The Road to Regionals – The Points of Standard

Magic the Gathering Regionals!

Standard, as people have been saying time and time again, is a very open environment. So open that despite hours of testing, as of this writing, I am no closer to being confident in any Regionals deck. Oh sure, I know B/W Husk is still quite good, and Heartbeat is probably excellent in capable hands. I’ve been trying to incorporate Dissension into the mix, assuming there must be some nonland card in the set that is maindeck-worthy.

Standard, as people have been saying time and time again, is a very open environment. So open that despite hours of testing, as of this writing, I am no closer to being confident in any Regionals deck. Oh sure, I know B/W Husk is still quite good, and Heartbeat is probably excellent in capable hands. I’ve been trying to incorporate Dissension into the mix, assuming there must be some nonland card in the set that is maindeck-worthy. My results have been mixed, but I have learned some very interesting things about the new environment along the way.

If we can exclude the combo deck(s) from the picture for a moment, the environment comes down to three areas of intersection:

  • Must-kill creatures
  • Can’t-kill creatures
  • Removal

What’s interesting is how abundant all three of these are right now. There is an absolute crapload of quality removal available to anyone, which is a good thing because the creatures are awfully good. Let’s explore a few, shall we?

Must-Kill Creatures

Dark Confidant heads this list as probably the best creature in Standard. It’s amazing, and it can get out of hand fast, but what a crimp on deck building (see below). It’s presence, even as a possible hindrance to more powerful deck builds, still requires immediate responses from the opponent. It’s not just that Bob is an efficient little beater, and it’s not just that drawing multiple cards is good. Nope, the real kick to the jimmies is that Confidant often gives you cards that protect it! Shining Shoal, lose 2 life kill you. Plaxmanta, lose 2 life kill you etc. This isn’t, strictly speaking, a big deal, since Bob is supposed to be DOA anyway. It just means that a misstep in the early game is even more severe.

Going down the list, all the Guildmages probably deserve a quick response. Rakdos Guildmage, by virtue of it being played alongside Bob, is quite good, but with activations cost included, the Guildmage does approach being almost fair. Worse are cards like Trygon Predator, or Hypnotic Specter, or Rakdos Pit Dragon, or Ninja of the Deep Hours, or… Well, there’s a lot, really. Don’t be too scared though; all these good creatures mean every deck needs to be packing extra removal, which in turn lowers the amount of quality creatures the deck can support. Remand is good and all, but you really do want a way to permanently off the good men. All these fancy guys are in addition to general quality dudes, like Kird Ape or Hand of Honor. You don’t have to kill these guys per se, but you may want to get around to them at some point. That stuff is all standard fare, even if they are of a high quality, and cheap. What happens when the conventional threat/answer rules get a bit shifted?

Can’t-Kill Creatures

There are an incredible amount of these cards available right now, and they’re all surprisingly good. Paladin-en-Vec comes close, but Jitte still does the job at taking it out. What’s a little more difficult are cards like Giant Solifuge, Kodama of the North Tree, Ghost Council of Orzhova, and (sometimes) Meloku or Nantuko Husk. There’s also the granddaddy of them all, one Simic Sky Swallower.

SSS is one of the most vicious cards I’ve ever seen, held only in check by the fact it doesn’t go into a whole lot of decks. G/U has a pretty good creature set at the moment, with Coiling Oracle, the mana creatures, Plaxmanta, Trygon Predator, etc. But how in the world does Simic Sky Swallower fit into a deck with Plaxmanta? It’s not really a combo with Meloku, and it downright sucks with Dark Confidant. It’s an amazing card with no place to put it.

Creatures that do have homes have mana costs a little more down-to-earth. Kodama of the North Tree and Giant Solifuge offer a lot of power for reasonable costs, and, as every deckbuilder knows ad nauseum, they work quite well with Graft. I’m sure everyone is sick of Plaxcaster Frogling somehow living long enough to make Kodama of the North Tree a 7/5; I don’t even like the Frogling. And yet, 7/5 trample does sound nice…

The first thing is that Simic Initiate is not that bad. It looks bad, and it is bad, but it’s not that bad. A 5/2 Giant Solifuge is an honestly scary thing, and a 6/3 is gg on the spot.

