Second Verse, Same As The First

If you’re looking for a Standard deck to be successful with at SCG Open Series: Milwaukee this weekend, SCG Invitational winner Brad Nelson has a few suggestions to share with you.

What should you play in Standard?

This is the question of the hour with Grand Prix Phoenix and the SCG Open Series in Milwaukee on the horizon. The last month showcased three Standard Grand Prix, a slew of Standard Opens, and the Season One Invitational in Charlotte. Throughout these four weeks, we saw Standard evolve quickly and constantly. Will Standard finally solidify or is it still correct to change it up? This week I will break down the decks you should be playing as well as those that should be left in the deck box.

"The doorstep to the temple of wisdom is a knowledge of our own ignorance." –Benjamin Franklin

Temples control Standard. I know this is a tough pill to swallow for those of you out there that considered these lands "rare Guildgates" when they were first spoiled, but the entire format now hinges on the number of Temples seeing play. These lands are actually incredibly powerful. Not only do they fix mana issues by producing two different colors, but they also help decks draw an appropriate number of lands by scrying away useless cards. The only downside is that they come into play tapped. By sacrificing early game tempo, decks that play Temples will theoretically have a much more impactful midgame that helps set up for any long games that occur.

This "downside" wasn’t really a downside at all given what the metagame looked like prior to splashing. The format was fairly solved with only a handful of decks doing well, but each one of them had an Achilles’ heel. Every deck in the format seemed to have a silver bullet for every given matchup, and many games came down to a "space race" to find those specific cards. Mono-Red Aggro couldn’t fight the tide, Mono-Black Devotion was forced to bow down to the Gods, Mono-Blue Devotion had no cure for the black plague, and G/R Monsters rarely fended off the demonic uprising.

Prior to Born of the Gods, the metagame hinged on the fact that Pack Rat was rather annoying to deal with. These multiplying vermin dictated the speed of the format and forced every deck to be as streamlined as possible. When Born of the Gods was released, the format gained Temple of Enlightenment. This land allowed for more decks to consistently cast Detention Sphere and along with Bile Blight forced Pack Rat’s status to change to a merely reasonable Magic card.

With Pack Rat being less of a threat and decks like Mono Blue Devotion accepting a splash, the format slowed down. Almost every deck followed suit with splashing since each and every deck now had answers to their once problematic permanents. This left a huge hole in the format that was exploited at Grand Prix Cincinnati. Since everyone was splashing, Esper Control had the opportunity to take advantage of the slow format by being the slowest of them all. Since there weren’t many hyperaggressive decks in the metagame, Esper was able to play the full twelve Temples and not be punished for it. This allowed the deck to always get to the midgame with exactly what it needed while never being under too much pressure.

With ebb comes flow, and last weekend we saw the most aggressive Standard metagame in some time. R/W Burn, W/B Humans, and Mono-Red Aggro ran rampant and caused quite the commotion. Esper Control fell of the radar with a very poor performance, and the more consistent versions of the tier 1 decks rose to the top.

What does this mean for this weekend? I’m under the impression that it is the perfect time to go back to being extremely streamlined and consistent. It’s time to ignore the splashes and return to the roots of the format, starting with Mono-Black Devotion.

Mono-Black Devotion is and has been the rock of the format. It has proven itself time and time again and will continue to be a very solid choice for any Standard tournament. Lately we have seen almost every player transition to Lifebane Zombie over Nightveil Specter, but I think that should change. There just isn’t enough removal in the format to stay away from the powerhouse flier. Last Breath is a thing of the past, and the two-mana removal spells of choice do not specifically target Nightveil Specter anymore. Bile Blight has become almost nonexistent, as the black targeted removal spell of the moment is Ultimate Price.

The biggest reason to move back to Nightveil Specter is the fact that the fear is real. We have seen almost every Mono-Black Devotion deck start to play Lifebane Zombie in the maindeck. This is a real concern to all of the players who want to play big scary cards like Polukranos, World Eater, Obzedat; Ghost Council; and Blood Baron of Vizkopa. These cards lose a ton of stock when the most popular deck in the metagame is running a playset of Lifebane Zombie in its maindeck.

This is a prime example of picking a level to be on. You either try to metagame for the expected evolution of the format or trust in consistency and assume the same number of players will continue to play these Lifebane Zombie targets. This exact situation is rather a free roll, however, since the card is simply good in the mirror. It also blocks many of the expected threats from those continuing to metagame against Esper Control and the rest of the slower decks in the format.

The next deck that you should be dusting the cobwebs off and sleeving up is U/W Control.

U/W Control fell out of favor once Esper Control began its dominance. Even though these decks look similar in strategy, the way they play out and the cards that are good against them are significantly different. Esper Control sacrifices tempo by playing more Temples, but in turn it has specific answers for the problematic permanents in the metagame. Doom Blade, Ultimate Price, Thoughtseize, and Dark Betrayal help Esper deal with all of the difficult creatures in the format but at a significant cost. The deck runs too many Temples to be able to stem the bleeding early enough against hyperaggressive decks. Since that’s where the metagame is at right now, it’s a great time to play U/W Control.

Many of the problematic creatures for U/W Control are falling by the wayside in favor of more tempo-based strategies. This is perfect for U/W since it plays more early ways to deal with creatures and has the mana base to support these plays. Being able to play untapped lands for the first four turns of the game can come in handy against the faster decks currently being played.

