This is the first week that we really get to jump into Standard and look at some post-rotation results. The initial results show a wide variety of archetypes. While some of these are sure to die off as optimal builds are found, this first month is going to be an exciting time. As always, it’s good not to overreact to one week of results—especially the first week results where many people couldn’t get cards they needed. I also want to note that when I make critical comments of decks, I’m doing exactly that—I’m giving my opinion about the decks and card choices. I’m not attacking the players and if I didn’t like a deck, it doesn’t mean that it’s a terrible choice or that it got lucky to win. With that said, let’s get onto the results!
4 Zombies (1 B/R, 1 B/G, 2 Jund)
2 UWR Control (Winner)
2 Big Jund
1 GW Aggro
1 UW Aggro
1 RB Aggro
2 WU Control
1 Haunted Humans (Winner)
1 Jund Zombies
1 Talrand Tokens
The UWR deck that won the SCG Open is interesting, since red is in the deck just for Pillar of Flame. Otherwise, it is straight UW Control, and the deck is designed to just blast off [card jace, architect of thought]Jace[/card], [card tamiyo, the moon sage]Tamiyo[/card], and Terminus until the game gets sealed up. Notably, this also fixes the one problem I had with my original UW control shells, that there was no good cheap removal spell to combat Zombies with in UW.
The closest I ever came was Sensory Deprivation, which did well, but didn’t work with Snapcaster Mage and couldn’t take care of annoyances like Blood Artist. Todd Anderson posted on Facebook about how wretched Supreme Vedict was, and I’m unsurprised to see Terminus pushed and [card supreme verdict]Verdict[/card] kicked to the curb, at least for now.
Depending on how popular Zombies remains, in the future I fully expect to see the core of control decks based around [card jace, architect of thought]Jace[/card] and Pillar of Flame. It is amusing to see how hyped Zombies was going into the tournament, the anti-Zombies/green control deck has become a major point of discussion. Just goes to show how hard it is to predict the day one metagame, and how quickly things can shift in terms of what to play. Nice to see control coming out early, even if you should take it with a slight grain of salt considering the skill of the players playing the deck.
Something also worth considering is how the other Top 16 deck’s sideboards were constructed. What don’t you see in the majority of sideboards? Cards that are good vs. long-game board control decks. The number of Rakdos’s Return, Dreadbore, Underworld Connections, and planeswalkers in general is pretty low, even in decks that could take full advantage post-board. Also, with Humans winning the TCG 5k and others doing well in the Top 16 of SCG, I have to imagine more people will be playing aggro decks with [card thalia, guardian of thraben]Thalia[/card] and Negates in the future. Frites and Ramp in a world with minimal counterspells also look like they’ll be well positioned.
Switching over to classic control shells for a moment, here’s what the successful straight UW Control deck looked like:
Tom Strong TCG5K, Hartford – Top 8
Notably, the deck eschews early defense outside of Azorius Charm and playing a blank [card ambush viper]Snapcaster Mage[/card] on turn two. I actually have a hard time seeing how it stopped the best draws from Zombies and Humans throughout the day, but perhaps I’m just underestimating the chances of hitting Terminus when you need too. Outside of an early game way to deal with Zombies, the other thing that may become a necessity is a way to win the game without Entreat the Angels.
While Entreat has been shown to be the best kill at a glance, there’s two reasons why you want something else, the first being Sever the Bloodline. While you can dodge this with an instant speed and lethal Entreat, those of us who live in the real world know we need at least a turn before we can seal the game up. Sever the Bloodline is a card that potentially blanks two Entreat uses, and weakens early miracle’d Angels that are protecting Jace or Tamiyo. While you can eventually set up a situation where you can play around or counter Sever without trouble, this will typically be very late in the game when you just need to finish up. Just having a threat that can be deployed earlier as a decoy would be useful, preferably with hexproof or a different way around the issue.