The deck wasn’t flawed, exactly, but it was either a slow Gruul deck or some weird fatty build. The deck was just great with turn 1 Kird Ape and turn 2 Mauler, but that’s not really breaking new ground. The Graft creature set was interesting, and it led to some real blowouts. Actually, the blowouts happened when I knew the deck was no good as is; when they’re at two and you have fourteen points of power on the board, you’re doing something wrong. Who needs that much overkill? Things I did like were the removal cards and 7/5 trees. The Kodama may have to be sidelined, but those burn cards…


With all these quality beaters running around, it’s nice that Wizards hasn’t disappointed us in the realm of taking the f***ers out. Seal of Fire is numero uno in the lineup; if it’s not the most played Red card in Regionals, it ought to be. That’s not to say it’s the best removal card, but it does fit into the best decks. Personally, I’m a huge fan of Lightning Helix. The cheap removal bit is nice, but the lifegain seems especially valuable with Dark Confidant in your deck, or the tons of burn in theirs. Things are quite fast right now; Helix gives a very appealing swing in your direction.

Jitte is still around and still good. Paladin en-Vec seems a popular choice to wield the Pointy Stick, with both Hands also doing similar work. Some decks, even some creature decks, don’t necessarily lose to it… but that doesn’t mean they want to see it in play. As there are enough decks that either shrug it off or have a lot of maindeck hate for Jitte, it should probably be a sideboard card at this point. However, that doesn’t mean people will actually follow that guideline. The most successful decks probably won’t have Jitte maindeck, but if your deck auto-loses to it, you may not get a chance to play against the successful decks. It’s a frustrating puzzle.

Right now, I think the absolute best removal spell in the environment is Hit, of Hit / Run. Hit does everything you want it to, being amazing against your worst threats, and being in the right colors besides. There are two flaws with Hit. One is token creatures, a la Meloku, Vitu-Ghazi, or Sosuke’s Summons (yes, really). The other drawback to Hit is, of course, Run.

Why oh why couldn’t it be Hit / Miss? I would love to have a split card that had Hit on one side and “1: Flip a coin” on the other. Miss would do absolutely nothing, except doing four less points to you off a flipped Confidant. Sadly, it’s really a question of which is stronger, and Bob probably wins out by a slim margin. You can’t even have Hit / Run in the board to switch out, as they’re both good against the same decks. I’ve seen people eat four points of life loss with Bob by playing with Hide / Seek, as Seek can give you something back and Hide is a very useful card. Although…

What in the hell is the deal with the art of Hide? It has to be the dumbest representation of a spell in the history of the game.

“Look at me, I’m employing the dark arts to…put a ball behind my back! Where’s the ball?! Is it Magic? Cootchy cootchy coo!” I mean, I’ve never summoned a Fireball in real life, but apparently I’m an actual wizard because I can stick a chew toy down my shirt. Look out for Time Spiral’s newest split card: Someone Has A Quarter In Their Ear & Got Your Nose.

The amount of removal currently available to people is amazing, with Char, Wrath, Fetters, Threads, Govern the Guildless, Shock, Hammer, Electrolyze, the ‘ifys, and so on and so forth. They’re all great, and necessary, in this new Standard. Between the must-kills that have to die, and the players that need to die before they get the can’t-kills or combos, the burn suite has quite a bit of appeal right now.

Here’s a deck that attempts to blend all three points together.

This deck, or one like it, should be a popular enough build on Saturday. It offers some must-kills, can’t-kills, and lots of removal for a well-rounded package. It definitely doesn’t have the most power, but it’s consistent and should at least have game against any popular deck. I won’t be playing it because it looks thoroughly unexciting and untuned besides, but for the bored tweakers out there, it may have some appeal. And I know I said Jitte shouldn’t be maindeck, but at least this deck has pro-guys to carry it. If you want to, they can be replaced with Hide / Seek, or even Faith’s Fetters. Jitte just has that extra “oops, win” capability.

I know, this must be frustrating: all these half-adequate decks. Just imagine how it’s going for the testers! The fact of the matter is that Standard really does offer a lot of flexibility to a player. Any of the three pillars above can have decks built around them, or you can mix and match. I think at this point, barring the inevitable brilliant tech from one corner of the country, it’s more about playing to your own strengths than any kind of special, perfect build. I’m fully prepared to eat these words, but in the meantime, good luck this week.

Noah Weil

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I know the Heartbeat deck kind of avoids the whole creature/removal duet, but personally, it’s not for me. It’s not super hard to disrupt, but that of course weakens you against everything else. Like I said, I enjoy some degree of attacking, so it’s not the deck for me. However, that is not to say there aren’t other combo decks around…

This deck is probably Tier 2, but it’s actually far stronger than it looks. Dovescape is 90% of the time an auto-win, both as your win condition and against theirs. The Netherborn Phalanx is nominally there to transmute for Dovescape and the excellent Patron of the Kitsune, but the fact it works so well with a Dovescape in play is a nice bonus. Is there merit here? I think so, but does anyone have the time to make it hum?