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Silvestri Says – Week One M14

We have some fresh Standard results showcasing new archetypes and a new take on old classics, with a healthy number of M14 cards making a splash. The initial impressions I’ve heard are that this is a deep format with decks that win with synergy, win by only racing, and win by having all powerful cards. Plus there’s a clear top dog if you don’t want to go that deep. Let’s start things off with the winning list from this weekend’s SCG Open:

[deck]Main Deck
4 Champion of the Parish
4 Doomed Traveler
4 Blood Artist
1 Bloodthrone Vampire
4 Cartel Aristocrat
4 Xathrid Necromancer
3 Sorin, Lord of Innistrad
1 Orzhov Charm
4 Tragic Slip
4 Gather the Townsfolk
4 Lingering Souls
7 Plains
5 Swamp
4 Godless Shrine
4 Isolated Chapel
2 Mutavault
1 Orzhov Guildgate
Sideboard
1 Pithing Needle
2 Lifebane Zombie
2 Sin Collector
2 Intangible Virtue
1 Brave the Elements
2 Doom Blade
2 Profit // Loss
1 Obzedat, Ghost Council
2 Appetite for Brains[/deck]

AJ Sacher took down SCG Richmond with BW Humans, a deck that really didn’t exist until [card]Xathrid Necromancer[/card] gave it a reason to. AJ’s take on Humans is a great example of why Xathrid Necromancer is one of the best cards in M14. Not only does it provide some sweeper protection, it lets him trade up his weaker Humans for 2/22s and can allow him to combo out with [card]Blood Artist[/card].

Eight token generators and plenty of Human beatdowns put you in a more aggressive position than either of the other Aristocrat shells. [card]Champion of the Parish[/card] had fallen out of the limelight for the last couple of months, and this deck reminds everyone of how deadly a one-mana 4/4 can be. Even [card]Bloodthrone Vampire[/card] had some time to shine in one of the deck’s feature matches, threatening lethal every turn.

The sideboard feels like it’s trying to do too much at once with such variety, but it does allow the deck to have a lot of flexibility. This approach also can take opponents off guard when the format is fresh, especially with an archetype very few people will have had any experience against. Cards like [card]Brave the Elements[/card] and Profit will likely catch the opponent totally off-guard.

[draft]lifebane zombie[/draft]

One card that surpassed even my own expectations was [card]Lifebane Zombie[/card], which was ridiculous at all times. In personal testing, it has been nothing less than absurd, and if other aggro decks didn’t slap Zombies around so badly, I would be advocating Zombies with four maindeck right now. It feels a lot like [card]Vendilion Clique[/card], where you often get one of the best cards in their hand, gain valuable information, and have a 3/1 evasive attacker. Making the mana work for this card in the main or sideboard is definitely worth it in any version of this deck you build.

While it definitely doesn’t have its best matchup against a deck that packs [card]Bonfire of the Damned[/card], [card]Curse of Death’s Hold[/card], and [card]Olivia Voldaren[/card] (not to mention it can easily pack more sideboard hate), it at least has some room for play. You aren’t just dumping your hand on the table and hoping that’s enough to get you there. I would like to see a few more Brave the Elements to shut down Bonfire of the Damned, but I understand if there simply isn’t enough room to make it work.

Expect Aristocrats players to pick this one up for next week even if it turns out to be the most underpowered of the lists. Having a strong base to build from makes for the minimal amount of adjustment time and the maximum amount of playtest time.

Stay Still and Keep Calm

This was week one of a new format and it’s unwise to overreact. Just as with every new set, you have card availability issues, people playing stock decks trying to prey on people trying unrefined new decks, and said decks being some playtest time away from optimal. I’ve already seen comments in various spots about how overrated the following cards/decks were: Reanimator, Naya, Mono-Red, Burning Earth, Chandra, Garruk, Fiendslayer Paladin, Mutavault, GW Aggro, Aristocrats, Bant Hexproof and more.

Many of these cards did have some impact, they just didn’t have the major ones people expected because clearly one week was enough to define the metagame for the summer. In all seriousness, stay calm and don’t jump the gun about what you happened to see at one SCG Open. There are some takeaways though that I’m happy to keep an eye on and see if they become trends over the next few weeks.

