This weekend we had our Magic World Cup Qualifier and much joy was to be had… Right until the tournament started and only 119 people were in attendance. To put this into context, the St. Louis WMCQ had 143, and the PTQ we held on Sunday had 211; our Saturday side-events had 83, and 60ish for Sealed and Standard respectively. People definitely wanted to play Magic this weekend, but they didn’t want/couldn’t play in the WMCQ even with an extra five grand thrown into the mix. The system is most definitely broken in the U.S., and I hope all the tournament organizers that ended up as guinea pigs this year get first crack at any system next year (or additional PTQ support).
On a more positive note, LSV will join Brian Kibler and Alex Binek on the U.S. Team. Hopefully that squad, and the low attendance elsewhere, will entice some players into playing this final WMCQ. Of course I know what you want to see… You can find all the Top 8 decklists here
Let’s start with our winner, the esteemed Luis Scott-Vargas and his trusty Delver deck.
Luis Scott-Vargas, 1st WCQ
To the shock of no-one he played UW Delver and defeated all comers, winning his first PTQ in a number of years. In seriousness, at this point you’ve heard everything these is to say about Delver and the various remedies to it. Unfortunately, Delver is very good at adapting itself to beat all the countermeasures people deploy against it. Last week I wrote my article mostly before I saw Cavern of Souls make a showing in Delver decks, but afterwards when it hit Magic Online I got to see firsthand how obnoxious it was. Being able to power out Angels in the mirror without worrying about running headlong into Mana Leak or Dissipate is quite the bonus.
Notably the Sword preference was transferred back to the [card sword of war and peace]War and Peace[/card] variety in a move to battle past Restoration Angel, as well as the recent influx of Lingering Souls back into the metagame. Even though [card sword of feast and famine]Feast and Famine[/card] is still a powerful card, it seems as though the time to play it has passed and in fact, the usefulness of the Swords themselves ebb and flow week to week. The sideboard is a nice change of pace from the usual cavalcade of one-of’s that many Delver boards had become and both Hero of Bladehold and Tamiyo, the Moon Sage provide powerful options that aren’t all stopped by the same sets of cards. One week Hero of Bladehold is crushing ramp players and providing a must-kill creature against slow decks, and the next week plenty of other Titans can slot in to wreak havoc.
As for potential bans: that issue deserves to be fully fleshed out in its own article, but I feel like the last three years have come down to the size of the format as a whole. The smaller the format is, the more polarizing decks tend to become due to a lack of answers—either by design or simply deck diversity. If there are only so many tier one or flagship level cards to build around, then it makes sense that the colors with either the ways to maximize how often you see them, or the most flagship cards themselves get tiered against each other. If there was a power nine in Standard and three of them were just slightly better than the other six and all fit into the same deck, why would you ever care about playing the other six?
In the end I have no idea if anything will be banned out of Delver or if anything even should be. I think we could easily see an opportunity to let Delver slide for the next three months until rotation, though the SCG Open’s overwhelming Delver presence will continue to push toward a ban. It depends on the philosophy behind Standard bannings. Either it’ll fall in line closer to how Modern is run, or the DCI will stick to only banning when absolute dominance is a given. That isn’t the case here and reasonable players can play non-Delver decks and still succeed. Our finals match was going to be Ryan Cribbs with RG Aggro against LSV, and Michael Hetrick was battling in the semi-finals with RUG Pod. The same SCG Open this past weekend that featured so many Delver decks was won by Esper Control. So I don’t think this has to be a lopsided decision like the Caw-Blade bans.
Michael Hetrick—4th, WMCQ
I was tempted to not write about the RUG Pod deck much at all last week, once I found out Matt Nass and a few locals were 100% on-board with it. Michael Hetrick ended up getting talked into it and after he gamed a bit on MODO, he played it at the WMCQ to a reasonable result. This build ended up a lot closer to the initial build Nass and myself had, though Hetrick took the step of cutting the miserable Priest of Urabrask and my extra four-drop for a pair of Ponder in the maindeck to help find Birthing Pod. As I said last week, the main reasons to play RUG Pod are Deceiver Exarch and Phantasmal Image, and both were all-stars in the matches I actually got to watch this weekend.
The sideboard was the main change from the last build, dumping many of the iffy singletons and instead focusing on more hate against fliers and putting together a good plan B against Island decks. Hellrider has seen very little Standard play for a long time now, and that was largely because of the supporting cast it had. Back in the limelight with it’s buddies Huntmaster of the Fells and Strangleroot Geist, it makes a reappearance. Even better is that you can easily set up a double Hellrider attack between Birthing Pod, Phyrexian Metamorph and Phantasmal Image. That’s a huge amount of damage that can go through at once, before blockers are even relevant, and helps offset Hellrider being unable to beat an Angel in combat.
