After two weeks of mostly Modern content (and I’m sure even more in the pipeline from the largest Constructed Grand Prix to date) Standard has felt a bit neglected lately. Oh sure, there was GP Melbourne and a handful of other notable events, but nobody really seemed to care. Online Standard has shaped up rather nicely with the following decks all holding serve or gaining traction over the past two weeks. Let’s look at some of the uptrends:
RW Burn has definitely been the winner in terms of popularity and affect on the metagame. Our local red expert James “Zemanjaski” scored a Top 32 finish at GP Melbourne with it and Magic Online has seen a resurgence of the deck. He also got 35 QPs in six days on Magic Online with some ridiculous win percentage. While one person crushing with the deck shouldn’t sway you, on the whole red has gained a lot of traction. I talked to James Fazzolari in a recent podcast, before GP Melbourne:
While black decks have more or less had all their tuning done by this point, red decks were lagging far behind on the technology curve. Part of why it seems like the top decks stay dominant for month-long periods and then suddenly, right before a new set, it feels like the metagame has caught up is because that’s exactly what’s happening. There simply aren’t enough skilled pilots working on a particular archetype or putting the games in to see what works and what doesn’t. By the time it gets figured out, there are only two weeks of events and then the next set comes out and everyone goes on figuring out the new best deck.
Our initial red builds shared plenty of cards with other burn decks—that was a given based on what we have available in Standard. Over time we tweaked and made lots of small breakthroughs—full sets of [ccProd]Mutavault[/ccProd]s in the maindeck, the addition and subtraction of [ccProd]Satyr Firedancer[/ccProd], [ccProd]Ash Zealot[/ccProd], [ccProd]Spark Trooper[/ccProd], and so on. In the week I stopped providing much input on the deck, the guys at DTR and Zem kept going and have their own builds which prominently feature [ccProd]Viashino Firstblade[/ccProd] and [ccProd]Blind Obedience[/ccProd] alongside a pair of maindeck [ccProd]Chained to the Rocks[/ccProd]. All these small tweaks and changes add up and we now have a deck that’s very good against the current hierarchy of Swamp and Island decks.
UW Devotion is another example of a deck that took a good archetype and simply tweaked it, trying to make it better by adding colors. By adding [ccProd]Ephara, God of the Polis[/ccProd], it gained another strong draw engine and giant threat alongside [ccProd]Detention Sphere[/ccProd], which shouldn’t require an explanation by this point. Players of the deck have told me very little was lost in this transition and that it now has better matchups across the board by adopting this splash.
On the other hand, Sam Pardee tells me this iteration of the deck is a massive pile and he’s played the Mono-U version far more than I ever will. So I’ll chalk this up as “YMMV.”
Finally we have a deck that mostly lurked under the radar and was an afterthought once UW Control finally got the precious scry land it had craved all this time. Ironically, this also enables Esper to function without actively the full 12 shocks which ruined it the first time around. Between [ccProd]Temple of Enlightenment[/ccProd] and two important metagame shifts, Esper is now a very good place to be and there’s a legitimate debate between the two decks once again.
First is that Esper’s shaky mana base woes have largely been solved and you can consistently hit your mana while still running 6-9 basics if you so choose. You can even still run [ccProd]Mutavault[/ccProd] if you want! The key shift is that MBC has remained a majority player in the metagame and GR Monsters has moved away from early aggression and toward slower stable creatures like [ccProd]Courser of Kruphix[/ccProd] and [ccProd]Stormbreath Dragon[/ccProd]. As a result there are very few real aggro decks to punish the adoption of 10-12 scry land packages for UWx Control. You get better mana and the additional filtering power means a higher chance of seeing your key cards in time.
In fact, [ccProd]Doom Blade[/ccProd] is one of the best sideboard cards in the format right now since it combats GR and UW Devotion decks so efficiently.
Secondly, because the MBC and Orzhov Control decks are out in force, having specific sideboard hosers becomes a more attractive option. [ccProd]Blood Baron of Vizkopa[/ccProd] is a great five mana “deal with me” card against black decks. Blood Baron backed by [ccProd]Thoughtseize[/ccProd] and countermagic presents a very large secondary problem for black decks. They already had to pound UW Control decks with discard to keep [ccProd]Sphinx’s Revelation[/ccProd] from totally burying them. Both decks already had plenty of answers and a handful of haymakers to throw at each other and Blood Baron presents one more giant hurdle for the deck to clear.
Personally I’m a big fan of Esper and UW Control, I won a GPT for Phoenix with Esper the other day (Thanks to Danny for scooping the finals) and I’ve been playing both off and online for the past month. Right now I’m rolling with Esper since gaining [ccProd]Thoughtseize[/ccProd] and Blood Baron of Vizkopa feels huge and I’m still packing 9 basic lands. While I miss my full set of Mutavaults, people are definitely prepared for them and I’m not a fan of them game one in many matches. So I don’t feel the sting as much as I expected I would. Thoughtseize also continues to be one of the best early plays available and without aggro to punish my life total, casting it on turn two or three isn’t a big deal.
Of course, it isn’t all sunshine and roses, and if red gets more popular in the metagame then Esper is significantly worse than UW Control. It isn’t as bad as it once was, the adoption of Blood Baron in the sideboard as an alternate win condition is miles better than [ccProd]Aetherling[/ccProd] or Elspeth in the match. You need to really think about your land base before the tournament if you suspect red though and perhaps even make room for a [ccProd]Blind Obedience[/ccProd] or [ccProd]Fiendslayer Paladin[/ccProd] in the board for support.
