The Decks To Beat And Play At #SCGATL

Pro Tour Hall of Famer Patrick Chapin is relishing this Standard season! We’ve seen a ton of viable decks, a great diversity in strategies, and if The Innovator is to be believed, there’s more to discover at #SCGATL!

If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it? Is it even clear if G/W Tokens isn’t broken?

You don’t always have to reinvent the wheel, and Alex Johnson’s build of G/W Tokens certainly doesn’t try anything ambitious. It’s basically just four copies of all the mandatory cards, with the two flex creature slots going to Lambholt Pacifist, the two removal slots going to Declaration in Stone, and the three wildcard slots being two Secure the Wastes and a Stasis Snare.

We’ve discussed G/W Tokens at length, including all of these choices. The main thing here is just that G/W Tokens has demonstrated great resiliency, even when the format has been long aware of it. People play a lot of sweepers, but they really need to play more (along with more removal spells that kill planeswalkers like Nissa and Gideon).

What, so everyone’s supposed to play sweepers in every single deck now? You do realize that tokens make up half of all strategies?

Err, yeah, that’s kind of what I’m saying. The format is sweet, the games are good, and there’s a lot you can do. I just hope people are able to make slightly more ambitious of moves than just tweaking the few flex slots in this deck.

For instance, Oscar Christensen finished third on the European side, just three spells off (plus the third Westvale Abbey instead of a basic land).

Oscar’s creature flex slots went to Den Protector, and instead of Stasis Snare, he played a maindeck Tragic Arrogance.

Maindeck Tragic Arrogance? That’s planning for failure. Even dumber than regular planning.

I dunno if I would say that. After all, most people aren’t going to be expecting it, and it is a high-impact card. That said, I typically like Tragic Arrogance more after sideboarding anyway. It’s awesome, getting to mostly sweep the battlefield and leave ourselves with a planeswalker (and two creatures after we activate our planeswalker).

I just don’t know how often we’re really going to get much better than a Planar Outburst anyway (and I’m not advocating Outburst). It is nice how it goes after Silkwraps and such, but when people Silkwrap our Hangarback Walker, it’s not like we’re even doing anything when we destroy Silkwrap anyway.

As for Tragic Arrogance’s ability to fight planeswalkers, I do appreciate that it can have some impact against the Gideon, Ally of Zendikar / Ob Nixilis Reignited / Sorin, Grim Nemesis W/B Planeswalker decks. However, it doesn’t do much against Chandra, Flamecaller, that’s for sure. Chandra hasn’t exactly taken a week off since she first burst on the scene, but I actually think this is going to be a particularly good weekend for her.

Chandra is another way to sweep the battlefield. She attacks planeswalkers hard. She is overloaded on raw power, so even if we face a more varied mixture of opponents, she can pick up the slack. A few weeks ago, we talked about a few Naya Tokens / Planeswalkers decks. I wonder if it might make sense to incorporate Chandra into the successful G/W Team Face to Face style of token decks?

I’m not looking for judgment, just a yes or no. Can you assimilate a Chandra?

Well, I know at least one man that can and did.

Raphael Levy, 29-time Grand Prix champion, uses his three flex slots on an Evolutionary Leap… and two copies of Chandra, Flamecaller!?

Good Magic technology comes from people who are relaxed.

You gotta be pretty relaxed to rock Chandra, Flamecaller without any lands that produce red mana! People talk about surprise twists that their opponent won’t see coming, but Raph means it. How is he pulling this off, though? He doesn’t have any red lands, right? None of his creatures produce red mana, right? He’s not even playing Prismatic Omen, right?

You ask a lotta questions. Not very charismatic of you.

It’s not exactly new technology, using Oath of Nissa to help cast your planeswalkers… but to rely entirely on Oath of Nissa as the only way to cast your Chandras? That is amazing, but I’m not sure I can co-sign it. With no real card draw, this list is just 60% to find an Oath of Nissa by turn 6 on the play.

