Sullivan Library – The Waning Days of Standard

Make plans to join us at SCG 5K Dallas!
Tuesday, August 11th – Standard has had a long time in the sun, but with a plethora of PTQs on the horizon, plus the StarCityGames.com $5000 Standard Open in Dallas, the metagame is still vibrant. Adrian Sullivan examines the Top 8 from a local PTQ, including a few decks that are somewhat off the radar.

Standard’s time in the spotlight is nearly done. We’ve been wallowing in this format for a very long time, now. May 2 until September 6… maybe it’s just me, but that strikes me as an incredibly long season.

The winner of that first qualifier piloted this:

After the printing of Alara Reborn, this deck would finally, in my opinion, take its place as the actual best deck in Standard. There would be many variants of it, to be fair. Almost two months later, Madison player John Stolzmann would win a PTQ (and Top 8 a $5k) with this build of the same archetype:

Since then, of course, M10 has kicked 10th Edition to the curb, and this once potent archetype became such a shadow of its former self that it is rare to see someone playing it at all, even if the room holds something like 150 to 200 players.

I walked into the PTQ in Madison this weekend with a particular set of expectations. I was pretty confident that I knew the metagame, and I was quite confident in the various decks I’d been working on. Ultimately, I was going to play the exact same deck as I’d played previously: Merfolk. A timely visit from one Patrick Chapin, and a playtesting session with him, I was more than comfortable with certain matchups that I had previously feared might be more about skill than archetype matchup. I was ready.

All throughout this, though, I was trying to put my pulse on the metagame, less for me, than for my friend Jimmie. Jimmie Linville is the kind of awesome person you want to see at a PTQ. He and his buddy Matt Holmen would show up to events with all the heart in the world. They were clearly the best of the crop of their small town in Wisconsin, and they were trying to make it in the larger tournament world. One of three groups to break Erayo during Two-Headed Constructed, they were also making music together, and Matt and Jimmie would often pass their ukulele to each other during Two-Headed Giant games, literally composing music during the PTQ.

Jimmie hadn’t played in a PTQ in a while — perhaps two or three years — but I’d seen him randomly stop by Netherworld Games and I knew he could get the bug again. I vowed to put him together a deck, and asked how he felt about Ball Lightning and Lightning Bolt. Jimmie was pretty pumped, and I gave him the following list:

He playtested it for a few days, and asked about the metagame. As near as I can remember, this is what I told him:

“The metagame is kind of crazy right now. Before U.S. Nationals, the most popular deck had only just above 15% of the metagame. After the first few archetypes, though, archetypes dropped to well below 10% of the metagame. So, the base we were working in held only a few real decks.

“But after U.S. Nationals, we had this explosion of decks with Reflecting Pool. If I were to take a guess, we’ll see an explosion of those archetypes, and maybe an increase in Red-based decks, trying to exploit that.

“So, now I’d expect maybe 25% Five-Color Control, maybe 20% various Bloodbraid Elf aggro decks (three, four, or maybe all five colors), maybe 15% Red-based decks running Figure of Destiny and Bolts, and the rest of the 40% being a mix of everything, and I mean everything.”

Jimmie was pretty pumped.

“Okay, this is great. I’m going to drive up to Minneapolis with my band to do a show, and then I’ll come back that night for the Madison PTQ in the morning. This is going to be awesome!”

That, ladies and gentleman, is someone who wants to play Magic. Jimmie and his band were going to drive four-plus hours the night before the PTQ, play a show, and drive four-plus hours back, in the middle of the night, so Jimmie could play in a PTQ. I was just waking up the morning of the tournament when I get a text from Jimmie, letting me know he isn’t at his apartment:

“Hey, Adrian — At the Palisades playtesting. If you want to pick me up here, that’d be better…”

I grinned as I was getting ready. There’s just something about this game that gets into your blood.

I thought about the metagame assessment that I’d given Jimmie. By the end of the day, I was sure it was pretty close. Throughout the PTQ, the decks I saw the most of were definitely Reflecting Pool decks, and Red decks. Unfortunately, I don’t have access to all of the lists this time around, so my evidence is only anecdotal, but it seems right.

The Top 8 broke down like this:

1 Red deck (similar to what I gave Jimmie, plus Blightning)
1 Kowal Zoo
1 Giantbaiting.dec
1 Kithkin
1 Naya-Jund Cascade
1 Five-Color Control
2 Five-Color Blood

I played the last round of the Swiss versus my friend Stephen Neal. He was a 90% chance at Top 8 if he won (holding an 5-1-1, at that point), and I was about a 20-30% (at the top 5-2, being paired up). The way that the standings broke down, if everyone acted in their own self-interest, and I won, I had a good enough chance of making it. I’ve won at least 3 PTQs as that long shot who came in 8th. I could tell some people were unhappy with my decision to play, but Stephen Neal seemed to understand, as did a few other people who got the math. As it happened, several people didn’t act in their own self-interest, and played when they should have drawn or drew when they should have played. Stephen Neal beat me, but ended up 9th. Alas.

