I did a lot of living over the past five days, which is why we’re coming to you a little later than my usual Tuesday time slot. In short, I drafted Oath of the Gatewatch from sunup until sundown for about 72 hours, piled in a car to travel to WWE’s Royal Rumble, went on a food tour that resulted in dining with the Amish, and then finally back home where my body decided that if I didn’t sleep I was going to die.
Here we are. I guess I slept.
Aside from the Modern testing, I’m entrenched for #PTOGW in less than two weeks. I spent my time in between drafts watching #SCGATL coverage in order to get a feel for the new Standard. Much to my surprise, not a single copy of Rally was able to crack the Top 8, although four copies found their way into the Top 16. The commonly-proclaimed “best deck in the format” no longer has the benefit of being ignored and the abundance of ways to combat it have become more and more prolific, so seeing it held in check was very promising from what appeared to be a very diverse opening Standard offering.
With The SCG Tour® coming for #SCGCOL, there’s a lot you’re going to have to figure out if you want to be successful, but luckily I’m here to work with you on what you need going forward with lots of handy hints.
Tip #1: I Don’t Enjoy Columbus
It’s not really a tip as much as I just dislike everything about Ohio. [Columbus is great and you’re wrong. –Ed.]
Tip #2: Rallying Will Have Consequences
One traditional folly that many players find themselves falling into is that they are unable to understand the importance of preparation. The old “I’ll put these three cards in the sideboard and now I can’t lose to Deck A” is such a linear and poor way of thinking that it actively puts you at a disadvantage in a tournament.
#SCGATL did not appear to have that problem.
We knew going into the weekend that cards like Infinite Obliteration or Hallowed Moonlight would see play, but a new challenger reared his head and completely changed the approach that Rally will need to consider going forward:
Sometimes one creature can make all the difference.
Kalitas operates on an entirely different axis from what Rally is used to dealing with in the form of hate cards, and that makes it obscenely dangerous to their gameplan. These decks were used to boarding in their four Murderous Cuts and calling it a day against Anafenza, the Foremost since she was their biggest hurdle in defeating Abzan Aggro. That is no longer the case.
I believe we’ve only scratched the surface of what Kaliatas will offer in the coming weeks. For example:
Jeff’s deck put up another excellent finish this week, which begs the question: why aren’t more people playing it?
From the onset you’re able to see that it does a number on creature-oriented strategies while still having plenty of game against the midrange and control decks out there. While I do believe it suffers pretty heavily at the hands of the ramp decks, it’s still possible that it might be the biggest dark horse in Standard. Kalitas and removal spells against Rally while holding up Hallowed Moonlight puts them in a stranglehold where it becomes very difficult to lose if you draw properly.
The hate for Rally has only just begun to start, and their “free wins” off uninformed opponents are probably at an end. Expect to see more Kaliatas going into sideboards in the next few weeks, and possibly even more in main decks as well.
Tip #3: Stop Disrespecting Atarka Red
For years I’ve put the same theory to paper: “if you are going into a week one tournament, over-prepare for red decks.” It might sound like I’m being too much of a boy scout, but it’s a valuable lesson.
In a vacuum, red variants are the best strategy you can employ for a multitude of reasons, but at its base level it is because the vast majority of players, despite years and years of data to back up this claim, will not be ready for it. New formats like Oath mean new cards. Not everyone who attends a tournament is a spike looking to break Magic, and a portion of the field wants to try out all the awesome cards they’ve spent weeks brewing with. The other portion of the field tends to stick with their tried and true decks they’re practiced with from the previous format with the addition of a few added cards from the new set.
Both of these brackets are preyed upon by red players.
What you have to understand is that Korey McDuffie didn’t go out there and reinvent the wheel. Instead he added the newly-printed Reckless Bushwhacker from Oath and called it a day. His theory of going wide proved wildly successful and incredibly effective as he carved through unprepared opponent after unprepared opponent.
Going wide doesn’t just mean making tokens and wrecking your opponent with Atarka’s Command. It also meant his sideboard, which added lands to regularly cast Pia and Kiran Nalaar, Den Protector to provide utility and longevity, Painful Truths to reload against slower decks, Self-Inflicted Wound to punish Abzan and Esper Dragons, Arc Lightning to kill Thopter tokens or Sylvan Advocates, and completely cutting Temur Battle Rage to make room for all of his tech.
There are ways to impede this strategy, but they require the type of dedication that may make you worse against other decks, which implores you to pick your poison. Boiling Earth is a respectable choice that can nix their tokens and kill almost everything in their deck. Flaying Tendrils is another mini-sweeper that does a lot of work against their field, especially after boarding for Pia and Kiran Nalaar.
