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Silvestri Says – State of the Format

With the SCG Open coming up this week within a 30 minute drive and a Extended PTQ the Friday night before the festivities really kick off, it’ll be one long weekend of Magic. So with multiple bases to cover, this week I’ve split my attention up between the various formats and will briefly go over some of the developments that have been popping up on the horizon.

1) Standard

Decks I’m considering for the SCG San Jose Open: G/W Quest, Vampires and G/U Wave

I jumped off the G/W bandwagon despite being the head of the fan club and being one of the first to really take it seriously. I abandoned the deck when Magic Online Standard events were effectively 40-50% Valakut, which was my worst match by a fair margin. Post-Worlds though the metagame shifted back to a much more favorable format of control decks being top-dog, with Valakut and Vampires still holding high positions in the organization. For me this was infinitely better than dealing with Valakut, as RUG and UB are matches which you should be able to easily crush. Both are bad at dealing with Vengevine in any reasonable fashion other than “going big,” have few ways to deal with an active Quest and just aren’t that great at dealing with swarms.

On the other hand, UW Control got slightly more popular and was a more obnoxious match due to the presence of a real Wrath effect in Day of Judgment and the capability to run the aggro-slayer, Baneslayer Angel. Planeswalkers like Gideon Jura are also a major issue without an active Quest, typically buying 2-3 turns of free reign for the UW player. Still over time I realized that they were soft to simple flyers beating them to death and I learned to value my various Squadron Hawks and Kor Skyfishers and forcing damage through slowly. A Frost or Sun Titan is a far cry from the game-ender that the other Titans represent and also give the least value if they live, let alone if you can send them on a Journey to Nowhere.

Still people tend to vastly overrate how good their cards are against Quest and in my experience the only card that lives up to the hype is Pyroclasm. You can certainly stop Armor from killing you right away with a card like Doom Blade, but odds are anyone competent with Quest will fetch of Sword of Body and Mind instead and force further action. Having multiple flyers and an active Sword can put B/U in a precarious spot where only [card]Grave Titan[/card] makes a huge difference on the board. Against RUG, despite Pyroclasm being the sweeper of choice, often they can’t defeat a concentrated swarm effort if they don’t have a respectable follow-up of Inferno Titan or an immediately lethal Avenger of Zendikar.

Ratchet Bomb is often a red herring in these matches; sure it stops the immediate threat of Quest devastating you on turn three (at least on the play), but there are some awkward decisions to be made when equipment is involved. Do you keep it at one to deal with Quest? Move to two to stop Squadron Hawk and Fauna Shaman from giving the GW deck more card advantage than your entire deck? Sometimes it has to even be ramped to 3 simply to stop Sword from ruining your entire day. Unless it takes out an immediate threat like a Quest that’s ready to activate or multiple Glint Hawk or Birds, then the decisions behind Ratchet Bomb often have to be made with limited information while giving the opponent a number of options in how to play around it as a known threat unlike Day of Judgment or Pyroclasm.

I haven’t made any real changes to the deck since last I posted it; the only real change was embracing a pair of Kor Skyfisher in the maindeck, largely for lack of anything else to run after Molten-Tail Masticore and Stoneforge Mystic both failed me miserably. Journey to Nowhere is another card that falls under consideration now and then, but with the decrease in aggro decks and that Titans still gain their owners plenty of value before I can send them on a Journey, it’s been less than stellar. Still having some form of removal to kill off Lotus Cobra or Overgrown Battlement can be handy and don’t begrudge those who do.

With this metagame movement, I feel more comfortable with G/W Quest as an option, since even the Valakut match was 45/55 against some builds and 40/60 against the ones with sweepers and Nature’s Claim. Considering my personal experience with the deck and my overall record against non-UW control ranking somewhere in the 80% range* this is likely my favorite for the Open. Still we want to keep our options open and other than G/W Quest, the only other aggro deck I enjoyed playing was Vampires, which is the only other swarm aggro deck that could survive spot removal well.

Vampires can actually smash up bad decks pretty easily, which is the hallmark of decks actually worth playing over nine rounds. I don’t have anything incredible to add to the deck. Merely giving it the recognition it deserves is my purpose, the same as it was when I first featured B/R Vampires when everyone else was content to ignore the deck for a couple of weeks. With the move back to control this is an awfully tempting deck to play, though on some fundamental level I’d like a little more interaction. Even just a card like Mind Rot out of the board seems like a sweet weapon to further deplete the resources of decks that rely on early ramping. If a Jace gets dealt with or simply doesn’t hit the table a deck like Valakut or GU Wave doesn’t exactly have a lot of ways to get out of a card deficit.

