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Breaking Through – Monkey See, Monkey Don’t

Playing Magic in the digital age has been an experience that has really flipped the script on what used to be. Magic used to be a game where information was king and those in the know had a huge advantage over those that did not. These days, nearly unlimited information rests at your fingertips, so the game has shifted from rewarding those who simply have the information, toward rewarding those that utilize it properly. Just about everyone knows everything, or at least can if they choose to do so. This is why “secret decks” like PT Berlin, or even PT Paris, happen very infrequently and tend to be a big deal when they do.

Standard is just about out of this “secret deck” phase. Yes, innovations will continue to pop up from time to time, but most of the information is out there, looking to be exploited. Here is where information leads us astray though. Because we have all grown some complacent over time, taking for granted that the work has already been done for us and using it as a short cut in this game of leap frog, players have lost some of the skills that used to be commonplace. Original thought has been placed on the back burner as a skill that is in no way necessary to survive.

Patrick Chapin wrote a few articles detailing the entirety of his thoughts on this [card]Hive Mind[/card] mentality, so if you are interested in the theories and concepts above, I would advise you look into his writings on them. With States just around the corner, we are not concerned so much with studying the mentality of the hive mind, however fascinating it may be, but rather, we need to be looking at ways to break free from this mold or even exploit it, allowing for the best possible results this weekend.

If you have followed the early tournaments for this new format, you can begin to detect some of the patterns that players have gotten used to, in deck choices, card choices, and even routes of play. This is not necessarily a bad thing on those players’ parts, as it allows a more efficient transition period, but it does take away some of the ingenuity and thought that goes into those areas, leaving the door open for the more independent of you out there.

It does not take much effort to demonstrate these principles in a relevant example. The principle can be applied to the overuse of a card due to familiarity or the under use of a card due to it never being great before. While going over every card is much too daunting a task, here is my number one overplayed card as an example:

[card]Wurmcoil Engine[/card]

Yea, the sixth Titan is the first card on the chopping block as I feel it is the most egregious of the current misused cards. Keep in mind that I am not claiming the card is bad, because it clearly isn’t, but I am simply stating that it is not well positioned in the current metagame. Going against that logic though, is a year, as well as tried and true habit forming that has people “knowing” it is a good card without ever really considering the implications of playing it.

Consider that compared to last season, one of the most popular Blue cards is [card]Phantasmal Image[/card]. Now, I am aware that any type of control finisher is going to be somewhat weak to an Image. Sphinxes, Titans, they all provide some amount of advantage when copied, but usually, you can turn a removal spell on their image and press the advantage you have, of still having a giant finisher in play. Compare this to [card]Wurmcoil Engine[/card]. If they copy your Engine, you now must waste a removal spell on their Wurmcoil, just like before, but must also have second removal spell for at least the Anthony Eason half, or else they are going to break up your Momma Calceason as well. Then, when you have successfully rid them of their deathtouch halves, they still have a baby Calcano to either trade with one half of your twins, or trade with half of the damage from the momma. It is just not favorable in any way, especially when you have other 6 drops at your disposal. Wolf-Run decks are especially poor places to have the Wurmcoil against Image match up, as their land can deal with an Image in any other form!

Wurmcoil also happened to be better when people were packing different removal in their decks. Previously, cards like [card]Go for the Throat[/card] and [card]Lightning Bolt[/card] were the king of the removal tree, right there alongside [card]Dismember[/card]. While [card]Dismember[/card] is still a popular card, it has dropped down to a 2 of in many lists, making way for things like [card]Doom Blade[/card], which conveniently hits a [card]Wurmcoil Engine[/card] quite nicely. The other huge card against a [card]Wurmcoil Engine[/card] is [card]Oblivion Ring[/card]. At least when your Titan gets Ringed, you got immediate value out of it and get immediate value again should you deal with the Ring. Wurmcoil just kind of sits there though, looking all lazy and stuff.

Wurmcoil is supposed to be a weapon against Red decks, and when it resolves, as soon as turn 4, it is, or at least it used to be. These days, many Red decks look to splash Green for the added reach of [card]Kessig Wolf Run[/card]. Of course, with a splash of Green comes one of the best sideboard cards of all time in [card]Ancient Grudge[/card]. Guess what [card]Ancient Grudge[/card] happens to be good against? It probably didn’t take you a second guess either.

Wurmcoil may still make for a good sideboard option against Red, or obviously plays well in something like a Grand Architect deck, but before you go jamming 2 or 3 of these into your Solar Flare or RG Wolf Run decks, consider other options, as it is definitely not prime time for the Twins.

