Prime Speaker Bant

Get a handle on current Standard before SCG Standard Open: Washington, DC and SCG Classic Series: Birmingham with Patrick Chapin’s breakdown of the metagame.

There are a lot of people playing in big tournaments these days.

Just two weeks ago, we witnessed the largest Magic tournament of all-time, Grand Prix Charlotte with 2693, the same week as another North American Grand Prix. This past weekend, we saw the largest SCG Open ever, with 773 players. On top of that, there were multiple Standard Grand Prix and an SCG Classic Series. Sometimes the SCG Classic Series get lost in the deluge of big tournaments, but it is worth remembering that these are 5K events that bring out some serious competition.

While Jund continues to lead the pack, the Standard metagame has continued to evolve, and there is much to be gleaned from the past two weeks of events. Let’s start by taking a look at the metagame from the past two weeks.

For SCG events below, this week’s Open is weighted twice that of last week’s since recent events always have such a bigger impact on the metagame. The SCG Classic Series is counted at half due to being a smaller tournament in both attendance and prize than the massive SCG Opens. The numbers here are from the Top 16 results of the events, weighted by finish, and reflect the metagame at the top tables, not the event as a whole.

For GP Verona, the day 2 metagame is listed as is. GP Rio de Janeiro is nowhere near completion as of this writing, and coverage has been slow to trickle in. While the SCG Open data includes three events and is located in the US (which in recent history has had a bit stronger of a guiding impact on the tournament metagame), we are still counting the GP data as one-third of the expected metagame estimate.

Standard Metagame March 10, 2013


This list merges a few strategically similar decks to make the table more useful. For instance, most but not all Wolf Run Bant decks actually use Kessig Wolf Run. Zombies includes all Gravecrawler / Geralf’s Messenger aggro decks regardless of color. Boros and Mono-Red Aggro have been merged, as have Gruul and Naya Blitz. We even lumped a B/G/W deck in with Naya that was basically a Naya deck with a little black removal instead of red removal.

There is so much to see here, so let’s just work our way down. To start with, Jund continues to dominate. This is a little bit different of a dynamic than we saw pre-Gatecrash. While Jund was an early player and returned a couple times, it was never like this. Even Rakdos, the most successful archetype over the life of the format, was constantly bouncing in and out of the top spot. Jund could make a case for being the best deck at PT Gatecrash and since then has held an uncontested grip on the top spot in the format.

It will be interesting to see how the Top 8 of GP Verona and eventually Rio turn out. There is some evidence to suggest that Jund performs better against decks in Swiss than the top tables. This would help explain why Jund’s day 2 percentage is so much higher than its actual success rate in Top 16s. Of course, it could just be local metagame preferences; plus, we are talking about small enough samples that it could also be noise. But it is something to keep an eye on.

Here is the Jund deck that I would use as the first stop in the testing gauntlet:

As you can see, the Owen Turtenwald / Reid Duke / Ben Seck style of Jund deck has proven itself the best. Greater numbers of Primal Hunters have been popular. Tragic Slip has risen up at least partially in response to the return of Falkenrath Aristocrat, but it appears that Aristocrat decks are falling off again, so I expect this to change.

Vampire Nighthawk has disappeared replaced with more spot removal. He is just not a reliable enough blocker at the moment. As always, a diverse mix of removal helps increase our chances of having a way to answer a given problem as well as reduce the chances of getting stuck with two of the same removal spell (which can produce massive diminishing returns).

How do you beat Jund? Well, it is possible that one can find a particular metagame solution that beats this week’s Jund, but Jund will surely adapt quickly. If you aren’t coming at them from a new angle, you can’t get a big edge over them, but you can get solid numbers and be comfortable with the game play. There is often an awful lot of play involved in some of these matchups. Just knowing your deck and being familiar with the right lines to take, what to play around, and the pacing can go a long way.

Rather than trying to beat them on deck, I’d focus on just being well practiced in the matchup and beating them on play. You still need a good enough deck, but it’s going to be really tough to actually get a major edge here. However, if you practice against this deck a lot with whatever deck you play, you will likely have more experience in the matchup than the Jund player, who usually can’t have practiced a ton against every opponent. Remember, they have to prepare for everybody, while you can focus on practicing against them.

