Silvestri Says – The Sphinx, The Devoted, and The Rats

I hope everyone had a wonderful holiday—now we’re back to the Standard grindstone just in time for a fresh PTQ season. There are three primary classes of decks in Standard currently: Those trying to take full advantage of the devotion mechanic, those aiming at lots of early trades before refilling on cards, and [ccProd]Thoughtseize[/ccProd]/[ccProd]Pack Rat[/ccProd] decks. Of course outside of those, there are other decks trying to attack the metagame from a unique angle. Right now it’s a great time to be one of those special snowflakes if, and it’s a big if, you can attack enough of the format.

So based on those primary angles of attack—devotion, 1-for-1 control, and [ccProd]Thoughtseize[/ccProd] midrange—what other strategies are worthwhile?

Weenie rushes have gained standing in the metagame compared to a month ago. Devotion decks need to curve out to mount a proper defense, and MBC cut a lot of its cheap removal. While this does play into UW’s hands, there are ways to mitigate the damage of spot removal into [ccProd]Supreme Verdict[/ccProd], such as [ccProd]Xathrid Necromancer[/ccProd], [ccProd]Boros Charm[/ccProd], [ccProd]Thassa, God of the Sea[/ccProd] and [ccProd]Domri Rade[/ccProd].

Your deck choice should take this into account, because outside of GPs where you can absorb a few losses, you don’t want your tournament life to be decided by variance. Of course if you’re good enough, maybe it doesn’t quite matter what 75 you pick up as long as it has powerful cards in it.

[deck]Main Deck
2 Dimir Guildgate
7 Island
4 Mutavault
5 Swamp
4 Temple of Deceit
4 Watery Grave
2 Master of Waves
2 Prognostic Sphinx
1 Devour Flesh
3 Dissolve
2 Domestication
1 Doom Blade
1 Essence Scatter
3 Hero’s Downfall
2 Opportunity
3 Ratchet Bomb
3 Syncopate
2 Thoughtseize
1 Ultimate Price
2 Warped Physique
2 Ashiok, Nightmare Weaver
4 Jace, Architect of Thought
1 Doom Blade
3 Duress
2 Gainsay
1 Negate
3 Pack Rat
1 Pithing Needle
4 Tidebinder Mage[/deck]

Shouta’s deck is pretty surreal, and much like his first iteration of Dimir control, the devil is in the details. While I still hate [ccProd]Ashiok[/ccProd], I do like the use of [ccProd]Warped Physique[/ccProd] as a catch-all that hits [ccProd]Pack Rat[/ccProd]. [ccProd]Ratchet Bomb[/ccProd] keeps the tokens from [ccProd]Pack Rat[/ccProd], [ccProd]Master of Waves[/ccProd], and [ccProd]Xathrid Necromancer[/ccProd] under control, and while it doesn’t make up for the lack of [ccProd]Supreme Verdict[/ccProd], it’s as good as it gets.

For us normal human beings, I’d like to up the [ccProd]Thoughtseize[/ccProd] count and get another [ccProd]Master of Waves[/ccProd] in there. [ccProd]Dimir Charm[/ccProd] is also another option, as it hits a good chunk of relevant threats in the format.

Would I recommend picking this up? Not unless you want to spend a lot of time practicing. You’ll be better off playing something with more straightforward threats and a less specialized set of answers. However, if practically-zero-win-condition UW Control can make a comeback, I see no reason Dimir can’t.

On the aggro side of the table, I’m still a big fan of the WB Humans build Pat Cox and others battled with at GP Dallas. The WB [ccProd]Xathrid Necromancer[/ccProd] aggro deck is a beautiful deck that wants just enough removal and just enough resilience to not get rolled by either devotion or control. For the most part, it actually succeeds in this regard and is one of the best decks at the moment, though if anything remotely threatening* came back into the metagame it would be a bad choice.

*[ccProd]Anger of the Gods[/ccProd] comes to mind.

So why is WW a strong choice? While it lacks a disruption spell like all the Swamp decks, you at least have the opportunity to sideboard into them as necessary. You gain a reasonable clock and some resilience, thanks to [ccProd]Xathrid Necromancer[/ccProd] and [ccProd]Mutavault[/ccProd]. Most important is that you don’t have to be particularly amazing at any aspect of the game, because non-[ccProd]Supreme Verdict[/ccProd] sweepers are at an all-time low. Even [ccProd]Supreme Verdict[/ccProd] is less than 10% of the field at most tournaments.