Even if we imagine being okay with casting Chandra anytime in the first 12 turns of the game, we’re still only 77% to be able to. That means it’s a dead card for the entire game for somewhere around a quarter of the games you play. What kind of a psycho does that? Besides, as good as Chandra is against the white decks, what if you face a non-white deck?

There are no non-white decks! In your face! White decks, no other colors!

Oh, really? Y’all forget about Saito? He’s literally in first place for the GP slot for Worlds, despite the fact that he’s been running decks like this:

Sometimes deckbuilding is a lot more art than science. A lot of people don’t get that.

Saito’s deck is… exotic, to say the least. I mean, this is just some alternate reality stuff right here. To start with, what’s up with twelve 2/1 fliers for two?

Can you imagine the internal monologue that leads to this many 2/1 fliers for two? “I’m gonna need a lot of 2/1 fliers for two. More than four. No, more than that. Eight isn’t even enough for me. No need to trim on the third playset. Are we sure we can’t get more than a dozen?”

Fliers are pretty sweet right now, and Saito’s deck is great at putting pressure on planeswalkers while flying over tokens. Dimensional Infiltrator has chances at blinking (off the four Shivan Reef) but is mostly just a 2/1 flying, flash creature. Rattlechains has backdoor chances at saving another Rattlechains (since it’s the only Spirit in Saito’s deck). Stratus Dancer can be played as a very obvious megamorph in order to buy some countermagic and a +1/+1 counter. For the most part, though, this deck is all about surprise flying damage.

Continuing his theme of targeting G/W Tokens, Saito uses a playset of Exquisite Firecraft and a playset of Goldnight Castigator, really focusing on dealing the exact right amount of damage for killing Nissa, Voice of Zendikar or Gideon, Ally of Zendikar.

Burn to the face and flying plus haste both contribute to the aggro aspect of Saito’s deck, but at its heart, this is really an aggro-control deck.

Eight counterspells, all of which can be played off a single blue source, surely caught more than a few people off-guard. Additionally, the eight flash creatures play well with the permission, letting you hold up a counterspell while still advancing the battlefield when you don’t have to use it. After sideboarding, Saito even has an extra four Negates to add to the mix.

Saito is one of the best deckbuilders of all time, and he certainly did not disappoint this week. If he can Top 32 with a brew like that, anything is possible!

That said, I kind of just feel like some kind of a W/B deck like Owen Turtenwald’s is the way to go, at least for me. Do we really need to get so fancy?

Oh, I’m sorry, are you the deckbuilder or are you the kid who wanted to netdeck?

Fine, let’s make a brew. What about a Vampire skies deck inspired by Saito’s list?

You want to build Vampires? Are you really a deckbuilder?

Yeah, who isn’t?


Not with that attitude!

Look, I’m just saying, I appreciate what you’re trying to do here, but that’s a whole lot more three-drops than Saito played. This deck isn’t going to play out the same at all. That’s also a whole lot more three-ofs. Saito’s deck is as pure as they come. You’re also trying to make up for his permission with more removal. What if you face a control deck, or a ramp deck? And this isn’t even touching on your convenient addition of three extra tapped lands, despite having no creature-lands.

This deck looks awful.

Yeah… If you spend all day shuffling words around, you can make anything sound bad…

Look, I’m just saying, why not stick to what you’re good at? If you were camped out in a house with people testing for a few weeks, maybe you could pull off something this fancy, but under the circumstances, maybe you should just play some kind of a midrange or control deck with card draw, removal, and planeswalkers?

So, what are you, like the Devil?

Look, man! Not everything tempting is bad! Look at Owen’s list. You know he doesn’t play bad decks!

It’s like Esper and Mardu had a baby, and it was raised by all the bad decks people that played Abzan like.

Owen’s build of W/B doesn’t stray far from the beaten path, just two maindeck spells off of Seth Manfield’s GP New York(-ish) winning decklist. However, there was lots of little tuning that really made a difference.

