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Silvestri Says – Weekend Winners and Losers

This weekend marked the first chance for us to legally use M12 cards and coincided with both a SCG Open and Japanese Nationals. While the metagame online has been in constant flux and wide open, let’s see how the real world results stack up by comparison. Is it still wide-open or did people already start flocking toward a few established strategies?

SCG Open: Cincinnati Top 16

4 Caw-Blade
3 Splinter Twin (Pyro, Grixis, RUG Pod)
2 Tempered Steel
2 UW Control
2 Valakut
1 Jund
1 UW Puresteel
1 Vampires

Japanese Nationals Top 8:
3 Valakut
2 Tempered Steel
2 U/B Control (1 Tez)
1 G/W Midrange

Combined:
5 Valakut
4 Tempered Steel
4 Caw-Blade
3 Splinter Twin
2 UB Control
2 UW Control
1 UW Puresteel
1 Vampires
1 Jund
1 G/W Midrange

Quite the interesting mix of decks to kick off our first weekend of M12 legality, as well as the beginning of the SCG Open series rearing its head again. Now that we know what was successful this weekend, let’s take a look at some standouts in both success and failure.

Winners

Caw-Blade

Tim Pskowski – 1st place, SCG Open Cincinnati

[deck]2 Sword of Feast and Famine
4 Blade Splicer
4 Hero of Bladehold
4 Squadron Hawk
1 Sun Titan
2 Oblivion Ring
2 Dismember
4 Mana Leak
3 Spell Pierce
1 Elspeth Tirel
2 Gideon Jura
4 Preordain
4 Island
4 Plains
4 Celestial Colonnade
4 Glacial Fortress
3 Inkmoth Nexus
4 Seachrome Coast
4 Tectonic Edge
Sideboard:
4 Kor Firewalker
2 Celestial Purge
3 Flashfreeze
3 Mental Misstep
1 Stave Off
2 Day of Judgment[/deck]

“Look, you stupid bastard. You’ve got no arms left.”
“Yes I have.”
“Look!”
“Just a flesh wound.”

Bannings weren’t enough to keep a good bird down and to the surprise of those who don’t pay attention to MODO trends at all, Caw succeeded even without [card]Stoneforge Mystic[/card] of [card]Jace, the Mind Sculptor[/card]. Cards like [card]Squadron Hawk[/card] and [card]Blade Splicer[/card] have a lot more game then mini-Jace in the control mirror and can simply outlast decks like UB when Swords get involved. It was odd to see people firesale equipment such as [card]Sword of Feast and Famine[/card] and [card]Batterskull[/card], since they were perfectly playable in multiples and the success of Caw backs this up. In fact with UB Control and Valakut being two of the top decks going in, [card]Sword of Feast and Famine[/card] is superbly positioned and Caw takes best advantage of it.

Take note of the reduction in the planeswalker count and the movement away from spells that cost more than four mana in the highest placing Caw decks. Essentially any spells in the deck that can’t land early or rely on incremental advantages are cut down upon dramatically. Only Swords are left which rely on functioning over multiple turns and just like [card]Gideon Jura[/card] can make an immediate impact when you hit five mana. [card]Jace Beleren[/card] is no JTMS and the deck simply doesn’t need to compete with other decks using what small Jace gives you. Once you dedicate yourself to running [card]Squadron Hawk[/card] and [card]Blade Splicer[/card], let alone [card]Hero of Bladehold[/card] you are committed to fighting a different war. You can supplement that with Jace, but no longer is the main focus protecting your planeswalker and riding it to victory.

