The Rock, Worlds, and the Defining Cards of Standard

Fresh from the Time Spiral prerelease, Jeroen Remie is here to answer your Magical questions. This week’s mailbag contains gems on subjects as diverse as Worlds, The Rock, Mana Leak versus Rune Snag, and Jeroen’s personal Top 5 list of Standard’s most defining cards. As usual, submit all questions to [email protected]!

I am fresh from the pre-release, and I gotta say, I liked this set a whole lot more than I initially thought I would. I won the first one I played, thanks to some friends from the past called Desolation Giant and Lightning Angel. They treated me very well. My second deck wasn’t great, but I feel like I have a pretty good grasp on what Time Spiral Sealed is all about.

This time, I won’t be doing my usual set review off the bat, as they haven’t been as well received as I thought. However, I will give you a great Limited walkthrough in the week leading up to Kobe, as by then I will have had a lot of practice with the cards and will be able to give you a very thorough look at the new set for every aspect of Limited play.

Until then, on with the questions!

Like I said, I still have a bunch of questions in my inbox, but most tend to be outdated now that a new set has come out and formats are set for a change. Be sure to send me your questions, updated for Time Spiral, to [email protected]

This week’s first question is by Hrafnkell Oskarsson:

Standard decks tend to evolve over time, and for relative noobs such as me it’s often hard to determine exactly why a newer version is better than the older. Let’s take the Roxodon Hierarch deck as an example. One can say it has morphed into Solar Flare (not by any direct means, but Solar Flare seems the obvious heir now that Roxodon is no longer on the radar). I played Roxodon a bit around Honolulu time, and even won a FNM at my local store with it. I’ve also played Solar Flare quite a bit and like it too. But to my untrained eyes it’s hard for me to put a finger on exactly why Solar Flare is better than Roxodon Hierarch in the current metagame. For instance, Roxodon Hierarch packed four Cranial Extractions main with Persecute nowhere to be seen, while current decks seem to favour Persecute over Cranial. Could you elaborate on this, please?

I’ve been playing a Rock deck lately (yeah, I love Rock), developing it for the last month or so. I’m playing just straight G/B, no splash for third color, as I like consistency over raw power. My first iterations of the deck were much more aggro oriented than tempo, using cards such as Dryad Sophisticate, Hand of Cruelty, and Moldervine Cloak (I’ve always kept the birds/elves plus Viper/Spectre engine plus Confidant). But lately I’m getting closer and closer to a tempo version, with (for instance) Okiba-Gang Shinobi, aiming to win all Jitte wars (I even have Naturalize main now). At the moment I have sort of a hybrid between aggro and tempo, and feel I need to focus the deck on either approach. Considering I only play G/B with no splash, which do you prefer for Rock, aggro or tempo, and why?

Here’s my current version of my Rock deck. I haven’t nailed down a sideboard yet, but it will definitely include cards such as Crime/Punishment, Persecute, Pithing Needle, Deathmark, and the fourth Jitte.

1 Shizo, Death’s Storehouse
6 Forest
6 Swamp
4 Llanowar Wastes
4 Overgrown Tomb
2 Golgari Rot Farm

2 Dryad Sophisticate
3 Hand of Cruelty
4 Dark Confidant
1 Ink-Eyes, Servant of Oni
4 Ohran Viper
2 Llanowar Elves
4 Birds of Paradise
4 Hypnotic Specter
2 Okiba-Gang Shinobi
4 Putrefy
2 Moldervine Cloak
3 Umezawa’s Jitte
2 Naturalize

On Roxodon Hierarchy: I happen to have a first hand experience in creating that deck, so I can tell you all about it. When we created the deck, we thought we had a very good idea of what the metagame was going to be, and what cards would be good and what cards wouldn’t. We then built the deck for this specific metagame, ending with a deck that could handle creature decks very well, but had problems with control and combo decks. This is where those Cranial Extractions came in, as they were, in our eyes, the best all-round answer to the weaknesses we thought there were in our deck.

We are now a couple of months later, with an additional set, and a completely different metagame. Back then, Owling Mine was good, Tron made Top 8, and Gruul won the whole thing. Now we have Sea Stompy, Tops and Counterbalances, and a whole new environment. The reason these decks are different is that the format has changed completely. Cranial Extraction isn’t very good anymore, and though I myself am not a huge fan of Persecute either, that card is simply better versus the current crop of decks. Who knows, in time, Extraction might be top dog again.

This basically shows that decks can never be judged or compared in a vacuum; they need to be looked at in their own respective formats. This is one of the most important things about building or choosing a deck for high-level competitive Magic.

As for the second query… I love the Rock as well, buddy. Note, though, that your deck, despite being G/B, isn’t really the Rock at all. It shares the colors but that is about it.

You are right about the fact that your deck does need focus, but you are incorrect about what you assume is Tempo or Aggro. Basically, those two things are exactly the same. Tempo tries to develop a quick board position and finish your opponent off, and aggro tries to do the exact same thing. Aggro is a deck type, like control and combo, whereas Tempo is a term used to describe the flow of the deck and your game plan in regard to fatties, discard, late game, midrange, disruption etc.