Decks like Boros and more aggressive red devotion decks are in the same boat as the Orzhov build. You don’t have to pack a lot of ways to keep your creatures alive or an excessive amount of burn for reach. Other than UW Control, decks aren’t really good at keep the board clear on the cheap and don’t play enough early defenders to make these strategies bad. MBC comes closest, and even they have cut back on two-mana removal spells, opting instead to lean more heavily on [ccProd]Pack Rat[/ccProd] to keep fair decks in check.

Midrange decks, however, have suffered. They play slower guys that still only trade 1-for-1 with control and can’t stop early aggression easily. They can play sweepers, but that causes right-half-of-deck disease. Why play cards that are only good during turns three through five when you could be proactive instead? [ccProd]Supreme Verdict[/ccProd] cleans up everything while other sweepers like [ccProd]Ratchet Bomb[/ccProd] and [ccProd]Anger of the Gods[/ccProd] are limited.

Look at how the Esper midrange deck is constructed and think about how it looks compared to say a normal Golgari midrange build.

[deck]Main Deck
4 Godless Shrine
4 Hallowed Fountain
2 Mutavault
3 Plains
1 Swamp
3 Temple of Deceit
4 Temple of Silence
4 Watery Grave
1 Cartel Aristocrat
3 Daring Skyjek
3 Desecration Demon
2 Imposing Sovereign
4 Lyev Skyknight
3 Obzedat, Ghost Council
4 Soldier of the Pantheon
4 Xathrid Necromancer
4 Detention Sphere
1 Doom Blade
1 Far Away
2 Supreme Verdict
1 Ultimate Price
2 Whip of Erebos
1 Blood Baron of Vizkopa
3 Doom Blade
1 Far Away
1 Glare of Heresy
2 Negate
1 Pay No Heed
1 Supreme Verdict
3 Thoughtseize
2 Underworld Connections[/deck]

Shota Takao made Top 8 of Grand Prix Shizuoka with this unique blend of Human aggro mixed with blue control in [ccProd]Supreme Verdict[/ccProd] and [ccProd]Detention Sphere[/ccProd]. His early game is a handful of the same aggressive creatures other white decks play, giving him useful blockers in aggro mirrors. Then he can surprise people by clearing the board with [ccProd]Supreme Verdict[/ccProd] and either go bigger and control the board with [ccProd]Desecration Demon[/ccProd] and [ccProd]Obzedat, Ghost Council[/ccProd] or simply become the aggressor and rely on his end-game to finish them off. Being able to lead the opponent’s entire army into a [ccProd]Supreme Verdict[/ccProd], [ccProd]Far // Away[/ccProd], or timely [ccProd]Detention Sphere[/ccProd] is huge.

Instead of forcing himself to play cheaper defenders, Shota’s deck simply attacks the opponent’s life total in normal matches and has a more impressive curve. Of course, this comes at the cost of having an ugly mana base to make it all come together, but over time it’ll be refined and this strategy will only get better, as more scry lands open up the potential for slower decks.

Meanwhile in Value Town, I saw Zac Hill post a Maze’s End* deck he was battling with on Magic Online, gave it a spin and found the majority of my opponents simply couldn’t compete if I survived long enough to set up a draw engine. Those that wanted to play a long game couldn’t beat [ccProd]Maze’s End[/ccProd] barring very specific circumstances. Aggressive decks had more outs, but the average devotion deck couldn’t interact game one, and only had a handful of useful sideboard cards. I think red decks are also on the tipping point and are simply outclassed by the aggressive Boros Devotion builds that are popular, but a metagame shift could change that.

