Carrie On – Thassa-nated by Standard

Good news! It’s been just over 6 weeks since Born of the Gods was released. This has made a huge impact on the face of Standard. This weekend saw a double bill of Standard with GP Cincinnati and SCG Los Angeles. In complete contrast to pre-Born of the Gods Standard, these events were won by Esper Control, with lots of Mono-Black present in the Top 16, and a sprinkling of Mono-U.

I’m being slightly unfair here. The decks have changed as a result of new cards from BNG, but it wasn’t as much of a shake-up as I was hoping for. Still, with the format now being nicely established and the double events hitting us this weekend, I want to look at what changes to the old favorites have remained relevant (not always using new cards) and what few decks have emerged.

The big winner of the weekend is Esper Control, taking the title at both events.

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The “before” deck made Top 8 of the final SCG open before BotG was released, played by Andrew Davis, and is a pretty good representation of Esper decks at that time. The “now” deck is the winning GP deck by Kyle Boggemes.

By putting them side-by-side you can see that what we now call Esper Control is really UW control with a black splash for Doom Blade (better now than Last Breath) and Thoughtseize (generally awesome). It still has a lot of the counterspell package from UW and is even running Azorius Charms. Previous Esper decks had a much heavier black component, typically running Devour Flesh and Hero’s Downfall (the latter requiring {B}{B}) alongside Thoughtseize and Doom Blade. To play the additional removal spells it sacrificed countermagic and a little mana consistency. Why this switch from removal to countermagic? It’s a good question than I’m not really qualified to answer having not kept up with the evolution of this deck. I can speculate that while removal is good against GR Monsters, it is Mono-Black proving to be the bigger force and against them you just want to demonstrate how a control deck is supposed to work. Plus, as we will come to later, Mono-Black Control decks are shifting toward white for Blood Baron, which you need to counter rather than looking forlorn at a Doom Blade or Hero’s Downfall stuck in hand.

The other interesting shift is the generally preferred creature-based win condition of Esper: as we can see, it used to be Blood Baron. Most decks pre-BNG ran 2 copies with some boarding into the third and even fourth copy. The reason for this is it was very good against Mono-Black, against UW Control and the mirror. It also stood up well against the most prevalent aggro deck at the time which was Orzhov weenie: when playing against that deck, they had zero answers to a resolved Blood Baron unless you were already effectively dead.

With control decks (including Esper) relying more on counterspells than removal, the pro-black/pro-white of Blood Baron provides much less advantage. If I can choose to resolve just one of either Blood Baron or Ætherling, I would pick the Ætherling as it can also dodge Supreme Verdicts. Other large components of the metagame include GR Monsters and Mono-U which Blood Baron provides no value against. Spending 5 mana for a mediocre creature which trades with a 2-drop (Frostburn Weird) or a 2-mana removal spell (Mizzium Mortars), or which gets blanked by some random big creature such as Polukranos or Stormbreath Dragon is just terrible. Plus, there isn’t really much aggro knocking around at the moment, so the lifelink is less relevant. Blood Baron is still good against Mono-Black, but Ætherling is also unkillable there, and so is just a superior threat right now.

Hopefully you can see why this would naturally lead to a shift toward Ætherling over Blood Baron. Ironic, given the shift of Mono-Black toward Blood Baron

The continued presence of Mono-Black is unsurprising. While they have made less use of Drown in Sorrow than I expected (other than to make weenie aggro decks run away into hiding), Bile Blight has become a solid addition. -3/-3 is going to kill many of the threats you care about and if you do occasionally get the bonus value then you are laughing. It’s a nice way to mop up excessive Elspeth tokens and, if done before combat, will prevent them from tapping your Desecration Demon. It even works after the ultimate has been used.

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As you can see, the classic Mono-Black deck has changed very little aside from the addition of Bile Blight. People play more or fewer Temples depending on personal choice or whether they are trying to board a non-black spell.

Interestingly, while there were 3 “classic” Mono-Black decks in the Top 16 of the GP, the three decks based on the same core that made the Top 8 were all variants on the theme. Did these rise to the very top due to that variation or due to variance? We shall find out in the next couple of weeks as more people try them out.

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The Mono-Black (with white) Devotion deck has been popular at SCG opens for a few weeks now, with two copies in the Top 16 this week.

