The Last Days Of Khans Standard At #SCGINDY

Magic veteran Adrian Sullivan has some important words for #SCGINDY! Don’t get caught unprepared for Standard’s final hours! Adrian puts you in a position to snag the last trophy of the season this weekend!

SCG Tour <sup>®</sup>Indianapolis: March 11-13!” border=”1″></a></div>
<p>Try as we might, though we might all hope to make it manifest through sheer willpower, <i>Shadows over Innistrad</i> is not here yet. So instead of playing with <a href=Archangel Avacyn and Sorin, Grim Nemesis, we’ll have to make do with Monastery Mentor and Crackling Doom.

Oh, and Rally the Ancestors.

Rally the Ancestors, for many people, sits holding the place of “Eldrazi” in Modern, which is to say, it is the deck that seems to be holding the fort in people’s minds as the unchallenged “best deck” of the format.

Now, what could be said about this deck is that, other than the mana, it really isn’t losing much after Shadows over Innistrad swings in. The only non-mana four-of it’s losing, after all, is this:

But, really, while I am interested in conjecture about what the future of this macro-archetype looks like (short answer: bleak, and not because it lost its namesake, but because of the loss of lands), I’m a bit more interested in Magic today, rather than next month.

#SCGINDY waits for no one.

In the finals match versus Andrew Cuneo, Owen got his only game loss in the Top 8 with Andrew ‘stealing’ a game with a very timely Game 1 Duress, his only copy of the card. Here was Cuneo’s 2nd place list:

When you line everything up, Cuneo has a lot of cards that are great at closing out the game as quickly as possible for a reasonably controlling archetype. While it only runs three Soulfire Grand Master, when you’re running the full set of Mantis Rider and backing it up with Kalitas, Traitor of Ghet and Gideon, Ally of Zendikar, you can close out games quite quickly. At the same time, he’s also running a pretty large package of card advantage with four Painful Truths and two Dig Through Time alongside cards like Jace, Vryn’s Prodigy and Tasigur, the Golden Fang.

He’s basically solidly in a midrange control deck, albeit with the ability to occasionally get very aggressive draws, and then occasionally even being able to have a moment or two in an aggro-control role. Of course, this also means that he is very vulnerable to this card:

So, here’s the rub for the poor Jeskai Black deck: in order to attempt to do things like put on a clock, you’re going to need to do it with creatures. If you do it with creatures, not only are you tapping down (generally) to do so, but you’re also putting yourself in a position for a Nantuko Husk to hit the battlefield and make things difficult for you. Then you’re in a position where a single Reflector Mage can ruin your day.

On the other hand, if your deck runs more controlling elements like countermagic, then you’re setting yourself up for problems from the sideboard. Duress and Dispel are real, actual threats to a protracted, controlling game plan.

For the Jeskai Black deck, they have several things going for them, though. Mantis Rider, despite its vulnerability to Reflector Mage, puts on a hell of a clock. Furthermore, Kalitas, Traitor of Ghet can also end games quickly, and it can shut the door on a number of paths to victory for the Rally deck.

It is still the case, however, that Rally decks are the ones asking the questions that Jeskai must answer. In those occasions where Jeskai is asking the questions, Rally has more answers to Jeskai’s questions than Jeskai has to Rally’s questions. There isn’t much that can be done to fundamentally change this without making choices that fundamentally shift the deck to something far more controlling.

Take some of the most controlling decks, like those played before Reflector Mage was printed in Oath of the Gatewatch.

Put simply, these decks have been squeezed out by a need to answer the fundamental problem coming out of Oath of the Gatewatch:

It isn’t World Breaker alone, of course. World Breaker is basically the mini-Ulamog, the Ceaseless Hunger that won’t allow you to hang around for the long, long game.

It doesn’t actually matter that Ramp decks aren’t actually a huge part of the metagame right now. At GP Houston, they were only 6% of the Top 100 archetypes (but, for that matter, Rally was only 11% of that Top 100). It still was more represented than Jeskai Black, Atarka Red, or any Abzan deck. (As an aside, Hardened Scales actually happened to be the most-represented deck at the top of the field, but when a great player sits on each side of the table, as happened when Chapman Sim sat across from Turtenwald, it is a slaughter.)

