Standard Deviations

Get some different ideas for what to play at SCG Open Series: Charlotte featuring the Invitational this weekend as Sam discusses variations on Standard decks you’ve seen before.


Unfortunately for my mathematically minded readers, today will not be about statistics; rather, I’ll be discussing different takes on Standard decks you’ve seen before. The current metagame looks dangerously close to being solved, with Esper Control taking the top two slots at both Grand Prix Cincinnati and SCG Standard Open: Los Angeles. The known decks are losing to a tuned control deck, so I think the best way to try to break through is to think outside the box.

I personally played Mono-Blue Devotion at #GPCincy, which shouldn’t really come as a surprise, but with Esper Control at this much of a high point, I think I finally have to play a different deck. I don’t absolutely hate my Esper matchup, but it’s definitely not good for me since a lot can go wrong. One problem is that game 1 is terrible, and I wonder if that’s a problem I can fix. I’m playing three copies of Rapid Hybridization, a card that does almost nothing in the matchup, and if I could replace that with something good, maybe the balance would change.

One option I haven’t tried that might work is to simply replace Rapid Hybridization with Syncopate. I don’t like the thought of playing Dissolve in my maindeck because I have so many three-mana spells, but Syncopate could be just what I need—a flexible counterspell that lets me answer Elspeth, Sun’s Champion while being a reasonable spell to cast against aggressive decks in the first game.

Or I could go further.

You see, while I lost my feature match against Brad Nelson playing Esper, what actually eliminated me from the Grand Prix last weekend was Mistcutter Hydra and Skylasher, and Syncopate can’t help me there. This deck is from the "if you can’t beat them, join them" school of thought from the point of view of someone who is very devoted to Thassa, God of the Sea:

The idea here is to keep some of the core of Mono-Blue Devotion but reimagined as a control deck. Splashing white slows the deck down enough that I’m not sure it should try to play as the same deck, so this is my first take on how it might look if I don’t try to do that and instead build the deck to try to go slow from the beginning.

I love Divination. Thinking back, the control decks I’ve liked playing most were decks that used Divination when other control decks didn’t, and I think it’s very well positioned against Esper Control and Mono-Black Devotion, the two most successful decks last weekend. Also, if I’m playing a deck that trades one for one a lot, I’d definitely like more ways to get ahead. Control decks have grown accustomed to leaning on Sphinx’s Revelation, but in a format so full of discard and countermagic, that’s become an unreliable plan.

Another key realization that led to my love of Divination is that I don’t really care about anything a control deck does for less than six mana. Sometimes a turn 4 Jace, Architect of Thought can be annoying enough that I’ll want to counter it, but it’s not really game breaking when you have some creatures to pressure it and Detention Sphere if they go up. In the early game I can safely tap out for Divination (especially with Detention Sphere in my deck), and in the late game I can get ahead while still leaving mana up for a counterspell.

The problem with embracing the slower nature of U/W Devotion is that it leaves you a lot more vulnerable to Mistcutter Hydra, which becomes harder to race. As a result I decided to add a black splash as well so that I could actually interact with the Hydra.

The reason I want to be here rather than Esper Control is that I like to be able to play a proactive game before turn 6. I want to get my threats down before my opponent is really trying to do anything and then counter their trumps. I also don’t want to have to protect each of my threats the way that I do if I only have a few ways to win. I want to just put a creature into play and let it die if my opponent wants to kill it, knowing I’ll just find more later.

The key to playing this deck against control is patience. I’m never going to let a Supreme Verdict kill two of my creatures with this deck.

Another option if I know that I want to be able to kill Mistcutter Hydra in a blue devotion deck and want to slow down a little and play Divination is to just look at U/B without white. Maybe something like:

This deck is very serious about Divination. The plan is to use Divination and Read the Bones with Thoughtseize to win Thoughtseize wars. The blue creatures help protect planeswalkers, allowing you to not have to kill every small creature your opponent plays, and the planeswalkers are the primary plan to actually win games, although clearing their answers and playing Master of Waves is a reasonable backup plan.

