Technology From Richmond

Brad Nelson had a blast commentating the Richmond Open last weekend and was pleasantly surprised by all the new innovation coming out from the players. He notes the best new tech here, so be sure to adapt for Boston.

Last weekend was StarCityGames.com Open: Richmond. I got the opportunity to do commentary with my great friend Jake Van Lunen and knew it was going to be a great weekend. Working with him was a fantastic experience, but the most memorable part was seeing how well people understand Standard and the amount of technology that was unearthed at this tournament. That is what I am here to talk about this week.

The first story from the weekend is the impressive version of Valakut with which Pat Cox took down the whole thing.

This list looks very different from most recent versions of Valakut. Pat Cox worked on this list with Ben Stark, and they came to some heavy conclusions about Valakut.

Overgrown Battlement is not good.

Most players, including me, thought that having 12 turn-two acceleration spells would be great when Rampant Growth came out. This would help the deck with consistency issues and allow for more turn-four Titans.

This is a pipe dream when you actually have to interact with your opponent.

Having Overgrown Battlement as your only turn-two acceleration spell can be devastating, especially as most decks are running Dismember, which is dead against every other card in Valakut besides Oracle of Mul Daya. Such dead walls will cause a good hand to turn clunky fast.

Spell Pierce was one of the only reasons that made turn-two Overgrown Battlements a better play than anything else on turn two, but only Caw-Blade is running them and few copies at that. So this isn’t a very big debate anymore. Removal is being played more often, and Spell Pierce less.

Khalni Heart Expedition is the only real replacement but does not seem that great at first glance. However, the truth is that it performs much better in games. Decks are not that fast right now because of how much of a setback Caw-Blade and their Timely Reinforcements can be. The fastest deck in the format is Splinter Twin, and that matchup is horrible regardless of what two-drop the deck plays.

Khalni Heart Expedition allows the deck to have some resiliency to hate when the opponent is not putting a clock on Valakut. Sometimes getting to six mana can be difficult, and a two-for-one ramp spell is needed. It also helps get you out of Mana Leak range.

Pat also put Summoning Trap back into the deck. This card has not seen much play in the last couple months but makes a ton of sense. Caw-Blade not only has very few counterspells, but UB Control is a real deck now. This means that Inquisition of Kozilek is back in the format, and Green Sun’s Zenith gets much weaker against this card. Having Summoning Trap in this matchup means that UB has even fewer cards to interact with you. They have to rely on countering a Titan to be enough to win the game and hope not to get Trapped.

The only thing I dislike in Pat’s version of Valakut is the Dismembers in the sideboard. I think that the Splinter Twin matchup is so bad that this card is just not needed. I don’t want to sacrifice sideboard slots to a matchup that I feel can never be won. Nature’s Claim is fine because it is good in other matchups, but it is not really there for Splinter Twin. It is almost impossible to Nature’s Claim a Splinter Twin, since you will need two Forests untapped to beat the combo anyway.

The next deck to talk about is Ali Aintrazi updated list of UB Control. He just won Nationals two weeks ago and continues to evolve the deck for the mirror match. Shaheen Soorani took this new tech, made a few changes, and piloted UB to a top 4 finish.

Most of the cards in this deck make sense and are familiar. Bloodghast out of the sideboard is not one of these. This is a very interesting and impressive find that dispatched many opponents over the weekend who were not prepared to face it.

What this card does is gives the UB player an edge in board presence against other UB decks and the Caw-Blade matchup. Dropping this guy on turn two will give the UB player a clock and some pressure it normally doesn’t have. Jace Beleren becomes a very weak draw for the opponent because the Bloodghast will force the Jace Beleren to be either a Howling Mine or a cantrip. With Jace reduced as such in the control mirror, he will soon not be worth casting.

Bloodghast also makes a random Creeping Tar Pit hit worthwhile. UB’s manlands cannot do the job on their own most of time, but getting a six-drop into play can be tough sometimes. The pressure that Bloodghast, Solemn Simulacrum, and Creeping Tar Pit put on an opponent will make them react differently to the UB deck and cause them to make plays that allow UB players to land Grave Titan or Sphinx, thus putting the game out of reach.

This is a very great piece of tech that will be around for a while and give UB even more edge in the Caw-Blade matchup. UB is not a one-hit wonder and will be a real deck in future Standard tournaments.

The next deck to talk about is actually really sweet. I don’t know if it will be a good deck in the future, but I know I will spend some time to see. This deck is unreal!

