Craig (Editor Craig, not me Craig): So when am I going to get this article on Standard for Regionals?
Craig (Me Craig, not Editor Craig. Pay attention, it may get tricky): I dunno, sometime soon. When and what are Regionals anyway?
Craig: Big US tournaments. Qualifiers for their Nationals. They’re on this weekend.
Craig (sniffs disdainfully): Nationals Qualifiers. Is that all?
Craig: This isn’t the UK and poxy 32 player qualifiers. This is a big deal. Thousands of players in bazillion round tournaments and they all need decks.
Craig: Standard decks? Oh, I could talk about Zoo…
Craig: No! No more friggin’ apes and lions! No more Zoo! It doesn’t beat black-white anyway.
Craig: I don’t care how many Lightning Helix you signed last week. I want new deck lists for the new set.
Craig: Oh, is Dissension legal?
Craig: Yes. And I want decklists with Dissension cards by Tuesday lunchtime.
Craig: What’s in Dissension again?
We have a new set about to impact on one of the biggest Magic weekends in the calendar. To be honest, I haven’t experienced US Regionals. I’ve played in a few UK Regionals, but those were small scale and my ranking was usually high enough that it didn’t matter.
Before we go on I’m going to let you in on a sad truth.
The Pro’s don’t care about getting you through Regionals.
At this point I’ve probably triggered off about a billion “You callous bastard! You were like us once,” posts so I’d better elaborate.
The best time to get deck tech is after a major event like a Pro Tour. A successful player has already played the deck, everyone knows about it and they don’t mind talking about it. After a tournament you can be reasonably sure the information is reliable, although it might go out of date very quickly. Unfortunately the key word here is after, which isn’t much good as you’re playing the tournament this weekend.
When it comes to before a major event, well that’s a much more slippery situation. If a writer is planning to play that event then they’re probably only going to talk about decks they’ve already dismissed (or, if you’re more cynically inclined, decks they want everyone else to play because they can beat them). I had an amusing anecdote from a Canadian player at Prague. His team were testing for a format and had a deck that they thought would warrant a look, but they hadn’t got round to testing it yet. When a member of a rival team put up an article on the same deck, they knew they didn’t have to bother. Why, because they knew the other team had already looked at it and ruled it out of contention. Why else would they write an article on it?
I know, I know, it’s all very underhand. I’m sorry to break it to you. I hate being the one to say Santa Claus doesn’t exist (especially when you can have so many years of fun telling the kiddies you shot him last night by accident). It does make sense, though. Why should someone spend hours working on breaking a format, and then tell the entire world a few days before the tournament? You’d have to be a little suspicious.
The other extreme is when the writer isn’t playing that format. In this case they’re totally happy to talk about the format, but probably haven’t put in the time for the information to be that useful. Building new decks — and, more importantly, testing them – is time consuming, and players aren’t going to be as motivated if the format isn’t directly relevant to them.
Yeah, yeah, time is money, can’t be bothered, blah blah… Just give us the goddamn decks.
Okay, okay. Just trying to warn you, that’s all.
New sets coming in make for interesting formats. On the one hand, players are going to have to battle through nine rounds or more. For that you need a reliable deck, and there are plenty of archetypes out there that have already proven themselves. On the other hand, all of your opponents are likely to be familiar with those decks. Sometimes it’s good to throw in something new to try and catch people off guard.
So it’s the sensible option or the gamble.
Personally, I’d advise you to play something known. Heartbeat is receiving a lot of hype, but I think it’s a little too fragile. It was an excellent choice in the three-man team format, as it didn’t take virtually any cards from any other decks. When I played against it at the weekend, it didn’t seem to take much disruption to make it fall over. My team-mate had a much more difficult matchup against Heartbeat and even then was only beaten by some very irritating topdecks.
My choice would probably be a Black-White deck like Ghost Husk. Sometimes the deck falls over in a heap, so I think I’d want to push some of the attrition elements a little harder. For one of the team Pro Tour Qualifiers I wanted to add Teysa, and push the curve out a little with Belfry Spirit (Husk + Teysa + Belfry Spirit = an awful lot of damage). It was too last-minute, and so I decided against the changes, but it will probably be something I’ll look at for nationals.
So that’s the known quantities. I say I’d advise going with something known, but really… it would be a lie. I’m a sucker for trying out the new stuff.
