Well, the verdict is in. It took a fairly long time, but Caw-Blade’s stranglehold on the Standard format is complete. Rather than dilly-dally
with extra charts or additional pomp and circumstance, I’m just going to toss you the metagame breakdown for the StarCityGames.com Boston and
Charlotte Standard Opens.
Hide the children.
Yes, that’s right. Tier 1—the group of archetypes that each make up more than 5% of the field—has been reduced to three decks. Many
players might argue that these were the only three truly great decks the whole time, but the fact that it has become official with such startling
clarity at the Open Series level is telling. Snapping at the trio of Caw-Blade, RUG, and Valakut are a variety of U/B strategies and Mono Red, none of
which have been able to actually usurp Caw-Blade’s crown.
Hopefully, New Phyrexia will inject some life into this very stale Standard format. I expect we’ll see continued Caw-Blade dominance at least at
first, as players won’t leave the best deck, and it has some of the most obvious gains from the new set.
Really, Wizards? Batterskull? So much for beating Stoneforge Mystic Hawk with Goblin Guide—it’s a dark day for Patrick Sullivan.
Batterskull definitely adds new dimensions to Caw-Blade. If you don’t believe me, then maybe you should listen to Patrick
Returning to the metagame chart, there’s more to see than just the devilish threesome at the top. Of the remaining decks, only a handful is even
breaking a coin-flip against the format. The highest win percentages outside of Tier 1 actually belong to Sparkblade and Darkblade, the now-defunct
three-color versions of the format menace. B/R Vampires, U/W Venser, BUG, and Naya Fauna are all right behind them, but everything else is just getting
I don’t want to spend an inordinate amount of time talking about a format that will be dead mere days after you read this, so I won’t.
I’ll give the hilarious matchup percentages on Tier 1 for posterity’s sake, and then we’ll talk about what innovation New Phyrexia
might bring to some of the fringe archetypes.
Caw-Blade – 20.16% of the Field – Won 61.57% of Matches
Not only is Caw-Blade the best deck, it’s also preying on the other “best” decks. RUG has a close matchup against Caw-Blade that can
spin on player skill, deckbuilding, and a touch of variance, but the Valakut matchup is and has always been a total stomping. Now that players are
adapting to respect the Lotus Cobra and now that Mortarpods have become industry standard alongside Oust, the party is closing down.
Caw-Blade isn’t actually losing to much besides itself and its pilots. Over the course of the Boston and Charlotte Opens, Caw-Blade recorded 88
draws—that’s 7.03% of the matches it played. These players are slow-playing themselves out of match wins most of the time, given the
deck’s margins, and if you’re one of them, then you might be better served switching to a deck you can play in a timely fashion. Insanely,
these unintentional draws along with losing the mirror match tend to be the only thing standing in most players’ paths as they fight for Top 8.
Sword of War and Peace promises to offer players a way to fight through the stream of Squadron Hawks that provide the deck with so much tempo, but many
players are overestimating its effect. After all, Batterskull blocks a Sworded creature quite well, and Tumble Magnet had already gained several
supporters. More than this will need to change.
RUG – 9.85% of the Field – Won 56.14% of Matches
On Tier 1, RUG is losing to both of the other decks while remaining very powerful against the field. Its popularity may seem undeserved given that
information, but I’ll also point out that RUG can be a deceptively difficult deck to play. The players doing well with it, like Orrin Beasley and
Alex Bertoncini, are experienced pilots who have become well-versed in the nuances of the archetype.
I watched Orrin turn around a mulligan to five against Valakut in the bubble round, coming back against all odds to make Top 8 after winning that game
and the next one—not many players would have managed the feat. Orrin even purposefully missed a land drop in one game just to ensure he would be
able to kill an Overgrown Battlement with Twisted Image via Lotus Cobra, because he knew how to evaluate his development against his opponent’s.
Again, these are tough situations in which many players would casually err and chalk their losses up to variance.
Sadly for RUG, Despise may “hate” RUG right out of the format, given its strength against the archetype. Timing Preordain will become even
more important to the deck, as hiding a Jace, the Mind Sculptor or an Inferno Titan on top of the deck will be key to victory against black opponents.
