Rights, Wrongs, And #SCGBALT

Mark Nestico made some predictions and now he has to own up to them, for better or worse! Will the same Standard format from this weekend be at #SCGBALT? Or are we going to see more of the rogue decks that put up excellent numbers?

I’d really like to thank you for taking time away from Pokemon GO to join me today. I know it’s a hell of an addiction. I myself am up to level 25. This is real. This is happening. I’ve lost nine pounds and walked almost a hundred miles in two weeks.

But there was also plenty of Magic to be had. I played in two Sealed events, one a release and the other a PPTQ I lost in the semi-finals. It was a wonderfully strange trip.

Eldritch Moon hit the ground with a thud this week, proving that it isn’t some joke set and that the best cards in it are very, very real. Sure, the established decks out there, like Bant Company, R/W Humans, and U/W Spirits, had showings, but other contenders, Ali Antrazi’s Sultai Control list for example, proved they can thrive using the new weapons we have at our disposal.

The last couple of weeks have been rather interesting for me when it comes to brewing and watching the process unfold for exactly what decks out there were poised to do well. I’m working with several people again…but shucks. We’ll get to that later. Like a few weeks later. Spoiler alert, etc. etc. etc.

This led us down an interesting road of what cards we should be targeting from the new set that would either enhance an existing deck or, for all intents and purposes, create an entirely new one.

My first stop was this:

It’s not the prettiest girl at the dance, but preliminary testing was showing that this deck actually had a ton of firepower. The pros were overwhelming at first.

· With a two-drop this deck could dole out extremely aggressive starts that were difficult for any deck to beat.

· Liliana, the Last Hope seemed at her best in a deck that allowed her to be protected efficiently along with proving a very steady stream of Reality Smashers and Distended Mindbenders.

· Matter Reshaper alongside Mindbender was proving to be ridiculous, with tons of hits and inherent synergies.

· The sideboard filled in some of the gaps that G/B Eldrazi had in Game 1 against decks like Bant Company.

Nothing is ever as easy as putting a deck together and playing it, however. There were…cons.

Oh hey guys! Don’t mind me! I’m just an honest man deploying honest creatures trying to play honest Magic.

But then again, these two cards are anything but fair and honest.

G/B Eldrazi could punish any deck that stutters, but Bant Company doesn’t do that. The usual “Oh, it’s a three-color deck, so maybe it’ll stumble” argument loses ground when you look at something like this:

Bant Company has very good mana for a three-color deck, but that isn’t what makes it so proficient at winning games. Even if the color equality is not there in their early-game, Bant pilots are afforded single-color threats like Duskwatch Recruiter and Sylvan Advocate to apply pressure. Now they have access to Selfless Spirit, alongside Spell Queller one of the other breakout cards from Eldritch Moon. These easy-to-cast threats invalidate the color-screw argument. This isn’t a deck trying to cast Sprouting Thrinax on turn 3. Elevating any potential mana problems is also Collected Company, a card I don’t even have to tell you how busted it is. You just know.

My early reasoning for a deck like G/B Eldrazi was that it had very little wasted motion. Almost every card is independently powerful, disruptive, creates a clock, or all three. It is able to build velocity in an impressive fashion before overpowering an opponent. Also, it was two colors, and the need for Eldrazi mana wasn’t ever much of a hindrance. I wouldn’t say that I was underestimating Bant, but I did think it was more beatable than it was.

In fact, I even made some bold predictions:

Prediction 1: Uhhh…nailed it.

Prediction 2: I was wrong, but also it didn’t have the turnout I expected. The best players in the room played the best deck. Surprise!

Prediction 3- I feel like I was correct on this call. Despite putting only three copies in the Top 32, G/W Tokens’s worst finish within those parameters was 11th place. It’s not surprising that, without proper upgrades, this deck didn’t flourish as it had in the previous Standard format. On the ropes? Yes. Dead? Absolutely not.

Prediction 4: Neither card made an impact. I’m suspending this prediction until Dragons rotates out.

Prediction 5: Liliana, the Last Hope proved her mettle this weekend in numerous decks. She didn’t appear in as many as I thought she would, but she debuted in three Top 8 decklists. I wouldn’t go so far as to say she’s one of the reasons U/W Spirits wasn’t present in the Top 8 as much as the decks she’s in were hostile to it, but she did appear to be almost as good as everyone thought she’d be. It is possible the right shell for her hasn’t been discovered yet.

