This weekend in Standard was a great display of interactive against non-interactive decks. In a way I’m glad Delver won the SCG Open, since it keeps it fresh in people’s minds, and reminds them about the dangers of Reefer Madness; er, Insectile Aberrations.
I know it can be annoying to see people write about the same deck week to week, but the minute people honestly believe that Green Summer is here and the best thing you can do, the metagame backlashes hard against those types of decks.
All the Pod decks, anything Travis Woo builds (as fun as they are), and a host of other decks all make Bonfire of the Damned one of the most important cards in the format. Arc Trail is criminally underplayed as a result Bonfire’s popularity. I’m tempted to play UWR Midrange, simply because I get an amazing selection of removal spells that fit every occasion, and the draw power of blue to actually find them. If you just let green decks do whatever they want, odds are good they’ll be doing something far more powerful than you can handle.
Elf Wave is a nice story of a deck that’s been attempted at various points over the past couple of months—and it finally succeeded. It just wants to dump its deck on the table and swing until the opponent is at negative 125 life. If it doesn’t do that, it can try to play small-ball with Restoration Angel and various Elves thanks to the power of Gavony Township. At no point is Elves even going to pretend that it cares about what the opponent is doing, unless it involves sending creatures to an untimely end. It is the end extreme of the spectrum that hasn’t been filled until now.
Really that’s the biggest upside to being green right now. Whenever your plan actually works, you get a huge number of real or virtual cards on the exchange. All the drawbacks of playing with eight mana dorks disappear with Craterhoof Behemoth, Genesis Wave for 10, or something reasonable like Primeval Titan. I liked how Cedric Phillips described his dream turn with Bant Pod:
“When you have a Thragtusk in play, copy it with Phantasmal Image, sac the copied Thragtusk to Birthing Pod (getting a 3/3 Beast obv) and search for Sun Titan to get back the Phantasmal Image, you have lived ‘The Dream.’ And by ‘The Dream’ I mean ‘Most turn 5′s with this deck.’
So you have decks that can do ridiculously powerful things in a format where non-Bonfire sweepers and countermagic (even Mana Leak!) have hit an all-time low. Bonfire of the Damned isn’t the most versatile card in the early game, so Day of Judgment and Whipflare get to chuckle from their deck box back home while their owners get [card craterhoof behemoth]Hoofed[/card]. If almost every deck doesn’t care to interact with each other anymore, is it really a surprise the results have shifted back towards decks doing awesome things? The only boring old sameness is still [card delver of secrets]Delver[/card], blind flip, Vapor Snag, [card runechanter's]Pike[/card] you to death after a Thought Scour.
In all seriousness though, the main three threats from Delver have taken a dive in power, only turn one Delver of Secrets and early flips really remain a world destroyer. Runechanter’s Pike continues to impress. Swords aren’t amazing anymore, but they remain powerful threats that deserve respect.
What surprises me is the lack of any other control strategy popping up to try and take advantage of the current metagame. While I understand just packing all the removal into a random control shell isn’t a winning strategy,* I’m starting to look longingly at Grixis or straight UB strategies again for a bunch of sweepers and some counters, which would seemingly ruin reasonable hands in this format.
*Hi Trading Post players with 20 removal spells and no way to beat a planeswalker.
Even Delver has become incredibly threat light, and the old boogeyman of them going big playing a Jace or Tamiyo I couldn’t interact with has long since passed. Phantasmal Image in the main deck, even with the bare minimum of creatures, looks better and better by the day, and rarely do you come up against a match where you can’t get a passable creature or cycle it away on an Elvish Visionary or Borderland Ranger. You even get a playable pinpoint discard spell, so you can interact on the draw or gain information later in the game with minimal investment.
