The State Of Standard

Standard is turning out to be an incredibly broad format thanks to the ability to do pretty much anything you want and make the mana work… so CVM has to figure out what it is he wants to do and make it happen for #SCGStates this weekend!

The second week of Battle for Zendikar Standard is in the books and it looks like Gerry’s Five-Color Bring to Light shenanigans didn’t quite catch on. There were some Atarka Red players at #SCGATL keeping the spirit of the Week One winner strong, but the big news from the weekend was the absolute dominance of the G/W Megamorph shell and the Jeskai Black shell.

While Hangarback Walker continues to be ubiquitous, representing four spots in six of the Top Eight decks, it seems that there is still room for some innovation to be had with both Tom Ross and Todd Anderson playing unique versions of each popular deck.

The finals saw two almost-identical G/W Megamorph decks battle it out, but I want to look at Tom’s version where he decided to splash Blue and turn the deck into a more intricate Bant Megamorph deck.

As we can see by comparing it to the G/W Megamorph deck, Tom’s Bant version is still extremely close; in fact, we really only have to change the manabase around a little to incorporate the blue splash. The spells are different, including one of the main reasons to go this route in Dispel, but just about everything else is intact. We can see that adding blue to the G/W Megamorph deck is extremely easy: simply playing a few more Battle lands (Prairie Stream) and getting to use one of the new creature-land, Lumbering Falls.

I don’t feel like we’re there just yet, but it is very important to note that going this route gives you access to Lumbering Falls, which in the right metagame can be absolutely crushing. Tacking on a 3/3 Hexproof creature-land alongside the Den Protector and Deathmist Raptor engine that already give control fits gives us quite the resilient machine to work with. Unfortunately, Crackling Doom is absurdly easy to splash for in the Jeskai decks, and we are going to be seeing that for a long time.

That being said, I feel like Dispel is the reason to have blue in your deck (that’s not already a Jace, Vryn’s Prodigy deck) since it does such a good job of fighting the proper fights.

Crackling Doom Dig Through Time Foul-Tongue Invocation Draconic Roar Wild Slash Fiery Impulse Valorous Stance Become Immense Ojutai's Command Dromoka's Command Atarka's Command Kolaghan's Command Silumgar's Command

These are just a few spells that get countered by Dispel, all for the low cost of a single blue mana. This is exactly what a splash card should look like, and I expect to see this card cropping up more and more. The reason I feel this way about Dispel is kind of connected to the reasoning behind why I see G/W Megamorph doing so well as it is in this current format.

It’s not a surprise that cheap interaction is quite watered down from what it was in the Theros/Khans of Tarkir Standard. Paying three or more mana for your premier removal spell is the new normal, and with Jace, Vryn’s Prodigy being so good at what it does, the types of cards that are seeing play are powerful enough to do multiple things. Crackling Doom kills their biggest creature and gets in some damage, Ojutai’s Command does a plethora of broken things, and Dig Through Time is the be-all of catching-up spells (while taking a little longer to get to Delve range due to missing as many one- and two-mana interactive spells). But the time and mana that goes into these powerful, versatile things has left room for this G/W Megamorph deck to run rampant.

Warden of the First Tree alongside Den Protector, Hangarback Walker, and Deathmist Raptor present just enough of a clock to force our opponents into interacting with us as soon as they can while also representing great cards to draw and put on the battlefield in the mid- and late-game. This combined with Wingmate Roc absolutely punishing any slower midrange strategy while also being a decent way to claw back out of a losing situation against an aggressive deck, giving the G/W Megamorph deck the ability to put a stranglehold on the format.

Once we take all of that into consideration, looking at the rest of the deck is actually pretty gross. Nissa, Vastwood Seer is a great value card and combined with Gideon, Ally of Zendikar we have a formidable planeswalker team that can grind it out with the best of them. Valorous Stance and Dromoka’s Command do way too much for only two mana apiece, and with the simple addition of a G/W Battle land that doesn’t do damage to us in Canopy Vista, it has really helped put this deck right at the top of the format.

Where Dispel fits into all of this is that it’s also great against the format as a whole – at least it was for this last weekend. Sadly it doesn’t do much of anything in the G/W Megamorph mirror, and as we saw from Tom over the weekend he felt that his build was inferior in the mirror due to the straight G/W deck being a bit sleeker.

We’ve basically seen Crackling Doom push the Dragonlord Ojutai-centered Esper Dragon decks out of the format, but I wonder if this technology can be incorporated into that deck. Dispel seems like a great way to protect our Dragonlord Ojutais. Now we just need another clean answer for Deathmist Raptor and Den Protector shenanigans!

I actually like Horribly Awry as a counterspell against these G/W Megamorph decks, and it’s not even all that bad against Jeskai Black. Hitting almost all of the creatures in G/W Megamorph while also hitting Jace, Vryn’s Prodigy and Mantis Rider seems pretty sweet to me. Exiling the spell is the extra bonus that puts it over the top. Limiting their targets for Den Protector and Ojutai’s Command seems like it’s something that’s going to be very important. Along the same vein, I also think that Complete Disregard can do some of the same things, and can even be recast with Jace, Vryn’s Prodigy once you unleash the Telepath Unbound.

