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Chasing Victory: Standard Roundup

 

“Standard is boring.”

That is a typical complaint, often with no basis, but in this instance I think it’s legitimate. Part of it stems from the matchups, where most of them are simply coin flips, often won by the die roll or a midgame topdeck. The other part is because of all the Standard decks are capable of the same things. Let’s take a look at the viable Standard archetypes:

5-Color Control
Faeries
WB Tokens
WR Boat Brew
Kithkin
Doran/Bant
RDW
Swans
Reveillark
GB Elves (look at the recent surge of GB in MODO Premier Events if you don’t believe me)

All of these have ways of gaining card advantage and killing creatures. With the exception of Swans and 5cc, all of the decks win the game through the same way: combat damage. Their strategy also involves dealing with troublesome cards via removal, disruption, or counterspells. Every game of every matchup involves both decks just throwing out threats and saying, “Can you deal with this?” Whether or not it’s Bitterblossom[/card], [card]Spectral Procession[/card], Doran, or a Planeswalker, the game remains the same. The person who sticks the last threat wins.

Standard has a distinct lack of good card drawing, with the exception of certain cards like [card]Jace Beleren[/card] or [card]Tidings[/card] that just aren’t playable in every deck. Because of that, and the abundance of good threats, you just have to play more of those threats and hope to draw enough of them when it matters. As each player is looking to do the same thing, tapping out for things like [card]Tidings[/card] is almost a death sentence, as you have just given your opponent a turn to do whatever they want without affecting the board. Unless you have the right answer to the varied threats that exist in Standard, you are probably pretty far behind after you tap out and don’t affect the board in any way.

For this reason, I currently prefer to play an aggressive strategy in Standard. This means Faeries, Swans, and 5cc don’t get my stamp of approval. Faeries is hard pressed to deal with the [card]Spectral Procession[/card] decks, in addition to decks like Doran that have a lot of spot removal and cheap creatures that dodge UB removal. Swans and 5cc simply rely on [card]Volcanic Fallout[/card] too much, which isn’t good against every single deck in the format. Even Faeries, which is usually wrecked by Fallout, defeats those decks more often than not.

Dave Price used to say, “There are no wrong threats, only wrong answers,” which current Standard proves to be overwhelmingly true. How do you fight efficient creatures, spells, enchantments, and Planeswalkers that spew creatures, manlands, and burn spells? You can’t just load up on [card]Wrath of God[/card]s and [card]Oblivion Ring[/card]s and hope you always have the right answer. I’ve tried playing some mix of [card]Negate[/card], [card]Remove Soul[/card], and [card]Broken Ambitions[/card], but that doesn’t work out as often as I would like it to. The aggro decks just don’t give the control decks enough time to find the right answers due to the overall high power level of the format.

This seems like what Wizards intended. All of the decks have the same tools, all of the colors are viable, and there are no “unfun” permission or land destruction decks. While this may seem like a noble goal, is this really what we want? What it really means is that there are no linear strategies and the majority of the decks can now be classified as “midrange.”

Potes on our forums loosely defines midrange as “A deck without an engine that directly wins the game. It typically has more than average ‘answer’ type cards such as removal, hand destruction or permanent destruction. It typically feels comfortable playing either an aggro game or a defensive game, and tries to beat dedicated strategies by playing opposite (i.e. controlling against aggressive decks and aggressive against controlling decks).”

I like this definition, especially the part where he specifies that midrange tries to play the opposite strategy of their opponent. Faeries, WB Tokens, and RW Boat Brew are all great examples of this. When paired against a deck like 5cc, they are the aggro deck, but when paired against a deck like RDW, they have to become the control deck.

So what happens when two decks like WB and WR square off? Well, WR comically folds to a [card]Glorious Anthem[/card] or [card]Ajani Goldmane[/card], and those cards naturally support the aggressive deck more, so WB becomes the beatdown. However, WR can’t really play control against WB effectively, at least in Game One. That is one of the reasons I don’t like WR in current Standard. It’s just really bad against other white mirrors, whereas WB can be brutally fast.

