SCG Talent Search – The King Is Dead? Or Evolution Of Standard

Thursday, February 17 – Valeriy discusses the recent metagame shifts and how to beat Caw-Go, the next step in Standard! Vote for your favorite SCG Talent Search finalist to see who gets to stay as a columnist.

Hello! Today I’m going to speak about the reasons for metagame shifts.

Pro Tour Paris has just ended. Is it time to sleeve up Ben Stark’s deck and go on a stomping spree with it, claiming titles left and right? I’d say
“no.” The Pro Tour does not define the format; it defines a direction for the format to evolve. I want to take one step further and sleeve up the deck
that beats Ben Stark’s deck. Pro Tour Paris caused ripples in the quiet waters, so let’s try to recognize what we’ll see after these ripples calm down.

Today’s program: thoughts on metagame shifts (right now), thoughts on PT Paris (Ctrl+F for “Nasty”), Valakut’s future (Ctrl+F “Good news”), and, of
course, some fresh tech and a brand-new (or remembered, old) deck to smash Caw-Go with (Ctrl+F for “second birthday”). Let’s go!

* * *

“Faeries do not define the format, but the Wizard of Oz 5/4 haste flying does” — Nicolay Potovin on Spiral-Lorwyn Standard, circa late Summer of

Nicolay Potovin is the most known player from Russia, the only one reaching Pro Level 6. At his prime, he was one of the best Faeries players around
the world and LSV’s personal nemesis in the

At the time, the metagame revolved around numerous attempts to beat Faeries. The most successful approach was Demigod Red, advocated by several famous
Japanese players like Tomoharu Saito. In August 2008, two Demigod Red decks had burned their path to the finals of GP Copenhagen. It marked the
beginning of a huge metagame shift. Still, Faeries had adapted, solving the Magus of the Moon problem with Murderous Redcaps and Slaughter Pacts, and
soon, the new parity was established.

So, what did it mean for us living here under the ruby Kremlin stars? The Russian Magic community, known for its love for aggressive strategies (it’s
actually a constant feature of the Russian metagame), had gleefully embraced the Demigods, and Mono-Red flourished. Another constant feature of Russian
Magic reality is a well-known time gap between worldwide and local metagame shifts. Oh, never were the traps of playing this week’s deck against
previous week’s decks so real and dangerous! And still, there was a problem: it was quite miserable facing the mirror of old-fashioned Faeries with the
new-fashioned ones. The deck choice dilemma was so strong and so strange that Potovin said “Russian Nationals is the only tournament where I can’t play
Faeries” and Top 8ed Nationals with a Reveillark deck. This is how Demigod of Revenge defined the format and caused even the best player to change his
deck decision.

What deck defines Standard now? What do you think? Caw-Go? Valakut? I’d say “Kuldotha Red.” Why? Because if nasty, hasty Goblins didn’t exist,
Guillaume Matignon and Patrick Chapin would have one less reason to pack Pyroclasm maindeck.

* * *

It’s 1:40 am, the ninth of February, the second hour of my birthday.

Aside on birthday

If you look at my ID, you’ll find there the 14th of February as my birthday (a small mistake made by the maternity hospital), but the actual date is
the 9th. I dislike celebrations, so I usually don’t tell anyone except close friends about the 9th and use 14th instead: nobody wants to come to the
celebration on St. Valentine’s Day, and that’s exactly the effect I’d like to achieve.

End aside

I’m listening to punk, writing this article, and chatting over IM with my ex-girlfriend, who didn’t forget about the 9th five years after we broke up.
Oh, I’m not Gavin Verhey or Jon Agley, so scrap the storytelling. What really matters is that I’ve just finished a playtesting session with my friend
(let’s call him Mikhail).

It was the first testing for GP Barcelona. And when Mikhail said “I want to practice with the Valakut list that I plan to take to the GP Trial this
weekend,” I said “Okay” and opened with turn 1 Goblin Guide.

Guide revealed Green Sun’s Zenith, and I started relentless attacks without fear of sweepers (it obviously was an unreasonable risk). After I went 5-1
(one mulligan to four once), Mike said “I should probably add some sweepers to the maindeck.” Sure. Exact words I wanted to hear. He added Pyroclasms,
and the matchup quickly turned in his favor. That is exactly the opinion I wanted to prove: Kuldotha Red loses to the prepared opponents, but its
existence defines the state of format.