I also feel that Last Breath is going to be a great card this weekend, and this decklist might be off by not playing the fourth. I understand that I said to play Nightveil Specter in Mono-Black Devotion because Last Breath isn’t seeing much play, but just because I say a card is good doesn’t mean people will play it.

I’m looking at you Trading Post!

Divination is also a much better card in a world filled with decks playing countless hand disruption spells. Esper Control has a tough time coming back from three or four of these spells, but U/W Control can come out with enough velocity to hit the late game by having the ability to tear through its deck during the early stages of a game.

I wouldn’t suggest this deck to anyone who hasn’t already played it. Elixir of Immortality based Sphinx’s Revelation decks can be tough to grind through a major event due to the time it can take to finish a game, but the only way the strategy works is if you lean extremely hard on Revelation to pull you so far ahead that it is impossible for the opponent to win. This means your entire deck has to be designed to get to that point in the game. That doesn’t mean you will be able to kill them in time before the match slip gets signed. Be careful and understand that you will have to make very quick plays from turn 1 until the end of the match. This deck rewards those who know how to play it, so if you need an excuse to take it to battle, you just got it!

If you need training wheels, I suggest playing Archangel of Thune in the sideboard.

Jund Monsters has proven itself to be a great deck in the metagame, but to continue my theory of wanting to be more streamlined, we have to go back to the original incarnation of the deck:

There was once a time in Standard when people respected Flesh // Blood. It took me absolutely humiliating my opponents at Pro Tour Theros with this card to put it on the map, but sadly I humiliated myself by losing too many rounds in Limited to break into the Top 8.

This card is the epitome of "get them dead." It’s the perfect time to bring it back with so many tap lands in the metagame. Not only that but with the uptick in aggression, Scavenging Ooze finally has a reason to be a four-of once again.

The new inclusion to the deck is Rubblebelt Maaka. I never actually tested any numbers of this card in the deck prior to the Pro Tour due to Desecration Demon not being a real thing yet, but this card fits the bill perfectly. Not only does it give you more cards to help push through damage, but it also gets eaten by Scavenging Ooze, making combat more difficult and helping with the Flesh // Blood combo kills.

I understand that revealing the top card of your library and gaining card advantage is fun, but you know what I enjoy most about this game? Killing them. I like killing them dead. I like killing them so fast that I have enough time to grab a hot dog, eat it, and get hungry again before the next round. I don’t see any reason to durdle around with silly effects when there are hot dogs at the concession stand that I am not devouring.

This specific list’s sideboard might look a little outdated, but I assure you that these cards serve their purpose. For starters, Flames of the Firebrand still exists and has the ability to not only wreck any aggressive white strategy but also deal with early creatures out of Mono-Blue Devotion. The easiest way for Mono-Blue to take over a game is to get out of the gates quickly. The only way to make Mistcutter Hydra potent enough to win a game is to make sure they don’t do anything of value in the first couple of turns. That is why I want a decent amount of removal spells to be able to stifle any board progression they may be trying to create.

All right, Wasteland Viper might be one of my pet cards, but I really do love it in any deck with Polukranos, World Eater and Scavenging Ooze. This card serves many purposes against decks that can go under G/R Monsters. Not only does it block something early, allowing for a turn 4 4/4 Scavenging Ooze, but it also turns Flesh // Blood into Dreadbore. This is extremely potent against any deck that is trying to gain traction in the midgame. The icing on the cake is when you get to bloodrush onto a Polukranos, World Eater and deal deathtouch damage with its monstrosity ability.

The biggest reason to play this version over any other Monsters build is that this list punishes opponents for tapping out. The other versions of Monsters try to keep their planeswalkers alive to gain incremental advantage over the course of a game, whereas this deck uses them as decoys. Simply forcing the opponent’s hand by making them overextend to deal with a planeswalker often ends with them taking upward of sixteen damage in a single turn. It’s all about positioning, and I think this deck is perfectly capable of finding a home in the metagame once again.

I would be playing one of the above decks this weekend if my goal was to win an event. If my goal was to have fun, I would be playing this:

I’m not going to lie—this deck is extremely clunky. It often will have awkward draws and can leave you drawing to zero outs, but with inconsistency comes the potential for some of the most absurd games you have ever played. Don’t be fooled—Obzedat’s Aid is actually a Magic card, and if you end up testing this deck, you will realize that drawing it at any point is amazing. I’ve been playing this deck a ton on Magic Online to decent results, but most importantly I have been enjoying myself. There is just something about playing Elspeth, Sun’s Champion before turn 6 that gets my motor revving! This deck also punishes the tier 1 decks in the format by trying its hardest to resolve Blood Baron of Vizkopa.

The sideboard might seem a little out of place, but I assure you the numbers are perfect(ly acceptable). R/W Burn is a problematic matchup that is shored up by gaining life every single turn. These creatures also do double duty against other aggressive decks by going beatdown with Whip of Erebos or allowing you to survive long enough to start attacking with Blood Baron of Vizkopa.

I hope you guys have fun this weekend. I will be enjoying some much needed rest and relaxation since it will be my first weekend at home since the Prerelease. This is pretty funny since the next set’s spoilers are right around the corner. The Magic just never stops!