This seems to be one of the fundamental misunderstandings with more aggressive WU decks compared to UB Control. UB needs to protect its planeswalkers because it’s one of the only ways the deck can win a long game outside of sticking a six-drop. Caw doesn’t care about that, it can take advantage of the extra cards, but it’s far more interested in fighting a resource war on the board and gaining tempo advantage. I apologize if I sound like a broken record here, but many people played pre-ban Caw in a way that preyed on their normal control tendencies and hurt them in long run. Think of it like owning a Lotus or Boxster S and still taking every turn at 15 miles an hour because that’s how you always did things in your old heap. You’ll still blow everyone else away on straightaways because that’s what the car does, but you look like a complete idiot in the turns and throw away a big chunk of performance in the process.

On that note, the hell with all of you that take any curve sharper than 20° at 20 or less. You make it painful to drive in general and punish good drivers on the few spots on the road where they can actually have some fun without driving up into the hills or mountains.

Moving on, Caw is here to stay in the format, but it’s hardly the world domination machine it once was. It looks a little silly to WOTC for Caw to still exist in a very competitive from, but this isn’t a Trix situation where the bans did nothing. Caw is still very soft to permanents that can out-muscle the deck over the long run such as [card]Fauna Shaman[/card], [card]Birthing Pod[/card] or the higher end planeswalkers. Incremental advantage may not be a huge factor for Caw, but against Caw if you can keep your own engines going they can’t go over the top to stop you. There’s no [card]Karn Liberated[/card], [card]Grave Titan[/card] or [card]Sorin’s Vengeance[/card] to punish you for playing a long game, only the possibility of [card]Sun Titan[/card] or [card]Consecrated Sphinx[/card] which aren’t even in the same league.

Equipment

The success of both Caw and [card]Puresteel Paladin[/card] should remind people how strong that equipment can be right now. Even something as simple as Swords in the board of [card]Tempered Steel[/card] or [card]Batterskull[/card] in UB as their own copy of [card]Baneslayer Angel[/card] can make a huge difference. While [card]Oblivion Ring[/card] has returned the amount of artifact destruction has only dropped with the banning of [card]Stoneforge Mystic[/card]. This trend should reverse soon, but it should give incentive to anyone considering equipment in their decks. Right now is the time to strike before the metagame corrects itself. Don’t be afraid to run multiples either! You want to see your equipment, drawing a couple of Swords may not be optimal but it’s a heck of a lot better than the alternative.

Valakut

Kouei Itou – Japan Nationals 2011

[deck]3 Evolving Wilds
5 Forest
10 Mountain
1 Raging Ravine
3 Terramorphic Expanse
4 Valakut, the Molten Pinnacle
2 Verdant Catacombs
2 Avenger of Zendikar
1 Inferno Titan
4 Primeval Titan
4 Solemn Simulacrum
1 Wurmcoil Engine
4 Burst Lightning
4 Explore
3 Harrow
3 Khalni Heart Expedition
4 Rampant Growth
2 Summoning Trap
Sideboard:
3 Nature’s Claim
2 Obstinate Baloth
2 Pyroclasm
2 Slagstorm
1 Summoning Trap
2 Thrun, the Last Troll
3 Tumble Magnet[/deck]

Ryan Baker – SCG Open Cincinnati

[deck]4 Solemn Simulacrum
1 Avenger of Zendikar
1 Oracle of Mul Daya
4 Overgrown Battlement
4 Primeval Titan
2 Dismember
1 Harrow
2 Lightning Bolt
2 Urabrask the Hidden
4 Explore
3 Green Sun’s Zenith
4 Rampant Growth
6 Forest
12 Mountain
2 Evolving Wilds
4 Terramorphic Expanse
4 Valakut, the Molten Pinnacle
Sideboard:
1 Tumble Magnet
2 Gaea’s Revenge
3 Obstinate Baloth
3 Act of Aggression
2 Combust
1 Ricochet Trap
3 Pyroclasm[/deck]

Credit given to where credit is due. Valakut was likely the most played deck at the SCG Open in Cincinnati and it was the most played at Japanese Nationals. While not putting up dominating numbers it still put up notable results and actually bounced back from a rather underwhelming online presence. While the deck is still the same at its heart, many of the M12 additions have made their impact known. Both [card]Rampant Growth[/card] and [card]Solemn Simulacrum[/card] add to the deck and help jump out the deck from two to four to six on a consistent basis. I still didn’t expect universal adaptation of Solemn since it is an incremental value card and Valakut isn’t exactly known for that.

