Week in Review – Four Pillars

This weekend we have another Standard Grand Prix and a brand new season of PPTQs to battle in! Instead of covering the absolute latest, let’s take a look at the past three weeks and what the best decks moving into this weekend look to be.

Abzan Control

Abzan Control by Brad Nelson

Oh Siege Rhino, it’s nice to see a relative of the Thragtusk family again. Well it was, now I’d really like to ask you to leave the premises. Abzan has steadily moved toward being the slowest and most removal happy Divination deck in recent memory. Considering we have a straight UB Control deck, that’s pretty surprising to me. Right now the biggest upside about the Abzan Control plan is that there are no truly terrible matchups for it. Everything is winnable and good sequencing tends to matter more than your draws in the mirror match.

My only recommendation as someone who plays the other side of this match with a variety of decks is that you likely aren’t playing enough relevant anti-control cards. For example, Mastery of the Unseen gives Abzan something else to do against control besides chaining Abzan Charm and Read the Bones. Garruk, Apex Predator plays a similar role against them and is another great card to draw into. Palace Siege can be a gem as a singleton. Just name Dragons and enjoy your five-or-six-turn clock that the opponent usually only has three to five cards to deal with. If you’re worried about getting value more quickly then name Khans and buyback a Tasigur so you can setup a second engine if necessary.

Something I have noticed just by running a whole lot of Standard tournaments is that typically the UB/Sultai Control vs. Abzan Control/Midrange matches don’t finish game three. If control wins game one it’s very likely to run the clock out by killing the few threats presented even if it sets itself up to lose a long game. Fleecemane Lion is a step in the right direction but it needs more help. Cards like Mastery, Siege, GarrukWhisperwood Elemental, and extra Tasigurs are helpful to avoid draws.

RW Aggro

In theory, this deck should be the worst of the top decks by virtue of overexposure. People all know what’s going on at this point and have adjusted their decks accordingly, mirrors are plentiful, and your worst matchups have grown in popularity. Despite all this, it’ll still be one of the most popular decks this weekend and is the best all-around proactive deck in the format.

RW Aggro by Nathan Holiday

Ben Stark did everyone a favor and explained his thought processes, so check it out.

G/R Devotion

For the past two weeks GR Devotion has felt like the most-played deck on Magic Online. Maybe that’s a reflection of not playing very much anymore, but every time I went to battle or watch a friend play, the majority of matches would be against Whisperwood Elemental and friends. Part of this is how well it stacks up against RW Aggro and control decks. The sheer number of haymakers you can throw can overwhelm all but the stoutest defenses and removal packages.

There are two primary iterations of the deck, one is the traditional build where the only spells are planeswalkers and Crater’s Claws. This is much more likely to include other red spells like Shaman of the Great Hunt or Outpost Siege. The latter goes a bit heavier on the mana and creatures, typically running some number of Hornet Queen and a few running multiple Shamanic Revelation to chain together.

There’s something to be said for playing a list with wrong-half-of-deck syndrome, but honestly this has a good chunk of castables that don’t involve 6s and 7s. While sometimes you play 1-2 big guys that get killed and flood out before recovering, the current versions have hit a nice mix. Whisperwood Elemental has also done wonders for the deck against the sweepers that normally kept this deck relegated to tier 2.

Sultai Control

One of the worst aspects of UB Control was the lack of reasonable ways to deal with enchantments. Not having a great win condition has also been touched on before, and Sultai Control remedies both problems.

Sultai Control by Jack Fogle

You get to keep the Dig Through Time engine and the black removal suite, but Sultai Charm offers unique utility and Satyr Wayfinder is amazing at smoothing your mana early and powering delve spells. Right now the primary issues with Sultai Control are twofold. First is the fact that you only have 50 minutes to finish rounds. This means you have to play at a very quick pace to make ensure you have time for three games. Alternatively you could sacrifice sideboard slots on cards that end the game such as Sagu Mauler and more Tasigur, the Golden Fang. Either way I find the majority of Sultai Control players aren’t fast enough to finish matches, so drawing or losing 0-1 is a serious concern.

My second problem is actually deck-related and that’s the dependence on Bile Blight as early-game interaction. Without Drown in Sorrow, being on the draw without a Blight in hand is a death sentence against many RW hands. Monsters-style decks such as GR Devotion have a big advantage against hands that lack a way to take out the mana producers. I would want a Drown in Sorrow or two main or at least another cheap removal spell that wasn’t taxing on the mana. Sultai Charm may be great, but many hands can’t cast it on turn three.

Other Deck Choices

There are a few other decks that have a lot of sheer power but a substantial stumbling block, like Jeskai Tokens, Mardu, and UB Control. Jeskai Tokens has always had an issue with its mana, which is actually less of an issue than just drawing too many Jeskai Ascendancy and Treasure Cruise early and bricking yourself out of the game. Wild Slash and Valorous Stance both reduce the chances of this happening, but having so many mid/late-game cards takes a toll.

Mardu is basically just Jeskai in the sense that you’re playing it for a gold card and a few additional sideboard options. Both decks only run 2-3 extra tapped lands than straight RW and don’t sacrifice much in the consistency department. However this is still the main difference between the universally streamlined RW Aggro decks, Mardu and Jeskai.

UB Control honestly feels like a worse Sultai Control and the mana just isn’t a legitimate argument. Radiant Fountain isn’t Nephalia Drownyard—it just doesn’t compensate for the loss of Sultai Charm and Garruk.

Deck of the Week: Mardu

This is one of the decks on my short-list for this weekend. It can be summed up as RW Aggro with Crackling Doom, since the Butcher of the Horde is just a throw-in. It really goes to show you just how strong Crackling Doom is at the moment, it’s by far one of the best spells you can have against Forest decks and is acceptable in nearly any matchup. While my build drops a single Chained to the Rocks because of the lower Mountain count, it still gives you 7 cards that get rid of a Siege Rhino, Courser, or Polukranos with no fuss.

My main tip for those who want to try and modify the RW base deck and add colors is to focus on what makes that deck good and add some support cards. If you want to overhaul the spells significantly, just accept that you have to turn it completely midrange and change flow of the deck. I think this build has a lot of potential—its success will come down to whether or not Chains are worth the mana limitations.

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