Sometimes in life you have to deal with minor inconveniences because you don’t want to expend the energy to deal with them permanently. These reasons can range from money, physical exertion, social issues, or just anxiety in dealing with problems in general. Whatever the reason, sometimes it feels like the exertion is more trouble than the underlying issue. I have a radio in my car and instead of getting something that can play MP3s and listening to music I actually like, I live with it and listen to random things on my way to work. Standard bores me due to familiarity, but I play it anyway because I don’t want to invest a vacation fund into Modern.
I’ve had about as much fun listening to pop “hit” “Really Don’t Care” from Demi Lovato and Cher Lloyd as I have playing Standard recently. Which is to say I think both are miserable, but have enough redeeming qualities once you accept what they are to not turn them off completely. For those who haven’t listened to “Really Don’t Care” yet, I don’t really recommend doing so. It’s just a generic obnoxious pop single with some really hilarious lyrics in the context of what the core of the song song is actually about. Much like how “Dark Horse” is the worst Katy Perry song and absolutely hilarious to listen to because none of the lyrics really make sense and are full of mixed metaphors along with that classic Juicy J sound. Standard feels a bit the same way at this point—a been there, done that type of format where we’ve been playing the same decks with slight tweaks for nine months.
Once you accept that it’s just more of the same you look for any redeeming qualities and I’ve found a few. For example, the skill level in Standard isn’t actually low, despite containing far too many cards that just ignore what your opponent’s cards do. It disappoints me that we’ll be living with Thoughtseize for another year instead of seeing its reign of terror come to an end in October, but at least a lot of the supporting cast will also be gone. It also is just a whole lot of fun playing devotion decks, despite the existence of Supreme Verdict, since when they function properly they feel like a fair combo strategy. The same goes for playing Burn, where you can manage to ignore the board in many games and still win as long as you sequence correctly.
On the flip-side, all the reasons to check out still exist. There are a number of matchups where the first 10 cards you see are the primary determining factor in the outcome of the match. Thoughtseize is a card with no real counterbalance, and aggro decks aren’t strong enough to take advantage of the life loss thanks to how the format shaked out. Midrange decks are also strangely punished simply because Sphinx’s Revelation and Pack Rat are Magic cards and completely flip how those matches play out when the opposition draws them in time.
What gets me is that you can take a deck from six months ago and succeed with it, but people are still unwilling to play Mono-Blue and Mono-Green Devotion. Demi Lovato’s best song was a reskin of “Let it Go” sung better by Idina Menzel. In fact pretty much every song Katy Perry and every other guuuurrrrl pop singer has been singing reskinned Ke$ha songs for the past year. As usual, Jacob Wilson was ahead of the game with his choice of musical inspiration.
Still, let’s take a look at what we can do in Standard since while it’s the same old decks, at least it’s split among 7-8 different ones. The last SCG Open had a very diverse Top 8 from Rhode Island, and different decks have been spiking the tournaments since Journey into Nyx came out. First off we have the old standby of Mono-Blue Devotion, which Ross Merriam took to victory this past weekend:
As far as I know this is Sam Pardee’s build within a few cards and I happened to be at his place when Ross messaged him on Friday, so I assume not much has been tweaked. There’s little for me to say about this deck that hasn’t already been covered, but I’ll continue to harp on the fact that if players aren’t willing to respect Grizzly Bears with sweepers of some sort then they just let the devotion players win for free. Notably, in this build Hall of Triumph makes an appearance and it acts as a slightly cheaper and more efficient Bident of Thassa. Instead of feeding the insatiable hunger for sweet sweet value instead it fills the need to make the opponent dead. In the past I’ve talked about not liking the card in this strategy and while I’m still not a huge fan, once the similarity to Bident came to mind I was a little more open to it.
Keeping with creature strategies on the cusp but held in check by Supreme Verdict, we have Mono-Red Aggro. This deck was largely overshadowed by Burn decks and while I prefer Burn in the metagame I’m glad people are taking advantage of smaller creatures’ strength in the current metagame. Unlike Block Constructed not every single deck includes eight walls that just stymie any attempt at early aggression. Gino Bautista made the finals with a pretty normal looking mono-red beatdown plan, but it’s worth looking at just for the refresher course:
Notably both Ash Zealot and Young Pyromancer have left the building, replaced by Firefist Striker and Eidolon of the Great Revel and a reduced burn count. Also there’s a distinct lack of bloodrush creatures which usually accompany the creature-heavy builds, instead being replaced with Boros Reckoner and Fanatic of Mogis. This places it heavier into the Mono-Red Devotion variants that have been waxing and waning in terms of results since Pro Tour Dublin. Burning-Tree Emissary feels like a wasted slot here, but at least Firefist Striker can be cast off it so there’s not a total waste of resources.