* * *

What if nasty Goblins didn’t exist? Okay, pack
Pyroclasm, and they go extinct. So, now they’re actually gone, and no one has seen them for two
weeks, right? Okay, I have no reason to play Pyroclasm now, and I can concentrate on beating the mirror match. I get paired against three straight
Goblin decks and 0-3-drop. I think I need… Pyroclasm maindeck! Rinse and repeat until the format rotates.

I’ve just told you a typical story of an aggro deck with a thin, blade-like game plan. Or a typical story of a versatile deck’s evolution during the
season. What is the difference between the “one tournament’s choice” and the new format staple?

Brand-new decks usually look very impressive during the first week or two of their existence, but then their effectiveness dramatically decreases — to
make the deck nonexistent (as for Kuldotha Red a month after Scar’ release) or to make the deck just another variable in the metagame equation (like
Mono-Green Eldrazi Ramp) or to crown the new king of the metagame (“Oh, what do you think? Is Bitterblossom good enough to replace Marsh Flitter in


For any new deck that is effective, we can answer: Why is it? There are many reasons, but the most important three are:

This deck is built to be well-positioned in the current metagame;

People are not prepared to beat it and have no hate;

This decks has better pilots during the first weeks of its existence.

So, why abstain from playing a new hot deck just after everyone has learned about it?

1) The metagame will definitely change to suppress the newcomers’ strike;

2) Everyone will be prepared;

3) Insert a random reason here, as I don’t intend to say that you’re a worse player than the deck’s inventor.

Let’s take a closer look at the ripple from PT Paris and try to found the optimal course of action for the next week or two. First, I have the
spreadsheet: overall metagame of Day One and Day Two and the number of “good decks” (I’ve chosen 7-3 as the cutoff). Obviously, the draft portion of
event distorted the results to a certain degree, but we can see interesting trends anyway.



Day 1

Day 2






U/B Control








Kuldotha Red
























U/R/b Tezzeret Control





Caw-Go is insane.

There are two other decks that grew in numbers significantly — and both of them are aggressive.

Hard times are coming for Valakut and U/B Control.

The point is that Caw-Go beats both Valakut and aggressive decks (watch the PT finals with Paul Rietzl Boros struggling for dear life yet
still falling significantly short), so the deck actually was the best choice for this tournament, catapulting the pilot to the pedestal. I expect the
deck to be extremely popular during the upcoming weeks, and I want to find answers. I would warn Caw-Go players that everyone will, too, try to find
them, so keep in mind that you should be prepared for very large amounts of hate or at least knowledgeable resistance.

I will not write about Caw-Go anymore, just because every single American pro player will do it by the time this article goes up, and unfortunately I’m
no Ben Stark (congrats on PT title) or Brad Nelson (congrats on PotY title), so I’ll concentrate on other decks and the ways to beat Caw-Go.

Aggressive decks
are on the rise right now, but the problem is that Boros basically can’t ever beat Caw-Go, so I don’t recommend playing them without drastic decklist
changes. I should also note that the Kuldotha Rebirth deck posted a very small amount of 7-3 finishes — just because any, and I mean literally any, prepared opponent, regardless of deck choice, will be able to beat it if he wants.

So, let’s come and look at the fallen kings.

U/B Control.
Sorry, but right now Caw-Go is just better, and you’re probably a couple of Pyroclasms short to be a real deck. As for your sibling, Grixis Tezzeret,
its place in the metagame is still undefined.

This is one of the most interesting decks to watch, as it is innovative and gimmicky enough to be played purely out of coolness.

My guess is that
Grixis deck will be much less popular than Caw-Go but could step into the limelight if Caw-Go is suppressed somehow.

. Oh, the downfall! Zero Top 8 appearances, bad matchups expected all around… Hard times are coming, but a friend in need is a friend indeed, so as
I’m known as a Valakut player (in both Standard and Extended), I will try to prepare Valakut for these hard times.

* * *

It’s the 12th of February, 10 pm; I’m at a rock concert when I receive a text message from Mikhail: “Valeriy, Viridian Emissary is actually good in an
aggressive metagame. Thanks, your advice helped me to win the GP trial.” Good news.

