After some pleasant flight delays, I just arrived back from US Nationals. Sadly, I won't be representing the United States this year, although our team is pretty solid. Gindy, Yurchick and Todd Anderson really have their work cut out for them, what with Japan's pretty insane team and Brazil being led by Paulo Vitor and Carlos Romao. I would probably have written a tournament report if either I had done well or the draft format was relevant, but since Shards is a lame-duck format in terms of PTQ-type events and higher, I figure I will see what sort of pecking order will emerge in Standard.
We have quite a bit of info on Standard (I was about to call it "post-M10 Standard" but I think it has been out long enough for it just to be "Standard" now), but I never really liked breaking down percentages of each deck and whatnot. I don't think it is completely useless, but I don't feel like I get much value out of seeing overall win percentages and the numbers of each deck in the field, beyond getting a sense of the basic popularity of each deck. Even that doesn't hold up over a season necessarily, and while looking at past tournaments can give you some feedback, selecting a deck solely because of its win percentage against the field of the last tournament is not a very good way to go about things. So instead of seeing what did well at each Nationals, I want to just go over the viable decks in the format, and see which have improved and which have gotten worse.
US Nationals had the most striking Top 8, since it featured some pretty astounding numbers of cards. 32 Great Sable Stags, 31 Volcanic Fallouts, and 31 (definitely should have been 32) Reflecting Pools. Every deck in the Top 8 was a Vivid + Pool deck, and can really only be broken up into 2 categories. Mark Hendrickson's deck isn't easily classifiable, and while it may have been a good metagame call going into Nationals, I really doubt it sees much play now that people know the list. Watching Gindy and Gerry test the matchup the night before, it seems almost unwinnable for Hendrickson, and taking a deck that can't beat 5CC into a tournament is not a very good idea. The rest of the Top 8 was either 5CC or Jund, even though there were obvious difference in some of the individual decks. I expect the results from US Nationals to have more influence on the US metagame than other Nationals, mainly because the event was held in the US. It also sends a clearer message: Faeries are not wanted here. Looking at French Nationals, with a mix of Faeries, 5cc, Time Sieve and Black-Red Burn, you don't get nearly as clear a signal as looking at US Nationals.
This will be enemy number one now, what with its pair of wins in Japan and the USA, and because players love casting Cruel Ultimatum and Cryptic Command. Faeries was really the only thing keeping 5CC back before (although there is a new threat I will talk about in a second here), and now that 5CC can finally legitimately boast of a solid plan against Fae, it seems quite strong. I still say solid, not good, since even with 4 Stag and 4 Fallout, I think the matchup is pretty close, if not in the favor of Faeries. The only deck right now that 5-Color is a pretty big dog against is Time Sieve, which is now definitely a deck. I never though Turbo-Fog was ever a real deck, but Time Sieve has made Top 8 at a number of Nats, even racking up a win in Finland. I will talk more about Time Sieve in its own section, but if you plan on playing 5-Color Control, don't just write this deck off.
Like 5CC with Putrid Leech and Bloodbraid Elf instead of Cryptic Command and Cruel Ultimatum (particularly Conley Woods' Makeshift Mannequin version that Piazza and Nelson played), I don't see how anyone would ever want to trade in Cruels for creatures! Ok, maybe having a much easier time against Fae and Time Sieve might explain it, but I obviously would prefer to draw cards. Jund is actually fine, I just am allergic to decks with aggressive two-drops (that aren't Tarmogoyf in my Mono-Blue deck). The sideboard is what seems to make or break Jund, since if it can sideboard into the right combination of Anathemancer, Thought Hemhorrhage, Blightning or something along those lines, 5cc will be beatable. Otherwise the matchup will play out like in the Top 8, where 5CC stalls a bit until it can Cruel Jund's face off.
I had some bad experiences at Nats, but Sam Black did well, and PV actually won his Nationals, so I am actually somewhat unsure about Faeries. It is clearly my favorite deck, but the abundance of Stags and Fallouts really does make it worse. Finally there is a card that legitimately hoses Faeries, and it is printed a few months before Fae rotates out of Standard! Nationals is actually the last high-level event I have to play with Standard before Zendikar (although I will be at the Channelfireball.com 5k in two weeks of course!).
