This weekend was SCG Oakland and I didn’t want to run either Jeskai or Mono-Red again. While I enjoyed the flexibility Jeskai provided, the low overall power level wasn’t my cup of tea. As a few Tweets pointed out, while you could change your role at a given moment in a game a lot of that was based on what you drew. Faeries tended to do that whenever it felt appropriate. If you draw a creature-heavy hand with Jeskai you don’t actually get to change roles.
Mono-Red faced life in the spotlight now. Every deck with red or black runs some kind of sweeper, green decks run more life gain, Hornet Nest is increasing in popularity, and the mirror is a crapshoot. Normally I like red mirrors because being slightly slower almost guarantees a win in the fairer formats. In this format that means boarding in more lands which means devoting way too many slots to trying to win a mirror match. It also lacks a real way to punish sorcery-speed life gain like Flames of the Blood Hand or Skullcrack.
Instead I looked to the various green midrange decks floating around and found myself wanting. Temur was the closest to a deck I wanted to play, but the mana is punishing at times and on the draw you can be stuck on the back foot the entire game without an early Knuckleblade. I saw Caleb’s list from the TCG Championship and immediately wanted to jam it. I mean Hornet Nest was already getting some push from Matt Sperling in Green Devotion and adding Setessan Tactics to the mix seemed even better. Make a million hornets on the cheap and the opponent probably isn’t winning, have those same hornets clear out the opponent’s board and we’re definitely winning.
So this was what forced me to restart Magic Online yet again, buy cards, and start battling. A few 2-mans and a 4-0 Daily later I found that people really did not like my Hornet Nest package. This was great, although Tactics felt underwhelming and frequently my Abzan and GB opponents would gleefully Bile Blight or Drown in Sorrow my guys away. If they were particularly jerky they would just Murderous Cut my Hornet Nest in response. Still, Hornet Nest also had plenty of games where it singlehandedly stonewalled a much larger force and bought me time to play Hornet Queen to cruise to victory.
After a 4-0 and 3-0-split in another pair of Daily Events I finalized my list for Bees in the Trap:
My main changes from Caleb’s deck were to cut down on Tactics, because frankly the Hornet Nests were doing their job just fine without them and I was too scared of getting wrecked. I would likely go back up to two in the main deck, even with only three Nest if I was going to continue using the bee package. My addition of Voyaging Satyr was excellent and I recommend that anyone running the deck add a 9th mana creature. I prefer Voyaging because it blocks 1/1s and Rattleclaw rarely does anything truly exciting. Reclamation Sage is another card that isn’t much fun to draw, but is invaluable against decks with Whip of Erebos and can deal with Doomwake Giant or Eidolon of Blossoms. It also gives you some game against Jeskai Ascendancy which otherwise just gets to goldfish you.
Crater’s Claws is a ridiculous card in anything running more than four mana creatures and especially one that can take advantage of Ashcloud Phoenix. Adding a second was a no-brainer after battling against the other green decks in the field and provided a nice out against Mardu. Nissa, on the other hand, did a whole lot of dying and not much actual work. For five mana I’d rather have a Dragon in every non-UB match and if I wanted a cheaper threat there’s Ashcloud. Nissa just doesn’t really work in a world where 4/4s are the norm and decks like this exist because of that fact.
So despite my traditional disdain for GR Monsters, as it’s often outclassed by similar decks with powerful four- and five-drops, I really liked how this lined up. Plus, I didn’t have enough significant experience with another deck to audible, so I played GR Bees at the Open. Overall the deck performed very well and I made many hornets so I can’t complain much about the configuration of it. I went 5-2, losing to Mardu Midrange from ChannelFireball Game Center regular Danny Roldan, which was reasonable. I think that match is legitimately bad post-board if they side into a control deck with a bunch of random 4/5 power fliers as finishers. In game 3, it turned out that had I been more aggressive I might have won because he ripped the Murderous Cut and Butcher that put the game out of reach.
Temur Aggro was my other loss and I blame that mostly on never playing the match before. Often when I lose green mirrors not involving Doomwake Giant it’s to one very similar thing: They go three games, and I lose with lethal on board to Crater’s Claws. I added the second one to the main deck precisely because I was so tired of watching Crater’s Claws kill me when no other card possibly could. It also provided a useful way to deal with an obnoxious flyer when I didn’t have bees around.
With some bees out on defense I used a Polukranos to clear out a Rattleclaw Mystic and Heir of the Wilds playing defense. This let me attack with my three Elvish Mystics and a Voyaging Satyr while also swinging for 4 in the air. My opponent had an Ashcloud and I was at 12. I battled him, left some bees back, he played his own Polukranos and haumphed my blocking bees and hit me to 8. I saw from his reaction he had Claws and whiffed on my draw for a Chord/Courser/Disciple/Claws to end the game. I hit him to 5 and told him to show me Claws and he had it.
