The Great Grand Prix Memphis Debate

Get in the game with Ari Lax and Brad Nelson! They’re studying this suddenly super Standard season strongly, but their approaches are a tad different to this weekend! Who has the better shot at success?

[Welcome back to

Fact or Fiction!

Today, Approach of the Second Sun haters Ari Lax and Brad Nelson give
their takes on five statements inspired by Grand Prix Memphis and what
looks to be a great Standard format. Read their responses and vote for
the winner at the end!]

Mono-Red Aggro is the deck to beat heading into GP Memphis.

Ari Lax: Fact.
A good sign that a deck is the “deck to beat” is that literally no one has
beaten it.

Mono-Red Aggro won the last Magic Online PTQ. It won the Magic Online PTQ
before that. It won the Quarterly Magic Online Championship Series playoff.
It won two of the three post-Rivals of Ixalan SCG Tour Classics,
and the third basically doesn’t count because if Todd Stevens can win a SCG
Tour Open with G/W Company, there is clearly no correlation between him
winning and the deck being good.

It makes no sense to me, but the results don’t lie. This Mono-Red deck
doesn’t even have very good cards. Your one-drops are Raging Goblins with
upside. It plays 23 lands, which is basically asking to draw five or six in
a game which is basically lethal for this deck. Hazoret the Fervent is just
so darn good that the other 56 cards in your deck only have to be barely
capable of winning games and easy to cast to make it work.

Brad Nelson: Fact.
Mono-Red Aggro will be the deck to beat, as well as the deck to justify not
playing. It’s not as good as it once was, but that doesn’t mean it’s not
picking up the wins. It has a good aggressive curve, plus multiple mythic
rares that win the game if left unchecked. The deck just has the “it”
factor when it comes to what it takes to win games of Magic.

That doesn’t mean Mono-Red Aggro isn’t exploitable, in theory. The deck has
holes and players can design decks to beat it. Those decks just might not
beat anything else. Mono-Red Aggro’s biggest benefit is how other decks
have to be designed. You can’t simply just respect Mono-Red Aggro which
will bite you sometimes when you lose the die roll against the deck and
keep a sketchy hand in the matchup. Red decks have historically received
free wins due to this and that isn’t stopping anytime soon.

2. Midrange decks like Grixis Energy and Sultai Midrange will
thrive at GP Memphis.

Ari Lax: Fiction.
A really smart StarcityGames.com writer recently said about Sultai
Midrange: “I’m no longer sold this deck is amazing. At least not in this
configuration, anyway.” They also said “I believe Grixis Energy to be an
outdated strategy.”

Who could this charming, intelligent individual be? They are just so right
all the time!

(It’s Brad.)

You know what the one thing these Mono-Red cards are good against?
Blocking, especially with small creatures you can Shock or Abrade out of
the way. You know what being a midrange deck usually entails? Trying to
play two-drop creatures to block.

Brad Nelson: Fiction.
These decks are good, but they’re being pulled in too many directions right
now. Mono-Red Aggro, Tokens, Control, and God-Pharaoh’s Gift all need
specific answers and specific threats that thrive against them. It’s just
too difficult to know the right mixture for midrange decks at the moment.

That doesn’t mean some won’t get it right through prowess or simple dumb
luck. These midrange decks are extremely powerful and if someone finds the
right mixture, they may have a recipe for success going into this weekend.
They’ll just have to know exactly what metagame is going to show up!

3. At least one Approach of the Second Sun deck will Top 8 GP

Ari Lax: Fiction.
In testing for Pro Tour Ixalan, we referred to Approach decks as
the Time Vampire. You knew the outcome was going to be you winning 90% of
the time, but your opponent got to take 35 minutes of your time for the 10%
chance you literally don’t play game 2 or 3. It also had to be literally
game 1, as I think I won off multiple mulligans to five and once almost a
mulligan to four against Approach. I did lose a lot sometimes, but at that
point I had elected to put Bone Picker in my deck and make even my
creatures into mulligans against control.

Rivals of Ixalan
did not make the deck any better. The problem with the deck is almost
anything can just sideboard out all the dead cards, throw a stream of great
threats at you, and eventually something will just slip through on a
mismatch and you will die. Or worse, they will have Duress or Negate. You
need some non-Duress-able, non-Negate-able early threat to take over games
with that also aren’t just outclassed by whatever Chandra, Torch of
Defiance level cards they throw at you in return. At that point, why even
bother with the Approach stuff? Look at U/B Control: just put your copies
of The Scarab God in the main deck and don’t goof around with seven mana

But if you want to play it, at least you get to enjoy a lot of time spent
losing every round.

Brad Nelson: Fiction.

