Opening Shots Have Been Fired

Michael analyzes the results of #SCGRICH and #SCGMI this past weekend, focusing on M14 cards that made their way into Standard. Get ready for #SCGINVI!

What a weekend!

I’m sitting here Monday morning following this past weekend’s StarCityGames.com Open Series weekend in Richmond. While I didn’t have any competitive success, I had an actual blast hanging out with rarely seen friends, teaming with Justin Parnell and Matt Scott, and running Cube draft after Cube draft. While I had great plans for an M14 Limited article that began on Prerelease weekend, I doubt anyone is seriously interested in hearing about our 2-2 drop from the tournament with some fairly mediocre decks, so I’m eschewing that in favor of some Standard talk.

Before I get into looking at the results, I want to take a moment to acknowledge the people who were excited to see me run my RUG Burn at the Stake; I’ve never had people actually excited to see me run a deck, even having people find me to bird my matches. Unfortunately, I couldn’t deliver much of a show, but the excitement and buzz surrounding the deck and my playing it was really fun. Since multiple people asked for an updated list, I’ll post what I ran and some comments before moving to the results analysis (if you want to skip past this, CTRL+F for "Post-M14 Standard Analysis").

For those of you looking to play something similar, I’d say a couple of things. First, the deck is extremely fun to play, but you have to practice a ton with it. The issue then becomes the fact that the payoff possibly isn’t worth the amount of work you put into it. You can practice all you want, but you’re probably still not going to have favorable matchups against a lot of decks.

In all fairness, if my pairings were against Junk Reanimator and the new G/W Big Garruk deck (we’ll get into what this is below), I’d have started 2-0 instead of the 0-2 I managed against B/W Zombies and Jund, two decks that I’m nowhere near favored against. If your local metagame is full of non-red aggro and Junk Reanimator, you could definitely tune a sideboard to beat the random Jund decks you’ll see and do fine.

The problem for me was trying to sideboard for an open field; there are so many shots that are going to be fired from so many directions that planning for all of them is nigh impossible when you need a very specific set of things to happen. Once the format settles a bit from the post-release upheaval and sideboards can be settled upon more easily, this may actually be something worth picking up and trying. Be cognizant of the incoming uptick of Ratchet Bombs in sideboards because of AJ Sacher win this past weekend, though, and have those Ancient Grudges at the ready.

And practice . . . you can’t just pick this deck up and run with it.

Oh, and last thing: have fun. This deck is a blast.

Post-M14 Standard Analysis

Two different StarCityGames.com Standard tournaments occurred this past weekend, resulting in two different "Top 32 Decklists" pages to take in and absorb. The StarCityGames.com Classic Series in Lansing, MI took place on Saturday, so the results there definitely influenced what some played on Sunday in Richmond.

Instead of a decklist analysis (something I’m sure we’ll still end up seeing from Mr. Chapin on the Premium side of things), I want to look at how some of the new cards have been assimilated into existing strategies and any new strategies that cropped up due to new cards.

Bant Hexproof

Where were these folks?!

Wasn’t this the "boogeyman deck?" Weren’t conspiracy theorists everywhere proclaiming that "Wizards is obviously trying to cater to kids/noobs/bad players by making them an auto-win/uninteractive deck like Bant Hexproof" (or something to that effect)? What happened?

I have some theories (though none involve conspiracies). First, there’s the theory that people were prepared for the deck. Everyone expected the deck in significant numbers on week one, so it stands to reason that people built their decks/sideboards to accommodate. You saw a lot of Barter in Bloods, Liliana of the Veil, and mass removal spells. The adoption of Ratchet Bomb helps, and I even saw Glaring Spotlight in the sideboard of one particular terrified individual.

My second theory is that the deck has options now.

Wait, Michael, you’re telling me that the deck having enough good cards to have options is a bad thing!?

Yep. I sure am.

See, for the most part, when the core set is released and the "full Standard" is realized (with two full blocks and two core sets) pretty much most of the decent decks have been built, tested, and tuned. Sure, new cards are added, but it’s done slowly and they don’t tend to shift how the decks play out. Bant Hexproof was somewhat in this boat, although there never seemed to be a consensus on how the deck should be built.

Now, with even more options at their disposal, Bant Hexproof players have essentially taken the deck back to square one; it’s not so much that the deck is not a good deck right now but that the new options have essentially caused Bant Hexproof players to rebuild their decks with the new hexproof creatures in mind. This causes fundamental shifts in how the deck plays out (i.e., you have the option of playing a one-mana hexproof creature that you can immediately start enchanting; do you still play cards like Abundant Growth?), and players are going to go the direction that they feel is better.

This happens with most decks when they first come to fruition. Look at Delver decks from last Standard season; they actually started out as Illusion decks before shifting to become the monster they eventually were. Caw-Blade started out as Caw-Go (in the hands of Brian Kibler) before realizing that Stoneforge Mystic was nuts. Decks don’t start out as tuned monsters capable of overcoming strong hate; they get tuned to that point.

