The Standard And Modern Decks We’d Play At The Season One Invitational

It’s a double dose of What We’d Play! Get the Standard and Modern decks top SCG personalities would shuffle up for the Season One Invitational at SCG CON, and vote for your favorite!

Welcome to What We’d Play! With the Season One Invitational at SCG CON Summer this weekend, many are unsure what they’d play in such a high-profile tournament. That’s where we come in and let you know what we’d play and why we’d play it. Hopefully this last-minute advice aids in your decision making! Be sure to vote for who you agree with in the poll at the end!

Corey Baumeister – Four-Color Dreadhorde (Standard) and Izzet Phoenix (Modern)

It’s always difficult to walk away from the most powerful deck in Standard, and Four-Color Dreadhorde is pound-for-pound exactly that. I expect both Gruul and variants of Esper to be highly played this weekend and those are good matchups for this deck. Unfortunately, the third deck I’m expecting in high numbers is Mono-Red Aggro, that matchup isn’t good, and there’s no way around it. Even with the Wildgrowth Walker package, it just isn’t enough to keep up with the power level of Experimental Frenzy. Luckily the rest of the metagame is so distracted by the red menace that I expect it to not put up the best numbers this weekend.

With the metagame’s most popular deck being Humans right now, I want to make sure I have a great plan against the deck. The return of Gut Shot over Surgical Extraction in the maindeck swings this matchup back around for our beloved firebird. If Mono-Green Tron ends up being well represented this weekend, it’s not going to end up being the best choice even with all the hate cards in the sideboard, but luckily the best plan in Modern is to dip, dive, dodge, duck, and dodge all bad matchups!

While Core Set 2020 is around the corner, we still have a little more time to play the most consistent deck in the format before the London Mulligan takes it away from us.

Sam Black – Bant Mass Manipulation (Standard) and Izzet Phoenix (Modern)

I’d play this very small modification of Daniel Hall’s Bant Ramp deck from Grand Prix Kansas City. My only change was cutting two Frilled Mystic for two Tamiyo, Collector of Tales. I’ve played a lot with Simic Mass Manipulation, and not very much with the Bant version, but these card choices make sense to me and I like a lot of the choices here. One standout that I think might be really underplayed that I’m excited about here and might want another copy of is River’s Rebuke. The format is clearly full of expensive permanents and it’s amazing against Command the Dreadhorde specifically. I’m also excited about the idea of using Tamiyo to cast it multiple times.

I like the curve of good creatures against red decks in the sideboard – the combination of Thorn Lieutenant, Ripjaw Raptor, and Lyra Dawnbringer – and I’d consider going further by possibly adding Thrashing Brontodon over the Frilled Mystics in the sideboard.

War of the Spark introduces a lot of new options to Modern that I don’t know that anyone’s really had time to figure out, which makes Modern kind of scary to me, since I feel like someone could show up with something that’s both unexpected and powerful fueled by cards from War of the Spark. Having not broken it myself, I want to play something proven, powerful, and proactive.

If Dredge hadn’t just won SCG Louisville, I’d play Dredge, but I don’t want to play Dredge when it’s being fully targeted. In today’s Fact or Fiction, I argued that Izzet Phoenix is still the best deck until Modern Horizons or the London Mulligan changes that, and I think now is a good time to play it. I’d base my list on Drake Sasser’s list with some small modifications. I like his move to Gut Shot in the maindeck, as I think there’s a lot of Humans right now, but I think Dredge is also a serious concern, so I’d split the difference between that and Surgical Extraction.

I also tweaked the sideboard slightly to my taste. I think things slow down in the mirror and I’d rather have the higher-impact card in Chandra, Torch of Defiance over Flame Slash (they both have implications in other places, but I think Chandra’s better overall also), and I cut an Alpine Moon for an Anger of the Gods to favor cards against Humans and Dredge over cards against Tron based on my expectations for the metagame. The card I’d most like to find room for is a Ceremonious Rejection, possibly over the fourth Surgical Extraction.