What you have been choosing between is Tempo (pure aggressive, fast beatdown, kill them as soon as possible) or Disruption/Discard (Gain card advantage through discard effects and card draw, and then finish the game from a winning position). Both types play different cards. For instance, Ohran Viper and Hypnotic Specter are great in the second deck, but in the first deck you would rather have stuff like Sophisticates, Moldervine Cloaks, and Giant Solifuges. Heck, even a Trained Armodon would be better than Viper, since your plan is to kill your opponent before card advantage kicks in.

That is why, in my opinion, you are better off playing R/G if you want tempo beats. B/G is the color combination for the Disruption plan of attack. This means that if I were to play a deck like that, I would play something like… I dunno, the second place deck at Dutch Nationals?

As an aside, I would also like to mention that if you are playing Naturalize for Jitte advantage, it is probably better most of the time to play the fourth Jitte before playing the first Disenchant effect… and in this deck, I would rather play Indrik Stomphowler.

The second question is by Vlada:

What advice do you have for people that are playing at Worlds for the first time? I am one of them, so I’m very interested in what tips you have. If you remember your first Worlds, tell us about your experience there.

I know from experience that Worlds is always a very overwhelming tournament. There are many formats to test, and so much going on, and you don’t know what to focus on. That’s why it is most important to remember that these kinds of tournaments, if they are your first, are there for you to enjoy yourself and suck up the atmosphere.

If you do not have a lot of time to test every format to death, just play what you know and focus on what you feel is your best field. All the different nationalities, and the lower number of strong competitors, make Worlds as a whole a more random tournament with more open metagames, so it is very hard to see everything coming.

At my first Worlds (Brussels 2000) I was in awe of everything around me – the Pros, the setting, everything – so I just played what I knew, and mostly just enjoyed myself. I played Stompy in both formats I think, and even beat Mike Long! I’d played that deck at the European Championships too, so knew what I was doing, and that worked well. We even made Top 4 with the National Team, in a year where there were some real powerhouses around!

The third question this week is by Sy Jonston, a regular contributor:

1. What do you feel are the five most influential cards in Standard right now? In what ways do they shape the format?

2. How did your deck that you played at Nationals address these five most influential cards?

Thanks for the excellent series! My Top 5 are Wrath of God, Umezawa’s Jitte, Wildfire, Remand, and Kird Ape. Sakura-Tribe Elder definitely feels like it should be on the list, but he doesn’t seem to shape Standard around himself. He is a fantastic card that enables a lot, but nobody alters their play style in case the opponent has an Elder. Elder isn’t a card that must be dealt with like the others… he is more like Remand.

I am not a great fan of making lists like this, as I feel decks are more important then single cards, but here goes. To me, the most influential cards in Standard right now are:

Umezawa’s Jitte

Pretty obvious. This card is in every deck, and dominates matchups by itself. Either you play a deck supporting Jitte, or a deck made to beat it.


Dominating tempo like nothing else, this card sees a lot of play and is in many ways the best counterspell we have.

Dark Confidant

The best card-drawer around is played by almost half the competitive decks in the field. Heck, people have even stopped worrying about taking too much damage… it is that good. It even got a boost by the printing of Counterbalance, which in effect made Bob’s Best Buddy playable again…

Sensei’s Divining Top

Back after a short period of being unplayable, this card got a great boost from the release of Counterbalance. It was often only used by decks that could shuffle, because playing it for a combo with only one other card was not good enough. Now you can combo it with more cards in the same deck (think of Mori’s winning Nationals deck), which means it is great again.

Ohran Viper

The second-best permanent card drawer in the format just wins games by itself, and needs to be dealt with ASAP.

Basically, our tactic at Nationals was to find a way to play most of the great cards in Standard, as well as address the number one best card – Umezawa’s Jitte – in the best way possible. The deck we played was a pure Jitte deck, built to beat the other Jitte decks, as well as play as many possible “great” cards. Meloku was sixth on my list, so I think we succeeded very well.

I don’t really like Wrath and Wildfire on your list, as they are not played all that much save one or two decks each. They are not very flexible in their use right now, being somewhat wrong for the current metagame. I feel they are going to be a lot better after Time Spiral become legal.

This week’s fourth and final question came to me by way of Randall Parrott, once again tying into our Nationals deck:

My question regards your opinions of Rune Snag versus Mana Leak. I am considering playing the Sea Stompy deck that you took to the Top 8 at Nationals, but wonder how often Mana Leak is better than Rune Snag. It would seem to me, since that is what you are running four of, that Rune Snag is better – as anything after the first is superior to Mana Leak. Is there a flaw in my logic? Am I missing a critical spell on turn 2, 3, or 4 that Rune Snag will not counter but Mana Leak will?

As I said, our deck is a pure tempo Jitte deck, and as such every card should count. The deck doesn’t care about the late-game; all it wants is to counter their early threats, get a Viper or Jitte going, and ride that to victory. By that rationale, the second Mana Leak doesn’t really matter, as all you really want is for the first to work 100% of the time, and after that take over with your other cards.

Rune Snag is only better in a deck that plans to draw its third and maybe even fourth copy; a deck that wants to go for long games. Our deck did not. It just wanted to finish the game early.

Also notice that often people will play a Jitte when they have four mana, planning to equip it and attack. Snag does not foil that plan, as they can still resolve said Jitte, but Leak does stop it. That may be the most important reason that Leak is simply miles better in this deck. It is a Jitte deck, after all.

That is it for this week, kids! I hope you all liked it, and I am looking forward to all your Time Spiral related questions at [email protected].