As for other changes to the deck, the lists could not come to any sort of consensus on the [card]Green Sun’s Zenith[/card] vs. [card]Summoning Trap[/card] debate. Here’s the breakdown of that:

Tamada: 4 [card]Summoning Trap[/card]
Mihara: 4 [card]Green Sun’s Zenith[/card], 1 [card]Summoning Trap[/card]
Itou: 3 [card]Summoning Trap[/card] (1 Sideboard)
Young: 4 [card]Green Sun’s Zenith[/card]
Baker: 3 [card]Green Sun’s Zenith[/card]

[card]Green Sun’s Zenith[/card] enjoys an edge in numbers played, but what really interests me is that nobody other than Mihara runs a mix of them. Everyone else simply picked one and ran with it, choosing other options instead of overloading on creature tutors. Considering the conventional wisdom of [card]Summoning Trap[/card] being helpful against counter strategies in addition to GSZ this set of results firmly throws that idea out the window.

Past that there’s no consensus on the proper removal suite and while it could vary from tournament to tournament, it amazes me that nobody agrees. For a lock-step deck like Valakut, seeing such deviations may not seem like much, but it’s pretty impressive to see when before I could likely name 70 of 75 out of every single Valakut deck.

Steel

Yoshihiko Ikawa – Japan Nationals 2011

[deck]4 Glacial Fortress
4 Inkmoth Nexus
7 Plains
4 Seachrome Coast
1 Hero of Bladehold
4 Memnite
4 Signal Pest
4 Spellskite
4 Steel Overseer
4 Vault Skirge
4 Dispatch
4 Glint Hawk Idol
3 Mox Opal
3 Origin Spellbomb
2 Preordain
4 Tempered Steel
Sideboard:
3 Celestial Purge
2 Contested War Zone
2 Hero of Bladehold
2 Refraction Trap
2 Revoke Existence
4 Unified Will[/deck]

I thought this deck could make the transition over eventually, I just never imagined that it would be this quick of a transition. The best part is the mono white version is straight from block with nearly no cards added from the rest of the Standard-legal sets. Meanwhile the WU version only takes advantage of a scant set of countermagic and the undeniable power of [card]Preordain[/card], which just helps the deck so much. If you take anything from this breakdown as a Steel player, let me just say having access to [card]Preordain[/card] and [card]Mana Leak[/card] / [card]Flashfreeze[/card] is a powerful tool. You lose a tad bit of speed, but what you gain in your combo matches and consistency easily makes up for it.

Speaking of speed the deck’s good draws can easily race anything in the format, including the best Splinter Twin and Valakut draws. Not only does it have plenty of evasion creatures to dodge the normal blockers, but also even just having [card]Dispatch[/card] can be huge. The deck actually gets stronger in Standard, because it doesn’t have to face decks that are dedicated to destroying it and much less artifact destruction in general. Besides that there’s no [card]Stoneforge Mystic[/card] into [card]Batterskull[/card] level play that control decks can pull out that just makes you question your life choices.

There’s little to say about the composition of the deck past the blue splash question, so instead let’s discuss playing the deck. You absolutely need to practice with the deck to get the best results from it and in fact to get any solid results from it after sideboard. Sequencing is a major factor in terms of maximizing damage while ducking around sweepers. While a pure basic of most aggro decks, the fact is over the past year very few aggressive decks have cared about maximizing damage. Rather they mostly leaned on burn or [card]Vengevine[/card]s so even when you overcommitted to the board you weren’t getting punished nearly as badly as you would with this deck. The good news is you have great ways to roll damage out and have built-in Wrath protection between [card]Glint Hawk Idol[/card], [card]Tempered Steel[/card] and [card]Inkmoth Nexus[/card].