Bant Hexproof was in a rough spot this past weekend between trying to deal with a severe case of schizophrenia while others were beating on them with specifically designed weapons. Decks get tuned over time with more and more people climbing on the shoulders of those who won with the deck before them, improving the lists as they go; this can’t happen unless the hate cards go down in sideboards, giving the deck the chance to breathe. As with everything, Standard will evolve when people realize Bant Hexproof isn’t winning (or even making Top 8) events and start moving away from the hate cards. Then, Hexproof players will have the space to develop ideas and tune the lists into a sharpened weapon complete with the "correct" creature package and a sideboard designed with matchups in mind.

For example, take these lists from this past weekend:

Look at those creatures . . .

The only commonality between these three lists creature-wise is the full set of Geist of Saint Traft and Invisible Stalker, which are the main reasons to play this deck honestly. Past that, you have some number of mana dorks, Gladecover Scout, Fencing Ace, Witchstalker, Voice of Resurgence, and Strangleroot Geist. I’ll go ahead out on a limb here to say that for what the deck is trying to do there is an optimal complement of creatures to include. In other words, there should be a core of creatures that do what this deck is trying to do the best it can be done.

I don’t know what those are, but until the Hexproof camp figures that out, I don’t think we need to be concerned all that much for now with the other decks in Standard being tuned to the point that they are. That isn’t to say you should come unprepared, just that they aren’t a boogeyman by any means.

Red-Based Aggro

I think everyone was aware that red-based aggro decks would immediately adopt Burning Earth as a way to capitalize on the absurd mana bases on Standard these days. This was seen in pretty much every R/G list, such as:

Nothing too spectacular to see here, just the usual set of spells and lands. I, for one, am a big fan of Firefist Striker over Madcap Skills, but that’s probably just because of my hatred for the old-fashioned two-for-one. Just be prepared for the usual suspects in the maindeck and have a plan for Burning Earth out of the sideboard.

While R/G was a known commodity before this past weekend, there were some players who kept their decks monocolored to take advantage of some new cards in addition to the neo Manabarbs:

Three lists from the Classic, three slightly different variations. I don’t know if this is the case, but I’m guessing these all came from either the same group or from people who all got the list from the same source. You see the reprinted Chandra’s Phoenix in these lists, though I’m not sure I like it without the full set of burn to go with it. You also see Mutavault in Thomas Risdon’s list, a card that I expect to see more and more play as people get used to playing with less than 79 colors in each of their decks. I like that he took heed of the effect it would have on his curve and shaved an Ash Zealot to accommodate. I think it’s worth it to include the best creature land of all time.

Cartel Aristocrat Decks

First, we’ll take a look at the original Aristocrats deck; no, not Act II, but the actual original list playing Champion of the Parish. Jeremy Sunell went back to the roots of the deck, favoring Falkenrath Aristocrat over Varolz, the Scar-Striped and Voice of Resurgence. You’ll also notice a card that will help segue nicely into the next deck:

Here we actually see two new additions from M14. First, Archangel of Thune gives the deck another angle that it didn’t previously possess; now, with help from Blood Artist triggers, you actually get to pump the team permanently. This works great with Lingering Souls tokens, but my issue is with the fact that it’s a one-of and that in order to play it the deck went down to three Blood Artists. I feel that Blood Artist is one of the best cards in the deck. Do you really want to play much of anything over the fourth Blood Artist? I could easily be wrong on this; just my thoughts.

The second card is much more relevant: Xathrid Necromancer. People talked about this card a lot leading up to last weekend, and it is already making its mark. First off, in this list it pairs well with pretty much everything you have going on. Every creature—with the exception of Blood Artist, the one Archangel, and Falkenrath Aristocrat—is a Human. Falkenrath Aristocrat loves eating Humans, and Xathrid Necromancer loves resurrecting them as Zombies, forming a very twisted and weird "love triangle."

You almost feel bad for Doomed Traveler; the other creatures in this deck are whispering "no, no, you’re part of the team" knowing damn good and well that the only reason they let it join the team was for cannon fodder. Doomed indeed . . .

This deck is both powerful and highly synergistic. People talk about how Junk Aristocrats is highly synergistic and that’s where its power resides; I think Xathrid Necromancer actually gives the original Aristocrats a comparable level of synergy while maintaining the raw power of just casting Falkenrath Aristocrat.

However, The Aristocrats isn’t the only deck that the Necromancer took to a good finish, is it AJ?

The first time you sacrifice a Doomed Traveler with a Xathrid Necromancer out you’ll be hooked. I was working on two different versions of W/B in last week’s article, but AJ had better ideas and combined the two decks into one. Instead of being focused solely on Humans or tokens, he just played both sides of that coin in Gather the Townsfolk and added Necromancer and the "good Humans" in Champion of the Parish and Doomed Traveler. The sideboard includes both Sin Collector and Lifebane Zombie, an addition I absolutely endorse and love. His sideboard actually looks like it has a plan too.

I’m sure AJ will cover the deck himself, so I don’t want to go over it too much. Congrats on the finish; it looks well deserved.

Junk Aristocrats wasn’t immune to the post-M14 addition bug either. There was a debate on whether or not to include Archangel of Thune in the deck, but at the very least most players seemed to agree on the inclusion of Scavenging Ooze in either the maindeck or sideboard. Other than those minor changes, the deck looks as if it mostly remained the same.