1) [card]Gladecover Scout[/card] didn’t look good, [card]Witchstalker[/card] was non-existent, while Bant Hexproof looked solid on the whole.
Gladecover Scout has just looked miserable when I see it in play. Miserable is a strong word, but I’ve been unimpressed with Gladecover Scout in my limited testing, and watching it this weekend didn’t make me feel better about it. Scout is very bad post-board when the opponent is likely to have tricks, and he requires so many auras to battle through on the ground that [card]Spectral Flight[/card] is a necessity for it. I also apparently overestimated Witchstalker, which no-showed in the Top 32 and had minimal appearances this weekend. On the flip side, Fiendslayer Paladin did well on the weekend in Bant and most of the time did a good imitation of hexproof.

As I said last week, I think Fiendslayer is totally reasonable maindeck as long as there isn’t an abundance of [card]Azorius Charm[/card]’s floating around.

2) Expect to see many more fringe decks breaking through with the fall of Reanimator.

Richard Nguyen’s mono-green deck is a good example of a deck that didn’t have the tools to exist until now. [card]Elvish Mystic[/card] gives a big boost to its turn two plays and [card]Mutavault[/card] gives it a bit more range against the midrange contingent. Just by [card]Scavenging Ooze[/card] existing there’s less Reanimator, and another valid threat against midrange.

[deck]Main Deck
4 Arbor Elf
4 Elvish Mystic
3 Strangleroot Geist
4 Predator Ooze
4 Elvish Archdruid
4 Wolfir Silverheart
2 Craterhoof Behemoth
2 Garruk, Caller of Beasts
4 Rancor
3 Ranger’s Guile
4 Revenge of the Hunted
18 Forest
4 Mutavault
Sideboard
2 Scavenging Ooze
4 Thragtusk
3 Wolfir Avenger
2 Primeval Bounty
2 Naturalize
2 Garruk Relentless[/deck]

As for the deck itself, I was a big fan of Elf ramp a few years ago and this brings back fond memories. I love the idea of blasting off a Garruk on turn three and a Craterhoof on turn four via the -3 to crush people playing fair decks. With that said, [card]Garruk, Caller of Beasts[/card] may not be the best Garruk for the deck. It isn’t bad, but costing six mana is a strike against it with Jund having so much removal, and [card]Garruk, Primal Hunter[/card] has more relevant abilities. I’m sure it’ll feel good to play Fat Garruk and actually use the 2nd ability for some value. Most of the time I figure [card]Lead the Stampede[/card] will be the first ability though.

Of course, I’d need to try the deck to fully validate this, right now I’m just making off the hip observations. [card]Ranger’s Guile[/card] also looked awful in the deck, though I’d have to test it and see.

Meanwhile Joshua Everly showed off a niche strategy in WW, which hasn’t been viable in quite some time. You can call it a [card]Imposing Sovereign[/card]/[card]Brave the Elements[/card] theme deck as those are easily its strongest points. One lets you continue your offense and the other either allows you to alpha strike or protect your team.

[deck]Main Deck
4 Champion of the Parish
4 Doomed Traveler
4 Dryad Militant
4 Imposing Sovereign
3 Precinct Captain
1 Mikaeus, the Lunarch
3 Thalia, Guardian of Thraben
4 Frontline Medic
3 Banisher Priest
2 Oblivion Ring
4 Brave the Elements
2 Ajani, Caller of the Pride
18 Plains
4 Mutavault
Sideboard
3 Fiendslayer Paladin
3 Celestial Flare
2 Purify the Grave
2 Renounce the Guilds
1 Thalia, Guardian of Thraben
2 Gideon, Champion of Justice
2 Immortal Servitude[/deck]

I mean it’s hard to really love WW, especially without [card]Cloudgoat Ranger[/card], but I think the deck just needs another power card or two to really be viable. Right now it feels too much like stripped down Aristocrats with the only major upside being the full set of [card]Mutavault[/card] and [card]Brave the Elements[/card]. I really wouldn’t mind having just a small splash for something like [card]Burning Earth[/card] or similar reach cards. It’s got the same weaknesses as any WW deck as it stands, it just fares better against blockers.

