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Careful Consideration – Finding Holes in Standard

 

by Zaiem Beg

With a month or so left to go in the PTQ season, Standard is still a relatively undefined format with a lot of room for innovation, and even though we’ve been playing Standard since April, different variants of deck archetypes keep cropping up and seem to be just as viable as the last deck. It’s unusual for a format to be so undefined this late in a PTQ season, but when you can play virtually any combination of spells you want thanks to Vivid Lands and Reflecting Pools, new ideas and archetypes and variations of archetypes are bound to pop up.

Quick aside: As an exercise in mana silliness, I put together a deck that ran all twenty Ultimatums, Cloudthreshers, Cryptic Commands and a couple of Hordes of Notions and Demigods of Revenge thrown in for good measure. Not that this deck would be in any way good or competitive, but I just wanted to see if I could cast my spells. I could, for the most part (I did eventually run out of vivid counters, but I also pretended that my seven mana spells *did* things. Also, Clarion Ultimatum was good for replenishing Vivid lands, perhaps being the only time it was a spell you wanted to draw). For those keeping track at home, that means I was playing cards with the following mana costs:

1UUU
RB/RB/RB/RB/RB
2GGGG
WUBRG
WWUUUBB
UUBBBRR
BBRRRGG
GGWWWUU
UUBBBRR

Since every spell in Standard is colorless as long as you’re willing to have your lands come into play tapped, go through the Gatherer and start brewing. But there are established decks in the format, so you should keep them in mind when building your deck – and here are broad strategies to beating them.

Faeries (both UB and Grixis)

Decks that beat Faeries usually do some combination of the following things:

1. Put a clock on them before they can establish their game. For example, turn two Doran, The Siege Tower, puts them in a situation where they have to answer that guy ASAP or they’re going to lose to Doran and his tree friends. If a Blightning deck never draws Volcanic Fallout, it can still beat down and put the pressure on Faeries and force them to respond.
2. Play uncounterable spells like Banefire, Volcanic Fallout, and Great Sable Stag. Maybe not the most elegant card design by Wizards for beating Faeries, but they’re effective. Some Faeries decks have branched out into playing red for Lightning Bolt and Firespout to deal with Sable Stag, but he’s still a guy that puts pressure on them and forces them to draw those answers, or they lose. They have no really good answer to Volcanic Fallout, which can make Bitterblossom a liability.
3. Have ways to kill Mistbind Clique at instant speed. Clique is the most dangerous card in their deck and even if you have Stags and Fallouts, they can just race you by dropping a 4/4 (or two, if you’re unlucky) and smash your face. Cards like Bituminous Blast and Path to Exile work well here, particularly Bituminous Blast.
4. Hand disruption. This is really a secondary strategy, as I don’t think dedicated hand disruption decks are very strong right now because they have a hard time affecting the board. Maybe something like a Raven’s Crime engine would do well against them. (Making said engine work in Standard might be a problem, but it’s certainly possible that it could work.) Using one of these other strategies in combination with Blightning is probably best.
5. Mana disruption. This may not be viable in the current Standard, as land destruction in Standard is pretty poor. There’s no Rain of Tears, so you’re left with Fulminator Mage and Incendiary Command and some poor secondary and tertiary options (Poison the Well, Drain the Well, Grixis Charm).
6. Play instant speed threats. Faeries preys on decks that do everything at sorcery speed, but if you can do something instantly that they care about and have to counter, then you can disrupt their plan. An example would be to flash in a Cloudthresher during their end step and force them to use a counter, then untap and play another Cloudthresher. Cloudthresher and Bogardan Hellkite are the best instant speed threats that come to mind.
7. Play cascade spells. They can only counter so many threats, and if you’re throwing out two-for-ones every turn, you can wear them down in card advantage. Kitchen Finks is reasonable, but when he’s stapled to a Bloodbraid Elf that came free courtesy of a Bituminous Blast, then chances are those guys are going to stick and now they have to deal with three power hitting them a turn.

