PV’s Playhouse – Standard and the World Championship

As you probably know, both the World Championship and the World Cup concluded last week, and they were won by Shahar Shenhar and Team France respectively. Both tournaments included Standard formats, and today’s article is going to talk a little bit about that.

It’s important to note that neither tournament actually had a “normal” Standard. In the case of the World Cup, it’s clear why—players were playing Unified Standard, which meant only four copies of a card could be present between the three decks. This led to some variation in builds and some skewed representation—almost every team had a UWR deck, for example.

The World Championship played regular Standard, but it was not a regular tournament. The fact that there are only 16 players, and you usually know what some number of them are playing, leads to different decisions.

Take Modern, for example. Josh, EFro, and Web played a BG deck that was basically Jund without [card]Lightning Bolt[/card]. It’s possible they would have done so anyway at a normal tournament, but maybe they knew that those 16 players were less likely to play decks against which you needed [card]Lightning Bolt[/card], and more likely to play decks against which [card]Tectonic Edge[/card] was good. This is, perhaps, an argument for increasing the size of that tournament to 32 players—you’re at least less encouraged to metagame against specific people.

There is also the skill factor. Whereas in a normal tournament those 16 players would each be much better than their average opposition and would therefore try to play a skill-intensive deck rather than a coin-flip one, most of them were the average opposition in this tournament.

Standard in that tournament was very polarized. A whopping 50% of the tournament played UWR, five people played Jund, and the other people played WWr, RG Aggro, and Naya. You can very easily guess who played each of those three decks just by looking at the list of names.

Let’s take a look at Shahar’s UWR deck:

[deck]Main Deck
3 Clifftop Retreat
4 Glacial Fortress
4 Hallowed Fountain
1 Island
2 Moorland Haunt
4 Sacred Foundry
4 Steam Vents
4 Sulfur Falls
3 Augur of Bolas
4 Restoration Angel
3 Snapcaster Mage
3 Azorius Charm
2 Dissipate
1 Izzet Charm
3 Pillar of Flame
3 Sphinx’s Revelation
2 Supreme Verdict
3 Syncopate
4 Think Twice
1 Turn // Burn
2 Warleader’s Helix
Sideboard
2 Celestial Flare
2 Detention Sphere
1 Dispel
2 Izzet Staticaster
3 Negate
1 Ratchet Bomb
3 Thundermaw Hellkite
1 Turn // Burn[/deck]

There isn’t much to say about UWR. It’s a pretty common deck and all the versions are relatively similar, the main difference being that Shuhei and crew played [card]Aetherling[/card]s and [card jace, architect of thought]Jaces[/card], while Martell, Shahar, and Butakov did not (though Butakov had [card aurelia, the warleader]Aurelia[/card] and [card thundermaw hellkite]Thundermaw[/card]).

One move I can’t understand, though, is only three [card]Azorius Charm[/card]s—I think the card is super good in every situation, and I would really make an effort to play four, which only Butakov did out of the 8 players. I think if you shuffle your deck and cut a card randomly for an [card]Azorius Charm[/card] you’ll probably improve it. Another card I think is very good is [card]Assemble the Legion[/card]—some players played it, some didn’t, and I definitely think you should have two in your board since they’re good versus Jund and the mirror.

A while ago, I thought UWR was pretty bad. Now it’s good. Why? Well, I think mainly because [card]Scavenging Ooze[/card] drove Reanimator out of the format, and Reanimator was your worst matchup. If things go full circle, I could see Reanimator being good again, but I seriously doubt it when both aggro and Jund are playing three or four Oozes. It’s not like you can’t beat the card, you certainly can, but it’s just more effort than it’s worth it—Junk was not that dominant to begin with. I wouldn’t expect UWR to go anywhere.

