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PV’s Playhouse – Standard Frontrunners: Bx and UWx

Hello!

Journey into Nyx is finally legal, and we’ve already seen its impact in Standard in the SCG Open. The impact, however, was not nearly as strong as I expected it to be, given how powerful the set is in comparison to Born of the Gods. This is largely a function of the set being very new and inserted into an already deeply established metagame, and I expect it to change as people have more chances to play with the Journey cards. Today I’m going to analyze the two main archetypes from the tournament: Bx and UWx.

B/G Devotion – Andrew Tenjum

This is your standard mono-black deck with a green splash, which was made possible by Temple of Malady—probably the most influential card from the new set right now. I think Abrupt Decay is a very powerful card. It kills Sphere and Banishing Light, and lets you play the Connections game against Esper, which is your best strategy. That said, 10 green sources is not much, and while I think it’s enough for Vraska and Golgari Charm, I’m not comfortable with having my early-game spells be uncastable, and in this build with no Bile Blight, a big part of your early game is Abrupt Decay. I would be slightly (only a little slightly) happier with an extra source, and I think that can be a Forest since you do not play Nightveil Specter (you can play Temple of Mystery if you do).

Even with an extra source, I’d still like to have at least two Bile Blights. I think it’s important to be able to play something on turn two, to be able to kill Pack Rat, and it even has some applications against Elspeth tokens as well. For that, I would cut the Vraska (I don’t see it doing much for you, now that you already have other ways to get rid of Oblivion Rings) and then another removal spell, which can be a Hero’s Downfall or a Devour Flesh. If the metagame moves from BW to BG, I think you need Devour Flesh less (since people play fewer Blood Barons) and you can cut that. If you expect it to still be good, you can cut a Downfall. It’s also an option to cut both and play an Erebos, which is a better late game than Vraska anyway, though it might be less necessary now that you have effectively more Connections against the control decks.

As for the sideboard, the one card I’m not a fan of is Dark Betrayal. I don’t think it’s a huge improvement over your existing removal in the mirror, and you don’t really want it against anything else. I see people boarding some in against Mono-Blue to deal with Nightveil Specter but I am strongly against it, especially now that all your removal kills Specter too. With Bile Blight, Downfall, Devour Flesh, and Hero’s Downfall as your existing options, I really don’t see the need to board a card that kills exactly one of their four Specters. Specter is a card that you want to kill on sight, so you need Dark Betrayal at the exact moment (otherwise you will spend another removal on it and then draw Dark Betrayal later and it will be blank).

A similar deck is the BW midrange that was played by Alex Gfroerer:

I am not a super fan of BW. I think it’s a solid deck but I like the other Bx decks better, including Mono-Black for the most part. That said, as far as BWs go, I disagree with a ton of the choices Alex made. The first one is in the mana base. Mana Confluence is just too painful to run in a deck that plans on using it every turn, is not particularly aggressive, and already has Thoughtseize and Connections, and no Gray Merchant. I think people really underestimate how much damage you take from that card—particularly if you play two—and the cost of running a Plains or a Guildgate would be much smaller.

The second is running maindeck Duress, and not running four Connections. Having six discard spells against non-control decks is probably too much air if you only have three ways to draw extra cards, and my maximum would probably be one maindeck Duress with four Connections. Playing Duress main indicates that he expects to see a lot of UWx and black decks (the two decks Duress is good against, along with the more fringe Burn), but Connections is even better against those two decks (it is the reason Duress is good!), so playing Duress but not maxing on Connections sends a big conflicting message to me.

Then, there’s plain Mono-Black:

There isn’t much to see here, except that he also has Dark Betrayal in the sideboard and I also think it’s bad here.

Overall, my order for those decks is BG > Mono-B > BW.

In second place, we had UW:

U/W Control Eric Rill

Eric Rill’s build brings up two of the old questions about control, and in both I disagree with his decision.

The first is UW or Esper, and the main difference is better mana for an edge in the mirror. The better mana is not that significant, especially since you’re going to run 10 lands that come into play tapped anyway. In fact, I would argue that playing a Temple is almost as good for fixing your mana as playing a Gate, since you get to scry into more lands if you need them, but miles better if you do not need to fix your mana. In fact, Temples are the best in Esper/UW of all decks. In those decks, your cards have drastically different values at all points in the game, and in every spot there are cards you really don’t want and cards you really want, and when you swap one for the other (e.g. a Celestial Flare for a Revelation in the late game, or a Revelation for a Supreme Verdict early on) then it’s game-changing. If you compare it to a more linear deck where cards have similar values, you’ll notice that in those decks you’ll almost always keep any spell because it doesn’t make much of a difference what you draw as long as it’s business.

All that is to say that I think Temples are very good in control decks and not that much of a cost if you want to play black—they are actually an incentive sometimes, especially in control mirrors where the deck with 12 Temples will have a natural edge over the deck with 6, even if they play the exact same cards. They do not, however. Thoughtseize is a trump unlike anything the UW deck has to offer. To me, not playing black presents a big sacrifice in the mirror for not much of a real gain in any other matchup, and that’s not even mentioning the matchups where black removal might be necessary (RG Monsters for example). I am strongly in favor of playing black.

