PV’s Playhouse – Analyzing the Philadelphia $5000 Standard Open Top Decks

Visit the StarCityGames.com booth at Grand Prix Tampa!
Tuesday, October 13th – Last weekend, the StarCityGames.com $5000 Standard Open brought us the first foray into the new Standard metagame. Paulo Vitor Damo da Rosa takes a look at the Top 8 decks from the tournament, and shares his thoughts on how the metagame will develop…


As I am writing this, I’m also getting ready for Pro Tour: Austin, since I’m leaving tomorrow. I don’t know what I will play yet, but, unlike most of the time, it’s because there is more than one deck that I like, and not because I hate everything. All I have to do is pick one of the decks I like, and it’s going to be at least decent (or so I hope).

However, I’m not here to talk about Extended today. That is for next week, when I’ll finally be able to start flooding you with tournament reports again, instead of struggling to come up with a subject every time. Today, I’m going to talk about the decks from the StarCityGames.com $5000 Standard Open in Philadelphia! This is going to be basically the same as my last article of this type — again, I don’t even know who most of those people are, so this is not personal. Please don’t come to the forums with “how dare you say this about my friend Eric.” Of course, I might be wrong, and I will gladly hear any rational arguments on why this is so. Given that the format is very new and I don’t have many firm convictions about it yet, it’s less likely that I’ll flat out go and say “this deck is beyond terrible.” That said, let’s go!

There were so many Jund decks in the Top 8 that it’ll be futile to keep repeating the same things about them, so I’ll just group them all together:

That is certainly A LOT of Jund decks. The first thing you should ask yourself is “why are there so many Jund decks in this Top 8?”

There are many possible answers, the most obvious of which is that it’s just the best deck. However, I don’t believe it’s the best deck. It was probably not the best deck in Shards block, and it doesn’t really gain anything — other than a much better manabase — whereas everyone else has access to two very powerful sets in M10 and Zendikar. No, I don’t think it’s the best deck; I think the reason it won so much is that people haven’t perfected their other decks yet. It is not much different than why our White Weenie deck won in testing before Yokohama. It was perfected, and the other builds were not. People haven’t really had the time to get to the best configurations of the other decks, and Jund already has close to its perfect configuration established, since people have been playing it for over a year. I have firm conviction that, once people have time to work on the format, Jund will not be the best deck. In Honolulu, for example, everyone maindecked Celestial Purge. In today’s Standard, people just aren’t as prepared. But they will be.

As for the best Jund configuration, what is it? Well, it’s hard to say, since they are so much alike. I cannot give you the best configuration, but I can tell you which one I like the most. You could try to amalgamate them, but I’ve never really been a fan of those amalgamated decklists, since I think they are misleading. Each card you add to a deck is added with the other 59 in mind, and will sometimes be completely out of place if the other 59 are not exactly what you planned. Take, for example, a group of Zoo decks. Half of them use Ranger of Eos and Ethersworn Canonist, while the other half uses Bloodbraid Elf and Gaddock Teeg. If you amalgamate them, you’ll end up with a list that plays both Bloodbraid and Canonist. Or take a group of Blue decks. Half of them play four Trinket Mages, with Crypt, Engineered Explosives, and Chalice of the Void as targets, whereas the other half doesn’t play the Trinket package. Your final list will be something with two Trinket Mages, but nothing to search for. In the end you’ll have to build a completely different list anyway, so what is the point of doing it?

We can, however, take a look at what they have in common, and use those cards as a starting point. First, the creatures: they all play four Bloodbraid Elf, Putrid Leech, and Sprouting Thrinax, and all lists play three Broodmate Dragons, except for one that plays only two. One person plays four Great Sable Stags, one person plays one. Everyone also plays some number of Garruk Wildspeakers.

I think Bloodbraids, Thrinaxes, and Leeches are automatic. As it is now, spot removal is rampant, and most creatures in the deck help you fight that war. Each Bloodbraid, Thrinax, Garruk, and Broodmate trades with value. That leaves Stag, which I like.

