Thirst For Knowledge – More Standard for San Diego

SCG Open Richmond!

Wednesday, February 17th – Yes, there was a Grand Prix last weekend, but with Pro Tour: San Diego this coming weekend, and the StarCityGames.com Open the weekend after, I think it’s slightly more fitting this week that I focus on Standard. I’ve spent the last two weeks gushing over the Jace decks in the post-Worldwake format, and so this week I’d like to discuss the other decks a little more thoroughly.

Yes, there was a Grand Prix last weekend, but with Pro Tour: San Diego this coming weekend, and the StarCityGames.com Open the weekend after, I think it’s slightly more fitting this week that I focus on Standard. I’ve spent the last two weeks gushing over the Jace decks in the post-Worldwake format, and so this week I’d like to discuss the other decks a little more thoroughly.

First on the agenda, of course, is a slightly updated Vampires list:

After Cedric brought up the issue of Jace with me concerning Vampire Hexmage and a good deal of more testing, I decided that Kalastria Highborn just isn’t better than Hexmage right now. Hexmage will always Maelstrom Pulse a Jace or an Ajani, and the first strike can sometimes be relevant. Highborn has its uses (it’s a bit better against Jund, though if they have Garruk it’s arguable), but Jace really is that good.

Sam Black had a lot of good things to say about Tectonic Edge, and while I think four in this deck is far too many, I think it’s a fine card here. It made me actually want to play Grim Discovery, a card I normally really dislike in this deck. However, if you’re playing the full set of Bloodghasts and you have a few copies of Tectonic Edge, you can get considerably more mileage out of it. I’d almost consider a second over the fourth Sign in Blood, but that might be going too far as Sign will be better most of the time and can also be cast on turn 2 if you don’t have a play.

The sideboard is standard fare, I’m afraid. There really isn’t much in terms of technology for the mono-colored deck, though Quest for the Gravelord is as good as Mr. Black said it was against Jund. It’s really probably the only option you truly have against that deck, as most of your cards are generally just bad against them. Thrinax is still nearly unbeatable, but at least Urge to Feed can actually kill it as opposed to the clunky Disfigure of old. A lot of people like Mind Sludge against Jund, but it’s really just not that good. Tapping out on the fifth turn for a Mind Sludge that makes them discard an average of two cards seems abysmal, and that’s how my games versus Jund were playing out. I’d much prefer to play guys and attempt to control the board at that point. Duress is fine against Jund, and I’d make an argument that if you can keep Pulse or Terminate out of their hand the turn before you play a Nocturnus you’ll probably win without too much resistance. Still, Duress is not Thoughtseize, and is Jund gets the creature draw you don’t stand a chance. I’d still bring it in alongside Quest, and possibly Marsh Casualties. The Casualties plan versus Thrinax, Bloodbraid, and Leech is a solid one, though it takes planning ahead to actually be a Plague Wind. Urging Thrinax in their end step and then kicking Casualties on your turn is about as good a play as you can muster against them, though they still have their topdecks the following turn to beat you with (read: why Mind Sludge is bad). Of course, this plan is a lot better than attacking their hand because this way we don’t just lose to their on-board creatures (which are usually much better than ours).

In other match-ups, you’re in pretty good shape. Control decks are still your best matches, especially Grixis. A lot of Grixis decks are playing Calcite Snapper these days for Bloodghast, but Gatekeeper is still more than enough of a means to stop that guy (and they can’t counter him, as they had to tap out for that turtle) and a live Nocturnus is still game over. Still, be wary — they’re also playing Magma Spray now too, and that card pointed at a Bloodghast actually does kind of put you in a bad spot. At that point, Bloodghast stops being your “sole” win condition and you need to switch to a discard plan and stick enough creatures to win. I’m not sure how many people will be packing Magma Spray, but if you’re planning on playing Vampires at the Pro Tour you need to watch out for that card. It significantly reduces your numbers against the Grixis deck, as without Bloodghast you’re just another creature deck (which they can actually beat fairly easily). Normally I’d say that just playing an Urge or a Tendrils on your Ghast in response would do the trick, but since you’ll be taking those cards out post-sideboard you’re just going to have to play around it the best you can. A resolved Mind Sludge still beats them, but watch out for Swerve. Quest for the Gravelord is actually very good here too, as five is a really large number for that deck. If you see lots of Smothers in game 1 though, I don’t know how reliant I’d be on that plan. When I was testing with Grixis I had a tough time dealing with Leatherback Baloth, but the deck does play Terminates and Smothers. Still probably better than the removal spells in your deck post-sideboard, though, so any open sideboarding slots should easily go to that card. Just remember to keep in your Gatekeepers!