Anyways, now that Stag is a card, Faeries starts losing games that were previously unloseable. In Round 1, I played against Jon Loucks' 4c Cascade deck, and my opponent mulled to 5 in Game 3. I had Turn 2 Bitterblossom, Turn 4 Mistbind Clique, which got killed by Fallout plus Lightning Bolt, and untapped with Cryptic Command, Broken Ambitions, Flashfreeze and Puppeteer Clique in my hand against his nothing. A Stag and 2 more Fallouts later, and I was dead. Previously, there was nothing in the format that could do that. I have more stories in the same vein, but you get the idea. Faeries is still a viable choice, but it is significantly weaker than it used to be.
Like I said in my article the week before my Nationals, I wanted to play Elves until it did so well at Japanese and Australian Nationals. I still kind of hold the same opinion, since even though Elves is a very good deck, the environment is hostile enough to the point of it still being difficult for you to win the tournament. Five-Color Control really is annoying to play against, and they are packing enough Wrath effects to make it pretty tough on you. The beatdown plan of Oversoul of Dusk, Cloudthresher and Great Sable Stag doesn't work that well against a 5CC deck that has access to Hallowed Burial, which I expect most to have. On the other hand, Osyp did win the Saturday PTQ at Nationals with Elves, so make of that what you will.
Jon Loucks' brew, the Time Sieve deck (written about here, although disregard the Chromatic Stars) occupies a similar spot in the metagame that Turbo-Fog tried to fill, which is a combo deck that can never beat Faeries but has extremely favorable matchups elsewhere. The problem was that Turbo-Fog lived up to its promise of never beating Fae, but didn't actually beat all the other decks. Decks with burn spells, Maelstrom Pulse, Primal Command or just the right sideboard cards would often just beat Turbo-Fog. A side effect of decking your opponent by having them draw every card is that they draw every card! Anything you sided in against Fog you eventually got access to. On the other hand, Time Sieve is a deck that pretty reliably combos off on Turn 6 or so (according to Olivier Ruel, who made Top 8 at French Nationals with the deck), and it has some valid disruption to make sure it doesn't die by then. This deck will get quite a bit better if Faeries loses as much popularity as I expect it to. Better get your Time Sieves while they are still a dollar (or whatever, I don't actually keep track of prices too often)!
Now I may not be exactly the foremost authority on the burning of opponents, but I don't think Blightning (now with or without the actual card Blightning) is a bad call nowadays. Jund without Putrid Leech"¦er, that doesn't sound too good, let me rephrase. Jund with better mana (ok, that sounds better) and more reach, Black-Red trades good creatures for a bunch of burn spells, which make it pretty good at beating 5CC and Faeries. Anathemancer fits way better in this deck than in Jund, even if it is still good in Jund for the 5CC matchup. When you get to supplement the ÃƒÂ¢Ã¢â€šÂ¬Ã‹Å“Mancer damage with Flame Javelin and Blightning, it makes it pretty hard for 5CC to win without resolving a Cruel Ultimatum.
Sorry, Cedric, but this deck is terrible. Cedric actually knows this, but other people seem not to. I wouldn't play Kithkin for a ton of reasons, chief of which are its bad matchups against 5CC, Time Sieve, Faeries and Elves. It does fine against Jund and is probably favored against Blightning, bringing it to a nice 38% (Warning: Statistic might be just a made-up number) against the field as a whole. Neat.
So what deck is best?
There is no one best deck, but Five-Color Control comes pretty close. I fully expect it to be the most popular deck, and that might actually make Time Sieve a true contender. I wouldn't play Faeries now, and I really mean it this time. This is like the third time I have said that, but I am almost wholly convinced that Faeries is actually a bad choice now, which makes me sad. I guess I will likely have to wait until Extended rolls around again to dust off my foil Bitterblossoms and whatnot. Seriously, Stag and Fallout have taken their toll, although that can lead to a possible resurgence of Fae if people get lazy. I doubt that will happen though, since people hate Faeries just that much. Nobody is going to skimp on their hate, and they will have their [card Great Sable Stag]wooden stakes[/card] and [card Volcanic Fallout]garlic[/card] ready just in case the monsters return.