As far as Jund goes, this particular metagame makes the choice of [card]Lifebane Zombie[/card] maindeck sound pretty reasonable. Of the five Jund players, only Reid didn’t have them. EFro, Web, and Josh played four and Lee Shi Tian played three. The card is very powerful, and it reminds me of what is probably my favorite card in Magic, [card]Vendilion Clique[/card]. It’s got a good aggressive body, even for a deck like Jund that is not overtly aggressive, and it’s really easy to find targets these days. Not only is it easy to find targets, but the targets matter a lot—whenever you play this and hit, you will be getting a very good deal because you actively want to get rid of that [card]Thragtusk[/card] or [card]Restoration Angel[/card].

Here’s the ChannelFireball Jund deck:

[deck]Main Deck
4 Blood Crypt
2 Dragonskull Summit
2 Kessig Wolf Run
4 Overgrown Tomb
3 Rootbound Crag
4 Stomping Ground
2 Swamp
4 Woodland Cemetery
4 Huntmaster of the Fells
4 Lifebane Zombie
3 Olivia Voldaren
3 Scavenging Ooze
4 Thragtusk
3 Bonfire of the Damned
2 Dreadbore
4 Farseek
1 Mizzium Mortars
2 Putrefy
2 Rakdos’s Return
2 Tragic Slip
1 Garruk, Primal Hunter
Sideboard:
1 Barter in Blood
1 Bonfire of the Damned
1 Curse of Death’s Hold
2 Duress
2 Golgari Charm
1 Liliana of the Veil
2 Pillar of Flame
1 Rakdos’s Return
2 Slaughter Games
2 Underworld Connections[/deck]

The “real” metagame should have less UWR and more “Aristocrats” kind of decks. Those decks usually run a variety of white creatures, but they aren’t really the ones you can take—[card]Champion of the Parish[/card], [card]Doomed Traveler[/card], and [card]Cartel Aristocrat[/card] aren’t bad cards, but they usually come into play before turn three so you don’t have a chance to get them.

We also see that most of the aggressive decks have red as their late-game color. Sure, you might grab a [card]Voice of Resurgence[/card] or a [card]Flinthoof Boar[/card], or [card]Ghor-Clan Rampager[/card] if you’re lucky, but you won’t see a [card]Thragtusk[/card], a [card]Wolfir Silverheart[/card], or a [card]Kalonian Hydra[/card]—those slots are all Thundermaw Hellkite’s.

This is definitely the direction to go—you don’t want your big guys to be green these days. France played a mono-green Silverheart deck, but I would leave that for team tournaments because its biggest feature is only running horrible cards and therefore not taking anything away from any other deck. For this reason, I think four Lifebane Zombies are a little excessive for today’s metagame. I’d probably max out on two main.

Looking at those two decks, it makes me think that perhaps Esper is not a bad choice. I know, I know, I’m wary of it as well, but Esper versus UWR is about the easiest matchup you can get, and this Jund deck is very badly positioned against it—it doesn’t even run any [card liliana of the veil]Lilianas[/card]! Now with [card]Burning Earth[/card], we can expect the number of [card]Cavern of Souls[/card] to drop as well, which is a small plus.

Here is Kibler’s RG deck, which was very popular at the World Cup:

[deck]Main Deck
9 Forest
1 Kessig Wolf Run
6 Mountain
4 Rootbound Crag
4 Stomping Ground
4 Arbor Elf
2 Elvish Mystic
4 Flinthoof Boar
4 Ghor-Clan Rampager
4 Hellrider
3 Scavenging Ooze
4 Strangleroot Geist
4 Thundermaw Hellkite
3 Mizzium Mortars
4 Domri Rade
Sideboard
2 Bonfire of the Damned
4 Burning Earth
2 Flames of the Firebrand
2 Gruul War Chant
2 Pillar of Flame
1 Volcanic Strength
2 Zealous Conscripts[/deck]

The key card here is Burning Earth out of the sideboard. If we look at this Jund deck, it has only two basics. Shahar’s UWR deck had one. Once Burning Earth gets into play, if you are a little bit behind, you’re probably dead. I’d expect most aggro decks to sideboard four Burning Earths, and some to even maindeck them, which is going to be a problem.

