Time is running out. #SCGDEN is just around the corner and following that is the #SCGINVI in Las Vegas, which is the last chance for players to punch their ticket for the #SCGPC back in beautiful Roanoke, Virginia.
Even though we had #SCGNJ last weekend in which Chris Andersen made another Top 8 with Lands– maybe I should try to learn to play that deck, by the way–I want to focus on what’s coming up in Denver. I also want to take a moment to recognize that a non-Brainstorm deck won the whole thing in New Jersey, and I will second the continued cries for banning Sensei’s Divining Top.
But I digress. Back to Standard and Denver.
Last week, I talked about a bunch of different Standard decks from the results of #SCGKC and #GPKobe, where I mentioned that we were back on the precipice of “be ready for Atarka Red or die to it.” Mark Evaldi took my advice for the Standard Premier IQ at #SCGNJ and instead just sleeved up the beast and won the whole thing. In fact, there were two copies of Atarka Red and a copy of R/G Landfall in the Top 8 with the winning deck being extremely close to the winning deck from #GPKobe.
Mark decided to stick with the Hordeling Outbursts that were played and even went so far as to sleeve up Boiling Earth for the mirror. With Jace, Vryn’s Prodigy being the posterchild for Standard, I don’t mind seeing a full set of Rending Volley, as it also hits the troublesome Soulfire Grand Master. Roast is also a great way to handle Siege Rhinos, and it’s also a good way to cook a delicious turkey, like I did last week.
I truly do love Atarka Red, and am excited to go back to jamming this deck on Magic Online like the rest of us who still have the cards and play it every time it wins a premier event, but what happens next is going to be the interesting part.
I think that Atarka Red started to creep back up because everyone forgot about it. With all the sweet things you can do with the many colors of mana that the lands in Battle for Zendikar afford, everyone was busy jamming their Abzan/X decks against the Temur/X decks against the Esper Dragons decks. Hate cards started to decline a little bit, and then bam, Temur Battle Rage takes another victim.
The main cards that people are using to combat Atarka Red are Surge of Righteousness and Arashin Cleric, but with the switch over to Hordeling Outburst, these cards have a little less of an impact. Look at the second place list from the Premier IQ in New Jersey last weekend. Joe Naseef is actually one of my good friends, and after seeing the lists and his three Arashin Cleric, two Surge of Righteousness, and copy of Virulent Plague, I was baffled as to how he lost. Well, mulligans happen, and sometimes the Atarka Red deck just kills you on Turn 4.
The trick for #SCGDEN is going to lie in threading the needle correctly with what we perceive that everyone is going to be jumping onto. I think that it’s safe to assume that there will a large number of people playing straight up Atarka Red, and Mark’s list in particular. Some people will pick up Bryant Cook’s list since he also placed in the Top 8 and is a fairly well-known magician, but the allure of playing the deck that took first place is just too much for some to handle.
If we look at the Top 8 from the Premier IQ at #SCGNJ, we also see that there were three copies of Esper Dragons present as well. Along with the other decks that placed in the top 8–R/B Dragons, Temur Black, and G/R Landfall–we notice that there aren’t any Abzan decks. In fact, there were only two Abzan decks in the Top 16, both being of the Aggro variant.
There were also zero Jeskai decks.
I think that this has definitely helped Atarka Red, as Arashin Cleric and/or Surge of Righteousness isn’t usually enough to fend off the deck, but having something like Ojutai’s Command or Siege Rhino is needed to put the nail in the coffin.
Where does this all leave us for #SCGDEN though? I think it all adds up to this:
- 4 Monastery Swiftspear
- 1 Zurgo Bellstriker
- 4 Den Protector
- 4 Abbot of Keral Keep
- 4 Scythe Leopard
- 3 Snapping Gnarlid
Ben Schoenbrun, who is actually a distant cousin twice-removed of two SCG people, Daniel Schoenbach and Brian Braun-Duin, was dispatched in the semi-finals, but I feel like R/G Landfall is the deck that I would be on if I were to make it to Denver for the Open and if we think that the format is going to try and correct itself rather than everyone jump on the Atarka Red bandwagon.
R/G Landfall is weak in the “mirror” but definitely shines against just about every other deck. With many of the threats being green, we get to mostly dodge Surge of Righteousness. With the majority of our threats being larger than 1/1s, we get to attack through Arashin Cleric without having to use a pump spell.
We still have the same one-two combo with Become Immense and Temur Battle Rage, which is going to give us more time than we would normally have since people play scared against it (rightfully so, since they can just die out of nowhere).
The main card, to me, that puts this deck over the top is Den Protector. It’s pretty obvious that Den Protector is a good card against control or removal-heavy decks as a way to rebuy threats, but it’s extremely potent here, since some of the cards that we’re getting back are insanely mana efficient.
