With Theros legal for this weekend’s StarCityGames.com Standard Open in Worcester, we finally get a look into the real metagame of Standard. Despite testing, brewing, and looking at various ideas on the Internet, I still don’t have a very good idea of what the metagame is going to look like.
However, what I do know is the types of decks I’d like to play.
The keys to the success of this archetype are removal, a way to deal with a horde of small creatures with one card, an engine, and potentially some life gain.
Dealing with threats is priority number one. A close number two is being able to finish out games once you stabilize. Against most decks, it won’t be long until they draw into something powerful that can wrest control back from you.
Last week I wrote about and endorsed B/R/W Midrange, but a friend of mine, Eduardo Borges (aka EdB aka Shooter), commented that the deck might be better without white. You lose life gain in the form of Warleader’s Helix and Obzedat, Ghost Council, but most of the time that just offsets the life loss from your shock lands. Straight B/R still has some life-gain options like Pharika’s Cure, Gray Merchant of Asphodel, Trading Post, and Whip of Erebos, but clearly none of those are more efficient than the white options.
Chained to the Rocks is also a fairly heavy loss, though there are alternatives. Boros Reckoner did a great job at holding the fort against many aggressive strategies, and Obzedat, Ghost Council was the best finisher against control. Unfortunately, there aren’t creatures that serve similar purposes in B/R.
So what are the upsides?
The mana is slightly less crazy, and you aren’t going to lose to lose to Burning Earth, which may or may not be a viable sideboard card in Theros Standard. Instead of having a mana base full of lands that enter the battlefield tapped, you can play a rock-solid two-color mana base while loading up on Rakdos Keyrunes and Mutavaults. Your mana base no longer punishes you; your mana base now punishes your opponent!
Of course, the mana is still not perfect, but most of the issues I’ve suffered have been a lack of lands, not because I was lacking a colored source. Still, there are plenty of BB and RR spells that I’d like to play, but if you’re fine waiting until turn 4 sometimes, Rakdos Keyrune will help you out.
I can’t begin to express how wonderful it feels to have a mana base with some utility for once. From the U/W/R Control to G/R Aggro, none has much insurance against flooding. Aside from the very random triple Guildgate draws, B/R has very few issues with its manabase, especially compared to everyone else.
Without further ado:
My original version was very similar to this but cut the Lifebane Zombies and Thoughtseizes. One of EdB’s main selling points on the deck was that Rakdos Keyrune plus Shock or Thoughtseize is a great way to get ahead, and I agreed. However, without access to the life gain that B/R/W has, all those Thoughtseizes and Read the Bones really start to add up. Unfortunately, Whip of Erebos wasn’t consistently gaining me life with Desecration Demon, so it had to get the axe.
I was unsure how good Lifebane Zombie was going to be, as much of that depends on how many green and white creatures people play. Just being a reasonable creature with evasion is probably fine, especially in a world of planeswalkers, but not when I want to maindeck Anger of the Gods.
Then I started playing against BBD with his Grixis and Esper Control decks. Lifebane Zombie was sorely missed (at least against Esper and his Obzedats, heh), and many games I wanted access to Thoughtseize. In the first game, both players are trying to stick a threat and protect it, but that can be difficult against another deck full of elimination spells.
Perhaps once I start playing against Mono-Red Aggro, I’ll change my tune, but I don’t mind maindecking Thoughtseize even though costs life, is bad against certain decks, and turns the game into a topdecking war where Thoughtseize is basically the worst topdeck ever. All of Reid’s points were correct, but it’s also one of the few cards that can deal with anything you couldn’t otherwise deal with and has the capability of protecting your threats.
I get the feeling that it’s wrong to play Thoughtseize maindeck in this type of deck, but in the majority of matchups I play, there are several turns where a Thoughtseize instead of something else would have swung the game in my favor. For example, against Todd’s W/R Humans deck, my Anger of the Gods were almost always dominated by his Brave the Elements or Boros Charms. If I have to sideboard in Thoughtseize against his aggressive deck, then why is it in the sideboard?
As always, Blood Baron of Vizkopa is a card I’m willing to concede to. It does not seem like there is a deck that would want it over Obzedat, Ghost Council, but feel free to sideboard even more against Blood Baron if you’d like.