This might, incidentally, also be a problem with Esper—you literally cannot win through Burning Earth. You could do like Cifka and play UB, but I’d imagine he only did this because the Bant player was using all the UW duals. Burning Earth is also the big difference between RG and Naya: Naya can play it, but it’s not going to be nearly as effective since the deck is much less aggressive and also runs way less basics. Let’s take a look at Willy’s Naya:

[deck]Main Deck
3 Clifftop Retreat
1 Forest
1 Kessig Wolf Run
4 Rootbound Crag
4 Sacred Foundry
4 Stomping Ground
3 Sunpetal Grove
4 Temple Garden
1 Arbor Elf
4 Avacyn’s Pilgrim
4 Boros Reckoner
2 Ghor-Clan Rampager
1 Huntmaster of the Fells
3 Loxodon Smiter
3 Scavenging Ooze
4 Thundermaw Hellkite
4 Voice of Resurgence
3 Bonfire of the Damned
1 Mizzium Mortars
2 Selesnya Charm
4 Domri Rade
Sideboard
2 Boros Charm
2 Burning Earth
1 Celestial Flare
1 Mizzium Mortars
2 Oblivion Ring
1 Pillar of Flame
1 Ray of Revelation
1 Rest in Peace
2 Ruric Thar, the Unbowed
2 Unflinching Courage[/deck]

Naya seems, to me, better than RG against UWR and also against RG itself ([card]Unflinching Courage[/card] is unbeatable and [card Boros reckoner]Reckoner[/card] is very good), but worse against Jund—largely because of not being able to fully abuse [card]Burning Earth[/card], but also due to [card]Lifebane Zombie[/card] having more targets. If you expect a lot of Jund, I’d play RG. If you expect a lot of UWR and RG, I’d play Naya.

[draft]burning earth[/draft]

Assuming you’re Jund and you want to beat Burning Earth, what do you do? One option is to play [card]Golgari Charm[/card]—it’s not a fantastic card, but neither is it bad and it hits all mana guys and sometimes the tokens from the BW decks. Other than that, though, there aren’t that many more things you kill, so you can’t really maindeck it and, if you side it in, you might just not have any way to profitably cast it. They will have four Burning Earths, but you can’t play four Charms.

The second option is to adjust the mana base. You could do it by playing [card]Evolving Wilds[/card] and a lot of basics, perhaps with [card]Borderland Ranger[/card] as well. This would give you some breathing room—you don’t need a lot of basics in play to counter Burning Earth reasonably well, especially in a deck with this much life gain—but it has the downside of making your deck worse against every single other deck in the field, and even against Burning Earth decks when they don’t draw them. I don’t think this is a sacrifice worth making for what amounts to the sideboard of one deck.

The third option is to ditch red altogether. Some teams did that for the World Cup. Take a look at Belgium’s BG deck, for example:

[deck]Main Deck
1 Evolving Wilds
1 Forest
2 Golgari Guildgate
1 Mutavault
4 Overgrown Tomb
12 Swamp
4 Woodland Cemetery
4 Desecration Demon
2 Disciple of Bolas
4 Lifebane Zombie
2 Scavenging Ooze
4 Thragtusk
1 Abrupt Decay
2 Devour Flesh
1 Doom Blade
3 Mutilate
1 Primeval Bounty
2 Putrefy
3 Sign in Blood
2 Tragic Slip
3 Liliana of the Veil
1 Vraska the Unseen
Sideboard
1 Abrupt Decay
1 Curse of Death’s Hold
2 Dead Weight
3 Duress
1 Liliana of the Veil
1 Mutilate
1 Primeval Bounty
2 Tree of Redemption
2 Underworld Connections
1 Vraska the Unseen[/deck]

This deck has a healthy 13 basics plus an [card]Evolving Wilds[/card], and could play more if it chose to. Belgium couldn’t play Jund, since they had a RG deck taking up the RG duals, but they managed to play something similar. If Burning Earth becomes such a big problem as I think it might, then making the switch just so that you can play more basics doesn’t seem that unreasonable.

