“Playing the best cards is a very effective way to win more at new formats.”
I’m quite excited about Bant Control in Standard, but I do have a few brief words on GP San Jose. The first Team Grand Prix in years was this past weekend,
and it was super fun. With over 1700 players (double the estimated numbers), there is no question it was a smash success, in terms of being a fun format
people want to play.
There are some hurdles to jump in terms of the logistical nightmares that go along with it, though. For instance, playing 11 rounds on day 1 (after an hour
deckbuilding period) makes for just too brutally long of a day. Cutting to just 5% of the field, rather than the usual 10-13% is also rough, considering
how much of the “prize” was getting to play on day 2 and actually team draft.
Finally, cutting to top 2, instead of top 4 or top 8 makes for a very stressful tournament with an awful lot of drawing dead and tie-breakers. This is only
made worse by the day 2 format, which involved playing 2 matches against each team. Because of the top heavy nature of the tournament and how easy it was
to end up in a situation where a single loss eliminates you, but you have to play two losses, the game-theory optimal strategy is often for both teams to
agree to play a single match, then whoever loses conceded the second one (which is explicitly legal, under the current rules).
Fortunately, a lot was learned this weekend, and I have no doubt the next team GP will have a more reasonable execution. The demand for team events is
certainly there in spades, as everyone seemed to come out of the woodworks to show up and be a part of the event.
Meanwhile, on the other side of the country, the StarCityGames.com Standard Open in Providence continued the blossoming of Return to Ravnica Standard. Many
of us preparing for the PT have remarked how awesome Standard looks, right now, and how much we’d like to play it some.
I got a chance to play a little Standard with Gerry, this weekend, and have a control deck I am liking. Let’s take a brief look at the results from
Providence, then get into that deck.
These results are based on the top 16 finishers from each of the two Return to Ravnica SCG Standard Opens, weighted by finish. Zombies and Jund continuing
to be major players is no surprise, though Reanimator doing well against is interesting. The transition from Raka Control (UWR) to straight U/W is close
enough that it is worth considering it to be the same archetype.
Tokens and Mono-Red are the new-comers to the top tables, but I think we have only begun to see the path they are going to go down. I am not surprised to
see G/W Ramp fall by the wayside, as I think it is probably mostly a bad Bant deck. Delver has also fallen off, with not a single copy making top 8. Funny
how different of a format it is without Ponder, isn’t it?
It is mildly amusing to see two different Junk (BGW) decks make the finals, particularly since both are using Angel of Serenity, despite being very
This take on Tokens just focuses on using a lot of good cards and making a lot of threats to keep bashing opponents. It appears the designer had Jund,
Zombies, and Control in mind when they designed it, which is exactly the field I’d want to be prepared for. Personally, I don’t think Tokens is where I’d
want to be right now, but if you want to play Tokens, tuning your list against those three decks is the exact right way to do it.
Notice that the list is not slave to the tokens theme. Just because you are a tokens deck, doesn’t mean you have to play all tokens. I also like
the Centaur Healers in the board (such a good card right now) and the Deathrite Shamans (which probably won’t be underrated after this weekend). Golgari
Charm is also a cute anti-Supreme Verdict card, to be sure.
- 2 Borderland Ranger
- 3 Arbor Elf
- 4 Avacyn's Pilgrim
- 4 Restoration Angel
- 4 Thragtusk
- 4 Angel of Serenity
- 1 Centaur Healer
- 1 Deathrite Shaman
The basic difference here is the replacement of Sorin, Garruk, Intangible Virtue, and Selesyna Charm with Grisly Salvage, Mulch, Unburial Rites, and more
Angels of Serenity. Angel of Serenity is a shockingly powerful fatty and will continue to find more and more homes to take advantage of her, both casting
her and cheating her into play.
Divine Reckoning is an interesting sweeper option. It combos well with Unburial Rites (not killing the Angel you brought back), as well as synergizing with
Mulch and Grisly Salvage, in terms of the flashback.
The third and fourth place finishers provide us updated “enemies” for our testing gauntlets. It is particularly interesting to note that both the third
place Jund deck and the fourth place Zombies deck also used Deathrite Shaman. The ability to exile Geralf’s Messenger, Gravecrawler, Stangleroot
Geist, and Unburial Rites targets mostly justifies the slow, but then it also provides a source of direct damage, lifegain, and occasionally, even mana
Rakdos Keyrune is so much better than the other Keyrunes, it is a little weird. Normally, they don’t make four cards in a cycle relatively close
in power and then one much better, but since we are here, we might as well use the hell out of the card. The reason the Rakdos Keyrune is so much better
than the others is two-fold.
First, a 3/1 first striker can totally take over a board. There are a lot of creatures that just can’t get through it, including Thragtusk. Contrast this
with a 3/3, a 2/2 flier, a 2/2 deathtouch, and a 2/1 that can loot when it hits. Most of those creatures can only hold off 1 or 2 drops, or threaten to
trade. Rakdos Keyrune completely dominates much more expensive creatures.
The other advantage to the Rakdos Keyrune is that taping for a Red or Black mana immediately is more valuable than tapping for a white or a blue, for
instance. This is because of the desirability of playing the Keyrune on turn 3, then taping it to make a cheap play like Pillar of Flame, Duress, Tragic
Slip, or Dead Weight.
