The first part of this article will mostly be about Great Sable Stag, the repercussions it had on its introduction to the metagame, and why designer cards are generally bad. Meanwhile the second half will be actual strategic content, so feel free to skim if you’re only interested in that.
Where to begin, oh right, U.S. Nationals, Top 8 numbers you’ve most likely seen at this point, but are quite the oddity and frankly made me slump in my chair when I read them the first time.
Eight decks running 96.8 to 100% of a given card. Not only is that practically unheard of for a Standard format, the fact that the card with 100% play in the Top Eight was purely a sideboard card and costed 1GG. That my friends, is a sign that something just ain’t right; ultimately it wasn’t all on the decision to add Great Sable Stag after Fae was just a top deck and not the deck to beat. Rather it was a culmination of all the mistakes to this point, the ridiculous power cards printed with wildly fluctuating mana costs, the Vivids making 5cc viable and the reprinting of Reflecting Pool where it (foreseeably) became the top land in Standard.
So what happened? I think the biggest issue was design overrun, as WOTC and R&D clearly wanted all these insane cards to be played, but unfortunately left the tap going when it came time to divvy up who got to play what awesome cards. The only thing keeping the giant mess of 4 and 5 color ‘best card’ mentality decks in check was the sheer overpoweredness that the tribal theme in Lorwyn block brought to Standard. That and the fact that everything non-creature had hit the point of such high costs that these decks were very vulnerable to counters and mana denial, which could cost 5c decks enough tempo that they were easy to topple.
Unfortunately the perfect storm finally hit; Great Sable Stag partially invalidated the vulnerable to counters part and all of the good land destruction (save Fulminator Mage) got pushed out the door along with Swans* combo. Oh boy, 5cc lost Wrath of God! Now they only have multiple Red sweepers, Black spot removal, Hallowed Burial, Plumeveil, Wall of Reverence and Kitchen Finks to solidify the defensive side! Whatever shall we do? With both of the main enemies of the play everything good mentality removed from the picture, should it surprise anyone that the best and brightest decided to embrace it?
*I think Swans would’ve been one of the best decks had Seismic Assault been reprinted, at worst it would’ve hung around and kept decks honest. You could beat it with hate and a solid game-plan, while it kept dumb aggro and 5cc decks on their toes thanks to Cascade. It also would’ve meant Faeries had a great counter-match in the metagame (even with Swans gaining GSS) and the meta likely would’ve ended up 5cc, Fae, Swans and Jund duking it out.
This is one of the reasons specifically designing cards to impact metagames is stupid. It’s one thing if you can see the immediate impact or even test it in a small-scale environment using players like they do with game patches and such. It’s quite another when you decide to shove a hoser in at the tail-end of a block when in a few months your problem will be taken care of via your own policies. Yes, Faeries wasn’t fun after a while and it was close to the best (if not the best) for the vast majority of it’s time in Standard. However it seems self-defeating to do something about it now after everyone has already adapted and possibly throwing the metagame off, you fix one problem and create an entirely unexpected one.
Sorry about that, rant over now; time to move onto the Standard metagame and key talking points.
Now the question becomes will the metagame just be 5-color decks of various sorts with Faeries seemingly defeated? Personally I can find very few reasons not to go at least four colors, and Chapin, Conley Woods and a host of others have shown that Jund / Cascade decks can function just as well as their controlling cousins while running the same sort of mana.
In fact the only reasons I can see not going 5-color is to specifically gain use of key cards and abusing them better than a 5-color variant could. So what cards can be abused that aren’t necessarily made any better by adding colors?
Open the Vaults / Time Sieve combo was proven at French Nationals and has a solid 5cc match. Most 5cc players are only going to pack 10 counters (4 of which are 1UUU) and the Time Sieve deck has Silence and multiple ways of taking extra turns. If all we do is hit every land drop and pit the Vault player’s cards vs. 5cc’s, the Vault player is going to win eventually. There’s no legitimate clock to force them to act, unlike Faeries, and a Cruel Ultimatum or Identity Crisis doesn’t pack the same sting when they have Howling Mine and Time Sieve to recover. All it takes is good topdeck and the opponent never gets another turn.
