SCG Daily – Thoughts on Team Standard, Part 2

Zac continues his exploration of Team Standard with another deck from his recent PTQ-winning team… this time, it’s G/W Greater Good. It successfully qualified Zac and his pals… now it’s your turn.

“You really need to write another article like that one on CAL.”
“Why do you say that?”
“Because everything since then has been… what’s the word? Bad.”
– My roommate Cody (paraphrased).

Gotta love the honesty, folks. So I’ve decided to deliver on that request… at a later date. Yep, I just finished page 103 of a screenplay for class today – I am sure y’all care – so this here article may or may not reek like the sweaty fat beneath one of Tom Arnold’s ample breasts. Shotgun not sucking.

Anyway, I promised I’d talk about a G/W Greater Good list that led us to a (metaphorical) blue envelope this past weekend. This here is my baby:

Some “unique” choices:

Vinelasher Kudzu: Team Check Minus suggested this guy, and once he entered into the equation the deck’s win percentage shot up something like ten points in every matchup. He is basically strictly better than Watchwolf. It turns out that his ability is rather solid in a deck that plays seven Rampant Growth effects and two Karoos. I know it’s hard to believe. He is also somewhat easier to cast – an issue that doesn’t arise often, but is very important when it does. This guy becomes a giant very, very quickly. A two-mana animal that can potentially survive Wildfire is also a kick right to the junk against Wildfire, I will tell you that much.

Culling Sun: JP and Richard actually begged me not to let the cat out of the bag on this one, but it’s late enough in the season that I felt I could go ahead and do it. Suffice to say that when people would ask, “So is the Black in your deck for Cranial Extraction,” I replied “No!” without hesitation. This card is actually the sickest possible card in the game against the decks you side it in against. When the sun comes out, all of these nice animals – apes, knights, rats, specters, goblins, spirits, dryads, wizards, and hounds – just can’t take the heat. But all of your dragons, elephants, and giant trees listened to their mommies and knew to lather up the SPF 60 before they went outside. Thus they are more than happy to turn themselves sideways as every member of their opposition cries and hits the bin. Seriously, this card is strictly better than Wrath of God, and wins the game the second you cast it at least 80% of the time.

Ivory Mask: Zoo is not a creature deck; it’s a burn deck whose burn spells often deal their damage over the course of several turns. Therefore it’s imperative that you have some of these to control the bleeding. It’s also nice to have against Heartbeat, since these trump their combo and their Man Plan involves creatures that are just worse than yours.

Debtors’ Knell: This was suggested to me by a good man named Derrick Sheets, and I liked it immediately. We actually played two in our list at the Grand Prix. Yes, yes, I know it’s a singleton; I am capable of reading my own decklist. The logic is that in a deck that deploys as much mana as this one, you want some spells that just win. Furthermore, because you don’t have access to Goryo’s Vengeance, you want a way to hard lock the opponent if necessary, since sometimes you absolutely can’t afford to give them an untap step. With this in the pile, you’re reasonably likely to find it in four or five activations, and can likewise get a Miren or Arashi going to keep a permanent lock without a risk of decking yourself.

Here is why I like this deck, and why I think it is an amazing choice for Team Standard.

First of all, you really don’t have any matchups (except for Ghost Dad, and even then only slightly so) that run significantly less than 50%. This is essential for team season because it’s critical that you not bomb out. Notice I didn’t say that very many of its matchups are significantly above 50%, but only that not many are below that number.

A word on this. You cannot fathom the number of times I have heard people complain something to the effect of, “If our B and C seat had switched, we would have bashed face. But instead we lost 2-0 *frown*). I have done the exact same thing, and that is one of the reasons that this format is very interesting. There are measures you can take to avoid that happening, and one is to minimize your blowout matchups. Generally speaking, a deck with a couple of pitiful matchups also has some amazing ones.

Think about the logic behind not choosing these kinds of decks. If you’re ostensibly better than your opponent, you don’t need the help of an incredibly favorable matchup to beat him. On the other hand, you absolutely don’t want to sit down and be unable to use your play-skill to your advantage because the matchup is so heinously terrible that there is no way you can win. Thus, if given the choice, you want to play decks that are not polarized in this way.

(The converse, interestingly, is also important to comprehend if you want to understand this format. If you’re worse than your expected opponents, a setup such as Zoo, Ghost-Dad, and Owl might not be a bad idea. Sure, you will just auto-lose sometimes, but you also might hit pairings that allow your deck’s natural advantage to make up for your lack of playskill, and would give you the best chance of securing product/a slot. You might cruise your way to Charleston.)

