After looking at the Limited side of the spectrum, let’s shift back and take a good look at Standard. We have the Vegas results in, and a little more testing time with the format post-M13.
Zombies: 4 [2 B/R, 2 B/U]
UW Delver: 3
RG Aggro: 3
Naya Pod: 2
Naya Aggro: 1
Zombies won a tournament! The recent SCG results apparently silenced some of the complaints about the format. Delver is still a great strategy, and may still be the best, but it is nowhere near as oppressive as it was last summer. Even post-ban Caw Blade was such a boogieman that people were basically giving up instead of fighting a watered-down version of the deck. Delver has just as many tools, but people either want to play something else, or are waiting for the next evolution. I’m surprised the Yuuya build has made so little impact, while [card talrand, sky summoner]Talrand[/card] is riding high. Speaking of the Sky Summoner…
I tried the new Delver builds, and was unimpressed by this new addition to the strategy. You almost always tap out to play Talrand, at which point you have a 2/2 that makes Wind Drake. Potentially every green deck in the format runs Bonfire of the Damned, and BR Zombies usually runs Bonfire as well. Whipflare is a reasonable card to sport 3-4 of in the main deck once again. Talrand is miserable against these cards, and unless you cast multiple Phyrexian mana spells, it takes another turn before you create any number of Wind Drakes to actually win the game with. I love how a handful of people threw away Restoration Angel to play a card that’s just worse in a fair number of matches.
Of course, I could be behind the times, and the proper answer is to bail on four-drops altogether and go more aggressive with Delver. Invisible Stalker/[card runechanter's pike]Pike[/card] is still a real combination of cards that just lets you avoid playing a game of Magic; and Phyrexian mana cards are still valuable, even when you don’t profit a Wind Drake. If everyone wants to go slower and larger in threats, then going throwback to Yuuya or the original aggro Delver lists is definitely a way to go. Those decks didn’t care about beating up a conditional blue four-drop.
Future green metagame? Why not Zoidberg? UW Midrange?
People have asked me for the list, so I’ll repost what I have currently.
Oh look, it’s the same deck it’s always been with more Cavern of Souls over a couple of basics. Honestly, I’m not sure whether I want to just rock this, or try Adam Percy’s approach by jamming some red into the deck. I actually prefer Day of Judgment over Bonfire in the deck, but access to Pillar of Flame against Zombies and early Delver of Secrets is a big game, and Desolate Lighthouse would be wonderful as an option. Not sure I’m sold on Thundermaw Hellkite as a main deck card in these types of decks, but at least the raw power is there to make it good.
Green/X vs. Delver and UW Midrange Dynamics
There are a couple of subjects that come up when I talk to people about how G/x performs against the boogieman of the format. Most of them involve how awesome Strangleroot Geist is, or how much Blade Splicer makes aggro players’ lives complete hell. After playing out the rather boring green match against UW for a couple of months now, I have come to the conclusion that misuse of spell-lands has won me more games than any non-Blade Splicer card in my deck.
I can’t even remember how many times people would be in a far superior position if they actually thought about when and why to activate their Kessig Wolf Run or Gavony Township, but instead they seem to regard them as last resort scenarios. While your normal creatures may suck against Blade Splicer and Restoration Angel, pumping them for a few turns means I need to Day or slam a six onto the board. In normal Delver you may not have the time to resort to this, but in normal Delver you won’t have to deal with Day or Splicer game one, and possibly games two or three as well.
As a green player you have to weigh how valuable giving me extra cards and mana is versus your deck drawing more cards. On average I’d like to think more of my cards are relevant or cantrip, simply because so many cards in the green decks are single-minded in purpose. Yeah, Strangleroot Geist and Huntmaster of the Fells are fine cards, and are very good at the one thing they do. They also happen to be atrocious against Blade Splicer and Restoration Angel, which makes life miserable for the green player.
The key issue saddling green decks is that they just leak resources everywhere when they aren’t on curve or playing battlecrusier Magic. Almost every creature in the green deck is forced to either be thrown to the wolves when attacking or sit on the sidelines, hopefully getting some assistance so they can start attacking soon. Until they reach critical mass, the cards just don’t do anything relevant.
Thragtusk is a prime example of a creature that looked like a big game for green decks, and turned out to be a bust. Everyone, including myself, thought of how strong Thragtusk was going to stand up to Vapor Snag and Day of Judgment, and what a pain it’ll be for those scummy Delver players. Thing is, in what world would you ever cast Vapor Snag on a Thragtusk? Doesn’t this make Phantasmal Image go from good to absurd against green? What does a 5/3 non-haste actually accomplish?