Dylan Hand – Esper Superheroes (Standard) and Humans (Modern)

Esper Midrange has likely reached its final form for the remainder of War of the Spark Standard, and it has been putting up exceptional results for quite a few weeks at this point, most recently with a Grand Prix-winning performance from fellow writer Ben Friedman, who wrote about how he won with the deck and what changes he would make moving forward.

For Invitationals, I like to err much more heavily on safe deck choices. Not only is this deck a safe choice, but it is, at this point, a well-oiled machine, capable of beating anything it wants to. Just have a solid plan for the mirror match.

In my column this week, I spoke briefly about how I think Humans’ only bad matchup in the top tier of Modern at the moment is Dredge, and suggested a heavy-handed approach to graveyard hate in the sideboard to counteract it. A few days later in the week has not changed my mind, though I now think you should play Ravenous Trap over Leyline of the Void, as it won’t be a dead draw if you draw one later.

Regarding the maindeck three-drop flex slot, my overall power rankings heading into this weekend are as follows, so if you are averse to Kessig Malcontents, here would be my second-, third-, and fourth-best suggestions:

1. Kessig Malcontents

2. Thalia, Heretic Cathar

3. Deputy of Detention

4. Militia Bugler

I expect Humans to be the best Modern deck for this tournament, and the most popular. Like I mentioned in my blurb about Esper Superheroes above, you’d best be well-versed in the mirror if you expect to succeed this weekend.

Shaheen Soorani – Esper Midrange (Standard) and Izzet Phoenix (Modern)

It will be a coinflip between Esper Midrange and Esper Control for me this weekend. I believe that Esper Midrange is better-suited to defeat a field of Mono-Red Aggro and planeswalker-based midrange decks. Esper Control is in a close second place, also defeating Mono-Red Aggro easily, but having a heck of a time against an army of three-cost planeswalkers. I am loving Standard now; however, I think there may be too many of these things running around.

Esper Midrange applies pressure, where Esper Control cannot. A simple Turn 2 Hero of Precinct One can tighten the screws on an opponent, causing them to play defense. Although the spells in Esper Control are very powerful, it may not be as friendly of an environment for a creatureless deck. I may change my mind at the last minute because Esper Control is where my heart lies. Whichever version I run with, you’d better believe there will be plenty of copies of Narset, Parter of Veils in the list.

Izzet Phoenix is the most powerful option for the Invitational this weekend. Unfortunately for me, I haven’t had the time to test the archetype in a very long time. Whenever this situation occurs, my Celestial Colonnade comfort zone beckons. I think Azorius Control is a solid choice; however, the metagame is looking very soft for the former king of the hill.

Izzet Phoenix has the maindeck best suited to defeat Humans, while having a great Game 1 against most of the field. Even though most professionals have a plan for it, a significant amount of time has passed since Surgical Extraction was an automatic maindeck start. Even my current Azorius Control prototype has completely abandoned Game 1 graveyard hate, as the amount of Izzet Phoenix has been criminally low.

Ari Lax – Bant Mass Manipulation (Standard) and Azorius Control (Modern)

Here’s where I’m at on Bant Mass Manipulation, just doing my usual best to optimize the goldfish deck.

I’ve started with two base premises: Nissa, Who Shakes the World is insane; and paying two mana for a ramp spell is dumb. You want to start casting whammies at five or six mana, and two-mana ramp spells script your plays on Turns 2 and 3 to get there. One-mana ramp might let you double-spell on those turns, or just get you there Turn 3. My Paradise Druids are just a concession to wanting blue-producing mana sources.

Growth Spiral is a virtual one-mana ramp spell, as you can use the land that turn, but Arboreal Grazer is the big deal. Having three mana on Turn 2 is how you do some really dumb stuff, and while the second Grazer is really rough to use, the first one is just Time Walk. This then chains into my 28 lands, because you need more for those cards and lands are underrated anyway.