That would have been all I wrote, but Cedric asked for at least a couple
paragraphs for each answer. Since “no” isn’t two paragraphs, I guess I fill
out this question with a poem I wrote called “Ten Things I Hate About Blue.”

I hate the way you mock me,

because your cards are all unfair.

I hate the way you ruin formats,

I hate that you don’t even care.

I hate your big dumb counterspells,

and the way you control my mind.

I hate you so much I want to quit,

but we’ve already ran out of time.

I hate the way you’re always right,

even when that’s a blatant lie.

I hate it when you make me wait,

just in hopes I’ll be led awry.

I hate it when you say you’ll change,

then just bounce and never call.

Mostly I hate how you think you’re so great,

but you’re not,

not even a little bit,

not even at all.

Approach sucks! [

CEDitor’s Note: For those of you wondering at home, Brad just got a
significant raise. Quoting

10 Things I Hate About You is how you get to the pay window.]

4. Someone will figure out the perfect build of God-Pharaoh’s
Gift and take GP Memphis by surprise.

Ari Lax: Fiction.
God-Pharaoh’s Gift is an awesome card, but oh wow is it poorly positioned
right now. Every deck in this format just has Abrade or Cast Out. The best
anti-control cards stop your non-creature keystones, leaving you
vulnerable. People are just playing multiple Scavenger Grounds in their
main deck because it is good. All the removal exiles, so getting to six
creatures for Gate to the Afterlife range isn’t easy.

The easy trap to fall into is looking at Angel of Invention and realizing
it is basically a one-card combo versus Mono-Red Aggro, which is true. The
issue is it is not that against Glorybringer decks and is a one card nonbo
against The Scarab God just beating you with your own stuff. Oh look, a
Champion of Wits is in your graveyard? Don’t mind if I do.

The perfect build of God-Pharaoh’s Gift is this: You cut all the cards that
set up God-Pharaoh’s Gift, add The Scarab God, and realize that activating
that card requires a lot less work and is just as unbeatable.

Wait, didn’t I just say that about a different deck? The Scarab God is
really messed up.

Brad Nelson: Fiction.
I’m not saying someone won’t break open how God-Pharaoh’s Gift is supposed
to be designed, but that doesn’t correlate to it doing well. The deck just
has a fail rate when things don’t line up perfectly. When that happens
Mono-Red Aggro pressures it too much or decks with The Scarab God get their
namesake down before things get out of hand. There’s just too many things
that can go wrong.

Another issue is that there’s a lot of random removal for artifacts right
now. Abrade is in G/R Monsters and some even play Naturalize. There’s
enchantment-based removal spells, graveyard hate, and the best card in the
format beats the strategy straight up. The card is powerful, but it isn’t
good enough to take on the entire format all by itself.

5. The token decks in Standard (W/G Tokens and W/B Tokens) will
break out at GP Memphis.

Ari Lax: A bit of Fact. A bit of Fiction.
W/B Tokens is a pretty good deck. It does something pretty powerful in
terms of scrying with Hidden Stockpile into your over the top engine of
Anointed Procession. It is also notably one of the few decks that actually
is baseline good against Mono-Red Aggro. Even with Rampaging Ferocidon the
matchup wasn’t great, and with the stock W/B Tokens lists now starting
matches with both Regal Caracal and Sunscourge Champion I’m skeptical it
gets much better than “bad” from the Red side. If we saw it do very well
this weekend, I wouldn’t be surprised.

The one thing holding W/B Tokens back is if people show up with green or
white cards. Once your opponent starts packing Naturalize or Ixalan’s
Binding and Cast Out, things can get dicey. Once again, Negate and Duress
are also annoying tools against your cool nonsense deck the same way they
were against God-Pharaoh’s Gift and Approach of the Second Sun. If you can
pair enchantment removal with any other of these things, including just
more enchantment removal, it can get real hard for the W/B Tokens player to
get anywhere.

W/G Tokens, on the other hand, tries to curve out and not interact, except
nothing it does on-curve is better than the opposing decks, and whatever
big thing it is trying to accomplish is disrupted by basic removal and
sweepers that are good against Mono-Red Aggro. It’s just not a good deck.

Brad Nelson: Fact.
I’d be shocked if W/B Tokens has a breakout performance, but do think W/G
Tokens will. Vampires is just a little too weak. Call to the Feast is
actually a really amazing card, but the rest of the deck lacks the power
needed to compete with Standard’s biggest threats. The deck also doesn’t
have Appeal, which is a knockout card for W/G Tokens. All-in-all W/B Tokens
is a deck that just exploits people not respecting it, but only W/G Tokens
can handle the decks once they care about them.

W/G Tokens is on my short list of decks I’d feel comfortable playing in
Memphis if I didn’t already have a frontrunner. That doesn’t mean I’m not
still bringing the deck with me just in case.