Five-Color Control

Decks that beat Five-Color Control usually do some combination of the following things:

1. Put pressure on them before they can get to Cruel Ultimatum. This is best done by burn or early beats like Putrid Leech. This is not going to be enough most of the time, as 5cc is designed to stall until it hits Cruel Ultimatum by playing cards like Plumeveil, Hallowed Burial, and Cryptic Command.
2. Counter their answers to your threats. Bloodbraid Elf and Kitchen Finks and Putrid Leech beating down, plus Cryptic Command to counter a would-be devastating Cruel Ultimatum puts them in a very tough position.
3. Hand disruption. Identity Crisis is the best hand disruption spell to resolve by far, and is a key strategy in the mirror.
4. Mana disruption.
5. Instant speed threats.
6. Resolve Thought Hemorrhage. If you don’t have to worry about them ever playing Cruel Ultimatum, it really opens up what you can do, and you have to worry about so much less. Resolving the second one was quite devastating when they were playing Broodmate Dragon as their sole win condition, but now 5c decks are adapting by playing some combination of Dragons and Baneslayer Angels.
7. Play Anathemancer and have a way to get rid of their Runed Halo if they play it. They’re playing 75 billion non-basic lands, so punish them for it.
8. Play Gaddock Teeg. If you can get him to live out of Fallout range (likely with the help of a Wilt-Leaf Liege), he turns off the disruption to your strategy (Hallowed Burial, Cryptic Command). Just don’t run him into a Plumeveil!

Blightning

Decks that beat Blightning usually do some combination of the following things:

1. Play larger guys. Forest-based decks can just race Blightning decks, plus they have effective blockers for their threats. Doran and Chameleon Colossus don’t really care about getting hit by a Hellspark Elemental or two when they can smash back for nine or thirteen a turn. Blightning is very bad when it’s not the beatdown. (And if you ever discard a [card]Wilt-Leaf Liege[/card] – or living the dream and discarding two – to Blightning, the red player will want to set themselves on fire.) Kithkin’s also pretty good at putting a faster clock on red.
2. Play life gain. Kitchen Finks, Primal Command, Captured Sunlight, Knight of Meadowgrain, and even marginal cards like Angel’s Mercy are essentially card advantage (I wouldn’t recommend playing Angel’s Mercy, but the card is pretty bad for the Blightning player).
3. Play protection. Burrenton Forge-Tender is the best card for this now that Paladin en-Vec is gone. Runed Halo does the same thing in a different way. If you play [card]Ranger of Eos[/card] to search up multiple Forge-Tenders, it’s pretty bad for Blightning.
4. Mana disruption might be okay if you heavily utilize one of the other strategies. R/B decks are playing more lands to get to Demigod of Revenge, so if they’re stuck on three land while you’re doing something they care about (like Captured Sunlight into Kitchen Finks or something), then you should win the long game. The problem is that mana disruption decks generally have to be pretty dedicated to mana disruption. If the RB deck is built more on the lower end of the curve by playing cards like Tattermunge Maniac and Jund Hackblade, then this strategy is pretty poor.

Kithkin

Decks that beat Kithkin usually do some combination of the following things:

1. Play larger guys. Plumeveil counts here.
2. Play mass removal. Hallowed Burial is the best here, as cards like Infest and Volcanic Fallout can be quickly outclassed by an Honor of the Pure + Wizened Cenn draw if that’s your only plan to deal with them. Firespout’s better, but can be Burrenton Forge-Tendered.
3. Play a ton of removal. Jund decks with Shriekmaws and Maelstrom Pulses and Lightning Bolts and possibly even Mannequining back the Shriekmaws do very well against the Kithkin decks. Fallout becomes very good when combined with this strategy because you can usually kill whatever it is that’s keeping your Fallouts from being effective.

