With the PTQ season finished the Magic world is turning its thoughts away from Modern and towards Standard and the upcoming World Magic Cup Qualifiers. Do you want to qualify? You should do. It’s going to be awesome.

I have been spending the last week thinking about how to win myself a spot. I haven’t got a magical guaranteed solution for you and to be honest if I did would I really share it? Well, I would after I won be the first one but we digress.

This week I am basically putting fingers to keyboard on the random thoughts that have crossed my mind. Hopefully they can provoke some useful discussions on meta-game decisions that’ll see us to victory!

Playing the best deck or playing what you are best with?

If your reaction to this question is “duh, play the best deck” then you encounter me about a year ago just before I went 0-4 at a Standard GP with the “best deck”. The truth is until you are either very experienced with many types of deck or playing a lot then playing the best deck may not be the best strategy.

In the lead up to that tournament I changed what deck I was going to play approximately 8 times. As such I never really got any significant play experience with any of them. I probably was playing the best deck but I didn’t know how to play it well and as such I lost.

After this somewhat embarrassing defeat I tried a different approach. For about 3 months I exclusively played RUG Pod with Twin Combo and was rewarded with much better results in multiple tournaments. No, it wasn’t the best deck in either of the meta-games present at those tournaments, but I knew how to play it and I could play it well. This gave me a significant edge over numerous competitors.

Therefore, my first piece of advice if you are thinking about what to play at your WMCQ is to considering playing that deck you’ve been hacking away online with, at GPs or even just at your local FNMs. I don’t care if LSV tweets that he has broken Standard and publishes a [card]Rage Extractor[/card] combo list for you to play. You are probably best off sticking with Humans and putting artifact destruction in the side-board to handle these “killer” lists.

Metagaming

This is such a difficult and complex topic which I will try to do justice to.

Essentially if you can play all decks equally well then you can afford to choose the best deck against an expected field to gain a significant edge.

How do you do this?

First you need to know all the major decks and how they play against each other.

Second, you have to make predictions on the expected turn out.

By combining these two you can choose the deck most likely to perform.

I’ll come back to the first point shortly. The second one is the most difficult. Luckily, however, people are “easy” to predict. Many people will simply take the most recent successful deck.

For example this weekend saw SCG: Des Moines heavily featuring successes by R/G Aggro and Naya Pod. There was little to be seen on either Delver-Spirits or -Equipment.

It is not a huge leap to expect a large upswing in the number of these decks in the next Standard tournament you attend.

Now we return to the first point so we can work out how to punish the field for its sheep-like tendencies.

Here are eight stock lists that represent a fair sweep on the current Standard metagame.

G/R Aggro by Brandon Nelson

[deck]4 Copperline Gorge
10 Forest
2 Kessig Wolf Run
3 Mountain
4 Rootbound Crag
1 Acidic Slime
1 Avacyn’s Pilgrim
4 Birds of Paradise
2 Brimstone Volley
2 Daybreak Ranger
3 Galvanic Blast
1 Garruk Relentless
4 Green Sun’s Zenith
4 Huntmaster of the Fells
4 Llanowar Elves
3 Phyrexian Metamorph
4 Strangleroot Geist
4 Sword of War and Peace
Sideboard
1 Batterskull
1 Sword of Feast and Famine
1 Acidic Slime
1 Primeval Titan
1 Stingerfling Spider
2 Manabarbs
1 Act of Aggression
2 Ancient Grudge
1 Garruk, Primal Hunter
2 Arc Trail
2 Increasing Savagery[/deck]

Delver-Equipment by Matt Hoey

[deck]4 Glacial Fortress
9 Island
3 Moorland Haunt
1 Plains
4 Seachrome Coast
3 Runechanter’s Pike
4 Delver of Secrets
2 Dungeon Geists
2 Invisible Stalker
4 Snapcaster Mage
3 Gut Shot
4 Mana Leak
4 Thought Scour
4 Vapor Snag
4 Geist of Saint Traft
1 Gitaxian Probe
4 Ponder
Sideboard
1 Batterskull
1 Dungeon Geists
2 Phantasmal Image
3 Celestial Purge
2 Dissipate
1 Divine Offering
1 Negate
1 Corrosive Gale
1 Revoke Existence
2 Timely Reinforcements[/deck]

Naya Pod by Jon McDaniel

[deck]6 Forest
1 Island
2 Mountain
2 Plains
4 Copperline Gorge
4 Hinterland Harbor
4 Razorverge Thicket
4 Birthing Pod
1 Phyrexian Metamorph
1 Solemn Simulacrum
1 Sylvok Replica
1 Wurmcoil Engine
2 Acidic Slime
1 Archon of Justice
2 Avacyn’s Pilgrim
4 Birds of Paradise
2 Blade Splicer
1 Daybreak Ranger
1 Fiend Hunter
1 Geist-Honored Monk
3 Huntmaster of the Fells
1 Inferno Titan
2 Phantasmal Image
1 Strangleroot Geist
1 Sun Titan
1 Suture Priest
2 Viridian Emissary
1 Elesh Norn, Grand Cenobite
3 Green Sun’s Zenith
Sideboard
1 Elixir of Immortality
2 Ratchet Bomb
1 Hex Parasite
1 Spellskite
1 Stonehorn Dignitary
1 Sunblast Angel
1 Trinket Mage
2 Ancient Grudge
2 Ray of Revelation
1 Thalia, Guardian of Thraben
2 Corrosive Gale[/deck]