They actually won their match for Top 8 against Brazil, who were also playing a similar deck:

[deck]Main Deck
2 Golgari Guildgate
3 Mutavault
4 Overgrown Tomb
13 Swamp
4 Woodland Cemetery
4 Desecration Demon
2 Disciple of Bolas
4 Lifebane Zombie
2 Scavenging Ooze
4 Thragtusk
2 Abrupt Decay
2 Doom Blade
3 Mutilate
2 Putrefy
2 Sign in Blood
2 Tragic Slip
1 Underworld Connections
3 Liliana of the Veil
1 Vraska the Unseen
Sideboard
1 Abrupt Decay
1 Barter in Blood
1 Deadbridge Chant
1 Demonic Rising
3 Duress
1 Gaze of Granite
2 Golgari Charm
1 Liliana of the Veil
1 Pithing Needle
1 Underworld Connections
2 Vampire Nighthawk[/deck]

The biggest piece of technology to come from the Brazilian list is, ironically, a one-of: [card]Demonic Rising[/card]. Demonic Rising seems like an incredible card against attrition matchups, especially because UWR’s only way of removing it is [card]Detention Sphere[/card]. It is great with [card]Mutavault[/card], because it assures you’ll have an endless supply of Demons. Most people think it’s because you can just animate it after Verdict, which is definitely true, but it’s more than that—you could just play a new creature, after all. What Mutavault does is make sure they can’t stop you by killing your creature.

Imagine they pass and you have an empty board—now you play a Scavenging Ooze. You can’t play another guy, because then Demonic Rising won’t trigger—but if you pass and they kill the Ooze, you won’t get a Demon. With Mutavault, you can play one, pass, and still get a Demon if they kill your guy. The card seems very good to me and I think it could be played in many black decks, even possibly Jund despite being a nombo with Huntmaster.

Lastly, we have the deck that wasn’t present in the World Championship at all—BW(r). This is Austria’s version:

[deck]Main Deck
4 Blood Crypt
4 Cavern of Souls
1 Clifftop Retreat
1 Dragonskull Summit
4 Godless Shrine
4 Isolated Chapel
4 Plains
1 Sacred Foundry
3 Blood Artist
4 Cartel Aristocrat
4 Champion of the Parish
4 Doomed Traveler
4 Falkenrath Aristocrat
1 Skirsdag High Priest
4 Xathrid Necromancer
4 Gather the Townsfolk
3 Lingering Souls
1 Orzhov Charm
3 Tragic Slip
2 Sorin, Lord of Innistrad
Sideboard
1 Blood Baron of Vizkopa
2 Duress
2 Intangible Virtue
1 Orzhov Charm
1 Paraselene
1 Profit // Loss
2 Sin Collector
1 Skirsdag High Priest
1 Tragic Slip
1 War Priest of Thune
2 Zealous Conscripts[/deck]

I think it’s fair to say they weren’t really constrained by the nature of Unified Standard when building this, since it could have easily been built in two colors instead. I think [card]Falkenrath Aristocrat[/card] is around the best card in the deck and I don’t think you should give up on him. Frankly, I don’t see the advantages of the BW build, and certainly not to compensate for having a card that is both a “free-win” and a way to mitigate the damage of cards that are very good against you (mass removal) at the same time. I think there are enough green decks around that [card skirsdag high priest]High Priest[/card] becomes a good card, so I would try to play three of him instead of just one, probably in place of Sorin. I’m honestly not a [card]Blood Artist[/card] fan without [card]Blasphemous Act[/card], but I think it’s still good enough to warrant a spot.

So, TL;dr:

• UWR is now good because [card]Scavenging Ooze[/card] drove Reanimator away. It’s the premier (only) control deck in the format and things are likely to stay that way.
• If you play UWR, play [card]Assemble the Legion[/card].
• Lifebane Zombie is good, but the format right now probably makes him less good—I think four is excessive.
• RG decks will all play four Burning Earth. Jund players should either just accept that they’re going to lose some games to it or start playing BG—I don’t think changing the mana base is good.
• RG is better versus Jund, but Naya is better versus GW and RG.
• Demonic Rising is a really good card, especially with Mutavault.
• BWr is just a better version of BW.

I hope you’ve enjoyed this, see you next week!
PV

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