U/W/R continues to occupy the next spot, including wins in Vegas and Columbia. Not a lot has changed since the PT, though it does seem the Gerry Thompson Flash/Control style has proven more popular than the Joel Larsson Aggro/Tempo style. I would certainly include this list as the second deck in any gauntlet.

Finally, we come to what is possibly the biggest story of the past two weeks in terms of new decks.

After first appearing on the radar last week, Prime Speaker Bant has surged to the top tier of the format, putting three in the Top 16 including a second and a fourth.

Prime Speaker Bant is basically a G/W ramp deck that splashes blue for Prime Speaker Zegana. A true ramp deck, PSB tries to play as many powerful cards as possible, with the usual Restoration Angel and Thragtusk supported by early powerhouse Loxodon Smiter and late-game powerhouse Angel of Serenity. A variety of Garruks make appearances, adding to the game plan of just putting down as many powerful proactive cards as possible. Garruk Relentless provides some much-needed removal, while Garruk Primal Hunter serves as Prime Speaker Zegana four and five in terms of card draw to keep the bombs coming.

While the game plan is fairly straightforward, it is important to remember the interaction between Prime Speaker Zegana and Restoration Angel. This combo actually lets us "go off" since once we start Blinking Zegana, we often draw so much gas that we can keep refilling our hand every time it gets low.

A card that none of these Prime Speaker Bant decks used that I’d consider if I were playing it is Supreme Verdict in the sideboard. We have far too many creatures to want it main, but Naya Blitz could be in for a slight bump in popularity and trying to fight those decks with this slow of a ramp deck can be a nightmare. A couple Supreme Verdicts can go a very long way towards shoring up a tough matchup.

There is generally room in this sort of a deck for about three noncreature/non-mana cards. One popular strategy is to do what O’Bryant did and play a few miser’s cards that have powerful dimensions and help you punish people that play you as though you have no interaction.

Another reasonable approach is to focus on a specific problem and try to address that. For instance, fourth place finisher John Mytinger selected all Selesnya Charms in order to help shore up the weakness to problematic creatures like Olivia Voldaren.

While it is very unclear if Prime Speaker Bant is the real deal and a permanent fixture in the metagame or merely a passing fad, it is well worth including in the gauntlet this week. It was very successful last week and has a lot of people talking.

Continuing our trek through the format, we come to Reanimator. Considering an eighth of the top decks are Reanimator variants, it is looking like a good time to be playing graveyard hate again. Interestingly, "traditional" Reanimator has overtaken Human Reanimator, trying to Unburial Rites a fatty that can take over a game by itself rather than setting up the Human combo.

As you can see, these decks all have the same shell, with room for about six to eight cards to personalize it. Krasnitski goes down the middle, filling these slots with Restoration Angels and Lingering Souls. Shaffer has more of a focus on Lotleth Troll and Lingering Souls, letting him play a more beatdown-esque game. Segal has Restoration Angel, Acidic Slime, and Deathrite Shaman, aiming for a more midrange game.

I would probably include Krasnitski’s list in the gauntlet because it is right in the middle. Testing sideboard matches is always important (and neglected), but it is particularly important when one of the decks in question is a graveyard deck.

The fifth most successful deck of the past two weeks was Esper Control, but I am not so sure it is actually the right deck to fill out the gauntlet with.

This is basically an update to Ben Stark’s Top 4 deck from PT Gatecrash, and while it’s a good deck, it is generally trending downward. Additionally, testing against U/W/R will give you enough of the same experiences that if you only have time to test against five decks, I’d make it a higher priority to get some games in against a Naya Blitz style of deck, yielding a better mix of experiences to represent the format.

The Naya Blitz decks are ruthlessly fast, fueled by Burning-Tree Emissary, a card on the short list for strongest card in Gatecrash (including in Modern). This list is built to be all in on nut draws, coming out blazing as fast as possible. The main variation in Estratti’s list is the use of just one Ghor-Clan Rampager, making room for more maindeck Thalias and Frontline Medics. While this is a good test deck to use for the gauntlet, I would surely play at least two because you can’t count on most people to not have them.

While it will rarely come up in actual games, it is worth remembering that if a Boros Reckoner is indestructible (from Frontline Medic or Boros Charm) and has lifelink (from Nearheath Pilgrim) and then takes damage, you can gain an arbitrary amount of life by continuing to target itself with its triggers.