Delver-Spirits by Tom Martell

[deck]4 Darkslick Shores
2 Evolving Wilds
3 Glacial Fortress
5 Island
1 Moorland Haunt
1 Plains
4 Seachrome Coast
1 Swamp
1 Vault of the Archangel
4 Delver of Secrets
4 Drogskol Captain
2 Dungeon Geists
4 Phantasmal Image
4 Snapcaster Mage
4 Gitaxian Probe
1 Gut Shot
4 Lingering Souls
2 Mana Leak
4 Ponder
1 Revoke Existence
4 Vapor Snag
Sideboard
2 Celestial Purge
1 Dismember
2 Dissipate
1 Divine Offering
2 Dungeon Geists
1 Flashfreeze
1 Gut Shot
1 Mana Leak
1 Negate
1 Revoke Existence
1 Surgical Extraction
1 Timely Reinforcements[/deck]

Wolf Run Red by James Cooper

[deck]4 Copperline Gorge
6 Forest
1 Ghost Quarter
4 Inkmoth Nexus
2 Kessig Wolf Run
4 Mountain
4 Rootbound Crag
1 Acidic Slime
1 Birds of Paradise
4 Huntmaster of the Fells
2 Inferno Titan
4 Primeval Titan
3 Solemn Simulacrum
1 Thrun, the Last Troll
3 Galvanic Blast
2 Green Sun’s Zenith
4 Rampant Growth
1 Red Sun’s Zenith
4 Slagstorm
4 Sphere of the Suns
1 Whipflare
Sideboard
1 Ancient Grudge
2 Autumn’s Veil
1 Batterskull
2 Beast Within
2 Combust
1 Karn Liberated
2 Naturalize
1 Thrun, the Last Troll
1 Whipflare
2 Wrack with Madness[/deck]

Humans by Bryan Olvera

[deck]4 Glacial Fortress
3 Moorland Haunt
13 Plains
4 Seachrome Coast
4 Champion of the Parish
4 Doomed Traveler
4 Hero of Bladehold
4 Loyal Cathar
4 Mirran Crusader
3 Thalia, Guardian of Thraben
1 Gather the Townsfolk
4 Honor of the Pure
4 Mana Leak
4 Oblivion Ring
Sideboard
4 Day of Judgment
2 Revoke Existence
2 Sword of Feast and Famine
2 Sword of War and Peace
4 Timely Reinforcements
1 Venser, the Sojourner[/deck]

Zombies! By Richard Parker

[deck]4 Darkslick Shores
4 Drowned Catacomb
14 Swamp
4 Diregraf Captain
4 Diregraf Ghoul
2 Fume Spitter
4 Geralf’s Messenger
4 Gravecrawler
4 Phantasmal Image
2 Phyrexian Obliterator
4 Geth’s Verdict
3 Mortarpod
1 Sword of War and Peace
4 Tragic Slip
2 Liliana of the Veil
Sideboard
1 Black Sun’s Zenith
1 Cemetery Reaper
2 Corrosive Gale
1 Dismember
2 Go for the Throat
2 Nihil Spellbomb
1 Phyrexian Obliterator
2 Ratchet Bomb
1 Sever the Bloodline
2 Surgical Extraction[/deck]

UB Control by Dave Sheils

[deck]4 Darkslick Shores
4 Drowned Catacomb
2 Ghost Quarter
8 Island
3 Nephalia Drownyard
6 Swamp
2 Consecrated Sphinx
3 Snapcaster Mage
3 Black Sun’s Zenith
1 Blue Sun’s Zenith
2 Curse of Death’s Hold
2 Dissipate
3 Forbidden Alchemy
2 Go for the Throat
4 Mana Leak
1 Nihil Spellbomb
1 Ratchet Bomb
4 Think Twice
3 Tragic Slip
2 Liliana of the Veil
Sideboard
2 Batterskull
2 Bloodline Keeper
1 Dissipate
1 Flashfreeze
1 Ghost Quarter
1 Negate
1 Nephalia Drownyard
1 Nihil Spellbomb
1 Phantasmal Image
1 Ratchet Bomb
2 Surgical Extraction
1 Wurmcoil Engine[/deck]

Those are the lists.

I spent a long while writing out exactly what is likely to beat what. But then I realised I could massively simplify the issue:

The arrows point to what deck is favoured in a matchup. For example Ramp will be expected to beat Aggro. Please take this with a pinch of salt before I get a million comments arguing about this. These things are not written in stone and sideboard differences can change matters but it gives you a rough idea of what will generally beat what.

Aggro includes Zombies, Humans and R/G. Interestingly, they don’t play evenly between each other. For example I favour Humans vs Zombies though that depends on how many Swords of War and Peace the Zombies list is running, but we will come back to this point later.

