With Ixalan finally upon us, I was excited to check out the results from the first SCG Open in Dallas to see how the set shook up Standard. My expectations before the tournament were that the top two dogs in Standard would be Temur Energy and Mono-Red. Both decks were quite strong before the rotation and didn’t lose much. My expectations were fulfilled to some extent. Mono-Red and Temur definitely performed well but there were two other decks that showed potential. The first one is the winner’s deck of choice. Andrew Jessup once again proved that he is one of the best players on the SCG circuit and he managed to win the tournament with a cool looking Sultai deck list.
Andrew Jessup, 1st Place at SCG Open
What we have here is basically an old G/B Energy deck with a small blue splash. It’s been proven time and time again that Rogue Refiner and The Scarab God are great cards, but I’d like to highlight Hostage Taker as a new addition. This 4-drop has been very impressive to me so far and might just be the best card in Ixalan. It seems that the deck list (especially the sideboard) needs some fine tuning, but for the first week of Standard it’s usually correct to go with a strong, proactive deck. Kudos to Andrew and his team for building this and congratulations on winning the whole thing.
The second deck that caught my eye, and that I will talk in more detail about, was U/W Approach. After writing about this deck a couple of weeks ago, I’ve gotten a bunch of inquiries about it over social media. To me, this is a sign that the deck is popular, and it got a bunch of new toys with Ixalan. Approach also finished well in Dallas, with two copies in the Top 8. I liked Jim Davis’s deck list from the tournament, and took it for a spin on Magic Online.
Jim Davis, 5th place at SCG Open
Let’s talk about the new cards first.
First and foremost: Glacial Fortress. This might seem like a small change over Prairie Stream, but I think it’s huge. Like I mentioned a couple of times in the past, control decks have a problem with consistency. This has to do with their reactive game plan. Basically, when playing control, you need your answers to line up perfectly against your opponent’s threads. This means that you can’t afford to have your 5th land for Fumigate enter tapped, otherwise you’re just dead.
Another upside of Glacial Fortress is that you’re allowed to play more fancy lands, like the Ipnu Rivulet and Desert of the Mindful. But after playing with the deck a bit, I’m not a huge fan of them. Desert is nice, but you already have 4 cycle lands and you don’t want many tapped lands. Rivulet has some added value with the cool synergy with Approach and Search for the Azcanta, but that’s pretty minor, so I’m not sure you need 4 copies. With Opt in the picture, you often want to use your blue mana on turn 1, and not having an Island might cost you a life point.
Speaking of Opt, it’s a big help for the deck’s consistency issues. It has replaced Hieroglyphic Illumination, and I’m convinced that’s correct. You were cycling the Illumination most of the time anyway and it’s not like scry 1, draw 1 is much worse than draw 2. It’s obviously a bit worse, but if it’s turn 4 and you’re looking for a specific answer, it’s basically the same. One thing to note is that it isn’t always correct to cast it whenever you have a blue mana to spare. This being a deck full of answers, you might not always be certain which ones you need on turn 1. Opt is so cheap that it can be correct to keep it in your hand and cast it later on when you have more information.
Search for Azcanta is another new card and I love the design. It also fits pretty well into this deck. It helps you dig for answers early on and then transforms into a land that a) helps you cast Approach and b) helps you find it again very soon. If it’s turn 7 and you have Search in play you can cast Approach, then on upkeep mill a card, flip Search, use its ability, and then you end up with Approach as your top card—the card you draw in your next draw step and the one that will win the game for you! That’s pretty good for a 2-mana enchantment. Obviously there are drawbacks—the card is legendary and it has low impact the turn you play it. It literally doesn’t do anything. Still, I think it’s correct to play 2-3 copies.
The last new card that made its way into Jim’s main deck is Settle the Wreckage. This card was a head scratcher for me when I first saw it. The effect is powerful but the drawback is painful. The first results are in, and after playing with the card a bit I think it’s a solid one. Giving your opponent free lands is risky business, but against decks like Sultai and Mono-Red, you mostly care about surviving. Against Sultai I like the fact that they can’t blow you out in combat with Blossoming Defense. It’s also nice that this card takes care of Hazoret, which is a big problem for this deck. I’m not sure yet if I want 2-3 copies but I’ve definitely liked the card so far.
That rounds out the new cards, but there are also some other cards that weren’t heavily played before and now are. I’m talking about Aether Meltdown and Farm // Market. The reason for those is simple. Both Immolating Glare and Blessed Alliance got hit by the rotation so you have to look for cheap removal elsewhere. While I’m not a fan of either, at least Aether Meltdown is a necessary evil.
Another thing I want to touch on is that there are only 3 copies of Approach. Previously, I’ve been against it, but now with Search for Azcanta you have much easier access to your win condition and you have a guarantee that you will be casting it for the 2nd time very quickly. Therefore, I think playing 3 copies is fine.
Like I said, I played a bunch of games on Magic Online so I have an updated list I’d recommend moving forward.
While I’m not 100% confident about all of the changes, I’m certain that I’ll play 4 copies of Supreme Will moving forward. This card is super flexible, combines well with your win condition, and I don’t think it’s much worse than Farm // Market. I decided to omit Farm completely. A 3-mana Immolating Glare is not what I’m looking for, even though I have some extra value with the aftermath part. I moved some numbers around to fit my preferences better and I changed the mana base a bit. One card that I added is an extra win condition in the form of Gideon of the Trials. I’m not a huge fan of it, but it’s another universal card. Sometimes you just need to answer their big creature and sometimes you just want to finish the game.
As for the sideboard, I’m giving a lot of respect to Mono-Red, which remains one of the toughest matchups for the deck. I upped the number of Regal Caracal to 4, which is a change I talked about in my last Approach article. I firmly believe that Caracal is your best card against Red, even though it got a bit worse with the addition of Lightning Strike. Another card I’m thinking about trying out is Sunscourge Champion, which got a little better because Incendiary Flow rotated out. Other than that I haven’t changed much from Jim’s sideboard and I didn’t feel the need to. Negate is the best sideboard option when it comes to counterspells and Gearhulk is a must in a world with Lost Legacy. I like the subtle addition of 1 Scavenger Grounds, which is a great answer to the God-Pharaoh’s Gift decks while simultaneously being an extra land that can come in handy in the control mirrors.
I have a quick sideboard guide. As always, take it with a salt of grain. This is only a guideline—things change based on your opponent’s deck, game play etc.
Temur Energy/4c Color Energy
Not much changed here since the last time. Both decks remain mostly the same, so the sideboarding stays the same. Pre-board should be a walk in the park. Post-board, be careful of Negate and try to play around it as much as possible. Preserve your life total and don’t let them run away with the game using cards like Chandra, Torch of Defiance, The Scarab God, and Bristling Hydra.
Things change based on play/draw—you can switch up Meltdown with Supreme Will if you’re going first.
I’m writing this on the eve of the World Championship and I’m super excited about what the best players in the world will come up with. I’m a bit sad that after two years of attending this prestigious tournament that I have to sit this one out, but I’ll be glued to my computer screen watching the coverage. After playing all of the premier events in the past two years, that’s something I’m looking forward to! Magic coverage has been getting better with every event and I can’t wait to see what they’ll have for this one.