Jundy/Midrangey/Mannequinny decks

Decks that beat these Jundy/Midrangey/Mannequinny decks usually do some combination of the following things:

1. Mass removal.
2. Hand/graveyard disruption like Identity Crisis and Thought Hemorrhage are good.
3. Live long enough to Cruel Ultimatum with a dazzling array of Plumeveils, Cryptic Commands, Hallowed Burials, and maybe even Kitchen Finks. The Jund decks have a hard time beating the Cruel Ultimatum decks because a resolved Ultimatum is so devastating.
4. Against Mannequin decks, play Puppeteer Clique. He not only nabs a would-be Mannequin target, but you can use their guys against them. Usually you’re getting an Anathemancer, Mulldrifter, or Kitchen Finks.
5. Play Chameleon Colossus. It’s shocking how few answers these decks play to that guy. He can just dominate the game by himself.
6. Mana disruption.
7. Anathemancer.
8. Non-creature based aggression (like burn spells or pseudo-burn spells like Hellspark Elemental). These decks do a fine job killing the Wizened Cenns of the world, but Blightning decks can apply enough pressure with non-creatures that the Jund answers aren’t as effective.

Time Sieve

Decks that beat Time Sieve decks usually do some combination of the following things:

1. Play a deck that can deal with sorcery-speed threats. In other words, Faeries. Faeries is almost unbeatable if all you’re doing is playing counterable spells on your turn.
2. Non-creature based aggression. Time Sieve is basically Turbofog in a new form, giving it a win condition that lets it win the game quickly when it goes off. Time Sieve plays fogs like Pollen Lullaby and Angelsong, so Kithkin decks or Putrid Leech decks are going to have a hard time pushing through twenty points of damage before they go off. Blightning, on the other hand, can burn them out.
3. Play Thought Hemorrhage naming Tezzeret. Taking their win condition away means that they no longer win the long game, and will likely deck before they can do anything relevant. Some decks do play Glassdust Hulk out of the board for this contingency, so if you can at all play a second Hemmorhage (or leave up removal mana for the Hulk), do so.

Elf combo

Decks that beat Elf combo decks usually do some combination of the following things:

1. Load up on removal. Lightning Bolt, Shriekmaw, Volcanic Fallout, Infest, Firespout, Maelstrom Pulse, Hallowed Burial, etc. Like Kithkin, a lone Fallout is probably not going to be good enough because of the presence of Forge-Tenders, but combined with other removal, you can keep them off a critical mass and keep them from going off. You need a clock on them though, otherwise they will eventually run you out of removal spells and go off.
2. Thought Hemorrhage naming Regal Force shuts off their draw engine and makes them play fairer.
3. Limit them to playing one (or no) spells per turn. Silence and Ethersworn Canonist make them unable to go off. I’m not a huge fan of Silence unless all you need to do is buy one extra turn, so I prefer the Canonist, despite its vulnerability to Path to Exile.

Slower cascade decks

Decks that beat slower cascade decks usually do some combination of the following things:

1. Have a better late game. The Cascade decks don’t put a lot of pressure on early, but the late game of playing Enlisted Wurm and getting two-for-ones is how it wins the game. If you have a better late game by taking a bunch of turns + Tezzeret ultimate, or casting Cruel Ultimatum, then you’re going to win as long as they don’t disrupt you from doing so (usually by resolving a Thought Hemorrhage, for example). Cascade is a very powerful deck and is pretty tough to beat because of the inherent card advantage in playing a deck where almost all of the cards are two-for-ones. But resolving one spell in Cruel Ultimatum can make all of their plans turn to dust.
2. Mana disruption.

I’ve got another PTQ coming up this weekend and I have been spending a lot of time thinking about the best way to attack the format. I’ve been having success playing Five-Color Control on Magic Online recently, but I don’t yet know if that’s the sort of thing that I would want to take to a ~200 person PTQ. I do like this format and I think you can do some interesting things, even though the mana flexibility is a little ridiculous.

If I missed something, please let me know in the comments.

Yours format attackingly,
-Zaiem

zaiemb at gmail dot com

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