Czech Mate – GP Denver Primer

GP Denver and GP Manila are right around the corner so I’d like to do a small survey of Standard. I’ll offer my opinion on the most played decks and try to sort them by how well positioned they are right now. Let’s start with the hottest deck in the format right now.

Sidisi Whip – Brad Nelson

Where do I start? Brad and Shahar used this deck to win a combined $70,000 in the last two big tournaments, how about that? The deck plays out very smoothly and there are tons of synergies.

One of the best things about all the Whip decks is the Satyr Wayfinder + Murderous Cut combo, allowing you to mill yourself and helping you hit your land drops while creating a 1-mana Doom Blade.

Pharika is one of the best cards in the mirror, helping you keep their board in check in a combination with Doomwake Giant and basically making their Whip of Erebos useless. Sidisi needs no explanation and Hornet Queen makes sure you don’t get run over by the Wingmate Roc strategies.

One important thing to note is that Brad used this deck in a 16-person tournament, so some of card choices were influenced by a very specific expected metagame. At a GP people still like to play their favorite brews or whatever deck they’ve been playing the entire season, so the range of decks you’ll face is much wider. For that reason I’d move the Reclamation Sage from the main deck to the sideboard and I’d also replace Sultai Charms with Hero’s Downfalls.

This deck has a great sideboard. Ashiok and Disdainful Stroke are incredibly powerful against all the other Whip decks. Kiora is also an interesting addition and shines especially against U/W Heroic. This seems to be the most powerful deck in the format right now, but it’s also the deck everyone is gunning for. Anger of the Gods is very good against you, because it kills all the added value created by Sidisi and Hornet Queen while also removing them from the game permanently.

Abzan Whip – Marijn Lybaert

Marijn has been trying to get back on the PT for some time and he finally won a PTQ two weeks ago with Abzan Whip. This is also the deck I like the most at the moment, it just seems to have it all. For the most part, you are just able to function as a normal, slightly more aggresive midrange deck, but you also have the added value of the Whip package.

Siege Rhino hits hard and if you ever Whip it back, that’s another 7 points of damage. Anafenza is another aggresive card that also happens to be good in the mirror.

The main difference between this and a normal Abzan deck is that you have an answer to their Hornet Queen in Doomwake Giant.

My only problem with the main deck is that while Banishing Light has a great synergy with Commune with the Gods, it gets so much worse after sideboard when everyone brings in enchantment removal against you. Having your Banishing Light Reclamation Saged or Erased mid-combat is usually such a big tempo swing that it can easily cost you the game.

You could replace it with Hero’s Downfall, but then you can’t get rid of Pharika and Whip. Or, you can play Utter End instead, but that comes with the cost of one extra mana. You can also just always sideboard it out after game 1, but that’s not what I want from my most versatile removal spell.

There isn’t much you can change about the deck, you could maybe add a 2nd Pharika if you expect a lot of mirror, but you should keep in mind that you also have less ways to mill yourself. For that reason I would actually cut 1 Whip—I think 2 is enough. Marijn suggested adding a few Wingmate Rocs, which sounds pretty good to me.

You can sideboard out some of the combo cards if you expect a lot of hate, while still making sure that you have enough powerful things to do. I would add more Glare of Heresy to the sideboard because U/W Heroic seems like one of your worst matchups and I also like that there are no Thoughtseizes in the main deck, because in this version there isn’t that much to protect, the games tend to go long and you don’t want to be drawing cards that don’t do anything.

Duneblast is another option for the long grindy mirror matches, but between Thoughtseizes and Courser of Kruphix they can usually see it coming, making it less powerful.

Abzan Aggro – Thea Steele

The first time we saw this deck was at PT Khans of Tarkir when Mike Sigrist finished 4th with a slightly more aggressive version with 4 Herald of Torment. After that, people people settled on the classic midrange version of Abzan which I think was a decision mostly influenced by Jeskai being a very popular deck at the time. Having only Sylvan Caryatid as a 2-drop meant there were no cards that died to Magma Jet and Lightning Strike, making those cards almost useless in the matchup.

A couple weeks ago Thea Steele put this deck back on the radar after a 10th-place finish at an SCG Open, then Brian Braun Duin piloted almost the same exact version to the Top 4 of the Players Champs. The deck is good again because Whip is now probably the best deck in the format and you have 4 Anafenza combined with a fast clock, and 4 Thoughtseizes and Bile Blight as an answer to Hornet Queen, which would otherwise be almost impossible to beat if your only removal was Hero’s Downfall and Abzan Charm.