Ratchet Bomb is a tool against aggro decks that also allows you to fight Detention Sphere and Underworld Connections. Pithing Needle is there primarily to deal with Monsters’ planeswalkers and with Underworld Connections. Domestication is for Mono-Blue and Mono-Black Devotion. Doom Blade can replace Thoughtseize or counterspells against aggressive decks. I’m not sure if this deck is inherently strong enough to deal with fringe decks, but I think its plan should be good against the most popular decks.

Changing gears, if my goal is to play early threats and protect them with counterspells, maybe playing Esper colors isn’t the best way to do it. I’ve been playing a little with RUG Monsters (but a very different take than Adrian Sullivan’s). I was interested in splashing blue in the G/R shell, but for me a big draw was Kiora’s Follower as an additional way to ramp to four as well as Cyclonic Rift as a breaker in the mirror. I played Kiora, the Crashing Wave to diversify my four-mana threats rather than as a primary focus. Unfortunately, with Kiora’s Follower I often found the deck to be a little mana heavy. Now what I’m wondering about is a Bant Flash deck:

One of this deck’s primary game plans is to Plasm Capture something and use the mana to fuel a giant Mistcutter Hydra. Advent of the Wurm gives you something to do when you don’t want to counter something, as does monstrosity.

Bident of Thassa is there to give you a plan against Mono-Black Devotion, which I suspect would be a pretty difficult matchup, and it’s also pretty good against Esper Control. Against creature decks you’re just trying to be bigger and faster.

Sylvan Primordial is a card that’s been gaining popularity lately. I haven’t played with it yet myself, but it does make some sense since it can kill a land with Underworld Connections or Chained to the Rocks, a planeswalker, or a weapon of the Gods. While it’s a lot of mana, games go long against Esper and Mono-Black, and answering Underworld Connections or Elspeth, Sun’s Champion is awesome. There’s an argument to be made that I’ve gone the wrong direction by cutting some of the mana acceleration to add threats and that what I should be doing is just ramping even bigger. Sylvan Primordial is particularly awesome with Plasm Capture since you can actually take advantage of the land it finds you if you play it with mana you only temporarily had access to.

The key component this is missing from RUG is the interaction between Domri Rade and Courser of Kruphix.

My take on RUG Monsters is currently:

Domri Rade pushes me away from wanting counterspells, so the focus to beat Esper Control is on planeswalkers and giant protection creatures. Kiora’s Follower is more difficult to cast than Sylvan Caryatid, but it can attack, which makes it much less of a liability against Supreme Verdict and also makes it pair well with Bident of Thassa. This upgrade is one of the primary advantages of RUG Monsters over other combinations, but it’s also nice to have access to a few counterspells and Cyclonic Rift.

This deck is also better at punishing people with the activated ability of Bident of Thassa since it can have so many large blockers in play. It’s possible that Bident of Thassa will overperform and I’ll want to have another one or two in the sideboard. I think it’s one of the best cards in the format against Mono-Black Devotion.

If I follow my own advice above about embracing Sylvan Primordial and play all the creatures to accelerate me, I could end up with something like this:

The creatures here accelerate me to four mana to play a planeswalker, but then the planeswalker—if it’s Xenagos, the Reveler; Kiora, the Crashing Wave; or Ral Zarek—can help ramp me even further. Domri Rade and Chandra, Pyromaster pair with Courser of Kruphix to help make sure I never miss a land drop and get as much value as possible out of the planeswalkers.

I’ve moved Mizzium Mortars to the sideboard for two reasons. First and most importantly, it’s bad against the best deck. Second, it’s the kind of card this deck doesn’t really want. It’s usually just a removal spell, which is likely to make me flood out. If I’m going to play as many mana sources as I am in this deck (36 not counting planeswalkers or Courser of Kruphix), I need my other spells to be capable of winning the game, and that just doesn’t describe Mizzium Mortars most of the time. Cyclonic Rift is debatable but is a little more versatile, and overloading it is pretty likely to win a lot of games on the spot.

I haven’t played enough with these decks to know if they’re serious options, but with the SCG Invitational in Charlotte coming up this weekend, I hope I can find something great. Esper Control is a very good deck, but I still don’t want to join them just yet.