#SCGCOL Standard Standouts!

2010 Player of the Year Brad Nelson has his eyes on Modern for the upcoming #PTOGW weekend! But he’s a Standard lover at heart, and he can’t keep himself from breaking down the format! What does he expect to see at #SCGCOL?

The results from #SCGATL are in! Over 500 competitors battled it out over the course of two days using some of Wizards of the Coast’s newest toys. It seemed like not much changed based on Monastery Swiftspear winning yet another title, but many cool and interesting strategies did have appearances before the final Titan’s Strength was cast. This snapshot into what Standard might look like post-Oath of the Gatewatch gives us the foundation to try to understand what things will look like in the next couple of weeks and prepare players for #SCGCOL.

We kick things off this week with my experiences playing Esper Dragons this past weekend. I knew going into the tournament that Esper Dragons could very well be a terrible choice. I obviously couldn’t tell you why it would be bad, since we had yet to understand the metagame and what people would bring to the event, but I knew in my gut that things could go poorly for me. The only reason I stayed course with the deck was because of how powerful the deck was prior to Oath of the Gatewatch. I played the deck at #GPOAK to a 12-2-1 finish, which netted me three Pro Points and another ninth place on my resume.

My list was very similar to that of which I played in Oakland, but I changed a few things around without much thought behind it.

I started things off strong after a disappointing Round 1 loss on camera and found myself at 7-1 at one time in the event. The next seven rounds did not treat me well and I ended up with my usual 10-5 that comes along with my SCG Tour® appearances. I’m not sure why I picked up so many losses on the tail end of the event, but I do know that some of them could have come down to not sideboarding that well.

I don’t think I can suggest playing this deck anymore after my middling finish. Goblin Dark-Dwellers was savagely underplayed in the event and I expect this card, along with others from Oath of the Gatewatch, to show up in higher numbers, which will make it more difficult for Esper Dragons to survive. That, and the extremely high numbers of Crackling Doom and Self-Inflicting Wound. It was a fun deck to play for a second time, but all good things must come to an end. Now it’s time to look at some of the newer things that showed up at #SCGATL and figure out what’s hot and what’s not from this past weekend.

Let’s start things off with what has to be the biggest breakout card from Oath of the Gatewatch.

Upon its spoiling, Reflector Mage was poised for greatness and its first theoretical home was Four-Color Rally. This card screams “tempo advantage,” which is something the Rally of the Ancestors deck was lacking in the early game for some time. Personally I found the card to be underwhelming in the strategy, but I was proven wrong by the sheer volume of players that disagreed with me. The card was played in droves by the Four-Color Rally players and even found its way into an extremely interesting Abzan Blue list that turned many heads before getting knocked out of the event by the best player in the room.

Abzan Blue has been a thing for some time now, but it wasn’t until Ben Rubin turned the archetype on its head by playing a 64-card version in #GPOAK a few weeks back. Since then many players have adopted the archetype, but not the additional four cards that went along with it.

Willy Porges has done what Ben did weeks ago and shaken up the archetype on his own with this amazing-looking version of Abzan Blue. Oath of Nissa is an interesting inclusion in this deck since it’s able to help fix the mana, find the powerful threats, and even give you a higher chance of playing an on-curve Gideon, Ally of Zendikar. The sacrifice for playing this “green Ponder” isn’t even a big one, since the two-drops that Abzan normally plays aren’t even that great to begin with. This inclusion of fixing and lack of more early game does make this deck slightly slower than before, but that’s where Reflector Mage comes in.

Oddly enough, Abzan is a perfect home for the newest “Man-O’-War.” Gideon, Ally of Zendikar loves coming down with little risk of dying, but that was often difficult to do in this format if an opponent had a creature on the board before Anafenza, the Foremost came down and abruptly died. Reflector Mage fixes all of that by bouncing whatever the freshest creature is on the opponent’s board and then tag-teaming with the Ally Token in defending the precious planeswalker.

On the play this combo becomes much more deadly since our opponent might not even have a castable creature on the next turn thanks to how removal-dense each deck has to be. I expect Reflector Mage and Gideon, Ally of Zendikar will become good new friends that most of us will become quite tired of over the coming months. Especially if their working relationship involves Siege Rhino and company…

Outside of Abzan Company, this version of Abzan Blue was one of the only new and unique strategies in the event. Willy Porges was onto something with his take on the deck and I expect a high number of Abzan decks moving forward to be adopting this sort of strategy. I predict this deck to be a dominating force at #SCGCOL this weekend and might have played it myself if I were going. Who knows, this deck looks so sweet that you might end up seeing me at this event even with the Pro Tour coming up in such a short amount of time.