It isn’t that Thragtusk is a bad card, it remains a fine choice in Pod and I love having access to it, especially with my own Phantasmal Image. It also remains one of the best cards you can have against Zombies, since it provides a significant chunk of life with a reasonable blocker. Against other decks, however, it just doesn’t accomplish a whole lot. It doesn’t trump Blade Splicer, Gideon Jura, or Titans. It sure as hell isn’t the trump Wolfir Silverheart or Zealous Conscripts is in a pure race situation. On defense I’d rather have Stingerfling Spider most of the time (also a terrible critter to Vapor Snag), since it has an immediate impact on the board and can block anything that isn’t stalking you in some fashion.
I shouldn’t have to say this, since I think a fair portion of my audience understands this on some level, but: UW has ended up dominant these past two Standard seasons because, though many of the cards aren’t the absolute best at what they do, they give you a line of play that cuts off opponent’s lines, or an OK card that opens up a lot more lines of play in a blue shell. A card like Blade Splicer gives UW Midrange a lot more range, while in Naya Pod it’ll purely be a value beater that plays defense in the mirror.
While these decks thrived by having more options than everyone else in the room, nowadays the threats they play are nearly as powerful as the ones in decks with a singular, defined path. Snapcaster Mage may be impressive in general, but he shines all the brighter when he’s Cryptic Command, instead of just Lightning Bolt. Geist of Saint Traft can be as single-minded as it wants, and be far better in Delver than any other shell that’s available. Throw in the fact that other colors continually get shafted on card drawing* and manipulation, and you have all the classic walls lined up to stop everything else.
*Even if a colorshifted version would have to be banned in Modern, I’d love to see a green Ponder or something like a GG Impulse. Faithless Looting was a step in the right direction for red, now it just needs a Thirst for Knowledge equivalent.
My issue with green decks derives from how poorly their cards stack up against what I could run into. I didn’t want a deck where 50% or more of my offense could be stymied by a single Blade Splicer if my creatures didn’t have help. Ideally we’d be able to always floop our creatures, but it’s just too easy to mount a cost-efficient defense that can later beat the opponent down. It gets even worse when you look at how well these same creatures stop each other on defense, but do nothing against Delver.
Welcome to why I wouldn’t play non-Pod green decks until M13 finally came out. Why bother with green creatures when I could just play blue and white ones which were good on their own, and got better when played with each other? Strangleroot Geist in Pod can quickly be tossed in a bin regardless of how sweet a two-drop it is, when Elvish Visionary is less of a strain on mana and gives immediate value. Even though I still prefer Pod over straight RG, with Thundermaw Hellkite joining Bonfire, your stupidly powerful card quotient starts to catch up to other decks.
Of course all these examples assume you aren’t playing Ramp, and don’t want to play battlecrusier Magic. Just killing one or two key targets to stay at a healthy life-total, and throwing out massive threats until you win the game is a legitimate strategy that’s currently underrated. UW Midrange doesn’t deal well with multiple Titans and planeswalkers; and while more countermagic is an option, it can’t easily shift roles to fight against this plan. Delver, on the other hand, can play a more proactive role, but even then it can’t easily stand up to bigger threats. If Geist of Saint Traft or a Runechanter’s Pike isn’t entering the equation, there just aren’t enough good ways for the deck to interact with huge threats.
Going back to Thragtusk, this is one of the few spots where Tusky has a solid living arrangement. You can go up to three or four post-board without clogging up your opening hands, and just force green decks to grind it out. Against Delver, where Thragtusk is usually on the end of the curve in green, the card shifts to a mid-game drop and the life-gain aspect gets a boost from Glimmerpost. So instead of tacking on one additional turn, an average game could go two or three turns longer purely due to life-gain from Tusk / Post. This is pretty significant, considering the haymakers available to any Ramp strategy. So let’s see where we can go with that.
Last week I posted a RG deck that quit playing small-ball, and instead focused on jamming huge threats and Bonfire of the Damned to end games. Rather than move to pure RG Ramp, I half-assed it and kept in the typical mana creature and Borderland Ranger set-up. I figured that since I didn’t care about casting six-drops, I didn’t need to go the full ramp route. Now I realize that I just prefer fives over sixes, and ramp is still the best way to go.
I’ve gone back and forth on a split between Inferno Titan and Thundermaw Hellkite, but Hellkite is less hellish to get [card zealous conscripts]Conscripted[/card] and the lower cost is incredibly useful. Inferno can clear out the board, but you already have a bunch of sweepers and the ability to extend races with a lot of life gain. This could be the Talrand situation—where I love the card at first, but once I play more and step back to reassess, it really just makes the deck worse.
So there you go! Once Magic Online gets M13 in a few days I’ll be able to collect a lot more information and have way more hands-on time with newer decks. Until then!
Email me at: joshDOTsilvestriATgmailDOTcom