*The Beauty:

[deck]Main Deck
4 Uncovered Clues
4 Steam Augury
4 Urban Evolution
4 Fog
4 Druid’s Deliverance
4 Defend the Hearth
1 Riot Control
3 Gatecreeper Vine
2 Planar Cleansing
2 Elixir of Immortality
2 Sphinx’s Revelation
2 Gruul Guildgate
2 Simic Guildgate
1 Boros Guildgate
1 Azorius Guildgate
1 Dimir Guildgate
1 Izzet Guildgate
1 Golgari Guildgate
1 Orzhov Guildgate
1 Rakdos Guildgate
1 Selesnya Guildgate
3 Breeding Pool
1 Stomping Ground
1 Hallowed Fountain
3 Temple Garden
1 Plains
1 Forest
4 Maze’s End
1 Gainsay
1 Pithing Needle
2 Abrupt Decay
1 Ratchet Bomb
3 Advent of the Wurm
4 Saruli Gatekeepers
3 Crackling Perimeter[/deck]

Meanwhile Mono-U has run out of places to go and will remain a solid choice until Born of the Gods, however it isn’t the slam-dunk pick it was a month ago. Adding colors may end up being the way to go, as Dimir, Azorius, and Esper builds have all had limited success, but the lack of relevant tournaments coupled with such an open metagame makes them worse. If it was along the lines of Caw Blade where the top tier was three decks, there would be more point in pursuing this because you really need clear targets for these tweaks to be worthwhile. Mono-Black Control continues to perform in the hands of those who are very skilled, but B/W Control seems almost like a straight upgrade.

Tsutomu Date

[deck]Main Deck
4 Godless Shrine
4 Mutavault
1 Orzhov Guildgate
1 Plains
12 Swamp
4 Temple of Silence
4 Blood Baron of Vizkopa
4 Desecration Demon
4 Pack Rat
4 Devour Flesh
2 Duress
4 Hero’s Downfall
2 Last Breath
4 Thoughtseize
2 Ultimate Price
4 Underworld Connections
3 Dark Betrayal
2 Doom Blade
1 Duress
3 Lifebane Zombie
3 Pharika’s Cure
1 Sin Collector
2 Wear Tear[/deck]

Here you see all the benefits of playing MBC—and in exchange for cashing in a little aggression and mana consistency, you get the best stabilizer in [ccProd]Blood Baron of Vizkopa[/ccProd] and an extra way to deal with [ccProd]Pack Rat[/ccProd] and [ccProd]Nightveil Specter[/ccProd] from [ccProd]Last Breath[/ccProd]. You don’t even need to give up on the [ccProd]Thoughtseize[/ccProd]/[ccProd]Pack Rat[/ccProd] combo sweeping the nation!

Speaking of that—wow, [ccProd]Pack Rat[/ccProd] is a real card right? I’d probably have a hard time justifying a playset of Rats if [ccProd]Anger of the Gods[/ccProd] were remotely playable, but right now you can’t afford to run a playset of potentially dead cards main deck. I tried a [ccProd]Pack Rat[/ccProd] centered deck on a lark, and while I went 2-2 in a Daily Event and won a few random 2-mans, I probably couldn’t bear to play it again. It was so dull that I was double-queuing Hearthstone while battling it. If anyone wants to give a wacky and terrible deck a try, here was what I was playing:

[deck]Main Deck
4 Sylvan Caryatid
4 Pack Rat
2 Whip of Erebos
2 Golgari Charm
4 Grisly Salvage
4 Commune with Nature
4 Underworld Connections
4 Thoughtseize
4 Duress
4 Mutavault
4 Overgrown Tomb
4 Golgari Guildgate
2 Forest
14 Swamp[/deck]

I mostly won Swamp mirrors and died horrifically to red decks, such is the nature of the beast (Rat).

As for the present metagame, there is no longer a single best deck to aim for. In week zero is was aggro decks, week one switched to Esper, then GW, then a confused metagame, then the PT devotion decks became the real target, then Mono-U Devotion, then MBC, then UW Control, and finally now there’s at least six decks you need to take into account as strong decks very capable of winning tournaments. And that may be a smaller number than what actually performs!

Of course, there’s nothing wrong with sticking to a known strategy as long as you keep adapting your deck, and I’ll still likely be on UW Control for the first local PTQ of the season. Like I said from the start, with a metagame this open, there’s no real downside to skewing toward powerful cards and unconditional removal.

At least for this week, who knows what it’ll look like by the time Born of the Gods is legal.

Josh Silvestri
Email me at: [email protected]


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