All of these spells are going to be doing quite a bit of damage, and getting an extra life out of them is game-winning, especially when combined with the rest of the text on Den Protector.
The fact that Den Protector’s evasion synergizes with what we’re trying to do as a deck is pretty sweet. Titan’s Strength, flip Den Protector, Titan’s Strength again is an easy nine damage that’s almost impossible to block.
Ari Lax and his team had this deck at #PTBFZ. Their combined record in Standard was pretty impressive, and he wrote about it here. I definitely think that the metagame going into #SCGDEN is something similar to that of the PT, and this deck could very well be the place to be.
The other deck that I recommend for #SCGDEN is just Esper Dragons. The deck is extremely powerful and can take over just about any game that happens to get into the mid/lategame, but with our access to cheap removal being restricted, there are some games where we’re going to struggle against hyper-aggressive decks.
There are different numbers that you can tweak the deck for, but some of the key points that I like right now are:
– Some number of Silkwrap in the maindeck
– No less than 27 land
– One or two Ojutai’s Command
– Between 2-4 Ultimate Price in the maindeck and sideboard
I’m also still a fan of Monastery Mentor in the sideboard of the deck and think that it should be a pretty big consideration if you were to play the deck.
There are a lot of other playable cards and if we go through all the Esper Dragon decks, we see different numbers all over the place.
I think that it’s all about just playing and tweaking to a list that you are comfortable with, as there are so many cards to choose from. With Atarka Red on the rise, I like having access to a full set of Foul-Tongue Invocation, but we do have to be cognizant of Hordeling Outburst and Dragon Fodder. I also like having access to Ruinous Path and/or Utter End for answers to planeswalkers, like Gideon, Ally of Zendikar.
The other deck that has me still excited is Temur Black, as it continues to evolve and do well in events.
- 4 Rattleclaw Mystic
- 4 Savage Knuckleblade
- 2 Yasova Dragonclaw
- 1 Whisperwood Elemental
- 4 Shaman of the Great Hunt
- 2 Whisperer of the Wilds
- 2 Tasigur, the Golden Fang
- 3 Jace, Vryn's Prodigy
Marquis Johnson took this version of Temur Black all the way to the Top 8 of the Premier IQ at #SCGNJ. This is much different from the aggressively-minded streamlined build that Brian Kibler came up with and Josh McClain Top 8ed with. I’m honestly not sure how much I like Jace, Vryn’s Prodigy in the deck, but Shaman of the Great Hunt does seem interesting. Woodland Wanderer kind of felt like a necessary part of the deck when I was playing the earlier versions, but this deck seems much different.
Kiora, Master of the Depths is a deceptively powerful card that I think we just haven’t found the right home for. I can imagine a post-Siege Rhino world where Kiora, Master of the Depths is all over the place, but it’s going to rely on mana creatures living and there being plenty of two-mana removal to use. The dream of curving something like Rattleclaw Mystic into Kiora, Master of the Depths and then untapping the Rattleclaw Mystic and a land to kill an opposing creature seems real nice. I will say that Kiora does seem to play well with Tasigur, the Golden Fang and also works well in the mid/lategame with haste creatures like Shaman of the Great Hunt and Savage Knuckleblade.
I will say that from my time playing the Temur Black deck online that Stubborn Denial quickly became the card I hated the most, but that could be a side effect of playing against a lot of mirrors.
I like having more than four mana creatures if you’re going to go down to 24 land. I felt like 25 land with the four Rattleclaw Mystic was close, but there were a lot of games that I was losing to either having the wrong colors or just not drawing lands. Another downside of the deck is that it doesn’t really mulligan all too well. We do have some explosive draws with Rattleclaw Mystic, but one or two simple removal spells kind of puts us in a spot where we are forced to play from behind and don’t do that very well since our whole deck is designed to push an advantage while playing from ahead.
I think that Standard is in a pretty good place right now, and much like the last few Standard formats, it feels very cyclical. Being able to adapt your list, or even the deck that you’re playing for the event is going to be super important for high profile events like a Grand Prix or Open Series. As for playing in FNMs or local Standard events, I think that the edges that you can gain by trying to “read your local metagame” aren’t going to outweigh the fun that you will have from just playing what you like to play. All of the decks in Standard are pretty close in power level, so if you’re the person who likes to Rally the Ancestors into a million Zulaport Cutthroats, or turn your Cedric Goblin tokens sideways, then just go for it. Smash face and be happy!
I do want to point out a deck that did well at #PTBFZ that a lot of people had missing from their radar. It’s powerful and plays some games of Magic that are just downright unfair. If you’re looking for something super spicy this weekend in Denver, sleeve up Martin Mueller’s Jeskai Tokens deck from the PT.
I’m also going to be doing a neat stream event this month, where I plan on streaming every day in December, so make sure you come hang out during the 31 days of Christmas streaming!