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Silvestri Says – Miami Aftermath

If you want to jump right into the GP Miami discussion, then go ahead and jump to that section. This first part is a curmudgeon rant on nostalgia and Magic as it is today.

Standard is _____!

Standard is stale, Standard is boring, Standard has no skill involved, Standard is OK, Standard has variety, Standard is difficult, Standard is… unique. All things I’ve heard about Standard and in the wake of GP Miami we can safely dismiss many of them.

The Grand Prix Miami Top 8 included seven different archetypes and Reid Duke won the tournament. Alongside him in the Top 8 was Brad Nelson and Matt Costa, with SMann and Shahar right behind in the Top 16. For anyone who complained about pre-ban Caw Blade and then Delver domination, this is the most open format we’ve had in some time. It may not be as skill-dependent as other formats, but frankly, I’ve heard that complaint about every non-Caw Standard format for the last 6 years.

I played in a PTQ myself this weekend with Junk Aristocrats, and played against 5 different archetypes in 8 rounds. Not quite as impressive as the Top 8, but still a nice variety of decks. I lost my win-and-in against red after taking game one and then doing nothing in the subsequent games. A disappointing end for sure, but I should have been punished multiple times for taking bad lines throughout the tournament and dodged nearly every time. In the end, it balances out.

My only major frustration at this point comes from how often the red deck matches come down to the opener. Part of this depends on the deck I chose, where you need a reasonable hand just to play a game. Part of it is just how good the hyper-aggressive decks are and have been for the past few years. I look contemporary hyper-aggressive lists as bad combo decks. In reality, hyper-aggression has become the new aggressive deck since so many of the cards have just gotten that efficient. Naya Blitz runs a handful of bad cards to function, and Saito’s red deck has even fewer cards that are strictly bad at certain points in a game.

Evaluations can get stuck in the past, because it’s easier and I did the same damn thing, only with an entire archetype. Cards like [card]Flinthoof Boar[/card], [card]Boros Reckoner[/card], and [card]Ghor-Clan Rampager[/card] are just very good cards that can slide into midrange as well. The aggressive deck in my mind is now considered midrange and the hyper-aggressive plans are now considered the new definition of aggro. This explains why these discussions feel disjointed—we now have two fundamentally different ways of looking at things.

This also explains the debates on control I see pop up every few weeks where people are deeply invested in arguing what is and isn’t control. What’s the definition agreed upon? Pretty much whatever the consensus was when they really got into Magic or whatever nostalgia glasses are on. Why is Jund not control? Well it has no countermagic and it runs more than a handful of creatures! Why is this [card]Geist of Saint Traft[/card] deck control? Because Islands! People are slow to update their classic definitions of decks and cards and as a result people draw incorrect conclusions even if they properly evaluate what the card can do.

I’ve done this plenty of times and after getting pounded on the head by my mistakes I try to adapt. This is good. The purpose isn’t to change history so you end up ‘right,’ it’s so you understand why you made the mistake in the first place and can hopefully avoid a similar one in the future. Being stuck in the mode of “ain’t broke, don’t fix it,” can quickly get out of hand and lead to really silly conclusions. I did this with how I classified aggro decks, I find people do this a lot with planeswalkers when spoiler season hits. Everyone wants to be right more than be correct.

Writing a full set review, while sometimes tedious, forces you to think about every card. This may not seem like much at first glance, and it isn’t that interesting to write about how [card]Wind Drake[/card] isn’t going to be Standard playable yet again. What it does accomplish is to set up future links between cards, which can be very difficult to do without considering each card by itself and then linking it with what you currently know. This is the eternal challenge with Standard Magic, right when you’ve become comfortable and a status quo has been set, the new set forces you to reevaluate things taken as basic truths.

Doing this kind of analysis encourages you to allow some nuance in your critiques instead of just blasting off a one-word analysis. You might look good a few weeks later if you called it correctly, but including a bit of thought and nuance usually means you end up right months later, long after people’s initial reactions are forgotten.

GP Miami and the Final Push

GP Miami showcased a diverse Top 8—the only real complaint is that there are too many creatures for any true Magic player to enjoy Standard. In all seriousness, Reid Duke winning with Jund further established what I figured was the case. People moved away from Jund due to the large cost and variety of matches you have to learn, while a player like Reid just kept tweaking his Jund deck to develop this monster:

Reid Duke – Jund, 1st – GP Miami

[deck]Main Deck
4 Blood Crypt
1 Cavern of Souls
3 Dragonskull Summit
2 Kessig Wolf Run
4 Overgrown Tomb
3 Rootbound Crag
4 Stomping Ground
4 Woodland Cemetery
4 Huntmaster of the Fells
3 Olivia Voldaren
4 Thragtusk
2 Vampire Nighthawk
1 Abrupt Decay
4 Bonfire of the Damned
4 Farseek
2 Ground Seal
2 Pillar of Flame
2 Putrefy
1 Rakdos Keyrune
2 Rakdos’s Return
2 Tragic Slip
2 Garruk, Primal Hunter
Sideboard
1 Curse of Death’s Hold
2 Duress
2 Ground Seal
3 Liliana of the Veil
1 Pillar of Flame
1 Rakdos’s Return
2 Ruric Thar, the Unbowed
2 Tragic Slip
1 Underworld Connections[/deck]

Jund is one of the best decks at winning fair games of Magic, and right now Standard is a whole lot of fair decks. I’d like a 2nd [card]Curse of Death’s Hold[/card] in the deck, but I’m glad it finally got the love it deserved after these past few months. [card]Liliana of the Veil[/card] getting moved out of the main is a sign of the times—Lili is of limited use in a number of matches, and getting an Edict just isn’t enough anymore. She still provides support against Islands and Bant Auras, but I like keeping 3 in the board rather than just maindecking a pair like everyone else.

