Let’s consider the top decks in Standard right now:
Four of the five top decks in the format all play Green as their base color!
As most of you know, I have been advocating Blue/White as my deck of choice, mainly because of its matchup against Jund and its versatility against various other strategies. I am still of the opinion that Blue/White is the best choice, but given the way the metagame now looks, I would like to suggest a few semi-radical card choices.
Analysis of Card Choices
To start, one thing I noticed recently is that Pyromancer’s Ascension is rising in popularity. The deck is easily beaten if you choose to pack hate for it, but if you skimp, the deck is powerful enough to punish you for being ill-equipped. My hate cards of choice from a Blue/White perspective are Oblivion Ring and Celestial Purge. Aggressively attacking their Ascensions renders them unable to go off. Purge at instant speed is doubly devastating, since they will have burned important spells in an attempt to charge up the Ascension. Moreover, Purge is also good against RDW, Jund, and various obscure decks like Specter Grixis and Vampires. Likewise Oblivion Ring is great against the Titan Ramp decks if they are running Garruk Wildspeaker and/or Jace, the Mind Sculptor. So somewhere in the 75 I want four copies of Celestial Purge and four copies of Oblivion Ring.
The next card I want four copies of is Day of Judgment. With the exception of Sprouting Thrinax, Day of Judgment is surprisingly good against Jund. And between Path to Exile, Oblivion Ring, and Celestial Purge, getting the Thrinax off the table in time for Day of Judgment should not be all that difficult. Day is also really strong against the Mythic decks — your best card against them, actually. Against Blue/White, it is not terrible, but it is generally not something you want to draw. At is also pretty bad against the various Titan decks, but you want access to all four against Naya and Bant decks of all variety. Day should probably be split between the main and the board.
As far as counter-magic is concerned, I definitely want four copies of Mana Leak main. It stops everything you want to stop early, and given the amount of five-, six-, and seven-mana cards in the format right now, it often has a lot of utility even in the late game. Besides, by the time the opponent has three extra mana open, Blue/White should have drawn enough extra cards that using two Mana Leaks to counter a single spell is not a terrible deal.
I definitely want four copies of Flashfreeze. They are great against so many decks, and are one of your most versatile cards against Titan Force. Despite the amount of Green and/or Red decks in the format, however, I’m still hesitant to run them main. I’ve experimented with Essence Scatter, Negate, and Deprive, and each has it merits. Cancel, which in theory has the most versatile applications, has, ironically, been the narrowest for me. It does not counter early spells, it does not allow you to cast a medium-sized spell with protection (until a turn later), and you cannot cast it off Everflowing Chalice without leaving two Blue mana open. I would rather run a mix of the two-mana counters and just play the guessing game as to which one to burn and which one to conserve. I feel I know the metagame and opposing decks well enough to make the right choices in these scenarios.
Spreading Seas was one of the main reasons I switched from Jund to Blue/White, but now I don’t think Spreading Seas is good enough. Sure, it is still the stoneblade against Jund, and it is a good answer to Celestial Colonnade, Raging Ravine, and Valakut, the Molten Pinnacle. However, it is pretty miserable against most of the Titan Ramp decks. Also, against the Mirror and against Mythic you usually don’t want to leave it sitting in your hand waiting on your opponent to play a Celestial Colonnade. I often end up having to just burn it for an extra card. I think I would rather just run four Tectonic Edges and some number of instant speed removal spells (e.g. Path to Exile) and leave out the Spreading Seas altogether.
I’m still not sold on the Sun Titan package in Blue/White. I have had success with Baneslayer Angel, and given the way the metagame looks right now, I don’t see the Titan doing enough to justify paying an extra mana and weakening the rest of the deck. The Angel is still a dominating presence that halts opposing combat and generates a fast clock. The fact that it dies to Destructive Force is mute since the game is basically over if the Force resolves, regardless of whether you have a Sun Titan in play or not. Given that I’m running Celestial Purge over Kor Firewalker, the Angel is my only way to seal the deal against Red decks. Speaking of which…
I’m running zero Kor Firewalkers. There simply is not enough space to run everything I want, and between Celestial Purge, Path to Exile, and Flashfreeze, I decided I had enough ammunition against Red that I did not need to run this guy. Not running him is another reason for not running Sun Titan, since you no longer have that combo against Jund.
Some Blue/White decks run as many as three copies of Jace, the Mind Sculptor and three copies of Jace Beleren. I agree with the three Mind Sculptors, since they can bounce opposing problematic creatures and lock opponents out of the game in addition to their card drawing ability. Jace Beleren, however, is almost entirely for the mirror and for Titan Ramp matchups. Getting ahead on cards in these matchups is very important, but I’m not convinced Jace Beleren is the best way to accomplish this end. Against Blue/White, if you try to cast Jace Beleren and they Mana Leak it, they can untap and cast their own Jace and suddenly you are far behind. Similarly, against the Titan decks you do not want to tap out for a Jace early and give them free reign to cast whatever they want to cast without fear of counter-magic. All things considered, I think I would much rather have something like Jace’s Ingenuity than Jace Beleren.
Something I’m not 100% sure on is the absence of Mind Spring. The card has been very good for me, but against the Ramp decks, Jace’s Ingenuity is a better card. Moreover, I prefer to have more answers in the deck than card drawing. Five dedicated card draw spells feels like the right number to me, though I could be persuaded to run a sixth, given the versatility of Jace, the Mind Sculptor.
Gideon Jura is getting less and less impressive lately. The format is no longer defined by creatures that cannot attack profitably into a Gideon Jura. Killing a Titan with Gideon Jura is a miserable plan since they get so much value out of the Titan before it dies. Moreover, Gideon is too slow against Mythic decks. Sometimes he provides the pivotal answer in a race scenario, but usually he is just a glorified Fog or a lumbering chump-block-able oaf. With this said, he is a safety valve and a card I am not unhappy with in a lot of matchups. He does take down opposing creatures and forces things to attack into Baneslayer Angel. His effectiveness does not warrant running multiples though, since holding two in hand is generally pretty bad.
