Starting New Standard Off Correctly

Andrew Jessup is one of the best early format players in all of Magic! So how can he get you ready to take on SCG Worcester Standard? Read on!

I hate introductions. They always come off as forced and awkward to me, but
not including one in my inaugural article for a site feels like it would be
weird. So, I’ll try to keep this as short as possible.

For those who aren’t familiar with me, I’ve been playing Magic, primarily
on the SCG Tour, for the last 5-6 years. During this time, I’ve won two
Opens, finished 2nd in four, and have some number of other Top 8s (I’m not
positive on the exact number. I could easily look this up, but not knowing
how many I have makes me sound cooler). My results on the SCG Tour are
certainly the highlights of my Magic accomplishments, but a lesser known
fact about me is that I’ve had a decent amount of success in Magic Online
events over the past year or two as well. I’ve done well in a number of
MOCS events, PTQs, and as you may have seen on Twitter, I
frequently win many matches in a row.

The reason I feel compelled to mention my online results at all is because
it’s something many of you might not actually know about me, and knowing
that will give you a pretty good idea of where I’m coming from in this
article and any potential articles in the future. The sheer number of hours
I put into Magic Online has been instrumental in my success as a player,
and it’s the reason why I feel qualified to write at all. I put a lot of
time and effort into staying on top of all things Constructed Magic, and I
feel I have a lot to offer on the subject.

Coincidentally, right now happens to be the period in which I play the most
and have the most to offer regarding any one format. I don’t enjoy anything
more in Magic than playing Standard the first week of a new format. Piecing
together how all the new cards fit into the format and then determining how
all of that affects the format is incredibly appealing to me. And aside
from the process being enjoyable, my results would indicate that I’m quite
good at it.

I’ve played in four Opens since the Magic Online set release was moved to
one week prior to the paper release, and my results in those four Opens

  • 1st
  • 1st
  • 3rd
  • 4th

Besides being a reasonable player and getting lucky, I think the reason
that I’m able to consistently do well in these events is that I’m good at
identifying what actually matters the first week of a format. Whenever a
new set is released, there’s a lot of information being thrown at you, but
only a very small amount of it is relevant. Identifying the small subset of
cards that will actually have an immediate impact on the format allows you
to focus your testing on those, and it expedites what would be an otherwise
arduous process. This is the same approach I’ve been taking in my initial
testing with Core Set 2019, and I feel like I already have a
pretty strong grasp on the format.

Nicol Bolas, the Ravager was the first card that I wanted to work with out
of Core Set 2019. To me, it seemed like it was by far the most
overtly powerful card in the set. Nicol Bolas has pretty much everything
you want out of a threat. It’s a great body at a good rate, it generates
immediate value, and it threatens to win the game by itself if it goes
unchecked. The only real downside of the card is its restrictive mana cost,
but that isn’t much of a problem. The most obvious shell to put Nicol Bolas
in is Grixis Energy, but I’m significantly lower on the archetype than
other people seem to be.

Trying to curve Magma Spray, into Glint-Sleeve Siphoner, into Whirler
Virtuosos, into Vraska’s Contempt, into Torrential Gearhulk, seems like an
absolute nightmare.

The mana in Standard is certainly reasonable, but it
has its limits. In addition to the manabase being a liability, I have
absolutely no desire to put a Whirler Virtuoso in my deck right now. The
days where you could drop a Whirler Virtuoso with an abundance of energy
and have it take over the game by itself are long gone. Grixis Energy isn’t
actually that great at producing energy, so Whirler Virtuoso is almost
either just a 2/3 that comes along with an additional 1/1 or just a 2/3
that powers up your cards that are actually good. While it’s not horrendous
in either situation, it’s not exactly impressive.

After determining that I didn’t want to play Whirler Virtuoso and that
trying to cast red removal spells early in the game put an unnecessary
strain on the manabase, I decided to just splash for Nicol Bolas in the
pre-existing B/U Midrange shell.

I expected Nicol Bolas to just be an additional powerful threat, but I was
pleasantly surprised at the extra dimension it seemingly added to the deck.
I severely underestimated how large of an impact Nicol Bolas would have on
this deck’s ability to grind people out. I won several games against B/U
mirrors and control decks where I was comically far behind at points. It
just never seemed to matter because I always had inevitability. I simply
had more game-winning threats than these decks could answer. The deck is a
bit weaker against aggressive decks than straight B/U and Grixis Energy,
but you still have a lot of game there in addition to being a sizable
favorite in any sort of mirror. The list still needs a bit of work, but
it’s currently one of my front-runners for SCG Worcester this weekend.

