Playing Devil’s Advocate: The State Of Standard After PT: Chicago

Thanks to the plethora of people who have been e-mailing me to add their names to the petition to start a Senior Super Series of some sort. Keep those e-mails coming (although I have a few logistical problems to work out, which I’ll save for another column). But on to the matter at hand. The…

Thanks to the plethora of people who have been e-mailing me to add their names to the petition to start a Senior Super Series of some sort. Keep those e-mails coming (although I have a few logistical problems to work out, which I’ll save for another column).

But on to the matter at hand. The state of Standard looks a little plain after States and PT: Chicago. The dominant decks are R/G Fires of Yavimaya-based beats, U/W control, and Rebel decks – either mono-white, or splashing blue for counterspells or green for Aura Mutation and Wax/Wane. After that, the best of the rest appears to be the Standard-ized "Blue Skies" mono-blue beatdown deck from MBC and perhaps "Nether-Go."

So much for the "new, wide-open" Standard.

My thoughts and observations?

* What Happened To Nether-Go?
Nether-Go seems to be falling to the ranks of Tier II. I thought the addition of Tsabo’s Decree (some serious Rebel hate and versatile vs. Elves and Kavu) might give the deck the added punch it needed, but no Nether-Go deck finished well in Chicago. The best finish by a Nether-Go deck was Dan DuBois version coming in at 17th. And don’t even get me started on my rather scrubby performance at States.

Fires decks simply overran Nether-Go, and even the presence of Massacre, Recoil, and Tsabo’s Decree in these decks couldn’t deter most Rebel decks, which simply started re-recruiting or won counter wars.

Nether-Go decks need less library manipulation and more removal, in my opinion, to achieve any kind of success in the current environment. Perhaps the new janky tech of adding Glacial Walls and/or the dreaded Evil Eye is the way to go.

* Jon Finkel, Tiger Woods. Tiger Woods, Jon Finkel.
Jon has made HOW much money playing Magic? Ay carumba!

* Deckbuilding Makes Strange Bedfellows
Who remembers those old Reese’s Peanut Butter Cups commercials? You know, the one where, by some bizarre happenstance, two people got their chocolate and peanut butter somehow mixed together to form that tasty concoction we all know and love?

The Ankh-Tide variant run by Bob Maher reminded me of that commercial. First, you take the standard Ankh-Tide deck, built around Ankh of Mishra and Parallax Tide, one of those rogue-ish decks that pop up in Top 8’s from time to time. To this foundation, Bob added the "Blue Skies" creature base.

It’s a good and fascinating deck, the kind that I personally love, one that can win by multiple avenues, either by creature overrun or by the Ankh’s ability. The old version of Ankh-Tide had one weakness: If your opponent didn’t play any land, you couldn’t win. Adding an aggressive creature base alleviates this problem.

Runner-up Kamiel Cornelissen’s deck is similar in that sense. It’s lumped together with all the Counter-Rebel decks, but whereas most Counter-Rebel decks are splashing blue for a four to seven counters of the weaker Rethink and Power Sink variety, Cornelissen’s version is a munge-ing of classic U/W control and the Rebel chain.

* A Horrible Case Of "Athlete’s Mouth"
Here I thought I was doing pretty good cornering the local market on Undermines and saying, "Absorb is good but is clearly inferior to Undermine." When am I ever going to learn? How many Undermines were in the Top 8? How many Absorbs? Metagame 1, Meddish 0.

* Where Were The B/R Decks?
I was extremely surprised at the absence of any notable B/R decks in the top 64, either the controllish "Machine Head" based on the Flores Black archetype with Void and Vampiric Tutors, or the faster "Blitzkrieg" version using Blazing Specters and Skizzik. Only one deck packing Void was in the Top 64. A surprising showing for what I thought might be one of the sleeper decks in the format.

* Who Is This "Friggin’ Rizzo" Character, And Why Has He Stolen My Look?
And why is he naked, for cryin’ out loud? Gives me the heebie-jeebies!

Well, if he’s trying to steal my "Sexiest Writer in Magic" title, he’s got another thing coming!

* The Short-Term Future Of Standard?
Right now, there are three cards that define Standard: Ramosian Sergeant, Absorb, and Fires of Yavimaya. I suppose you could count Lin Sivvi, but since the Sergeant forms the starting engine of the Rebel deck, we’ll leave ol’ Lin out. Expect to see – to use the technical term – "oodles" of Fires, Control, and Rebel decks at Standard tournaments near you.

Using the popular tier system, Standard right now looks like this:

Tier I
R/G Fires (including variants that splash white or eschew Fires altogether)
Rebels (mono-white and Counter-Rebel)
U/W Control (Blinding Angel as kill card)

Tier 1.5
Blue Skies (including Ankh-Tide variants)

Tier II:
B/R Beatdown (Blitzkrieg)
B/R Control (Machine Head)

The top three decks are aggro-beatdown, weenie white, and classic control. Does seem a bit like the old days, no?

But notice that no deck with black in it even got close to sniffing the Top Eight in Chicago. Curious, when you consider the amount of power available to black right now. Remember when green was considered nothing more than a splash color? Looks like that might be the state of black right now.

* Playing The Metagame
I’ve always enjoyed coming up with decks that are capable of beating the dominant decks in the format. Right now, that means being able to beat Rebels, U/W control, and R/G Fires. So what cards are good against both decks?

How about Plague Spitter? This guy could be a surprising house in the right B/R control deck, like Machine Head. Don’t think so? Look at what a first-turn Plague Spitter will shut down:

Llanowar Elves
Birds of Paradise
Cloud Sprite
Rishadan Airship
Ramosian Sergeant
Defiant Falcon

Right there, you’ve shut down the mana acceleration of R/G Fires, the anchor of the Rebel chain, and the bulk of the fliers from Blue Skies.

Any deck that even just splashes blue is probably going to want to play Wash Out as well. Hibernation was in any blue deck’s sideboard when Urza’s block was Standard-legal; Wash Out is simply a more versatile, more expensive version. Bob Maher had it maindecked, and many others had it sideboarded. A great card against Rebels and Fires for controlling tempo, but it’s not that great against control decks.

We’ve already seen the rise of two curious bits of tech. Glacial Wall, the 0/7 blue wall that… well, it’s tough. We’ve established that. But it takes a lot of pounding, and blue mages do love hiding from attackers while hoarding cards. The other is the Evil Eye of Orms-by-Gore, a 3/6 that can only be blocked by walls. Extremely reasonable at the 4B casting cost.

You’d think Cursed Totem might also be a good metagame call to shut down mana producers and Rebels, especially since Fires decks tend to pack little in the way of artifact removal. I only wish Null Rod was still around to deal with those pesky Chimeric Idols.

Of course, this will all be moot in two months when Planeshift enters the environment, so take this all with a healthy grain of salt.