If my theory about Five-Color and Faeries bears out, then it makes sense that seiveing some time could be really sick. I don't know enough about the Time Sieve deck to say what all of its matchups are, but I'm sure Jon Loucks or Olivier can enlighten us. Jund and Blightning both seem fine, but I don't exactly know where to start with them in terms of tuning. Conley Woods' Mannequin deck got pretty bashed by Five-Color in the Top 8, but he said that the matchup wasn't too bad, so it may have just been a small sample size. If I were to PTQ tomorrow, I would play Five-Color, even though I would want to play Time Sieve. The problem with Time Sieve is that when your goal is to win the tournament (like at a PTQ), than playing such a risky deck can easily backfire. Get paired against the one Fae deck in the Top 8 and all of a sudden you are done. That won't happen with 5CC, as even your unfavorable matchups are winnable.
Standard isn't that open of a format, sadly, but perhaps there is more room than we know. It looks now like Cruel Ultimatum is going to be as big a menace as Faeries ever was, just less overt. People know and hate when they get Mistbind Cliqued a bunch, and they lose right there. Five-Color takes a lot longer to win, and often is just barely scraping by during the games (until they Cruel you of course). For now, I would recommend wielding Cruel Ultimatums, although the more adventurous of you might want to consider Time Sieving. It worked for Olivier, after all. I know I didn't give lists of any of these decks, but those are all quite easy to obtain with a bit of searching, and I really don't have new lists to give anyway. This format is pretty much over for me, so I don't know how much more I will playing it. I do have a little more content today, in the form of a Vintage tournament report!
Sunday Vintage Side Event
The weekend was going as well as I would have liked, but I did have the Sunday Vintage to look forward to. A sanctioned (and hence unproxied) event for a Black Lotus and a Mox Jet looked sweet, and I brought my Vintage stuff in anticipation. Well, most of it at least, as I apparently did end up leaving a bunch of stuff at home.
Gerry and I were trying to brew a sweet list, and even though there isn't a whole lot of room to play with in the maindeck of Vault-Key control, he did think of a nice sideboard plan. The maindeck has 5 or 6 slots at most you can really mess with, and we chose to supplement our Highlander draw engine with 4 Dark Confidant and an extra Sensei's Divining Top, since 1 is pretty standard.
The sideboard plan against BUG Fish, which was my big concern going into the event, was 4 Oath of Druids, a Sphinx of the Steel Wind, and a [card Gaeas Blessing]Gaea's Blessing[/card]. They have to play guys to beat you, and Oathing up Darksteel Colossus and Sphinx should put a stop to that. There were some flaws with the plan, but I'll get to those later. Also, I did play 61 cards, since I wanted a maindeck Repeal and didn't know what to cut. I hadn't played Vintage in months, and decided to just run 61 instead of cutting something that might be critical. Admittedly, I probably could have figured it out, but mise. Repeal cycles, right?
I was able to borrow some [card Oath of Druids]Oath[/card]s from TK, and Mike Klemic (both of whom made Top 8, coincidentally enough) saved me from using Revised Tropical Islands and [card Hurkyls Recall]Hurkyl's Recall[/card] by providing some sick Beta Trops and a nice Antiquities Hurkyl's. Gotta play in style, right?
Round 1 vs [card Painters Servant]Painter's Servant[/card]
Game 1: I keep a hand that would be unreal if it didn't contain Darksteel Colossus, since it had turn 2 Tinker with Duress on turn 1 otherwise. I had to settle for Tinkering for a Sensei's Top, since I had a lot of mana and not much to do with it. Luckily, Top finds me enough gas to set up a Yawg Will and rebuy Tinker for DSC. He does manage to Vampiric Tutor while at 2, although he could have chumped with both of his Painters and been at 5 instead. I think he was drawing pretty slim either way, but it was kind of funny.
SB: +1 Gaea's Blessing, -1 Hurkyl's Recall
This was pretty terrible boarding, since I almost died to an [card Inkwell Leviathan]Inkwell[/card] game two. I should have just taken out Repeal instead.
