What I Would Play In Cincinnati

Need ideas for what to play in Standard this weekend at SCG Open Series: Cincinnati? Then take a look at what four-time Grand Prix Top 8 competitor Todd Anderson recommends.

The last few weeks have been filled with writers discussing new cards and how they will affect various formats and brewing new decks for your pleasure. A lot of great content has come out about Journey into Nyx because the set actually looks very powerful. It has two different God cards that cost three mana, a functional reprint of City of Brass for aggressive decks to abuse, and a host of other creatures and spells that seem like they could make a big impact on Constructed play.

This is both a good thing and a bad thing.

The good part about this influx of content about the new set is that you’re going to be very prepared for your first tournament with Journey into Nyx if you’ve been paying attention. You will know what cards to expect to play against and what cards should make the cut in your new decks and even have some solid updates to old favorites.

The bad part about this is saturation. When so many people are talking about the same subject, there is a lot of crossover, and I can easily see someone getting burnt out on reading about how Mana Confluence is going to change how aggressive decks work in Standard for the fifth time. The card is fine, potentially even great, but you don’t need to hear it again and again.

For the last three weeks as spoiler season has waxed and waned, I’ve written about the cards and decks I think could be strong contenders in Journey into Nyx Standard. The problem I have with these types of articles is that I don’t exactly know how good a deck (or even card) is going to be until I get to physically play with it. I am not a great theorist, and my strengths lie in grinding a ton of games with a particular strategy before I can even begin to evolve them.

With that said, I have actually gotten a reasonable number of games in with the new format, mostly due to the Versus videos I record with Brad Nelson, and I think that I’ve been able to establish solid groundwork for a number of different archetypes. Today I’m going to go over a few decks that I would be quite happy to take to the StarCityGames.com Standard Open this weekend in Cincinnati, Ohio.

Naya Blitz

I went into detail last week about my new take on Naya Blitz, but I actually learned a lot from playing just five games with the deck against Brad this past Monday. After playing one game with Mogis’s Warhound, I knew I wanted more than two. And after playing a few games with Firefist Striker, I knew it wasn’t a good fit for this deck.

Without haste creatures or Mutavault, it is pretty difficult to turn on its ability and even more so when our opponent is something like Mono-Black Devotion. With so many cheap removal spells running around in Standard, battalion is not a reliable mechanic, often making Firefist Striker a Goblin Piker. That is not a card I want in the deck.

Gore-House Chainwalker and Mogis’s Warhound both have significant advantages over Firefist Striker for the two-drop slot because of how they interact with the rest of your deck. Chainwalker is the only creature in Standard that you can cast from Burning-Tree Emissary that can trigger your Experiment One into a 3/3, while Mogis’s Warhound is just a red version of Elephant Guide (or Griffin Guide) that has zero blowout potential as well as the alternative casting cost of two mana for a bad Grizzly Bears.

Card like Mogis’s Warhound help push aggressive decks to another level entirely, giving you options at multiple points in every game.

As far as sideboarding is concerned, I want to go over a small guide for what to do in a number of matchups, as it can be quite tricky when learning a new deck.

Black Devotion


Ghor-Clan Rampager Ghor-Clan Rampager


Skullcrack Skullcrack

This matchup feels favorable on paper, though they will have a lot of ways to interact with you after sideboarding. Expect Pharika’s Cure and Drown in Sorrow in reasonably high numbers because of how Mana Confluences threatens to shape the format into a much more aggressive entity. We could board more cards for this matchup, but our maindeck is quite solid against them. I only want to trim down on Ghor-Clan Rampager so that we don’t get blown out against cheap spot removal.

Blue Devotion


Boros Charm Boros Charm Boros Charm Boros Charm


Skylasher Skylasher Skylasher Skylasher

This is our toughest matchup, mostly because their creatures line up fairly well against ours. We have the capacity to kill a lot of their more annoying threats, but drawing the right answer at the right time can be difficult. Add to this the fact that many of them will be moving back to Cyclonic Rift and Nykthos, Shrine to Nyx thanks to Hypnotic Siren and even your Chained to the Rocks aren’t safe.

I wish there was more we could do here, as I’m all for playing a ton of cards to help smash this matchup, so I’m taking any and all suggestions for beating up on them.

