Last weekend I had the pleasure of doing commentary with Cedric Phillips at the StarCityGames Open in Washington DC. It was a blast. I thought I did a
pretty good job, but man was I tired at the end of each day. I am getting old and Redbull can only do so much. I’ll stop short of saying that I can’t wait
to do it again, but I’m certainly interested. The fact that most people seemed to enjoy it is encouraging.
I also learned a lot. With each tournament, you typically learn a lot as a player, but there’s also a lot you can learn as a spectator, and that stuff is
not the same as what you’d learn as a player.
The Top 8 of the Standard Open consisted of:
2 Jund Planeswalkers
1 U/W Control
1 R/W Burn
1 G/W Aggro
That’s basically the perfect snapshot of the format. Mono-Blue Devotion and Rabble Red were hanging out in the Top 16, and that basically sums up Standard.
There’s a wide variety of decks, but no deck is better at closing than the various black decks. It’s a rarity to see black hanging out in Top 16 rather
than the Top 8 because black decks are rarely the decks that fall just short. That said, anything is capable of winning.
Mono-Blue Devotion Is Not Great
As Sam Black mentioned last week
, Mono-Blue Devotion hasn’t gotten any upgrades over the last year whereas basically all the other decks have. Your matchups against decks like G/W Aggro
used to be unbelievably good, but now they are simply good. You have an edge, but it’s not a huge one.
On top of that, the hate is real. Setessan Tactics is particularly brutal and it requires taking obscene measures to fight it, such as by boarding in
Dispel and/or Negate against decks that are primarily creatures. You might feel clever when you snipe a Tactics, but that won’t be the case the majority of
the time. Still, it’s something you probably have to do.
Jund Planeswalkers is Close to Being Great
Nearly every Top 8 we’ve seen since M15 has contained two copies of Jund Planeswalkers. The deck is certainly real but never seems to close. I’ve heard of
it winning a WMCQ or two, but those first place finishes are few and far between.
It’s clear that the deck is good, but the manabase, removal suite, and sideboard need to be worked on extensively. I suggested a version last week that
minimized the red, and maybe that’s worse than blue. Regardless, I think having a cohesive manabase and removal spells that won’t let you down is key to
making this deck work. Some Underworld Connections might be a good place to start also.
Circle of Flame Might Be For Real
We didn’t get to see this on camera, but I’ve seen Circle of Flame pop up in some sideboards. Any sort of red deck is generally a bad matchup for Jund
Planeswalkers, and the basically unplayable uncommon does a lot to fix those matchups. It’s cheap, deals with multiple threats, and works well in
multiples. If red decks are giving you fits, consider digging through your bulk boxes for Circle of Flames.
Typhoid Rats is Real
I loaned Josh Cho my B/G Devotion deck for the Open, both because I thought it was a great deck and because I wanted him to test a couple things for me.
The first was Typhoid Rats, which I explained was a Doom Blade/Bad Moon split card. Naturally, he laughed, then laughed at me, then called me stupid.
I set the line at the amount of times Typhoid Rats would have a positive impact on the game at 2.5. He took the under, and I was very happy with over. The
initial plan was one maindeck, one in the sideboard, but he quickly cut the sideboard copy.
If he was so hesitant to play the card in the first place, why didn’t he cut the maindeck copy? Probably because he made the Top 4 of an Open when we had
Hovermyr in our U/W Delver maindeck. He is a pretty big fan of winning with bad cards, so if he was going to play it, it might as well be in the main deck
so it would show up more often.
It didn’t take long before he was complaining about cutting the second copy. Apparently it overperformed.
Where is Burn?
Matt Sperling preyed on the abundance of creature-based red aggro at Pro Tour M15, and Rabble Red appears to be everywhere. Why aren’t people playing Burn
to capitalize? We see knee-jerk reactions, like people playing several Drown in Sorrows and Pharika’s Cures in their 75s, and some reactions to the
anticipated knee-jerk reactions, like Jared Boettcher playing zero of those cards in his 75, assuming everyone else will do the work for him.
That’s not exactly perfect thinking. Those decks exist and strong players, such as Tom Ross and Todd Anderson, play them. Eventually you’ll have to fight
one. If you’re like Jared, you might win some, but ultimately you might be better off making the concession and trying to prepare for everything. It may
seem like a tall order, but it’s better than getting knocked out of the tournament round 3.
Blue Might Actually be the Best Splash
I mocked Jared’s blue splash in his Black Devotion deck, but I was probably wrong. The green splash for Abrupt Decay and Golgari Charm had always worked
well for me against U/W Control, but I’ve been having a lot of problems with that matchup as of late. I’m certainly not as heavily configured against them
as I used to be, but it always seems like they find a Sphinx’s Revelation before I can finish them off.
Perhaps it’s because their decks are built better, but Negate is probably what you need since it’s basically the only thing you can do to stop a Revelation
off the top. That said, Abrupt Decay and Golgari Charm make life pretty easy outside of that, so who knows.
Deckbuilding is Important but Strong Play is Better
Watch the finals of the Standard Open. Seriously.
