The Magic Show #125 – Back to Basics

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Friday, December 5th – Hello everybody, and welcome to another edition of the Magic Show. This week we’re going to talk about Magic and nothing but Magic. No special guests, no frills, nothing but my silly jokes, antics, and opinions on this cardboard crack we call our hobby. Let’s go!

Hello everybody, and welcome to another edition of the Magic Show. This week we’re going to talk about Magic and nothing but Magic. No special guests, no frills, nothing but my silly jokes, antics, and opinions on this cardboard crack we call our hobby. Let’s go!

Philly $5K Prep

Okay, so this weekend you’ll find me live and in person at the StarCityGames $5000 Standard Open in Philadelphia. And don’t think I’m just there to tote a camera, because I’m not. I plan on battling my way to the top of the standings one round at a time just like everybody else. And the question remains: What to play? What’s the ‘Best Deck’ and what decks beat that best deck?

The easiest place to start is with the States results. And thanks to the handy-dandy Deck Database on StarCityGames.com, you can find out a ton of statistics on what happened at that event.

First I want to look at the color breakdown before we get into any deck intricacies. Blue, of course, rules the roost but look at #2! Yes, that really is White. White cards have slowly but surely gotten better and better over the years, with staples like Wrath of God returning to the mass removal spell du jour after Damnation finally left, and new staples like Condemn and Oblivion Ring getting plenty of love from tournament players.

On down the list we see that the color with the least amount of love is Green. Man, it ain’t easy being Green. The Color That Tarmogoyf Made Awesome for a couple of years has once again fallen into the We Suck Bad zone of color pie distinction. Now all we need is another R&D mistake featuring an undercosted overpowered monster to give us another reason to play the color of money.

Oh, a quick aside before we delve into the decks: A few weeks ago I went to Grand Prix: Atlanta and of course had a subsequent show featuring the event. I got plenty of feedback from viewers particularly regarding the ‘Crown Royal Dice Bag’ segment and some of the perceived attitude from Magic pros in regards to players less than their caliber. They refer to these players affectionately as ‘donks.’

Many viewers don’t think this has a place in Magic, period, let alone the Magic Show. And on that point we disagree. I think that Magic culture is incredibly diverse and all-encompassing. You can’t say you want to include just the fun stuff while ignoring the more serious aspect of the game. I find the culture of casual players just as interesting as pro players. Pro players, however, have much simpler goals: they want to win at all costs. That’s all. They look for any angle they can exploit, and there is always, always, always a singular ‘correct’ play. There is no such thing as a ‘good’ or ‘bad’ play, there is only the singular right play and innumerable wrong plays. There is no room for mistakes in professional Magic, or Magic played for any sort of large monetary prize.

Magic pros that I know well are obsessed with finding the best deck, the correct strategy, the right angle with which to take over the metagame. To me it’s not so much they’re putting others down as ‘donks’ or what have you, but rather they’re so focused on being the most efficient, most streamlined and mistake-free player that they hold everyone else to this standard as well. When you fail at that standard for whatever reason, here comes the ‘donk’ moniker. This moniker is not just used for other players but themselves and their friends. No player is above a ‘donk’ moment, and while stereotypes exist for a reason, for those rocking the dice bags I say play better, smarter and harder and buck the accepted notion that you are any less of a player than your opponent is. There are plenty of times I’ve played like a donk, and this is fuel for me to improve my game, not to huff off because of some silly epithet. If anything, use this stereotype to your advantage. All war is deception, and getting your opponent to drop their guard as soon as you sit down sounds pretty good to me.

So, what are you going to play this weekend? Let’s look at the percentages.

While I wasn’t completely on target regarding half of the States field consisting of Faeries and Cruel Control, they certainly dominated the top two slots taking up whopping 35% of the metagame. Tied for third with the exact same number of decklists in the database, White Weenie and Red Deck wins composed another 25% of your metagame. After those four powerhouses things begin to get really interesting. Let’s take a look.

The first archetype outside the Top 5 was Reveillark. As I’ve said many times before, this 4/3 Elemental is ridiculously overpowered because it triggers upon leaving play, upon which time I generally want to claw my eyes out because I’m so tired of Mulldrifter, Knight-captain of Eos and Tidehollow Sculler triggers I could just puke. This is a powerful deck but also one that requires precision. One mistake for a Reveillark deck could be its last, as it generally does not run the Blue Wrath of God and gets completely wrecked by Jund Charm. Which leads me to my next archetype…Jund Ramp.

Jund Ramp is a popular spin/twist on last year’s killer archetype R/G Snow. This iteration uses Garruk Wildspeaker and Fertile Ground to get to ridiculous amounts of mana and finishes games with Double Dragon (Broodmate Dragon) and the ever-popular Cloudthresher. Jund Charm does an incredible amount of work in this deck. Not only does it make your guys trade with theirs almost always in your favor, but it demolishes any hope of Reveillark getting back guys and Faeries really hates instant Pyroclasms.

Unfortunately it appears that this deck is good but needs that certain ‘something’ to be much better. It never broke the Top 4 at States, but perhaps this weekend it could prove everyone wrong.

Moving on, an exciting new archetype is Bloom Razer. This powerful archetype features the ridiculously underrated mana accelerant Bloom Tender along with powerhouses such as Figure of Destiny, Woolly Thoctar and of course Realm Razer. Together they form a tri-force of awesomeness ready to kick the crap out of anything in its way. There are fewer sexier plays in Standard than this: First turn Figure of Destiny, second turn Bloom Tender, third turn Woolly Thoctar, fourth turn Realm Razer. Good game.

