Silvestri Says – Standard States Session

Another week and another set of Open results to analyze and take in before States this weekend. With the release of Innistrad only finally coming to Magic Online this week* these results will be some of the defining factors when determining the metagame for this weekend. While Solar Flare finally had a chance to shine instead of merely being talked about, I’d really like to see the number breakdown because by all reports there was a fairly sizable chunk of the room playing it.

*Can we please do something about this? It shouldn’t be a problem to match up physical and online releases once the set is fully spoiled and even if you needed extra time to bug-test or appease LGS owners, a week after the physical release seems like more than enough time for all the initial sales and hype to be done with.

However the breakout deck from this weekend was clearly GR Wolf-Run or Neo-Valakut which was already a big deal just making top eight in a field full of Solar Flare and Red Aggro, but went on to win the whole tournament to boot. For those who haven’t seen the list yet:

[deck]3 Solemn Simulacrum
3 Wurmcoil Engine
1 Acidic Slime
1 Birds of Paradise
3 Primeval Titan
4 Viridian Emissary
4 Beast Within
4 Garruk, Primal Hunter
4 Green Sun’s Zenith
4 Rampant Growth
3 Slagstorm
9 Forest
3 Mountain
4 Copperline Gorge
4 Inkmoth Nexus
2 Kessig Wolf Run
4 Rootbound Crag
1 Ratchet Bomb
3 Sword of Feast and Famine
2 Tree of Redemption
1 Viridian Corrupter
4 Ancient Grudge
3 Thrun, the Last Troll
1 Slagstorm[/deck]

Brian Sondag did a really nice job with this deck, not only finding and exploiting a hole in the current metagame but doing so with a fairly optimized version of the strategy. Usually with decks like this there are numbers that immediately jump out at you and feel wrong at a glance. Often times these decks lack real refinement and while the base may be sound, some of the finer details may have been overlooked and glossed over. This on the other hand actually looks pretty well tuned and the numbers all make sense at a glance, which really surprised me. Once I got to playing with it I found very little I wanted to change with it and I would highly recommend trying this initial version before messing with it.

Most of the deck should be self-evident, but for anyone who doesn’t understand this is effectively another big ramp deck. Ideally you’ll play an early creature or two into a turn five [card]Primeval Titan[/card] fetching up a [card]Kessig Wolf Run[/card] and [card]Inkmoth Nexus[/card] and threaten to kill the following turn with a huge trampling Titan or poison flyer. Unlike Valakut you usually won’t be able to kill in a single shot and the back-up plan isn’t quite as good as having your lands do all the work for you, but fetching up a couple of [card]Inkmoth Nexus[/card] can be very effective against the current set of control decks in the format. Aggro on the other hand has very few ways to deal with the traditional six-drop problem, usually being able to handle one, but multiples will leave these decks high and dry. Against control you have a fair number of threats and [card]Phantasmal Image[/card] is pretty garbage against you if you stick a Titan, Remember that [card]Kessig Wolf Run[/card] can kill Image at will and copying [card]Primeval Titan[/card] in Flare doesn’t have anywhere near the effect of copying other Titans. Sure they still have [card]Sun Titan[/card], but only [card]Oblivion Ring[/card] is a major problem as [card]Inkmoth Nexus[/card] is great [card liliana of the veil]Liliana[/card] protection on a single Titan board.

Right now the only thing in the maindeck I would change is swapping a [card]Beast Within[/card] for the 4th [card]Primeval Titan[/card], which is just so valuable to the deck’s strategy. I mean in terms of importance of what you need to see in the first couple of turns [card]Primeval Titan[/card], [card]Garruk, Primal Hunter[/card] and [card]Green Sun’s Zenith[/card] are the top three by a fair margin so running any less than four of these seems a bit faulty. I would sooner run a 61st card then not run the 4th Titan in this deck after getting to play with around with it. In the maindeck that’s the only change I would make 100% of the time, past that it really depends on the metagame whether things like a maindeck Corrupter or a [card]Mayor of Avabruck[/card] would be nice additions. As far as the sideboard goes a single [card]Ratchet Bomb[/card] makes little sense to me; I love [card]Ratchet Bomb[/card] in the current field, but I just can’t see running it as a singleton in this type of deck. If you really want another cheap removal spell, use [card]Geistflame[/card] or [card]Devil’s Play[/card] both of which can easily be bought back later.

Actually [card]Devil’s Play[/card] was one of the other options that really intrigued me about the deck, even if the initial strategy is planned against decks like Solar Flare are going to have a heck of a time dealing with multiple [card]Fireball[/card]s on top of [card thrun, the last troll]Thrun[/card], Titans and [card]Inkmoth Nexus[/card]. I doubt this deck is going anywhere so just be aware of it this weekend and in the future. Moving backward in time to last week, there was what I believe to be a breakout deck of Indy that wasn’t Red Aggro based. A certain UW deck to be precise, just not Todd Anderson’s brew which he already gushed about in his own article so there’s no need for me to rehash. No, the WU deck I’m most interested in is the WU Humans deck played by Court Schuett.

