GP Indianapolis, 1st Place – Brent Clawson
Wait what? Where’s Jace? Anyone notice the Dark Jeskai mirror in the finals of GP Quebec? All right, Rhinos and Anafenza it is then. The return of Abzan has been one of the more debated strategies over the past month. Perhaps all the focus on hating Jace decks which allows Abzan to flourish against underprepared opposition. Some people just think Siege Rhino is the best.
Regardless of the reason, if Abzan wasn’t in your top 3 decks to prepare for, it should be. Dark Jeskai may be considered the best deck in the format, but Abzan should be right up there. Regardless of how good the deck is in a given week, it’s almost assured that we’ll see it at a high clip on the second day of tournaments.
As for tweaks, not much has changed with Abzan. The deck has firmly entrenched itself as GW splashing for cards like Siege Rhino and Abzan Charm. In fact the biggest shift for this build may be the full set of Shambling Vent. You don’t lose a lot of value by running it and it’s getting better and better as ramp and Esper pick up space in the meta.
GP Indianapolis, 2nd Place – Raymond Perez Jr.
While people may complain about the prices in Standard, at least it’s hard to argue about the lack of diversity in decks or how players stopped exploring different archetypes. Token strategies are finally getting real attention after Sam Black lead the way with Bant Tokens. What’s interesting here is that the deck can play like Orzhov Control, clearing out threats and winning with planeswalkers. Against decks that don’t let you easily do that, a Gideon emblem and a Secure the Wastes can end the game before they have any opportunity to adjust their game plan.
What’s most impressive about this and other token strategies we’ve seen is that none of them have to be all-in on just making a bunch of 1/1s and pumping them. Instead we’ve now seen multiple builds go this route, where they simply control the board and use tokens as a plan B. Ray takes a slower grindy approach, but the speed of the deck can be adjusted by a few simple swaps. Want to end the game quicker? Run Retreat to Emeria. Need more ways to play a long game and trade resources? Painful Truths and Treasure Cruise both fit in well.
Knight of the White Orchid’s stock was high before people played the format and then dropped off. We’re seeing the return of Knight, now that the format is established. Jumping ahead to turn 4, especially on the draw, is crucial now that we know the Jeskai strategies largely revolve around getting ahead and staying there. Abzan and GW Megamorph are also built around snowballing an advantage instead of grinding the opponent out of the game.
Bant Hardened Scales
GP Indianapolis, Top 8 – David Phelps
Spoiler alert, this deck still isn’t anything exceptional. It looks at the opponent and asks them if they’re ready to play a game where all of its spells are more powerful than theirs. When you have hands with Hardened Scales, you can get caught up in tomfoolery and miss triggers and still be playing an entirely different game than the opponent. Even without Scales, when the cards synergize properly they simply outclass what the average green midrange or Dark Jeskai player is doing.
Of course the trade-off comes when your cards don’t show up in the right order or you draw a bunch of Servant of the Scales and Managorgers, the opponent just decides picking off your one scary threat and killing you isn’t very hard. There’s also not a lot of pure speed here which means decks like Atarka Red or Ramp can effectively assemble their combo and kill you before it matters. 4 Stubborn Denial is a nice touch that makes it more interesting than the normal Scales deck since it gives some much needed interaction.
I wouldn’t mind seeing a maindeck Evolutionary Leap to give it something to do against removal-heavy hands, and Feat of Resistance may be too cute for its own good compared to another threat. What’s nice is you have ways to actually deal with Ugin with the blue splash whereas GW Megamorph is mostly just dominated with no outs except their own splash. Assembling a 4-power creature is quite easy, though. Should it see a bit more play? Yes. Is it a major concern moving forward? No.
Looking to the Weekend
So what’s the plan for this weekend? Well there are the easy options of playing Dark Jeskai or Abzan, because those decks can win and people by now have a lot of experience with them. If you want to come from a different angle, then I’d highly recommend riding the Ugin train and simply rely on raw power. While Disdainful Stroke and Duress are still reasonable answers, few have these answers game 1. Plus, with the Sanctum of Ugin line, people can no longer bank on simply countering the 8-drop. Esper Control doesn’t get a free win anymore because of that single card, let alone if they get to chain Ulamogs. With red backsliding the past few weeks, it could be time to just go all-in like Tron.
Now that the format is established, it’s a great time to look at the decks and cards people are ignoring. And I don’t mean going back to the red decks, because I still see a whole lot of Surge of Righteousness and Arashin Cleric in every deck with white. Surge was the 6th-most played card in the Indy Top 8. If you want to go that route, play GR Landfall and lean heavier on non-red creatures or tokens.
The other strategy I’d endorse that isn’t a large part of the metagame is planeswalker control. We saw this with the Esper Superfriends deck at the Pro Tour and you could argue that Perez’s Esper Tokens is a planeswalker deck. Ruinous Path has hardly replaced Hero’s Downfall and the number of answers to Gideon and Ob Nixilis is pretty low at the moment. Crackling Doom and Mantis Rider are still two of the best, but knowing those are the primary interaction points makes them a lot easier to shut down.
We’re coming up to the end of the PPTQ season, so good luck to those still on the grind.