The [card]Tragic Slip[/card] and [card]Pillar of Flame[/card] split is another move that’s underappreciated—Slip gives you relevant outs against [card]Varolz, the Scar-Striped[/card] and [card]Falkenrath Aristocrat[/card], while Pillar provides what you need against red and [card]Voice of Resurgence[/card]. Post-board you can load up and go to town on any player daring to play a heavy creature plan against you. Jund will likely remain one of the best decks until rotation because it has such a high base power level while being easy to metagame.

Josh McClain, Junk Rites, 2nd – GP Miami

[deck]Main Deck
1 Cavern of Souls
3 Forest
2 Godless Shrine
1 Isolated Chapel
4 Overgrown Tomb
3 Sunpetal Grove
4 Temple Garden
2 Vault of the Archangel
3 Woodland Cemetery
2 Acidic Slime
3 Angel of Serenity
4 Arbor Elf
3 Avacyn’s Pilgrim
2 Fiend Hunter
4 Restoration Angel
4 Thragtusk
2 Abrupt Decay
4 Grisly Salvage
4 Mulch
4 Unburial Rites
1 Garruk Relentless
Sideboard
2 Acidic Slime
2 Dead Weight
2 Deathrite Shaman
1 Garruk Relentless
1 Obzedat, Ghost Council
2 Sin Collector
2 Trostani, Selesnya’s Voice
3 Voice of Resurgence[/deck]

Moving off the quad-maindeck-[card]Acidic Slime[/card] seems odd in a field with fewer aggro decks and a lot of midrange and Bant Auras. However, going in it’s hard to know that’s the case, and Reanimator really has to gamble on hitting [card]Unburial Rites[/card] early or chaining [card]Thragtusks[/card] to stay alive. I’m not much of a Reanimator guy, but I do feel like Voice and Trostani with Obzedat feels ambitious, even with [card]Grisly Salvage[/card] to even out some of the variance.

Brad Nelson, Junk Aristocrats, T4 GP Miami
[deck]2 Gavony Township
4 Godless Shrine
4 Isolated Chapel
3 Overgrown Tomb
3 Sunpetal Grove
1 Swamp
4 Temple Garden
4 Woodland Cemetery
4 Blood Artist
4 Cartel Aristocrat
4 Doomed Traveler
1 Obzedat, Ghost Council
3 Skirsdag High Priest
2 Varolz, the Scar-Striped
4 Voice of Resurgence
2 Young Wolf
4 Lingering Souls
4 Tragic Slip
3 Garruk Relentless
Sideboard
3 Abrupt Decay
2 Appetite for Brains
4 Deathrite Shaman
2 Duress
1 Obzedat, Ghost Council
1 Sin Collector
2 Smite[/deck]

As for the Brad Nelson take on Junk Aristocrats, I’ve written more than enough words on that archetype so I won’t waste your time. I will say that moving completely onto [card]Garruk Relentless[/card] and replacing [card]Sorin, Lord of Innistrad[/card] was a gutsy move since the anthem wins so many games. I understand it, since Sorin is frequently just a door stop against aggro and of questionable value against midrange. [card]Garruk Relentless[/card] provides an extra layer of interaction with the fight ability, and 2/2s are much better against aggro and [card]Curse of Death’s Hold[/card]. Let alone all the options available when Garruk flips and becomes a green Jace.

Both the red and Naya decks by Christoffer Larsen and Peter Ingram are rather stock, so there’s not a lot of new conclusions to draw. I’d have liked the 4th maindeck [card]Bonfire of the Damned[/card] in the Naya build since it tends to gain the most from casting a big one. The numbers on Boar, Smiter, and Huntmaster also seem a little at odds with one another since two are quite a bit more aggressive than the latter. As for the red deck, [card]Madcap Skills[/card] is the new tweak and it makes sense once [card]Firefist Striker[/card] has left the building. Notably, the deck has 22 land, which is one more than the high and 2 more than average, which is a little interesting if you wanted to straight netdeck this build.