I’m going to present some decklists, but I’m going to be straight-up honest with you. I haven’t tested them. I haven’t had time to test them. These are basically the jottings I came up with after looking at the new set. I could pick one and write an article on how wonderful it is, but it would be lies, lies and more damn lies. These are all Version 0.5, and should be treated as such. If one takes your fancy, I’d play a few games with it first and then tune it. Definitely tune it. In fact, you might be better off rebuilding it completely. But hopefully there’s some spark of an idea in them that is useful.
Basically, I’m just trying to cover my ass. If you rock up to Regionals with one of these card-for-card and it blows up in your hand, don’t come crying back to me. (Actually, do; my evil side would find it very amusing).
Let’s have a look at what Dissension might bring…
Very few surprises here. The signets and dual lands finally allow Blue-White to team up. Fed up of Kird Apes or Watchwolves laughing off that Pyroclasm? Now you get to nail them down flat with Wrath of God.
In contrast to IzzeTron, the presence of Wrath makes the main color base White rather than Blue. This gives the advantage of being able to dig out the Tron with Weathered Wayfarer, but means that double-Blue counters such as Hinder get the chop.
As with all these lists, it’s a little on the rough side. There should probably be some Repeals in there somewhere. Condemn is a definite sideboard card, and potential maindeck weapon if aggro decks are expected. The White also gives access to other interesting sideboard options such as Ivory Mask and Circles of Protection.
This is a non-Tron U/W control build, and is probably a bit of a hodge-podge. Anybody that knows me knows I have an aversion to islands and counter-magic in general. This is a fairly unoriginal build, and could probably do with some tinkering on the numbers.
The important additions provided by Dissension are Hallowed Fountain, Spell Snare, and Condemn. Spell Snare and Condemn are both very efficient answers to an opponent’s cheap threats and basically lower the radar for a control deck right to the ground. Basically, the only way to slip a threat under the defenses of a control deck now is to hope the control deck gets color-screwed.
I’m not sure Windreaver should be in here. Yes, it does have a lot of nice abilities but the basic stats, 3WU for a 1/3 flier, don’t excite me.
After watching my team-mate die a long protracted death in a Niv-Mizzet (I think the deck is also known as Wafo-Tapa) mirror at the weekend, I wonder if a viable sideboard strategy might be to include Black sources and Duskmantle, House of Shadow. The control-on-control matchup inevitably involves a massive build-up of counter-magic where neither player wanted to risk a spell in their own turn. I’m no expert in the ways of the Blue mage, but the ability to slowly chip away at the library during an opponent’s end of turn step might be one way to tackle the mirror (and at least give the impression something is actually happening during the game!)
Now, let’s get to the interesting stuff. Forget that crusty old Azorius UW boredom. Let’s lay on some righteous heavy metal beats, Rakdos style. The Red-Black stuff actually feels very difficult to build this time round. I suspect a few good Rakdos builds will come out of the weekend, but I think there will be plenty more that fall over in a heap. I think R & D have hidden a very nice Red-Black deck in Dissension somewhere, but it will take a little longer to find than the more obvious UW builds.
The main problem is trying to weigh up Hellbent. Some of the cards are inordinately powerful once you have no cards in hand. The Pit Dragon in particular is very scary… I just can’t quite get used to this idea of throwing away the hand. Card advantage is good for a reason.
- 2 Hearth Kami
- 4 Dark Confidant
- 4 Plagued Rusalka
- 4 Jagged Poppet
- 4 Rakdos Augermage
- 4 Rakdos Guildmage
- 3 Rakdos Pit Dragon
The Avatar is easy. You get it in your opening hand, and then your opponent gets an easy 3-for-1 with a Lightning Helix or Last Gasp when you make it on turn 3. The other problem is in the mid to late game. The aim of most Rakdos decks is to go Hellbent at some point. This means you aren’t likely to be holding back cards. So what happens when you draw the Avatar on turn 7 with no cards in hand? You cry and weep at cruel and capricious gods and then vow to never put such a rubbish card in your deck ever again, is what happens.
Demonfire and the Witch both fall under what I call “clunky.” I do want to hit an empty hand at some point, as it makes the Dragon and Poppet both highly dangerous, but I don’t want to be too suicidal about it. Demonfire isn’t very efficient, and is likely to get stuck in the hand. Lyzolda is tougher. A 3/1 for 1RB is fine and the ability isn’t bad. Unfortunately there are a number of other three-mana drops. I think both Augermage and Poppet are better. I like her ability, but I think it’s too situational and mana-intensive to shine in constructed unless the deck is specifically built around her. I’m not saying a deck built around her is bad, I just haven’t got round to building it yet.