Legacy is Great
The Legacy Open Top 8 consisted of:
Overall, that’s a varied field, but that’s also twenty Brainstorms.
We see various blue decks vying for the spot of “best Brainstorm deck,” and Shardless BUG came out on top. That doesn’t surprise me, nor does Shardless
BUG’s repeated success in Legacy. The card advantage, disruption, and difficult to deal with threats put it over the top as the best Blue deck in my
opinion. Then again, I might be biased.
Miracles, Burn, and a bevy of other decks were lurking in the Top 16 though, so I’d expect to face a wide variety of decks in New Jersey this weekend. Play
what you know, have a good plan against the field, and you should be fine.
Dredge Was Due for a Comeback
The sudden appearance of Dredge is kind of frightening, but I love Dredge, so I don’t mind. Plus, there’s a lesson here: don’t skimp on graveyard hate.
Sure, they both lost in Top 8, but those matchups are close. If I had a little more courage, I’d be playing Dredge in the Invitational this weekend for
Graveyard hate is at an all-time low, and while Dredge was once the scourge of Extended, people don’t give it enough respect in Legacy. I expect that might
RUG Delver is Legacy’s Mono-Black Devotion
While commentating, I found that I said similar things about both of the best decks in Standard and Legacy. RUG Delver and Mono-Black Devotion are often
misunderstood, but the key takeaway is that you should build your deck, mulligan, and sideboard while keeping in mind that those decks need threats in
order to win. You often disrupt your opponent early but can’t lock them out completely, nor should you try to, so having a threat clocking them at the same
time is the key to victory.
It might seem like a good idea to keep a hand full of counterspells against a combo opponent, but without a clock, you’re giving them all the time in the
world to fight through it. Most decks tend to operate without a coherent gameplan or don’t really care what order their cards are drawn in, but tempo-based
decks desperately need a certain amount of threats, lands, interaction, etc. Meanwhile, other decks are built with redundancy in mind and have things like
24 land, 30 creatures, and a few spells sprinkled in.
More on this at a later time.
I rag on BBD a lot for playing slowly. Meanwhile, he insists that he’s picked up the pace but keeps racking up unintentional draws. Sometimes “playing
fast” doesn’t mean making decisions quickly as much as it does “making your actions quickly.” There’s a lot of Sensei’s Divining Top activations and lands
tapping/untapping and fatesealing going on, and you have to be able to physically move those cards around quickly.
There were plenty of unintentional draws that happened toward the latter part of the tournament, and a lot of that is hard to do with cards constantly
changing zones. The matchups weren’t typically ones that you’d expect to go to time, especially BBD’s U/W Miracles against Shahar’s Death and Taxes, where
game 1 took 45 minutes.
You might think you look cool by rearranging your cards in a methodical, pretty manner, but trust me when I say it’s even cooler not going to time. When
you practice, you might also want to practice moving quickly.
Figure Out What’s Important in Blue Mirrors
If you have that, you likely have the keys to the kingdom. True-Name Nemesis plus equipment seems to be the current best strategy, but not even those decks
employ it heavily. Regardless, that is their plan in the mid-game, so I’d try to have answers to that.
Again, I think Shardless BUG does a good job of that, plus it isn’t reliant on setting something like that up in order to have an edge. Shardless BUG is
basically the opposite from RUG Delver in that it doesn’t care in what order it draws its cards, nor does it care about specific plans — its cards take
care of that on their own.
I’m sure there’s a plan out there that exploits what current blue decks are up to, but it probably involves some way of going over the top. I’m just not
sure what that is quite yet. Maybe it’s something as innocuous as Punishing Fire, but there’s still the issue of True-Name Nemesis.
Legacy Has Some Weird Decks
We saw decks like Dredge and MUD in the Top 8, which I don’t think anyone would have bet on. There was also a copy of Mono-Red Sneak Attack in the Top 16,
which was recently added to my bucket list. I think the one thing these decks have in common is that unless your deck has answers that are specifically for
the things they are doing, they will run you over. It’s matchups like these that make me scared to do things like cut Toxic Deluge, Maelstrom Pulse, and/or
Nihil Spellbomb from my Shardless BUG sideboard.
Notably, the Meddling Mage package that has become relatively popular out of blue decks (including Shardless BUG) isn’t very good against these styles of
combo decks. Be wary of how inbred you get trying to fight certain matchups. Legacy is wide open and you might just lose to a deck you thought no one would
even consider playing.
Lands Looks Really Good
My goal for the next year is to get really proficient with Lands. There is probably a reasonable plan against combo decks, and if your deck is built well,
you are almost certainly going to win against any fair Blue deck. Legacy seems incredibly weak to a deck like that, but I’m not ready yet. I also don’t
think the format will shift heavily, so I’ve got time to learn.
What I’m Doing This Weekend
The Quest for the World Magic Cup will have to wait, as I’m attending the Season Three Invitational in New Jersey this weekend. I’m trying to win, so you
won’t see me screwing around with Voyaging Satyr and Oracle of Mul Daya this weekend. Despite Brad Nelson’s attempts to get me to play some weirdo decks,
I’m sticking to my guns and I’m trying to win. Brewing can wait.
I’ll see you there!