While Modern will be shaped by the Pro Tour this weekend, this past weekend fleshed out Standard with States and the full release of Return to Ravnica on Magic Online. I already covered Grand Prix: San Jose earlier this week, and I’m sure the bulk of ChannelFireball is busy testing Modern—Or playing LoL. So until they get back and have some spare time to make Standard videos for us, I’ll be taking a look at where Standard is headed.
Bant Control was the big winner at States, with the highest frequency of Top 8 appearances and a handful of wins to go along with them. I’ve already read multiple reports of Bant players knocking each other out in the Top 8, and at least two additional States would have likely gone to Bant Control had tiebreakers dictated slightly different matches instead of multiple mirrors. I talked about Bant Control in my States breakdown and its powerful core. There seem to be two divisions in builds popping up now—one is the more Miracles-esque control version with more removal like Azorius Charm, Detention Sphere, sweepers, etc. and a handful of win conditions. The other is midrange board control, with maindeck Centaur Healer and Restoration Angel to gum up the works and provide some beatdown when necessary.
Jeff Emmert, 1st – Maine States
Entreat the Angels stands out, since Angel of Serenity with so few other creatures makes it less of a recursive engine than other versions. It also means that between Angel, Entreat, and Revelation we have six cards that are going to be cast at seven or more mana, which only Frites has really matched to this point. There’s also few ways to miracle Entreat the Angels on opponents’ turns, so for the most part Entreat is just something that’ll be hard cast or eventually swarm the board when miracle’d. If they can’t snap-nuke the Angels, then there’s just no way a Bant deck can survive for very long. Though, admittedly, the versions with full sets of sweepers and Spheres don’t need to worry about Entreat nearly as much.
I would expect Selesnya Charm in the builds with Snapcaster Mage, or a midrange core instead of a 100% focused control version of the deck. This card does give you another way to interact with opposing huge creatures, and the exile factor is a big game when Unburial Rites and Queen Serenity both exist to bring back fallen creatures. It adds another instant speed way to block Geist of Saint Traft, and who knows, you may even pump a Geist up to save it against a Restoration Angel in the mirror. I don’t know if I’d want any number of Selesnya Charm before I maxed out on Azorius Charm, but the litany of options keeps it relevant.
Rich Shay, T8 – Pennsylvania States
I actually talk with Rich every so often and I’m always impressed because I always learn something from our conversations even if he’s starting with the basest knowledge about that format. So while I know Rich can show up to Magic tournaments and Top 8 with a ham sandwich (Or just outright win Limited PTQ’s after a few drafts, enjoy Montreal!) I’m just going to let him talk about his own choices and why they are correct. I asked him how he felt about Entreat the Angels and eschewing Angel of Serenity (short version: wasn’t necessary), and others inquired about his sideboard plan.
“Yes, [card entreat the angels]Entreat[/card] was impressive. It suddenly and unfairly won games. Whereas, Sphinx’s Revelation was terrible and would have been better as anything else.
The sideboarded [card jace, architect of thought]Jaces[/card] were not ideal. I think I need to have a better plan for the mirror. In fact, my only match loss on the day was in the Top 8, to a very similar Bant control list. In the first game, I decked. I was unable to halt my opponent from getting a [card tamiyo, the moon sage]Tamiyo[/card] emblem, and subsequently ran out of cards. If my Sphinx’s Revelation had been a threat, then I would have won the game. Instead, I was unable to deal and lost. In the second game, I mulliganed a one-lander and kept two Islands on the play. I failed to make my third land drop, so I was unable to Dissipate the [card geist of saint traft]Geist[/card] who arrived on my opponent’s third turn. He beat me to death, backed up by Thragtusk.
The anti-mirror plan needs some work. I had been running a full set of Azorius Charms until I replaced one with Tamiyo last night. That meant that I only had 7 cards I wanted to cut in the mirror (Terminus and 3 Charms), while I have eight cards to bring in for the mirror (4 counters, 2 [card ray of revelation]Rays[/card], and 2 Jace).
My problem with Geist is that, while he can seal the game quickly, opposing decks are already well-equipped to handle him. You won’t surprise anyone with Geist at this point—everyone knows to expect him from UWx decks. That said, if you miss a land drop, he can put the game away in a hurry.”