The WR mirror is exactly what a midrange mirror looks like. Both players execute their game plans, playing cards that give them card advantage like [card]Siege-Gang Commander[/card] and [card]Reveillark[/card], but both players can easily deal with those cards. Without an engine, eventually one player runs out of gas while the other continues to draw well, or at least better than his opponent. It’s exactly these types of games that make Standard mind numbing.

However, one very important thing can be learned from all this. [card]Thoughtseize[/card] and [card]Bitterblossom[/card] are both somewhat bad in midrange mirrors, although it’s mostly [card]Thoughtseize[/card]. When you have eight of these cards in your deck with no real engine or way to recoup the life loss, they become dead draws in the midgame. Assuming a typical WR deck had 4 [card]Mind Stones[/card] and 22 lands (although four of them are still [card]Windbrisk Heights[/card]), that means that WR only has about 18 cards that are strictly lands with no abilities. That deck will typically draw quite well in the midgame, especially since they have [card]Figure of Destiny[/card], [card]Reveillark[/card], Siege-Gang, and [card]Ranger of Eos[/card], which are all very powerful and game altering.

Now, a typical WB deck around Worlds ran 25 lands (although with two [card]Mutavaults[/card] and four Heights), four [card]Thoughtseize[/card] and four [card]Bitterblossom[/card]. Once WB has a [card]Bitterblossom[/card] in play, that means they have 19 lands, and seven spells that are effectively “dead” draw steps. That’s a lot more compared to WR, and part of the reason why WB absolutely must be the aggro deck, as they won’t do well in the midgame. Granted, WB is going to have to be the aggro deck with Anthem and Ajani anyway, but still.

The main reason I bring this is up is because of [card]Thoughtseize[/card]. You might be thinking that [card]Thoughtseize[/card] is always a great card in decks that can cast it. What’s not to love, right? One mana and a tiny amount of life gets you their best card and valuable information as to what their strategy is and how they plan on executing it that game. However, with almost all of the decks playing very similar cards, what do you [card]Thoughtseize[/card], and does it even matter what you take? What if you [card]Thoughtseize[/card] WR on turn three and they show you [card]Ranger of Eos[/card], [card]Reveillark[/card], and [card]Siege-Gang Commander[/card]. If you take Ranger, they will probably beat you with Siege-Gang and vice versa.

When all the decks in a format are midrange, the ability to [card]Thoughtseize[/card] specific cards is almost non existent, because the majority of cards in these decks basically all overlap into threats and answers. Thoughtseizing a random threat or answer doesn’t matter much, as they have plenty more where that came from. Compare this to Extended, where you cast [card]Thoughtseize[/card] against a TEPS player and take their only [card]Mind’s Desire[/card]. They fail to find another one and you win the game because of it. [card]Thoughtseize[/card] was amazing that game, but that type of thing rarely happens in Standard anymore, unless you are specifically talking about [card]Bitterblossom[/card], as that card used to be the entire Faeries’ engine.

These are all the reasons that we (Luis, Wrapter, Ocho, me) decided not to play [card]Thoughtseize[/card] at PT Kyoto and I definitely feel like it’s correct. Sure, if you want a little extra game vs. 5cc or Faeries, then [card]Thoughtseize[/card] is decent, but just not that you are basically giving up the late game.

Even with a new set on the horizon (thankfully), I think it’s important to look back and consider the best builds of the best decks before we go about trying to update them or build new decks.

Faeries

LSV covered Faeries extensively HERE. This is his list for reference:

3 [card]Spellstutter Sprite[/card]
4 [card]Mistbind Clique[/card]
4 [card]Scion of Oona[/card]
2 [card]Sower of Temptation[/card]

4 [card]Bitterblossom[/card]
4 [card]Cryptic Command[/card]
4 [card]Broken Ambitions[/card]
3 [card]Terror[/card]
1 [card]Agony Warp[/card]
3 [card]Jace Beleren[/card]
2 [card]Remove Soul[/card]
1 [card]Loxodon Warhammer[/card]

2 [card]Swamp[/card]
5 [card]Island[/card]
2 [card]Faerie Conclave[/card]
4 [card]Mutavault[/card]
4 [card]Secluded Glen[/card]
4 [card]Underground River[/card]
4 [card]Sunken Ruins[/card]

Sideboard
1 [card]Agony Warp[/card]
1 [card]Mind Shatter[/card]
2 [card]Sower of Temptation[/card]
2 [card]Vendilion Clique[/card]
2 [card]Puppeteer Clique[/card]
3 [card]Scepter of Fugue[/card]
4 [card]Thoughtseize[/card]

Faeries is great against 5cc, WR, and Reveillark, close to even against WB, Kithkin, Swans, and Elves, and pretty bad against Doran and RDW.