Obzedat was the scariest card I had to play against because I had zero targeted discard and only two instant-speed removal spells. It didn’t help that in the matchups that typically had Obzedat I also needed those removal spells, both Hero’s Downfalls, against their planeswalkers. Since then, I have shifted maindeck removal like Mizzium Mortars (which was nice as an additional sweeper) to Devour Flesh.
While certainly not the best card against something like Mono-Red or W/G Aggro, it can often hit the big creature they were sandbagging until I played Anger of the Gods. Any instant-speed removal spell is a welcome addition in a format where Stormbreath Dragon is legal. Plus, it also handles Blood Baron of Vizkopa if you’re paired against any.
Despite still being a little loose, I like the deck a lot. I’m almost positive that B/R is stronger than B/R/W, and I have EdB to thank for turning me on to the idea. The deck could change in many different ways, such as by cutting Anger of the Gods and matching them on plays mana-wise with Shock and Thoughtseize, which was EdB’s general strategy.
In my opinion, that isn’t likely to work. At some point, you’re going to fall behind, and you’ll need more than just Shocks to catch up, which is where Anger of the Gods comes in. However, the idea of maximizing Rakdos Keyrune’s mana on turn 3 is incredibly appealing.
The numbers on the creatures could change, the removal suite could change, and the sideboard could certainly change, but the deck concept will remain the same. If Pro Tour Theros were tomorrow, I would do some quick theorizing, likely make some rash decisions about the deck and change things I shouldn’t, and eventually register it.
The next deck is one that originated from Magic-League, but I’ve seen similar lists in many places.
- 3 Scavenging Ooze
- 4 Burning-Tree Emissary
- 4 Ghor-Clan Rampager
- 4 Elvish Mystic
- 4 Satyr Hedonist
- 4 Ember Swallower
- 4 Stormbreath Dragon
Some would label this deck "aggro," but it’s seriously skirting the line between aggro and midrange. It features eight creatures with monstrous! Regardless, it fits my criteria for what I want my midrange deck to be.
Brad Nelson will be writing about it Friday, so be sure to check that out.
The other midrange deck I can endorse is Chris VanMeter Big Boros deck.
- 2 Shock
- 1 Mizzium Mortars
- 3 Warleader's Helix
- 3 Chained to the Rocks
- 4 Lightning Strike
- 4 Anger of the Gods
Personally, I would want a copy or more of Nykthos, Shrine to Nix in the deck. With 26 lands, you should have enough to cast Boros Reckoner on curve, and a follow-up Nykthos can put you firmly in the driver’s seat assuming you have any other devotion in play.
Aside from that, I’d probably shave an Elspeth, Sun’s Champion and maybe a Chandra, Pyromaster and would definitely add a fourth copy of Stormbreath Dragon. That card is a gigantic beating from my experience due to the fact that it is difficult to kill or race. A fourth Frostburn Weird might also be pretty nice since it’s not really dead in any matchup and is one of the few available two-drops.
I prefer B/R Midrange, but what do I know? [Editor’s Note: You’re a bear? You suck the heads off fish?]
As I mentioned earlier, I played some games against BBD’s Grixis Control shell, and it was intriguing. At this point, I think it’s just because I’m enamored with base B/R decks.
Take a look:
Frostburn Weird has always seemed not quite good enough, but that’s mostly because in the decks where I’d want Frostburn Weird, Boros Reckoner would almost certainly be better. If it were a curve concern, I’d upgrade my creature and figure it out later. Grixis has no such luxury—unless you consider casting Boros Reckoner in a deck with Temple of Deceit a challenge.
I wouldn’t underestimate Frostburn Weird in a deck like this though. It can hit hard, block a lot of things profitably, and pressure planeswalkers. On top of that, it protects your own planeswalkers, including Ashiok, Nightmare Weaver.
Yesterday, Todd Anderson said that Ashiok is going to make waves at the Pro Tour. While I’m not necessarily convinced that is true, I would bet that you will see Ashiok in the Top 8 of events before you know it. While initially much maligned, including by yours truly, it takes about half a turn after your opponent casts it for you to figure out that you need to kill it or lose.
Everyone’s main complaint is that it doesn’t protect itself, which is true, but Chandra, Pyromaster doesn’t do a great job protecting herself either and puts in a ton of work. My joking reply is that Ashiok does protect itself because it’s so bad that no one will attack it.