I think Great Sable Stag is an underrated card right now. Most decks only have one or two answers, and those would end up getting something anyway — if Lightning Bolt is killing your Stags, it’s not killing your Putrid Leeches. If they do not draw their answers, it might just kill them by itself. It’s obviously great against Vampires, whose only answer is Gatekeeper of Malakir, which is not very reliable when you have four Thrinaxes, and it is good in the mirror. I don’t think you need to play four, but I would definitely play them, at least three.

As far as spells go, I like Blightning, Lightning Bolt, and Bituminous Blast. I am generally not Maelstrom Pulse’s biggest fan. I don’t really like the card much, but I understand its importance in a format where Planeswalkers are the source of card advantage, so I think you should play four. I want my removal to be able to kill Baneslayer Angel and Planeswalkers, and the only one that does both is Pulse. The other removal spell is basically a choice between Resounding Thunder and Terminate, and I have to say I would prefer not to play either. In decks like this, I generally prefer creatures — they are slightly worse in specific situations, but much more versatile, and in a deck like this, with seven Cascade spells, I want versatility more. I just hate cascading into removal when they don’t have any targets, and I think eleven is enough anyway. As such, I would build my deck like this:

4 Putrid Leech
4 Sprouting Thrinax
4 Bloodbraid Elf
3 Great Sable Stag
3 Broodmate Dragon
2 Garruk Wildspeaker
4 Blightning
3 Bituminous Blast
4 Lightning Bolt
4 Maelstrom Pulse

It is possible that the third Garruk is better than the third Broodmate, or the third Stag.

The lands seem to be fairly straightforward — 4 Verdant Catacombs, 4 Savage Lands, 7 Duals, 10 Basics. I would copy the first place deck and play this:

3 Dragonskull Summit
4 Forest
2 Mountain
4 Rootbound Crag
4 Savage Lands
4 Swamp
4 Verdant Catacombs

This gives you enough Green sources for all the double Green spells, and enough Red sources since I don’t play Terminate or Thunder.

As for the sideboard, there are some debatable slots, one of them being Goblin Ruinblaster versus Anathemancer. I believe Anathemancer is better versus Five-Color Control, and Ruinblaster versus all the other control decks. I expect most people go three colors nowadays, so I would play Ruinblaster, which is not as good against those as Anathemancer is against Five-Color Control but is still pretty good and you can board in against both. It’s basically whether you want the card that is 75% versus everything or the card that is 100% versus some decks and 50% versus others. Right now I think there are not enough Five-Color Control decks to justify Anathemancer over the Goblin, but that might change. Duress versus Thought Hemorrhage is another debatable slot, and I wouldn’t want four of any. You have a lot more cards to board against Control than against aggro, because of all your removal, so it’s not unfeasible to play both, either 2 Duress / 2 Hemorrhage or a 3/2 split.

Jund Charm seems to be the best card against random White aggro and Vampires, and Terminate is a good sideboard card for decks where you want more removal, since it kills both Baneslayer Angel and Malakir Bloodwitch, which Thunder doesn’t. I see absolutely zero merit in playing Deathmark before you play the full four Terminates, and I wouldn’t want more removal anyway — it’s not like you have much to side out, either. The sideboard I would play is pretty close to Ty Holden’s (which is also the guy with the maindeck Stags, and the list I like the most among those):

4 Goblin Ruinblaster
4 Jund Charm
2 Terminate
3 Duress
2 Thought Hemorrhage

Then, there is the second place deck:

This deck is pretty… different. I can’t say I hate the idea, but I don’t think it has the tools to beat the decks of today. There are a couple of things I don’t like in this particular build — Goblin Guide, for example.

