“My new rule is no more brewing after the Pro Tour. If there was something better out there, it would have showed up.”
This quote is from a conversation Zan Syed and I had at dinner before a Grand Prix in Pittsburgh has been fresh in my mind this week following Mythic Championship Cleveland. Zan is one of the brightest deckbuilders and brewers I’ve ever worked with, and hearing him say that as we both turned over our stock lists for Rakdos Aggro that weekend has had a big impact on my deck selection ever since.
When he said that to me then, I took it as just another one of my friends saying the age-old “Just play the best deck,” but recently it has evolved for me. With this Mythic Championship and the Pro Tour before it, we have seen heavy representation of numerous expected Tier 1 decks alongside gems like Ben Weitz’s Big Red deck. To me, now, rather than saying to play the best deck, I take it as a challenge.
The challenge is that the best deck in Standard was at the Pro Tour/Mythic Championship and we need to find it. Sometimes, it’ll be as easy and cookie-cutter as picking up Caw-Blade. More often than not, though, it won’t be, and missing out on the sleepers hiding in the Swiss could mean missing what evolves into the perfect deck for the weekend.
Case in point, let’s talk about Raphael Levy’s Simic Merfolk deck he went 8-2 with over the weekend.
- 4 Silvergill Adept
- 4 Kumena's Speaker
- 4 Kumena, Tyrant of Orazca
- 4 Merfolk Mistbinder
- 4 Deeproot Elite
- 4 Jade Bearer
- 2 Merfolk Trickster
- 4 Benthic Biomancer
Had you asked me coming into the weekend what deck I would have played at the Mythic Championship, I would have said Mono-White Aggro. It has good matchups against the decks I expect to see succeed and has significant game against Sultai Midrange, which I expect to be popular.
Because you’re feeling a little nosey, you’d probably ask why I’d want to play Mono-White over Azorius when cards like Negate are so good. The answer would be the mana. It’s hard to reliably cast counterspells off a handful of blue sources, so I’d rather not take my chances.
This Merfolk deck changes all of that. You get to play something close to Mono-White in spirit without the sweat that your Negates are turned off by all the Plains in your deck. Not quite seeing it? Let’s take a closer look…
One-drops with two power.
A creature that taps five creatures and puts +1/+1 counters on all of them.
An enchantment that makes an endless stream of 1/1 tokens.
There are many more comparisons, I could draw but I’ll rest my case here. This Merfolk deck is doing a lot of things similarly to Mono-White with more consistent access to blue mana.
This is what I played at the PT and what made me go from Silver to Top 100 Mythic in less than two days.
Sideboard guide below. (Going into pt, slight things has changed since)https://t.co/Lb4BDgtOQS#2019MC1 #HareruyaPros pic.twitter.com/hGXpkzsONy
— Jason Chung (@Sqlut) February 25, 2019
Jason Chung posted a bit about his success with the deck on Arena on Twitter, and while Raphael Levy was the only one playing the deck to do well with it, it’s something I definitely want to keep my eye on and take for a spin myself in the coming weeks.
Merfolk wasn’t the only tribe that had been written off to impress over the weekend either. Falling one spot short of the Top 8 over the weekend, Joe Soh had an awesome innovative take on Orzhov Vampires from late in Dominaria Standard.
- 2 Mavren Fein, Dusk Apostle
- 4 Duskborne Skymarcher
- 4 Vicious Conquistador
- 4 Legion Lieutenant
- 4 Skymarcher Aspirant
- 4 Dusk Legion Zealot
- 4 Venerated Loxodon
- 4 Judith, the Scourge Diva
Previously, the Vampire decks relied on Radiant Destiny and a horde of tokens with vigilance and lifelink to eventually overwhelm the opponent. This strategy was mainly replaced by Selesnya Tokens for a number of reasons, primarily March of the Multitudes doing everything the Vampire deck aspired to do, but in just one card.
Joe Soh did something incredibly smart here, which was shift away from a deck winning through inevitability from tokens and instead focus on having the same kind of gameplan that Mono-White has. Joe has a whopping twelve one-drops to start his curve, and all of them are Vampires, making both Legion Lieutenant and Venerated Loxodon into amazing openings for the deck.
The real star of the show to me, however, is Judith, the Scourge Diva. The only red card in sight in this Mardu Vampires deck, Judith is possibly at the best I’ve ever seen her in this deck. She does everything you could ever ask for, no matter the kind of draw you’re on.