Joel Smith, T8 – Saskatchewan Provincials
Casey Hudak, 2nd – New Mexico States
These are better examples of the midrange creature variations which feature a heavier emphasis on actual blocking. Armada Wurm is a really powerful card that measures up against Thragtusk and the majority of other creatures. If these versions catch on, expect it to go up in play respectively. While people have touted [card sigarda, host of herons]Sigarda[/card] as a mirror breaker plan, both of them are value threats that force the opponent to either sweep or expend a lot of resources. The biggest bonus for Sigarda has to be that Azorius Charm and Tamiyo both can’t touch it.
Another reason that the Centaur Healer/Restoration Angel builds exist is they have built-in answers to Geist of Saint Traft without relying on blowing up the world. This gets considerably harder when you’ll potentially be up against 6-8 counters after sideboarding, and while Supreme Verdict ducks it, you only have so many at your disposal and a short period of time to find them.
Originally I said the core was the following:
Now I’ve gotten to try the deck more and really pour over the flood of Bant decklists from States, I feel like that while most of the list is correct, Angel of Serenity and Sphinx’s Revelation can both be replaced by any powerful late-game spell. Entreat the Angels is a good example of an arguably better card than either of those in a number of situations, and I’m sure there are other late-game options that excel. I’ve come around on Tamiyo being excellent in the Bant shell, but that doesn’t mean I’ve shelved my Garruk, Primal Hunter either, and in heavier green builds he’s going to win the game eventually either via drawing five or pumping out Beasts until the opponent is dead. This, along with the Bernal BR Zombies and newer BG Zombies decks, feels like the immediate future of the format along with a variety of Junk and Jund Midrange coming along for the ride. This does leave the door open for midrange and tempo decks to slant back toward attacking control now that there’s another refined boogeyman to go along with UWr Miracles.
Humans are another deck I’m unsurprised to see excelling at the States level and the core of the deck has a lot of power to it. I can’t wait to see what these decks are capable of once they become optimized for the metagame. They take some of the best parts of Zombies and Red Deck Wins, with a little more play and power cards than either of those decks. What holds them back is the sheer amount of resources they have to apply to the board to fight through ground defenses.
Stacy Winchell, 1st – Minnesota
What surprises me most about this deck is the complete lack of Sublime Archangel anywhere in the 75. Instead what takes her place is Angel of Jubilation, acting as the only Crusade effect in the entire deck. This single effect makes cards like Doomed Traveler and Precinct Captain look a little more attractive by giving them more screen time when they would normally be obsoleted by opposing fours and fives, or even just a Centaur Healer. As I mentioned last week, Faith’s Shield was my favorite maindeck trick by far and was a good compliment to the usual sideboard counters. Here it’s the only protection spell and one of the only ways to force through damage in a stalemate once the opponent has stabilized. Lyev Skyknight makes an appearance in Winchell’s sideboard, and I could easily seeing it coming in against the various green decks that clog the board. It gives you a free swing past Centaur Healer or an opposing first strike creature and provides another flier to try and play “avoid Thragtusk” with.
Steve Lynn, 1st – Wyoming States
Notably this build cut Knight of Glory and only ran a pair of Geist of Saint Trafts, while maxing out Lyev Skyknight, which clearly makes this my favorite Humans deck. In all seriousness though, while I harp on Sublime Archangel being worthy of the full set and Ajani not exactly setting the world on fire, there’s little for me to argue with. You get a nice variety of straightforward beatsticks, you have a bunch of evasion creatures alongside Spectral Flight, and Ajani with Feeling of Dread can give the deck some more play. Here you can actually set up turns of damage like in a red deck where you only have so many bullets you can fire before you’re reduced to throwing peas and bits of bread at the opponent. Maximizing this damage is important and yet so many builds are determined to be as straight-forward as they possibly can. I really like this iteration of the deck and if I were already leaning toward a GW or UW aggro plan, this seems like the perfect starting place.
Red Deck Wins
As usual, with every rotation comes a new opportunity to see how good Red Deck Wins is until it gets hated out of the metagame or outclassed by tuned strategies. So with a 35 dollar MODO red list I started blasting games off over the past week to see how the deck held up. Here was one of the initial lists I played:
What I learned:
The one-drops were complete garbage on the draw, and Stromkirk Noble is barely playable as a turn one card, and completely wretched after turn two. I didn’t like Stonewright much later, but Noble was only good against a handful of decks on turn one while Stonewright could at least be used as a glorified pump spell later in the game. I actually tried Goblin Arsonist out and was suprirsed to find that it really wasn’t any worse than the other options; you could run any of these guys to fill your one-slot and get reasonable results. Rakdos Cackler was the only guy who stood out as much better since he could be played on turn two or three and still attack and trade instead of having a 1/1 that had to chump.