There was a possibility of using the Polukranos to knock Ashcloud out of the air once two turns earlier, even though the unmorph means I still lose 2 life. Alternatively I could’ve held back more bees to survive a PolyK eating multiple bees. But that seemed awkward when every turn potentially drew him Claws or another Ashcloud or Polukranos and my clock was only 4 damage instead of 8. I feel like I could’ve played more conservatively at one junction at least and won, I wish I had a replay of this game so I could go through it, I suspect I’d find at least two play errors and misboarding on my side.
My wins were 2 Abzan, 2 Mono-Red*, and a RUG Devotion. (*I conceded after winning round seven since I had made the decision to drop.)
GR Bees is well-rounded and positioned reasonably against the fields we’ve seen. I feel like Caleb got in on it at the perfect time, he could pick on the maximum amount of Abzan and similar green midrange decks and not get punished by anything else. After this week I’m pretty convinced that people are going to be moving away from Abzan and on to decks that put up a better fight.
For example, in the GR mirror you have a pretty big advantage over the normal GR Monsters build. Hornet Queen and Nest brick all their creatures until they find a Nylea to get by you. Setessan Tactics also means that you can set up situations where, if they don’t clear them out with Polukranos, Tactics eventually wins through any board state. It isn’t unreasonable to create a situation where Hornet Nest plus Tactics creates seven or more tokens on its own.
Unfortunately now the best big green deck has Whip of Erebos which means they can rebuy on Hornet Queen all they want. This would still be beatable except for the small issue of Doomwake Giant clearing out your side of the board. So we get punished two distinct ways and while Chording for Reclamation Sage has been enough for me to triumph over GB more often than I’d expect, it’s a tough match. This new Abzan version? It has scary creatures other than just Hornet Queen and can utilize a combo of Murderous Cut and Doomwake Giant to force those endless Siege Rhinos at me.
If that was all it was, I could figure something out or even just chalk it up as a rough match and move on with life. However this weekend also introduced a Jeskai Ascendancy combo deck that had a real dual-role going on. While making a bunch of bees can force them into combo or bust mode, these heroic creatures can get out of hand very quickly. You may be forced to run more real removal simply to make sure you don’t lose to a Hoplite that got out of control early, Gods Willing is a very easy way to lose from a reasonable life total.
Again, being able to fetch up Reclamation Sage gives it a slight edge in dealing with it where other decks may struggle. That’s not enough though and you need to really think about what concessions you’ll make to the deck. Either you run more removal to keep the plan A in check or lean more heavily on the Hornet Nests to keep you alive and run more enchantment removal so you don’t lost to the plan B. I don’t think the match is terrible once you tweak the deck a bit.
This Standard format has been amazing so far and continues to impress with how deep it is. Abzan and Jeskai were the level one decks for the weekend—decks full of good cards with a fair bit of customization. In fact, I think the only reason Jeskai is so popular among pros is because of how much you can adapt it.
Level two was what I was on, Boros, Temur Aggro, and Mardu Midrange—decks with plans against the level one decks and also reasonable sideboard options for each other. In essence, every single deck can become something different if it wants to, post-board. We see this occassionally with combo and control decks from time to time, from Dark Ritual into Phyrexian Negator or Nightveil Specters out of Esper Control. Now everyone seems to have a reasonable transformation plan if you want to devote the sideboard slots to it.
Level three for this weekend goes to the decks that ended up making the biggest splash—Jeksai Heroic and GB Whip/Devotion. These decks both solve green midrange by having the ability to punch through the threat packages of Abzan and GR Monsters while also having a plan to beat Hornet Queen from the other big green decks. Against Jeskai and Mardu which can go more controlling, both strategies have a number of ways to keep the threats flowing for a long game. Simply answering one angle isn’t good enough.
And of course, there’s always mono-red, which lost a lot of luster over the past two weeks. If the hate fades away again then suddenly red becomes a real scary deck again, it already has the best game-one percentages of anything in the format. It also has a reasonable clock against the Heroic and Devotion strategies along with Eidolon of the Great Revel to really hose the combo side. Moving forward, what may define metagame the most is how many people start dumping these more sideboard-dependent game two and game three plans and start moving back toward lots of answers. These metagame swings also may make control a more appealing option, as trying to go the distance against bigger green plans and creature combo is one of the things it excels at.
Standard combines a wide variety of decks and archetypes, with flexibility in those same archetypes, and lots of relevant decisions for almost every deck in the format. It is nearly the exact opposite of the format we dealt with over the past year. Regardless of how history grades Khans, it was one of the best-timed releases ever. It helped create a new vibrant Standard, has one of the best Limited formats of the past five years, and shook up all the older formats to boot. I’m looking forward to playing as much as I can before Fate Reforged comes out.
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