Thomas Carter finished 9th place on breakers. This was very disappointing for me since I really wanted to see him battle in the Top 8 with this deck.

Illusions can do some serious damage while disrupting opponents. I think this is something most aggressive decks in Standard are lacking these days and why most have failed to put up results.

The other thing this deck has that other beatdown strategies must go without is Preordain. This card allows decks to have consistency and find what they need. Aggressive decks need more consistency to be good in Standard so they don’t just draw the wrong cards, which is what most do.

This deck reminds me a lot of Merfolk when it was in Standard. Both decks have the same number of creatures that give power and toughness bonuses. There is just one big difference between the decks. Merfolk had more abilities attached to the creatures, but Illusion creatures have much more synergy.

Grand Architect and Lord of the Unreal are the only anthem effects in the deck. Phantasmal Image and Phyrexian Metamorph are secondary boost effects when one of the anthem creatures is in play and are what make this deck work. Grand Architect also makes casting Phyrexian Metamorph much easier. This allows for very explosive starts and even the ability to play multiple creatures in an early turn while holding up Mana Leak or Spell Pierce.

The most interesting interaction in this deck is between Lord of the Unreal and Phantasmal Image. When Phantasmal Image copies Lord of the Unreal, it boosts itself because it remains an Illusion. This means that even if Lord of the Unreal leaves the table, the Phantasmal Image copying Lord of the Unreal still boosts itself and gives everything hexproof.

This deck seems very weak against Mono Red, but that deck is losing ground to UB Control and Caw-Blade, which makes this an interesting choice. UB might be a rough matchup, but this deck has a decent shot at beating Caw-Blade. An aggressive curve means that it will beat most of Caw-Blade’s creatures in battle. The countermagic helps the deck beat cards like Gideon Jura and Day of Judgment.

I will be testing this deck this week and trying out the following ideas.

Molten-Tail Masticore

This card seems to fit this strategy very well. Not only does it have spells to protect it, but it has so many blue creatures that Grand Architect can activate it multiple times in a turn. This deck can deal a lot of very early damage, and having some reach could be very good.


I am very surprised this deck does not want this card. It is very strong and is in almost every nonblack deck. I feel that many games come down to an opponent needing a blocker to stick, and this card lets you alpha strike.

More Countermagic

Spell Pierce seems very good in this deck in the early turns. Protecting these creatures seems very important, and many removal spells are used during combat. Into the Roil is an important spell in Caw-Blade, and they will use it during combat to bounce anthems and kill off creatures. Countermagic should make combat more favorable for the Illusions deck.

Jace Beleren

U/B Control is a real deck right now, and they have multiple early spells to disrupt a deck like this. One Inquisition of Kozilek and a removal spell will leave this deck looking for pressure. Jace Beleren not only helps draw more action but kills theirs when they are trying to pull ahead on spells and all-important land drops for their finishers.

Unified Will

There are a ton of creatures in this deck to make this card real. I feel that Valakut is not always prepared to two-for-one this deck with Pyroclasm so this card will almost always be online. Flashfreeze is good against Mono Red, but there are better ways to fight that deck if it becomes popular.


This card seems to fit this strategy very well out of the board. Having more creatures, particularly one that can protect key spells, seems important. It also acts as Splinter Twin hate and is very good against Mono Red.

The last interesting thing that came out of Richmond was Phantasmal Image in Caw-Blade. Although players only played a copy or two, they seemed very good.

The coolest thing that the card can do is come into play on turn two on the draw and copy the opponent’s Squadron Hawk when you don’t have your own. After that, the sky is the limit.

Dying to any touch is a rough downside, but spending two mana to copy any creature is quite powerful. You can clone an opponent’s Solemn Simulacrum while still holding mana up. Need a Grave Titan? Take theirs!

It can also be used as a turn-three Rampant Growth if you have Inkmoth Nexus in play. Activate Inkmoth Nexus and copy it. Now your Image can’t die unless they find a way to target the land. The only card that targets it without killing it is Spreading Seas.

I think this card will be seeing much more play as we discover how powerful it is.

Standard looks very exciting these days, and I think we have only scratched the surface. Brian Kibler and Patrick Chapin both are doing their best to keep it fresh with two very good brews, and I sure hope to break it for you guys in the next couple weeks. I will see you guys next time when I talk about Modern and what you should be doing if you are going to test and play this format.

Brad Nelson