Preparing For #SCGATL

Join Mark as he prepares to play Standard at the SCG Open Series in Atlanta, Georgia this weekend. What deck do you think he should bring to the battle?

Are you guys ready to talk about Modern?

I bet you are. I’m pretty sure with Grand Prix Richmond on the horizon and an epic Pro Tour behind us, your thoughts are directed squarely on what kind of technology I can offer you to break this format in half and destroy all your opponents in the coming weeks.

To tell you the truth, I was more interested in the SCG Open Series this past weekend in St. Louis, as my attention is honed in on #SCGATL this weekend. Daddy has some battling to do.

That isn’t to say I wasn’t watching both events because let’s face it—I’m a degenerate addict. So flipping between both was a no-brainer, but there was something glaring about the Pro Tour coverage.

/Start Aside

I’ve been very critical of Magic coverage in the past, and this past weekend didn’t do much to quell my qualms with what we’ve been offered for recent Pro Tours. The coverage was choppy and froze many times. Announcing again felt forced and disjointed. Having multiple personalities at once all trying to add their own theorizing to the match became clunky and exhausting to listen to over time, as my criticisms (along with the same sentiments echoed by many people via social media sites) seemingly gave way to old hat.

As I’ve said before, Magic has reached the big leagues. When each major event is blowing past ten thousand people watching in a way that it never did before, the coverage must evolve in such a way that these issues don’t turn off potential viewers. I received messages along the lines of "is the feed freezing for you as well?"

How is this acceptable?

The short of the answer is that it’s not.

That doesn’t mean coverage has remained stagnant, as it has grown by leaps and bounds.

However, you’re the number one trading card game in the world. I don’t enjoy feeling like a second-class citizen in the pantheon of gaming, watching League of Legends, Street Fighter, StarCraft, and other games support hundreds of thousands of viewers at a time without anything resembling an issue. Am I asking too much?

/End Aside


You didn’t come here to read my complaints about Magic coverage.

You came here to read about Magic! Probably Modern still, right?

Well . . .


This week is going to be a flood of Modern articles, and I’m hardly the guy to give my advice on a format I’m not extremely experienced in, especially when it’s in such a state of flux.

I’d rather talk about Standard. Shocker, right?

This past weekend was rather interesting because while there were those who touted the death of Standard due to all the new tools Mono-Black Devotion got and how oppressive it felt already, the format has adjusted accordingly. The last two Opens have produced one—count ’em, one—Mono-Black Devotion deck in the Top 8. Hardly dominant, right?

Despite Owen Turtenwald doling out the harshness at the Super Sunday Series Championship, Mono-Black Devotion has slowed down considerably from the dominance it was enjoying this time last month. As one titan falls, another rises to take its place, and in this case G/R Monsters decided that it was tired of playing second fiddle and put four copies in the Top 8. And that’s not even counting the Jund version that splashed for extremely powerful cards like Dreadbore, Golgari Charm, Sire of Insanity, and Rakdos’s Return.

Kent Ketter and Cedric Phillips set fire to the rain with Jund Monsters, which gives you considerable game in the mirror, a matchup you should expect to see a whole lot.

This deck really turned my head because Kent is doing some extremely powerful things without fearing Mono-Blue Devotion.

I hypothesized last week that the format would reach the point where Mono-Blue Devotion would start to face a higher density of decks ready to beat it. The shift in the format would start to settle, and the Thassa, God of the Sea based deck wouldn’t have the traction to duplicate the success it had in the infancy of Born of the Gods Standard. As predicted, more U/W Control decks came out of the woodwork to make their life terribly difficult, but in Kent’s case he decided to go with the black splash to take an otherwise horrendous matchup and do a 180.

That’s taking a frown and turning it upside down, boys and girls.

Golgari Charm is a very powerful tool for dealing with Master of Waves, which aside from Polukranos, World Eater the G/R Monsters deck had a hard time beating. This means the Monsters deck has even more outs to the Master, not to mention a way to destroy Bident of Thassa or Domestication.

I had Kent winning the entire event, but Chris VanMeter had to go and ruin my prediction. It’s okay, grizzly bear. I forgive you and can’t wait for you to take down an event.

The rest felt like a microcosm for the entire format as U/W Control did battle with G/R Monsters.

Ben Stepka built a deck after my own heart. There’s a fairly stock amount of cards you need to play in order to have a successful U/W Control deck, and Ben met that quota while deviating from the path a bit in a very positive way.

I like cutting one Dissolve for a Nullify since giving yourself a hard counter for creatures on turn 2 like Pack Rat or Voice of Resurgence or even later in the game seems very relevant, especially if you can hit catch an opponent off guard with it who thinks all they have to worry about is a lowly Syncopate. I believe a card like Temple of Enlightenment makes a lot of fears of playing a card like Nullify cease.

His sideboard is where things start to get really good. Ben brought back one of my favorite creatures from Standard last year in Angel of Serenity, and I think with the amount of G/R Monsters floating around it’s a particularly powerful tool, not to mention all the other matchups it shines in. While the Angel can’t block Stormbreath Dragon, it can remove more than enough creatures to allow itself to take over the board. With flying, Angel of Serenity can take out opposing planeswalkers with ease, and remember those super fun days of chaining multiple copies of Angel of Serenity together? Ben brings those back! You can thank him!

