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Chasing Victory – Regionals and Understanding Alara Reborn

Regionals and Understanding Alara Reborn

Not since Morningtide has an expansion changed Standard so much. There are some new power cards spawning new archetypes, people are finally figuring out how good WB Tokens is, and there’s finally some non-basic hate to punish the greedy.

So what does all this mean?

Anathemancer is single handedly warping Standard. Sure, Bloodbraid Elf is good, but it’s just another good card in a format defined by good cards. Anathemancer is a great card. Old school 5cc is no longer viable, and even Patrick Chapin himself is advocating an aggressive build that incorporates Bloodbraid Elf, Anathemancer, and zero Cruel Ultimatums!

Take a look at the list of decks you can expect to face at Regionals:

Faeries
WB Tokens
GW Tokens
WR Boat Brew
Esper Lark
5cc
RDW
Doran/Elves
Sanity Grinding

Of these decks, the vast majority of them have more non-basics than basics. The Standard mana bases are actually too good.

I’m going to channel Mike Flores and take a trip down memory lane. Take a look at the deck I played at US Nationals 2007:\

Bant Blink

 

I’m a little sad if you’ve never seen this deck, as I consider this to be one of my crowning achievements in Magic. It may not look like much, but it’s one of the few times I can honestly say I had the best deck in the room. Tenth had just come into the format, and Luis and I were desperately trying to break it in the weeks leading up to Nationals. We were pretty set on playing some crappy midrange deck, as RG and BR aggro decks were popular, but we also wanted to be able to destroy Solar Flare, the format’s premier control deck. I didn’t like Flare, as it was the modern day Boat Brew, in that it does nothing.

I was brewing up some UGW Flare style decks, splashing Boom/Bust for the mirrors, but those weren’t working out, so I had to start over. Using what I learned playing the other UGW deck, I built the above Blink deck. The week before Nationals, Gabe Walls and I played the Blink deck in the Kentucky Open and finished first and ninth, with the only loss between us to another Blink deck. We had our deck for Nationals.

So what happened? Why didn’t I win? One very simple reason : My manabase was too good. Eight duals, Flagstones and Edge of Autumn, and some painlands, and I still had space for what I thought was enough basic lands. Even though I was a three color deck, it was extremely rare to have mana problems.

My limited was a less than stellar 4-3, but I was 5-0 in Standard with my Blink deck. At 9-3, I was sitting in the feature match area against Antonino DeRosa, a person who I happen to have a great record against. He was playing RB, which I had smashed several times in the tournament, including someone playing his exact list.

Game one, I mulliganned to four, something that hadn’t happened in the entire tournament. Second game I crushed him, and in the final game, I lost on turn three. I had a Wall of Roots, but his Magus of the Moon stopped me from playing anything relevant. I could have potentially drawn a Serrated Arrows to kill it, but after the game Ant showed me the Shattering Spree he was holding in anticipation of the Arrows.

I had a great matchup, but gave up free wins because of the mulligans and a Magus of the Moon. I could very easily blame luck here, but that wasn’t the case at all. If my mana base were Magus-proof, I would have actually had a shot game three. I also could have respected the RB deck and played the fourth Arrows instead of the third Mystic Snake, which I definitely didn’t need.

Did I need those Yavimaya Coasts? Absolutely not. I could have cut those for two Islands and a Forest, and still basically had the same deck, except Magus would have merely been an annoyance.

Current Standard is facing the same dilemma. We are used to being able to play as many duals as we can, four Reflecting Pools to help with dual colored costs like Murderous Redcap in a Spectral Procession deck, and just being able to get away with it. Anathemancer kind of quashes all that.

So how do we cope? Well, stop being greedy for one thing. Take a “classic” WB deck, like LSV’s PT Kyoto deck:

WB Tokens

 

Notice the four Reflecting Pools. What exactly, do they accomplish? Well, if you have a single Black source, they allow you to cast Head Games out of the sideboard. They also allow you to not take damage if your only Black source is a Caves of Koilos.

However, past that, what good are they? Well, with the Mutavaults, they might cause you to mulligan more, as you get hands where you don’t have any colored mana far more often than you would with zero Pools. Reflecting Pool is also worse than a Plains for the purpose of casting a turn one Burrenton Forge-Tender post board. They hardly seem worth it, and for Kyoto, I realized this and cut one Pool for a Plains, but couldn’t convince LSV, Wrapter, or the Ocho to do the same.

If Anathemancer existed during Kyoto, there is no doubt in my mind that we would have cut the Reflecting Pools.

I am certain that current decks can take all of this into account when building their mana bases. The problem with modern WB decks is that they have double Black spells in the maindeck, which you need Reflecting Pools to reliably cast. So with WB specifically, you basically just have to ignore Anathemancer, or at least the amount of damage that it’s capable of dealing you.