[card gore-house chainwalker]Chainwalker[/card] was very solid and Ash Zealot was OK, Shred-Freak left me wanting. Ash Zealot runs into the problem of getting outclassed quickly, but at least she has a combat relevant ability so she isn’t reduced to chump blocker material anywhere as quickly. Mogg Flunkies was just actively bad against removal heavy decks and while a 3/3 is big enough to blast through many cards, usually you have to give away a creature whenever you attack after turn three. The three slots were pretty bad, though I like Fervent Cathar since it usually gives one more turn of relevance to the low-end of your curve. Pyreheart Wolf felt the same, and my preference simply comes down to how I value haste on my more expensive creatures. Cathar is amazing when on curve and usually reasonable when you save it to play in conjunction with end-step burn on blocker, untap, activate Crucible + play Cathar on other blocker. Nightbird’s Clutches was decent, but I just wanted a card that could attack, since needing any haste creature or burn and holding a Clutches is one of the worst feelings.
Moving to the sideboard for a moment let me introduce one of my favorite cards in Return to Ravnica: Frostburn Weird. Yes, the Weird is nearly as sweet in Constructed as it is in Draft since it turns out in some matches you really just want a guy in RDW that can block everything early and trade with biggies later. Originally it was just there to give me a way to win races in the RDW and Zombies matches. It could block nearly everything, usually gained 3-5 life, and ate a card at worst. Over time I also got to see how useful having a high toughness blocker was against some GW and Humans builds, though you have to watch out for Azorius Charm.
On the high-end of things, Thundermaw Hellkite wins tons of games when it’s no longer getting [card vapor snag]Snagged[/card] out of the way or [card mana leak]Leaked[/card]. Not only is the Dragon bigger than any other flyer in the format that isn’t an Angel of Serenity, but you always get that one attack in by tapping the flyers down—important when you’re trying to get them into Brimstone Volley range. I would say this is the best card in the deck and boarding in the 23rd land when going up to the full set is perfectly reasonable and gives you a better shot when boarding into the Big Red plan post-board. Zealous Conscripts shouldn’t need any explanation, and while I still like Hellrider, people need to treat him like a glorified burn spell instead of a real finisher. Hellrider almost never survives attacking, and even if he does, he’ll most certainly be dead before you untap, so treat him as such and maximize the amount of damage you get from him along with your mostly useless 1/2-drop creatures late in the game.
After figuring out a solid list from my initial matches, I set about smashing as many people as I could. Around 30 matches later here’s where I am with the deck:
(As mentioned above, Noble can be Stonewright or Goblin Arsonist and I don’t think there’s any major drop-off.)
I still want eight one-drops, since being on the play makes a huge difference when you have these dorks, and they remain respectable against Bant Control and such. They aren’t going to single-handedly win you the game like Zombies can with infinite 2/2 beats and a Crippling Blight, but you still have to respect six damage for R. Something else had to get cut in the deck, and Ash Zealot was the most expendable. If the metagame shifts I could easily see a situation where Weird moves back to the board and four Ash Zealot main is correct. Right now, however, I find I want to actively buy time in half my matches and Weird is just a lot better at doing so and dealing damage without investing more cards toward the board state. Fervant Cathar is the same as Weird, based purely on stats you’d never keep them in the deck given the choice, but the card can excel and push you over the top in many situations.
Going big is legit and fliers are very good in the current format, with the only scary one being an army of Angels via Entreat the Angels—everything else gets potentially stolen for an instant kill. I’ve beaten Thragtusk’s really easily when I met them with Hellkites and Archwing Dragon instead of wasting my time trying to force through damage with my various collections of Grizzly Bears or threaten effects. Hanweir Watchkeep comes in 1/3rd to 1/2 your matches where you would rather stall and draw the game out until you can play Devils and Dragons. Watchkeep flipping is a big game when you can burn the 5-power Thragtusk out of the way (one of the only 5-power guys in the format). For games two and three, especially when on the draw, you have to accept how bad your early drops really get in a variety of matches and how much more damage you can pull off with huge evasive threats.
Adding black* for [card falkenrath aristocrat]Aristocrat[/card] could be worthwhile, though I’m unsure if you’re better off just going Zombies and running Hellkite in that deck. If the mana can’t support that, then having Hellhole Flailer, Aristocrat, and Hellkite intrigues me more than trying to win with mono-ones and twos. When a single Thragtusk or Centaur Healer sets you back by a turn or more, you really need to focus on threats that don’t care or can at least ignore some aspects of the card. There’s a UR version I’m working on as well, but every time I come up with a build I either realize it’s bad Delver or mono-R splashing Snapcaster Mage. There has to be a sweet spot build that isn’t as slow as Caleb’s original UR list and isn’t just Snapcaster Red.
