Peebles Primers – Varied Strategies in Standard

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Tuesday, September 2nd – Not long ago, most folk felt that Standard comprised of Faeries and decks to beat Faeries. Nowadays, the Standard metagame is much healthier. Today’s Peebles Primers takes a look at three strong contenders from recent global Nationals competitions. While each of the strategies presented is familiar, it’s safe to say that, on face value, they’re off the radar of most players…

It was not long ago that Standard was reviled as the format made up entirely of Faeries and decks to beat Faeries. Recent events have brought new decks to the forefront of the format due to their ability to both beat Faeries and the other decks in the metagame, but I know many people in the Pittsburgh area who still think of Standard as an old and stagnant format. I hope to prove today that it is anything but.

Over the past few weeks, there have been a huge number of National Championship events, and while many of them were taken down by decks you’d expect to see, there is quite a bit of innovation hanging around if you’re willing to do a bit of digging. I’m going to go over a few of these fringe players today, in an attempt to give you a few new choices for Standard queues while we wait for Shards of Alara to hit the scene.

Stuart Wright put this deck on the map a while ago, but the world didn’t learn about the innovation of Torrent of Souls until Antonino DeRosa did well with it at the U.S. National Championships. However, DeRosa was stuck outside the Top 8, so players who only glanced at the coverage could easily have missed this deck.

The first time I played against it, I thought it was just the same old Furystoke Giant deck that I’d seen before. Of course, this foolish belief led to my immediate death on the fifth turn when Torrent brought back a War Marshal and let him and his friends attack me for 24.

The strengths of this deck come from its strange setup. Against a deck like Reveillark or Quick n’ Toast, your threats are extremely resilient to their answer cards. Each card you play is just a source of 1/1s, so things like Runed Halo and Wall of Roots just don’t do a whole lot. It’s very easy to come back from something like Wrath of God, as War Marshal and Bitterblossom give you guys immediately, and Marsh Flitter and Torrent of Souls can refill the board with just one card.

Further, this deck is quite good at attacking the manabases of the control decks. Maindeck Magus of the Moon is just about as powerful here as it is in Demigod Red, as Furystoke and Torrent can end games just as quickly as the Avatar. The sideboard, though, really puts the nail in the coffin against these decks. Both QnT and Reveillark start the game out multiple turns behind the opponent, believing that the raw power of their cards will quickly make up for the lost time. If, though, there are Moons and Stone Rains harassing that plan, the decks might simply never get off the ground. The nightmare for Blue/White Reveillark is simply someone killing your lands when your draw doesn’t include a Prismatic Lens.

Against the fish decks in the format (Faeries and traditional Merfolk), your game is a little less solid but still quite nice. After all, Shadow Guildmage can go a long way to holding off decks based around x/1 enablers. However, your Bitterblossoms are clearly not as good as the Faerie player’s, and you might not manage to get your Guildmage working before Merrow Reejerey and Lord of Atlantis make it irrelevant. Still, you can clog the board up quickly, and if they misstep trying to catch up, Furystoke Giant will completely wreck their board.

Against the aggressive decks like Elves and Demigod Red, you’re relying on your big spells to do the job while the token swarm keeps you from dying. Furystoke and Torrent will both put your opponent in the awkward position of dying or losing most of their side in a chumpblock storm (though Blood Knight’s First Strike obviously helps). Shriekmaw can help out, but it’s not exactly the greatest card in the world against Ashenmoor Gouger and Demigod of Revenge. Many of the Torrent Token decks I’ve seen online play with Grave Pact (usually in the sideboard) to solve this problem, as there’s not much less fair than using War Marshal, Marsh Flitter, and Grave Pact to make sure that your opponent never manages to keep a creature in play.

In general, you’ll enjoy this deck if you like to switch from low gear to high gear in the space of a turn. It feels somewhat like playing a combo deck, except for the fact that your “combo” is Torrent or Furystoke and the rest of your deck.

In much the same way I felt like I had no idea what was happening to me when my opponent cast Torrent of Souls and killed me, I nearly spit soda all over my monitor and keyboard the first time my opponent started the game with Howltooth Hollow and Treetop Village. In our weekly drafts, Howltooth Hollow became quickly known as “strictly worse than basic Swamp,” but I lost to it when it fired a Tombstalker into play after he crushed both of our hands with Raven’s Crime. Now, this particular list does not contain Tombstalker, running Nihilith instead, but I would be prepared for either if I were you.

About a year ago, the Rack deck was the deck of choice for my friends playing in U.S. Nationals. Many had won their Regionals with it, and others managed to grind in with it the day before. The deck quickly fell out of favor when Ravnica rotated and took Dark Confidant with it, but Raven’s Crime has put the deck back on the map despite being a completely different card.