I had incredibly high expectations for Nicol Bolas and it has mostly lived
up to those expectations, so it may be surprising to hear me say that I’m
not even sure if it’s the best four-drop from Core Set 2019 to be
playing this weekend.

Vine Mare seems to have flown completely under the radar up until this
point, and I have absolutely no idea why. It’s possible that people are
just lumping it in with the rest of its mediocre cycle counterparts, but I
can promise you that this card is real. Black midrange decks makeup a
pretty large percentage of the format at the moment, and the current
configurations of these decks tend to just be completely soft to a Vine
Mare. I’ve been beating people senseless with Vine Mare all week, and I
can’t remember the last time I got so many free wins out of a single card
in Standard.

Despite never having a big breakout event in paper, Mono-Green Aggro was
quietly one of the more successful decks online throughout all of Dominaria Standard. The deck is inherently favored against red
decks because the creatures out of the green deck line up well against most
of the removal spells out of the red decks. If R/B Midrange makes enough
deckbuilding concessions to Mono-Green Aggro, they can swing the matchup in
their favor, but the deck doesn’t exactly have a target on its head at the
moment. The weaknesses of this deck were always how poorly it fared against
a pile of removal spells and an inability to beat something like The Scarab
God when backed up by removal.

In my experience, Vine Mare is enough to singlehandedly swing these
matchups in favor of Mono-Green Aggro. Vine Mare isn’t even the only
upgrade Core Set 2019 offers Mono-Green. Thorn Lieutenant rounds
out the two-drop slot that was in desperate need of an upgrade. Merfolk
Branchwalker is completely unplayable in the deck, and Resilient Khenra was
far from exciting. Thorn Lieutenant does a great job at keeping cheap
creatures at bay against any deck trying to get under you, and it’s both a
resilient creature and lategame threat against any deck aiming to pick off
your threats. It’s not a powerhouse, but I’ve been happy with how the card
has performed for me up until this point.

Vivien Reid is the final new addition to the deck and it’s another card
that hasn’t disappointed me yet. It sort of just does everything you want
out of a sideboard card in this deck, and it’s entirely possible there
should be more of them in my sideboard. The only real problem I’ve run into
with this deck is a poor matchup against Zombies. I’ve made a lot of
changes to my list to keep the matchup competitive, but it still doesn’t
feel particularly great. You don’t really interact with each other at all
and what they’re doing is more powerful when left unchecked. A single Death
Baron is also basically unbeatable, and that makes it another deck that’s
on a short list of things I’m considering playing at SCG Worcester. If I
figure out how to beat Zombies or if I decide I don’t care about being able
to beat it, I can’t think of a reason to not play this deck.

The last card that I’ve been spending a lot of time working with is
Sarkhan, Fireblood. Sarkhan is a lot more difficult to evaluate than most
planeswalkers because its second ability is so unique. Finding the right
balance between being able to capitalize off the tempo advantage it
provides by ramping out Dragons and wanting to play a long enough game to
get value of repetitive rummaging has been challenging. The most promising
list I’ve played is basically just a Goblin Chainwhirler deck splashing for
Nicol Bolas, the Ravager.

I don’t want to talk about this deck too much because Gerry Thompson wrote
an excellent article on the same deck
. So instead of just reiterating a bunch of things he already explained,
I’ll just talk about some of the differences between our lists. The only
notable distinction is that I have a few cheaper creatures over a couple
copies of Chandra, Torch of Defiance in the maindeck.

The list I started with was a bit more top-heavy, but I found that I was
having trouble deploying my expensive spells in a timely manner whenever I
didn’t draw or stick a Sarkhan. I also wanted to limit the amount of
situations in which you’re forced to play a Sarkhan when behind, and the
cost seemed low enough since you can just pitch a Soul-Scar Mage to a
Sarkhan in the lategame. Realistically though, the lists are functionally
similar, and there’s a good chance his list is a better starting point. I
just wanted to include everything I’ve been working and note that the deck
has my endorsement just in case that means anything to anyone.

There’s still a lot more I need to get to before settling on a deck for the
weekend, but I wouldn’t be upset if I just end up registering any one of
these lists. I’ve put a lot of work into all of them, and I feel strongly
that they would all be solid choices.