Thirst for Knowledge – After the Dust Has Settled: Standard Strategies

SCG Open Richmond!

Tuesday, February 23rd – Another Pro Tour has come and gone, and this one is quite a doozy. If you had told me a month ago that I’d be thrilled to play Standard, I’d have called you a liar (I feel like I’ve said that before). However, here I am, unfathomably eager for March to roll around for the StarCityGames.com Open in Indianapolis…

Another Pro Tour has come and gone, and this one is quite a doozy. If you had told me a month ago that I’d be thrilled to play Standard, I’d have called you a liar (I feel like I’ve said that before). However, here I am, unfathomably eager for March to roll around for the StarCityGames.com Open in Indianapolis. Why? Well, as if Jace, the Mind Sculptor wasn’t enough, we have so many fresh new decks to play with that Standard is actually an open format for a change.

Now, sure, a lot of those new decks fit into the three categories that Chapin talked about on the Magic Cruise (Bloodbraid Elf, Jace, and Tectonic Edge), but we’re still looking at a multitude of strategies. But which ones are the best? Which ones have the least weaknesses? Which should you be playing? Let’s jump in and find out!

First and foremost, let’s look at the deck that won it all, Simon Görtzen’s Jund deck:

So I guess this means I was wrong about manlands in Jund, and I think I’ve figured out why. I suppose I fell into the same trap that we all know (myself included) not to: I ignored that they were dual lands. More often than not (at least in early turns), we’re playing our Rootbound Crags and Dragonskull Summits tapped, and so why not make those lands into creatures? Simon was one of the only players to play Lavaclaw Reaches, but I think this has more to do with the colors of that land rather than its power level. For example, the Jund deck wants to play less Red and Black lands, and wants more Green and/or Red lands (this is why you see 3 Summits in all recent Jund decks instead of four). In addition, eight tapped lands is better than nine, and Ravine is probably the more efficient creature for Jund’s game plan.

Simon ‘s maindeck is more or less standard, though we notice a return to Siege-Gang Commander in the deck (which can be found in many of the Jund decks in the Top Standard Decks) and also of Rampant Growth. Kyle Boggemes played Explore instead of Rampant Growth, which is certainly a better cascade late-game, but much worse if you open a hand with two lands. I’m personally far more inclined to want to be able to keep two-landers with a deck like this (one with such a poor manabase), but I’d like to hear Kyle’s reasoning for playing the new spell over Growth.

Last but not least, no Bituminous Blast. Like has been the case for a while now, the card has just fallen even further out of playability, being all but regulated to the sideboard at this stage in the game. It is still very good in the mirror, but outside of that it fails to kill key creatures and against the control decks it is absolutely a dead card. Jund may still be at the top, but it can’t afford to play cards like Blast (or even Terminate) maindeck in such a hostile field.

Jund’s shell remains somewhat intact at this point, but we can easily look at the data (found here) and see that there are some things that are quite common among them: Raging Ravine, less removal maindeck, and an awkward split between some players cutting Blast altogether and playing Siege-Gang and vice versa. This is the direction that Jund will be taking from this point on, and it’s obviously starting 2010 off quite strong.

The next deck I want to talk about is Chapin and company’s UW deck:

At the time of this writing, Patrick’s article on this deck has not gone live [It’s coming tomorrow! — Craig], and so I’m just going to give my impression of this deck. I have already played a lot of games with it against Jund and Vampires, and I have been greatly impressed so far. I mostly just wrecked Vampires with it (literally, it was by no means close), and I was above 50% against Jund. Patrick spoke about Iona in his deck tech, but I never imagined how efficient she would end up being. I was literally winning most of my games by forcing the concession with her, and you’d be amazed how easy it is to find her in a reasonable amount of time.

Now, I love me some UW, and so decks like this really get my blood flowing. Cancel is a gross card, but it does what it needs to do, and Oblivion Ring is much better now that Jace is in the format. Having Serra Angels attached to your lands is great, too, as is having a manabase that can support Wasteland. The draw engine of Jace, Depths, and Treasure Hunt is as sick here as it would be anywhere else, and Day of Judgment finally gets the justice it deserves. But the card that ties everything together? Everflowing Chalice. Here’s how things were going down for me: I would spend all but three mana to play a Chalice for as much as I could (keeping Cancel up), and then the next turn I could do the exact same thing (but this time my Chalice would be larger). But the following turn, my “Chalice mana” stopped being Chalice mana and started being “Mind Spring mana,” and at that point it’s easy to see how it will become “Iona mana” or “Jace, Treasure Hunt, and Day of Judgment mana.” To put it bluntly, Chalice’s incremental effect is really at its best in this deck. I promise, it’s very, very efficient.