Of all of the decks in the Top 8, there are two that deserve a special mention. The first is winner Matt Grandgeorge’s Naya-Jund Cascade.

In many ways, this was the perfect deck for this Top 8. It would have likely been in real trouble versus the more pure Five-Color Control, but it was well set to take out the primarily critter-based decks that otherwise populated the Top 8.

Essentially, this deck is an update to the most popular deck from Pro-Tour Hawaii. It runs a few cards that aren’t found in the Block:

2 Hallowed Burial

2 Baneslayer Angel

3 Primal Command

21 color-fixing land

For those of you who haven’t played this list, it is worth breaking it down by casting costs:


Maelstrom Pulse


Jund Charm

Kitchen Finks


Bloodbraid Elf

Ajani Vengeant


Hallowed Burial

Baneslayer Angel

Bituminous Blast

Primal Command


Enlisted Wurm

While some people have eschewed Enlisted Wurm in favor of Broodmate Dragon, one of the things that is very reasonable to remember with this deck is the way that it can just begin to cycle into cascade because of the Wurm. Cedric Phillips perhaps most publicly lambasted Hawaii’s format because of those games that would go from Enlisted Wurm into Blast into Elf into something relevant. Broodmate is certainly significant, but there are games that Wurm can steal out of nowhere. More than once I saw this deck turn a Wurm into a nearly clear board with Hallowed Burial or turn it into a +7 life and another Wurm.

This kind of power is why people often play this list. Access to 4 Great Sable Stag from the board is another. It’s very easy, against many people, to simply always be doing the same thing, even if you don’t start until turn 4 or so. Cascade shrinks the deck until you are simply a deck that is full of deeply antagonistic cards. After boarding, the deck can continue to be all the more antagonistic, as it needs to, versus any particular foe.

I actually quite like this deck, though I’d love to see something a bit more hateful to Five-Color Control in it.

The other deck that people were talking about has to be the deck piloted by all-around nice guy Bob Baker.

Readers with long memories might remember this deck as a footnote in my coverage of the Minnesota $5k, where it placed in the Top 64.

This list is, without a doubt, one of the more deeply exciting lists that I’ve seen in Standard for a long time. People have talked about how much they dislike Standard right now, but I have to say, I think it is totally fun.

The brain-child of Bob Baker and Seth Hellenbrand, this deck is ostensibly made to punish all of the people playing Vivid lands. According to Bob, here are some examples of how many of his opponent’s life totals read off on his scorepad:

“20, 14, 7, 1”

“18, 10, 0”

The way this deck can work is simply by being ridiculously aggressive. If you start your opener with a Nettle Sentinel, you’re already way ahead. But add on a Giantbaiting, and you’re potentially going to do a lot of damage. Take the following situation:

Turn 1: Nettle Sentinel

Opponent: Enters-the-Battlefield-tapped land

Turn 2: bash for 2 (18), Bramblewood Paragon

Opponent: Enters-the-Battlefield-tapped land

Turn 3: Conspire Giantbaiting (untapping Nettle), bash for 12 (6)

Even if your opponent drops a Kitchen Finks or Putrid Leech here, they are going to be in rough shape. Worse for an opponent, it can be very easy for their initial path of turns to take the wrong direction when they see a Nettle Sentinel, as they can mistakenly decide you are Combo-Elves.

I know Zac Hill has to be smiling at that. He’s long been a lover of Giantbaiting, and even thought about playing it at Pro Tour: Honolulu before settling into playing Faeries. Things did not, in the end, go Bob’s way: versus eventual champion Grandgeorge, Bob failed to realize he could kill his opponent, and ended up losing in three games where he should have swept his opponent under the rug.

Instead, though, we have the following final standings (our thanks to Lindsey Kary of www.legionevents.com for all of the Top 8 lists!):

Overall, it was a great weekend for Magic, even if I didn’t end up winning the whole thing. I know that I already have reports of at least one player, Iowa’s Scott Bielick, making Top 8 with Ivan Drago, and rumors of another. I know that Lissa, the deck’s originator, couldn’t be happier with that.

As for me, I’m trying to decide whether to go to GenCon or not. It’s a lot of money to make the last minute trip, and after some major summer car expenses, I’m not sure I can swing it. If I do, though, I’ll be hitting as many Magic events I can. Maybe I’ll see you there!

Adrian Sullivan