Hetricks of the Trade – Standard Shaping Up

With the addition of Dragon’s Maze, Standard is starting to heat up. The best performing decks are mostly already established ones that gained something with the new set. As a small set introduced to a big format that already had perfect mana-fixing, I think this evolution makes sense. The major decks already had a lot of tools to work with. Some new archetypes will pop up soon, but for now we’re dealing mostly with slight improvements that put existing decks over the top of the rest.

Jund and Junk Reanimator

There wasn’t really a consensus “best deck” coming into the Dragonshift, but some groups of players have been sticking to their guns throughout the ever-changing format, of which a few have continued to show dominance. It seems like Reid Duke has been touting Jund forever, though some of us still remember that he piloted Bant Control to running Top 8s a few months back. Brian Braun-Duin has been leading the Junk Reanimator bandwagon for most of the RTR format. And then there’s me, stuck on Esper Control ever since PT Return to Ravnica. Of course, that’s a whole other story since I haven’t actually done a considerable amount of winning with it.

Predictably, Reid and Owen Turtenwald both piloted their updated Jund list in SCG Somerset two weeks ago, where Owen finished 2nd and Reid 31st. Their deck list looked like this:

[deck]Main Deck
4 Huntmaster of the Fells
2 Sire of Insanity
4 Thragtusk
3 Olivia Voldaren
2 Garruk, Primal Hunter
1 Liliana of the Veil
1 Rakdos Keyrune
2 Ground Seal
1 Abrupt Decay
2 Putrefy
2 Tragic Slip
3 Bonfire of the Damned
1 Dreadbore
4 Farseek
2 Mizzium Mortars
1 Rakdos’s Return
4 Blood Crypt
2 Cavern of Souls
2 Dragonskull Summit
2 Kessig Wolf Run
4 Overgrown Tomb
3 Rootbound Crag
4 Stomping Ground
4 Woodland Cemetery
2 Vampire Nighthawk
1 Deadbridge Chant
1 Ground Seal
2 Tragic Slip
2 Liliana of the Veil
2 Vraska the Unseen
1 Duress
1 Mizzium Mortars
2 Pillar of Flame
1 Rakdos’s Return[/deck]

Jund is a very solid deck. It would be a good choice going into an undefined format regardless of new additions, but in this case, there was a really powerful addition in [card]Sire of Insanity[/card]. The card has an immense impact on the game, and works best in a Jund shell because Sire wants you to ramp and have better board presence than the opponent—two things Jund is good at. For that reason, I find it odd that Owen no longer plays [card]Arbor Elf[/card]. That card does exactly what Sire of Insanity wants. He made up for it by playing 1 [card]Rakdos Keyrune[/card], but I still don’t quite get it.

The addition of Sire reduced the presence of [card]Rakdos’s Return[/card] as well as the reintroduction of [card]Cavern of Souls[/card]. Despite there being less and less blue decks, Cavern into Sire is a really simple way to kill blue mages outright.

[card]Deadbridge Chant[/card] was another Dragon’s Maze card that was unexpectedly introduced. In long and grindy games I can understand why the card would be good, but for six mana I’d like to have something that I can rely on. Deadbridge Chant could have no effect for too many turns for me to want to play the card. [card]Garruk, Primal Hunter[/card] and [card]Staff of Nin[/card] both have a more concrete impact on the game.

Reid and Owen’s near-exact deck list placed 2nd and 6th this past weekend at SCG Charlotte in addition to the three lists that Top 8’d in Somerset. It’s safe to say that Jund is a big player in the format and it’s not hard to see why. It plays many very powerful cards that all demand different answers and generate card advantage, with a suite of good removal. It’s definitely a deck you need to be able to beat or be able to justify not playing.

Brian didn’t fare as well with his updated Reanimator in Somerset, but his partner in crime, Chris VanMeter, was the one to deal the final blow to Owen in the finals. Their slightly updated deck list looked like this:

[deck]Main Deck
3 Acidic Slime
3 Angel of Serenity
4 Arbor Elf
4 Avacyn’s Pilgrim
3 Fiend Hunter
4 Restoration Angel
2 Sin Collector
3 Thragtusk
4 Grisly Salvage
3 Mulch
4 Unburial Rites
4 Forest
2 Cavern of Souls
2 Godless Shrine
3 Isolated Chapel
4 Overgrown Tomb
2 Sunpetal Grove
4 Temple Garden
2 Woodland Cemetery
1 Acidic Slime
2 Deathrite Shaman
1 Sin Collector
1 Thragtusk
3 Voice of Resurgence
2 Abrupt Decay
2 Obzedat, Ghost Council
2 Garruk Relentless
1 Sever the Bloodline[/deck]