The things I’m not sure of are the maindeck singletons and the sideboard Deputy of Detentions. I’m sure Jadelight Ranger and Tamiyo, Collector of Tales are bad as they don’t play your linear game and I’m sure the sideboard creatures are good, but Ripjaw Raptor might deserve a spot.

This deck just does really stupid things in a format where you are punished for trying to stop your opponent from doing things. What more could you want?

Do you want the “Do as I say” answer or the “Not as I do” answer? Who am I kidding? I know what people want to see.

If there’s a War of the Spark planeswalker I love more than Nissa, Who Shakes the World, it’s Narset, Parter of Veils. I am 3-0 in a Magic Online League with this nonsense. Matt Ferrando was the initial source for this deck, and he Top 8’ed the Grand Prix Providence Modern MCQ with it before losing to a mistake against Mono-Green Tron.

People have recognized the new planeswalkers are good, but I don’t think they have properly adjusted for how good they are in Modern yet. Why are we playing the same dumpy Azorius Control deck when we have a million more super-powerful card draw engines? Why not spend some cards to have a leaner, more Modern-format-conducive deck with free spells? I want my deck to look like it really wants Chrome Mox to be legal, and this deck certainly feel that way.

Kevin Jones – Izzet Phoenix (Standard) and Mono-Red Phoenix (Modern)

SCG has revolutionized how an Invitational is run in recent years with SCG CON Summer and now I look forward to the gathering almost as much as the Magic. Nonetheless, I intend to register some well-positioned decks and turn around my historically poor record of Invitational performances. Izzet Phoenix is still punching tickets to Barcelona through MCQs and last weekend’s GP Kansas City. I intend to stick with my pet deck for the Standard portion of the SCG Invitational and I’ve made some changes in light of the rise of the mirror and the uptick in cheap planeswalkers we’ve seen recently.

Aside from my brush with divinity in the form of the masterpiece that was Grixis Delver, I’ve been awful in Modern. The best players on the SCG Tour consistently wreck people in Modern and I’ve never been able to keep up. This weekend, I’ll be trying to get people dead with Arclight Phoenix in Modern as well. However, Azorius Control recently adopted Teferi, Time Raveler and Narset, Parter of Veils, two cards that gave the deck a huge boost. I’m terrified to play control in Modern, but if you’re braver than I am, Azorius is in a great spot.

As such, I’m likely registering Mono-Red Phoenix so I can keep flapping my Daddy Wings without being so weak to Narset and Teferi, since the new Azorius decks are weak to cheap threats that have haste and can go under them while also managing their planeswalkers as needed. I haven’t finalized a list yet, but the one above seems to provide a mostly accurate picture of what I want to do.

Bonus points to Ryan Ferries for his Top 16 list and for letting me register Rending Volley in 2019. Three copies? That’s putting the gas pedal right to the floor!

Autumn Burchett – Esper Superfriends (Standard) and Dredge (Modern)

Arne Huschenbeth was one of the people responsible for the early evolution of Esper Superfriends, and the person that Oliver Tomajko credited for the list he played when he made the finals of SCG Syracuse. There are many ways to build Esper decks in War of the Spark Standard, with many of the questions revolving around how highly you value having access to Hero of Precinct One and Thief of Sanity. Personally, I prefer the more focused approach of these Superfriends decks, making you immune to creature removal and allowing you to maindeck a bunch of sweepers. The combo of The Elderspell with Teferi, Hero of Dominaria is also just a little absurd, letting you make Teferi emblems from out of nowhere, and I enjoy being able to maximize that as much as possible.

I may end up changing a couple cards from Arne’s list, but honestly it is very impressive already and I can’t see myself changing much. Ixalan’s Binding is incredible right now against the portion of the format that isn’t playing Teferi, Time Raveler – Izzet Phoenix, Simic Mass Manipulation, Mono-Red Aggro, and Gruul Midrange all have some premium targets for it that they lean on against you. The other notable inclusion is History of Benalia in the sideboard, a flashback to when Azorius Control ran rampant over Standard a year ago. This card is the perfect way to punish opposing Superfriends decks in a world where Thief of Sanity just doesn’t quite cut it any more.

