Standard Alternatives

Four-time Grand Prix Top 8 competitor Michael Jacob goes over W/B Humans, Naya Monsters, and R/W Burn and whether he thinks they’re good choices for #GPCincy or #SCGLA.

Two premier Standard tournaments are happening this weekend in Los Angeles and Cincinnati. Standard only has a little over a month left before the next set is added, and by now the metagame has settled into five major archetypes:

  • Aggressive red decks
  • Sphinx’s Revelation control decks
  • Black-based devotion decks
  • Blue-based devotion decks
  • G/R/x midrange decks

Playing something new and unexpected gives a real edge in tournaments, so I’ll go over decks other than the big five and whether I think they’re good choices for this weekend.

W/B Humans

First up is a rather strange one to that made Top 4 of the SCG Standard Open in Seattle this past weekend.

This is a deck that hasn’t seen much success recently, so I played some games with it this week on my stream to see if it’s any good. The game plan seems to be cheap creatures and one-for-one removal spells to clear the way, with Xathrid Necromancer to help if the going gets tough.

Playtesting this deck was a disaster. Whether it was getting brick walled by Sylvan Caryatid and Courser of Kruphix, overpowered by Pack Rat and Blood Baron of Vizkopa, or wrecked by Supreme Verdict into Elspeth Sun’s Champion, the result was always the same.

I lost. A lot.

One game in particular was quite telling against a U/W Control player who only had to play two spells: a turn 4 Supreme Verdict and a turn 6 Elspeth, Sun’s Champion. My draw of ten spells (via Pain Seer) and four lands seemed like it should have been enough, but my cards were just stone blanks. It was then I discovered what the problem is.

The creatures in this deck have text boxes, but in the vast majority of cases they simply don’t matter. Every time I cast Thoughtseize or a removal spell, I wondered why I wasn’t just playing Pack Rat and Lifebane Zombie instead of Pain Seer and Xathrid Necromancer. The creatures in W/B Humans are so small that killing quickly is simply not an option, and none of them are hearty enough to carry you through resistance.

If you are dead set on playing a creature-based aggro deck and think G/R Monsters is not for you, Mono-Blue Devotion is a better alternative. It has powerful and forgiving cards in Thassa, God of the Sea and Master of Waves and creatures that can fly over the opposition in Cloudfin Raptor and Nightveil Specter so you don’t have to slog through every single card your opponent plays.

Naya Monsters

Courser of Kruphix is the best card in Born of the Gods. Its abilities far outshine those with a similar mana cost (Boon Satyr and Fanatic of Xenagos), and as a result it’s now nearly ubiquitous in G/R Monsters as a four-of. Courser also happens to be my favorite card in Standard, so I sincerely doubt any deck I personally play in a tournament will not feature the maximum amount. With this in mind, I formulated a plan to have the best Courser of Kruphix deck by taking G/R Monsters’ shell and adding white to get an advantage in the mirror match and deal with annoying pests Lifebane Zombie, Desecration Demon, and Master of Waves.

I’ll go over how each card performed in my weeks of testing and whether I believe this experiment is a failure or not.

The primary reason to splash white is this giant four-drop that can’t be Lifebane Zombied. Instant speed works great against Brimaz, King of Oreskos; Blood Baron of Vizkopa; and Pack Rat but pretty poorly against Elspeth, Sun’s Champion (chump with one token to survive at one loyalty, make three more, and then block the Wurm with all five), Master of Waves, and Desecration Demon. Not being a creature for Domri Rade to reveal is definitely bad for business, especially since Courser of Kruphix + Domri Rade is one of the best things this deck can be doing.

This is the other reason to splash white. While excellent at removing Desecration Demon; Polukranos, World Eater; Thassa, God of the Sea; and Master of Waves, it still has its downsides. Against a deck with Abrupt Decay or Detention Sphere, Chained to the Rocks represents an unacceptable liability. Ten Mountains to enchant is also a tad low even with Courser and Domri helping, and Sylvan Caryatid’s inability to help cast it meant it commonly rotted in my hand while I lost to the very cards I was trying to beat.