For those who missed the list in a flood of deck discussions:

[deck]4 Champion of the Parish
4 Elite Vanguard
2 Gideon’s Lawkeeper
4 Grand Abolisher
3 Hero of Bladehold
4 Mirran Crusader
4 Angelic Destiny
4 Honor of the Pure
2 Oblivion Ring
2 Dismember
4 Geist of Saint Traft
12 Plains
4 Glacial Fortress
3 Moorland Haunt
4 Seachrome Coast
3 Torpor Orb
1 Oblivion Ring
1 Dismember
3 Negate
3 Purify the Grave
1 Gideon Jura
3 Revoke Existence[/deck]

This deck kills pretty quickly, not quite in the Tempered Steel range of decks, but usually around turn 5.5 with a pretty unassuming set of creatures and spells. The key which many people overlook is that while it kills slower than Steel or Red that it is very difficult to stop by contrast. Where as [card]Ancient Grudge[/card], [card]Celestial Purge[/card] and [card]Timely Reinforcements[/card] can make life very difficult for the typical fast deck in this format, Humans does a great job of ignoring or marginalizing these threats. It also happens to feature some of the best post-Day threats in the format with [card]Angelic Destiny[/card], [card]Geist of Saint Traft[/card] and [card]Moorland Haunt[/card].

With a lot more time to play around with the deck I can say that I think this is one of the best decks in the format. Oddly enough many of the cards I thought would be the strongest ended up being completely wrong and I would actually make some odd swaps. First off I think this is the wrong deck for [card]Hero of Bladehold[/card], which is very odd for me to think because I love using Hero in any white-base aggro strategy. Here though it tends to be on the wrong side of the curve and just doesn’t compete with any of the three drops already in the deck. I’d rather have another two to help with curve consideration than another late-game threat in this configuration. Hero tends to just die or is unable to swing into a Titan on the other side of the board and that’s an important trait for a four to have.

Instead I’ve got a pair of [card]Phantasmal Image[/card]s and the possibility of a few other two drops in the deck. Before we begin discussing two drops though its important to consider if you want to run [card]Honor of the Pure[/card] or not. Personally I am not a fan of Honor, it isn’t a bad card, but it gets boarded out in nearly every match and unless you have [card]Moorland Haunt[/card] running you just don’t get a ton of upside out of it. Where as [card]Angelic Destiny[/card] is a riskier card it’ll almost always have a major impact on the game while Honor is just a cute card to have in some games. This is a good detail to have when picking out two drops because many of them aren’t combat worthy without pump so you need to decide if that’s going to be a factor in deciding.

The short list of options – [card]Accorder Paladin[/card], [card]Cloistered Youth[/card], [card]Porcelain Legionnaire[/card], [card]Vault Skirge[/card], [card]Azure Mage[/card] and [card]Snapcaster Mage[/card]

Most of these cards are straightforward point and shoot, the interesting ones are obviously the blue cards due to their attached abilities. Clearly [card]Snapcaster Mage[/card] has almost no targets and even if we added a couple there wouldn’t be a heck of a lot there for him to do, so why consider him at all? Thing is [card]Snapcaster Mage[/card] actually does start to become a real boy when you take sideboarded games into account because you’ll often be boarding in 4-8 spells which can be rebought. It all depends if you want to run maindeck counters or have sideboarding plans consisting of mostly instants and sorceries. [card]Azure Mage[/card] on the other hand is a slow draw engine, which is usually just going to be a 2/1 dork, but can be very useful in the Flare and UB matches. If they don’t kill her early then you can draw a couple of extra cards and often those will put the game heavily in your favor.

Of course if all you want is pure speed, then [card]Accorder Paladin[/card] is definitely the way to go as it pumps [card]Champion of the Parish[/card] and pumps any other creatures you play. Later in the game it can be used as a one-shot pump spell for your flying creatures when going in for the last few points of damage. If you want a combat worthy creature then Legionnaire far surpasses the rest thanks to first strike, but has the least synergy with the deck and lacks any real late-game use.

The options for removal are quite simple, [card]Oblivion Ring[/card] is the catch-all and [card]Dismember[/card] is the cheap blocker removal. If you want an alternative card that’s cheap and doesn’t cost life while still being useful later in the game, [card]Bonds of Faith[/card] is an interesting option to explore. The pump can occasionally come in handy for close races, it can shut down [card]Stromkirk Noble[/card] and Titans and only being two mana puts it a step ahead of all the alternatives for 3rd option. Personally I’m all for [card]Accorder Paladin[/card] getting the nod right now since scant few decks are playing early game creatures that they want to trade off. Outside of actual aggro decks, most decks wouldn’t want to trade their threes with Paladin and it bumps the clock up by at least a turn.