Now, granted, playing Chalice and Jace leaves you slightly more susceptible to Maelstrom Pulse than most other control decks, but when I was piloting Jund I hit Chalice maybe once or twice with Pulse, and that was only when I cascaded into it — otherwise, there was no way I could afford to spend a turn paying three mana to hit their Chalices. Every other time I drew or cascaded into Pulse, there were no Chalices anyway, so… Pulse still remains a little ineffective due to there being so few targets for it anyway. Unlike the other control decks, though, you’re not playing creatures, and so Day of Judgment is at its very best. You also can keep Jund off Broodmate mana with Edge, and the other control decks like Grixis off Cruel mana while also being able to lay a Jace a turn earlier than they can.

In short, great deck. I’m curious to see what Patrick has to say about it, and until then I’ll just test more with it and get some more data. I can’t imagine that it’s that good against Vampires, and so I’d like to spend more time with that match-up to see if I can get the numbers to spread out more and see what the real match-up percentage is.

While we’re on the subject of new decks, it would be a disservice not to mention Boss Naya:

So this deck is basically just an update of the deck with which Coimbra won Worlds, with the exception of all the new Worldwake goodies. Stoneforge Mystic already showed the world what it could do in Oakland, and now it has taken center stage yet again to flex its muscle. Tutoring up Basilisk Collars (told you this card was sick!) and Sledges all day is just insane against an aggressive field, and when you add the Cunning Sparkmages into the mix alongside the Collar it becomes apparent that beating creature decks was the name of the game when designing this deck.

Knight of the Reliquary just goes bonkers in this deck, as not only can he tutor up Tectonic Edge for those pesky manlands, he can also tutor up your manlands! In addition, you can get Sejiri Steppe to save a guy from a removal spell, as well as the traditional “get a fetch to give Knight +2/+2” play. Ranger of Eos is sick, Ajani is great, Elspeth makes your lifelinked guys insane, and Bloodbraid Elf… well, um… it’s Bloodbraid Elf. It’s just an efficiently-built Naya deck, and one I would consider a drastic improvement over the Naya deck from pre-Worldwake in every sense of the word.

LSV was the only player that was undefeated (until the semifinals, however), and therefore that makes his deck the “top Standard deck” of the tournament. Is it the best deck? Probably not, but it is more than on the radar now. I would expect this archetype to pick up a lot of steam, as there a lot of strong interactions present in this deck.

Continuing the Stoneforge Mystic parade is White Weenie, which made Top 4 of the Pro Tour:

This deck really surprised me, and I think that this archetype could prove to be among the best “Tectonic Edge” decks. Yes, this list has zero copies of Edge, but I don’t think it’s too farfetched to play them. Granted, I would imagine that Craig played Statuary because his deck is light on actual creatures and he wanted more targets for his equipment, but I think it would be reasonable to play Edge in this deck. Taking out the manlands lessens the effectiveness of his maindeck Day of Judgments, however, so that still might not be correct. Regardless, though, the list has some very interesting things going on.

As with the Naya deck, Mystic allows you to have a “toolbox” of equipment, and in this particular deck we have access to Sigil, Machete, and Collar… all cards that can turn the tide of entire games. You have plenty of efficient creatures to slap the equipment on, including two sets of protection dudes that could easily carry a +5/+5 Sigil into the red zone against Vampires or RDW. There are lots of nice sideboard options, of course, and based on the deck’s performance I’d wager that this deck will probably replace Eldrazi Green (a deck that did nothing at this event) as the “other” mono-colored deck of choice aside from Vampires.

Now, there were other decks at the Pro Tour (Zvi’s Mythic deck, the other Lotus Cobra/Knight decks, and Open the Vaults), but we’ll save those for another day. At this stage, we have a decently-drawn metagame. I’d say it looks something like this:

UW Control
GWx Knightfall
White Weenie

The three pillars that I talked about last week still remain, but they are more crafted around specific cards than they are around archetypes. The format is heavily reliant on manlands right now, and Jace hasn’t truly had his shot in the spotlight yet.

It will be an interesting few months, to say the least.

P.S. — I’d like to just say congratulations to my friend Kyle Boggemes for making it all the way to the finals of San Diego. Kyle, you’ve worked very hard these last few years and you deserve it. Great job, and sick, sick run, man.

Until next time…

Chris Jobin
Team RIW
Shinjutsei on MTGO