This card is incredibly awesome when taking out Desecration Demon; Polukranos, World Eater; or Thassa, God of the Sea but bad all other times. Playing this over Mizzium Mortars proved to be a huge problem with Stormbreath Dragon, as protection from white did not allow me to win a Dragon battle.

Pain from adding shock lands to the mana base is certainly softened by the life gain from Courser of Kruphix, but it’s not totally negated. As a result, the aggro match ups are significantly weakened, something that Unflinching Courage should help with. Reality ended up disagreeing, as Chained to the Rocks is a commonly splashed card in red decks, black has Doom Blade, blue has Tidebinder Mage, and white decks have Banisher Priest. Being white also made it unable to enchant Stormbreath Dragon, leaving the amount of viable targets rather small.

This is one of the most underplayed good cards in Standard. Voice of Resurgence clashed a bit with Advent of the Wurm, as casting the instant monster on the opponent’s turn gave them free rein to counter without repercussions and casting the Wurm on our own turn left us vulnerable to Supreme Verdict; Elspeth, Sun’s Champion; and Detention Sphere, the very cards we were trying to avoid. Control decks have also evolved to play multiple copies of Mutavault that happily trade, and Jace, Architect of Thought makes attacking for one seem rather paltry.

Boros Charm performed splendidly against control, with all three modes being used. It saved Domri Rade from Fated Retribution, dealt four damage to finish a tapped out control player before a massive Sphinx’s Revelation, and even threatened to one shot out of nowhere with Advent of the Wurm + Xenagos, God of Revels.

Individually, Chained to the Rocks and Advent of the Wurm were better than the cards they replaced, but that is only part of the picture. G/R Monsters’ core of Scavenging Ooze; Courser of Kruphix; Polukranos, World Eater; Stormbreath Dragon; and Domri Rade are how the deck wins games, not its removal spell and second-string four-drop. The dissonance created with having combat tricks revealed by Courser, noncreature spells exiling targets (Scavenging Ooze and Domri Rade), and ineffective sideboard options lead me to say that this brand of Monsters is not the way to go.

R/W Burn

Finally we come to a deck I actually liked this week, and that is the winning deck from Seattle this past weekend

Searing Blood is the only Born of the Gods addition to the maindeck, so this list can hardly be considered groundbreaking. What is new is what cards other archetypes have against the red mage and how these changes make Standard a much hotter place. Let’s begin by examining these decklists:

Nightveil Specter –> Lifebane Zombie

A 2/3 flier is quite the nightmare to overcome, as Magma Jet, Ash Zealot, Chandra’s Phoenix, and Searing Blood are each ineffective at getting through. Replacing it with Lifebane Zombie certainly helps the green matchup but turns fifteen bad cards in R/W into great ones, even freeing Chained to the Rocks to deal with the far more troublesome Desecration Demon.

Pharika’s Cure –> Bile Blight

Ten out of ten pyromasters agree that they would much rather a creature die than a creature die and their opponent gain two life.

Devour Flesh –> Ultimate Price

A self-targeted Devour Flesh eating Desecration Demon or Gray Merchant of Asphodel would spell doom for a red mage.

These changes may improve Mono-Black Devotion in some matchups, but they certainly make it much worse against Chandra’s Phoenix and friends. Mono-Black Devotion is not alone in its adaptations, as U/W Control is moving toward black for scry lands, Thoughtseize and Doom Blade instead of Last Breath and Azorius Charm. Mono-Blue Devotion gets slower and more painful when splashing white for Detention Sphere and Ephara, God of the Polis. Even G/R Monsters has changed to be worse against red, with most builds splashing an additional color. Losing four to six life a game from shock lands is almost two entire cards’ worth of damage for the red mage to take advantage of to finish the game before 5/5s are able to get enough attack phases to win.

This all leads me to believe that red will be out in full force this weekend. Maindecking Boros Reckoner also seems like an excellent idea, and one match I played even had a Blind Obedience come from left field for the mirror match. Neil Hartman’s sideboard is also well thought out, with clear ins and outs against the five big decks, including Spark Trooper, which is way better than I thought it would be against anyone trying to race you.

Was W/B Humans a fluke? Does G/R Monsters need a third color to be the best it can be? Will R/W Burn be the deck to beat this weekend? To those playing in events, may the Course be with you.