I kind of wanted to write about something different this week. I wanted to write about Polymorph. It's a sweet deck, has some good matchups, that sort of thing, but I just can't justify writing about a deck that I feel is, at best, second best. I've been spending a lot of time the last few weeks working on the Naya deck — learning the weaknesses and attacking them in a way that correlates with the strengths of the deck. The way I see it, the most important problems are solved. The way I see it, Naya is the best deck to play in standard. And I don't think it's remotely close. Sorry Emrakul and the Gang, you'll just have to wait.
Positioning is incredibly important in tournament magic. It is a concept that so many people simply dismiss, or do not understand properly. The days of High Tide and Tinker are over. No longer can you show up to a tournament with a deck that is so powerful you can only lose to the mirror. Reading a metagame, and developing strategies that attack weaknesses in it can lead to as many tournament victories (if not more) as just jamming the "best deck" in the dark.
There are three decks that command major attention in Standard right now: Jund, Blue/White/x, and Mythic. Getting a read on which versions are doing well, and why, will give you a lot of information for choosing the right deck. Mythic is quickly becoming the most popular of the three, and has the highest conversion rate among top8 appearances between these three decks.
It is also Naya's best matchup.
Mythic is the best deck in standard. It has favorable matchups against Blue/White and most Jund builds, and can out combo the combo decks. Ask almost any Time Sieve or Polymorph player. Mythic is scary. The percentages and results don't lie. There's a reason the general response to a turn two Lotus Cobra is almost always a heavy sigh and a roll of the eyes. "Here we go again," you say. "EVERY TIME," you say.
I wouldn't play Mythic, though. The mirror is an absolute flip, and I can't think of an actual trump. Sure, Linvala, Keeper of Silence stops their [card knight of the reliquary]Knights of the Reliquary[/card] and mana guys, as well as Naya's Cunning Sparkmages, but it does nothing against the best draws in the mirror: Lotus Cobra into Baneslayer Angel into Sovereigns of Lost Alara. That is a sweet 3/4 flyer you got there, bro. That's not to say Mythic shouldn't play Linvala. It's just not trumping the important stuff.
If you can't join ÃƒÂ¢Ã¢â€šÂ¬Ã‹Å“em, beat ÃƒÂ¢Ã¢â€šÂ¬Ã‹Å“em.
Naya is the best deck to play. The worst matchup (Time Sieve) is basically a non-deck, due to its inability to beat Mythic or Jund on a regular basis. Sure, the Jund matchup is probably close to a flip, but if you aren't positive against at least two of the top three, you are probably doing it wrong. Blue/White is also declining in popularity overall, so the main reason to sleeve up the Borderposts isn't even as enticing as it used to be.
Mythic is your best matchup, as I said before. If you know they are Mythic before the match starts, then it gets even better. They can't beat Cunning Sparkmage/Basilisk Collar game one, nor can they beat a Sparkmage on the play with a clock. They can theoretically set up a game state with Jace, the Mind Sculptor and Sovereigns of Lost Alara where they can bounce your pinger before combat, but it's pretty rare, and also requires them to have significant board presence before Sparkmage is online. I would mulligan any hand that doesn't contain a Sparkmage, Gideon Jura, or significant action and a Mystic. Take a hand like:
While this is an autokeep against Jund and Blue/White, is an insta-ship against Mythic. Keeping hands that look good curve-wise, but don't contain any matchup relevant spells, is how some players lose their edge in the matchup, and is Mythic's best shot at winning game one.
After sideboarding, you are pretty firmly the control in the matchup. With Gideon, Chandra, Oblivion Ring, and Path to Exile as answers to their maximum two [card livala, keeper of silence]Linvala[/card], your Sparkmage combo should easily be able to get online. The second Collar is a pre-emptive strike for their Qasali Pridemages and Oblivion Rings which are assuredly coming in. Don't expose your Sparkmage to Gideon if you don't have to, and save your Paths and Oblivion Rings for creatures that matter (Knight of the Reliquary, Linvala, Baneslayer, Sovereigns). Everything else in their deck is pretty weak. I kind of want a Tectonic Edge, because Celestial Colonnade can get kind of annoying.
Jund is another favorable matchup. Ironically, this is the matchup I lost at the last PTQ playing for Top 8. They pretty much have to sideboard out the best card in their deck (Blightning) because if they cast it, there is a high likelihood that they are just dead. Sparkmage/Collar is surprisingly effective against them, especially game one, because their removal is overloaded by [card knight of the reliquary]Knights[/card], Vengevines and planeswalkers. If they don't have a fast Putrid Leech draw to go with their removal, you should have plenty of time to start racing with Vengevine. Sparkmage is also stellar against the newer versions that are almost all creatures. It kills Plated Geopede on sight, and combined with a collar can decimate any hope of racing they might muster. I’ve only lost to Mythic once.
I was boarding in Chandra at the PTQ, but that was probably wrong. You don't really want to draw multiple Sparkmages, even though they protect themselves from Maelstrom Pulse, so one comes out. We started by boarding out the Elspeths altogether, but the first Elspeth is definitely better than the fourth Sparkmage. The Sparkmage combo is also less likely to get online, because Mystic is always searching for Sledge. The second Sejiri Steppe is also very helpful in this matchup, and can lead to a couple blowouts if you get the opportunity. On the ride up to the PTQ, our driver (who was playing Jund) told us that the scariest card we could possibly play against him was Behemoth Sledge. Sold! That is all I needed to hear. Thornling is also, pretty obviously, a beating. I was going to play it even before I was told it only costs 3GG. I thought it was 4GG.
Blue/White. The enemy. If it wasn't for Baneslayer Angel, this matchup would be a blowout. An absolute blowout. As it stands, though, Naya is a decently-sized ‘dog game one. We were, however, able to get the post board games in our favor. Game one you kind of have to hope to draw well, and hope they don't draw two [card path to exile]Paths[/card]. Elspeth is also usually a game-winner if she sticks.
It's possible that boarding Chandra in and Cobra out is a bad combination with all their Spreading Seas, but I'm greedy. Noble Hierarch is a more consistent source of mana, and helps Bloodbraid Elf punch through Wall of Omens, and helps Thornling race a Baneslayer if we didn't draw a way to kill one. 4 accelerators definitely come out, considering the postboard games are an absolute grind, and increasing threat density is important. This is another matchup where Tectonic Edge would be beneficial. Overall, Blue/White is about as close to 50-50 as it gets. And I hate Baneslayer Angel.
Those are the big three. Know your format. Study it. Learn its strengths, its weaknesses. Attack them from angles they aren't prepared to defend. It will give you the best chance to win the tournament.
In order to win any tournament, you are going to have to get a little lucky, or run above expected value, as they say. But you also have to put yourself in a position to make that happen. Even a deck that is 60-40 against everything isn't a guarantee to win a PTQ.
Sometimes, you have to take a shot, and when your best matchup is the most played deck, and your worst matchup is barely four percent of the field, you're going to be on target more often than not.
Business_Socks on MODO.
Also, for those wondering: Red is pretty favorable but a little draw dependant, Polymorph is favorable but not a blowout like most people think, Time Sieve is horrendous, Brilliant Ultimatum is pretty unwinnable now that we've switched away from Duress, and Naya Allies is difficult, but slightly favorable. I've also played against a bunch of Eldrazi Monument decks randomly online, and had a very hard time beating them, so take that for what it's worth. I don't mean to ignore these matchups, but their depth is not nearly as valuable as discussions on UW, Jund and Mythic.