U/W Control


Ghor-Clan Rampager Ghor-Clan Rampager Ghor-Clan Rampager Ghor-Clan Rampager Chained to the Rocks Chained to the Rocks Chained to the Rocks Chained to the Rocks


Skylasher Skylasher Skylasher Skylasher Glare of Heresy Glare of Heresy Skullcrack Skullcrack

If you want to beat a control deck, attack them in a way they aren’t prepared to deal with. Skylasher is fantastic at doing this, allowing you to keep the pressure on even after they cast Supreme Verdict. Even though they have Banishing Light to complement Detention Sphere, it just makes Glare of Heresy that much better.

Chained to the Rocks is obviously pretty mediocre in game 1 but could end up being brought back into the deck for game 3 if you see Archangel of Thune, Fiendslayer Paladin, or the like. I also wouldn’t mind the third Glare of Heresy over a Lightning Strike if you see both Banishing Light and Detention Sphere in their maindeck, as it hedges against the "man plan" out of the board.

Red Aggro


Boros Charm Boros Charm Boros Charm Boros Charm Firedrinker Satyr Firedrinker Satyr


Searing Blood Searing Blood Searing Blood Boros Reckoner Boros Reckoner Boros Reckoner

Here we want access to some stronger threats and better removal spells. Searing Blood is absurd in a format full of Mana Confluence, punishing people for trying to "go smaller" than us. They are likely to deal themselves a ton of damage from their mana base, and Searing Blood helps to exacerbate the predicament.

Boros Reckoner will likely be a brick wall that they cannot attack into, buying you enough time if their early draw is more explosive than yours.

White Aggro


Boros Charm Boros Charm Boros Charm Boros Charm Ghor-Clan Rampager Ghor-Clan Rampager Ghor-Clan Rampager Rakdos Cackler Rakdos Cackler


Glare of Heresy Glare of Heresy Glare of Heresy Boros Reckoner Boros Reckoner Boros Reckoner Searing Blood Searing Blood Searing Blood

This matchup will be tricky, as Rakdos Cackler will get bricked by Soldier of the Pantheon and Boros Charm is much worse when you need ways to kill your opponent’s creatures. Precinct Captain and the like will need to be answered quickly.

It mostly depends on their build though. A deck featuring Dawnbringer Charioteers and Archangel of Thune will make Searing Blood much worse and Ghor-Clan Rampager much better. Adjust based on what you see in the first game or what you expect to see after sideboarding.

Potential Sideboard Changes

I think that the following cards could eventually see play out of the board.

If you expect a lot of Desecration Demon or G/R Monsters decks, this card could be reasonable, though probably about on par with Act of Treason. But the times where you do get to six mana, you actually have use for it.

People keep telling me they want an answer to Thassa, God of the Sea, but the problem is that Thassa isn’t the card that beats you in the blue devotion decks. Sure, it might physically kill you, but the rest of their deck is what fuels the engine of Thassa. If you can just kill their other threats to keep Thassa in check, it shouldn’t be that big of a deal.

If Xathrid Necromancer increases in popularity due to Athreos, God of Passage, then Magma Spray could be phenomenal, though I hate that you can’t go to the dome with it. The fact that it only costs one mana and can be played at instant speed is quite strong though.

If Chained to the Rocks decks like Naya Control or R/W Devotion pick up steam, then Peak Eruption will be a powerful tool for disrupting them. Having a way to stop their best removal spell while keeping them from playing more powerful spells is just unreal, though I don’t expect there to be a lot of them in the early part of the new Standard season.

There are a few other decks I would be happy to play at the Open in Cincinnati this weekend, but they are a little less interesting. Here are some updated lists for the "big three."

Blue Devotion

While you can make arguments for splashing other colors, I don’t know it if is necessarily worth it. Having lands come into play tapped is a huge downside, and dealing yourself tons of damage against aggressive decks with Ravnica duals or Mana Confluence is a reason to stay away from cute things. Losing Detention Sphere as a versatile removal spell hurts, but it was pretty clunky. And I was never really impressed with Ephara, God of the Polis.

If you think about how Mono-Blue Devotion should play out, cards like Jace, Architect of Thought don’t really fit the bill for the maindeck. Instead of playing a planeswalker designed to be defensive or gain card advantage, I’ve opted for a much more aggressive game plan with more one-drop creatures. I’m a huge fan of Hypnotic Siren because it rewards us for playing more copies of Nykthos, Shrine to Nyx and Cyclonic Rift.

After playing with Hypnotic Siren a bit, I will say that it acts similarly to Judge’s Familiar in most situations. You’ll likely be casting it as Flying Men, but when you start to flood out it can be an absurd blowout.