Now consider all of those negative things we just said about the Engine, and then think about [card]Batterskull[/card]. It is still colorless, allowing it to fit into every archetype. It comes down a turn earlier without the aid of a second spell. [card]Phantasmal Image[/card] is terrible against it. [card]Oblivion Ring[/card] and [card]Ancient Grudge[/card] are still about as good in both scenarios, but we are making some headway. The biggest thing going for the Engine is the fact that it is a creature and can therefore be [card unburial rites]Unburied[/card], but I don’t think that should lead to playing a poorly positioned card. Even if you decide [card]Batterskull[/card] is not right for the job, at least get to thinking about other options, rather than just throwing in some Wurmcoils and calling it a night.

Omissions by Habit

As I hinted at before though, while [card]Wurmcoil Engine[/card] is my pick for the most overplayed card, plenty of cards got lost in the shuffle during the last Standard season and have yet to make their mark in this season, despite it being much more well-suited for them. They did not see play before, because there were better options available, but in that time period, they seem to have been forgotten about almost, and someone needs to incorporate them into current Standard and give them their proper dues.

To touch on every card is again, a little daunting, but some that come to mind include:

[card]Despise[/card]– This always played second fiddle to both [card]Duress[/card] and [card]Inquisition of Kozilek[/card], never seeing significant play. Well now it is the only spell of its kind and the field looks to be primed for it to see some success, assuming players are willing to sleeve the card up.

Solar Flare may want things in the yard, but those things do not include [card]Snapcaster Mage[/card], [card]Liliana of the Veil[/card], [card]Gideon Jura[/card], or any other big creature, should you have some way to work around [card]Unburial Rites[/card]. Then you turn over to a deck like RG ramp and you see just how important [card]Solemn Simulacrum[/card] or [card]Primeval Titan[/card] are to hit on curve while they also look to get a ton of mileage out of [card]Garruk, Primal Hunter[/card]. You can never take all of their threats away, thanks to the power of [card]Green Sun’s Zenith[/card], but buying just a turn or two may be all you need, similar to how Valakut acted. Even the aggro decks hinge heavily on one-drops, or planeswalkers, like Elspeth, [card]Koth of the Hammer[/card], [card]Stromkirk Noble[/card], or [card]Champion of the Parish[/card].

[card]Acidic Slime[/card]– I know I may just be rehashing a bit of a stereotype here, but when you look at where the format is going and what this guy can do for you, he just makes sense. Many decks in the format are based around lands of various types, between [card]Gavony Township[/card], [card]Kessig Wolf Run[/card], or [card]Inkmoth Nexus[/card], and the Slime is the most efficient way at dealing with those while still being useful elsewhere.

[card]Oblivion Ring[/card] has once again taken its place as a tier-1 removal spell as well, and as we saw out of RG ramp, even a single Slime was powerful enough to flip games on end and come back from out of nowhere. If [card]Batterskull[/card], or Sword decks continue to gain popularity, he is much better against them now that he used to be, as the counter magic has dropped down a little bit. Mono Red and Tempered Steel both have key permanents ([card shrine of burning rage]Shrines[/card], [card]Tempered Steel[/card]) that get hit by this, and that’s not even taking into account the 2/2 deathtouch body that sticks around and can meddle with Titans or [card]Memnite[/card]s alike. I think every [card]Green Sun’s Zenith[/card] deck should seriously consider one of these in the main and more decks should maximize these, at least during the States time frame.

[card]Ghost Quarter[/card]– I know this one wasn’t around last season, but it has been Standard legal before and I do feel like it is not getting enough love at the moment. As we just talked about with [card]Acidic Slime[/card], there are some very powerful lands running around at the moment, from [card]Gavony Township[/card] to [card]Moorland Haunt[/card], and this is a convenient, colorless way of slowing the decks down that rely on them so much. Yes, this does have a significant drawback and it will never do what [card]Tectonic Edge[/card] did, catching stumbling mana bases and winning you games, but as a weapon built to attack specific things, this puts in work.

The drawback is real, but if you look at it like [card]Path to Exile[/card] previously, it is much better to supply them with a non-threatening basic than to let them take a game over with an [card]Inkmoth Nexus[/card] or [card]Kessig Wolf Run[/card]. This needs to be used more conservatively than [card]Tectonic Edge[/card] ever was, and with more precision, but I think it should work its way into more lists that can support it.

Wrap Up

As you are making your finishing touches to your deck of choice for this weekend, take some time to think about what you expect, and put yourself in others’ shoes to ask the same. What does the opponent expect out of your deck? He is just as likely to have been swept up by the trends and habits of the community as you may have been, so he likely has a mental image of what is coming. If you can spin that on its axis and surprise him with a few key card choices, like [card]Despise[/card], or [card]Acidic Slime[/card], much of the testing that that individual did is partially invalidated.

You don’t have to go Rogue in the true sense of the word, or even play cards that people have not played before. You just need to stay on the front of the curve and be a trendsetter as opposed to one of the many that choose to follow. We know there are good cards out there that are not seeing play, are you going to utilize any of them? Or will you be the one sitting across from them this weekend? Good luck!

Conley Woods

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