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Silvestri Says – Standard Week One

Our first weekend of post-rotation (#poro) Standard is upon us and I’m quite excited for it. The first two weeks are full of hopes, dreams, and brews, before the ruthlessly efficient one-two punch of SCG Opens and Magic Online smacks everyone back into line. We’ve got three weekends of tournaments before Pro Tour lists refine everything. Let’s make the most of it, and talk about some of the less defined players and what they need to do to succeed:

Maze’s End

[deck]Main Deck
2 Plains
1 Island
4 Maze’s End
3 Azorius Guildgate
2 Boros Guildgate
2 Dimir Guildgate
2 Golgari Guildgate
1 Gruul Guildgate
2 Izzet Guildgate
1 Orzhov Guildgate
2 Rakdos Guildgate
3 Selesnya Guildgate
2 Simic Guildgate
1 Elixir of Immortality
4 Defend the Hearth
4 Druid’s Deliverance
4 Fog
3 Riot Control
3 Sphinx’s Revelation
3 Swan Song
3 Supreme Verdict
3 Urban Evolution
2 Into the Wilds
2 Gatecreeper Vine
Sideboard
4 Saruli Gatekeepers
3 Crackling Perimeter
2 Prophet of Kruphix
2 Trading Post
1 Pithing Needle
1 Supreme Verdict
1 Negate
1 Swan Song[/deck]

As someone who actually runs events five days a week, I have natural distaste for this type of strategy. It encourages players to go to time and durdle around way too much versus actually playing Magic in tournaments. The fact that one player is typically miserable when the deck is functioning properly is another wonderful benefit of this plan. Yet, people wonder why Wizards wants to push creatures and keep as much of the game on the battlefield as possible. [card]Trading Post[/card] was the same way—adorable deck and responsible for at least a few players death glaring me because I have to keep telling them to make plays at regular REL.

Of course, this doesn’t answer the question of whether or not the strategy is good. My current stance on the matter is a resolute “Ehhhhh.” The deck is good at crushing straightforward aggro and midrange plans without a lot of play to them. If anything, the M14 and two or three Theros inclusions have made Maze’s End even better at doing this. Unfortunately, it lacks the card selection and answer density to deal with varied threats while continuing to Fog every turn. All of the card draw helps you once you get situated, but up to that point you rely on the top 12 cards of your deck every single game.

For example, it still has a classic problem with mono-red being able to interact via burn, but now it also has monstrosity to deal with. A card like [card]Ember Swallower[/card] nuking three lands is disastrous, and [card]Stormbreath Dragon[/card] can deal 3-5 extra damage via [card]Sudden Impact[/card]. [card]Thoughtseize[/card] and [card]Rakdos’s Return[/card] are major issues when keeping a Fog in your hand at all times is a given against more aggressive strategies. Cards like [card]Jace, Memory Adept[/card] were not legal in block for Maze’s End’s, run and are real sideboard threats you need answers for.

[card]Swan Song[/card], [card]Prophet of Kruphix[/card], and an extra [card]Fog[/card] are nice gains for sure, but it retains the same issues against control and any black or blue midrange deck.

The Rock (B/G, B/R, BGW and Jund)

Every single Rock deck in the format took a massive hit with the loss of [card]Thragtusk[/card]. None of them are remotely as good as they were before at stabilizing against aggression or going long against control decks. This wouldn’t be nearly as much of an issue if [card]Thoughtseize[/card] could cover those bases. It helps against control, but isn’t passable against aggro. Instead of only running spot removal, safe in the knowledge [card]Thragtusk[/card] and [card]Vampire Nighthawk[/card] could take care of any red deck, now you have to work for it.

My biggest problem with BG was that there was no reason for it to exist. You don’t get anything for sticking to BG as a color combo. While you can power up a really impressive late-game between [card]Primeval Bounty[/card], [card]Deadbridge Chant[/card], and [card]Whip of Erebos[/card]; there’s nothing else to invest in. You lack a capable sweeper and you have to grind out opposing midrange and control decks. In a world where RG gets multiple attrition planeswalkers and GW has every good creature under the sun, I just don’t see the point.

Adding white or red gives the deck a better reason to exist since both colors can cover a major hole in the deck. Getting white not only helps shore up life gain issues against red, it gives you access to some of the best anti-midrange cards in the format ([card obzedat, ghost council]Obzedat[/card] and [card blood baron of vizkopa]Blood Baron[/card]). Going red gives you a legitimate sweeper if you build the deck around it in [card]Anger of the Gods[/card] and [card chandra, pyromaster]Chandra[/card]. You also gain a nice late-game trump in Rakdos’s Return, something that doesn’t involve dumping more/bigger creatures on the board.