Against Mono-Blue Devotion is where I’d expect this card to be extremely potent considering they can’t Negate or Gainsay Angel of Serenity, and the ability to exile a Thassa, God of the Sea or a Master of Waves along with other creatures seems too good to pass up. They might keep in Rapid Hybridization to compensate for Archangel of Thune, but at worst you get a 3/3 and most of their creatures returned to the board, which takes off a lot of pressure. This is tech I can get behind.

Dispel is a card I’ve been rallying behind in my version of U/W, so it’s not surprising that Ben plays two copies of it. The U/W Control mirror is becoming more prevalent, making a basic hard counter for one mana that helps you win counter wars or stop a Sphinx’s Revelation or Hero’s Downfall pretty strong. If you choose to play U/W Control, expect this card more often after boarding.

Defeating the deck I love so much was Jonathon Habel with our new boogeyman of the format.

As was evident in the final match, Jon was simply able to overload Ben in game 3 and take the trophy with relative ease. Eschewing Courser of Kruphix and Xenagos, God of Revels entirely, Jon stuck with a G/R Monsters list that looks like it stepped out of a time machine from before Born of the Gods dropped. With only two copies of Unravel the Aether (which could have just as easily been Destructive Revelry), his build kept things very simple: ramp into powerful cards and limit your amount of dead draws. His one-of Garruk, Caller of Beasts harkens back to a simpler time with this deck when you weren’t concerned with using a God to double the power of your creatures. Basically Jon just wanted you dead in a consistent manner, and his dedication led him to victory.

Sometimes you don’t have to be flashy to win tournaments, boys and girls.

However, the deck the stood out the most to me on the weekend was a very sexy little number piloted by mad scientist Ryan Hipp:

This is a deck I’ve been working on for the last week and have only recently started to talk to my friends about, so imagine the shock I felt when I watched Ryan play only to see how closely our game plans matched. After the lists were published, I was 67/75 for the same build Ryan was playing, and to see that he decided to join me in the "Aw Shucks, You Got Ninth Place" Club was a treat because it let me know this deck is the real deal.

One of the things I immediately did when I first saw Ephara, God of the Polis was try to jam her into Esper Humans, but the deck felt clunky and too top heavy. It was clear that if she was going to stay that cards like Desecration Demon were going to have to go since there wasn’t enough room in the four slot for both of them. I started with the basic premise of playing cards like Soldier of the Pantheon and Xantid Necromancer because they are good in the early game. If drawn late with an Ephara in play, the Soldier will at least cantrip, and Necromancer with Ephara means that if they cast a sweeper you’ll still draw a card off of it. All of that sounded sweet.

However, the draws were slightly lackluster, and the power level of the deck felt fairly low. Taking Desecration Demon out meant losing power, but adding Ephara meant gaining greater consistency. What was I to do?

Well, Brimaz, King of Oreskos gives power and plays very well with Ephara. His inclusion was simple. Ryan and I differed a bit on our creature base; Ryan opted to play Imposing Sovereign, while I’ve stuck with Xathrid Necromancer. I think the Sovereign is correct in that spot and can make the G/R Monsters matchup far more simplistic—anything that makes one of the best decks in the format an easier match for you is where you want to be.

Ryan also played one maindeck Mutavault, which I think is a little too greedy. Your lands for the most part all come into play tapped unless you pay life. While having that extra attacker can occasionally be nice, I found in early testing that if I had it early I often had trouble casting my Obzedat, and I never want to have that problem. I’ve alternated between a basic Island and Swamp and haven’t settled on which yet, but I’m fairly certain it will be one of the two.

His spell package was very good, and I have no problems with any of his choices. The Supreme Verdicts might seem out of place with 22 creatures, but this isn’t an aggro deck. You’re your opponent is dropping Master of Waves or Polukranos, World Eater on the table, casting a sweeper will net your far more card advantage than you lose. Ultimate Price really shines in this deck as a way to kill Advent of the Wurm tokens, Desecration Demon, Stormbreath Dragon, and pretty much any creature that could kill you. Far // Away is by far my favorite card in this deck, as the blowouts you get from casting it are hysterical.

Ryan’s sideboard is a little different than where I was, but I understand his card choices and think they’re all justified. I think U/W Control is a tough matchup and with tooling could become a lot better. Four copies of Thoughtseize, two copies of Revoke Existence, and a Sin Collector is a good start to disrupting their game plan. This is the kind of deck that demands that they have Supreme Verdict since you have way too many cards that are good against them that can’t be stopped by conventional means. Often games end on the spot when you Thoughtseize them and follow up with an Obzedat, Ghost Council.

Going forward this week, I’m going to continue testing Esper Midrange because I think it has a ton of promise. As Cedric Phillips said in the commentary, this deck could be a very serious contender with more focus and refining if more people get behind it. Whelp, I’m behind it.

But it’s difficult trying to figure out if I should play this deck or U/W Control, which I’m so practiced with already. With G/R Monsters chewing up decks right and left, Fated Retribution is looking better and better, and it’s hard to shy away from that kind of edge.

As for the coming weeks, many of you came out last week to answer what kind of content you’d like to see from me going forward, and I’m really happy that soon I’ll be doing an FNM series on decks you’d like to see me battle with at my local stomping grounds. Hopefully it’ll inspire you to put on your creative hats and give me some sweet decks to play. I’m really excited about this!

I’ll also be investing in some recording software because a lot of you would like some videos with my witty and always hilarious commentary. I will oblige you.

As I finish this, I’m putting the final touches on my trip to Hotlanta this week. Four days of Magic, friends, food, cheetah rooms, and more Magic.

What more could a guy ask for?

Can’t wait to see you all there!

Just take it easy on me. I’d really like to win one of these things.