Dredge has been quietly warping Modern ever since Creeping Chill entered the format. The resurgence of Dredge is the reason that Azorius Control went from being one of the most successful decks in the format to barely seeing any play overnight when Guilds of Ravnica was released. Teferi, Time Raveler and Narset, Parter of Veils are making Azorius Control very hyped up right now, though, causing people to flock back to Azorius Control, and this makes the prospect of Dredge very exciting to me. Sure, these lists often run maindeck Surgical Extractions, but the fact they do this is already a sign of how scared they are of being eaten alive by decks like Dredge and is rarely enough to actually stop you on its own.

Further, Whir Prison, a nightmare matchup for Dredge, has almost entirely disappeared, and Blast Zone is a huge gain for Dredge too. Being able to Life from the Loam back this powerful land threatens to repeatedly clean up the opposing battlefield or fight through hate cards, and notably this has helped out Dredge a lot in the face of Humans. The plan of trying to soft-lock your opponent out of the game with Auriok Champion is embarrassing when you know that Blast Zone is always looming. There’s a chance that we should have just been playing Dredge all along, so playing it when it seems so well-positioned just seems like the easy choice.

Todd Anderson – Izzet Phoenix (Standard) and Izzet Phoenix (Modern)

The more I play with this deck, the more I like the older versions that didn’t get too fancy. Running three copies of Crackling Drake feels right because you need to balance your ability to close games against aggro as well as your vulnerability to Teferi, Time Raveler. Finale of Promise is also still a strong card, though it tends to be weaker when your opponent is playing both Narset, Parter of Veils and Teferi, Time Raveler.

But really, it’s all about balance. Finding the right instant-to-sorcery ratio is important, but it’s also imperative that you have a nice balance of removal and card draw. Too much card draw and you spin your wheels against aggro and die. Too many cards like Lava Coil and the planeswalker decks start to eat you up.

The biggest card in the sideboard is probably God-Eternal Kefnet, if only because it dodges Lava Coil from an opposing Mono-Red deck. It’s one of the best cards for helping close games in the face of spot removal, which their deck is heavily leaning toward after sideboard in order to fend off Crackling Drake. It also gives you some threat diversity if your opponent is playing any sort of grindy control deck. Ral, Storm Conduit is also a solid option in the sideboard for helping contain opposing planeswalkers.

I love drawing cards and killing creatures, and this deck does both of those things in spades. If you’re a fan of doing those two things, then Izzet Phoenix is the deck for you.

No bells or whistles, this Izzet Phoenix deck is the closest I’ve come to “perfection” in an archetype. All the numbers make sense, and we are about as efficient as we can possibly be. With that said, the sideboard is also narrowed down to what I expect the metagame to be, as well as how I like to build my sideboard in tournaments like the Invitational. Here, we’ve gone away from Alpine Moon and Blood Moon because all our land-based opponents will have Nature’s Claim or some other way to handle it. I haven’t been impressed by either card in the dozens of matches I’ve played, and the big mana matchups are usually pretty tough no matter how many cards I bring in for it.

I want to focus on Dredge, the mirror, and aggressive strategies like Humans. By doing so, we’re limiting the overall number of decks we can interact with but making our matchups better against them. And since I expect to face these three archetypes in at least four of my eight matches at the Invitational, I think it’s important to understand when you’re beaten and focus on the matchups you can actually win.

We’re not doing anything overly impressive here, but we’re also not stretching ourselves too thin. I like the direction I’ve chosen here, but it’s a gamble. Because we’ve limited our sideboard space, we could very easily get paired against Mono-Green Tron, Amulet Titan, and even something like TitanShift and get completely destroyed. But even if you had three or four cards in your sideboard to help out in those matchups, they’re pretty lopsided when you don’t draw a lot of Phoenixes or hate.

But that’s Modern, baby.