The sad part is that they probably won’t attack it because they can’t afford to. Imagine this scenario:
You’re on the play and cast Ashiok on turn 3. They played a one-drop and a two-drop but still can’t kill Ashiok unless they have a trick. If you untap, sweep their creatures, and then tick up Ashiok again, what are they supposed to do? By now, Ashiok has almost certainly exiled something of note, or at the very least something you can use to defend yourself.
That situation isn’t even taking into consideration you casting something on turn 2!
From my experience so far, control has been lacking. Then again, that was the case at the beginning of last season as well, at least until Flash showed up. I was sorely missing an impactful three-drop, and Ashiok is potentially what I was looking for.
I don’t particularly like the fact that BBD’s Grixis deck has very few ways to close games quickly. In our matches, he would flounder about, drawing some cards but never actually doing anything. Any topdecked Rakdos’s Return would generally put the game back to square one.
Much like with my B/R list, BBD had few answers to Obzedat, Ghost Council, which we will almost certainly have to rectify.
Afterward, BBD switched to Esper, but I think Grixis looks better. The curve is lower, and you get access to things like Frostburn Weird, Shock, and Rakdos’s Return. Esper has Sphinx’s Revelation, but that card is basically only good when your mana curve is lower anyway.
The other control deck I like—or at least like the idea of—is the U/R Spellheart Chimera based deck I posted last week. Counterspells don’t look too bad right now, but the problem is that there isn’t a "draw-go" shell for them to fit into except for U/R. Bigger creatures like Loxodon Smiter are definitely an issue, but maybe those problems are solvable.
U/B Draw-Go is another option I’d like to explore, which would basically be the U/R deck without Steam Augury and Anger of the Gods with Ashiok, Nightmare Weaver in place of Spellheart Chimera. Losing a sweeper is going to be tough, as is losing a one-mana removal spell, but Ashiok is good enough that it might be worth it.
In order to survive, true control needs ways to deal with a wide variety of threats, either through counterspells or something like Detention Sphere. If you have Shock and they play Stormbreath Dragon, you won’t be happy. If you have Far // Away and they have Voice of Resurgence, you also won’t be very happy with the outcome. Anger of the Gods versus a board of huge green and red monsters? You’re dead.
Having a brick wall would help too because no one should have to Shock every single Firedrinker Satyr their opponent casts. Using Supreme Verdict to sweep the board and then getting attacked for four by two Mutavaults is no picnic either.
Need to draw some cards? I have this lovely Divination for you . . .
Ugh. It’s just so difficult to not fall behind these days.
In order for aggro to be viable, it requires many of the same things midrange does, like a way to grind, a fast clock, and preferably some resiliency. Anything from Boros Charm to Brave the Elements to a planeswalker will suffice. For the most part, these decks are "bigger" than what you would normally expect from an aggro deck.
The next two decks are exactly that.
- 4 Dryad Militant
- 4 Precinct Captain
- 4 Boros Reckoner
- 3 Banisher Priest
- 4 Imposing Sovereign
- 2 Heliod, God of the Sun
- 4 Soldier of the Pantheon
I really liked the look of this deck when Brad first built it and then later when Todd added red to it. The combination of Brave the Elements, Spear of Heliod, and a solid squad of creatures was able to weather through many matchups that I thought would be difficult for the white deck.
Supreme Verdict? No problem.
Anger of the Gods? Arguably easier to deal with.
Even though Todd has (presumably) given up on the deck, I don’t think that’s wise. It’s not his style, so he’s got a little bias, but it looked pretty good in the games I played against it. Mutavault gives it a lot of game even when it’s up against sweepers, and both Heliod and his Spear help in that regard. Banisher Priest is a way fantastic way to clear out midrange creatures like Desecration Demon and still keep attacking.
If you want a solid aggro deck to play this weekend, I recommend W/R Humans, but I’d try to streamline the sideboard.
- 4 Dryad Militant
- 4 Loxodon Smiter
- 4 Voice of Resurgence
- 4 Imposing Sovereign
- 4 Fleecemane Lion
- 4 Soldier of the Pantheon
This deck could also use some streamlining, particularly the sideboard, but it’s another candidate for best aggro deck. What you lose in Boros Charm is made up for with better individual creatures. However, the mana base suffers because of it.
It should be no surprise that if I were heading to the SCG Open Series in Worcester this weekend, I’d play B/R Midrange. I fully endorse the deck, though like basically every other deck in this article, it could use some tweaking. If you’re confident in your list, you should play it.
I want to see Rakdos Guildgate bring home a trophy!
@G3RRYT on Twitter