The other choice is Aetherling versus Elixir, and I am also firmly in the Aetherling camp. Elixir is a win-more card that will do nothing for you if you don’t have the game locked up, and I don’t see why you’d be so confident in having the game locked up. Sometimes you just trade removal spells and counterspells and then you both end up with one or zero cards. In this situation, if your one card is Aetherling you win the game, if it’s Elixir it does nothing.

As for removal, I’m not a super fan of four Azorius Charms, though Last Breath has gotten worse now that many of the black decks don’t play Specter. I’d still try to diversify a bit, and another advantage of the black deck is that it can run some Doom Blades if it wants to.

As for the new cards, Eric chose to play one Banishing Light. I think the right number is between one and two. I still think you want four Detention Spheres because, outside of the mirror, the ability to take multiple things is very important. In the mirror it’s a drawback, but you can’t have too many Banishing Lights against other UW decks because if they ever Detention Sphere two of them then you’re in real trouble. In this deck, I would certainly cut two Azorius Charms for a second Banishing Light and a second Syncopate.

Nyx-Fleece Ram is another new card in the sideboard, and one I like quite a lot. Against aggressive decks, it’s a two-mana card that blocks one-and-a-half creatures, and gets you out of burn range really quickly. I like one Blind Obedience against decks with Dragons and Hydras, but against the RW deck I think Nyx-Fleece is better.

Another interesting deck was the UWR deck that got 4th place, inspired by Saito’s Tweets (in case anyone is unaware, Saito’s been Tweeting many Standard decks with the new set).

U/W/R Control

Now that Izzet has a Temple, the mana base is theoretically as good as Esper’s, so it’s also a possibility. If you go Izzet, you get this:

Of those cards, the most interesting to me in the main is Keranos, particularly against black. It is, however, a massive downgrade against control decks. I don’t think you are looking very good if they have Aetherling and you don’t. I think Firemind’s Foresight is cute but very bad; all it does for you is get a bad removal spell and a Sphinx’s Revelation, plus a Quicken that you shouldn’t be playing anyway. I would certainly remove the Firemind’s Foresight for an Aetherling to give you a fighting chance against other control decks, and I’d remove the Quicken for a random card in your collection. If you get a card that’s not Standard legal, then you’ll take a game loss and have to replace it with a basic land, which is probably still better than having to play Quicken in a deck with four sorceries and 18 lands that you want to play tapped.

Izzet Charm and Turn // Burn are fine removal spells, but I’m not particularly excited about them and, as far as removal spells go, they are not much better than the removal UW can already play (unlike the black removal which kills dudes that were harder to kill before). It’s particularly annoying that none of it can kill Nightveil Specter, unless you want to spend five mana. I would certainly make Detention Sphere a four-of as well.

In the sideboard, the card that excites me the most is Anger of the Gods. Supreme Verdict is super important against certain decks, and having access to six of them in the matchups where you want them is huge. The main problem with it is that it’s actually very hard to cast. With 10 red sources, you’re around 50% to cast one on turn three. I’m assuming if you have Anger in your deck you want to cast it early, and 50% chance to do it is really low. There’s still around a 20% chance you can’t cast it on turn eight if you haven’t drawn any extra cards!

The mana problem, coupled with the fact that Anger is not an actual Wrath (doesn’t kill Frostburn Weird, Master, any of the creatures from RG Monsters, which are the matchups where you’d want more Wraths) makes me think that red is, at this moment, just not worth it. Counterflux is certainly a good card but I don’t think it’s better than Thoughtseize—it is at most comparable. Adding red to your deck makes it very slightly better against black because of Keranos (and at which point maybe run another in the board?) but makes you worse against everyone else. That said, if you do want to play red, I’d try this:

I’m not sure about the Anger of the Gods in the sideboard.

That said, I still think UWR is better than UW. It’s going to be better in the mirror because of the Temples and because Counterflux is better than anything they can add against you, but the Esper deck is still better than both. My order would be Esper > UWR > UW.

Moving forward, I think the format is going to change a little bit and we’re going to see some of the multicolored aggro decks that Mana Confluence allows—Naya was already a playable deck before, for example (roughly tier 5, but playable) and now it becomes better. WWb is also a better deck than it was before, and that deck was actually quite decent. Now it gets a better mana base and can run Athreos. This will not make the current frontrunners of the format, Bx and UWx, necessarily worse, but it will force adaptations, particularly in the removal package. Removal will have to be cheaper (Bile Blight over Hero’s Downfall, for example), and running something that can’t kill a creature with more than 2 toughness is going to look really bad if people play multicolored powerful creatures or Spears of Heliod. As for me, I’d like to try many things, but, knowing what I know now, if there were a Standard tournament tomorrow I’d just play this list:

The sideboard is more of a general guide, I would change it depending on my expectations.

That’s what I have for today!

I hope you’ve enjoyed it, see you next week!

 

[Editor’s Note: The UWR list mistakenly included Quickening Licid rather than Quicken.]

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