Prediction 6: Jeff Hoogland took a fairly unique Week 1 approach to U/W Spirits:

I like these approaches early on, but once they become a known quantity, they lose a great deal of their luster and potency when you’re aware of what to play around, kind of like the difference between Hugo Terra’s U/W Flash deck and what Brennan DeCandio would turn into the U/W Spirits deck that rose to prominence in the final month of Shadows over Innistrad Standard.

Even though a blue and white Spirit, Spell Queller, was the breakout Eldritch Moon card of the tournament, the deck however was not. U/W Spirits placed four pilots in the Top 32, but none in the Top 8. It would seem that giving Bant Company decks the same Flash weapon that acts as a Counterspell can work against you every much as it can work for you.

Bearing all of those predictions in mind, there was a pretty clear winner this weekend for what amounted to, in my opinion, to have been the best deck of the weekend.

Tom Maney is a heck of a player and, if the rumors are true, he may have drawn the last round to lock up Top 16 when he could have played for Top 8. My experiences with Tom have always been very pleasant.

This iteration jumped out to me as slightly ahead of the curve in terms of innovations. Tamiyo, Field Researcher was a card that tested very well in Bant Company and that often broke the mirror match. Eschewing cards like Ojutai’s Command; Thalia, Heretic Cathar; or Nissa, Vastwood Seer, Tamiyo often created several layers and subgames that revolved around killing her if you’re the opponent or managing her if you’re the player controlling Tamiyo.

The situations where Tamiyo shined were often defined by breaking parity. Her ability to draw multiple cards when combined with Sylvan Advocate or your flying threats like Spell Queller can put you up many cards to your opponent and grant you a plethora of resources. Eventually games will degenerate into battlefield stalls defined by those resources, and Tamiyo is that that key to success. Her tap ability is also crucial to obtaining success in the mirror.

Aside from the maindeck Tamiyo, Field Researcher, Tom played the full four copies of Elder Deep-Fiend in his sideboard. This may seem like overkill, but it is actually brilliant. We’ve talked about those grind-fests that the mirror can devolve into, and spitting out a 5/6 with flash to tap down four potential blockers is huge game. Doing it multiple times is even huger game. Searching it up with Duskwatch Recruiter is the hugest game. I need a thesaurus.

Tom’s configuration looks to be a serious contender going forward. The addition of Archangel Avacyn may be a direction this deck also wants to take, especially with the synergies she has with Elder Deep-Fiend’s emerge alternate casting cost, which can tap down threats while providing a sacrificial outlet to flip Avacyn and wipe your opponent’s battlefield. That leaves you with a 6/5 flier and a 5/6 Deep-Fiend. So much of this sounds exciting!

Overall I would say that week one of Eldritch Moon Standard was a huge success. The best players rose to the occasion and provided us with new lists along with updates of classic archetypes.

Going forward it’s clear that public enemy number one is Bant Company, and beating it has to be your goal if you plan on doing well at The SCG Tour®‘s next stop at #SCGBALT.

My first inclination would be to point to something closely resembling Ali Aintrazi’s Sultai list from this weekend. As a second-week deck you could do worse, but I believe his deck needs a tad more refining in order to be a competitive mainstay rather than a flash in the pan. I’d explore cutting a few of the clunkier cards like Scour the Laboratory and possibly add one or two more Oath of Jace to ensure Delirium as well as provide a cheaper way to cycle through cards.

Ishkanah, Grafwidow I’m told over-performed for everyone who played her, so adding a second one may be strong for this deck as well. I think there are tons of possibilities to explore within this deck. Emrakul, the Promised End very well may just be an Ali Aintrazi card and one you shouldn’t worry about making work.

Unfortunately you don’t have the luxury of sitting back in this format due to the incredible consistency and power of Bant Company. The fact that U/R or U/G Fiend decks weren’t able to even make so much as a dent in the tournament show that either

A) They aren’t as good as we thought they’d be.


B) Once rotation occurs and the oppression of Collected Company goes away we are all screwed.

I believe it’s the second option far more than the first. The mechanics are simply too good to ignore, so you may shelve those prospects for a few months until they become more attractive. Your immediate attention needs to be on beating Bant, which is proving more and more difficult the longer that Collected Company stays legal. If you don’t believe it’s possible, which many of my friends would agree with you, start practicing those mirrors and looking for edges. I heard tales of six… seven… eight… sometimes nine Bant mirrors throughout the weekend. Am I supposed to do a “Why Your Deck Sucks: Bant Company” next? You decide.

Now, if you’ll excuse me, there is a Growlithe on my radar, so I have to go catch it. Five AM sounds like a good time to take my cat for a walk, right? Right?