Olivia has been absolutely awesome in the new format, and here we see Elliot taking it to the extreme. People will adjust their decks against her, but she
is still a total monster and one of the better cards.
I like the push to include more Rakdos’s Returns. They will help make up ground against decks that are not as vulnerable to removal. That said, I think it
is a mistake to have only a single Underworld Connections in your 75. Drawing extra cards is the other way you want to punish control decks.
- 4 Diregraf Ghoul
- 4 Gravecrawler
- 4 Geralf's Messenger
- 4 Dreg Mangler
- 2 Deadbridge Goliath
- 3 Rakdos Shred-Freak
- 4 Lotleth Troll
Deadbridge Goliath is pretty hot, giving Zombies a much appreciated bit of fat. This makes them less vulnerable to burn, provides some staying power
against removal based decks, and helps increase the dimensions the deck hits from (as its baseline strategy is getting targeted pretty heavily, at this
Golgari Charm maindeck is not actually that out there. It better than counters a Supreme Verdict, it destroys a Detention Sphere, it sometimes serves as
weird removal, and you can usually get some kind of value out of it just protecting a guy from a removal spell or trading in combat.
Here we see the beginnings of a more “true control” deck, complete with permission, card draw, and limited victory conditions. I am not sure I agree with
only two O-Ring effects, and honestly, Detention Sphere has been enough better for me, I would like to see more of it. It can still be nice to have a
single O-Ring to be able to hit the other person’s Detention Sphere, but in general, the ability to hit multiples is actually pretty decent, right now.
The package of four Jaces and two Tamiyos is going to show up again and again. I do wonder if these Thought Scours are needed, though. I get that you want
to make sure your Snapcasters can cantrip, but we do have options like Sphinx’s Revelation we could be doing more with. Azorius Charm already “cycles” for
us, if we want.
The mana in this deck is “too good,” if you ask me. Mana is said to be too good when you play way more fixers than you actually need. These aren’t Tundras,
remember. There is a cost. Do you really want this many Guildgates? They always come into play tapped, which doesn’t hurt you if you draw only 1, but they
also mean your Glacial Fortress will come into play tapped a little more often, and your Hallowed Fountain will deal 2 to you a bit more.
I think we could stand to see some Ghost Quarters in here. There aren’t as many Kessig Wolf Runs as there used to be, but there are still a lot of Gavony
Townships and Vault of the Archangels. Besides, as Gerry Thompson reminded me this weekend, Ghost Quartering Underworld Connections is super effective (a
card that this deck could have some trouble with).
For the second week in a row, the deck I am really excited about took 9th, another Bant Control deck.
I like most of what is going on here and this list went down a very similar path to the list I was playing Gerry with. The permission is just too bad to
play much of it, so we use Farseek instead (to speed us up, since slowing them down isn’t working).
Here is my build:
There are a lot of things I really like about this approach, not the least of which is the use of the three best cards in the format: Thragtusk,
Restoration Angel, and Jace, Architect of Thought. Finding a way to use all three in a cohesive strategy seems like a big win.
When I played Gerry, I was using a couple of Elvish Visonaries, which later changed into the Syncopate and another Tamiyo, but it is possible we need
something else early. What we really want is Augur of Bolas, but Detention Sphere and the Planeswalkers make it hard to get up to enough spells to make it
I would really like Dissipate instead of Syncopate, but we are pretty short on two-drops for a deck with no one-drops. We might also be a sweeper short of
where we need to be, which we could make room for by cutting a Sphinx’s Revelation or Tamiyo.
I am definitely pretty far into the “you don’t want Armada Wurm” camp, despite how good a card Armada Wurm is. It gives you more of what you already have
plenty of, and doesn’t really do what you need. It can definitely work, no question, but I would way rather be gaining an advantage from Angel of Serenity,
Sphinx’s Revelation, or more Walkers (not to mention Restoration Angel + Thragtusk).
Centaur Healer maindeck is really not that strange of a move, and I think we will see more of it. With so many two damage cards floating around, a 3/3 is
just a very relevant body. The gaining 3 life helps so much at buying us time against aggressive strategies. It actually reminds me a lot of Lightning
Helix. Lightning Helix is to Lightning Bolt what Centaur Healer is to Watchwolf.
I am really liking Ray of Revelation, right now, as there are just so many Detention Spheres and O-Rings (not to mention the recent popularity of
Intangible Virtue). We know opponents are going to want to O-Ring and Detention our Walkers, so getting to save one at instant speed for just two mana is
sweet. On top of that, we have effectively drawn another card, since we now have the second Detention Sphere answered before it even hits.
An important tactical play with Ray of Revelation, you can actually target your own O-Ring or Detention Sphere with the ability on the stack, so that the
card never comes back. This can be an invaluable technique to remember if you face someone with enchantment removal of their own and you need a key
permanent to stay gone for good.
Pillar of Flame is totally awesome in the format, but I don’t believe you need it to compete with control. We have already been seeing U/W decks emerge
without, and I think Bant is just a better way to go, due to the power of Thragtusk.
Pro Tour Return to Ravnica is coming up in just a few days, and I am off-the-charts looking forward to it. I’ve been playing Magic for 18 years and I am
not sure I have ever looked forward to a tournament so much. I have dreamed about
the Hall of Fame since it was created, and finally seeing that dream become reality has been absolutely incredible.
By the way, any last minute suggestions as to what to look at in Modern?
See you on the other side…