Game 2: His [card Red Elemental Blast]Red Blasts[/card] are pretty annoying, but I manage to get out Dark Confidant anyway. The aforementioned Inkwell lands, and it turns into a strange kind of race. Well, strange in that he gets me for seven life and I get an extra card a turn. Not a great deal, but when I find a Tezzeret to go along with my Voltaic Key it gets interesting. I am able to go infinite, but being at 4 with a Bob in play is pretty dangerous. Luckily, he kills [card Dark Confidant]Bob[/card] after I attack into his Painter's Servant for the second time, and I am able to go infinite safely. I was going to Tezzeret out a Top, so I was pretty likely to win anyway, but might as well play for your outs.
Round 2 vs BUG Fish
I play against Joseph Bogaard, who made Top 4.
Game 1: I keep a sick hand of Mana Drain, Top, [card Mox Ruby]Mox[/card], four lands, two of which are [card Polluted Delta]fetches[/card]. Sadly, despite Draining his first two plays and Thoughtseizing his [card Dark Confidant]Bob[/card], I end up finding nothing relevant to play. Null Rod eventually makes its way down, and Life from the Loam plus Strip Mine make it impossible for me to mount a comeback.
This turns out to not be the optimal sideboard plan, as I soon find out.
Game 2: He gets a game loss for misregistering his sideboard.
Game 3: I keep a double [card Oath of Druids]Oath[/card] plus Force of Will hand, with not much mana. He has a slow start also, and I am able to resolve an [card Oath of Druids]Oath[/card]. Null Rod is stopping me from really doing anything, but he can't play a creature or I will crush him with [card Oath of Druids]Oath[/card]. He ends up playing Vendilion Clique and taking my Repeal, then trying to Darkblast it so I can't [card Oath of Druids]Oath[/card]. I Force of Will the Darkblast, and he drops a Dark Confidant. I [card Oath of Druids]Oath[/card] up Darksteel Colossus, since the Sphinx was pitched to Force of Will earlier. He doesn't play anything relevant, and it is my turn again.
I figure I might as well [card Oath of Druids]Oath[/card] to trigger Gaea's Blessing and reshuffle.
If you look at the above sideboard plan, well, I didn't side in the Blessing. I embarrassingly deck myself and lose a pretty unloseable game. It made for a nice story, but I was not too pleased afterwards.
Round 3 vs [card Oath of Druids]Oath[/card]
Game 1: I mulligan to 5, and end up with a solid hand. We both end up pretty empty, although he has an [card Oath of Druids]Oath[/card] in play. I have only a Yawg Will after a few turns, but his hand of 5 cards seems pretty menacing. I drop a Dark Confidant despite his Oath, since I figure with [card Dark Confidant]Bob[/card] plus Top I should be able to resolve a lethal Will before Oath kills me. I go for it on the following turn, after he Oaths up Progenitus, but end up slightly short of going infinite, and die to the many-headed hydra.
I didn't particularly want to add anything, since none of my sideboard cards do anything. [card Dark Confidant]Bob[/card]s are a little risky against his Oaths, but there is nothing I can really add in their place.
Game 2: I drop a Dark Confidant on turn 1, and hope he doesn't have an Oath. He doesn't, although on turn 2 he taps Orchard and Island, gives me a token, then casts Diabolic Edict. That predictably doesn't work out so well, and I have to question the inclusion of Diabolic Edict as the removal of choice in a deck with Forbidden Orchards. He could have responded to the trigger by Edicting me, but luckily that didn't happen. [card Dark Confidant]Bob[/card] racks up enough cards for me to win a few turns later.
Game 3: I have a sick hand, and Thoughtseize him, setting up my Ancestral Recall on turn 2. A few card draw spells and a sick Yawg Will turn later and I kill him with Vault + Key. Oath isn't that scary of a matchup, although I wish I had something to board out for these Dark Confidants, since they make it too easy to trigger Oath.
Round 4 vs Ad Nauseam Tendrils
Game 1: I lose the die roll, and he goes land, Mox, Sensei's Top. I play land, Mana Crypt, [card Dark Confidant]Bob[/card], Top.
He just plays another land and passes. I hit for two and play a land, leaving Fact or Fiction and Gifts up. He thinks for a while and then Vampiric Tutors end of turn. I still think he is Tezzeret or something like that, so when he plays Mana Crypt and casts Ad Nauseam, I am not thrilled. I Fof in response to try and find a Force of Will, but whiff. I even tap the Top for an additional card, and miss again. Ad Naus goes off, and I am pretty sure that should be that.
