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Silvestri Says – Standard Quick Hits

Today I’m going to talk about the results from SCG: Indy this past weekend and the impact they’ll have on the immediate Standard format. Let’s start with the top and work our way through some of the hyped and unexpected decks seen this weekend.

Top 8:
UW Aggro
UW Blade
UW Illusions
Solar Flare
2 Tempered Steel
2 Red Aggro

(Virtual Top 8 – aka: also had 25 points, but missed on tiebreaks
Tezzeret Control and a 3rd Red Aggro

Top 32 (Update! Last deck is actually Goblins!):
7 Red Aggro
6 Solar Flare
4 Tempered Steel
2 Pod (1 Naya and 1 Bant)
2 UW Aggro
2 UW Blade
2 RUG
2 UB Control
1 GW Humans
1 GW Tokens
1 Tezzeret
1 UR Vengeance
1 UW Illusions

Quick Impressions:

In what should shock no-one, the quick linear aggro strategies succeeded by running over unrefined strategies and generally just being more stable than anything else in the room. Both Red Aggro and Tempered Steel have reasonably powerful gameplans and were easy for people to put together so it shouldn’t come as any surprise that they were two of the most successful decks of the weekend.

Once we get the metagame breakdown then we can gauge how much of their success was based on percentage of the field at Indy. Keep in mind how large of an impact that card availability could have had on the tournament, trying to put together a deck with a set of [card liliana of the veil]Liliana[/card] and [card]Snapcaster Mage[/card] could not have been easy for the average person. Same goes for if SCG sold out of anything, in which case card availability becomes an even larger issue for those attending.

Red Aggro

Red had a great weekend and isn’t going anywhere, especially looking at the short-term timeline of the metagame. Even if people overcompensate for red’s success this weekend I doubt that’ll stop a good many budget players or former [card]Goblin Guide[/card] lovers to sleeve up red in some form. Right now without Magic Online or other information coming in refining certain strategies like Solar Flare, UB Control and varieties of Pod are all going to take time. Meanwhile the red players merely need to guess at the answer cards likely to be used against them and prepare in turn. People can’t truly overload on red hosers this time around like they could with [card]Kor Firewalker[/card] and [card]Timely Reinforcements[/card] backed by [card]Squadron Hawk[/card]. Instead all you have is [card]Timely Reinforcements[/card] and the decks playing it aren’t even running four in many cases, in addition to lacking [card]Preordain[/card] to help dig.

Let’s take a quick look at two of the successful red decks from this weekend.

[deck]4 Shrine of Burning Rage
3 Chandra’s Phoenix
2 Goblin Arsonist
3 Grim Lavamancer
2 Hero of Oxid Ridge
2 Spikeshot Elder
4 Stormblood Berserker
4 Stromkirk Noble
4 Brimstone Volley
3 Incinerate
3 Koth of the Hammer
3 Arc Trail
23 Mountain
Sideboard:
1 Sword of War and Peace
2 Perilous Myr
2 Hero of Oxid Ridge
3 Manic Vandal
4 Vulshok Refugee
1 Arc Trail
1 Traitorous Blood
1 Mountain[/deck] [deck]4 Shrine of Burning Rage
4 Chandra’s Phoenix
3 Grim Lavamancer
4 Reckless Waif
4 Stormblood Berserker
4 Stromkirk Noble
4 Brimstone Volley
4 Geistflame
4 Incinerate
3 Garruk Relentless
1 Forest
10 Mountain
4 Copperline Gorge
3 Kessig Wolf Run
4 Rootbound Crag
Sideboard:
2 Tree of Redemption
3 Ancient Grudge
1 Beast Within
1 Garruk Relentless
3 Arc Trail
3 Blasphemous Act
3 Traitorous Blood[/deck]

Goblins by Mark Hemmert
[deck]4 Goblin Arsonist
4 Goblin Chieftain
4 Goblin Fireslinger
4 Goblin Wardriver
3 Hero of Oxid Ridge
2 Spikeshot Elder
4 Stormblood Berserker
4 Brimstone Volley
2 Shock
3 Arc Trail
4 Goblin Grenade
22 Mountain
Sideboard:
3 Perilous Myr
2 Vulshok Refugee
4 Manabarbs
4 Ancient Grudge
2 Dismember[/deck]