The truth is, I think Goblin Guide is just a bad card. I’ve played with him, and he seemed severely unimpressive, especially in this world of cheap removal like Lightning Bolts. One of the reasons aggro decks are good is that they capitalize on your opponent having any kind of problem – too many lands, too few, a bad curve. Though Goblin Guide will not do much to help those who have few lands and were not drawing them anytime soon, it will help them in every other situation. Fetchlands being in the format means you might even help someone with mana problems too, as they get to reveal the card and if they don’t like it they can shuffle it away. Maybe three years ago a 2/2 haste for one mana would have been so awesome that no one would care about it, but in today’s Standard I think it is just not worth the trouble.

As to what to replace Goblin Guide with, I am not really sure. Another one-drop would be good, since you have so many Rangers, but it’s not necessary, and I don’t think any is good enough nowadays. One card I like is Ajani Vengeant — I think he is very good against control and not bad versus aggro, and I would play at least two. The other two, I don’t really know. I would rather them be two-drops, but you cannot play a WW card on turn 2 with only 12 Plains, so Kor Aeronauts, which would probably be my choice, is not reliable. Maybe Stormfront Pegasus is just good enough. Since there are so many fetchlands, Zektar Shrine Expedition is also an option.

Overall, I would not play this deck. I don’t think it is aggressive enough to justify the strategy. Everyone other than Vampires should have access to some kind of mass removal, like Pyroclasm and Jund Charm, and this deck is really vulnerable to them. If I did, though, I would change the sideboard a bit. I see no reason for Magma Spray, since it doesn’t remove the creature you would want to remove. I would rather play Oblivion Ring and Journey to Nowhere, which deal with Thrinax and big guys from any kind of Naya deck. You probably wouldn’t want many of either, to avoid getting blown by Maelstrom Pulse, but 2 Rings and 1 Journey should leave you perfectly safe, with Ring also being good versus Planeswalkers. Celestial Purge is a perfect card right now, being awesome against Jund and Vampires, and so is the WWW 2/2 Pro Black guy (Devout Lightcaster) for decks that can support it, which is unfortunately not the case for this one.

As it is, there are far too many cards against aggro and nothing versus control — I would stick 4 Ruinblasters in there, and perhaps another Ajani Vengeant. Something like this:

4 Goblin Ruinblaster
1 Ajani Vengeant
2 Oblivion Ring
1 Journey to Nowhere
4 Celestial Purge
3 Baneslayer Angel

I like Harm’s Way, but I don’t think this deck has a lot of combat going, especially since I removed the Goblin Guides. I would expect the Landfall guys to just be bigger than everything when attacking. You also cannot save many of your guys from Lightning Bolt, since they will be x/1s, though you can save one from Pyroclasm, or a Kor Skyfisher, but overall I think it is worse than the cards I have there.

This deck is a bunch of cards that I hate, though the whole group of them might not be bad. I was never a fan of those creatures that die at the end of the turn, and Lava Spikes and such. To me, they are just Nacatls that commit suicide, and this isn’t really different. My argument about Goblin Guide stands here, but he is better here than in the previous deck. What I do like in here is the Earthquakes. They seem great in this deck and format. Overall, I would not play this deck either, and the biggest reason is that the sideboard is just horrible.

Though the decks have a similar idea, the Mono Red’s sideboard is much inferior to the previous one. There are four Ruinblasters, and all the other cards are just bad. The Threaten/Mark split seems bad; if you want to run four of this type of effect, I think Act of Treason is the superior card and I would run four of those, though I am not sure why you would want to run any on the first place. Unstable Footing is another strange card. I don’t see why it’s there. These are all symptoms of a new format, as people just don’t know what to sideboard.

I don’t think this can be fixed with this deck. The cards for a good Red board just aren’t there. 4 Goblin Ruinblaster, 1 Earthquake, perhaps 1 more Obsidian Fireheart… and then what?

I like the idea of the Vampire deck, though I think the build can be changed a little. Sign in Blood, for example, is a card I don’t think you have to play four of. You want to curve creatures from turn 2 onward, and there just isn’t much time for drawing cards. I would rather just curve. I might be wrong, since every other person runs four of those, so it might be better to just play the fourth over something else, but for now I’m sticking to three for the lack of something better to cut. I am also not sold on the Eldrazi Monument; though you do have 4 Bloodghasts, I would probably prefer to cast Malakir Bloodwitch most of the time, since if you have a lot of dudes you shouldn’t need much help.