Ramp is the R/G version but the matchup predictions will hold true for most alternative flavours. Basically they crush decks that play little creatures that don’t interact with them but run sufficiently few threats that Control and Tempo will expect to win through. I’ve said it beats Spirits but I think it’s a close one.

For Control here I have assumed the stock UB list that is primed to beat Ramp and Delver-Equip. I have heard it said it can be built to beat any two matchups. I find this unlikely to be completely true but you can probably wiggle the arrows around a bit depending on the exact list. The Esper variants tend to do better against Aggro.

I initially had the two Delver variants listed under Tempo but they play so differently against the field. The Spirits version is more Tribal than Tempo and has almost the complete opposite in matchup predictions than the Equipment version.

Delver is widely discussed at the moment as dominating the field. I don’t think this is as true as people make out and the numbers are muddied by there being two very different decks. I think it is a deck that rewards play skill heavily and therefore is an excellent choice if you wish to outthink your opponent.

The final archetype in my metagame map is Pod. It is the mid-range style deck in the current meta, although often plays in an almost control fashion. I am so happy to see these doing well! The matchup data here comes from advice taken from Brian Kibler’s recent article. I haven’t tried the list myself but I have no reason to doubt him.

There is nothing new in this diagram. The dogma Aggro beats Control which beats Ramp which beats Aggro is as ingrained in Magic players as DNA makes RNA makes Protein is in biologists. As for biologists, it turns out this isn’t always true, however, the reason the current metagame is so healthy is that these dogmas do appear to be holding true to some extent. This allows the meta to continually shift in the favour of different decks as the numbers of each type being played vary between different tournaments.

So, how do you use this information to choose the winning deck?

Earlier I said that I would predict a field of R/G Aggro and Naya Pod for a Standard Tournament this weekend.

As such it would be best to play Ramp.

Huh, that was simple.

Of course it isn’t that simple. If everyone reads this article and plays Ramp then UB control will be best positioned, and then you enter a circle. Which brings me to the third point of the article.

Preparing for the metagaming

What do I mean by this? I mean you’ve picked the deck to beat the metagame but you need to do more than this before you claim victory.

One of the nicest illustrations of this was at GP Baltimore which was the first tournament after PT Honolulu. As Spirits and Ramp did well in that event the deck of choice was UB control and it did indeed steam roll over those decks putting in very strong performances. What separated the UB decks at the top was who had prepared for there to be a lot of mirrors.

Narrowly missing out on Top 8 after going 12-0-2 was Charles Gindy who had 4 main deck [card]Nephalia Drownyard[/card] which is crucial for the mirror. Most other lists only ran 2 copies. That edge must have help immensely and importantly did not cause the deck to lose its ability to beat Ramp and Spirits.

Remember though, that the GP was actually won by Delver-Equip. Presumably dodging the Spirits matchups and then preying on the Control lists to ensure victory. Costa took metagaming to the next level but that can easily misfire if you overthink it.

Back to Ramp–how are we going to improve our shot in the mirror? This is mostly down to sideboard changes rather than maindeck but cards such as [card karn liberated]Karn[/card] and [card garruk, primal hunter]Garruk[/card] should feature. I might run something like Paulo’s list from the Pro Tour which was, I believe, favoured in the mirror although he did narrowly lose out to Kibler in the finals.

Wolf Run Red by Paulo Vitor Damo da Rosa

[deck]4 Copperline Gorge
5 Forest
4 Inkmoth Nexus
2 Kessig Wolf Run
6 Mountain
4 Rootbound Crag
1 Acidic Slime
1 Birds of Paradise
4 Huntmaster of the Fells
2 Inferno Titan
4 Primeval Titan
3 Solemn Simulacrum
1 Thrun, the Last Troll
4 Galvanic Blast
2 Green Sun’s Zenith
4 Rampant Growth
4 Slagstorm
4 Sphere of the Suns
1 Whipflare
Sideboard
2 Ancient Grudge
1 Autumn’s Veil
2 Beast Within
1 Combust
2 Garruk, Primal Hunter
2 Karn Liberated
2 Naturalize
2 Thrun, the Last Troll
1 Whipflare[/deck]

Mirror matches often seem forgotten in sideboard consideration. Remember, if you think it’s the best deck chances are somebody else does too.

One last thing before I finish.

I said at the beginning that you are better off playing a deck you know well than playing the best deck. If your deck is not the “correct” choice for the meta you can still tweak maindeck and sideboard to allow for what you expect.

For example, if you are planning on playing Humans I would include artifact destruction for [card]Birthing Pod[/card]s in the sideboard and run [card]Angelic Destiny[/card] in the main, as that really helps beat Ramp. I’m not saying you will now win everything but your deck is improved for what you expect to play.

With a little thought you can improve your list for the expected meta and then use your superior skills with your deck to beat the people who blindly followed my advice to play Ramp.

I think that wraps it up for this week. I hope you have enjoyed the trip through my metagame thoughts. Let me know what you are going to play. Are you choosing to follow my first advice and then tweak your list against the expected meta? Or are you going to choose the list that has best starting odds? Whatever you decide, good luck!