mopey card, is capable of doing big things in this format. Despise was something that black decks desperately
needed, as without it, a Primeval Titan in hand was safe from the discard that people were playing. With Despise and Extraction serving a one-two
punch, Valakut is easily crippled by several strategies.
Allow me to reiterate that this isn’t simply old Standard. This is a whole new animal.
2011 Magic Online Community Cup Unified Standard
- 1 Oracle of Mul Daya
- 1 Avenger of Zendikar
- 4 Overgrown Battlement
- 1 Obstinate Baloth
- 4 Primeval Titan
- 4 Chancellor of the Tangle
This is a fairly standard Valakut list, with one exception: Chancellor of the Tangle. Now, I’m not sure how much being Unified Standard affected
his decision to add the Chancellor, but it doesn’t seem that bad.
Check out this sequence:
Turn one Chancellor + Khalni Heart Expedition.
That’s a turn 3 Primeval Titan with no Lotus Cobra necessary. Plays like this break parity in the mirror and allow you to beat the fastest of
aggro decks, even on the draw. Lotus Cobra can provide some similar busted openings but is susceptible to removal. I’d still run it over, or in
addition to, Overgrown Battlement.
What about this?
Turn one Chancellor + ramp spell.
Turn two ramp spell.
Turn three ramp spell + ramp spell.
Turn four Green Sun’s Zenith for Primeval Titan.
Without Chancellor, it’s pretty easy for Valakut to have six mana on turn 4. With Chancellor, it seems like you get the chance for even more
busted openings, plus it makes Green Sun’s Zenith feel more like just a Primeval Titan rather than Primeval Titan that costs one extra.
Oh, the decisions. Do you play Tezzeret control, U/B Infect a la Brian Kibler, old-school U/B with Spreading Seas? Is Trinket Mage or Treasure Mage
worth it? If we’re playing Tezzeret, we want Tumble Magnet; but what about Contagion Clasp? Can we build a deck with enough proliferate to take
advantage of Tezzeret’s Gambit? Should we play that with or instead of Jace Beleren? What about the Grixis “Mind Hammer” decks that
have been showing up?
The possibilities seem close to endless.
To keep it “safe,” I’d probably start with old-school U/B with four Spreading Seas while the masses are still on Valakut, but look
for clever U/B mages (I’m thinking Lewis Laskin and Nick Spagnolo) to adapt week in and week out.
Drew Levin proposed a solid list in his article, so I won’t dwell on this too much. Isn’t this the natural enemy of Valakut? Can Valakut
afford to play Nature’s Claim to stop Splinter Twin while also playing Lightning Bolt or Slagstorm/Pyroclasm to deal with aggressive decks? That
probably makes it very weak to blue-based Spreading Seas decks.
The true answer might be Dismember, which no one else can really play anymore. Everyone else has to fight Titans, and suddenly your life points matter
a lot more. There aren’t Stoneforge Mystics giving you an insane tempo advantage, so you’d rather have a spot removal spell that
doesn’t shorten your clock.
With Dismember potentially on the outs, at least for control decks, Splinter Twin seems quite good. Drew is correct when he says that instants are the
only things that interact with the deck, so Dispel becomes incredibly valuable. Several MTGO grinders have already adopted that mantra and have been
playing three maindeck for weeks.
Honestly, this is where I want to begin. I’m not thinking Squadron Hawks or anything like that. As always, I want to keep it pure. Oddly enough,
Drew and I had many of the same ideas.
Here’s the list that I’m going to start testing:
Ideally, I’d have more Preordains, but they don’t seem as important anymore. We aren’t digging for anything specific in most cases,
and tying up mana on a critical turn seems poor. I want to tap out every turn and curve two-drop into Chalice plus two-drop into five-drop. Preordain
is probably going to be a dead card in our hand in most stages of the game. I’ll likely add more Preordains if that isn’t the case, but I could
see cutting them entirely, which should make Shaheen Soorani ecstatic.
The main draw to playing a list like this is probably the Valakut matchup. Based on Lewis Laskin’s Invitational list from last year, it’s
one of the few decks in the format that doesn’t care much about Primeval Titan resolving, or them sneaking off a Summoning Trap.
You can simply Edge or Spread their Valakuts and kill their Titan. Tumble Magnet could even hold it off for a few turns while you dig for Gideon Jura.
Ultimately, you end the game by attacking twice with Gideon plus Colonnade.
Another bonus is the sideboard Leylines of Sanctity. RDW or Vampires could be tough, especially in game one, but once you bring in more removal and
Leylines, it will be tough for them to win. Oddly enough, you can approach the Valakut matchup the same way. Just hide behind Leylines and kill their
U/G Vengevine, Boros, Quest, Elves, R/G Goblin Bushwhacker, Vampires, RDW, or even a green-based deck aiming to connect with a Sword on turn 3 are all
possibilities for the new format. Hell, I wouldn’t even mind sleeving up Kuldotha Red again. Even Anthony Eason’s Death’s Shadow deck
seems viable. There are some variants running around on MTGO that splice in the Splinter Twin combo as well.
Can you imagine? This format looks nothing like last year’s Standard, and yet, nearly all the major players are still there. I’m kind of
sick of Magic right now, not because of all the Caw-Blade mirrors I had to slog through lately, but because of the traveling. However, I’m ready
to start hitting it hard again. I wouldn’t be surprised if I dump some money back into MTGO so that I can start slinging all these different
decks in the Daily Events.
The format looks like it’s just that fun. Hopefully everyone else thinks the same and tournament attendance increases. I want to see some sick
new brews coming out of the PTQs and SCG Opens, and that just won’t happen unless people start getting excited for Standard again.
I’ll be in Baltimore this weekend to give Stoneforge Mystic a last hurrah. Thankfully, I have my list nearly finished, so I can spend the rest of
the time thinking about the post-Baltimore world.