- Loads of one-drops starting to get outsized? Never met a Conquistador she didn’t like.
- Mavren Fein or Adanto, the First Fort leave you with a bunch of measly 1/1s? Let’s spice them up!
- Want to avoid over-committing? Let’s just punish their Kaya’s Wrath instead.
Plenty of decks built with Judith in mind don’t even get me as excited to cast Judith as this one does, and I expect this isn’t the last we see of Rakdos and the Vampires getting along.
While we’re on the subject of Judith, there was one more Judith deck that had a good showing over the weekend in the hands of Ryan Cubit that looked like this.
- 4 Adanto Vanguard
- 3 Tajic, Legion's Edge
- 4 Judith, the Scourge Diva
- 4 Gutterbones
- 4 Fireblade Artist
- 4 Hero of Precinct One
- 2 Priest of Forgotten Gods
- 4 Footlight Fiend
Ryan managed an 8-2 record in Cleveland with this more aggressive take on what started the format as the return of The Aristocrats. Certainly bigger on the curve than the Vampire deck, this deck reminds me of the Mardu deck that Gerry talked about in his article before SCG Dallas.
Ryan’s deck is much more focused on maximizing the power of Hero of Precinct One than Soh’s deck – which eschewed the effect for more tribal synergies. My opinion on the matter is that Judith doesn’t yet have what she needs to take over Standard, just like Vampires doesn’t. Perhaps, though, that void they both must fill makes it a perfect partnership! When I look at Ryan’s deck there’s only one card that really stands out to me and makes me think it’s the superior Judith deck.
Heroic Reinforcements has always been impressive to me in any deck with creatures that get outclassed. It might stretch the mana a bit, but I wonder if a deck like Soh’s could have slimmed down on Cast Down or Unbreakable Formation to fit a couple of these hard hitters. Curving into Heroic Reinforcements is still like curving into a Hazoret; it feels nigh-unbeatable, but maybe the threat of Spell Pierce is too much to sweat nowadays.
Speaking of cards from Pro Tour Guilds of Ravnica, let’s shift gears and take a look at Seth Manfield’s deck from this Mythic Championship. There’s a fun little Where’s Waldo game of “Find the Ravnica Allegiance Card” here too if you’re up to playing.
If you found the Cry of the Carnarium, congratulations! You won! Seth piloted this Dimir deck to a 7-3 finish in the Standard portion of the event, and I imagine it had a lot to do with Thief of Sanity.
It’s no secret that Thief of Sanity is one of the scariest cards in Standard right now. It singlehandedly put Esper Control at the forefront of the metagame, it’s started to show up in Sultai Midrange decks, and here it’s the backbone of the entire deck. Really, it’s not surprising to me that a handful of players showed up with this deck, as it has a bit of a history.
At Pro Tour Guilds of Ravnica, Mark Jacobson played something eerily similar to this Dimir deck on the premise that Hostage Taker and Thief of Sanity were the best cards in the format if they were properly protected. Following that Pro Tour, it turned out there were too many decks that weren’t Golgari to feed off with this exploitive strategy and ultimately it was shelved. While I was working with Ethan Gaieski for SCG Dallas a few weeks ago, we also stumbled upon the idea of playing this Thief-based strategy to exploit Sultai and Esper, but ultimately didn’t have the guts to lock it in.
Seeing how much of the Mythic Championship field was made of Esper Control, Sultai Midrange, and Mono-Blue Aggro, I fully anticipate this deck to have another day in the sun some time soon. There are plentiful options in Standard for fighting a narrow metagame, and the second I think everyone has caved to Ari Lax’s state of Sultai safety, I’ll be testing this deck out as a way to get ahead.
These are only a few of the decks that seem to be flying under the radar as we enter the back half of the Standard format. Decks like Temur Reclamation, Gruul Midrange, Rakdos Midrange, and others all showed up over the weekend.
While these decks sitting on the fringe of Standard with more exploration to do are exciting, I’m also excited to pore over the rest of the field in search of new ideas. Figuring out the meaning behind every sideboard card and one-of in a decklist can be extremely rewarding and our first Mythic Championship just dumped over 100 decks on our heads to sift through.
With Zan’s wisdom holding true, all the best decks in the format were there. Now it’s just on us to find them! Happy hunting!