As I said, this deck doesn’t have bad matchups. “But what about Heartbeat?” you ask? Sure, the game 1 is not amazing if you don’t get Kudzu out on turn 2, or get a Jitte active quickly, because Remand is just so good against you. You tap five only for them to hit you with a Time Walk. But for game 2 – when you take out the Yoseis, Knell, and Greater Goods for another Jitte, Ivory Masks, Cranials, and Solifuges – all of the sudden you’re a deck full of nightmares. A lot of your cards simply bash them, and they can only deal with so many at once in the face of significant mana acceleration. Also, Savage Twister (their normal out) often doesn’t actually do anything against you, courtesy of Pachyderm and Jitte. Even before I had Kudzu, I killed Eric Taylor on turn 5 both games at the Grand Prix before Heartbeat could even get off the ground. I mean, his draw game 3 was absolutely abysmal, but the fact remains that this is not just a fatty deck. It can come hard out of the gates.

Some more notes. I don’t know if any of you own or can acquire a halberd – that short poleaxe thing often employed by several different medieval armies – but if you can, please let me know. The reason I ask is that I’ve been looking for something unique to use the next time I stab someone that likens Congregation at Dawn to Chord of Calling, or otherwise suggests that the two have anything to do with one another. “Are you playing one or the other” is not actually a valid question, because they do completely different things. It’s like saying, “Are you running Stormbind or Oath of Druids?” Yes, I understand that they both contain the words “search” and “creature,” but one is a long-term win condition designed to generate advantage over the course of several turns (that can also get a specific answer in a pinch) while the other is a one-for-one tutor that gives a creature Haste. I could also add in the qualifier that one is good game against several different decks, because it sets up a series of turns from which the opponent necessarily cannot recover, while the other is just patently awful… but I am sure that would spark some opposition on these boards. It’s fine. If you really enjoy spending Debtors’ Knell mana for a Loxodon Hierarch, then be my guest.

It’s also worth noting that Congregation is a tremendous trump against discard decks, but I will also concede that you have to be very, very aware of Cranial Extraction whenever you cast it.

Also, don’t forget that Yosei and Kodama are spirits. Nikko-Onna is actually every bit as good as advertised, and can win the game by himself against Eminent Domain and Ghost Dad.

When you put this deck in your pool, what you’re looking for are solid results. Situations often arise where you say, “Okay, if I draw Culling Sun, Jitte, or Congregation here in the next three turns, I win… whereas if I don’t, I lose.” Sometimes you get the draw, and sometimes you don’t. But there are very rarely any situations where you simply cannot win. Thus, you’re probably not going to X-0 or X-1 with this deck – though Tim has done so before – but you’re also not going to 0-X either. With skillful play, you’re probably going to average about 5-3 with this deck, and that’s a result that I am extremely comfortable with if it happens consistently.

It just occurred to me that I ought to mention why I feel that the deck is so consistent (enjoy that skillful transition?). It all stems from the fact that you’re casting giants, you have answers to all of the normal answers to giants, and you also have a pretty effective lock mechanism in the mix as well. The formula of “Mana Acceleration into Big, Efficient Men” has always been solid, and every opponent is going to necessarily have to interact with your side of the table before he or she can go about winning. Also, your creatures are very difficult to deal with properly. Some are untargetable, some are too big, some regenerate the team, etc. So your opponent has to draw the right answers to your threats, while all you have to do is bash and see what happens. Even Wrath of God doesn’t answer Vitu-Ghazi, Greater Good, or Congregation at Dawn. Furthermore, even if he Wraths your Kodama, puts a Fetters on your Hierarch, and trades with your Kudzu, you still have Dragons. It’s not like in Gruul, where once your opponent gets down a Kokusho or a Meloku or something all of your guys are necessarily inferior. Half your creatures embarrass even the best men something like Beach House can throw at you.

If, on the other hand, the opponent doesn’t intend to provide answers, then he has to somehow figure out how his 1/1s and 3/3s are going to get past your 4/4s and 5/5s. While he’s doing that, he also has to contend with things like Ivory Mask and Culling Sun that systematically eliminate any advantage he might have generated in the early game.

If you have any more questions, I’ll be trolling the forums. If I said anything idiotic, hopefully I can correct myself on there.