Both versions of red have some common features, [card]Shrine of Burning Rage[/card] and [card]Brimstone Volley[/card] feature prominently in the burn department and both had 11 one-drops to smooth opening hands and help trigger bloodthirst. It turned out that [card Stromkirk Noble]Captain Kirk[/card] had center spotlight for Red Aggro this weekend over [card]Reckless Waif[/card] or other potential one-drops. It does make sense since [card]Stromkirk Noble[/card] can still be useful against aggressive strategies while the Waif can have major issues becoming anything more impressive than a 1/1 until later in the game. Although she does go nicely with the grinding plan as you can flip her yourself and rack up the damage faster than the Noble. Right now I’m a fan of both, though how the metagame evolves will determine if supporting [card]Reckless Waif[/card] is the correct plan.

After kicking around red decks for a bit I’m a fan of both and actually think [card]Grim Lavamancer[/card] lost a lot of luster by comparison. Often it can be difficult to get more than a trigger or two at most before either running out of fuel or the Lavamancer meeting its end. It still has some use and can be one of your greatest tools in a creature mirror, but red decks have moved toward 2-3 of him for a reason. [card]Spikeshot Elder[/card], after falling out of favor outside of Goblin decks, has a new reason to exist with the uptick in X/1 creatures. It can be devastating against Steel or Red Aggro given a longer game if it can’t be removed and even against slower strategies it takes out [card]Phantasmal Image[/card] and just pings away.

By far the most interesting version of Red Aggro has to be the R/g iteration taking full advantage of [card]Kessig Wolf Run[/card], [card]Garruk Relentless[/card] and some green sideboard options. The Wolf Run turns [card]Chandra’s Phoenix[/card] from an annoying threat to a creature that will kill you in short order if not dealt with permanently. Any creature gets a potential boost though thanks to the Trample giving aspect which just punishes everybody trying to speed bump the red deck. Speaking of speed bumps, just the idea of running [card]Tree of Redemption[/card] as mirror tech should give you a good idea of just how much range the green splash can give. [card]Ancient Grudge[/card] is the other obvious throw-in, but you can easily expand upon the deck’s meager sideboard options with this mostly free splash.

One of the more interesting debates to come is [card]Garruk Relentless[/card] vs. [card]Koth of the Hammer[/card] for versions that run green. Garruk presents the more stable threat in many matches and this deck is one of the few that can make good use out of a 2/2 token every turn. It can also be used defensively which makes it a far more useful mirror card and being green means it ducks potential sideboard blowback like [card]Celestial Purge[/card]. Of course [card]Koth of the Hammer[/card] hits harder, has one the scariest ultimates in the game and will never be stuck in your hand on turn four because you whiffed on a green source. It also can immediately kill [card]Liliana of the Veil[/card] on a clear board, which I suspect will happen a fair amount of the time as UB and Solar Flare look to completely decimate any early drops red tries to stick.

I’m not a big fan of [card]Garruk Relentless[/card] and even I have to admit that he seems to fit nicely in this configuration. As it stands the deck that wants to play small ball the whole game is a red deck. At least it makes more sense here then adding yet another schizophrenic layer to [card]Birthing Pod[/card] decks or I have to watch it flail around in G/W Tokens. If you want to gun the green splash and are willing to accept the occasional hand where he’s dead, Garruk is your beast for the job.

Tempered Steel

As far as Tempered Steel goes I covered it last week and as soon as I saw Ari Lax playing Steel I figured he’d have good odds on making top eight, if not winning the whole thing. In the end he only got as far as the top eight, but his list is a great blueprint to build on.