Planeswalker Control is still alive and kicking, with less than two percent of the field but taking home three top prizes. The deckbuilds themselves are also incredibly varying. Some are simply Planeswalkers, removal, Kitchen Finks and Cloudthresher. Others like to mix it up with Birds of Paradise for mana fixing and Realm Razer for ‘oops, I just won’ moments. Others trip the light fantastic with Rings of Brighthearth, yes really, in an effort to get the most activations possible.

This is the sort of deck that is just fantastic against an aggro-heavy and Five-Color heavy field. While Faeries absolutely demolishes this deck, all others generally get into the weeds quickly when more than one Planeswalker shows up. Chandra and Ajani Vengeant are a mondo combo that few can actually beat.

For a more fascinating deck, take a look at the Naya Aggro build that won the Vermont State Championships. This is deck runs a full playset of Antoine Ruel, i.e. Ranger of Eos, Woolly Thoctar, and… is that a 2/2 Haste Bear? Yup, that really is Rip-Clan Crasher kicking ass all the way through Top 8. I can only imagine the looks on his opponent’s faces as they struggle to figure out how they just got their butt handed to them via a 2/2 Haste Bear. Man, talk about good beats.

Some other notables include Bant Ramp, which, other than being ridiculously fun to say (Bant Ramp, Bant Ramp, Bant Ramp!) is very interesting. This deck also takes advantage of the Garruk Wildspeaker and Fertile Ground interaction but takes a Bant angle on the whole thing. So instead of ramping up to monster spells like Violent Ultimatum instead you drop Empyrial Archangel and tell your opponent Good Luck With That. Because they’re going to need it. It also runs such hits as Austere Command which works great with a ton of mana, and trips Tidings and Primal Command. Yummy.

Lastly I want to take a look at the B/W Control deck that made Top 4 in South Dakota and a variant of which was recently featured in Manuel Bucher premium article at StarCityGames. This is an incredibly appealing deck because of its heavy control elements, including two Planeswalkers, Wrath of God, Oblivion Ring, and Unmake, but also because of its Black elements give it threat power and versatility in Bitterblossom and Shriekmaw, arguably the two best Black cards in Standard right now.

Kitchen Finks goes from merely awesome to ridiculous in this deck, as it allows you to abuse both Bitterblossom and Ajani Goldmane’s first ability. The deck also runs Twilight Shepherd, a card that got a little buzz back during Shadowmoor’s release but has been largely ignored by tournament players ever since. Divinity of Pride is another interesting pick, as he simply must be dealt with–and soon–or his lifelink-inspired ability can completely take over a game.

So what’s the right choice for Philadelphia? What will others be playing and what must you play to beat them? This is a bit of a double-edged sword, as your opponent could very well be watching this and be thinking the same thing.

My choice? It depends on your style of play: Aggro, Control, or Rogue. As there are no combo decks in Standard, these are pretty much your choices.

Fast, Dumb Aggro: Red Deck Wins. There is no exception, this is the easiest and most straightforward deck to play competitively. Basically your game is this: How fast can I put my opponent to zero before they gain life, sweep the board, or resolve Cruel Ultimatum. As the Philosophy of Fire goes, each card in your hand is worth X damage. Make sure you get the most out of your X damage.

The other side to this coin is White Weenie, which comes in a variety of flavors. Here your object is the same, except there is no Philosophy of Fire. Instead, it is Creatures Per Card Ratio. For example, Spectral Procession is a 3-creatures-for-1-card powerhouse. Cloudgoat Ranger is an even more impressive 4-for-1. Ranger of Eos has been getting some notice finally because he is a 3-for-1 much like Spectral Procession, and gives you some real reach against decks with a lot of removal.

Control Deck: Reveillark if you’re familiar, Cruel Control if you’re not. Reveillark decks, while completely overpowered in many ways, is also a very tough deck to pilot. If you’re not 100% on the triggers, interactions and steps involved for a Reveillark deck, you probably shouldn’t play it. Cruel Control, on the other hand, is much more straightforward. Sure you’ve got to make some tough decisions about what to play and when, but you won’t have the unfortunate decisions that can sometimes arise in a Reveillark deck, and that’s a relief.

Faeries is your other option here, but I wouldn’t recommend it. Why? Because I’ve always disliked the “Best Deck”, as Faeries certainly is, and every deck will be gunning for this one. However, Turn 2 Bitterblossom is still the best Turn 2 play in Standard, so you still have to respect the Overpowered Two-Drop and 4/4 Flying Time Walk. They will kill you out of nowhere, as Fae can control tempo like nobody’s business.

Rogue Deck: Jund Ramp. This deck is incredibly sexy. You get to play huge spells, Planeswalkers, cool cards from Shards of Alara and more. I love this deck and all of its trimmings. The ability to play with Jund Charm just gets me all excited. This card is the reason this deck exists, as the Garruk Wildspeaker / Fertile Ground interaction is prevalent elsewhere as mentioned earlier. Jund Charm and Sprouting Thrinax are No Joke and I think this deck just needs a bit of innovation and/or technology to really push it to the top. I for one still think my States deck, which was basically Jund Ramp with awesome Blue cards, is still something to consider.

What am I bringing to the fray? Probably Jund Ramp or Red Deck Wins. I’ve always hated playing the Status Quo, though I like to be fully aware of how it works and wins games. Jund Ramp is just rogue enough that few will catch on, and Red Deck Wins is a fun dumb aggro deck that can really take you places as long as you play smart and mulligan aggressively.

So that’s another week of the Show everybody. I thank you for watching and hope to see you here next week, with plenty of sights and sounds directly from the Philadelphia $5K. Until next time Magic players this is Evan Erwin. Tapping the cards…so you don’t have to.

Evan “misterorange” Erwin
eerwin +at+ gmail +dot+ com
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Wish me luck!