While traditional control decks have moved toward the midrange plan, a power vacuum remains in its wake. In a world where everyone just wants to go cheaper or go completely over the top, a level one version of control has all the traditional answers you would pack against these strategies. In the end it feels like the Valakut effect from last year—a subset of decks simply don’t exist because of X deck’s presence in the metagame. In this case it’s Delver still causing the most issues for most control players, though the variety of threats in the metagame makes it tough to properly build.
So I’m still kicking around various control decks and hoping one of them actually works. In the meantime I’m firmly on board playing the more proactive UW and UWR Midrange decks. Of course, I’d be lying if I said I didn’t immediately build GR and GW Elves along with Travis Woo’s deck on MODO this weekend. These decks are incredibly fun and powerful and if people want to let me play the biggest game in the format, I’m happy to oblige.
Who wants to bet that Gavony Township got brought in nearly every match? As I talked about above, the Elf Wave deck is actually in a reasonable position in the Bonfire metagame. A much better line against this deck is going to be Arc Trail / Whipflare and a follow-up removal spell, or Gut Shot/Vapor Snag over trying to Bonfire the entire board on turn 3 or 4. I would also hate to play this deck against Day of Judgment, since if Pod decks had to worry about overextending, this deck is even more reliant on the pilot’s reserve.
On the plus-side, Restoration Angel and Gavony Township are good ways to quickly rebuild post-sweeper. It also gives the deck a way to stall against fliers. A singleton [card ezuri, renegade leader]Ezuri[/card] strikes me as an oddity in a deck with sixteen other Elves, and this deck really wants things to do with 300 mana. Otherwise, Soul of the Harvest and Genesis Wave are both the key combo cards once the all-mana deck hits a threshold, so be aware of it at all times.
One way to go with the deck in the future is to bail on the white, and go with red once again. In your all-mana combo deck, perhaps Bonfire of the Damned fits as something to do with your huge quantities of mana. In seriousness, you also get an auto-kill from Fervor off Genesis Wave, or if you want to go real deep, bring back [card urabrask the hidden]Urabrask[/card]. You get a leg up in the green mirror by having more cards that actually interact and Kessig Wolf Run.
Cedric Phillips took down a PTQ this past weekend (Congrats and enjoy the plane ticket!) with this spicy looking Bant Pod deck. I started messing with it in a few games and quickly realized that the deck has some very tough lines to figure out, even among Pod decks. If you want to play this deck, especially if you aren’t coming from a deck like RUG or Melira Pod or something, practice with this deck a lot. Cedric already said he’ll be writing about the deck and I look forward to reading that.
If you take a look at how the deck is constructed, you keep a lot of what people like in the Pod decks: Restoration Angel + Blade Splicer; Deceiver Exarch; Phantasmal Image; and Gavony Township. I talked a lot of crap about Thragtusk outside of Pod decks last week, and this deck is a great example of The Tusk being maximized.
This decks feels like the best parts of all the other Pod decks in one, without the mediocre mana RUG Pod enjoyed. The only card you really lose out on is Zealous Conscripts, and this deck can set-up an end of chain plan that’s better than almost anything else in the format.
Like many Pod decks, the way to stop this variant is to wipe them early or in the midgame—once they amass an army or start chaining out fives and sixes the game is over for most decks. Just pressuring them early isn’t a great plan since Blade Splicer and Phantasmal Image have plenty of stopping power, and multiple Thragtusks is going to undo a lot of early damage. A single one will usually drag the game out at least another turn, but going from two to seventeen over two turns isn’t an unrealistic event.
As for potential tweaks to the build, part of me wants to move Stingerfling Spider to the maindeck since when Spider does work, Mr. Stinger is outstanding in his field. Before I make any tweaks though, I definitely need to battle more games with the deck. It seems like a sweet choice for Pod players that want to do something different and likely more powerful.
That’s all for today, later this week I’ll be posted the Sealed contest results and hopefully I get to attend the Riverside PTQ this upcoming weekend. I’ll see you next week!
Email me at: joshDOTsilvestriATgmailDOTcom