When we all saw Terry Soh card I bet most of us thought he’d been gyped. I certainly did. Then I actually played a few games with the Rakdos Augermage. The card is very very good. First strike is actually relevant on a three-power guy, and the Coercion effect is a wrecking ball against control decks. I think it has to be used fairly aggressively, even if it means throwing away Wrecking Balls and Dragons, but it really shines when you go Hellbent and have nothing left to discard. Against aggro you have an irritating blocker, and against slower decks he’s a creature that must be killed immediately. I really like the card, because it has multiple abilities that means it always useful regardless of the matchup.
Jagged Poppet is another interesting inclusion. Yes, if he takes a Char to the face you’re probably going to lose. Other than that, he’s fairly robust. Seals of Fire and Lightning Helix do some damage to your hand but leave him largely intact. And if he ever connects with no cards in hand, then most control decks are going to have fits. The same is true of the Dragon. If he hits when you are Hellbent he usually does around 10+ damage.
Wrecking Ball is cute, but I think I’m in Block mode here. It’ll probably turn out to be too expensive.
So if the goal is to get Hellbent, then why ol’ Bob Confidant? I think it comes down to card advantage over suicide. I might be proved wrong, but my gut feeling is that the Hellbent decks that throw away their hands are going to fail. I think the good Hellbent decks will be ones that play out a lot of threats quickly and keep the gas coming. Dark Confidant will give you that gas and help maintain the pressure. I suspect this deck will evolve into cheaper and more efficient threats, backed up with Poppets and Dragons. I can see some hybridization taking place with Zoo at some point.
For all its raw power, the Dragon is going to be easy to kill in some matchups. What I like about the Red-Black cards is the number of options they give you. Against decks packing a lot of burn you can switch out the Dragons or Poppets and bring in Dread Slag. That guy isn’t going to be burnt any time soon. I haven’t included Rain of Gore in the initial sideboard, but that card is also a possibility if the field starts to feature an abundance of Hierarchs and Fetters.
One of the problems I can see with the listing is that Pyroclasm is good again. But so is Wrath, and I suspect Blue-White is coming back in a big fashion. What I do like about the Rakdos is that each of the cards is a major threat, and capable of utterly destroying an opponent if not dealt with immediately. The deck asks a lot of tough questions, and that’s always good.
The UG guild is in, and we can all gleefully expect a return to the good ole days of Wild Mongrel and Wonder. Well, thankfully, we don’t. Not sure what to make of the Simic. Graft sounded like poo, until I worked out it was an oblique way of spreading abilities around. I’m not sure it makes the cut in Constructed though. There are some good fliers, but I can’t see them racing a dedicated aggro deck, and while people might whisper “Skies,” without the free counterspells and cheap bounce I can’t see it taking off any time soon.
At the very least, fans of Vinelasher Kudzu and Mana Leak finally get a dual land to help their mana. Both Sean McKeown and Teddy Cardgame have already talked a little about Critical Mass updates, so I won’t bother including treading on their toes, other than I wouldn’t mind a Trygon Predator in this kind of deck. Its artifact/enchantment munching ability might not be as useful as it looks, but you got to dig that picture.
Instead, I’m going to go to the Golgari and bust out another control variant.
Somewhere, in a secret bunker hidden in the heart of England, a red light flashes on a monitor. A small goblin tears off the printout and scampers away into a large throne room. Trembling, he passes the paper to a gaunt man with glasses and a dark green raincoat.
“It’s our web monitors. A strategy article from Craig Jones talks about three control decks.”
“My worst suspicions have been confirmed. The enemy has got to him and replaced him with a simulacrum. The Craig Jones we know is dead. Ready the team of elite Goblin Operatives…”
It may be too soon for the Simic Sky Swallower, but he feels like a solid finisher, albeit a little pricey. Black-Green now has a bunch of clearers, with the addition of Crime / Punishment, and Grave-Shell Scarab is the ultimate in durability. Neither Scarab or Plague Boiler really set Standard alight before, so I might be being optimistic in thinking they’ll turn out to be good now merely through the addition of Voidslime and Crime / Punishment. The deck has pretty much what you want from a control deck: countermagic, board clearers, point removal and durable threats. There should probably be some Sensei’s Divining Top in there somewhere, and Coiling Oracle might warrant a look.
An alternative, which is probably a little too fragile, is to run Cytoplast Manipulator and Novijen, Heart of Progress. Yeah, I know it’s too janky, but being able to steal virtually every creature your opponent made has a high “funness” potential.
