The Dragonmaster’s Lair – Kibler on States

Read Brian Kibler every week... at StarCityGames.com!
Friday, December 11th – With the States results rolling in, and the SCG 10K Open St. Louis mere hours away, Brian Kibler examines some of the more innovative decks to see success last weekend. UW Control, GW Beatdown, and Mono-White Enchantment Control could be the fringe deck that takes home the big prize… Oh, and there’s also a little Jund talk too!

This past weekend marked the State Championships, a time for gamers all across America to break out their Standard decks and do battle for pride and prizes. Tournaments across the country saw record numbers in attendance, which is a great sign for the health of the game in the face of complaints about the state of the Standard format.

Those complaints, of course, revolve around the dominance of Jund. Over a third of the players at the World Championships in Rome showed up with Bituminous Blast, Bloodbraid Elf, and friends, and that pattern seems to have continued into the State Championships. While we don’t have the same type of data available to tell us how many of each deck showed up at States, the Top 8 results from those State Championships that were available at the time of this writing lean similarly toward Jund, taking over one third of the playoff spots and over half of the titles.

There were, of course, representatives from the rest of the expected metagame, including Boros, Naya, Turbofog, Vampires, and more. But what I’d like to do this week is take a closer look at some of the more unusual decks that appeared at States, and see if any of these new breakout decks have what it takes to remain a contender in a sea of Savage Lands.

The first deck I want to take a look at is one that I heard rumblings about on Twitter the night before States. David Williams was looking for a deck to play in States, and StarCityGames.com own Evan Erwin replied that he had a sick brew for him. Curious what the fuss was about, I asked for a list and this U/W Control concoction turned up in my Facebook inbox shortly thereafter. The deck was reportedly designed by Shaheen Soorani, who used it to post a Top 8 finish at Virginia States himself, while Dave also piloted the deck to the Top 8 in Nevada.

On first glance I liked the look of this deck, as it appears to be a solid streamlined control deck that approaches the format in the right way. While so many other control decks try to branch off into three or four colors, this deck is able to play an extremely solid manabase and even gain value from its tapped lands — the lifegain of Sejiri Refuge and Kabira Crossroads is certainly not irrelevant. A counter suite of Flashfreeze and Essence Scatter can stop most of the significant threats in the format short of an opposing Elspeth, while Day of Judgment and Path to Exile can take care of what slips through the cracks. In general, I’m not a fan of Path in the format right now, especially in a control deck, but Knight of the White Orchid lets this deck benefit from the opponent putting an extra land into play, since it can accelerate out one of its board-dominating monsters like Baneslayer Angel or Sphinx of Jwar Isle.

While I like the maindeck, I’m not quite as sold on the sideboard. Wall of Reverence seems like a good call, and Celestial Purge is hard to argue with, but Cancel and Luminarch Ascension each seem pretty suspect. My guess is that Cancel is intended against other control decks, but I’m hard pressed to see justifying it over Negate. I suppose it allows you to sideboard out a significant amount of your creature removal against creature-light decks while still giving you answers to them, perhaps, but honestly I’m rather stumped. If Shaheen – or anyone who played the deck in States – can explain the rationale for Cancel in the board, I’m all ears.

All in all, I really like what’s going on here, and I think this deck has the potential to give players looking for a control deck a solid option in the current Standard format.

The next deck I want to look at is the one that actually took down the title in Virginia — this G/W Beatdown deck piloted by Chris Bourroughs. One of the things I find most interesting about this deck is just how similar it is to the G/W deck that I saw LSV and others testing nonstop against Jund during Grand Prix: Minneapolis, down to the Vines Of Vastwood to protect your fatties. My own testing showed me that the G/W deck was a bit slow to handle Boros, but Chris borrowed some tech from StarCityGames.com own Manuel Bucher, with Grizzled Leotau in the sideboard to shore up that matchup.

Chris’s deck seems quite clearly biased against Jund — he’s gone so far as to include the nigh-unkillable Thornling in his maindeck — though he does not include Great Sable Stag except as a two-of in the sideboard. This seems somewhat strange, especially given that he has three copies of Oran-rief that could potentially pump Stags up to the magical four toughness that gets them out of Lightning Bolt range. Instead, he has three copies of Qasali Pridemage in his deck, along with a pair of Dauntless Escorts. I can get behind the Pridemages if he expects Turbofog to be popular, but I’m not sure Great Sable Stags should sit on the bench for them in a sea of Jund.

One interesting thing to note about Chris’s deck is his sideboard. Not only does he have the Swiss-inspired Grizzled Leotau waiting for Boros, but he also has a whole additional color to bring in against Jund! You know a format is warped when the control players maindeck Flashfreeze and the aggro players sideboard an entire additional color to board it in. Between Misty Rainforest, Noble Hierarch, and Birds of Paradise, it’s actually not very difficult for Chris’s deck to get Blue mana, so Flashfreeze certainly seems like a reasonable sideboard card. I’m curious what particular cards he’s interested in countering, since he already has access to Celestial Purge in his colors and doesn’t have any in his sideboard. I can imagine Flashfreeze offers versatility in protecting his creatures from removal as well as countering opposing creatures (and Blightning!), which Celestial Purge cannot do. Evidently it worked for Chris, as he managed to take down the Virginia title.