Speaking of Abzan Charm, this card got much worse because it matches up very poorly against the token strategies and there are less big creatures like Polukranos or Arbor Colossus in the format. The only problem this deck seems to have is the mana base—because of all the multicolor cards you are forced to run a lot of tapped lands to fix your mana, which don’t really cooperate well with you trying to curve out. If you could play the Legacy dual lands this deck would be unbeatable.

I would replace one of the scry lands with Mana Confluence, and a Murderous Cut and 1 Wingmate Roc for 2 Sorins. I’m not a big fan of Erase because trying to answer Jeskai Ascendancy or Whip of Erebos with it feels really bad so I like playing Back to Nature or Reclamation Sage over it. Just make sure you aren’t playing your own Courser of Cruphix or something like Banishing Light if you decide to include Back to Nature in your sideboard, because it kills all enchantments, not just your opponent’s.

U/W Heroic – Tom Ross

I was a big fan of U/W Heroic in Block because it felt favored against all the green decks with 12-16 scry lands that made their deck too slow against you.In Standard it’s a bit different, mostly because fetchlands and painlands made mana bases so much better and there is also Elvish Mystic, so the green decks are almost a turn faster now than they were in Block. Still, with people focusing on more late-game cards like Whip and Hornet Queen, U/W Heroic seems like it might be pretty well positioned right now. I haven’t played any games with it though, so this is all just going to be based on theory.

Feat of Resistance seems a bit too expensive to me, I’d rather play another Ajani’s Presence because even though it technically doesn’t help you against Bile Blight, the pump effect and the heroic/prowess trigger do make your creature big enough to survive the -3/-3.

I’d also play the full 4 Stratus Walk because that seems like one of your best cards against the green decks. Too often when I play against this deck on MTGO they are just stuck watching my Siege Rhino with 3 small guys after I manage to kill their one big guy early in the game. With Stratus Walk, it doesn’t matter how big your guy is, flying will usually be good enough to attack through anything other than Hornet Queen.

Stubborn Denial doesn’t seem very good to me right now, it would be good against End Hostilities but not too reliable early in the game against all the cheap removal. I’m also not sure how good Heliod’s Pilgrim is, but I guess if Tom Ross says it’s good enough, then it’s probably good enough.

One thing I’m not certain about is whether or not to bring in Drown in Sorrow when I’m playing against this deck. It seems pretty bad in theory, but then every time I play a game post-board, they go Hoplite-Seeker-Pilgrim, fetch an Aura and get ready for a big turn 4 and Drown would be amazing there.

B/G Constellation – Owen/Reid/Huey

This deck has a pretty good matchup against the Whip strategies, but it’s much worse against more aggressive decks like Jeskai. Your 4-drop of choice is Eidolon of Blossoms, which is quite slow, but if you have enough time the card advantage will usually win you the game.

Nykthos is a game-breaker in the slow matchups. At the Players Champs, Reid and Gerard actually splashed blue for Ashiok and counters in the sideboard, which just shows how good those cards are right now. It’s a metagame choice that can pay off or you can just get paired against the wrong matchups and be out quickly.

Jeskai Tokens – Yuuya Watanabe

Yuuya surprised everyone when he showed up at Worlds with his innovative tokens deck. Jeskai Ascendancy is the card that makes this all work. It pumps your army of small guys and helps you find more spells while filling your graveyard for Treasure Cruise so you can keep going.

The good thing about this deck is that cards like Hero’s Downfall and Murderous Cut match up very poorly against tokens and you can usually make sure that even Goblin Rabblemaster leaves at least one Goblin behind. While it was clearly a great metagame choice for Worlds, it seems like people had time to adjust and now every black deck seems to have 3-4 Bile Blights. There are also too many Doomwake Giants running around, which is another card you don’t want to see.

If I were playing a Jeskai deck, I would play something like this:

The only problem I have with Jeskai is that Jeskai Charm just feels so mediocre when you are on the draw. Also Siege Rhino has too big a body for your removal spells, so that’s why there are the 3 Banishing Lights. I mentioned that they seemed bad to me in the Abzan Whip deck, but that’s because you also have other enchantments like Courser of Kruphix, Doomwake Giant, and Whip of Erebos, so they will want to bring in enchantment removal against you anyway.

If I’m playing against a Jeskai deck and I only see 1 Banishing Light game 1, I’m going to leave my Erases and Reclamation Sages in the sideboard because they are going to be useless too often. I like the Phoenixes because people are cutting on Abzan Charms and a big flying creature seems good against the Whip decks.

Wingmate Roc is the best followup to that and I think it’s better than Stormbreath Dragon right now because even if it dies to a Murderous Cut or Hero’s Downfall, it still leaves a token behind. That’s also the reason why I’m not playing any Hushwing Gryffs, I think Wingmate Roc is just too good right now and they don’t work together very well. Soldier of the Pantheon is a great card against Abzan Aggro, Brimaz and Elspeth go well with Anger of the Gods and the rest is pretty self-explanatory.