As for the second reason, Slaughter Games, regardless of how you feel about the card’s playability, will eventually become a sideboard option for a subset of Magic players. Rather than waiting for a time where this comes to pass, I would suggest being proactive since even one card slot can blank the potential damage. Right now if you cast Slaughter Games against a UW or UWR player, you have to choose between Entreat or Jace. When they only have planeswalker ultimates or Keyrune beats to win the game with… Well it gives you a lot of time to deal with an active Jace. Having some way to mitigate this can be a great help, and depending on the threat it can attack other planeswalkers—one of the key issues these decks will face in the future. Dealing with a resolved [card vraska the unseen]Vraska[/card] or [card garruk, primal hunter]Garruk[/card] is currently reserved for only 4-8 cards in these decks, and additional answers could really make a difference.
Right now this deck takes advantage of the classic position aggro hold in the first few weeks. UWx jams a bunch of powerful cards, [card jace, architect of thought]the best CA engine available in the format[/card], and with Zombies as the obvious boogeyman and no clear control opponent, many players skimped on cards that directly interact with this strategy. I’d only expect that to happen for another week or two before people adjust—so make sure to keep tweaking your control lists.
After taking in all the results, my initial conclusion was that Joe Bernal had the best deck out of the 40 posted this weekend. I’m writing this 24 hours later and I still believe Joe’s deck was a cut above every other list, with the best combination of pure speed and reach of any of the aggro decks.
Joe Bernal , SCG Cincinnati, Top 8
Every land in Joe’s deck can pay for Messenger, and he has the maximum amount of red sources—not only for Aristocrat, but also for sideboarded RR spells or multiple burn spells late. His deck maximizes the early draws and hands with a one-drop involved, while every other creature is geared toward getting damage through ground stalls or beating sweepers. If you plan on playing this version of Zombies in the future, I suggest taking this build as a starting point and building on it.
With a whopping 14 burn spells, [card geralf's messenger]Messenger[/card] and Blood Artist, he can actually close out games post-Thragtusk or Terminus, and dome someone for 6 to 8 off two cards without issue. Bump in the Night even helps with the traditional flooding issues, and all these burn spells mean that even without two-drops you still clock as well as every other Zombies deck. Of course you can gear the deck back toward combat—but use this as a comparison. Look at how much damage you’ll be dealing with your Highborn Ghoul or Loleth Troll vs. more burn spells.
Joe also has a very nice sideboard with the combination of Underworld Connections and a host of removal if he needs to go long. Meanwhile, against a UWR control deck where you just need to survive sweepers and burn them to death, drawing into a deck of mostly burn spells seems like a fine strategy to pursue. For the mirror, you can pick and choose your removal suite, while already having more unconditional removal, and Rakdos, Lord of Riots outclasses everything in a straight brawl. I prefer Olivia, however, if you go as far as boarding in extra lands. You can play it at any point and it dominates the game if not dealt with immediately.
I’m very surprised this deck didn’t win the tournament. It was just a level above most other decks (and definitely the majority of Zombie builds). Then again, miracles do happen, and that was one of the few things Joe’s deck can’t necessarily beat—so be aware when confronting UWx Control. Of course there were other variations on the Zombie theme worth discussing.
Ryan Forsberg, SCG Cincinnati, Top 8
Maybe I just need to suck it up, but looking at a mana base like this still worries me. The idea of drawing a hand of Cavern of Souls and Woodland Cemetery and not being able to stay on curve without drawing a dual or basic tilts me to no end. The cute singletons and 2 Brimstone Volley also strike me as eccentric choices, rather than anything worth keeping in the deck. The sideboard consisting of singletons and a mish-mash of Charms also doesn’t excite me all that muc,h and I’d love to see real ways to win grindy matches or another land if we’re going with the Vraska or other five-drop plan.
Ben Weinberg, SCG Cincinnati, Top 16
My main issue with most of the Jund builds is that the increased creature quality doesn’t make a huge impact. I understand if you just want to jam LOL Troll and Artistocrat and burn in the same deck, but a lot of the Jund lists seem to skew toward slower builds. Once that happens you have to ask yourself why not just play Jund Midrange? Even if you really want to stick to a more aggressive curve—playing more creatures creates a larger opportunity for a ground stall. It also increases the impact of Thragtusk and [card huntmaster of the fells]Huntmaster[/card] past the life gain alongside larger creatures in general. Where as the straight Rakdos build can just jam a bunch of burn and win at the end, Jund has to slog through cards like [card olivia voldaren]Olivia[/card] and Wolfir Silverheart along with the ‘Tusks.