[deck]4 Glint Hawk Idol
2 Shrine of Loyal Legions
4 Memnite
4 Signal Pest
3 Spined Thopter
4 Vault Skirge
4 Hero of Bladehold
4 Tempered Steel
2 Dismember
4 Dispatch
3 Mox Opal
1 Mikaeus, the Lunarch
17 Plains
4 Inkmoth Nexus
Sideboard:
1 Shrine of Loyal Legions
3 Phyrexian Revoker
3 Spellskite
2 Oblivion Ring
1 Mikaeus, the Lunarch
1 Gideon Jura
2 Revoke Existence
2 Timely Reinforcements[/deck]

I’m not sure about every sideboard choice or the [card]Mikaeus, the Lunarch[/card], but I’ll definitely be testing the numbers out and I’m a fan of the maindeck. Now that we’ve seen a heavier contingent of red deck running around, [card]Timely Reinforcements[/card] and [card]Celestial Purge[/card] both become better sideboard options. Tempered Steel against Red is a weird match in the first place since your removal is largely conditional and the main ways you can lose are to the grind cards like [card]Grim Lavamancer[/card] and [card]Spikeshot Elder[/card]. The other problem is if Steel gets put on the backfoot early, all of the creatures are pretty much dead to any removal spell or just trade without a Steel on the table.

Going bigger may end up being the answer, as early on [card]Spellskite[/card] is a good sponge for damage and the same goes for [card]Timely Reinforcements[/card]. Adding a few more ways to take advantage of extra time like Gideon Jura or another large drop could be just what does the trick if the format stays glued toward creature brawls and heavy spot removal strategies. Ancient Grudge is definitely a factor in sideboarding, but now that many red creatures can kill on their own instead of just bashing for two a turn the plans may need to evolve.

Reach now given primarily by lands: We just lost our main set of manlands and immediately they’ve been replaced by some of the Innistrad utility lands with [card]Kessig Wolf Run[/card], [card]Gavony Township[/card] and [card]Moorland Haunt[/card]. What’s strange is that these lands may end up having an even larger impact on the metagame simply because of the class of deck they best support and the lack of [card]Tectonic Edge[/card] as a potential answer. Still it should say something when decks are splashing entire colors for access to their utility land and merely one or two other cards from that color! I’ve seen a few people comment bashing on Todd Anderson running white in Illusions primarily for [card]Moorland Haunt[/card], but I think it was a great choice since Illusions has enough creatures for Haunt to function and the splash is free.

That’s really the key, the utility lands get the biggest bonus by going in nearly mono-color decks to begin with so that way they don’t bite you in the ass in regards to mana balance. As primarily single-color decks evolve and look to add a second color, look at the value of the lands you’ll be gaining. It may end up being the right move to just run your natural splash if you gain access to one of the stronger utility lands.

Why Pod failed: Birthing Pod was one of the more hyped strategies coming into the weekend and instead of any success, suffered the biggest beatings of any major strategy going into Indy. There seems to be two main structural flaws with Birthing Pod decks that will take time to correct and a host of minor metagame issues popping up. First let’s cover the two big problems; one being the absolute ineptitude of Pod decks without their namesake in play. This has been a known problem but was easier to overcome with [card]Preordain[/card] and [card]Sea Gate Oracle[/card] helping filter or simply running a valid plan B such as [card]Splinter Twin[/card] combo. We don’t have access to either plan anymore and frankly not enough has been done to correct this flaw.

Look, [card]Ponder[/card] without other reliable shuffle effects (outside of Pod itself) just isn’t going to cut it and the increase in artifact removal means seeing one [card]Birthing Pod[/card] may not be enough to get the deck rolling along. Right now Bant and other versions of Pod running blue simply aren’t packing enough card filtering or draw to reliably see a [card]Birthing Pod[/card]. They also aren’t running a coherent back-up plan such as [card]Mentor of the Meek[/card], going aggro with [card]Mirran Crusader[/card], [card]Geist of Saint Traft[/card] and [card]Blade Splicer[/card] or just more card selection like [card]Forbidden Alchemy[/card].

