Pro Tour: Austin is this weekend, and roughly 600 people will trickle in over the next day or so, trying to keep their Extended tech under wraps, while grinders like me will be playing Standard in the Last Chance Qualifier to try to pick up the last four slots in the Main Event. For those who don’t get in via LCQ, there are PTQs for both San Diego and San Juan this weekend plus a whole host of other side events. Going to a PT is generally a lot of fun even if you aren’t qualified, and Austin is, by all accounts I’ve heard, a great city to spend time in (although my experience in the few hours I’ve been here have been mostly getting chewed on by various insects and melting and/or catching on fire from the heat).
Thursday night is all about Standard, as that is the LCQ format for all Pro Tours this year, making this the second big Standard tournament of the new season, the first being the Philadelphia $5000 Open last weekend.
Like most formats early on, there are holes that can be exploited, as decks are often inefficient and not optimally built. I feel that you can take advantage of these weaknesses by examining the strategies people are playing, then take a sideways strategy that people aren’t ready for. As these sideways attacking decks become known and people can prepare for them, it’s probably best to switch to whatever the best overall deck in the format is.
For example, a combo deck or a very linear deck like Turbofog won’t do well in an environment where people know about the deck and are prepared for it, but those linear decks are great at sneaking up on an unprepared field where even if people are aware that Turbofog exists they are likely not to have the utility cards to best attack that matchup.
The other way to attack decks early on is via their mana bases. I love cards like Molten Rain and Goblin Ruinblaster because people are stretching their mana bases and are not running the correct numbers of lands, so you can steal free wins just by blowing up their land and punishing them for a bad mana base.
With those principles in mind, let’s see if we can find the holes in the decks from the $5000 Open.
There were a lot of Jund decks, and they’re largely the same. For sake of ease, I’ll just take the top list (the winning one):
How to attack it:
Okay, there’s a reason why this deck placed well, with five of the top eight slots in the tournament going to Jund aggro decks. The deck is pretty well-designed as is. Sprouting Thrinax is a pretty good answer to any removal that’s not Celestial Purge or Path to Exile, and Broodmate Dragon is the best finisher around this side of Baneslayer Angel.
You can go after this deck in one of two ways: Play lots and lots of removal, spot and otherwise. Gavin Verhey’s control deck is a good example of this, as it plays Wretched Banquet, Lightning Bolt, Terminate, and Chandra for spot removal spells, and plays Pyroclasm as mass removal. Even with Thrinax popping back three 1/1s, it’s hard for a creature to stay on the table and have a huge effect before a Sphinx comes down on the table to block. Kill everything on sight and get to Cruel Ultimatum is not a bad strategy against Jund decks.
Even so, the sideboard is pretty rough with Ruinblasters, Duresses and Thought Hemorrhages, plus the maindeck Blightnings. The other way to attack it is to just fog, fog, fog the ever living daylights out of them.
Jon Loucks’s Time Sieve deck is fairly well-positioned against these types of decks. Though Time Sieve did lose Pollen Lullaby and Elsewhere Flask, Safe Passage is a reasonable replacement for Lullaby, and while losing Flask hurts, it doesn’t make the deck unviable. There might be a better mill/stall/fog strategy that doesn’t involve Time Sieve or Open the Vaults, but the basic philosophy of the deck remains intact, even if the execution is not as strong. I do like Magosi, the Waterveil in situations where you have enough mana to play two fogs and have the two fogs in hand (which shouldn’t be hard to do if you’ve got Howling Mine/Font of Mythos going). Skip a turn, fog a couple of attacks, and then have the extra turn in your back pocket to do whatever when you’re going off and chaining turns together with Time Sieve and Time Warp.
The fact that it is a linear strategy that essentially shuts off every card in their deck except for Maelstrom Pulse makes this a way to surprise a Jund opponent who won’t be as well-equipped.
On to the second place list:
Weaknesses: Pyroclasm, Fallout, Infest, Jund Charm. There are four Harm’s Way in the board, but if they don’t draw the Harm’s Way, they are going to be thwarted by any of the played sweepers in the format (Day of Judgment as well, I suppose). Sure you can play around mass removal to a point, but at the same time, it’s still a vulnerability for the deck that doesn’t have a lot of resilience if a Pyroclasm effect resolves, save for Ranger of Eos to recoup back some of the card advantage.