Finally there’s the talk of the GU Wave deck that Conley played to a 2nd place finish in Kansas City and Chris E. VanMeter also placed in the top eight with the same 73. If you haven’t seen the list or Conley’s article, I suggest you roll over here ) if interested. Now before I say anything about the deck, I just want to briefly go off on a tangent. I wish people would stop whining about people giving Conley credit for these types of designs, yes they were known about beforehand, no he didn’t invent the entire archetype. I know personally I had a very similar list that I shelved because I didn’t feel it was strong enough against Valakut, but I hadn’t made the same commitment to LD as his build had. When coverage guys write about these decks, they don’t necessarily have time to provide the complete history of a deck, let alone one that only saw a small modicum of play on Magic Online and Worlds. The whole deck credit thing gets way out of hand sometimes on either side of the argument and I merely suggest less trolling in the future, thanks bunches.

As for the deck itself, it feels a lot like UG Turboland when the West Coast and some other ringers had the deck for SCG Portland. It has a very garbage matches that people don’t really play and a reasonable mainstream match-up that can go either way. Any ramp deck that can run Jace already makes me pretty happy and one that gets real sideboard options makes me a happy camper. I’ve got a couple of free days to proxy up and try the deck out before the tournament and if it performs well without the surprise factor, I’d be perfectly happy smashing face with it.

Really the only deck I wouldn’t want to bring to the tournament is Valakut and that’s only because my brain feels like committing suicide whenever I try to play a tournament with the deck. There are so few relevant decision points that all the people who cried about Jund being easy-mode need to take a step back and reevaluate their own definition of skill. People might call this hypocritical after I praised G/W Quest, but I find maximizing that deck takes far more skill than people give credit for. All anyone wants to do is remember the games they lost to turn three Argentum Armor, not the ones that were tooth and nail attrition fights they lost because they gave up a card or a few life points they didn’t need too.

*In a shocking twist, perhaps Magic Online queues are not the best indicators of a deck that rewards tight play and have very few bomb cards to dig out of holes against ‘dumb aggro’ and Valakut.

2) Extended

Naya and Mono-Red look like the big winners from the weekend in terms of popularity and positioning in Extended. Faeries still took down the Magic Online PTQ on 1/7, but Naya and Red both took down paper PTQs and reported success across the U.S. Fae may be the top dog, but because Extended has such powerful cards and strategies that can be pursued, it becomes possible to develop counters to it without becoming a narrow-minded hate deck. Red is good against Faeries for all the reasons you would suspect, which haven’t changed from the previous Standard format the deck was available in. Naya on the other hand finally has enough tools and powerful three-drops to overload most Fae hands. Nearly every three-drop in the deck is a huge threat to Faeries whether it be Knight of the Reqliuary, Woolly Thoctar, Boggart Ram-Gang, Great Sable Stag, or Cunning Sparkmage, there are plenty of cards doing work. Throw in the devastation that Vengevine, Chameleon Colossus, and Bloodbraid Elf can wreak and suddenly the idea of overloading Fae with big guys is reasonable.

Sure sometimes Fae can still get there with an early Bitterblossom and Mistbind Clique, but that’s what the deck does and those hands simply support it being at the top of the heap. However the consistency of those hands isn’t there, while Naya having a turn one accelerator into a turn two huge guy is pretty reasonable in the majority of games. Even slower starts can catch back up when you can bash for nine or more damage with a pair of creatures. Meanwhile Path to Exile and Cunning Sparkmage can shut down all the key offense of a Fae player if they aren’t careful and don’t sufficiently respect Naya. The flipside is that by these decks existing it opens it back up for slower control decks like 4cc and Reveillark and gives Omen more matches where Day is a sufficient blowout.

Here are two sample lists taken from the Magic Online PTQ on 1/7, Red by Ingles and Naya by Buuchan.

Right now there are roughly five decks* I’d feel comfortable playing in Extended; all can do powerful things with the main distinctions being how well they interact against other powerful decks. The key is picking a deck that has a relevant way to interact with Faeries and Jund while playing your powerful cards, preferably the right ones. A good example of the kind of card you don’t want in most decks is Jace, the Mind Sculptor. It’s obviously one of the best cards in a vacuum, but right now the only deck capable of sufficiently protecting it (5cc) is weak in the current metagame. It wouldn’t surprise me to see more sustainable PW-based decks, since they still rank as some of the more powerful cards available, but protecting them against the variety of threats Fae and Jund throw at you is quite difficult. The increased play of Thoughtseize in general also weakens these cards, but that’s what I expect people to be looking for over the next few weeks.

*Fae, Mythic, Naya, Gate Omen, Naya Shift – Jund is good enough to win a PTQ for sure, I just haven’t found a build I really like though.

3) Legacy

I’m probably playing some red or green aggro deck, because the odds of me getting cards relevant to my interests are slim to nil. At least they have some amazing one-drops in this format to take advantage of. Nothing in the Kansas City coverage challenged the impression that the metagame would automatically revert to pre-Columbus / Survival days. If anything it reinforced the notion that the old pillars of the metagame, Merfolk v. Zoo v. Goblins v. Countertop v. Wackiness was going to be the norm for the foreseeable future. In one sense I’m disappointed, in another at least I probably won’t play against the same deck 40 times in a row.

That’s it for now, best of luck to those with tournaments and as I mentioned last week, send in your PTQ results.

Josh Silvestri
Email me at: joshDOTsilvestriATgmailDOTcom

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