I’m very happy to see Pain Seer up there in the Top 8 of a GP. I was even happier when I read the player’s bio to see that he prepared for the weekend at FNM and by testing with his sons. I’m a sucker for that sort of story. Anyway, I really like combining Pain Seer with Mogis’s Marauder as it can help get the little guy in to start generating that important card advantage. The problem for this deck in the long run is that its creature base is rather weak to Drown in Sorrow but they have to be running it and many Mono-Black decks currently aren’t even boarding it. It certainly worked for Clyde this weekend though.

Mono-Blue has been taken down a notch since Born of the Gods was released. Before, I think it was widely considered the strongest option available, but not oppressively so. However, Bile Blight has made the multiple Cloudfin Raptor draw a much less tempting proposition and the deck really hasn’t gained much to keep it up to date.

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The major shift for Mono-Blue has been to add a hint of white (a common trend for Devotion decks apparently). The White gives the deck access to Ephara which acts as another card draw mechanism (along with Bident of Thassa). Decks tend to run one or two copies. The White also allows Detention Sphere to be played as a general good catch-all. Temple of Enlightenment coming in Born of the Gods made this particularly easy for Mono-Blue to do and it doesn’t exactly hate Scrying for more threats. Personally I feel this deck is not as strong as it used to be but it does still regularly feature in Top 16s. One made the Top 8 at the GP and two made Top 16 at the SCG Open.

While G/R monsters did not make the Top 8 or even the Top 16 of the GP, it has certainly been making a strong showing at the SCGs in recent weeks. There was only one in the Top 8 this week but there were also two Jund Monsters making their way into 7th and 8th.

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In summary: Xenagos, God of Revels turned out to be a bit of a beast for the “make big guys and turn them sideways” deck.

The other really nice addition to this deck was Courser of Kruphix, whom I have fallen in love with. This deck likes to use him plus scry lands to make Domri Rade even more powerful. If you have Courser and Domri in play then you already know the top card of your deck. If it’s a creature then you have an easy “+1, draw a card.” If it’s a land then you can play it using the Kruphix and get a second chance to find a creature to draw with Domri. If that land was a scry land then you can put any non-creature card revealed on the bottom for a third go! It gets kind of silly really and it’s why Garruk has moved to the sideboard or even been left out entirely, as the deck no longer needs him for the card draw.

As mentioned above some decks have added black for a selection of spells, mostly Reaper of the Wilds, which is very good value and hard for Mono-Black to kill. But it also gives access to cards like Rakdos’s Return and removal such as Dreadbore (Elspeth is still a problem for the deck).

I think GR was one of the big winners from Born of the Gods, but it does look like other decks are adapting to it given its decline the last couple of weeks. I was surprised to see no copies making the Top 16 of the GP.

New decks!

Okay, not really I’m afraid. All of the next three decks did exist in one form or another before Born of the Gods came out but they all Top 16’d or better this weekend at either the GP or the SCG . In case you are looking for something a little different to play in your upcoming events, these are the most exciting options:

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Hexproof made Top 8 of the GP this weekend. I hate Hexproof. Enough said.

On a side note, I imagine this deck is taking advantage of the fact that Mono-Black has been cutting back on the number of copies of Devour Flesh. This makes it far weaker to this uninteractive game plan. I’m hoping this is a one-off performance and not a sign of the weeks to come.

R/W Burn did appear before Born of the Gods came out but only as a fringe deck, but it rocketed to success at SCG Seattle on the 15th of March, winning the event overall and putting 3 other copies in the Top 16. It had two copies in the Top 16 this week with one finishing 4th. This deck is surprisingly painful. I remember I played it pre-BNG while piloting Esper control and/or UW and found both of these decks basically cold to it. I played against it last weekend with my Mythic Bant list and while I should have the upper hand with lots of life gain in the deck they cheesed me out with a turn 2 Satyr Firedancer  each game which stopped me from stabilizing with anything. It’s not really my sort of deck but I can see the appeal and it’s very real. Probably another reason why Blood Baron has become more appealing the Mono-Black players.

The Dredge deck was piloted to the Top 16 at the GP this weekend by Ari Lax. It’s based on the deck Conley Woods designed before Born of the Gods. I don’t know if this week’s performance is a true display of its power or a one-hit wonder. Regardless if you want to know more about the decks original design and plan I suggest you look here for Conley’s original piece on the matter. New additions from BNG are Satyr Wayfinder for more graveyard filling goodness and Herald of Torment for value.

I’m going to wrap this up now. Hopefully this has been informative for you. Personally I have my fingers crossed for something good in Journey into Nyx to really shake the format up but I realize my hope is probably in vain. Feel free to follow me on Twitter @onionpixie and I’ll see you same time next week.

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