This week has been pretty exciting for Magic, though not for me personally. I’ve been in a bit of a lull since GP Toronto, with no big events to practice for and only GP Indy and Christmas in my future. With Indy being Sealed Deck, I found it hard to write an article about my preparation, considering it would just be showing you some practice Sealeds and explaining how I would build them.
In the past, those have usually been unpopular so I decided to try something new. Instead, I’m going to go over the Top 8 Standard deck lists from the Invitational, and give a quick rundown of what I like and dislike about the lists.
1st: Reid Duke
I love this deck! I’ve written about it many times and said that I think it’s the best choice for current Standard.
I know how to play the deck well enough to win any matchup, it's highly customizable for any metagame, and I think it has some of the best cards in the format, like Farseek and Sphinx's Revelation. Reid chose to play without Elixir of Immortality, which was a bold move. To be honest, I never really liked the Elixir and often sideboarded it out, but I still thought it was absolutely the most important card in the deck for beating matchups like Reanimator with Unburial Rites and token decks.
For the expected field, I think Reid made a wise decision, but I wouldn’t consider this list the baseline. At GP Charleston, I played 1 sideboard Rhox Faithmender and I loved it. Playing it alongside Thragtusk or Sphinx's Revelation, it can close out the game very effectively. I am skeptical of playing 3 Supreme Verdicts and 1 Terminus, but it doesn’t look like it hurt him too badly. I realize Terminus is much, MUCH better against Zombies because of cards like Geralf's Messenger and Falkenrath Aristocrat, but I think at least one game in the GW aggro matchups is always decided by, “did you draw Supreme Verdict before turn 5?”
2nd: Ben Weinburg
At first glance, this deck looks to me like an inferior version of GW Humans, but when you dig a little deeper you see that it acts more like a midrange aggro-killer type deck. It's Constructed with Zombies and GW Humans as its expected opponents, and I think it will beat those decks quite well. Borderland Ranger makes for a more long-game deck, hoping to take advantage of Gavony Township and Restoration Angel.
It stays away from cards like Rancor and Precinct Captain, to play red for Huntmaster of the Fells and Zealous Conscripts. Huntmaster is a way of beating aggressive decks and providing a “must Wrath” threat, and Zealous Conscripts is the best possible line of defense against Thragtusk.
You know you’re doing something right when the control player is afraid to cast his most powerful creature. I like the fact that this deck plays maindeck Fiend Hunter—decks like this usually lack any reliable way to remove a creature. Lastly, I hate the fact that this deck only plays 2 Silverblade Paladins—I understand that it's slightly worse in a deck like this, but it’s still one of the most powerful cards in standard.
3rd: Matt Nass
Matt Nass’s list isn’t posted anywhere, but I know he got 3rd place in the tournament with a UW Snapcaster Mage deck, and the major changes were adding Geist of Saint Traft to the main and 4 Unsummons. He pretty much just built a Geist deck, which obviously served him well.
I don’t hate Unsummon in this format, it’s very good at bouncing creatures like Champion of the Parish and Thundermaw Hellkite. It is slightly peculiar to me that more people don’t run Geist of Saint Traft, but I suppose that’s because of how weak it is to Thragtusk and how many of the Thragtusk decks play Cavern of Souls.
4th: Johnathan Job
When I was watching the coverage for this tournament, they said that before Johnathan got eliminated in the Top 4, he had a pristine 9-0 record in Standard matches played. I spoke a little too soon when I described Ben Weinburg's deck as the aggro-killer. THIS is a deck that has a single mission in life: to beat aggressive decks.
I look at this list, and think to myself that it can never beat Bant in a million years—the only possible edge it has going for it against Bant is the full amount of Cavern of Souls, with two copies of Kessig Wolf Run. In this format, Kessig Wolf Run is horribly undervalued and one of the best ways to compete with the stupid amounts of life gain that the Bant deck can present. It’s like your own personal anti-Sphinx's Revelation every turn, assuming your opponent doesn’t show up with an Azorious Charm to put a wrinkle in your plan.
5th: Nick Spagnolo
I don’t usually say purely negative things in my articles, but I have to say I hate how this deck looks. Even just the idea seems flawed—when I look at this deck, I just see Bant without Farseek and Thragtusk. Now I understand that Thragtusk is a bit overrated and agree that it isn’t a card you need to play in control for the deck to function, but it is still really good, right?
When you get hands where you draw two or you use it with Restoration Angel, it can still produce some awesome games. I’ve even seen Andrew Cuneo play only 3 in his Bant list when he streams. But losing Farseek is inexcusable to me, and for what benefit? You get to play four Nephalia Drownyards, which is all well and good as a plan to beat Bant, except that Nick got beat 3-0 in a clean sweep by Bant in the Top 8 of this tournament! My advice is stay away from Esper.
6th: Todd Anderson
This is a deck trying to do it all, and it doesn’t fall as short as you might expect. It has Pillar of Flame and Counterflux as it tries to be equally matched against Geralf's Messenger and Sphinx's Revelation. I really like Counterflux, as there are far more counterspells being played now, and far fewer flashback cards being played than before.
When I played Bant for the first time at GP San Antonio, I always wondered if it was right for the UWR decks to play Dissipate or Counterflux, and as I said I think now the clear favorite is Counterflux. If it weren’t for a blunder in his game five, we could well have seen Todd Anderson holding the trophy at the end of the day. This deck is awesome against Zombies and has decent game against Bant, but I’m just a little surprised to see zero copies of Geist of Saint Traft in the sideboard—instead Todd solves those long control matchups with Jace, Memory Adept, which is a card I have always run and liked.
7th: Leon Kornacki
Leon Kornacki did not have his decklist posted and I have no idea what he played, my apologies.
8th: Adam Prosak
Noooooooo! Why Adam!? Why would you play with Azorius Guildgate? Lands like Azorius Guildgate are already really poor in Constructed, but even worse in decks like this with many cheap cantrips that allow you to keep land light hands and rip through your deck quickly in the first couple turns.
With the old UW Delver deck, as a rule, it was OK to spend your early turns looking for spell or looking for lands, but never OK to try to do both. Basically, keeping a 1-land hand with Ponder when your land is Glacial Fortress means you’re going to be starting in an even larger hole. He also uses Rhox Faithmender, though to a much less powerful total upside than the Bant list. Erase is a strange card that stands out like a sore thumb, I have to assume he is playing it for Detention Spheres and Rancor that works well with Snapcaster Mage.
This was a pretty strong Top 8, with excellent players and some fine decks—the big takeaway is definitely to play Bant, because it crushes every deck in the format that tries to beat Zombies. There were no Zombies in the Top 8. The strongest sideboard cards from these lists are Jace, Memory Adept, Izzet Staticaster, and Rhox Faithmender. So keep an eye out for those.
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