Moving past the newest incarnation of Abzan, we find ourselves examining the champion’s deck from the event. Atarka Red has existed since the release of Atarka’s Command, so it’s no surprise that the deck was still decently positioned thanks to the power level of many of the deck’s cards. What I didn’t expect was that the deck would completely abandon Temur Battle Rage, since the “combo kill” this deck can produce is one of the scarier things for decks like Abzan and Four-Color Rally.

Reckless Bushwhacker is the first card from Oath of the Gatewatch to find itself with a title, but I expect more to come. The card looked very good when combined with many of the deck’s other aggressive elements and would cause huge amounts of damage when combined with Hordeling Outburst.

What sets Korey’s list apart, outside of the lack of Temur Battle Rage, is his crazy transformational sideboard. This makes a ton of sense when you think about it, but I question if this is the correct combination of spells he could be playing. I can totally get behind the splash of black for Self-Inflicting Wound, since it helps clear the path while also dealing with pesky creatures in the way, but I’m not sold on the card advantage. I would rather see cards like Kolaghan’s Command to bring back Abbot of Keral Keep while dealing with Soulfire Grand Master or Jace, Vryn’s Prodigy, rather than just palming three random cards. That’s if Korey is not bringing in those cards against Abzan, which I would assume he wouldn’t.

The one #SCGATL deck that blew me away was Marcel Strautz’s R/B Dragons deck.

Now this isn’t the first time we have seen R/B Dragons in Standard, and in fact the deck has been around ever since Dragons of Tarkir. What surprised me about this finish was how well-positioned the deck looks right now, yet only one copy of the deck reached the second day of #SCGATL.

Don’t believe that R/B Dragons is well-positioned? Well let’s break this down. Flying stock is at an all-time high right now with Four-Color Rally, Eldrazi Ramp, and Abzan being played in high numbers. Kolaghan, the Storm’s Fury is especially strong right now against all of these decks and probably the main reason for Marcel’s success over the weekend. I was a skeptic at first that the deck wanted all four copies of this legendary Dragon, but after recording a Versus Video with the deck I am now confident in this decision. The card is just too powerful currently and the reason to play this deck. Goblin Dark-Dwellers is also a powerful card, but one that I would play in the sideboard against decks like Dark Jeskai and Mardu Green.

So why isn’t this deck being played more? It consistently makes the Top 8 of events even though it is one of the least popular strategies. Take #SCGATL for example. Four-Color Rally had 23 pilots on Sunday, yet not a single one of them made it to the single-elimination rounds. One guy played R/B Dragons and found himself higher than everyone else playing “the best deck in the field”. R/B Dragons is also the deck that I and all of my friends always lose to. Gerry has even dubbed the deck “The Pro Player Slayer” from time to time. It just wins!

My best guess into why it isn’t more heavily played is obviously a projection of my own thoughts. Personally I don’t want to play this deck because it’s not mentally rewarding to win with. It doesn’t take much finesse to execute highly powerful spells consecutively until an opponent is dead.

The reverse is true and many of the games the deck loses are lost by miles as opposed to the usual inches. I want to play Magic where I feel like my decisions are controlling more of my fate, yet that isn’t even always true. Every deck is capable of winning or losing without many relevant decisions being made, yet for some reason, dashing Kolaghan, the Storm’s Fury is at the bottom of the list of difficult-to-play cards.

I think we are just biased against R/B Dragons and haven’t given it a true shot at being a popular deck. I could easily be wrong, since I haven’t every considered it a good enough deck for me, but I think that had more to do with my elitist attitude against it and less to do with if it’s a good deck or not. Well, that’s not my default mode on this deck any longer. I think R/B Dragons is a great deck to play right now, mostly because of how little it has seen play over the past few months. The format isn’t afraid of Thunderbreak Regent, which makes it a perfect time to play the card.

It’s difficult to say whether or not the deck is worth worrying about this weekend at #SCGCOL or making it a called-shot as the “deck of the week,” since it’s never been played in high enough numbers, but I would highly suggest testing some with it. Who knows, you might actually like it and decide to play it yourself. I’m guessing you won’t be disappointed with your findings.

If my predictions are correct and R/B Dragons starts getting more play, we will see this deck knocking Eldrazi Ramp and Four-Color Rally out of favor and we will see this format evolve a little bit more than we saw this past weekend at #SCGATL. I also predict Abzan decks to start playing the third color more and we will see Reflector Mage taking up way more slots in the Top 8 of #SCGCOL than it did at #SCGATL. Atarka Red will be more popular this weekend than last, but have worse results (not win the event). Last, Four-Color Rally will again be played in high numbers and again have worse finishes than it should. The deck is great, but it has a target on its head right now and is a strategy that can be beat if cared about.

That’s all I have for this week. I’ll be taking the next couple weeks off of Standard to focus more on #PTOGW’s formats, but I will be back after the Pro Tour to catch back up on what’s been happening in Standard. I can’t wait to see what you all have done to my favorite format while I am away!