WR Boat Brew

This is the list that Brian Kowal has been having tons of success with lately:

1 [card]Burrenton Forge-Tender[/card]
4 [card]Figure of Destiny[/card]
4 [card]Kitchen Finks[/card]
4 [card]Knight of the White Orchid[/card]
4 [card]Mogg Fanatic[/card]
4 [card]Murderous Redcap[/card]
4 [card]Ranger of Eos[/card]
2 [card]Reveillark[/card]
4 [card]Siege-Gang Commander[/card]

4 [card]Path to Exile[/card]
2 [card]Mind Stone[/card]

4 [card]Battlefield Forge[/card]
4 [card]Mountain[/card]
4 [card]Plains[/card]
3 [card]Reflecting Pool[/card]
4 [card]Rugged Prairie[/card]
4 [card]Windbrisk Heights[/card]

Sideboard
4 [card]Galepowder Mage[/card]
1 [card]Reveillark[/card]
3 [card]Celestial Purge[/card]
4 [card]Guttural Response[/card]
1 [card]Banefire[/card]
2 [card]Wrath of God[/card]

Notice the lack of sacred cows [card]Ajani Vengeant[/card] and [card]Spectral Procession[/card]. Brian doesn’t like them, and instead chooses to play with sweeper resistant persisters, which makes his 5cc matchup a little bit better. He also has techy [card]Galepowder Mage[/card]s in the sideboard. They are great against WB, and are even decent against 5cc (for getting pesky walls out of the way and potentially trading with a Broodmate) and Faeries (as they can negate [card]Bitterblossom[/card] or free up your guys from Sower).

The Brew should easily defeat Kithkin (although you probably need more Wraths in the sideboard to do that effectively), Doran (ditto), GB Elves (ditto), and RDW, while being loose against 5cc, Swans, Faeries, Reveillark, and WB.

WB Tokens

4 [card]Knight of Meadowgrain[/card]
4 [card]Tidehollow Sculler[/card]
4 [card]Marsh Flitter[/card]
3 [card]Cloudgoat Ranger[/card]

4 [card]Terror[/card]
4 [card]Bitterblossom[/card]
4 [card]Spectral Procession[/card]
4 [card]Glorious Anthem[/card]
3 [card]Ajani Goldmane[/card]

3 [card]Mutavault[/card]
4 [card]Arcane Sanctum[/card]
4 [card]Fetid Heath[/card]
4 [card]Caves of Koilos[/card]
4 [card]Windbrisk Heights[/card]
3 [card]Reflecting Pool[/card]
3 [card]Plains[/card]
1 [card]Swamp[/card]

Sideboard
4 [card]Burrenton Forge-Tender[/card]
2 [card]Head Games[/card]
1 [card]Ajani Goldmane[/card]
2 [card]Path to Exile[/card]
3 [card]Galepowder Mage[/card]
3 [card]Wrath of God[/card]

I still think WB Tokens is one of the best, if not the best deck to play in Standard. It’s fast, full of powerful cards, and even has a little bit of disruption. It’s great against WR, Doran, RDW, Kithkin, and Elves, close to even against Fae, 5cc, and Swans, and only really poor against Reveillark.