This is my current Esper build:
3 Elspeth, Sun’s Champion
4 Jace, Architect of Thought
2 Azorius Charm
2 Ultimate Price
4 Detention Sphere
4 Supreme Verdict
1 Fated Retribution
4 Sphinx’s Revelation
1 Watery Grave
2 Godless Shrine
4 Hallowed Fountain
3 Temple of Deceit
4 Temple of Enlightenment
3 Temple of Silence
4 Blood Baron of Vizkopa
3 Doom Blade
1 Revoke Existence
2 Fiendslayer Paladin
The [ccProd]Fiendslayer Paladin[/ccProd] pair is a new addition based on a higher red count online. I may also go with Blind Obedience which has a done a lot of work in the UW Control deck and even the Boros Burn sideboard. Turning into a sleeker control deck with four Blood Baron as win conditions definitely makes the match less miserable and I continue to sneak games away from players because they refuse to attack with Mutavault early. If people start aggressively going after me with Mutavault I may need to go back to [ccProd]Last Breath[/ccProd] or [ccProd]Doom Blade[/ccProd] maindeck despite being mostly dead against MBC.
Mono Black Control
Both black decks continue to hold a chunk of 30-35% of the online metagame from week to week. I’ve talked about why in the past, but a quick recap for those new to Magic Online: MBC is cheap to build, has a bunch of powerful point-and-click cards, and has been honed and refined over the past month to be as strong as possible. Combine all these factors and you have a recipe for a very potent deck that everyone wants to jump into dailies with.
I wish I could say that MBC is losing ground online, but despite the winning percentage for the majority of players being 50% or worse, it continues to hold fast in terms of Daily Event finishes and overall number of players. Speaking purely from my perspective and in talking with other grinders it’s still the norm to see at least two MBC/Orzhov decks every Daily Event. Barring a massive metagame shift, which is doubtful, I suspect we’ll just be dealing with this kind of breakdown until Journey to Nyx. On the plus side, if you feel you have a good match against the deck, then enjoy your battling.
Orzhov went from being a small fringe player to a legitimate variant of a tier one strategy by just attacking the mirror and GR decks. The BW variants adoption of [ccProd]Blood Baron of Vizkopa[/ccProd] and [ccProd]Elspeth, Sun’s Champion[/ccProd] makes life much easier in both matches and many of these players also adopted [ccProd]Lifebane Zombie[/ccProd] maindeck versus holding onto [ccProd]Nightveil Specter[/ccProd].
If MBC decides to ditch Nightveil Specter for Lifebane Zombie then I suspect the number of Orzhov players will drop off a bit. Right now Nightveil Specter is only good in the mirror and marginally better than Lifebane against UW Control (Against Esper, Lifebane is better due to the threat of Blood Baron). As I said that’s still 35% of the metagame and 47% if you believe Nightveil is significantly better than Lifebane against UW Control. Real life I believe plays out far more favorably toward the Lifebane swap and I recommend it.
For about five minutes I thought the Jund and Naya bandwagons may fill up and leave GR Monsters in the dust. As it turned out the straight GR decks have continued to hold onto the most popular green strategy and not a lot has changed since Born of the Gods was released. Jund and Naya plans both take the deck in different directions, Jund playing more like the classic Rock deck by cashing in some haymakers for removal options. Meanwhile Naya slides toward a more aggressive plan, taking full advantage of [ccProd]Voice of Resurgence[/ccProd] and the various charms. Naya Hexproof is at least slightly less tilting to deal with than it’s forefather, Bant Hexproof.
Most devotion decks have all been falling off the map for a while now and they’ve hit their lowest point. There’s just very little point in playing a deck with weak [ccProd]Supreme Verdict[/ccProd] matches and this is especially true if you don’t have a dominating MBC match. If you aren’t favored against half the online metagame, what’s the point? [ccProd]Revoke Existence[/ccProd] and [ccProd]Unravel the Aether[/ccProd] also make these decks so much weaker by giving various decks easy answers to Gods and weapons.
Like I said above, I take Sam at his word when he says Mono-U is still a thing and it definitely hasn’t fallen off the Magic Online map. It has however slid down a bit in terms of play and probably won’t be coming back unless the Boros Burn deck really takes off. Even then the match seems a lot closer than the old 20/18/22 red decks of old. Regardless as long as [ccProd]Thassa, God of the Sea[/ccProd] and [ccProd]Master of Waves[/ccProd] are legal I would expect to see these decks kicking around.
Jund was really popular for about a week online and now seems to have settled back into a niche role where some GR players really want [ccProd]Dreadbore[/ccProd]. I make no argument either way about whether Jund is a better deck then GR in the current metagame, simply that Jund’s popularity took a major hit. This could be one of the discrepancies between real life and online where dealing with the GR mirror simply isn’t a big deal. Without that going for it, why not just play a deck better suited toward trying to beat black decks? [ccProd]Lifebane Zombie[/ccProd] becoming the 3-drop of choice also hurts Jund since it’s leaning toward a lighter threat density then GR.
This week is a 5K at Channelfireball so I’ll be skipping the Seattle Open and just battling locally. Odds are good I’ll be on Esper again unless players really go out of their way to try and beat it. Considering how good UW Control has been, I’m not too worried about that happening. Looking forward to not working Magic tournaments and getting to battle in a bunch of larger Standard events over the next month!
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