The mirror is certainly as awkward as ever, and not much has changed. I half-expected Urge to Feed to play a large role, but it really doesn’t — mostly because a huge Nighthawk still dies to Tendrils, and the game proceeds the same way it would have had it been a 2/3. Granted, it the games where one player draws few Tendrils, I could see Urge being the back-breaker. The Vampire decks playing Highborn probably have a slight advantage in the mirror, too, as Hexmage is a little worse than Highborn in the sense that Hexmage is mostly a do-nothing whereas Highborn can drastically improve the life race and can turn a devastating Marsh Casualties into at least a small amount of profit. Although it goes without saying, aim your removal at that card first and foremost in the mirror.

Vampires is a deck that hasn’t changed much, but it certainly has gone up in value with Jace hitting the scene. However, the “other” deck, Jund, is still alive and kicking… and it still gives the blood-suckers hell.

While Jund is certainly no longer the “it” deck in Standard, it still obviously is one of the top contenders. Completing the third and final pillar of the format, Jund still has the best topdecks in Standard and it still has Bloodbraid Elf into Blightning. Now, I recently said that Jace is better than that sequence of plays, and I still stand by that. However, Jund’s secret weapon against Jace decks isn’t Blightning: it’s Great Sable Stag. Stag doesn’t get bounced, doesn’t die to Terminate or Smother, and it can’t be blocked by Wall of Denial, Sphinx of Jwar Isle, or Calcite Snapper. Yeah, he eats it to Bolt and Path, but if he didn’t he’d be busted, right?

So what does that mean for Jund? Not a whole lot. Bituminous Blast is being unanimously dropped in number due to not killing a whole lot these days, and more creatures maindeck means we have to play a bit less removal. I’m not even playing Deathmark in the sideboard of this Jund deck, as I personally feel like we just don’t need it against the decks that it would be strong against. You’ll also notice that we have zero manlands, as I agree with those who feel that the mana just can’t handle more tapped lands. Oran-Rief just should be played alongside Great Sable Stag (honestly, how do you beat a 4/4 Stag?), but beyond that I only want Savage Lands to enter the battlefield tapped.

Goblin Ruinblaster’s value out of the sideboard has possibly doubled, as now we’re looking at even more decks relying on shaky mana, and Duress becomes even more efficient as well. Basilisk Collar is just reassurance against the Wall decks, and Bloodwitch is still a fine answer to that pesky Baneslayer Angel (and Path, naturally). I do, however, feel as though it’s probably okay to cut a Bloodwitch and the last Stag for Deathmarks, as having additional answers to Baneslayer and cards like Leatherback Baloth (as well as Putrid Leech) is never a bad thing.

Jund isn’t top dog anymore, that’s for sure, but I’d still expect many people to be playing it in San Diego. In fact, I’d wager that Jund will still be the most-played deck at the Pro Tour, and it has a pretty strong possibility of winning the whole thing.

Still, Jund, Jace, and Vampires aren’t the only decks in Standard…

This is the list that Patrick suggested a few weeks ago, and it’s pretty much a standard adaptation of the token deck. I’ve seen this same list in a slightly different fashion, though, with Joraga Warcaller over Baloth, but Baloth is still truly an insane card. A 4/5 is just huge, and until you actually stare one down it’ll be hard to understand just how annoying he really is. Still, pumping all of your Elves is obviously good too, so maybe those lists are on to something themselves.

As for a sideboard for this deck, I’d expect people to be playing cards like Basilisk Collar, Great Sable Stag (I’d be playing this card maindeck — see the Jund section), Acidic Slime, etc. Garruk being absent from this particular list is a tad suspect, but I truly do like Wolfbriar Elemental better. Garruk gave you a faster clock in one sense, but Wolfbriar is a little more practical and an Eldrazi Monument still wins you the game anyway.

Here’s what I would play:

Baloth is certainly good, but Stag is better. Master of the Wild Hunt, too, is very strong. However, I’d prefer to play Warcaller so as to make cards like Llanowar Elves, Arbor Elf, and Visionary even better, and because it’s so good when kicked twice. I lose some synergy between Master and Wolfbriar, but I’m not overly concerned. All too often Master would just get Bolted on their next turn, and at least with Warcaller or Wolfbriar I can get some mileage out of them before that happens.

Slingbow Trap out of the sideboard is simply a strict upgrade to Windstorm, as it even costs a single Green against Vampires. It’s certainly better against Baneslayer Angel, in any case, and that’s more or less the one card that stops this deck in its tracks. Other cards that do that, like Calcite Snapper and friends, have trouble dealing with Collar, and the removal-heavy decks must play around Vines of Vastwood. All in all, this deck has a pretty strong sideboard when compared to other mono-colored decks.

The other decks in the format that I didn’t mention today have either been covered already (like White Weenie in my article two weeks ago), or I just don’t recommend playing (Junk, etc). I’d personally be playing a Jace deck this weekend in San Diego, but I must admit that I’d be all-for Jund or even Eldrazi. Both decks are very strong right now, especially given how popular Vampires has become in response to Jace. But which deck is right for you? There is still time, and I hope these lists have helped you in your testing and your decision.

Good luck, guys!

Until next time…

Chris Jobin
Team RIW
Shinjutsei on MTGO