Staying The Course: Standard After Chicago

Late Sunday night I cruised on over to the Sideboard to see how Chicago shook out, and saw that the evil * crushed the dreams of PT Rookies this year; Kai isn’t exactly an unknown player using Chicago to launch himself into the spotlight, like Bob Maher and in past years. So much for that…

Late Sunday night I cruised on over to the Sideboard to see how Chicago shook out, and saw that the evil Kai Budde* crushed the dreams of PT Rookies this year; Kai isn’t exactly an unknown player using Chicago to launch himself into the spotlight, like Bob Maher and Randy Buehler in past years. So much for that short-lived tradition.

It didn’t look like the pros came up with too much that was new and exciting, which makes me wonder about the deafening silence from the writers among them leading up to the weekend. Where’s that top-secret tech they were so tight-lipped about?

One thing that absolutely blew me away was the fact that the Sideboard had ALL 96 DECKS FROM DAY 2 LISTED!! Holy data mining, Batman!

I love data. Mmmmm, crunchy data.

Anyway, I copied the page, stripped out the huge spaces, inserted commas after the numbers, imported into Excel, cleaned it up a bit and then imported it into Access for some data crunching. I’m sure the programmers out there are probably cringing at my roundabout way of doing this, but the important thing is that it works.

So, without further ado, I present you with…

Bennie’s Observations from Chicago
(Quick disclaimer – yeah, yeah, some are going to be obvious, but they’re worth talking about)

#1 Plains Are Broken, Islands are badly bent.
Boy, did the pros love plains and islands. About 40% of all basic lands played were plains, and 37% were islands. Think about that for a second. And for Ferrett’s sanity, I won’t use a whole bunch of white space to indicate that your eyes should drift off into space while you ponder those statistics. (Oh, thank you, THANK YOU! – The Ferrett) You know what disturbed the fluff between my ears at that thought? Man, Marauding Knight would have been an absolute BEATING! If any black decks that can handle Rebels can rise up as a strong metagame deck, then the new knights will probably take up three or four sideboard slots. Speaking of which…

#2 Rebels are The Deck To Beat
Not to belabor this point, since it won Chicago, but it really needs to be highlighted: More decks with Rebels carried their players to Day 2 than the next two deck types (Fires and UW Control) combined. The deck is consistent, flexible, and can obviously handle the premier deck to emerge from States, Fires of Yavimaya. This should be the first playtest deck you build for your gauntlet to test any new deck technology. Ramosian Sargent was the most played creature in the top 96 decks, not including Chimeric Idol (which can be – and was – thrown into just about any deck). Lin Sivvi was next on the list, and Defiant Falcon behind that. Only then do we get to a non-Rebel critter, with Blastoderm.

#3 Where WERE The Black Metagame Decks?
If Rebels were so obviously good, as well as green-based decks, where the heck were the black metagame decks? You would think that black would be an effective nemesis color, able to throw out all sorts of answers. Well, on the Rebel side of things, I think this is a testament to the resiliency and power of the rebel search engine. Take Kai’s deck, for instance- it’s running fourteen searchers, a number that is much larger than the total number of removal spells in most decks. Suffer one of them to live, and it will multiply into an army, all for no additional card investment. While most folks can appreciate the power of Rebels in theory, you truly can’t understand how damn good it is until you square off against them or play them yourself. As far as black combating the green – some of black’s most potent spells (Vampiric Tutor, Thrashing Wumpus, Vendetta, Snuff Out, Plague Spitter) are quite painful; add to that the fact that there’s little efficient lifegain available, and that black often has to splash blue (using blue/black painlands) to handle non-critter permanents, and you end up dealing a lot of damage to yourself. Unfortunately for black, green beats are currently paired with red heat, which loves to see your life totals dwindle. I’ve been noodling around with a black-based metagame deck, and it is having major problems dealing with these issues.

#4 Rishadan Port is Still Really, Really Good
Despite the terrific hosers printed in Invasion, the amazing Rishadan Port is still showing up in the top decks en-masse. In fact, there were more Ports in the top 96 decks than Forests, and more Ports than Swamps and Mountains combined. So why aren’t people using the Port hosers? Honestly, I think it is this reason-the best way to handle a Port is to play Port yourself. The only decks that are going to even be tempted to run Tsabo’s Web or Teferi’s Response are those who need lots of colored mana and can’t really afford to run Ports.

#5 White Has All The Goods
Looking at the most played cards in a wide variety of categories, and white rules the day. Best critter? Ramosian Sargent. Best creature removal spell? Wrath of God. Best land removal spell? Armageddon. Best other removal spell? Disenchant. Best pain land? Adarkar Wastes. Blue cracks white’s near-monopoly at the top with the always-good utility card, Counterspell, and card drawing power from Fact or Fiction and Accumulated Knowledge. Other than the green monster Blastoderm, green’s representatives are limited to mana-accelerating Birds and Elves.

#6 There are Dragons in the Top 8!
When’s the last time you saw dragons in any top 8 decks? We saw a few in the efficient Lightning and Rathi Dragons, but other than that it’s been a while. When the environment has slowed enough to make the ultimate fantasy creature playable, I think that’s a sign of a good environment. Kibler had two copies of Rith, the Awakener, and the tale of that beast beating down with an Armadillo Cloak on is sure to become legend. Finkel, the Great One himself, also chose to run a Rith. Zvi threw in a few Two-Headed Dragons to dominate the skies in his Fires deck. This takes me back to the first time I saw a Shivan Dragon… and unfortunately, it was in play across the table from me, ready to breathe fire and destruction on my life total.

On review, it looks like the metagame as the pros define it has settled into a pretty static pattern, with a few basic archetypes at the top, but room for individualization in card selection. But keep in mind that the pros in general were not looking towards innovation when it came to decktypes; they were more interested in consistency and raw power. They want to wade through the huge masses of folks at the Tour and place in the money; that’s their primary concern. I think there’re still decks to be found, decks that have not yet been fully developed. Take a look at the deck types at the bottom of the statistical heap, the ones that are outside the metagame mold. What did they have that helped them break into Day 2? Brian Kibler played the only G/r/w Armageddon deck in the day 2 crowd and won third place with it. I was especially interested in this one, since I played something similar at States and battled to fourth place. The cutting edge is where you will find the undiscovered gems; go ahead and build your test gauntlet from these Tier 1 decks, but keep on trying out different cards and strategy. Type II is a great environment right now.

Bennie Smith

* – For those Kai fans out there, please note that I don’t think Kai is evil; I’m just trying to juice up the prose a little bit.**

** – It also gives me a reason to jump on the footnote bandwagon… really, really late.***

*** – Does anyone besides me find footnotes annoying? (That would be Anthony AlongiThe Ferrett)