Also, I agree with Paulo Vitor when he says that Goblin Guide is not a very good card for exactly the same reasons he lined out. Paraphrasing, he said essentially that he’s not very good when there’s a ton of cheap removal running around, and fetchlands allow you to look at the top card of your library and let you shuffle it away if you want, sort of like a Scry 1. But most importantly, he wrote:
“One of the reasons aggro decks are good is that they capitalize on your opponent having any kind of problem – too many lands, too few, a bad curve. Though Goblin Guide will not do much to help those who have few lands and were not drawing them anytime soon, it will help them in every other situation.”
I couldn’t have put it any better. It also has the potential to undo mulligans, and the card advantage you give your opponent is not worth the drawback. (I realize I said something similar about Path to Exile, but you’ll notice that Path got less and less played as the last Standard format closed out, as people realized that its role was really only for certain deck strategies. I think people are probably overplaying Path right now in the post-Zendikar Standard and that we’ll see it phase out of decklists to some extent as the format matures.)
It’s also a creature-based/damage-based deck, so a foggy deck that takes a lot of turns should be able to push through. They have more burn, but absolutely no disruption to the fog strategy (unlike Jund, which has Pulse, Duress, and Thought Hemorrhage to keep the fog player alert and on his toes).
Weaknesses: With Knight of Meadowgrain and Burrenton Forge-Tender out, this deck has a chance without running into a two- or one-drop that blanks a lot of their cards. Probably the best way is to use instant speed removal to kill their hasty guys and survive long enough to play a Baneslayer Angel (untapping with her should make things much more difficult for the RDW pilot). I could also see playing Volcanic Fallout against this deck, since although it does deal damage to both players, being able to eat a 7/1 and basically gain five life (or more if they have another creature on the board like Geopede or Goblin Guide).
There’s probably too much burn to fog people out here. Sorcery speed spot removal is generally going to be no good either. If people aren’t playing Fallout, I rather like this deck (although cut and paste all above objections to Goblin Guide and put them here as well). There’s not a ton of life gain running around and no Forge-Tender or similarly annoying protection creatures (or ones with first strike) aren’t seeing a lot of play, save for Vampire Hexmage. Valeron Outlander doesn’t do anything about trample.
And finally, we have Vampires:
I’m pretty sure Wizards started the development of this set long before the Twilight books and movies became popular, but it’s great serendipitous timing on their behalf. If I ever do play this deck, I want to really play off the vampire fan angle. I haven’t read the books or seen the movie, but maybe I can fake it. I would also like to incorporate glitter somehow, and adopt other traits of a 14-year-old girl. Then when I attack with my creatures, I can quote the book and say creepy things like,
“Your soul is so beautiful, so pure. I want to lick your eyebrows genly. While you sleep.”
(Or whatever the lines are from the series. Chances are my opponents won’t be familiar with the lines either, so as long as I sell it, they’ll probably believe me.)
Anyway, I do like the Vampire deck for non-angsty teenage girl reasons and I think it might be the best deck against the others because it does so many things well. Vampire Nighthawk is an extremely good creature and Vampire Hexmage does a fantastic job of blocking trampling 7/1 and 6/1 creatures while also doubling as a way to kill Planeswalkers. It also fights Putrid Leech well if you have a Disfigure in your hand without having to play the game of “priority chicken” (that is, where you block their Leech with your 2/2 with a removal spell in hand and sees who blinks first. If they pump the Leech and you don’t have the removal spell, they 0-for-1 you. If they don’t pump and you don’t have a removal spell, then you made a pretty good trade. If they pump and you do have a removal spell, you can kill the Leech in response and 0-for-1 them. If you use the removal spell before they pump, they can pump in response and blank your spell. With first strike, they have to pump and hope you don’t have a removal spell if they want to kill them, increasing their risk while making yours essentially zero).
Bloodghast is also a very annoying creature to play against, and I like playing as many fetchlands as possible when running him.
Weaknesses: Sunlight, garlic, holy water.
Or”¦you can fog them out a lot of the time. They are creature-damage based and not burn-based, so you should be able to hold them off with a few Wraths and Safe Passages. Mind Sludge is annoying, but foggy decks should have some number of Negates to deal with that, as there aren’t many other cards to worry about.
These may ebb and flow as the Standard format matures, and we’ll know more after the LCQ lists come in this weekend (hopefully with my name somewhere in the top four).
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