Junk Reanimator shares many of Jund’s strengths. Its game plan functions against almost any archetype. Dragon’s Maze shifted the deck toward a more [card]Restoration Angel[/card]-centric version. Previously, [card]Acidic Slime[/card] and [card]Thragtusk[/card] were the only targets for Angel, but now we see [card]Fiend Hunter[/card] and [card]Sin Collector[/card]. Brian has said that his dream is to play a [card]Sin Collector[/card] on turn two on the play and take a [card]Farseek[/card] from his Jund opponent (surely so that he can also Slime soon after). That dream is a little much to ask in my opinion. [card]Duress[/card] costs one mana and is capable of hitting other cards and you don’t see that in any main decks. Is the body really that valuable? As a turn three (or later) play, the card doesn’t seem that powerful to me, at least in the current format.

The other addition brought by Dragon’s Maze is [card]Voice of Resurgence[/card] in the sideboard. Voice is still a little controversial with some players calling it merely a [card]Safehold Elite[/card], while others (myself included) think it’s incredibly powerful. Voice compares well to a combination of Safehold Elite and [card]Teferi, Mage of Zhalfir[/card] where you just get a chunky token if your opponent wants to play an instant, and rather than getting a 1/1 from persist you also get a chunky token. The value of “chunky” is variable, but you can tell it’s a powerful effect. I’m not sure about extensive cross-format play, but I know that Matt Nass and Sam Pardee are sporting multiple copies in Melira Pod at GP Portland (it turns out they both Top 8’d).

The State of Blue

Standard has seen a huge drop in blue decks since [card]Sphinx’s Revelation[/card]’s once dominant presence was felt. [card]Sire of Insanity[/card] and [card]Voice of Resurgence[/card] are not making it any easier on us blue mages. We’ve had to continue adapting for a long time, but the addition of these cards is going to make it even harder. I dare not say that it’s impossible to adapt, but that’s how it feels.

In this format, being proactive is the key, which is why I’ve finally given up on my Esper Control deck. With 3 [card]Jace, Memory Adept[/card], I was being as proactive as I thought possible—with the change in the format I no longer think that’s enough, but there are almost always ways to adapt.

Matt Costa (with help from Gerry Thompson) introduced a new blue deck at SCG Somerset, one I find really interesting:

[deck]Main Deck:
2 Augur of Bolas
2 Restoration Angel
4 Snapcaster Mage=
4 Advent of the Wurm
4 Azorius Charm
1 Dissipate
2 Rewind
2 Selesnya Charm
3 Sphinx’s Revelation
1 Syncopate
2 Think Twice
3 Thought Scour
3 Unsummon
2 Supreme Verdict
1 Forest
1 Island
4 Breeding Pool
1 Ghost Quarter
4 Glacial Fortress
4 Hallowed Fountain
4 Hinterland Harbor
3 Sunpetal Grove
3 Temple Garden
2 Clone
1 Silklash Spider
4 Voice of Resurgence
2 Dispel
1 Dissipate
1 Psychic Spiral
2 Renounce the Guilds
1 Trostani, Selesnya’s Voice
1 Supreme Verdict[/deck]

It’s a blue deck that recognizes the importance of being proactive mostly by the adoption of [card]Advent of the Wurm[/card]. Advent is a pretty strong card by itself, but this deck gets to abuse it further with the synergies between it, [card]Augur of Bolas[/card], and [card]Snapcaster Mage[/card]. Winning games with blue decks hasn’t been as easy as attacking with a pair of 5/5 tramplers in a long time, maybe ever.

The deck showcases a few reasonable answers to Sire of Insanity in the form of [card]Selesnya Charm[/card] and [card]Unsummon[/card] ([card]Simic Charm[/card] would work nicely too), but doesn’t really offer anything to answer an opposing [card]Voice of Resurgence[/card]. On the other hand, the deck can afford to cast a lot of its spells at sorcery speed, and won’t often have to contend with maindeck Voice. When that happens (which I think won’t take long) then blue mages will have to adapt again (probably with red and [card]Pillar of Flame[/card]).

A very similar deck Top 8’d SCG Charlotte, which gives me some hope for the deck and blue decks in general, but I have a bad feeling that it won’t take long for me to hop on the Jund train. Jund has a lot of things going for it that I could get behind.