Monocolored Aggro

Two new decks showed up this past weekend in addition to Mono-Red Aggro, both making the Top 8 in Richmond. While it seems odd to shy away from adding at least a second color with all of the mana fixing available in Standard, both decks had legitimate reasons for sticking with one color.

First, the mono-white list piloted by Joshua Everly. This deck aims to do one thing and one thing only: overwhelm you with little white weenies (somewhere, Craig Wescoe is excited). The new additions that made this deck possible are Imposing Sovereign, Banisher Priest, and Brave the Elements.

The first two cards allow you to maximize your creature count without having to shave numbers to include removal; they act as removal by themselves while still getting in there for two. Most midrange decks aim to have creature superiority and win with bigger and badder beasts; they need those creatures to help them stabilize as well. If they’re all coming into play tapped followed by being exiled by Banisher Priest, the little weenies are free to get through for additional damage.

In my article last week, I talked about how broken Brave the Elements is; whenever your opponent finally gets enough of a board presence to jam up the works, Brave the Elements is there to save the day. This, in combination with the good quality of creatures available in white, seemed to be enough to keep Joshua from wanting a second color. Also, the addition of Mutavault gives great resiliency while being a bit unforgiving on those greedy mana bases; keeping it to one color makes the inclusion of Mutavault almost mandatory.

Next, we see the mono-green monstrosity piloted by the man who knocked me out of the Team Sealed event, Mr. Richard Nguyen. We see the reimaged Llanowar Elves, Elvish Mystic, taking a prominent role in this deck as it allows you to reliably run Elvish Archdruid. We can easily hit six mana on turn 3 in this deck, making another card incredibly good as well: Garruk, Caller of Beasts.

Before I get into Garruk himself, I want to call attention to the inclusion of Ranger’s Guile and Revenge of the Hunted. Both of these cards, if our opponent isn’t aware of their presence, will completely blow them out of the water. Revenge of the Hunted got me a few times at FNM when it first came out, but apparently people have forgotten about it. Richard did his part to make sure we all remember the power of a removal spell and burn spell packed into one card for one green mana.

We again see the inclusion of Mutavault here in addition to Predator Ooze; both of these cards were probably enough to keep Richard in green without feeling the need for a second color. Perhaps he also had a fear of Burning Earth.

Back to Garruk though . . .  

Midrange Decks

The final section before I go for the week. There were mainly three midrange decks worth worry about before M14: Jund, Junk Reanimator, and some Naya lists. Each got upgrades from M14, some minor and one huge upgrade.

I talked about Jund Midrange last week, about how Scavenging Ooze is an easily slot in over Ground Seal. Well, Reid Duke apparently came to the same conclusion, and most of the lists that placed in the two events were almost carbon copies of his list from last week. Past that, Jund decks probably need to include more Golgari Charms in the event of Burning Earth, as they have an incredibly tough time winning through that card.

Junk Reanimator also gained access to Scavenging Ooze, but some lists included some number of Shadowborn Demons as well. While I don’t know how well this card will hold up in Junk Reanimator, it is worth noting since a 5/6 flying Nekrataal is a bit terrifying if they have the creatures to sacrifice to it. Not quite as backbreaking as Angel of Serenity, but if they start blinking it with Restoration Angel, things will start getting out of hand quickly.

Naya Midrange got the same tools as well, with most including Scavenging Ooze. (Did I mention that card is good? No? Well, if you didn’t know, now you know.) The reason I point this deck out specifically is because of the apparent lack of knowledge about how insane Garruk, Caller of Beasts is!

I saw a couple of lists, most running around 30 creatures and Domri Rade. That’s great, as I could see having some Domris, but I cannot fathom running less than two or three Garruks as well. I think that in the decks that run that many creatures it is better than even Garruk, Primal Hunter, and that’s saying something given my love of that card. Our first loss in Team Sealed came at the expense of the beating I got at the hands of a Garruk, Caller of Beasts. (I even sandbagged my Planar Cleansing until I could take out two of her bombs, Howl of the Night Pack and Kalonian Hydra, only to have her topdeck Garruk immediately). I played some games Sunday morning against my friend JC Baker and his G/W Midrange deck playing the card, and it just did some ridiculous things.

If you haven’t gotten on board with this guy yet, I suggest giving Big(ger) Garruk a shot; you’ll be glad you did.

The winner of the Classic on Saturday did:

Before I go, I want to note the lack of Young Pyromancers in the 64 lists noted (only one had them and they were in the sideboard). I think this is simply a matter of not having an easy place to slot in the card, as it is definitely a build-around-me type of card. These things take time, but I do think we’ll see something out of the Young Pyromancer before Theros.

That’s it for this week. If you came up and got excited with me about Burn at the Stake this past weekend, thanks! I appreciate all the excitement, and I’m sorry I couldn’t deliver. I even collected a ton of Cedric Phillips tokens to use for when I got on camera, only to have reality bring that dream to a grinding halt.

Until next time!

Michael Martin
Mikemartinlfs (at) gmail.com