I actually like Weinberg’s build if I were to build a grindy Jund deck that wanted to play the Gravecrawler/Loleth Troll/Geralf’s Messenger chain. While I don’t think this is necessary unless you pack the aggressive curve to go with it, there’s at least a clear plan here. Get some early pressure and then hopefully some combination of the 3′s and 4′s can force damage through and eventually win the game. My biggest issue with it is that the number of easy victories is going to be very low with this type of strategy. None of the creatures except Aristocrat can battle through opposing guys easily and Thragtusk is still a big issue for the deck. So while running your own Thragtusk set and a substantial removal base in your 75 is a good place to be for the mirror, I’d hate to try to beat an opposing Jund or Junk deck straight-up. Eventually they go bigger, and without a real way to finish them off, they can stabilize at 3-4 life and win the game.
The advantage of green is what you gain in sideboard options, and if you want to go expensive for certain trumps like [card vraska the unseen]Vraska[/card] and Thragtusk, it’s a reasonable option. If all you want from the green splash is Lotleth Troll, save your time and money and just play Rakdos Zombies instead until the metagame shifts.
I’m sure there’s a better name to be found, but until that is uncovered I’ll stick with something mildly descriptive.
Lauren Nolen, SCG Cincinnati, Top 8
People may not love seeing this type of deck exist in any form due to bad memories from the format two years ago, however the tools exist for it to excel once again. Without cascade to ruin things, there isn’t as much to complain about. Most of these builds don’t even run Bonfire of the Damned! As for this iteration of Jund—the mana base seems pretty ambitious, though I’m sure Farseek makes up for a lot. I like that now we can realistically run GGG and BR spells in the same deck without it being a complete trainwreck, since Olivia Voldaren and Garruk, Primal Hunter are two of the best cards in these decks.
Strangleroot Geist also gives you something worthwhile to do on turn two in games where you either can’t ramp or need to soak up some early damage. Wolfir Avenger strikes me as not good enough for the deck and at a really miserable place on the curve even if you wanted to run it. Ideally you ramp up to a four-drop on turn three, or you do something to try to control the board, Avenger doesn’t haumph much outside of Zombie one-drops and playing him with regeneration mana open isn’t all that impressive. If you want a spell that can help take over the board, I’d like to see another removal spell or Vampire Nighthawk. Maybe I’m bias due to all my other interactions with Avenger and it gets better in this format, I just don’t hold out much hope.
I do like Appetite for Brains over Duress in the sideboard, since a good chunk of the spells you worry about with this deck begin at 4cc, and Duress won’t stop Angel of Serenity or Olivia Voldaren from hitting the table. I wouldn’t hate seeing a third in the deck, along with a few more Underworld Connections and some Zealous Conscripts (Or other Reanimator hate). I’m not surprised that Weidinger’s deck took him down, as there was little for the Jund deck to do against an early Angel or Griselbrand, and even reanimating Thragtusk multiple times would likely be enough without an active Olivia in play.
Without a card like Wolfir Silverheart to plow through multiple beasts and 5/x creatures, or more removal like Sever or Dreadbore, I can’t imagine beating multiple Thragtusk (Or Angel & Thragtusk) without a massive amount of grinding. Flying or some other form of evasion is going to be a bigger deal than people tend to realize when Thragtusk hits maximum saturation in various decks.
Well I’m already over 2,500 words in, and we’ve only covered three major strategies, so I think that’s a good stopping point for tonight. Later this week I’ll be covering the other decks from this weekend and a brew or two before States and more 5k’s this weekend. I know if our team doesn’t do well Day One of Grand Prix: San Jose that I’ll gladly be playing in CA States on Day Two!
Email me at: joshDOTsilvestriATgmailDOTcom