One downside to playing multiple copies of Nykthos is that you probably need to cut a Mutavault to support it. Mutavault is obviously one of the best cards in Standard at the moment, but I think the upside of being able to overload Cyclonic Rift or bestow Hypnotic Siren is worth the risk.

There’s not a whole lot of new stuff to see here, but I do love trying out new cards in established archetypes and think Hypnotic Siren is very good. Again, like with Mogis’s Warhound, aggressive cards that have functionality later in the game are powerful tools for aggressive strategies.

Black Devotion

There are some strong arguments both for and against splashing a color in this archetype. Abrupt Decay is a great catchall answer in a format featuring so many diverse permanents, but the fact of the matter is that you need your two-drop removal spells on turn 2 or they lose a lot of value. If you aren’t willing to play Mana Confluence or Golgari Guildgate, then you’re risking a lot to splash for something that is functionally the same as Doom Blade a good amount of the time.

One other argument is playing white for cards like Banishing Light; Revoke Existence; and Elspeth, Sun’s Champion, not to mention Blood Baron of Vizkopa or Obzedat, Ghost Council. You all know where I stand on the matter, as I think the core functionality of Underworld Connections and Gray Merchant of Asphodel is too good to warrant playing some other five-drop. If you go this route, you’ll be a little bit worse off against threats like Stormbreath Dragon, but you’ll be much stronger against a field full of Gods and planeswalkers.

I don’t think the green splash is worth it, but I would be perfectly fine playing white cards in my Gray Merchant deck. But again, the problem of having a second color becomes glaring when your opponent is playing an aggressive strategy, so having lands coming into play tapped or dealing you damage is probably a losing proposition. But if you want to get a little frisky to have more diverse answers, all you need to do is play removal spells that mitigate that life loss.

This list may look a bit strange, but that is mostly because the deck lacks Pack Rat. I feel like the new set will make Pack Rat much worse because it is mediocre against hyperaggressive strategies. If the format moves more toward midrange, then Pack Rat will obviously be good again, as will straight Mono-Black Devotion.

I think that having access to Banishing Light for mirror matches is huge since it gives you answers to Underworld Connections that are also versatile enough to be useful in a number of other matchups. If Bile Blight, Detention Sphere, and aggressive decks continue to see a lot of play, the focus of the mirror will leave Pack Rat and shift almost entirely on Underworld Connections.

The removal package featuring the full set of Bile Blight and a couple copies of Pharika’s Cure is a concession to the aggressive element. If you choose to play another color, you need your removal to play catchup. Pharika’s Cure and Bile Blight do just that. I don’t want to leave home without a few ways to kill Blood Baron of Vizkopa, though, which is why the removal suite is rounded out with two copies of Devour Flesh instead of Ultimate Price or Doom Blade.

U/W Control

With Temple of Epiphany hitting the shelves, I would be willing to bet on a resurgence in U/W/R Control, though I don’t really like that direction. Cards like Warleader’s Helix and Lightning Strike aren’t nearly as impressive without Snapcaster Mage tying them all together, and I would much rather splash for a color where my removal spells can kill cards that are tough for me to deal with.

I’m again not sure if splashing a third color is correct, though Doom Blade and the like are fantastic answers for Stormbreath Dragon and Mistcutter Hydra. The fact that so many of your lands come into play tapped or deal you damage is just suicide in what I expect to be one of the most aggressive formats in the past five years.

With that said, I think straight U/W Control is probably best, and here’s what I would play.

While I still think Dictate of Kruphix is a card worth experimenting with, the release of Mana Confluence makes me wary of giving aggressive decks more tools to punish you. Your removal spells should buy you enough time to bury them with Sphinx’s Revelation, so there isn’t much of a reason to give them more gasoline to burn.

While I won’t be attending the StarCityGames.com Open Series in Cincinnati, I hope that you can take this article and really learn something from it. No, I am not using a bunch of flashy new cards, but I think the logic behind that is sound. Delving into other colors to do cool things can be dangerous when you expect to play against aggressive decks in over 50 percent of your matches, so trying to do cute things could be detrimental to the success of your tournament.

My favorite deck among these by far is Naya Blitz, and I considered skipping a hometown Team Sealed Classic to go play with it. Mogis’s Warhound is just bananas, and I think Mana Confluence ties things together very smoothly. I’m hoping some of you pick it up and smash face with it so I can live vicariously through your success!