Past that, Arc Trail has been a popular sub for Bonfire of the Damned in RGx strategies for a while now, and Hetrick was adamant about mono-[card zealous conscripts]Conscripts[/card] being better than any mixture of Threaten effects. The rest of the sideboard is rather self-explanatory in usage and I stand by how the deck plays from my last article. In general if you can successfully resolve a Birthing Pod, you’ll win nearly every game. In games you can’t, you’ll at least be able to do a fair approximation of a RG Aggro deck with a few singletons thrown in. The worst part about this deck is the mana, but by cutting all the maindeck UU cards save AEther Adept, they’ve at least minimized the number of dead draws.
Much like Delver deck dissection, RG Aggro decks have largely hit the point of being just a couple of tweaks to the same core. In this the amount of removal is a little higher than I’m used to seeing, and instead of a split on Swords, Cribbs went with the Delver players and maxed out on War and Peace. A lot of players tell me Delver is still favored here, but honestly the more I watch the match play out between solid players the more I feel like that’s determined purely on the back of play/draw and timely rips. While Restoration Angel gives Delver a solid answer to cards it had issues with previously, Dismember and Crushing Vines both give the GR player some actual options. Plus Bonfire of the Damned is still a fine card against the Delver decks and ripping it for a miracle is one of the most infuriating things that can happen in Standard.
Well then, let’s have a look!
This isn’t the first time we’ve seen such a Ramp deck before, as a similar build had success at the SCG Open series for a couple of weeks. Still to see it come out of the woodwork at the WMCQ was a bit of a surprise, and I was definitely interested in the decklist once I got to see one of the games play out.
Unfortunately Frost Titan isn’t that well situated in the current Standard (especially compared to Inferno Titan) as it once was, and the same goes for Consecrated Sphinx. This makes the heavy-duty blue cards some of the odder choices possible for the deck and makes the blue splash lean heavily on Ponder and Vapor Snag. With the full set of Temporal Mastery in the deck I would have loved to see more planeswalkers. Garruk, Primal Hunter and Tamiyo, the Moon Sage both make for solid plays in the format, and extra turns can give you a huge card advantage off of their minus abilities.
I also feel like the main thing this deck got right was the combination of one-mana spot removal (that actually hits everything) and Whipflare with extra sweepers in the board. In fact, I wish it went a little further and had a 3rd Vapor Snag and a pair of Beast Withins featured center stage. By having a varied combination of removal you can have cards that are nearly impossible to play around, and still have outs to whatever threat the opponent actually plays. With the deck listed as-is I’d have a very hard time beating a Tamiyo tapping down mana and Titans, and I imagine other planeswalkers aren’t a lot of fun either.
Sideboard-wise it becomes obvious what the plan is against anything threatening early aggression: overwhelming them with huge lifelink creatures. Of course Ancient Grudge becomes very good against this deck as well, so it’s by no means a guaranteed win post-board against RG and Pod decks. Natural End is a card that may stand out to some players and is becoming a frequent sight in RG boards online where some players prefer the lifegain and enchantment destruction option over Crushing Vines.
While I don’t love some of the choices in the deck, I like the spirit of what it’s trying to do and I feel like Wolf Run could easily benefit from expanding to the third color and increasing it’s removal options.
As for other decks that didn’t make an appearance this weekend, Zombie Pod and Zombies have had results online and continue to be under-appreciated in the real world. Another deck that may come back as a realistic option if Delver becomes 50-60% of the field is Tempered Steel. Yes this deck not only fell out of the metagame, but also off the face of the planet as far as tournament viability went. Now may be a great time to dust off the artifacts and bring back the fastest swarm aggro deck to the metagame.
Restoration Angel is going to make the match tougher than it once was, but Tempered Steel has some of the best options for dealing with her. Between Dismember and Dispatch, once again the Steel deck has the best spot removal around, only lacking a good way to deal with masses outside of Day of Judgment. I wouldn’t just take the same 75 from Worlds last year, but honestly I don’t see it being that far off from where you would want to be.
If you want a newer deck that has a chance, UWb Miracles with Lingering Souls and Feeling of Dread can buy a lot of time and the high-end of that deck absolutely dominates when it’s rolling. Of course this deck needs a lot of tuning for the big time and preferably Delver dominance to continue, so it can be tuned specifically toward that match. Chapin continues to work on his Grixis strategies and it wouldn’t take much to turn that from a 60/40 back toward a dominating match.
Of course this all assumes M13 doesn’t make Delver even better or that a key component isn’t banned. Time will tell what’s in store for the future of Standard.
Email me at: joshDOTsilvestriATgmailDOTcom