With this metagame picture in mind, let’s take a brief look at a couple decks from last week’s comments.

Now here is a sweet brew! The general idea is to accelerate into fatties that can chain together to get a little out of control, thanks to the interaction between Corpsejack Menace and Prime Speaker Zegana (which draws a lot of cards).

The use of Heartless Summoning is particularly clever with Prime Speaker Zegana. While you do draw one less card, often by the time you Prime Speaker, you are drawing so many cards anyway that you have no troubles. You just want to start doing that faster. With Heartless Summoning, you can actually go turn 2 Summoning, turn 3 Corpsejack, turn 4 Prime Speaker Zegana and draw six cards with a dominating board position!

The deck’s designer had set the deck aside due to struggles with fast aggro. Is there anything we can do?

Obviously, playing zero interaction is going to leave you very vulnerable to people faster than you. I can think of a few possible avenues to explore to try to alleviate this. First, you could just accept that fast aggro will be a bad matchup but maybe give yourself a few free wins.

Unfortunately, there are not a lot of great options in these colors for sweepers. You could try to bend the mana base to better accommodate Mutilate, but that seems like it might bring more problems than it solves. Barter in Blood is an option, but honestly it is just too slow and doesn’t kill enough stuff to do what we need. You could splash white for Merciless Eviction, but that is pretty slow and requires a mana base shake-up. You might just have to settle for some cheap spot removal to buy a little time then cards like Thragtusk to take over the middle game.

Another option is to try to be an even more unfair deck. After all, if we could get a fast Griselbrand or Angel of Serenity into play, it would completely dominate the board. While it’s possible to add an Unburial Rites element, it would take some serious work. Another possible way to cast these giant fatties is to try to take advantage of Gyre Sage.

Gyre Sage starts out big enough to live through a Heartless Summoning then quickly grows into a major mana producer. Corpsejack Menace synergizes with it, giving you double evolve counters, and it provides another Bioshift combo. It is tough to rely on Gyre Sage against fast aggro with Searing Spear, but it is another possibility to consider.

In the vein of fast mana, Deathrite Shaman is another possibility to consider, particularly if you adopt some amount of dredging like Grisly Salvage. It is just a great card in the format right now, even if just out of the sideboard. That it is a mana source that lives through Heartless Summoning is pretty cool, not to mention still being able to do two a turn. If you want some amount of these main, it would be worth looking at including a few Evolving Wilds as well.

You could always fully embrace white as a fourth color, giving you access to Restoration Angel to play a more midrange game. Honestly, though, I suspect that most of these changes alter the deck’s core engine enough that the right strategy might just be to save this deck for when Naya Blitz isn’t popular and then exploit that format.

Finally, let’s take a quick look at a Jund Zombies list:

Jeremy’s list does not deviate too far from the norm, but it does have a few elements borrowed from big mana Gruul decks, such as Domri Rade. Domri Rade is particularly clever with Geralf’s Messenger, though it is competing with Dreg Mangler in a deck that already probably has too many three-drops.

I am not sure you can really get away with so little removal at the moment, so the first thing I would do is look to see if we want a third Abrupt Decay and maybe a Murder or a Flames of the Firebrand or another Searing Spear. I’d probably take a good hard look at the twos, threes, and fours and see what we can trim. Eight two-drops isn’t a ton, but they aren’t our best cards. Are we sure that we don’t want any Flinthoof Boars in place of some amount of Knight of Infamy or Lotleth Troll?

Eight three-drops is likely at least one too many, if not two. Seven four-drops is also at least one too many, I suspect. They are powerful cards, but we need to speed this list up.

I like a lot of what’s going on in the sideboard, and Gift of Orzhova is fun. I wouldn’t dare cut a Deathrite Shaman, as they look awesome here. It’s a bit slow, but I wonder if an Olivia out of the sideboard might actually be good for creature mirrors.

Alright, I’m out for this week. Grand Prix San Diego is this weekend, helping shine a spotlight on Modern. What’s even good in Modern since the bans? If you have any suggestions on what to play this weekend, please let me know in the comments. It sure seems like there is a lot of untapped potential hiding under the surface of the format…

Patrick Chapin
"The Innovator"