Merfolk is a possibility as a good deck and Gavin Verhey has been raving about the deck non-stop lately. Adrian Sullivan also won a grinder into U.S. Nationals* with the fishy friends, so perhaps this optimism isn’t unwarranted. You can have a pretty strong clock with 8 lords and possibly Wake Thrasher, ways to stop Volcanic Fallout in Meddling Mage and Harm’s Way, plus you have a bunch of counters to shut down 5cc. There are a couple of obvious downsides to this plan though, the first being that Merfolk suffers from the B/W Tokens problem of drawing the right half of your deck at a given moment or losing. There are a number of matches where you just lose if you can’t get a quick clock going with lords and you’re stuck paying sticker price for Silvergill Adept and Sygg, River Guide when you really need to start dealing 6-7 a turn. Same goes for the number of counters you need against a given 5cc deck, sometimes just one, other times you need three or so.
*of course, Sullivan did get stomped during the Standard portion of the main event
I like Merfolk a lot right now, but I just can’t see how it has real game against Jund decks, especially those with quad Shriekmaw and Mannequin. Unless you get some very lucky [card]Sower of Temptation[/card]s, you just can’t stick anything threatening and at some point a threat will hit you just can’t beat. Kithkin also hardly seems like a cakewalk, seeing as they play better guys in general for combat purposes and it’s hard to trump Honor of the Pure or Ajani Goldmane in a creature brawl or racing situation.
Straight Mono White Kithkin doesn’t seem strong enough to recommend anymore, although I’d consult Cedric Philips for an opinion on that point. Still I can’t see how round after round of bigger creature decks running sweepers of their own along with 5cc and Combo Elves being a big deal presents a very favorable metagame for the deck. Maybe a splash for Blue or Green is in order for access to Meddling Mage or Gaddock Teeg to keep things viable. Teeg in particular seems pretty strong if one could keep it alive with Harm’s Way or Forge-Tender, but again I’m not quite sure if that’s worth all the trouble.
Blightning Aggro is interesting, clearly weaker than Jund, but faster in some ways thanks to the mana base having more stability. Clearly Ball Lightning is garbage and shouldn’t see play, but I’m sure you already knew that. Hellspark Elemental also strikes me as dubious in value simply because of the uptick in [card]Plumeveil[/card], but the card is pretty solid in other matches so I suspect it’ll continue being a mainstay. Demigod of Revenge and Banefire are still solid finishers along with the typical burn suite and should probably be run in greater numbers since going for the long-game is the only way to win now.
One possibility I think might’ve been overlooked is the possible return of a G/W Tokens deck. Glorious Anthem is gone, but the majority of the cards that made it good remain in the format. Overrun may not be a powerhouse anymore since crashing through other creatures isn’t the order of the day, but dropping the higher mana cards to allow for Gaddock Teeg maindeck leaves me intrigued.
Spectral Procession and Teeg may not be a combo, but the rest of the deck meshes really well. It has plenty of large men to fight aggro with and Escort still provides the capability of saving the team from Firespout. Combo would likely wreck the deck game one, but post-board you could easily bring in Canonist and other possible hosers.
Of course thinking about it more, since there are still plenty of infinite color decks left, maybe a retrofit of Dark Bant is in order? Gets Sculler, Teeg, even Meddling Mage from the board if it wants and a pretty reasonable clock to back it up; plus with Stag it has additional tools against Faeries and Jund. Putrid Leech also has to be a big boost to the early clock. The mana may seem like a pile of garbage, but that’s where the wonder of Murmuring Bosk, Ziggurat and the new duals come into effect. A couple of basics and Bosk actually let the duals come into play untapped pretty reasonably, plus the fact that you usually wanted G for Hierarch or Birds on the first turn anyway. Still it doesn’t run Cruel Ultimatum, so it probably isn’t any good.
That’s all for now, next week M10 will of hit MODO, so we’ll see what the trends are on there this weekend.
Email me at: joshDOTsilvestriATgmailDOTcom