Valentin Mackl, Bant Auras, 4th – GP Miami

[deck]Main Deck
4 Breeding Pool
2 Glacial Fortress
4 Hallowed Fountain
4 Hinterland Harbor
4 Sunpetal Grove
4 Temple Garden
4 Avacyn’s Pilgrim
1 Fencing Ace
4 Geist of Saint Traft
4 Invisible Stalker
1 Loxodon Smiter
1 Silverblade Paladin
1 Strangleroot Geist
4 Voice of Resurgence
1 Abundant Growth
4 Ethereal Armor
4 Rancor
2 Simic Charm
4 Spectral Flight
3 Unflinching Courage
Sideboard
3 Advent of the Wurm
1 Detention Sphere
2 Fog
1 Mending Touch
1 Ray of Revelation
2 Spell Pierce
3 Strangleroot Geist
1 Triumph of Ferocity
1 Unflinching Courage[/deck]

I never thought I’d see so many one-ofs in a Bant Auras deck. I have no idea what the reasoning behind a single [card]Silverblade Paladin[/card] alongside a single [card]Fencing Ace[/card] and [card]Loxodon Smiter[/card] is. These cards want to do fundamentally different things, yet here all of them are together. I would highly recommend picking a route you want to take the deck and stick with it.

Matthew Costa, UWR Flash, Top 8 – GP Miami

[deck]Main Deck
1 Cavern of Souls
3 Clifftop Retreat
4 Glacial Fortress
4 Hallowed Fountain
2 Island
1 Moorland Haunt
3 Sacred Foundry
4 Steam Vents
4 Sulfur Falls
3 Augur of Bolas
4 Restoration Angel
3 Snapcaster Mage
4 Azorius Charm
2 Counterflux
3 Pillar of Flame
1 Rewind
3 Sphinx’s Revelation
1 Supreme Verdict
2 Syncopate
4 Think Twice
2 Turn & Burn
2 Warleader’s Helix
Sideboard
1 Clone
3 Dispel
2 Izzet Staticaster
1 Oblivion Ring
1 Pillar of Flame
3 Renounce the Guilds
1 Supreme Verdict
3 Thundermaw Hellkite[/deck]

Samuel Tharmaratnam, Top 8 – GP Miami

[deck]Main Deck
3 Clifftop Retreat
4 Glacial Fortress
4 Hallowed Fountain
1 Island
1 Moorland Haunt
3 Sacred Foundry
1 Slayers’ Stronghold
4 Steam Vents
4 Sulfur Falls
4 Augur of Bolas
4 Restoration Angel
4 Snapcaster Mage
3 Thundermaw Hellkite
3 Azorius Charm
2 Dissipate
4 Pillar of Flame
1 Renounce the Guilds
1 Rewind
2 Sphinx’s Revelation
2 Syncopate
2 Think Twice
1 Unsummon
2 Warleader’s Helix
Sideboard
3 Dispel
2 Izzet Staticaster
2 Mizzium Mortars
1 Negate
1 Oblivion Ring
2 Purify the Grave
1 Renounce the Guilds
1 Searing Spear
2 Supreme Verdict[/deck]

Both Costa and impossible name (Tharmaratnam) successfully defended the honor of the fair UWR Flash maiden. It quelled discussion of Esper’s return and Sphinxs can once again shine in the sun as they revelate in success. In other news, both lost in the Top 8 and showcased the skill of the pilots involved. The deck feels underpowered across the board, and yet the Costa/Nelson match is a good example of the deck’s strength from positions from where it should just completely fold.

Nearly every UWR player I’ve talked with loves [card]Warleader’s Helix[/card] and I could easily see adding a 3rd to the 75 because of how good it is right now. It kills the vast majority of threats in the format, is important to keep you alive vs. aggro, and takes out planeswalkers without so much effort. Lowering the [card]Azorius Charm[/card] count is also something I can get behind in Samuel’s build, as it frequently has become a two-mana cycler instead of a useful charm.

The [card]Thundermaw Hellkite[/card] addition in both UWR players decks is a huge boon across the board against grindy matches, Junk Aristocrats in particular. What interests me most is that it not only wipes out Souls, one of the best cards in the match, but it provides an unmatched clock in the match. Part of the reason the UWR match is so good is because they rarely do anything to pressure you. Hellkite provides a very reasonable clock that’s nearly impossible to deal with for some decks. I wouldn’t be surprised if I started running into many more Hellkites after this weekend across the board.

That’s all for this iteration of the Standard format, next week we’ll take a look at M14 and what it brings to the table (New Chandra! Young Pyromancer! Fiendslayer Paladin! And more!?). For anyone playing a tournament this week, my suggestion would be to play something you feel comfortable with and make sure to have a decent red match. There’s at least 8 archetypes that can win a tournament and a handful more that can take down the prize on a good day.

I have a 2K this weekend, and personally I’m stuck deciding between Junk Aristocrats or Jund, leaning toward Jund if only because I have more room to customize to my satisfaction. I have been looking at some spicy Jund Aggro and 4c aggro brews though… Whatever you pick, you should be playing a deck with either [card]Voice of Resurgence[/card], [card]Olivia Voldaren[/card], [card]Thundermaw Hellkite[/card], or [card]Burning-Tree Emissary[/card] in it. If you’ve somehow managed to find a deck without any of these, I’d reconsider.

Good luck and I’ll see you next week!

Josh Silvestri
Once again, I’m still looking for Grand Prix Vegas feedback, if you have some please email me at: [email protected]

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