I honestly think both Junk and Jund have legitimate cases to be made for them if they can overcome one glaring flaw—the mana is terrible. In the case of the three-color control decks this same issue occurs, but they have less early game to actually worry about. They also tend to pack far more removal than the average midrange deck to cover this deficiency.

Junk and Jund both want a wide variety of mana early and often while also running a higher quantity of color-dense cards. Those amazing five-drops aren’t easy to cast, all the best Selesnya creatures are gold, [card]Underworld Connections[/card] is BB, and your mana acceleration is nearly non-existent. Jund loses access to the best mana fixer in [card]Sylvan Caryatid[/card] if it runs [card]Anger of the Gods[/card], and both Anger and Chandra are RR which means a heavier slant toward red despite not really wanting it for any other reason.

I’m sure you could play viable three-color midrange decks if you could get the mana functional. Oh, and after making sure you didn’t just build a worse GW deck in the process, since right now that midrange deck has plenty of life gain, amazing creatures, [card]Selesnya Charm[/card] and three good end-game spells: [card]Primeval Bounty[/card], [card]Elspeth, Sun’s Champion[/card], and [card]Garruk, Caller of Beasts[/card].

I think BR might be the best non-GW choice for the first two weeks. For example, you have one of the best removal suites in the format between [card]Dreadbore[/card], [card]Doom Blade[/card], [card]Hero’s Downfall[/card], and [card]Anger of the Gods[/card]. You have plenty of draw power between [card read the bones]Roll Dem Bones[/card], [card]Underworld Connections[/card] and [card]Chandra, Pyromaster[/card], while curbing opponent’s draws with [card]Thoughtseize[/card] and [card]Rakdos’s Return[/card]. Hm…

[deck]Main Deck
3 Gray Merchant of Asphodel
4 Desecration Demon
4 Nightveil Specter
4 Anger of the Gods
2 Hero’s Downfall
4 Dreadbore
2 Doom Blade
2 Rakdos’s Return
3 Chandra, Pyromaster
3 Underworld Connections
1 Whip of Erebos
2 Read the Bones
2 Rakdos Keyrune
4 Blood Crypt
4 Rakdos Guildgate
9 Swamp
5 Mountain
2 Mutavault
Sideboard
1 Underworld Connections
2 Hammer of Purphoros
1 Rakdos’s Return
1 Whip of Erebos
1 Doom Blade
2 Ratchet Bomb
3 Lifebane Zombie
4 Thoughtseize[/deck]

I could get behind this deck if I had a more defined metagame to aim it against. It has a fair number of tools against the field, and one unfair trump against slower decks that it can leverage. It has a unique late game in that the deck only needs to establish a board position and then run the opponent out of resources before cleaning up. If that fails, it can fall back on simply killing with [card]Gray Merchant of Asphodel[/card] and recurring them with [card]Whip of Erebos[/card].

As it stands, the deck is a little too much utility, along with a somewhat lacking opening game. There’s too much fat left on the bones here to really recommend for this weekend. If someone could make it a little leaner and meaner, I definitely think a lot of the core is sound and the answers are open-ended.

GX Ramp Decks

Without [card]Farseek[/card] these decks are nothing like the tier one ramp strategies we’re used to seeing. Instead they feel closer to Magical Christmas Land where the decks have enough powerful draws to consider playing, but share crucial flaws. My biggest issue was card selection, which the scry lands helped with a bit, but your ramp is far too soft to removal and cheap countermagic. It makes it tempting to keep hands with a lot of redundant ramp pieces to play it safe and go all-in on a single major threat. Problem is, none of the threats are [card]Primeval Titan[/card] good or draw enough cards to not feel it when they get removed.

So while red/green is the best ramp deck around, it plays much closer to a more mana-hungry Kibler midrange deck. Instead of super efficient two-drops filling out spaces and jumping straight to four mana with mana dorks, you have more mana dorks and more early game focus on survival. [card Xenagos, the Reveler]Xanaduu[/card] is a mixed bag, sometimes he’s amazing and and the rest of the time you paid four mana for a [card]Garruk Relentless[/card] with one ability instead of five. He’s outright bad [card]against Anger of the Gods[/card] and [card]Supreme Verdict[/card] plans if he isn’t plopped out on turn three.

