It’s nice to finally be back with another article. I was unable to write last week because of a sudden illness that made me spend most of my time on Josh Utter-Leyton’s couch. Why did I agree to come to California when it wasn’t even going to be warm here? The weather got better, tons of Magic players came to town, and my illness went away. All perfect conditions for a great week of testing. I spent most of the week working on Standard and found out tons of interesting things about the format.
Top 5 Standard decks
#1 Valakut Ramp
The first thing to talk about is Valakut. This deck is still the top dog in the format. Every time a format rolls around, there is this deck. The deck that is very good at what it does and everyone has a tough time figuring out how to attack it. Last season we had Jund. It was easily the fan favorite and was at every table from Friday Night Magic all the way to the finals of Worlds. The competitors at Worlds thought they had found their solution, but only one deck did this and it was Mike Flores’ own Naya Lightsaber deck. The decklist didn’t look pretty nor did it do anything cute, but it did smash Jund.
This has been happening for a while now; a deck that is very straight forward but super powerful being the face of Standard. Valakut is also a fairly easy deck to pilot. I will not take away from the very good players piloting the deck, but the difference between a good player playing Valakut and a bad player is less noticeable than them playing RUG or U/X control. This makes it a true threat at any event.
Going into Worlds, I would be surprised to not see this deck as the most played archetype. It does not seem that people have found out how to attack it in the best possible way. There are decent strategies that beat the deck (in theory), but then sacrifice so much in other matchups in the process. I have never been the type to get in a line and follow instead of making my paths, but I think that might change this Worlds. This deck is just that good…
So let’s talk about how to play against this deck. The first place I want to look is when you have counterspells. Countermagic is very good against this deck if used correctly. The biggest mistake I see players make against this deck is using it on their ramp spells without a real reason. They just think that they can buy themselves a turn and a draw step to create a game plan. This is just wrong.
The only time you want to counter a piece of the ramp (Harrow does not count. Counter them just for the lol factor) is if you have a proactive strategy you are trying to set up. This is most popular in the RUG deck. RUG has the ability to counter a piece of ramp when they have a few green monsters in play or are going to try to attack with Raging Ravine and finish them off with burn the turn they cast Primeval Titan. This is something I have used many times to finish off my Titan opponent. The other is when you want to set up a Jace, the Mind Sculptor before they can drop a Titan while you are tapped out. This is a great way to dig for more countermagic and just grind them out.
You really want to hold your counterspells for their threats when you don’t have anything proactive to do. It comes down to hoping they don’t have anything to follow up with after one-two threats. This sometimes happens and is the best way to try to take these games.
The other way to attack this deck is be very aggressive. This deck cannot interact with you before turn 4 if it does not draw a Lightning Bolt. This means it is very easy to just beat them down before they have time to get going. I think this reason alone sparked the birth of the next deck on the list.
#2 B/R Vampires
For those of you who don’t know what this deck is.
This is a new deck that has been doing very well on Magic Online. It uses the best Vampires to be very aggressive and the best burn to help out against any of the other decks’ early creatures. It is very good.
I didn’t think much of it when I first saw the deck but it has been testing very well. It has been my go to deck to pilot in testing since it is very powerful and also a ton of fun to play with. There is an abundance of lists floating around right now since it is a newer deck. Most of them are not running the Sword of Body and Mind maindeck but it is an interesting way to take the deck. Most of the versions I’m familiar with have more Arc Trails main.
There are some downsides to this deck just like any other. The creatures in the deck are rather weak. They can not fight another creature deck properly without some removal back up. This means there are draws that just don’t compete with another deck’s creature rush. When the deck does draw a decent mix, it is unstoppable.
Gerry Thompson was the first person talking about [card]Dark Tutelage[/card] being good, and boy was he right. This card fuels this deck against any control/ramp deck. Ramp will kill you no matter what your life total is and control will have a tough time dealing with the amount of fuel you constantly get from the card. This isn’t even bad against an aggressive deck under the right conditions.
Decks can attack this deck with the right tools. Pyroclasm is a strong card if the Vampire player didn’t draw enough Bloodghasts and didn’t play around the card. It also is a cheap way to deal with the early push and progress your board. Creatures like Obstinate Baloth are also a big threat in this matchup. They are just bigger than any creature or removal spell in the deck outside of Doom Blade.
This deck is near and dear to my heart. I split the finals of a 1k while in San Jose with the deck last weekend.