Hammer of Purphoros in the sideboard instead of the main deck while Chandra’s Phoenix gets a pass befuddles me, but everything else here is standard issue. Sometimes curving into one-two-three is just good enough to win games of Magic.
Naya decks of every variety have been getting press since Journey hit, but one that’s flown under the radar has been Naya Transform. The deck is effectively a hybrid of a normal Naya aggro plan and transforms into Naya Hexproof after sideboarding.
Most of the builds I’ve seen can be attributed to Diefi00 on Magic Online and vary in terms of how all-in on the transformational board they are. One of his earlier builds featured a full 15-enchantment swap with Ethereal Armor and Madcap Skills in addition to the ones you see above. What interests me most about this deck is that any percentage points you give up game one easily get made up when you move on to post-board games. In a format where every deck has been around for a while, this one has some legitimate surprise value and forces some awkward decisions from the opponent.
Do I even have a good plan for Naya Hexproof?
What if my opponent shuffles in 15 and just leaves in his primary creature plan against mostly dead enchantment hate?
Does Katy Perry even know what ‘”Dark Horse” typically refers too?
If the stars and moon collide, doesn’t that signal slightly bigger problems than your relationship status?
And so on.
I don’t expect Naya Hexproof to ever catch on as a major player, but it gets so little respect and has such a natural information advantage I’m surprised people don’t want to utilize it. OK, I’m not actually that surprised since the Hexproof deck is dull as doornails to play and reminds me way too much of playing Arena in Hearthstone. For those unaware, this is how it typically goes: Assemble numbers, crash into other numbers, potentially get destroyed by a card you can’t play around, desperately try to draw Fireball (Boros Charm) to win anyway. Rinse and repeat.
Instead people want to play decks that make them feel good and what feels better than killing people with planeswalkers and Dragons?
Collin Stiles, 6th, SCG Providence
Honestly I don’t really care for this deck all that much, as it always feels clunky when you don’t draw a mana accelerator early, and if you draw multiples there’s a very good chance you flood out and lose. It doesn’t help that every time I ask someone good at Magic they tell me the deck is a massive pile which either speaks to a massive bias toward green midrange among my friends* or just a general disconnect about what advantages this deck has over devotion decks.
*Considering the majority of them have had no issues playing Jund or Pod decks in Modern, I’m guessing they aren’t too anti-green as long as the deck is good enough.
Both rely on getting some board presence online that hopefully isn’t immediately killed off and rely on a handful of spells to keep pressure on against Supreme Verdict decks. Jund Monsters is a little more resilient in that regard thanks to the planeswalker setup most typically use, but even then by sidelining the discard they don’t have that many great options. The number of threats that Islands care about has been reduced to 11 creatures, Domri gearing up to emblem, and Xenagos. It also has a miserable match against Mono-Blue Devotion running Rapid Hybridization with this setup since Master of Waves remains unbeatable and Tidebinder Mage is going to keep annoying green decks until M14 leaves us.
Is there really a point in playing a deck that absolutely needs a board presence early and only runs eight ways for that to happen? Why aren’t we just playing a devotion deck and getting all the benefits of establishing it then? It keeps doing well so at a minimum we know the deck is passable, I just can’t recommend it over other options though. Of course who am I to say that when my own favorite Courser of Kruphix deck can’t seem to get over the hump.
Really the biggest issue with this build and all similar ones is that it’s incredibly difficult to just flip the switch and turn your incremental advantage into a game-ending one. Cards like Elspeth, Sun’s Champion don’t quite do it anymore, Doomwake Giant is fine; albeit too slow for killing people before they recover. Pack Rat was probably the closest to what I wanted, however it’s significantly worse coming from a fair deck than something like Mono-Black Control. So you need to be ahead or at least stalemated to have the time and resources to use it to take over the game.
Regardless of this little roadblock, this is the deck I want to focus my efforts on for the foreseeable future. In a pinch I can always play Burn, but without real MOCS rewards and the Magic Online economy still being in the tank I can’t justify wasting as much time as I usually do on it. Playing a two-man is just strictly worse than playing Tournament Practice at this point and 8-mans are barely a step above embarrassing in terms of payout. So if I can’t rake value out of the system I may as well play decks that are fun.
Unlike the other Rock decks of the format, I fully accept that I’ll have to just draw that many more cards to grind games out. This is why I have the full suite of card drawing in the main deck and have even considered running Read the Bones as a surrogate Divination against opposing Thoughtseizes.
Alternatively you could play an Eidolon deck that just cheats.
Too bad everything else now gets to play removal that hits enchantment. Oh well. Next week: a look at Modern.