The second structural problem is tied to the first and that’s the sheer variance in opening hands. This is to be expected when a toolbox is involved, but steps can be taken to help keep the deck focused and still have a few dedicated answer slots. Without [card]Preordain[/card] or [card]Lotus Cobra[/card] to jump ahead to your best cards the number of keepable hands drops off a cliff. Unless Pod decks are modified to minimize mulligans you are coming out of the gate with a shot to the kneecap.

Finally look at what decks were succeeding this weekend, Solar Flare can arguably be a reasonable match (though lacking a good answer to Liliana is a joke), but Red Aggro is going to crush Pod. [card]Tree of Redemption[/card] is great and if everything is going to plan that can buy you a ton of time, but odds are you’ll never get to see the Tree and your host of awful early creatures are just going to get burnt away. Beating a [card]Stromkirk Noble[/card] on the draw seems impossible and even on the play feels like you need to get incredibly lucky to even be in the game.

Unless some of these core issues are addressed, Pod will flounder and meaningful refinements will be slow to appear. It wouldn’t surprise me to see a Pod deck do well as the strategy is one of the most powerful in the format, however I think some serious work needs to be done if the metagame remains hateful toward traditional Pod strategies.

UB Control and Solar Flare: Just like Pod, neither of these decks is anywhere near refined and we’ll need an adjustment period to see their true power level emerge. The difference is that it’s a lot harder to hate either of these strategies out and both have a lot more consistency to them than a Pod deck. Right now Solar Flare feels like a UB deck that trades solid mana for a cute gimmick in [card]Unburial Rites[/card], [card]Sun Titan[/card] and [card]Phantasmal Image[/card]. I fully expect Solar Flare to come into its own over time and make better use of the trifecta, but as it stands you really have to ask yourself if you want that trade-off without [card]Preordain[/card] in the format.

As for UB Control, [card]Mental Misstep[/card] and [card]Despise[/card] are both cards that were underrepresented in the SCG lists and lots of valid targets in the current format. Not to mention by eschewing some of the engine that Solar Flare packs, you have more room for all these cards without cutting into your core removal or countermagic. As for a deeper deck construction question the only one that really needs to be asked is if you want the old iteration of grind into six-drops or this newer version of grinding early game into just value. If the latter sounds a little odd, that’s because it is and one of the drawbacks of sliding in every new card into UB. Sometimes all you want is something that can end a game and UB pre-rotation was very good in that respect. It feels like people are forgetting this and focusing too much on getting ahead on resources only to have nothing to translate that into.

[deck]3 Grave Titan
2 Consecrated Sphinx
3 Snapcaster Mage
3 Mental Misstep
4 Mana Leak
1 Dissipate
2 Despise
3 Doom Blade
2 Black Sun’s Zenith
2 Forbidden Alchemy
4 Think Twice
4 Liliana of the Veil
4 Darkslick Shores
4 Drowned Catacomb
4 Inkmoth Nexus
8 Island
6 Swamp
Sideboard:
2 Wurmcoil Engine
1 Karn Liberated
2 Despise
3 Azure Mage
2 Surgical Extraction
1 Black Sun’s Zenith
2 Tribute to Hunger
2 Nihil Spellbomb[/deck]

Right now I’m torn between [card]Forbidden Alchemy[/card] or just maindecking [card]Azure Mage[/card] since most of the control strategies I’ve seen only have 4-8 ways to kill her. She also provides another blocker against aggressive strategies and having [card]Mental Misstep[/card] to back her and [card]Snapcaster Mage[/card] up is a huge boon. I probably wouldn’t play this exact 75 at a tournament, but I find it to be a reasonable starting place based on the decks we saw have success this weekend. Maybe even the old versions of slamming [card]Solemn Simulacrum[/card] and a full set of [card]Grave Titan[/card]s is an even better plan until control mirrors aren’t revolving entirely around haymakers.

That’s all for now and I’m eager to see some of the results from the Grudge Match 10k this past weekend and the upcoming SCG Nashville. This looks to be a really interesting Standard format out of the gate and hopefully it stays varied and we see a few new brews! Until then.

Josh Silvestri
e-mail me at: joshDOTsilvestriATgmailDOTcom

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