Zealous Persecution is the hottest new card, but again, I think people are jumping the gun. Persecution performs it’s best when you are as aggressive as possible, so that you can take advantage of both sides of it. However, before the PTQ season started, Luis unveiled his new, controlling WB deck, full of persist guys. The new “Tokens” deck was so controlling that we had Wrath of God in and out of the maindeck at various points, and I was even trying out Mind Stones and (prepare to be stunned) an even more controlling approach.

People took Luis’ deck and jammed Persecution into the deck without even thinking about it, and I have to disagree. Persecution has very little synergy with the rest of the persist strategy. I would rather have Wrath of God every single time, against every deck except for maybe Faeries.

If you want to maximize Persecution’s potential, you should look at playing either WB Kithkin or an old school Tokens list with a bunch of Marsh Flitters and Goats. Pumping your squad of tokens is awesome, pumping your lone Mind Stones isn’t.

This is what I would sleeve up for Regionals, if I were interested in playing Tokens:

Updated BW Tokens

Mind Stones allow you to get by without playing a ton of early drops that do nothing. Maindeck Wraths punish careless aggro players. Runed Halo protects you from Anathemancers. Persecution and Anthem are unnecessary. Ajani is the only “Anthem” you want, and that’s mainly for it’s synergy with persist.

Mirror:
+ 1 Wrath of God, 2 Austere Command, 3 Thoughtseize
– 2 Runed Halo, 4 Tidehollow Sculler

The plan here is sweep the board as often as possible, while eventually setting up persist guys plus Ajani. [card]Thoughtseize[/card] is to preemptively snag their planeswalker, or taking their sandbagged Cloudgoat before you Wrath. Their Persecutions will most likely rot in their hand as you will never give them a good time to use them.

Faeries:
+ 3 Thoughtseize, 3 Terror
– 2 Runed Halo, 1 Wrath of God, 3 Mind Stone

Depending on the version, I don’t mind keeping in one or two Wraths here. If they play Scion into Sower on your persist guy, Wrath is probably the best card to have in that scenario.

5cc:
+ 2 Identity Crisis, 2 Puppeteer Clique, 3 Thoughtseize
– 3 Wrath of God, 4 Tidehollow Sculler

I assume most versions will resemble Chapin’s, with Bloodbraid and Anathemancer. Sculler is bad against the heavy amount of sweepers they will surely have postboard, and you have enough disruption and staying power anyway.

GW Tokens:
+ 2 Austere Command, 1 Wrath of God, 3 Terror
– 2 Runed Halo, 4 Tidehollow Sculler

Same as the WB mirror, although this one is much easier due to them having less persist and less Ajanis. Their deck is much more aggressive, so you probably want to have a Wrath in your opener. You want Terrors mainly for their Dauntless Escorts. You don’t get as much value out of Austere here as against the mirror, so two is probably right.

Reveillark:
+ 2 Identity Crisis, 2 Puppeteer Clique, 3 Thoughtseize
– 3 Wrath of God, 2 Runed Halo, 2 Cloudgoat Ranger

The addition of Redcap makes this matchup a lot easier. Sower and Archmage aren’t really an issue anymore, and Lark players should definitely take that into consideration when building their deck. I don’t like cutting Goat against a control deck, but it’s kind of slow and it’s your worst threat.

RDW:
+ 1 Runed Halo, 3 Terror, 2 Puppeteer Clique
– 2 Wrath of God, 4 Tidehollow Sculler

They will probably bring in Everlasting Torment in anticipation of Burrenton Forge-Tenders, but you would rather have Runed Halo anyway. You probably need one on Chaotic Backlash and Anathemancer at some point, as both of those cards can kill you out of no where. If you expect a lot of red decks in your area, you should probably be packing a fourth Halo. Don’t expect most red decks to splash Maelstrom Pulse. Their EV is much higher by sticking with straight RB.

Doran/Elves:
+ 1 Wrath of God, 3 Terror
– 4 Tidehollow Sculler

Similar to GW Tokens, although their deck is much less explosive. You don’t want too many Halos because of [card]Maelstrom Pulse[/card].

Boat Brew:
+ 2 Puppeteer Clique, 2 Identity Crisis, 3 Thoughtseize
– 4 Tidehollow Sculler, 1 Wrath of God, 2 Runed Halo

You want to be aggressive here. The good news is that their deck is non threatening, they board into seven or eight Wrath effects, none of which are A[card]ustere Command[/card]. Brew players advocate boarding out scary cards like [card]Figure of Destiny[/card], and overall their deck does nothing. The bad news? You will beat them quickly and be bored while waiting for your next round to start.

Honestly, I would consider playing any deck in the format at Regionals, depending on what you know how to play. Everything is pretty good, even if it does seem like WB is the new Faeries. Before the tournament, look over your decklist, specifically your mana base, and think about what I’ve said. Do you need those extra filters, painlands, or Reflecting Pools, or would you be better off not getting domed out by Anathemancer? Is Zealous Persecution actually good in your deck, or do you just remember that one time where you killed their Procession and attacked with yours? You don’t need to win big, you just need to win, and Wrath of God allows you to do that.

Good luck.

GerryT

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