2nd Place: Brad Nelson – RUG
This deck has changed a ton and is still one of the most powerful decks in the format. The reason this deck is so good is that it can change its spells so easily to be good for any environment. It has done very well in tournaments since its existence and should be able to put up some more finishes.
Since this deck is Michael Jacobs’ child, it is only deserving that he is always right when it comes down to how to change it. He suggested Tumble Magnets and Inferno Titans and they delivered. Even though this is the version I did well with does not mean it is “correct” however. There are many different ways to build and play this deck.
The biggest problem with RUG is how easy it is to misplay. I think this is the reason so many people have not jumped ship to play it. One small mistake like making the wrong land drop will punish the pilot into a potential loss. This deck is the least forgiving in the format. This means playing it without roughly 100 matches of testing is just suicide.
The other problem this deck has is that it can sometimes just draw air. It keeps digging into spells that dig even further. It continues to do this until the tempo this deck is designed to steal ends up costing itself the match.
The best thing RUG has is that it’s very hard to hate out. Cheap disruptive spells and cheap creatures are the best way to combat it. The disruption can just keep the deck in check early so it can not explode and get [card oracle of mul daya]Oracle[/card]/Jace set up, or play a very early Titan. The aggressive creature does the same thing by killing them before their land advantage can take hold. It is also good to go over the top like Valakut Ramp can do. Sometimes they just can’t keep the deck under control.
#4 UB Control
This deck has slowly made its way into my list. I never thought this deck was that good until testing for Worlds. It really does some decent things and is very good at fighting some of the decks in the format. The problem this deck has is its inability to beat Valakut. I know there are cards to fight the matchup but it is so hard to do so. Sometimes it takes 3 cards just to beat a Primeval Titan (Tectonic Edge, Spreading Seas, Doom Blade). It has to draw the correct cards while Valakut just has to try to do its own things.
Other than having what I think is a poor matchup against the best deck, it’s a decent choice. It has the ability to protect its Jace, the Mind Sculptor with tons of cheap removal, guys, and counterspells. It also has Grave Titan. I am personally sick of the trend of “that is the new Frost Titan” so I will just say this guy is the real deal. He has such a huge impact on the board whenever he gets there and is able to be a very good clock when in a sticky situation.
I don’t know how much I like Abyssal Persecutor at the moment but it still is a very powerful card. I guess it is also the best strategy against the Titan decks. When I was playing with the card I didn’t have Trinket Mage to be another source of removing him. This has to be the push to make him good.
The best thing this deck does is beat aggressive decks. It has so many pieces of good removal that it is hard to get any damage in against it. Vampires has the best chance in this department if they can get some Bloodghasts online.
The first way to attack this deck is being proactive. The late game is this deck’s best friend. If you allow them to take a ton of time to set up a Jace or Grave Titan, the game is just over. On the other hand, you have to figure out what type of draw they have. Sometimes they will get a very aggressive draw and just start slamming guys on the board very early. It can be a good strategy to play the control player when they have a very proactive draw. When this happens it is very possible to get a Jace to resolve and ride it to victory.
#5 G/W Quest
I’m sorry that Boros did not make the list for those of you out there that remember me talking so much about that deck. It just is not doing it in the current metagame.
This deck is very impressive however. The WW Quest deck has the most explosive start in the format. The problem with that is it’s very inconsistent. Sometimes the deck just doesn’t do anything. That is why the green cards in this deck make it so much more consistent and help out when the draw isn’t the nuts.
There is a big hole in the decks that run Vengevine category in Standard. There is also a growing amount of Jace control decks. This means that this deck can sneak in and attack those decks. This is what makes it a good deck right now. It has the ability to close out a game before the opponent has anyway to beat it on one or both fronts.
Besides Nature’s Claim, there is no real way to beat the nut draw. There just is no good strategy to beat this. When the deck does not get the nuts there is two ways it will attack the opponent. The first is Fauna Shaman. Dealing with the Shaman is very important and can easily turn this versatile deck back into its single color companion.
The other way is to actually cast the Argentum Armor and attack with it. Don’t be fooled. This is a serious threat and possibility. The best card that attacks this deck is Tumble Magnet. The deck does not do well at keeping the threats coming. Tumble Magnet can really help give you the time needed to blow him out with the powerful spells the GW deck is trying to not see.
It doesn’t react to spells all too well. If you can come over the top or disrupt it in the early game then it will have a tough time getting anything started.
Well that is all I have for this week. This week is going so fast and only a week before Worlds. Maybe 1 of the 5 Pros sitting around me are ready to play some games. We will see. Until next week!