To start with, I love Owen’s rebuild of the manabase. Owen replaced a Blighted Fen with more colored mana. He’s actually got three more sources of colored mana than Seth had.

The Battlefield Forges are clever, helping ensure that Owen can actually Gideon on time, while still having enough sources of colorless to Thought-Knot Seer, Eldrazi Displacer, and Bearer of Silence (actually going up on colorless sources, despite cutting the Blighted Fen).

One other maindeck tweak Owen made was shifting to three Ruinous Path and two Anguished Unmaking, instead of the other way around.

When you’re playing a playset of Read the Bones, not to mention Ob Nixilis Reignited and half a dozen lands that can hurt you, it pays to scrutinize your life loss cards and make sure they’re pulling their weight. This direction leaves Owen slightly more vulnerable to Ormendahl, Profane Prince, but that’s a price Owen was willing to pay. As it turned out, the number of people trimming Westvale Abbey even went up a little.

As for the sideboard, Owen’s only tweak was replacing the third Hallowed Moonlight with a second Thought-Knot Seer for an extra threat to help make up for the missing Ob Nixilis Reignited.

This deck looks awesome. In my heart of hearts, I’m pretty sure I’d play it if I were registering for an event today. That said, with a little time to test, I wouldn’t hate exploring a couple variants on this midrange style of deck.

We need Kalitas, Traitor of Ghet, and Goblin Dark-Dwellers… and I want the entire deck covered end-to-end with removal and Chandra, Flamecaller… and I want the deck rounded out with a planeswalker that resembles the Ob-Father… no, just go ahead and give me a copy of Ob Nixilis Reignited himself.

Maybe something like this?

Goblin Dark-Dwellers is great against other W/B Midrange decks, letting us recycle Read the Bones, Ruinous Path, or discard spells.

This isn’t anything new, but it is a gap in the metagame that has emerged since Grixis, Jund, and Mardu have fallen out of favor. Figuring out the best way to get Goblin Dark-Dwellers back into the format could be a major step forward. Yeah, yeah, yeah, I know, Saito had ’em in his sideboard. That’s just further evidence of how far ahead of the curve he is. What about Goblin Dark-Dwellers in a slightly more traditional strategy?

My biggest issue with B/R is how little mileage we are getting out of the manabase. This is a format with a lot of amazing lands. Why are we content to play a single Blighted Fen when we could play Owen’s deck and get four Shambling Vents and three Westvale Abbeys?

I’m gonna need you to take some creature-lands and shove ’em into your manabase. Put ’em way in there.

We’re starting to get somewhere, but the question still remains: Why do you need the third color? After all, what is red providing that we aren’t already getting from Orzhov? Goblin Dark-Dwellers has got to be the answer, but I’m just not sure it’s actually better than Gideon right now. This format has mana that is hard to maximize but offers a lot of power if you are willing to make trade-offs. Creature-lands, Westvale Abbey, Blighted lands, colorless lands that make more than one mana…

They’re inside the format, building a monument to compromise!

It’s normally right about this time that I want to go back to Esper, playing a deck like Owen’s but with Jace, Vryn’s Prodigy in it. The thing is, I don’t think Jace is actually at an all-time high or anything. Everyone plays many ways to kill him (largely because of how massively popular Humans and Collected Company decks are), and it’s not like we’re short on good card advantage options for slow decks.

If I had to put together an Esper deck, I might try something like:

At the end of the day, though, I am skeptical that we’re getting enough mileage out of the Jaces and permission to be worth just how much more tapped our lands are.

Sorry, playa. Sometimes you spend a day brewing, and you decide you want to play the sixth-place deck from the previous week. I think I’d actually play a fourth Ruinous Path as a sixth anti-planeswalker card, trimming an Ultimate Price, and that’s about it. That’s the price of just wanting to play the best deck you can. Sometimes it’s not a revolution. Sometimes it’s just a well-tuned list, well-selected for the weekend…

…which means I’m keeping an eye on Gerry Thompson this weekend.