This means that if you are thinking about going long, you’re probably thinking about things wrongly unless you have a solid plan for stopping World Breaker from even getting cast. That pretty much leaves you with Transgress the Mind as your card to accomplish that task.

Ramp is present enough that it took second place at the most recent SCG Classic:

This deck is not going to let you fight for the long game. If you make the plan with your limited countermagic to fight the ramp spells, you’re still dealing with a deck that has plenty of land (25) to be able to continue to be active in doing things, especially when you consider that a deck like Hackman’s can choose to run four copies of Oath of Nissa.

Worse, if they really want to win a long game, they have a lot of weapons to be able to accomplish that task, where a more controlling deck has very few; Transgress the Mind really is one of the best options, though Despise isn’t horrible.

So What Now?

Where does this leave someone playing at #SCGINDY this weekend? As best as I can see it, there are a few options:

1) Be like Owen Turtenwald.

Pick Four-Color Rally.

The deck is just fundamentally sound. It is powerful. It is polished. It has great answers to nearly all of your opponents’ likely plans, and if you’re fighting their answers, as the cookie crumbles, most people are going to be very much on the bad side of this equation. Duress, Dispel, and Reflector Mage cover a whole hell of a lot of the ways that another player can try to deal with you.

But if you haven’t already practiced the hell out of it, play a different deck.

2) Go Jeskai Black, but pivot the guns against Rally, Ramp, and Hardened Scales.

Jeskai Black is a great deck. I do think, though, the deck maybe needs to turn just a little bit away from the inward-looking path of card advantage toward a bit more interaction, specifically with Rally the Ancestors.

If I were playing Jeskai Black this coming weekend, I’d probably end up looking very similar to Andrew Cuneo’s list, but making room for these cards in the main:

It hurts to cut a Dig Through Time, especially without really replacing it with another form of active card advantage, but I just don’t think you can afford to cut any of the other cards, though maybe someone could convince me to find a slot.

While there are several ways in which I’m nudging the sideboard, the one I feel strongest about is getting rid of Arashin Cleric. It doesn’t do enough against the truly aggressive decks and can’t be exploited by this deck like a deck with Rally the Ancestors or even Ojutai’s Command could.

Most of the core of Cuneo’s deck is here. It really is a powerhouse. I just think that you need a bit more that can be a part of your fight against Rally. Duress has really not been doing it for me. Transgress the Mind, on the other hand, has been great here, and in other matchups that matter as well.

3) Rock the Ramp.

If you build your Ramp deck to have a good game against Rally the Ancestors, I think you’re in a good place. But how do you do that, exactly?

A part of it is running cards like Rattleclaw Mystic. As Chris VanMeter noted, Rattleclaw is a great way to quickly ramp up that is basically immune to Reflector Mage. If they bounce your Rattleclaw Mystic, you can drop it again on the next turn as a morph and then have a ton of mana.

After that, Ugin, the Spirit Dragon is your friend. I very much love where Chris has gotten to:

4) Don’t forget the Scales.

Hardened Scales didn’t end up the most-represented deck in the Top 100 at GP Houston for no reason. The real problem is that the deck truly does have a Rally problem against the very best players.

Chapman Sim ran the most obvious solution to the problem, Hallowed Moonlight in the sideboard, and it wasn’t enough, though he ran three. The problem is simple: you’re working on being a dedicated, fast aggro deck, but you’re setting yourself up for Reflector Mage to ruin your day, and for the most part, your only real solution to a Four-Color Rally opponent is just trying to race them.

That isn’t all that exciting a place to be.

Cards like Valorous Stance help save you from a Nantuko Husk kill, but they don’t do much in the way of protecting you from just being killed by Zulaport Cutthroat.

Perhaps the answer is splashing into blue for a touch of countermagic? The idea makes me shudder a little, because you’re doing a lot of contorting to accomplish the task, and then at that point, maybe you should just become Bant Company.

Save the Scales deck, save the world?

After my last two weeks on the road, I won’t be in Indianapolis. But you can bet I’ll be paying attention to see what people do with a few weeks of contemplation under their belt. Is it just Rally, Rally, Rally? Maybe so. But I think there are enough other options, we might be pretty surprised about what happens at #SCGINDY.

I can’t wait!

SCG Tour <sup>®</sup>Indianapolis: March 11-13!” border=”1″></a></div></p>
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