The sideboard is a mess again, I’m sorry. Truth is I don’t know what the field is likely to be, so the sideboards are basically stabs in the dark. I’m curious to know if Duskmantle does give an alternate way of getting round the “let’s discard until we have a hand full of counters and then hope we can push through a Meloku” yawn-fests control mirrors provoke. Darkblast might have a home here, and maybe even Arena or, more likely, Bottled Cloister.
The Weird and the Wacky
Let’s leave the guild model and finish with a couple of decks outside the box. These most definitely have the label, “Danger, unstable content” attached.
“Mmm, Meat and Eggs. Oh f***, that’s a Yosei!”
- 4 Sakura-Tribe Elder
- 1 Kokusho, the Evening Star
- 4 Yosei, the Morning Star
- 4 Thought Courier
- 1 Indrik Stomphowler
- 4 Protean Hulk
This is for those who want a simpler version of Greater Good. This is an extremely rough listing and needs a lot of tuning. The basic plan is to get Protean Hulk into the graveyard with either Thought Courier or Compulsive Research, re-animate it with Footsteps of the Goryo, and then search out a Yosei when the Hulk is sacrificed at end of turn. If the Hulk is sacrificed to Greater Good, it should almost certainly trap the opponent in a Yosei lock for the rest of the game.
There are many ways to build this deck. At World’s last year I went heavy White for Wraths and Hierarchs, and met with limited success as the deck wasn’t tuned properly. It was more Version 1.0 compared to Karsten’s listing, which was probably around Version 5.0. The Gifts package would probably be pretty good here as well.
Punishment does give the option of not needing Wrath, and provides a bonus in that it also wipes out Pithing Needles set on Greater Good. Basically, the deck needs some redundancy for when you don’t draw Greater Good. A card that might be very good, if a little fragile, is Drowned Rusalka, as it gives both a way of discarding a fatty and a sac outlet for Yosei after re-animating it with Goryo’s Vengeance.
My problem is I tend to make these decks a little too focused, to the point that they work really well when they get the draw, but fall to pieces otherwise. I think there is a good toolbox deck around Protean Hulk and Footsteps of the Goryo, and it’ll be a deck I’ll probably come back to in later articles.
The Really Experimental
Also from the rough jottings section, we have a U/W/g Glare deck. Again, this features some ideas I want to try out but should be seen as a work in progress. For one, I don’t even know if you can forecast Pride and then use the token with Sky Hussar. If anyone wants to run with this further, I’d be interested in what the results look like.
I’m not going to bother with a sideboard, as it’s obviously in the earliest stages of development. I imagine Sacred Ground might be a must, as it is probably extremely mana hungry.
Sky Hussar interests me, as it seems like a very strong uncounterable card drawing engine. For it to work though, there needs to be Blue or White creatures in play (it’s a shame on the color, otherwise Vitu-Ghazi, the City-Tree would have a very grateful home here). Fortunately, we also have an uncounterable creature-creating engine in the form of Pride of the Clouds. The Token generation then leads me onto Glare of Subdual. Unfortunately, after there the rest of the deck falls downhill extremely rapidly (As you may have noticed — Soulsworn Jury?!).
I think the deck needs to be packed with creatures to make best use of the Sky Hussar’s forecast ability, and I think it might need to be defensive in nature. The other extreme would be to make it into a kind of flying White Weenie. On the surface, tapping aggressive fliers to draw cards seems a little at cross-purposes, but I’m not going to rule it out until I’ve given it a shot.
Yes, the decklist above probably isn’t very good, but I suspect Sky Hussar might be a little gem worthy of investigation. There is also the coming into play ability of the Sky Hussar to consider as well. Toss in Kiki-Jiki or Flame Fusillade and there might a lot of fun and games around this card.
So there we go. Here are some ideas to hopefully whet your appetite. I’m sorry these decklists aren’t as complete as you might, like what with Regionals right around the corner… Before you go off to the forums to trash them, call for my head, threaten to cancel your premium subscription and ask for me to be sent to Guantanamo Bay, please bear in mind these are only first looks. Hopefully I’ve given people some ideas if they want to try running with something rogue. The rest of the work you’re going to have to do yourself.
My personal advice would be to play the deck you are most comfortable with that is giving you the best results against the popular decks. Standard seems very diverse at the moment. It might sound like old cod, but the best deck to play is the one you’re happiest with.
Personally, I’m always happiest playing decks that are unexpected, as it forces my opponents to deviate from their hours of robotic play-testing and actually use their brain. In most cases, the results aren’t pretty.
So Craig, is that enough Standard decks for you? Can you let me out now? These chains are hurting!
Craig, I’m getting hungry.
[I guess I can unlock you… – Editor Craig, vicious taskmaster.]
Until next time,