I think that if there ends up being an Esper Control deck, Dragons or no, that these two cards along with Dispel seem like they are important pieces of the puzzle. The issue then would be if the Bring to Light decks start coming back, as Dispel and Horribly Awry both seem pretty bad against them. We can snag a Siege Rhino or Jace, Vryn’s Prodigy with the counterspell, and we can snag an instant that it cast via Bring to Light, but we can’t actually stop the five-mana sorcery with either of those spells.

I think that G/W Megamorph is such a powerful deck that, even if it wasn’t extremely well-positioned, it would be a good choice to play in any event that you have coming up – like SCG States. I plan on playing in States here in Seattle, but sadly I can’t decide if I want to go with G/W Megamorph or Jeskai Black. I think that both decks are extremely powerful, and while I love playing with Dromoka’s Command I have been growing a steady fondness for Vryn’s Prodigy.

There were four total Jeskai decks in the Top 8, three Jeskai Black and one Jeskai Dragons. Todd Anderson piloted a version of Jeskai Black with no copies of Hangarback Walker and went with Seeker of the Way and two copies of Dragonlord Ojutai along with some Dispels in the maindeck. He claimed that his deck was bad and that no one should play it for States this weekend, and I’m interested to read his article this week about why he feels that is true, but I imagine that not having Hangarback Walker was huge and set him back quite a bit. I do like that he had two copies of Jeskai Charm to reset them by putting opposing Hangarback Walkers back on top of his opponent’s library, but having your own goes a long way towards fighting that particular fight.

The other interesting difference is that Todd had Treasure Cruise in his deck over Dig Through Time. I know that in the Heroic decks of old, we preferred Treasure Cruise. Not only did it play great with Monastery Mentor and all of our fetchlands, but basically all of our cards did the same thing so just drawing a critical mass of them was paramount. It also wasn’t exactly easy to get UU to cast Dig Through Time then either.

The Jeskai Black deck is a little different, and most of the time I would much rather have Crackling Doom + a card over three randoms, which is what Dig Through Time usually gets us. Also, with the new Battle lands in our mana base, getting UU is fairly easy.

I really liked David Mathis’s version of the deck. It feels like a little more streamlined version that Adam Varner piloted to a Top Four finish week one in Indianapolis, which I like. My one gripe is that with only two copies of Dig Through Time I feel like we can definitely support a Murderous Cut in the maindeck somewhere. I think it’s pretty easy to play around not losing Spell Mastery for the Fiery Impulses that we’re using and it gives us a pretty mana-efficient way of tackling big creatures.

I really like how Mantis Rider matches up against the majority of the format. With Bile Blight and Lightning Strike gone, there really is just Draconic Roar to handle it efficiently outside of a Fiery Impulse with Spell Mastery, and sadly without Stormbreath Dragon or another Dragon that you want to run as a four-of alongside Thunderbreak Regent I don’t think that Draconic Roar is quite where we want to be. Although it is worth noting that John Holland felt differently with his Jeskai Dragons deck…

I’ve always been excited by the prospect of rebuying Draconic Roar with Den Protector, and getting to do something similar with a Jace, Telepath Unbound sounds equally as nice. I think that if I were to play something like this I would definitely want some copies of Dispel in the maindeck, plus more in the sideboard to combat all of the Crackling Dooms that are running around.

Since this weekend isn’t just all about Standard (although I wish it were) we do have some Modern to look at. With the 5k Modern Premier IQ in Atlanta last weekend, we really didn’t see much get shaken up. We continue to see Jund and other Abrupt Decay decks continue to do better and better each week. I had been on Amulet Bloom for quite some time, but recently I’d felt like U/R Splinter Twin could be a go-to deck for me for Modern States and for #SCGDFW at the end of the month. Seeing all of these Abrupt Decays is starting to make me think the reverse is true instead.

Sadly, every time I try to get some testing in on Magic Online with Amulet Bloom, I either misclick something or play against something like U/R Twin or Ad Nauseum, both of which are miserable to play against. I still have some time before my events happen, but if I think there is going to be a low number of Blood Moons running around then it might be time to sleeve up Old Faithful and get some Primeval Titan action going.

Before I go, I do want to share a sweet Jund Dragons deck that I saw a friend, Michael Segal, talking about on Facebook. I haven’t gotten a chance to give this deck some reps, but it does seem pretty sweet and I think that I might try to gather all the cards for it and give it a try this week on my stream. Not having Stormbreath Dragon is a real blow, but I think that I’m focusing too much on what we had before and not on what we have now. Den Protector and Hangarback Walker are huge against control decks, and we still get to punish people for taking damage from Draconic Roar with cards like Sarkhan, the Dragonspeaker and Kolaghan, the Storm’s Fury… which just so happens to play so well with Pia and Kiran Naalar.

Check it out, give it a try, and flap them Dragon wings to fly.