Swans

3 [card]Swans of Bryn Argoll[/card]
3 [card]Plumeveil[/card]
1 [card]Oona, Queen of the Fae[/card]

4 [card]Pyroclasm[/card]
3 [card]Volcanic Fallout[/card]
3 [card]Remove Soul[/card]
2 [card]Negate[/card]
2 [card]Broken Ambitions[/card]
4 [card]Cryptic Command[/card]
2 [card]Seismic Assault[/card]
2 [card]Tidings[/card]
4 [card]Jace Beleren[/card]

4 [card]Crumbling Necropolis[/card]
4 [card]Reflecting Pool[/card]
4 [card]Cascade Bluffs[/card]
4 [card]Shivan Reef[/card]
2 [card]Mutavault[/card]
1 [card]Ghitu Encampment[/card]
8 [card]Island[/card]

Sideboard
3 [card]Curse of Chains[/card]
3 [card]Pithing Needle[/card]
2 [card]Swerve[/card]
2 [card]Negate[/card]
1 [card]Tidings[/card]
1 [card]Plumeveil[/card]
1 [card]Volcanic Fallout[/card]
2 [card]Banefire[/card]

I’ve blogged about the deck HERE and HERE, while LSV wrote an in depth article HERE. Swans is great against white decks and 5cc, mediocre against Faeries and Reveillark, and pretty miserable against green decks with x/3s or bigger. If you predict only white decks at your next tournament, Swans is an amazing choice, otherwise you will probably want to play something that is better against the field.

Kithkin/WW

This is the list I would play, despite being somewhat unusual:

4 [card]Figure of Destiny[/card]
2 [card]Burrenton Forge-Tender[/card]
4 [card]Knight of the White Orchid[/card]
4 [card]Knight of Meadowgrain[/card]
3 [card]Ranger of Eos[/card]
3 [card]Cloudgoat Ranger[/card]

4 [card]Spectral Procession[/card]
4 [card]Glorious Anthem[/card]
3 [card]Ajani Goldmane[/card]
4 [card]Path to Exile[/card]

4 [card]Windbrisk Heights[/card]
2 [card]Mutavault[/card]
19 [card]Plains[/card]

Sideboard
4 [card]Galepowder Mage[/card]
1 [card]Ajani Goldmane[/card]
1 [card]Cloudgoat Ranger[/card]
1 [card]Ranger of Eos[/card]
2 [card]Burrenton Forge-Tender[/card]
2 [card]Reveillark[/card]
2 [card]Soul Warden[/card]
2 [card]Wrath of God[/card]

I think this list is where you want to be for Kithkin, especially with the Orchids main and the frequently mentioned [card]Galepowder Mages[/card] in the board. [card]Ranger of Eos[/card] is amazing, as it’s another one of those “army in a can” cards that makes the white decks so powerful. Ranger-ing for a pair of [card]Soul Warden[/card]s is very sick in the white mirrors as well, as it gives you plenty of time to catch up if you’re behind.

The red splash popularized by Cedric Phillips isn’t necessary. [card]Ajani Vengeant[/card] is much worse in this format than it’s mono white counterpart, even if it is flashier. Any other red cards, like [card]Banefire[/card], are simply worse than playing more “army in a cans.”

Kithkin is great against GB Elves, Doran, RDW, and WR, mediocre against Faeries, and bad against WB, Lark, and 5cc. WB Tokens is a similar deck, with better matchups, so I would just play that instead.

RDW

RDW is a great deck that is basically the opposite of Swans. It has a solid chance against everything except the white decks. For that reason, you may want to think twice about slinging burn spells due to the overabundance of Plains in the format.

Here is a very solid list that won a 1K in Roanoke in the hands of Justin Warbin.

4 [card]Boggart Ram-Gang[/card]
4 [card]Figure of Destiny[/card]
3 [card]Goblin Outlander[/card]
4 [card]Hellspark Elemental[/card]
4 [card]Mogg Fanatic[/card]
2 [card]Shambling Remains[/card]

4 [card]Flame Javelin[/card]
3 [card]Terror[/card]
3 [card]Volcanic Fallout[/card]
1 [card]Banefire[/card]
4 [card]Blightning[/card]

4 [card]Auntie’s Hovel[/card]
3 [card]Ghitu Encampment[/card]
4 [card]Graven Cairns[/card]
9 [card]Mountain[/card]
4 [card]Sulfurous Springs[/card]

Sideboard
1 [card]Shambling Remains[/card]
2 [card]Chaotic Backlash[/card]
2 [card]Wild Ricochet[/card]
1 [card]Banefire[/card]
4 [card]Deathmark[/card]
2 [card]Everlasting Torment[/card]
3 [card]Dragon’s Claw[/card]

I would do a few things differently, such as including the fourth [card]Goblin Outlander[/card]. I really like how he is playing [card]Chaotic Backlash[/card] in his board, where most have Infest, especially when he had a ton of different ways to kill Forge-Tender. It fits the deck better, and is probably what you need to make the white matchups a bit better.