New Decks

With most of the recent results being populated by mostly the same archetypes (Jund, Reanimator, R/RG Aggro, Bant Hexproof), I went in search of new potential decks. I found a couple that I like:

BRW Reanimator by _Batutinha_

[deck]Main Deck
2 Angel of Serenity
4 Boros Reckoner
1 Griselbrand
2 Obzedat, Ghost Council
2 Olivia Voldaren
2 Sire of Insanity
4 Dreadbore
4 Faithless Looting
3 Liliana of the Veil
4 Lingering Souls
4 Mizzium Mortars
3 Unburial Rites
4 Blood Crypt
1 Cavern of Souls
3 Clifftop Retreat
4 Dragonskull Summit
4 Godless Shrine
4 Isolated Chapel
1 Mountain
3 Sacred Foundry
1 Vault of the Archangel
3 Assemble the Legion
1 Obzedat, Ghost Council
1 Olivia Voldaren
3 Purify the Grave
2 Rolling Temblor
2 Searing Spear
3 Slaughter Games[/deck]

The deck functions as a control deck well enough, but also presents a powerful endgame as early as turn four. The only card from Dragon’s Maze that makes an appearance is [card]Sire of Insanity[/card], and with all the synergy I would love to see additional copies in the deck, or at least a few in the sideboard.

It seems odd to me to only include three [card]Unburial Rites[/card] in a deck that also features [card]Griselbrand[/card]. With twenty-five lands and no draw other than [card]Faithless Looting[/card], I would never expect to get to the point of actually casting him.

In the sideboard we see the powerful but infrequently played [card]Assemble the Legion[/card]. Assemble is unbeatable if you can live long enough, and is a good way to sidestep hate and present something the opponent probably wasn’t expecting.

This version of Reanimator hasn’t been popular at all during the current season. Junk Reanimator has a lot more play without being as dependent on Unburial Rites. That said, this version has access to a lot of cards that Junk doesn’t. I’m not sure if it can topple the top dog, but it might be a good starting point.

Bant Control by Chi Hoi Yim

[deck]2 Augur of Bolas
3 Snapcaster Mage
1 Jace, Memory Adept
1 Elixir of Immortality
2 Dissipate
1 Fog
2 Plasm Capture
2 Renounce the Guilds
1 Selesnya Charm
4 Sphinx’s Revelation
4 Farseek
3 Supreme Verdict
3 Terminus
4 Urban Evolution
1 Island
2 Alchemist’s Refuge
2 Breeding Pool
4 Glacial Fortress
4 Hallowed Fountain
4 Hinterland Harbor
1 Nephalia Drownyard
4 Sunpetal Grove
4 Temple Garden
1 Watery Grave
1 Aetherling
2 Dispel
3 Fog
2 Heroes’ Reunion
2 Negate
1 Psychic Spiral
1 Selesnya Charm
2 Planar Cleansing
1 Terminus[/deck]

Similar to what Reid Duke was doing a few sets back, Chi Hoi Yim is doing exactly what I think won’t work in a blue deck anymore. The only pressure he’s presenting is a single [card]Jace, Memory Adept[/card], but at least he’s trying to respect Sire of Insanity via [card]Renounce the Guilds[/card] and [card]Selesnya Charm[/card]. There’s also [card]Alchemist’s Refuge[/card] + [card]Supreme Verdict[/card], if you count that.

As for Voice of Resurgence, there really aren’t that many cards that need to be cast at instant speed outside of those four glaring counterspells. Those are best against Jund and Junk Reanimator, but at the same time those decks include [card]Cavern of Souls[/card]. That makes me feel some rearranging of the main deck and sideboard is in order at the very least. I do like [card]Plasm Capture[/card] with [card]Sphinx’s Revelation[/card], but I should try to be realistic. I couldn’t see myself playing two of those right now.

I really like the [card]Fog[/card]s in the sideboard though. It basically lets him transform into Turbofog against the creature matchups. The one [card]AEtherling[/card] is interesting too. Do you realize that there’s a point at which that card can’t be dealt with or blocked and it attacks for as much as 8 damage? It’s pretty spicy.

I look forward to Dragon’s Maze shaking up Standard a lot more. Right now, we’re seeing between two and six new cards added to decks and very little innovation going on. Jund and Junk Reanimator are definitely the top two contenders in the format and they’re not easy to “hate” on, which might be making players lazy.

I haven’t been one to break formats in a while, but if no one else is going to…

Thanks for reading!
Michael Hetrick


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