He hits Ritual, Ritual, Cabal Ritual, Duress, some Blue spells, basic Island, [card Tendrils of Agony]Tendrils[/card], putting him to three. He decides to stop there, which seems suspect. While he could definitely die to Ad Naus at that point, any Black-producing land or Mox Jet, Chrome Mox, Black Lotus, or Lotus Petal wins him the game on the spot. By passing, he is accepting a 50-50 chance against his Mana Crypt, which is further lowered by the fact that I get to do stuff on my turn. I end up Duressing his Yawgmoth's Will, leaving him with Tendrils and some Rituals, plus a Pact of Negation. None of that matters, since he dies to the coin flip on his upkeep.
SB: +1 Arcane Lab –1 Hurkyl's Recall
Game 2: I keep a speculative (read: greedy) hand of Duress, Force of Will, Mana Drain, Dark Confidant, Merchant Scroll, Thoughtseize, and Mox"¦Ruby. It has Force, and if I draw a Black source than it should be enough disruption for me to take over. Sadly, my Force gets Duressed and Ad Nauseam eats my face on turn three or so, after I fail to draw a mana source. That was in fact the risk when I kept that hand.
Game 3: My opener is double Force of Will, Sol Ring, Black Lotus, Mox Emerald, Tropical Island, Underground Sea. It is actually fine, since I play enough mana on turn one to keep Force of Will mana up, which means a Duress won't be sufficient to stop me from countering Ad Naus. I skillfully rip Ancestral on turn two, so when he goes for turn 2 Ad Nauseam with Pact of Negation backup I have double Force to win the game. I don't like this matchup, particularly on the draw. They have more disruption and a way faster clock, and you usually don't get to have Mana Drain up before the game ends one way or another.
Round 4 vs Owen Turtenwald playing Vault-Key
We can draw in, but Owen prefers to play. We split the first two games, then he decides a draw is ok and we ID.
I make Top 8 at 4th or 5th seed, and am playing against Bill Boysen with 5c Stax.
Game 1: I keep a sick hand, but his hand is probably better. He is on the play and leads with Lotus, which I allow, and Goblin Welder, which I Force. He then [card Crop Rotation]Crop Rotates[/card] his Wasteland into a Strip Mine and plays a Crucible of Worlds. Unfortunate.
I play a Polluted Delta, a Mox and a Sensei's Top. He plays Wasteland out of his yard and goes for a Sphere of Resistance. I Ancestral in response, and Force the Sphere (told you my hand was nice!). I then start turning my lands into Lotus Petals, and play one Dark Confidant, then another, and Demonic Tutor for Mox Sapphire. I manage to keep him from doing anything relevant by finding a nice stream of Forces with my Top, and Bobs take it down.
SB: +4 Oath, +1 Sphinx, +1 GAEA'S BLESSING, +1 Darkblast, +1 Smother
-4 Dark Confidant, -2 Duress, -2 Thoughtseize
I didn't know if Oath was better than Bob, but I thought he might not expect the Oath plan. He had Gorilla Shaman along with Welders, and a [card Karn, Silver Golem]Karn[/card] and an Inkwell, so it seemed like enough guys for me to Oath. He can't even Weld out Sphinx, which ended up being really relevant.
He upkeep Enlightened Tutors, gets a Black Lotus, plays it and a City of Brass, and then sacks the Lotus to Demonic Tutor and play Seal of Primordium to kill my Oath. I guess a 3.3333 for one is acceptable (Enlightened Tutor + Black Lotus + Demonic Tutor + 1/3 of the Gemstone Mine). All he draws are Welders for the next three turns, and even quad Welder can't race Sphinx of the Steel Wind. At this point I had been given a really nice looking altered Sphinx by a fellow by the name of Garret, who just wanted to be sure that I would play it (and that I owned my deck and wasn't just borrowing it for the day). It looked sweet, and was able to finish the game against Stax with a pretty abysmal draw.
Ah, a rematch against BUG Fish. I hoped to redeem myself for the horrific punt I made earlier.