Valakut – 8.71% of the Field – Won 52.93% of Matches
Best finish: James Pogue, 9th place – Charlotte Standard Open
Valakut remains the format’s boogeyman, frightening away every deck that might have a chance against Caw-Blade with its non-interactive combo
game. The deck’s incredible weakness to Caw-Blade has surprisingly not affected its popularity an incredible amount, as the deck has remained
Tier 1 for the duration of the season. Compare to the lamentable Boros, which plummeted from the most popular deck to barely more than a few percent
over these weekends.
Why? I think there are several reasons. Valakut is fairly straightforward and seems simple to play. Note that I’m not declaring Valakut to be an
easy deck—there are a lot of ways to play and build your deck. But it’s accurate to say the deck feels easy, which means many players
are comfortable playing it even when they aren’t playing optimally. The moments where the deck punishes you for messing up are harder to read,
and players often shrug and assume they just didn’t get there.
It’s actually very similar to another false myth: the simplicity of playing beatdown decks, and of Mono Red decks in particular. Don’t be
trapped by these stereotypes and let them excuse poor decision-making and game losses.
New Phyrexia will bring new decks, and I expect we’ll see Valakut take a backseat. Its dismal Caw-Blade matchup won’t be much help when
other decks that beat it start merging from the woodwork, and players are already getting excited about the new Deceiver Exarch/Splinter Twin combo
deck. I won’t waste my time rehashing other writers’ work:Patrick Chapin,Jacob Van Lunen, Adam Prosak, and others have all chimed in on a variety of new
decks that New Phyrexia might bring. I’d like to examine some decks from this format we might be able to update and upgrade for battle!
I think a Big Red deck, much like the one Ken Adams piloted at the Boston Open, will gain a lot of
ground. The reach it gains through burn and the occasional hasted fatty as players turn to Phyrexian mana will be a margin many players overlook. I
like Crush in this format, although this deck couldn’t afford to rely on attrition because it was sorely lacking in card advantage.
Tezzeret’s Gambit could change that for the better in a lot of decks with similar problems.
- 4 Birds of Paradise
- 3 Acidic Slime
- 4 Lotus Cobra
- 1 Oracle of Mul Daya
- 4 Nest Invader
- 4 Vengevine
- 4 Fauna Shaman
- 2 Frost Titan
- 1 Consecrated Sphinx
Larry Swasey’s deck was the lone holdout in Boston, preventing an all Caw-Blade Top 8—but enabling an all Caw-Blade Top 4. He managed a Top
8 in Boston last year with the same deck and has been honing it with each set release. I think
it improves with the release of Phyrexian mana for a lot of the reasons that other aggressive decks make gains—its explosive starts become much
harder to stop. Sword of Feast and Famine provides you with a pretty natural solution to Batterskull, and I like the pressure that card creates in a
deck with a lot of non-threatening creatures. War and Peace could merit slots as well, however.
- 4 Birds of Paradise
- 2 Acidic Slime
- 4 Lotus Cobra
- 3 Nest Invader
- 4 Vengevine
- 4 Fauna Shaman
- 1 Frost Titan
- 1 Consecrated Sphinx
- 1 Phyrexian Revoker
I did a Deck Tech with Lewis at the last
Open, and his BUG list had a strong start in Charlotte before petering out. He hoped to dodge Valakut, but given the increased popularity of that
archetype in Charlotte, he may have found himself out of luck. If the Primeval Titan decks experience a decline as predicted, then Lewis’s deck
will be one of the first getting new looks. Its disruption package even gives it some measure of resiliency against a hate card like Extraction, which
I find very attractive.
The new brews we’ll see emerging once New Phyrexia arrives have the coverage writer and the player in me excited, as I anticipate the metagame
diversifying. The Orlando Open will us bring the first taste of the new format, but players will have little time to waste. The Louisville Open and
then our first Invitational of the year, in Indianapolis, are approaching fast. Last year’s Invitational paid out gobs of money to less than 200
players and left many realizing they’d missed out on one of the year’s highest EV tournaments. Don’t make their mistake!