3) Jund is the best deck going forward.

To the shock of no-one, Jund performed well and it could’ve easily taken down SCG Richmond had Boswell drawn a bit better. Many of the synergy-based aggro strategies are on the wrong side of wave after wave of removal, Olivia, and Bonfire of the Damned. If Xathrid Necromancer catches on, we could see more [card]Curse of Death’s Hold[/card] and even [card]Illness in the Ranks[/card] popping up in sideboards to combat them.

[deck]Main Deck
2 Arbor Elf
3 Scavenging Ooze
4 Huntmaster of the Fells
3 Olivia Voldaren
4 Thragtusk
2 Garruk, Primal Hunter
1 Abrupt Decay
1 Doom Blade
2 Putrefy
2 Tragic Slip
4 Bonfire of the Damned
1 Dreadbore
4 Farseek
2 Rakdos’s Return
2 Forest
1 Swamp
4 Blood Crypt
3 Dragonskull Summit
2 Kessig Wolf Run
4 Overgrown Tomb
1 Rootbound Crag
4 Stomping Ground
4 Woodland Cemetery
Sideboard:
1 Grafdigger’s Cage
2 Curse of Death’s Hold
2 Underworld Connections
2 Tragic Slip
3 Liliana of the Veil
2 Barter In Blood
2 Duress
1 Rakdos’s Return[/deck]

This was Boswell’s list and while there was some variation in the Top 16 lists, nearly all of them had the same cores. Sideboards all varied, but all had Jund staples from one time or another. The only real disagreement seemed to be in the number of basics with two running zero non-basics, two running three Forest, and two running two Forest and a Swamp. Normally I wouldn’t bring up such a subtle change, but it makes a major difference against Burning Earth.

Nearly every time I watched Jund I felt like it was just stone dead to a Burning Earth at any point and yet people still want to hedge with only three in the sideboard. Stop it. Just stop it. Cut a [card]Skullcrack[/card] or [card]Mark of Mutiny[/card] and just run the 4th Burning Earth, in the matches you want to see it, getting multiples is usually fine and you really want to see it by turn four. Realistically, this may be the best way to beat Jund, because you sure aren’t doing more powerful things. This makes decks like Blitz and Humans much more attractive even if they have other issues. Going under Jund’s biggums and just deflecting a spot removal spell or outright ignoring getting two creatures taken down is one of the best plans right now.

Here’s the problem with matching Jund against fair decks, all their cards are better than yours in the abstract. While I can assemble board states that make my cards better, all of them require work and it’s easy to disrupt while I’m setting up. Jund has no such qualms, spells and mana along with the occasional miracle is enough. It’s hard to grind this type of strategy out because so many of the cards are relevant and they still have room for punishing cards if you tap out. Tapping out every turn to play the haymaker game is a losing decision when [card]Rakdos’s Return[/card] and [card]Garruk, Primal Hunter[/card] exist.

So if Jund is just better at fighting all the normal means of attack, what’s left? Aggression. Jund without [card]Farseek[/card] has issues fighting off a consolidated aggressive swarm, especially when that swarm can protect itself against [card]Bonfire of the Damned[/card]. This is why while on paper, decks like RG and Blitz look like massive dogs, they can win a fair share of games by just knocking them out before their good spells matter. Doesn’t matter how many of all these you still have if you aren’t alive to cast them.

The other method of beating Jund I’ve had success with pre-M14 is simply hitting them hard every turn and having [card]Domri Rade[/card] refill my hand. It may not be a perfect, but Jund still has issues with [card]Falkenrath Aristocrat[/card] and [card]Thundermaw Hellkite[/card]. Something like Act 2 or Jund Aggro, potentially with Chandra to help remove blockers and provide some card advantage along the way. Jund Aggro had no problems using Domri and I suspect Act 2 could get some use from Chandra.

That’s it for my week one observations. Later this week I should have a small audio commentary to go over some of what I glossed over in the article, so look out for that. Thanks to anyone who provided feedback on it by the way, much appreciated. Until next week!

Josh Silvestri
Email me at: josh.silvestri@gmail.com

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