Game 1: I keep a mana heavy hand with Force of Will, blue card, and Yawgmoth's Will. I have to Force a Null Rod, and then an Ancestral. Unfortunately, he has a Force to make sure Ancestral resolves, putting me kind of behind. He then drops a second Null Rod, which is bad news. The only good part is that he just has a lone Tarmogoyf for pressure, which then hits me the following turn. I say that I will take the three, and he immediately says that it is four damage. I ask him why he thinks that, and he goes "land, instant, sorcery, artifact"¦wait, there is no land". Lands might almost always be in the bin, but it turns out that almost always and always aren't exactly the same. I take three. He plays another Goyf, and I am forced to go for it.
I crack my three previously unbroken Deltas, and attempt a Fact or Fiction. I tapped out for it, and fully expected a Daze, but it resolves without incident. The cards are: Island, Mana Drain, Sensei's Top, Force of Will, and Thoughtseize. He somewhat bizarrely splits the piles into Thoughtseize plus Top vs Drain, Force, Island. The two worst cards, what with the Null Rod in play, against the three best cards. A novel strategy, but I decide to play into his plan and take the three good cards. I untap and resolve a Tinker for Darksteel Colossus, and pass the turn. He drops a Trygon Predator, which I consider Forcing.
The life totals are as such that if I let it resolve, hit him with Colossus, and then Yawg Will just to cast Time Walk, he has to chump with two creatures. If I counter it, the [card Tarmogoyf]Goyf[/card]s grow large enough that he will chump with just one, and the other one will kill me on the backswing. The damage is the same either way, since in both cases he has one 5/6 [card Tarmogoyf]Goyf[/card] remaining, but one of the scenarios involves me casting Force, and hence going to zero when all is said and done. I decline to Force the Predator, and he makes all my math irrelevant by hitting with both [card Tarmogoyf]Goyf[/card]s. I block one, take the other, and kill him dead with Walk on my turn.
SB: Same as round 2, except I decide to put in Blessing this time, cutting the last Thoughseize.
Game 2: In what seems to be a theme, I keep a nice hand. By nice, I mean Trop as my only land, with two Oaths and Force plus a Top and some Blue cards. I hate mulliganing against a deck with Duresses and Null Rods, since he can potentially blank so many of my cards. This hand just needs lands to be good, and has Force plus some gas to tide me over. He plays and Island, and when he Dazes my Top, I allow it. He simply replays his Island. I miss my second land drop, and he quickly Wastelands my Trop, which is bad news. I proceed to do nothing but Force his next two plays over the next five or so turns, but he is flooding pretty badly, as evidenced by the fact that he only made two plays.
I eventually resolve an Oath, and he plays a Trygon Predator, already having a Bob in play from the previous turn. I Oath up the Sphinx, and pass the turn. He goes to play a Null Rod, which I respond to by drawing with Sensei's Top. He responds by casting Diabolic Edict on me, and I Repeal Trygon in response to that. He then is unable to kill my Oath, and I kill him on the next turn, since Top stacked Time Walk under Darksteel, and I Oath up DSC then draw and cast Time Walk with him at 11. Turns out that Oath is pretty good against Fish when you decline to deck yourself.
I split with Webster, which is pretty convenient.
This deck was pretty good, although I’m not sure about the Dark Confidant plus Top slots versus something like 1-2 Sower of Temptation plus some [card Nights Whisper]Night’s Whispers[/card]. I also definitely want a way to kill opposing Sowers, since your Oath plan is so vulnerable to them. The BUG Fish matchup remains really hard, even with Oaths, particularly if they expect them. I think I would cut Darksteel for Inkwell straight up, just to make Sower less of a threat, and maybe cut the Sphinx for some other shroud beast, either a second Inkwell or an Empyrial Archangel. BUG provides so many threats that it is hard to fight over all of them, so maybe just Oathing up shroud monsters and ignoring the Null Rod fight is best.
Vintage was fun, and I hadn't played it for quite a while. I now am in need of more Vintage, since playing this small event was kind of like eating an appetizer when you are hungry! Hopefully we can get some more events going here in California, and I will be on the lookout out for nice side events in the future. It is a shame we didn't get more this time, since that makes Legion Events much less inclined to hold big prize events in the future.