Tip #4: Experiment
- 4 Leaf Gilder
- 4 Rattleclaw Mystic
- 3 Ulamog, the Ceaseless Hunger
- 1 Conduit of Ruin
- 1 Kozilek, the Great Distortion
- 4 Thought-Knot Seer
There is something to be said for being unorthodox, and Chris wasn’t afraid to flex his creative muscles and absolutely decimate the field on his way to a second0place finish.
The first thing I noticed about his deck was the vocal minority of players on my Facebook that commented how silly his choices were and that the deck didn’t seem good. I didn’t understand their logic at all.
Eldrazi Ramp has been a highly-touted deck since Kozilek, the Great Distortion was spoiled. Chris took these principles a bit further with the addition of multiple turn 2 accelerants in the form of Leaf Gilder and Rattleclaw Mystic as a segue into turn 3 Thought-Knot Seers, Hedron Archives, and Explosive Vegetations. Titan’s Presence is a very, very powerful removal spell in this deck, and he’s almost always going to be ahead in the ramp mirror.
His sideboard might seem strange with Bane of Bala Ged, but can other ramp decks logically not take a three-for-one against this card? If cast on turn 5, which his version is capable of doing with regularity, is there a world that exists where his ramp opponent can possibly beat this card? No. I don’t think there is one. Chris almost certainly relied on his ingenuity to provide him with an excellent finish, and I believe we haven’t seen that last of his kind of Mono-Green Ramp deck.
All of these neat little tweaks to existing archtypes didn’t just stop at Chris and his Eldrazi deck. Gerry Thompson brought what appeared to be the best deck of the tournament (again) all the way to a Top 4 finish.
Gerry’s maindeck is a work of art, with Kalitas for Rally; Disdainful Strokes for an expected field of Eldrazi; Chandra, Flamecaller for other Jeskai Black and midrange decks; and Magmatic Insight to fuel Treasure Cruise. His take on Jeskai Black feels more like a finely-tuned and battle-hardened deck rather than a first-week choice. Everything about his card choices is impressive, especially when you get to a sideboard with Linvala and even more Kalitas. Standard just feels better when Gerry is working on it.
- 4 Anafenza, the Foremost
- 2 Warden of the First Tree
- 4 Den Protector
- 4 Deathmist Raptor
- 2 Nissa, Vastwood Seer
- 2 Ayli, Eternal Pilgrim
- 4 Sylvan Advocate
- 3 Matter Reshaper
Another experiment which seems poised to be the next big thing is Andy Ferguson’s take on Abzan Company. Oath of the Gatewatch provided lots of excellent tools for this deck in the form of Matter Reshaper; Ayli, Eternal Pilgrim; and the card I can’t stop talking about, Sylvan Advocate. Dropping 4/5 creatures into play thanks to Collected Company seems like a pretty nice touch! Matter Reshaper really throws its weight around, though, by giving this deck more and more forms of card advantage to ensure the board either stays flush or the gas keeps flowing.
At any rate, the key to success is going to be staying one step ahead of the perceived metagame. In this case, Atarka Red is going to be prominent, followed by Abzan Aggro, Eldrazi Ramp, Rally, and Jeskai Black. Figuring out what your deck needs to do against these is your biggest concern.
Tip #5: Continue Expecting Things to Change
Just because a tournament in the books does not mean things aren’t still going to remain in a state of fluidity for the next few weeks prior to the Pro Tour. Even then you still have to contend with the StarCityGames.com Regional Championships. Each week you’re going to have to operate on predicting rather than planning, which is going to separate the winning decklists from the ones on the outside of the Top 8.
When talking to your teammates about what to bring to Columbus, a lot of conversations may contain explanations based off of last week’s results rather than this week’s expectations, and that is where you need to change the discussion. Yes, we understand that Atarka Red won and that Abzan Aggro was 50% of the Day 2 metagame, but what does that mean? Should you pass on playing Rally because of it, or will the format adjust to those top two decks and give Rally a clear path to prey on the next level of decks meant to defeat the winners from last week?
Does this all sound convoluted? Good. It’s supposed to because linear thinking isn’t going to get you a trophy.
A format’s second week usually means that cards and decks that didn’t perform to expectations the previous week have a much better showing, because they’re able to mod themselves to be better prepared. I would expect a deck like Mardu with Goblin Dark-Dwellers to take a Top 8 spot now that it has the option of being well-suited to the decks most players will flock to following the first week’s results. This means your options are broader and that your testing needs to be more open to what you could face this weekend.
I know I said I that was my last tip, but I do have one more.
Tip #6: I Still Don’t Enjoy the City of Columbus
Have fun this weekend at #SCGCOL, kiddies.