Elspeth, Knight-Errant, on the other hand, is spectacular. Against aggressive decks she pumps out chump blockers while you set up for Day of Judgment or Baneslayer Angel. She protects the other Planeswalkers, and she provides a quick clock when needed. People tend to forget that against a deck that is not attacking with early creatures, she is basically a 4/4 flyer for four mana. The only reason I do not run more than two is because drawing multiples can be really bad. Jace, the Mind Sculptor is the only Planeswalker worth taking that risk for, in my opinion.
Between Elspeth, Knight-Errant; Baneslayer Angel; Gideon Jura; and Celestial Colonnade, finding a win condition usually does not take much effort. When it is time to turn the corner, our defensive spells can turn aggressive and put the opponent on a short clock. Especially when combined with Jace, the Mind Sculptor’s Fateseal ability, knowing when to turn the corner can be pretty obvious. I’m generally quite conservative when I play the deck; I don’t try to race with the deck unless I am out of answers and my opponent has cards he can draw that would potentially kill me out of nowhere (e.g. Destructive Force into Primeval Titan, or Avenger of Zendikar into Misty Rainforest, etc.).
I am still a pretty strong advocate of Everflowing Chalice. Between Tectonic Edge and the Chalices, the deck produces a lot of colorless mana. However, there is only so much colorless mana the deck can use profitably, so running more than two has diminished returns. Running two, however, is a way to keep up with a lot of decks. Against ramp decks you can start casting spells with counter-backup earlier. Against creature decks you can cast it on turn 3 with Mana Leak mana open, and then follow it up with a turn 4 Baneslayer Angel. Against some decks, just casting a turn 3 Elspeth, Knight-Errant or Jace, the Mind Sculptor is devastating. Nice Rampant Growth, bro!
Against Jund you want to board in Flashfreeze, Celestial Purge, and the Sphinx of Jwar Isle. The plan is to one-for-one them in the early game and then build up to a Planeswalker or Baneslayer Angel and start attacking. They’ll usually have the removal spell for your first couple threats, so adding a Sphinx of Jwar Isle closes the door on anything outside of a well-placed Consuming Vapors. Path to Exile, Deprive, and Jace, the Mind Sculptor are probably your worst cards in the matchup, though I can see leaving in 1-2 Jaces.
Versus Blue/White you should try to take the control position. This is easier said than done, but the key is to get ahead in cards. This will allow you to have more mana and more counter-magic, which should eventually lead to you having the last threat standing. All nine of the main deck counters are great against Blue/White, and bringing in more Negates also helps. I no longer run Luminarch Ascension because it is really only good in the first couple turns, and even tapping out on the second turn for it will leave you vulnerable to Jace Beleren. I’d rather just play more counter-magic. Day of Judgment is about your only bad card, and it sometimes has utility against a Martial Coup or a large creature.
Turbo Land is rumored to be a tough matchup for Blue/White, and it is certainly no cakewalk. Maybe my opponents have just been playing incorrectly against me or I’ve been drawing abnormally well against them, but I have not had too much trouble against Turbo Land. After sideboard I have 15 counterspells — that’s literally 25% of my deck! Sure, I realize they also run counter-magic, but all of their relevant spells cost a million mana to cast. How in the world do they plan to resolve these spells with counter backup when one out of every four cards I draw is a two-mana counter? It would be nice to have something like Vendilion Clique to flash into play during their end step, but even without that, the deck has enough board answers (Oblivion Ring, Day of Judgment, Path to Exile) that allowing one spell to resolve will likely not spell the end of the world. Your worst cards are probably Path to Exile, Wall of Omens, and Gideon Jura, but if you take out more than a couple of the Walls, you will be hurting your manabase.
There is such a variety of Titan Ramp decks that it would be nearly impossible to say how the matchup will go without talking about a dozen different strategies. The common denominator between all the Titan Ramp decks, however, is that they use mana ramp spells to accelerate into large Green and Blue and/or Red spells. Hence counter-magic is very good against all of them, but Oblivion Ring is only good against some versions. Planeswalker versions don’t want to face Oblivion Ring, and you need the Ring to deal with Garruk Wildspeaker even in the versions that don’t run any other Planeswalkers. However, you only probably want two in the Garruk-only versions. Most of your cards are good in these matchups (except Gideon Jura). Be mindful of which removal spells are good (Path to Exile, Day of Judgment, Oblivion Ring) and sideboard accordingly.
Against the Pyromancer’s Ascension deck, you want to bring in the four Celestial Purges and the two Negates. You can easily side out Path to Exile, Day of Judgment, and Gideon Jura. You could probably also side out a pair of Wall of Omens. This deck is another deck in the line of Open the Vaults, Turbo Fog, and Hedron Crab. If you ignore it, you will get crushed by it. But if you prepare for it, you will crush it easily. Given the amount of success and attention the deck has garnered recently, I would recommend adequately preparing for it in the coming weeks.
Green is certainly beatable in Standard, though it requires some dedication to do it. Being able to side into a full complement of Day of Judgments and Path to Exiles makes you better against Mythic and Naya, whereas being able to side into Flashfreezes and Negates puts you in a good position against the Ramp decks. Blue/White is traditionally a well-positioned archetype against Green/Red and Green/x decks, and the present metagame does not seem to be an exception. I have been having a reasonable amount of success with the deck lately, as have others who are well-acquainted with the archetype, and I do not foresee that changing in the near future. Then again, not everyone can always run well.