Speaking of Malakir, I think he is really great, and should be a four-of. He doesn’t die to the Red burn, and he has Pro White, so a lot of decks have trouble killing him. He is not the best versus Jund, dying to almost all of their removal spells, but then so does every other creature. He is not bad in multiples, and contrary to what I thought at first, not a Legend.

I like the removal package. Tendrils of Corruption is the best to run, and Disfigure is good enough right now; it is better than Hideous End versus anything that doesn’t run Baneslayer Angel. If people start playing the Angel more, I would play Hideous End, but as it is Disfigure is fine because it kills all the Red Hasters, as well as Putrid Leech and some stuff in the mirror. Some people like Feast of Blood, but I think it’s just miserable.

I would also definitely play four Vampire Hexmages in this format. The body with first strike is not irrelevant, blocking and killing most of the third place deck, for example (and Goblin Guide *cough cough*). All the control decks are pretty big on Planeswalkers now, so I think it’s weird that this deck has three, the Top 16 deck has three, and the other Top 16 deck has none.

As for fetchlands, I like them — with Bloodghast and Vampire Nocturnus, I think playing eight is correct. Some people like Borderposts for Nocturnus, but I think that is going a bit too far (and they don’t power Tendrils), though they are an excellent option if you want to splash Red.

I would play this:

4 Bloodghast
4 Gatekeeper of Malakir
4 Malakir Bloodwitch
4 Vampire Hexmage
4 Vampire Nighthawk
4 Vampire Nocturnus
3 Disfigure
4 Tendrils of Corruption
2 Mind Sludge
3 Sign in Blood
4 Marsh Flats
16 Swamp
4 Verdant Catacombs

As for the sideboard, Marsh Casualties is about the best thing you can have for the mirror and for the Weenie decks, such as the WR Landfall one, so I would play at least three. Some removal that kills Baneslayer is also in order, and that can be either Hideous End/Doom Blade or Deathmark. Right now, given the prominence of Jund, I would play Deathmark. Duress plus Mind Sludge is probably your best bet against control decks, though you could play Liliana or even Haunting Echoes. I think Mind Sludge does what you want to do but better.

That leaves us with basically the Top 8 list, with three more slots. I suppose you could play more removal spells, but you would never want the six against anything, so it’s just better to pick one and stick with it. Options include Eldrazi Monument and Ob Nixilis for the mirror, or Sorin Markov for both the mirror and Red. Quest for the Gravelord and Black Knight just seem like weak choices to me, Quest being just situational and bad, and the Knight not having the necessary opposition right now. I think if there is ever a time where Knight becomes good, then he will be played maindeck, not in the sideboard. I would play something close to this:

3 Marsh Casualties
4 Duress
2 Mind Sludge
3 Deathmark
2 Sorin Markov
1 Hideous End

In the end, I don’t think this tournament was really representative of the new Standard. Sure, Vampires, Red based Aggro, and Jund are all decks that exist and will be played, but there will be so much more than this. Where were the control decks, for example? Where were the Baneslayers? The Cruels? The Days of Judgment? There was not a single Blue card in this Top 8, and very few White ones.

I think that, if you build your decks with only those 3 archetypes in mind, you will get in trouble. Right now, what I would do is change my decks to become a little better versus Jund, such as sideboarding a lot of Celestial Purges, perhaps even maindecking one or two, since even the control decks seem to be packing BR Planeswalkers. I would not suddenly remove all the Baneslayer answers from my decks, for example, because it not being there was probably a fluke, like the five Jund decks in the Top 8. If I had to play a Standard tournament tomorrow, I’m not sure what I would run, but it would not be Jund or a Red based aggro deck. It would be either Vampires or some kind of control deck with Cruel Ultimatum.

I hope you’ve enjoyed this, and see you in Austin!