Sideboard-wise the listed version is definitely a product of an unknown metagame and has the telltale signs of trying to cover every base. If I were packing a boxed lunch for my States trip, then I would run 15 of the following.

3 [card]Revoke Existence[/card] 3-4 [card]Celestial Purge[/card] 3-4 [card]Negate[/card] 0-3 [card]Shrine of Loyal Legions[/card] 0-3 [card]Bonds of Faith[/card] 0-2 [card]Surgical Extraction[/card] 0-4 [card]Mental Misstep[/card] 0-4 [card]Timely Reinforcements[/card] 0-2 [card]Gideon Jura[/card]

Here’s my current list:
[deck]4 Champion of the Parish
4 Elite Vanguard
2 Gideon’s Lawkeeper
4 Grand Abolisher
2 Phantasmal Image
2 Accorder Paladin
4 Mirran Crusader
4 Geist of Saint Traft
4 Angelic Destiny
3 Dismember
2 Oblivion Ring
1 Bonds of Faith
1 Sword of War and Peace
12 Plains
4 Glacial Fortress
3 Moorland Haunt
4 Seachrome Coast
4 Negate
3 Revoke Existence
3 Celestial Purge
2 Bonds of Faith
3 Shrine of Loyal Legions[/deck]

Well with that out of the way, I want to briefly touch on the format and how it is shaping up.

The Poles of Standard

Solar Flare / UB Control

GR Wolf-Run / WU Blade

WU Humans / Aggro Tokens

Mono Red / Tempered Steel

At the top we have the control decks which aim to drag every game into a long attrition fight until the opponent finally succumbs to card advantage and powerful six-drops. These are the only decks with access to real disruption elements that aren’t primarily board control, which is a very notable factor when taking them into consideration. You have to remember that things like [card]Despise[/card] plus [card]Snapcaster Mage[/card] can be a backbreaking play against decks on other ends of the spectrum. Midrange decks power largely come from fours, fives and Planeswalkers so these deck’s abilities to deal with them directly is a huge point in their favor.

Still sticking on the inevitable side of the spectrum we have decks like WU Blade, GR Wolf-Run and Birthing Pod. All of these decks are at least concerned with winning via inevitability, it’s just that while Solar Flare doesn’t mind going to turn 30 and winning, these decks would rather lock up the game by turn 10 and crush you with difficult to stop threats. The Wolf-Run deck is a great example of this, effectively being an iteration of Valakut that isn’t incredibly unfun to play against or impossible to stop. It seeks to put you in an awkward position around turn five and keep hammering away with haymakers until either you have no hand and die or the opponent is covered in bee strings / stomped into the dirt. Instead of just focusing on board control, these decks only want to do enough to open up a space where their own heavy hitters will be difficult to deal with.

Falling back toward the aggressive side comes WU Humans and the GW Token decks that run 400 Anthem effects which let them race most decks. Early versions of both were plagued by consistency problems, but the more I see of them the more I see the speed and resilience of both decks increase. Both contain elements which punish slower decks and race the midrange decks that would normally just try to clear the board once and then Titan them to death. Note that many of the control elements are currently hiding in people’s sideboards though and that the maindecks are mostly focused on speed.

Finally we have the fastest end of the spectrum which is currently only composed of Mono Red and Tempered Steel, two decks where the goal is just to race every single deck except each other. Both have lost speed from their pre-rotation iterations but both remain the fastest decks in the environment by at least a turn and have actually gained cards that add a bit of resilience. Red Aggro for example isn’t just a terrible [card]Goblin Guide[/card] deck anymore, instead a lot of the cards in the deck are relevant for longer periods of time than previous red decks. Tempered Steel was effectively forced to run more late-game threats by virtue of [card]Ancient Grudge[/card] being reprinted and [card]Day of Judgment[/card] existing.

If one were to pigeon-hole these decks into typical archetypical standards then I would it breaks down into:

Which is an interesting dichotomy compared to the past couple of Standard formats where we had one obviously top-tier strategy and one or more of these classes of deck simply failed to exist. Additionally there’s no sure-fire links between speed and victory, in general each pole has issues with at least one other pole and very few of them have free rides regardless of strategy. The most lopsided matches I’ve run into so far are Mono Red and RG Wolf against Solar Flare, the first simply due to the inconsistency of draws in Solar Flare and lack of relevant cards G1* and the Wolf Run deck because of the lack of ways Flare can keep up with opposing “Go Big” strategies. On the other hand a Solar Flare attuned against red can have drastically different results and usually demolishes the other midrange strategies available in the format. Long story short even the matches that are supposedly bad have a fair amount of play to them and having a good plan or against inferior competition can quickly push a match back to even.