R/G Aggro

Sam Pardee recorded a good video with R/G yesterday so I’m using the same version. For a long time we considered playing a similar deck at PT Honolulu, but ultimately chose Abzan. Our version had more burn, I think we had the full 4 Lightning Strikes and 4 Stoke the Flames. This version only plays 4 Crater’s Claws which makes Goblin Rabblemaster much worse. It seems like a good home for it on paper, because you can play Elvish Mystic into Rabblemaster on turn 2, but the absence of removal means it will usually just make a token that’s just gonna die every turn.

This deck’s biggest problem is Hornet Queen and it also feels a bit soft to Anger of the Gods and Drown in Sorrow. Doomwake Giant is another card that usually kills half your board. I would play some number of Polukranos because it is bigger than Siege Rhino and thenreplace Rabblemasters with either some burn or more Boon Satyr to help my guys attack through bigger creatures.

I love Destructive Revelry in the sideboard and Xenagos is also really good right now, because there is basically no deck playing Mantis Rider but overall I don’t think I would want to play this deck in a format full of Siege Rhinos, Murderous Cuts, and Hornet Queens.

Abzan Midrange – Patrick Chapin

This deck is a bit slower and Patrick is running a whopping 12 enter-the-battlefield-tapped lands which sometimes gives you the feeling that you are starting the game with Sphere of Resistance in play. Patrick has been having really good results with the deck lately and he clearly knows what he’s doing, but I feel like that was mostly because he was always able to perfectly tune his list for the current metagame, often playing cards that people don’t expect like End Hostilities in the main deck.

I’m not a big fan of Abzan Midrange right now because the deck just can’t beat a Hornet Queen. Bile Blight still leaves the Queen behind and sideboarding Drown in Sorrow against it is probably correct, but it just feels so mediocre. As I said before, Abzan Charm is poorly positioned right now and especially so if you are using it to draw 2 cards instead of adding something relevant to the board. All things considered, a solid deck, but it might just not be good enough at the moment.

U/B Control – Ivan Floch

U/B or U/W are pretty much the only true control decks in the format. This deck seems good in theory, and it should be good in a slower format like this with cards that are more expensive than your counterspells and removal, but for some reason every time this deck gets featured on camera in a high profile tournament, it just can’t seem to win a match.

Perilous Vault is one of your best cards for this metagame because the first creatures that usually start attacking are Courser of Kruphix and Siege Rhino, so often after playing it on turn 4, you aren’t even pressured to activate it right away. If you can set it up so that you clear the board at the end of their turn and then untap with a full grip of counters and removal, that’s basically game. The problem is that you absolutely need to hit your first 5 land drops so you are playing 28 lands, which sometimes results in flooding out. Also, a timely Thoughtseize from your opponent to make sure they can resolve a key spell or take your card draw that you rely on can be crucial. I would play more Disdainful Strokes, at least in the sideboard and I’d definitely cut the Grindclocks from the sideboard, because I wouldn’t expect to play any mirror matches.

I like the one Ætherspouts because it always catches people off-guard, but on the other hand the same kind of surprise can happen to you when your Perilious Vault gets randomly destroyed by a maindeck Reclamation Sage or Utter End. You are also playing a lot of discard which means that you will have a bunch of dead draws in your deck in the late game, but at least for that you are compensating with 7 card draw spells. All in all a deck that seems good in theory, but hardly ever seems to perform.

Mono-Red – Raphael Levy

The last deck I want to mention is mono-red. This deck is pretty straightforward, you basically trade some card quality for speed and better mana. Playing only one color means you don’t have to play any enter-the-battlefield-tapped lands that would slow you down, which is great and it works as intended, but the problem with speed and these decks in general is that you need almost a perfect mix of lands and spells every game to be able to execute your plan of killing them before their more powerful cards take over. If you draw the good ol’ 3-lands-all-spells combo then you are most likely going to win, but if you are stuck on 1 or 2 lands for too long or if you flood out, you aren’t going to have a good time.

The sideboard is interesting and allows you to take out some of the early drops and go bigger with Chandra and Dragons against decks that bring in Drown in Sorrows and Anger of the Gods against you, but it still doesn’t seem to be good enough. Also, Searing Blood doesn’t seem very well positioned right now, the only commonly played cards I can really of that you can kill with it are Seeker of the Way, Eidolon of Blossoms, Satyr Wayfinder, and a Sidisi token.

Well, that’s it for today. I hope it helps you with choosing the right deck for the upcoming GP, PPTQ, FNM, or whatever other tournament you are going to play. Good luck and see you next time!


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