RDW is good against Faeries, Swans, and Reveillark, and bad against Kithkin, WB, WR, 5cc, Elves, and Doran. I like what the above list had done to combat those bad matchups, but I still don’t think that it’s enough.

5cc

Sadly, I don’t have much to say about this deck, except that [card]Jace Beleren[/card] is definitely better than [card]Mulldrifter[/card], especially with all the walls. This is the list that Bobby Graves used to crush the competition at the Indy 5K, eventually splitting in the finals:

4 [card]Plumeveil[/card]
2 [card]Wall of Reverence[/card]

2 [card]Agony Warp[/card]
4 [card]Broken Ambitions[/card]
4 [card]Cryptic Command[/card]
4 [card]Esper Charm[/card]
3 [card]Volcanic Fallout[/card]
1 [card]Wild Ricochet[/card]
1 [card]Banefire[/card]
2 [card]Cruel Ultimatum[/card]
1 [card]Obelisk of Alara[/card]
1 [card]Pithing Needle[/card]
2 [card]Ajani Vengeant[/card]
3 [card]Jace Beleren[/card]

2 [card]Cascade Bluffs[/card]
2 [card]Exotic Orchard[/card]
3 [card]Island[/card]
2 [card]Mystic Gate[/card]
4 [card]Reflecting Pool[/card]
3 [card]Sunken Ruins[/card]
1 [card]Vivid Crag[/card]
4 [card]Vivid Creek[/card]
2 [card]Vivid Marsh[/card]
4 [card]Vivid Meadow[/card]

Sideboard
1 [card]Wall of Reverence[/card]
2 [card]Wydwen, the Biting Gale[/card]
1 [card]Agony Warp[/card]
2 [card]Condemn[/card]
3 [card]Negate[/card]
1 [card]Volcanic Fallout[/card]
1 [card]Wild Ricochet[/card]
2 [card]Wrath of God[/card]
2 [card]Pithing Needle
[/card]
While I don’t agree with some of his choices (no [card]Broodmate Dragon[/card]?), his list is definitely interesting. Typically, 5cc is great against WB, WR, RDW, Kithkin, Elves, and Doran, and terrible against Faeries, Reveillark, and Swans.

Doran

Pat Chapin used this deck to finish in the top sixteen at the Indianapolis 5K:

4 [card]Birds of Paradise[/card]
3 [card]Chameleon Colossus[/card]
4 [card]Doran, the Siege Tower[/card]
4 [card]Noble Hierarch[/card]
4 [card]Tidehollow Sculler[/card]
4 [card]Wilt-Leaf Liege[/card]
4 [card]Wren’s Run Vanquisher[/card]

3 [card]Eyeblight’s Ending[/card]
2 [card]Nameless Inversion[/card]
2 [card]Profane Command[/card]
3 [card]Thoughtseize[/card]

4 [card]Gilt-Leaf Palace[/card]
4 [card]Llanowar Wastes[/card]
4 [card]Murmuring Bosk[/card]
2 [card]Mutavault[/card]
1 [card]Swamp[/card]
4 [card]Treetop Village[/card]
4 [card]Windbrisk Heights[/card]

Sideboard
1 [card]Cloudthresher[/card]
2 [card]Kitchen Finks[/card]
2 [card]Puppeteer Clique[/card]
3 [card]Scattershot Archer[/card]
2 [card]Shriekmaw[/card]
2 [card]Mind Shatter[/card]
1 [card]Thoughtseize[/card]
2 [card]Mutavault[/card]

This is more or less an Elf deck splashing Doran, Sculler, or [card]Windbrisk Heights[/card]. I’m not sure if that’s entirely worth it or not, especially considering how successful GB has been on Magic Online lately, while Chapin’s deck has barely made an impact. This could be due to not a lot of players running it, but who knows?