In this deck, a Crime in the opening hand can put you and your control opponent into topdeck mode starting as early as the third turn. This is clearly to your advantage, as you might well draw Tombstalker/Nihilith, Tarmogoyf, The Rack, or other cheap cards while they choke on their expensive bombs like Reveillark, Oona, or Cloudthresher. Usually there’s even Urborg, Tomb of Yawgmoth in these decks to make sure that Treetop Villages can help fuel the Crime.

The Kitchen Finks in the maindeck are a clear nod to the aggressive decks in the format. While you might think that Raven’s Criming your way to both players on empty might be good against a deck packing things like Demigod of Revenge, you have to realize that there’s a chance that the second or third Demigod will appear off the top of the deck after they’ve accumulated a few more lands, and that’s not going to be pretty. When you aren’t getting your face crushed by miniature Rorixes, though, your Tarmogoyfs and Finks will do quite a good job of holding off opposing attackers while the finisher of your choice goes to town.

The Rack is also quite strong in these matchups, as your opponent can often not afford to sit on a few cards to try to get their head above water. Not only will slowrolling Vanquishers not be the best option against a Village or similar, any attempt to slowroll a threat can be easily thwarted by Raven’s Crime. While the opposing aggro deck will often have quite a few good cards up their sleeve, a fast Rack or two will put them far enough behind that they’ll struggle to keep up.

The fish decks, though, are pretty strong against this strategy. They’ve got cheap cards to play out to match your own, but if they happen to have a counterspell sitting in their hand and you can’t afford to clear it out of the way, they might be able to answer your finisher and race you out. Spellstutter Sprite is especially nice at defeating The Rack itself, unless you manage to get it into play on the first turn. However, as usual, a Rack in play often implies an easy win, especially if the deck is already taking some Bitterblossom damage on its own.

If you’re feeling nostalgic about killing your opponent’s hand with Rats, Cry of Contrition, and Smallpox, then the deck is back.

After U.S. Nationals, I talked to Tim Aten about his choice of White Weenie. He justified it as the correct choice in a predicted field of Red decks, and the logic is pretty sound. Both decks can come out of the gates quickly, both can field threats that end the game in a turn or two (though in this case it’s Mirrorweave), and both sport threats with Protection from the other deck. However, one has much more exciting lands, and one has a Protection dork with an extremely relevant second ability.

This is also not to say that White Weenie is only good against Red decks. Glorious Anthem plus Cloudgoat Ranger or Spectral Procession is going to be quite good against pretty much anyone you manage to find yourself paired against. In addition, as Red grows more and more popular, other decks continue to twist and contort to beat that one problem, which makes life much better for the White Weenie player. A few months ago, you could expect to get your guys stolen by Sower of Temptation, but that card has essentially fallen off the map. A few months ago, you could expect to see Magus of the Moat or Teferi’s Moat come out of the board of any number of decks, but again, those are seeing less and less play while things like Runed Halo catch on. White Weenie does not shrug off the Halo in the same way that the Token deck does, but it’s certainly less effective than Magus of the Moat.

This particular build of White Weenie is loaded up with twelve one-drops and eight two-drops, which give it quite a large bit of steam out of the gates against the control decks. In pre-board games, the plan against Wrath effects is to get a lot of damage in (hopefully with a third-turn Anthem), and the follow the Wrath up with either Spectral Procession or Cloudgoat Ranger to put the opponent all the way back in the hole they just climbed out of. In post-board games, you might instead simply Force Spike their Wrath or Damnation and untap into a lethal attack. Sacred Mesa is also quite strong if you expect a lot of removal to be coming your way. The only concern is to make sure that you don’t manage to play it too early and hurt yourself paying the upkeep each turn.

Against other aggressive decks, you are looking to put them on the back foot and then swarm over them with your tokens, or go straight through them with your Mirrorweaves. After sideboarding, you get access to the easily-forgotten Gelid Shackles. With no extra mana investment, it keeps their guy from blocking your force and from using any abilities, and if you feel as though you need to make sure it doesn’t swing, one extra mana will buy you just that. Against something like Demigod of Revenge, you might rather have the lifegain of Recumbent Bliss, but the streamlined cost of the Shackles will shine when you get to stuff their Tarmogoyf and also drop a Wizened Cenn.

Of course, one of the nicest things about this deck is that if you’ve just come off the Block PTQ season with your Kithkin deck, you can jump right into Standard without too much additional investment.

Until Shards comes along a month from now, you’ll probably see tons of Faeries, Reveillark, and Red floating around Magic Online. However, any of the above decks has its fair shot at taking down the queues, and you get the added bonus of being off most people’s radars.

Thanks for reading my round-up. If you have any questions about the Draft Converter, again, please do not hesitate to get in touch with me. And, as always, if you have any questions, feel free to contact me in the forums, via email, or on AIM.

Benjamin Peebles-Mundy
ben at mundy dot net
SlickPeebles on AIM