While I’m not sure if the Flashfreezes are worth it, and I question the lack of Great Sable Stags, I do think this deck is going in the right direction by presenting so many high quality threats to overload Jund’s removal. Any of Knight of the Reliquary, Master of the Hunt, and Baneslayer Angel is capable of taking over a game very quickly, and if the deck has what it takes to beat the other decks in the field, it seems like as good a non-Jund choice as any.

Now, at first glance, it may not seem like this is a deck that I should be highlighting here. After all, StarCityGames.com has the deck name listed as Jund! But if you look closer, you’ll see that there’s a lot more going on here than in your typical Jund deck. In fact, this deck looks more similar to the Honolulu decks played by Conley Woods and Brad Nelson than anything else. I talked in my article last week about how Ancient Ziggurat allows Naya to best utilize Noble Hierarch. Dan here takes it one further, and uses the five-color land to fit Noble Hierarch into the Jund shell — along with Sedraxis Specter.

Sedraxis Specter is a card that has seen surprisingly little play during its time in Standard. As a three-power evasion creature for three mana, it’s already reasonably costed, and the classic Specter ability tacked on top of that gives it some serious punch — and it has Unearth on top of that! In a world of Blightnings, Sedraxis Specter lets you get even — discard your Specter and another card to Blightning, and then Unearth it on your next turn. When the dust clears, both of you will be down two cards and three life. But the Specter is even better if you can power it out quickly, something which Ancient Ziggurat and Noble Hierarch let you do, thanks to the upgraded elf producing Blue mana — along with powering out Bloodbraid Elf and letting your Putrid Leeches and Thrinaxes beat your opponents in a fight.

Perhaps the most interesting thing about Dan’s deck is his manabase. On top of the Ancient Ziggurats, which I have become a huge fan of lately, Dan uses some Pro Tour: Honolulu tech — Exotic Orchard. Jund is a deck with a notoriously unreliable manabase, and adding additional color pressures in Noble Hierarch and Sedraxis Specter can’t help. In a field full of opposing Savage Lands, though, Exotic Orchard is a great way to fix your mana while giving you an excellent chance of having an untapped Green mana source on turn 1 for Noble Hierarch. I’d be tempted to take more advantage of the manabase than Dan does, with only Sedraxis Specter in the main and Swerve in the sideboard, but I’m not quite sure what I’d change — overall I’m pretty impressed by the setup of the deck. You might not be able to convince your friends that you’re not playing Jund if you bring this deck to FNM, but at least you’re doing something different!

Back in testing for Nationals this year, Paul Rietzl constantly insisted on playing a G/W Enchantress deck that used Sigil of the Empty Throne for his win condition. While the deck wasn’t quite fast enough to beat Kithkin, and was too reliant on specific cards resolving to handle Faeries or Five-Color Control, it was a surprisingly powerful deck. So when I saw Roger Sampson’s innovative take on Mono-White Control, I was impressed to see the direction he’d gone.

What is perhaps the most interesting part of Roger’s deck is the fact that it doesn’t make very many sacrifices to play the Enchantress/Sigil package. Oblivion Ring and Journey to Nowhere are fine cards on their own, and Pacifism is perfectly acceptable as well. His deck even has the backup plan of Baneslayer Angel plus Emeria, the Sky Ruin if the game goes long, and the more standard removal suite of Path to Exile and Day of Judgment to back up his enchantments. Outside of the Enchantress plan, his deck is almost a perfectly typical Mono-White Control deck, not far off from what I was looking at bringing to Worlds myself not long ago.

The biggest weakness of this deck is very clearly Maelstrom Pulse. Not only does Pulse take out any of your key permanents, but give that the deck’s removal consists largely of creature enchantments, it can get seriously blown out if it happens to draw three copies of one and lose them all to a single Pulse. Given this weakness and just how fragile Mesa Enchantress is in a world of Lightning Bolts, Terminates, and Bituminous Blasts, I don’t know if this particular deck is a great choice in a Jund-filled metagame, but it’s certainly the most interesting deck that I saw in my digging through States Top 8 results. If you’re looking for something a bit off the beaten path, I’d consider giving it a try. One card I’d strongly consider trying, even if it might not fit with the deck’s apparent theme, is Armillary Sphere. The biggest weakness of all of my Mono-White Emeria decks was the inability to draw extra cards, particularly in the face of Blightning, and Armillary Sphere is the safest bet you’re going to find unless you can ensure your Enchantress sticks around. Maybe Brave the Elements isn’t a bad choice in here — you can keep both your Enchantress and your Baneslayer alive for a turn and then turn the game around when you get a chance to untap! If nothing else, you’ll have a blast seeing the looks on your opponent’s faces.

The Standard format may be crawling with Putrid Leeches and Sprouting Thrinaxes, but as the success of these decks has shown, all is not lost. There are decks out there that can compete with the Jund menace. I know I’m going to be looking for one for the SCG 10K Open coming up in Los Angeles in January, so if there are any exciting decks from States that I missed, point me to them so I can take a look!

Good luck to everyone playing at the SCG 10K St. Louis this weekend!

Until next time…