Even then, he just helps you recover a bit better a la [card]Domri Rade[/card]. By himself, he simply doesn’t generate enough relevant threats unless the opponent is just sitting around. Bear Force One is cool and all, but Jace shuts that plan down immediately and unless you get to make three or more tokens that damage output isn’t really there. Against midrange builds or control builds with endgame threats other than [card]Aetherling[/card], 2/2 Satyrs don’t accomplish much against Demons, Councils of Ghosts, and the Baron of Blood. He also may as well not exist against mono red which a pretty big ding against him this early in the metagame cycle.

Still you have access to two reasonable planeswalkers and a third if needed along with some of the best threats at four and five mana. Don’t bother trying to match anyone with cheaper threats other than [card]Scavenging Ooze[/card]. Selesnya outclasses everything you could hope to put on the table. Here’s a sample list from Magic League, which has been running post-rotation tournaments for the past week.

Gruul – johntitor

[deck]Main Deck
2 Xenagos, the Reveler
3 Mizzium Mortars
4 Domri Rade
4 Sylvan Caryatid
4 Elvish Mystic
4 Ember Swallower
4 Satyr Hedonist
4 Stormbreath Dragon
3 Scavenging Ooze
4 Ghor-Clan Rampager
4 Temple of Abandon
4 Stomping Ground
9 Mountain
7 Forest
Sideboard
2 Polukranos, World Eater
4 Burning Earth
2 Chandra, Pyromaster
2 Ruric Thar, the Unbowed
2 Ratchet Bomb
2 Flames of the Firebrand
1 Hammer of Purphoros[/deck]

I like this deck a fair amount, and it has a nice assortment of threats and planeswalkers to keep the gas flowing. With that said, this is not the Gruul deck from a season ago, and without all the haste and undying, is soft against [card]Supreme Verdict[/card] decks. The threats simply aren’t potent enough to end the game ASAP and while [card]Stormbreath Dragon[/card] is extra annoying because of pro-white, it isn’t enough. It may just take some tuning to find the right set of threats to make the deck a dominant force.

My suggestion for anyone who wants to play it is try out [card]Chandra, Pyromaster[/card] over Xenagos or beside him. This may be a midrange deck that wants actually wants all three planeswalkers, since up to eight copies can provide a steady flow of cards. While we haven’t seen a deck consisting of ten or eleven planeswalkers alongside 26 creatures, I wouldn’t be shocked if this was the right starting deck.

As for how it does against aggressive plans, most aren’t fast enough to race before major hitters litter the battlefield. Mono-red is that fast though, and without [card]Thragtusk[/card], it can be a real struggle to stay alive even with [card]Sylvan Caryatid[/card] blocking early. This deck really wants early interaction against red and I may even consider something like [card]Shock[/card] or [card]Lightning Strike[/card] for a cheap instant removal spell.

Followup Notes For Selesnya, Red, and UW Control

[card]Boon Satyr[/card] is far better than I gave it credit for.

Selesnya really needs to pick whether or not it wants a long game with 5- and 6-drops, because you risk killing the curve if you remain undecided. You also don’t need to rely on gimmicks like populate because the deck’s creatures don’t need the help.

Countermagic is a nice thing to have in UW, but depending on how aggro the format is and how tap-out control is, it may be better to leave it out. At least for now, once slower board control decks move in, then it’ll be the time to strike. Alternatively, building your deck around them will provide you with a far better impression than I had after a week of testing. My impression is that [card]Essence Scatter[/card] is amazing in the opener and after that you rarely want to see any other counters.

[card]Hammer of Purphoros[/card] is much better than Purphoros himself. While I can’t bring myself to run more than two or three in most decks, it provides a steady stream of monsters. Think of it as a consistent [card]Primeval Bounty[/card] with only the creature mode. It lacks the sheer number of options of planeswalkers or Bounty, but comes down earlier and is always ‘on’ until you’ve made 4-5 Golems.

Power Rankings Going Into Week One:

1. [card]Chandra, Pyromaster[/card]
2. [card]Sphinx’s Revelation[/card]
3. [card]Supreme Verdict[/card]/[card]Anger of the Gods[/card]
4. [card]Jace, Architect of Thought[/card]
5. [card]Stormbreath Dragon[/card]
6. [card]Elspeth, Sun’s Champion[/card]
7. [card]Hammer of Purphoros[/card]
8. [card]Boros Reckoner[/card]
9. [card]Fleecemane Lion[/card]/[card]Voice of Resurgence[/card]/[card]Loxodon Smiter[/card]
10. [card]Thoughtseize[/card]

Enjoy release weekend and if you’re playing in a major week one Standard tournament, whether it be an SCG Open or large cash tournament, let me know how you fared and what you played. Good luck to all and see you next week.

Josh Silvestri
Email me at: [email protected]

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