*side note* I don’t think that the metagame during the weeks following PT Paris will be aggressive enough to justify playing Emissary, so, while it
was viable that one evening in Moscow, nicely contributing to Mikhail’s victory in that very tournament, don’t try it at home. *end of side note*

“Matt Marr with Valakut has just picked up his third loss from Caw-Go.” Is it a catastrophe? Does it mean that Valakut can’t beat Caw-Go, and the old
king is dead? Answers are “no” and “no.” The lack of Valakut in the Top 8 of PT Paris doesn’t mean that the deck is bad; it means that deck’s pilots
were unprepared. Now, when the enemy is known, it’s easier to be ready to reclaim the crown.

What do we need to beat Caw-Go?

1) Acidic Slime maindeck.

2) Fast mana.

3) Ability to fight through discard (yes, Sword of Feast and Famine actually discards cards, and this is fairly important).

Our decklist starts with:

1 Acidic Slime

4 Lotus Cobra

3 Oracle of Mul Daya

3 Green Sun’s Zenith

3 Lightning Bolt

I chose GSZ over Summoning Trap because Caw-Go’s primary counterspell is Spell Pierce, so Trap is not as effective as we’d like it to be;
simultaneously, we can play Zenith around Spell Pierce with the help of Lotus Cobra. After boarding, they’ll probably have Flashfreeze, and we will
have multiple Acidic Slimes, so Summoning Trap becomes better than Zenith.

That’s fourteen spells, and there’s room for eighteen more to make a full thirty-two. We’ll settle on playsets of Primeval Titan, Explore, Khalni Heart
Expedition, and Overgrown Battlement with singletons of Avenger of Zendikar and Inferno Titan as additional win conditions. Inferno Titan can’t be
found by GSZ, but it’s another powerful six-drop, and he’s a very sweet answer to Squadron Hawk.

What, no Harrow? No Cultivate? Yes. Harrow is too risky against nine counterspells maindeck (which may became industry standard soon) and possibly
twelve after boarding. Cultivate is not as risky but just plain unresolvable against control and too slow against aggro.

We also need more ways to survive in the aggro matches. I think that the best possible solution is Obstinate Baloth, so let’s pack him over the 28th

Notable sideboard options are Koth of the Hammer and Nature’s Claim, so our decklist is:

Obviously, this is just a (slightly) rough sketch, but I didn’t aim to provide the list cut and dried — I aim to share my vision for further
development of the archetype. The Valakut shell is still very powerful, very redundant, and very flexible, so I expect that hard times will soon pass,
and Valakut triggers will once again be able to beat the Demihawk of Revenge. We’ll see who wins in the long run.

* * *

It’s 1:40 am, the 14th of February, the second hour of my second birthday. If you could read my mind, you’d find there lots of thoughts about how to
beat Caw-Go. I spent my Sunday evening trying to adapt my favorite deck for the new reality (okay, I also watched PT Top 8 video coverage half of the
time. Rietzl is a stone-cold master!), but sometimes I just need to be more flexible, so let’s take a look at real weaknesses of Caw-Go and ways to
deal with them.

I tried to find the decks that happened to beat Caw-Go over the course of the tournament (luckily, we have all pairings and a very large amount of
decklists), and I realized that many of them were Quest, both G/W and WW. Why? Because Caw-Go has Day of Judgment and Gideon Jura as the only ways to
deal with aggressive decks pre-board, and both variations of Quest could easily win before DoJ. After boarding, things become worse, but Oust is still
not very hot against a deck that hopes to cast only five creatures and doesn’t mind replaying them over and over again.

So, if we expect the rise of Caw-Go and the fall of decks with Pyroclasm, would I recommend playing Quest? No, I wouldn’t. Why? Because, despite all
the best efforts of some of the most brilliant minds like Frank Karsten and Raphael Levy, the deck is still inconsistent. You really need to draw Quest
and charge it very fast. Maybe I’m just not lucky enough, but I want more redundancy, which Quest can’t provide: the mono-white battle cry plan still
loses to Day of Judgment, and the G/W Vengevine plan forces the deck to sacrifice some of its speed, which is just not acceptable.

What part is missing? Or, what do we need aggressive decks to do to be successful? The keys are:

1) Speed. The deck should be able to win before Day of Judgment stops the fun.

2) Ability to recover after Day of Judgment if we somehow can’t suppress it.