The Doran/Bant hybrid that Brian Robinson cracked the top eight with at PT Kyoto had been a bit more popular, but not by much. I wouldn’t recommend that deck, as it is literally all creatures and spot removal spells. I believe the deck needs a solid finisher, either in the form of Cryptic or [card]Profane Command[/card].

Doran is solid against RDW, Faeries, and Swans, mediocre against Elves, and bad against Lark, 5cc, Kithkin, WR, and WB. I wouldn’t recommend this deck.

Reveillark

I recently wrote about Lark HERE, as I used the following list to win $400:

4 [card]Reveillark[/card]
4 [card]Mulldrifter[/card]
4 [card]Fulminator Mage[/card]
4 [card]Sower of Temptation[/card]
3 [card]Glen Elendra Archmage[/card]
2 [card]Tidehollow Sculler[/card]

4 [card]Wrath of God[/card]
4 [card]Cryptic Command[/card]
3 [card]Terror[/card]
2 [card]Negate[/card]

4 [card]Arcane Sanctum[/card]
4 [card]Reflecting Pool[/card]
3 [card]Vivid Creek[/card]
1 [card]Vivid Meadow[/card]
1 [card]Exotic Orchard[/card]
1 [card]Underground River[/card]
1 [card]Adarkar Wastes[/card]
2 [card]Fetid Heath[/card]
2 [card]Sunken Ruins[/card]
3 [card]Mystic Gate[/card]
2 [card]Island[/card]
1 [card]Plains[/card]
1 [card]Swamp[/card]

Sideboard
3 [card]Burrenton Forge-Tender[/card]
3 [card]Jace Beleren[/card]
2 [card]Mind Shatter[/card]
2 [card]Runed Halo[/card]
2 [card]Tidehollow Sculler[/card]
2 [card]Austere Command[/card]
1 [card]Terror[/card]

Lark is fantastic against WB, WR, Kithkin, 5cc, Doran, and Elves, even against Swans, and bad against Faeries and RDW.

Elves

This is a list that Aluisio_Cs used to make top eight in a Magic Online Premier Event:

3 [card]Forest[/card]
4 [card]Gilt-Leaf Palace[/card]
4 [card]Llanowar Wastes[/card]
4 [card]Mutavault[/card]
2 [card]Swamp[/card]
4 [card]Treetop Village[/card]
2 [card]Twilight Mire
[/card]
4 [card]Bramblewood Paragon[/card]
3 [card]Chameleon Colossus[/card]
2 [card]Civic Wayfinder[/card]
4 [card]Imperious Perfect[/card]
3 [card]Llanowar Elves[/card]
1 [card]Shriekmaw[/card]
4 [card]Wren’s Run Vanquisher[/card]

3 [card]Eyeblight’s Ending[/card]
3 [card]Garruk Wildspeaker[/card]
1 [card]Primal Command[/card]
3 [card]Profane Command[/card]
2 [card]Terror[/card]
4 [card]Thoughtseize[/card]

Sideboard
3 [card]Cloudthresher[/card]
3 [card]Guttural Response[/card]
1 [card]Hurricane[/card]
3 [card]Infest[/card]
2 [card]Mind Shatter[/card]
1 [card]Necrogenesis[/card]
2 [card]Puppeteer Clique[/card]

This is a fairly stock list, although with some interesting choices. I’m not quite sure how good the [card]Bramblewood Paragon[/card]s are, and I would probably run more [card]Civic Wayfinder[/card]s and [card]Llanowar Elves[/card], but the list looks good. With a format full of midrange decks, Profane Command is a huge beating. I can’t imagine ever losing to a deck like WR if you draw a Profane with a reasonable amount of pressure.

Elves is good against WR, Faeries, Swans, and RDW, mediocre against Doran, and bad against Kithkin, WB, 5cc, and Reveillark.

Hopefully this has helped you see what decks are great right now, what decks definitely need help from Alara Reborn, and what you can expect to see in the upcoming PTQs.

GerryT

 

Discussion

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