Past that, you really want to knock them down low (low being 7-10) by the time Thragtusk may make an appearance. I’ve won games against opponents at 18 or 23 or whatever, but it’s a massive pain compared to them going back to 12. Part of this makes me think that Stonewright is superior to Noble, because if you ever crack in and sink your mana, you get 4-5 damage. I recognize that only happens every one or two out of ten matches or so, so I can get behind leaving them out. I also may just add the 23rd land and 4th Hellkite as it’s likely the best card in the deck. I think RDW has a lot of power and until better Hellkite decks start popping up, I suspect I’ll keep getting free wins by playing huge Dragons while the opponent starts trying to kill me from 20 on turn four while I’m trying to kill them from half that on the same turn with burn and evasion.
Of course you don’t have to go that far away from the curve. Dan Paine finished in the Top 4 of Maine States with an iteration of RDW much closer to my initial list and the classic version of the red deck.
*What’s that? A Japanese player already came up with a pretty solid looking build? You don’t say.
Kazumasa Sato, 4th at LMC – Chiba
Outside of snap-adding 2-3 Thundermaw to the deck over the Zealous and either the Ash Zealot or a Noble, I’m a huge fan of this deck. Knight of Infamy serves the same role as Weird against white decks and let’s your lower curve stay relevant for a turn or two longer than normal. Hellhole Flailer and Falkenrath Aristocrat are miles better than the other creatures you have access to and blasting a midrange deck with Rakdos’s Return sounds a lot like living the dream. I’d test Guildgates for sure, but staying on curve may be important enough that Swamps are just better for this type of build. I really look forward to trying this deck out.
Other Decks Of Interest
Esper Control, Michael Hetrick
Esper Control, Gregory Orange, 2nd – Minnesota States
If you were a fan of the classic UB or Esper Control shells before Delver and Pod took over the format, look no further than this throwback. You have the full spectrum of removal, counters, planeswalkers, and even some real draw with max Augur of Bolas, and the pairing of Forbidden Alchemy and Sphinx’s Revelation. With those and Jace, I don’t think you’ll be running out of draw power in the late-game, and in fact I don’t even think Think Twice is all that necessary. It also features the power of Nephalia Drownyard, which is looking better and better as people pack Thragtusk’s and lifegain into every deck, so decking naturally becomes a real possibility. Drownyard is a value land that actually fits perfectly into the current format as long as you play quickly enough to take advantage of it over a long game.
UWR Miracles, Ryan Counts, 1st – Tennessee States
This deck has Chandra, the Firebrand and Devil’s Play, along with a handful of other spells that are going to be very fun to Twincast. In the mirror match, outside of Detention Sphere, there are very few ways to deal with a resolved Chandra ticking up. While she can’t be outright abusive with miracles, I certainly would never want to deal with a hard cast Entreat for 2 doubling up on me if I’m playing aggro—Let alone a Sphinx’s Revelation, which I imagine will be game over on the spot 95% of the time. This build is certainly not perfect and I’d really like some maindeck countermagic, a 4th Jace and another Charm or two, but I like where this deck is headed if the metagame is shifting toward control decks throwing multiple haymakers.
Bant Aggro, Jacob Pleasants, 1st – Wisconsin States
If the mana in this deck holds up, it could easily be one of the best aggressive plans in the format. It has a solid curve and the powerful three- and four-drops WU provides. It also gains Rancor, Selesnya Charm, and a bunch of sweet sideboard material in order to break ground stalls or even just power through a Thragtusk wall outright. Rancor on a double striker is every bit as sick as it sounds and the ability to throw it onto a Lyev Skyknight and protect it with Faith’s Shield fills me with a sense of glee. I’d probably want another land in here and you may be able to get away with shifting the curve up slightly and adding another [card gavony township]Township[/card] for some value land beatings, but if the mana is constructed properly this deck has a huge power level. If you have access to the cards and want a crossbreed of the best parts of Selesnya and Azorius aggro, look no further.
That’s all for this impromptu second article of the week, and I can only hope Standard stays as open and interesting as the first three weeks have been. Good luck to those battling this weekend whether it just be an FNM or those attending the Pro Tour!
Email me at: joshDOTsilvestriATgmailDOTcom