3) Redundancy. The deck shouldn’t depend on the single card.

4) Ability to fight through removal, especially Oust. Ideally, your opponents will not want to Oust your creatures. Bloodbraid Elf, I miss you, haha.)

5) Resiliency: Ability to fight through small blockers.

6) Not folding to pro-black and pro-green.

Finally, I’ve found a combination satisfying all these requirements. There are not so many ways to win before turn 4, but Spell Pierce and Unified Will
exist to help us, and both of them can be played in aggressive decks. And there do exist creatures that grant us enough speed while being as bad
targets for Oust as Bloodbraid Elf would be. Our allies in the hard crusade against Caw-Go are… Allies!

Yes, this statement looks very, very casual, but I’m a true Spike, and I’m absolutely serious now. For your interest, there was one Naya-colored Allies
deck at PT Paris, and it posted a respectable 7-3 record. I played Allies (both Naya and U/W/R variations) before Alara block was gone, and it was
reasonable in some metagame situations, allowing me to post positive results on MTGO. I know it sounds weird, but I really do think that now is the
right and long-awaited time to sleeve up Allies in their U/W/R incarnation.

This deck may look like Sadin’s Tempered Steel Weenie (go go, Vector Asp!), but it doesn’t depend on a single enchantment and is still able to create
delicious turn-3 kills and counter Day of Judgment even before sideboarding, so our Caw-Go matchup is much better.

Two key parts of the deck are Akoum Battlesinger and Spell Pierce. They grant us the speed and ability to fight through removal. And, of course, Jwari
Shapeshifter will almost always become a copy of a Battlesinger. You can’t really lose if you ever attack with two Battlesingers the turn at least a
single Ally enters the battlefield. Mimic Vat allows you to survive any sweepers and create insane pressure with almost any creature hidden inside.
Initially, I considered Mimic Vat to be sideboard material only, but after just a couple of test games, I decided to add two Vats to the maindeck, and
I’m actually thinking about cutting something for the third Vat right now. The Vat is just that good in this deck. Akoum Battlesinger on repeat
is so silly and so filthy at the same time, right?

Preordain helps you draw Allies instead of lands, and a couple of effective two-drops are necessary to provide enough pressure, leaving Spell Pierce
mana open. It’s usually enough to provide you the necessary speed and consistency. And when you’re playing against control, and they know about Spell
Pierce in your deck, just bluff it if you can afford it, even if you don’t actually have it.

Other parts of the deck are pretty obvious: the best available Allies in the chosen colors. All of them are self-explanatory, except, maybe, Ondu
Cleric. Sure, he’s not as good as we would like him to be, but having another two-drop is crucial, so we do need him, as mediocre as he is. And he is
still good against aggressive decks, where you just want to gain life and grow your dudes.

Primary sideboard options are:

Mark of Mutiny is for Valakut. We are just another fast red deck when speaking about the fight against Primeval Titan.

Arc Trail and Talus Paladin: just in case you need a little extra ammo against fellow creature strategies, but with huge amounts of life gain,
protection, and constantly growing dudes, Allies are normally favored against other aggressive decks already.

Tuktuk Scrapper — Tezzeret, eat this!

Additional Mimic Vat — a cauldron of mead to comfort yourself with when facing mass removal.

Unified Will — against different kinds of control. Sometimes four Spell Pierces are just not enough, and sometimes you want to counter Baneslayer

Emerge Unscathed — another way to deal with Pyroclasm.

Precise tuning is subject to testing, but I think this deck has enough merit to spend some time tuning it. Break your stereotypes, and try this! The
old king is dead; the new king is emerging right now — well, looks like it’s the perfect time to dive into rough waters and to proclaim revolt!

* * *

It’s evening, the 16th of February, and I’m reading my own article here at StarCityGames.com. If you were able to read my thoughts, you’d find there a
lot of hopes and dreams of becoming a regular StarCityGames.com writer. I’m working hard to improve my writing skills, and I plan to continue providing
you with the best tech possible. So vote for me as, I suggest, you did during the whole contest (Could I come to the finals without your support?
Never). I’m also grateful for your forum feedback and e-mails, which encouraged me to continue my work.

All what’s left is to cross my fingers, saying: See you soon!

From Russia with love and hope, Valeriy

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