*Many builds are now maindecking [card]Timely Reinforcements[/card] and some have [card]Gideon Jura[/card], which definitely helps.

GW Tokens as a strategy is likely the second most powerful midrange plan you can be on right now. While it lacks the power of a [card]Primeval Titan[/card] plan, it also is a lot quicker to establish a board position and [card]Gavony Township[/card] is nearly as powerful as [card]Kessig Wolf Run[/card]. While having a large number of Anthem effects isn’t my cup of tea as they can make opening mulligans rather obnoxious. The base white version is a lot nicer in that respect, all of your creatures get boosts from [card]Honor of the Pure[/card] and the early drops will nearly always be the proper mana to curve out on. The deck should not be underestimated and outside of a surprisingly bad game one against Red Aggro I think it has a solid shot against most of the field. As long as UB and Solar Flare don’t adapt [card]Curse of Death’s Hold[/card] everything should be fine against slow decks.

Above I mentioned that one downside is that tokens lacks the Primeval Titan jump in mana and tutor to make [card]Gavony Township[/card] a real threat in practically every game. Here’s a sample of slower GW Tokens which may have potential.

[deck]4 Viridian Emissary
4 Solemn Simulacrum
4 Primeval Titan
3 Timely Reinforcements
4 Midnight Haunting
3 Geist-Honored Monk
4 Elspeth Tirel
4 Shrine of Loyal Legions
2 Oblivion Ring
2 Day of Judgment
1 Kessig Wolf Run
1 Inkmoth Nexus
4 Gavony Township
3 Copperline Gorge
4 Razorverge Thicket
4 Sunpetal Grove
7 Plains
1 Forest
1 Mountain
4 Ancient Grudge
3 Wurmcoil Engine
1 Timely Reinforcements
1 Oblivion Ring
3 Sword of Feast and Famine
3 Thrun, the Last Troll[/deck]

This is just a first draft and some of the ideas may not work out, like the small red splash for Wolf-Run and [card]Ancient Grudge[/card] in the sideboard. Similarly perhaps Garruk is a better fit than some of the other token generators, although I’m a large fan of [card]Shrine of Loyal Legions[/card] and sticking with primary white. [card]Primeval Titan[/card] fetching up [card]Gavony Township[/card], [card]Kessig Wolf Run[/card] and [card]Inkmoth Nexus[/card] is huge and provide some of the best late-game you have in the format. Having any board presence along with the utility lands can quickly become a major force even against opposing Titans. Honestly the GW Tokens deck feels so much stronger with a [card]Gavony Township[/card] in play that the possibility of hitting one consistently just feels like a no-brainer as something to test out.

As for control, I’m a bigger fan of straight UW or UB than Solar Flare and still haven’t gotten over how bad most of the mana bases are for these decks. Most of them honestly want UBBWW by turn four and with the way they are configured this just isn’t all that likely unless you draw multiple Scars lands and basics and just duck the M11 land section of the deck. Sometimes I think everyone is still building mana like they would if [card]Preordain[/card] was still in the format to help smooth out draws. Past that complaint, I do enjoy seeing people take aggro serious and maindeck more removal and the near universal adoption of two or three [card]Timely Reinforcements[/card] in the maindeck. Timely isn’t unbeatable and people can now focus on defeating the card along with Day without worrying about scooping to a third of the metagame by slowing their deck down.

So what do you gain in exchange of scooping on tri-color shells other than better mana? Well for starters you actually have more room to do powerful things like playing [card]Despise[/card] or [card]Gideon Jura[/card] in their respective control strategies. Despise is one of the best cards in the format right now and against any deck that isn’t red or Flare, casting a [card]Despise[/card] and rebuying it with [card]Snapcaster Mage[/card] will often deplete most hands of all significant threats. UW on the other hand doesn’t really do this, but it has room for [card]Gideon Jura[/card] and can jam the maximum amount of counters post-board in the grind mirrors. Not to mention [card]Geist of Saint Traft[/card] is still a big deal and effectively forces decks like UB and Flare to leave in sweepers when they would love to have better anti-control cards.

Solar Flare is still a very powerful deck though and has one of the best late-game plans in the format. When the mana is clicking and the deck is running well then it’ll absolutely demolish opponents on the back of strong cards and having real card advantage engines. If midrange grows in popularity it isn’t a tough sell to up the permission count or add [card]Despise[/card], which can make life very difficult for these types of decks. Since Flare is one of the decks everyone is gunning for though making a real 75 is going to come down to ten or twelve flex spots between your maindeck and sideboard. If they aren’t correct then your chances of winning a longer tournament fall off a cliff.

That’s all for today and about as much as I can get into before States without doing full breakdowns on archetypes. Good luck to those hitting up an event this weekend and enjoy this diverse Standard format.

Josh Silvestri
Email me at: joshDOTsilvestriATgmailDOTcom


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