One thing I see happen a lot that I don’t quite get is the practice of dumping [card]Signal Pest[/card] and [card]Steel Overseer[/card] on the table as quickly as possible. I understand that you can maximize damage by doing this with certain draws, but it pains me to watch them die to removal. The only removal spell they had in hand at that moment in time. By throwing them out so early you are begging the UB or UW player to kill them off instead of forcing them to kill a less important creature. A late [card]Signal Pest[/card] or [card]Steel Overseer[/card] makes your leftovers and topdecks much better and more importantly gets [card]Inkmoth Nexus[/card] to kill in half as much time. Just having a [card]Signal Pest[/card] and [card]Inkmoth Nexus[/card] can easily kill a UB player game one with a hand full of [card]Go for the Throat[/card], [card]Wurmcoil Engine[/card] and [card]Grave Titan[/card].

Losers

RDW

If you asked me what decks I would see out of 24 constructed decks this weekend, I would have easily guessed RDW in my top three. Not to see a single one in either top eight really threw me for a loop because the deck is just so powerful right now. While each deck in the top eight had some decent anti-red cards it could bring in, none of them had a really outright dominating plan in mind to counter red mages with. It could be a case where the metagame itself hated red out of the tournament but that just feels unlikely with no previous tournaments to mark RDW dominance.

So why didn’t red succeed this weekend? While one could blame Patrick Sullivan for not doing all the work for red players and giving them a list to netdeck and flail about with, I blame the general apathy of most RDW players. Most people slinging red spells just don’t care nearly enough, don’t put the work into either their deck or play and get punished for it. In this open metagame a deck like Goblins or RDW should be able to succeed with the power it has. You can’t even fall back on the [card]Kor Firewalker[/card] excuse anymore now that [card]Dismember[/card] is a real card and not only fixes that issue, but gives red a way to kill everything short of a Titan with one spell.

If no red deck’s break through at Nationals or SCG Seattle then I’m going to be gobsmacked because I can’t see how a deck this powerful would get shut out like it did this weekend. While everyone is familiar playing against it with their decks (or should be) that doesn’t mean the match is going to be easy for them!

[card]Ponder[/card] in Control

I can’t help myself sometimes.

M12 Planeswalkers

Same as above. Congratulations [card]Garruk, Primal Hunter[/card] for popping up in quite the odd little Jund deck. Everyone else can now safely drop in price and get 80-90% less press than they did over the past week.

Traditional UB Control

Only having one high finish with traditional UB Control is a pretty big blow, since right behind RDW was a strong UB Control presence online. I already chronicled my personal experiences with the deck and found it to be a strong choice, however Caw and UW Control completely dwarfed the deck in terms of success this weekend. My advice to anyone interested in UB Control is to adapt [card]Solemn Simulacrum[/card] and really question the darlings in the deck. Many of them may need a pruning or at least a shift in direction for this upcoming weekend. [card]Doom Blade[/card] and [card]Despise[/card] should make returns in a big way and I think [card]Consecrated Sphinx[/card] is a definite upgrade over [card]Grave Titan[/card] if stopping Swords is a priority.

I suspect a large chunk of the failure of UB players this weekend was simply due to players not embracing any changes to the deck or unfamiliarity with certain matches such as UW and Tempered Steel. It doesn’t excuse anything, but UB feels too strong to simply write off now that Caw and UW are back in the picture.

That’s all for this week, good luck to those with tournaments this weekend and as always email me any questions you may have.

Josh Silvestri
Email me at: joshDOTsilvestriATgmailDOTcom

27 thoughts on “Silvestri Says – Weekend Winners and Losers”

  1. I have no patience for anyone who thinks they should be able to “have fun” driving on public roads. Having fun is for when you aren’t endangering others with your aggressive driving. I hope you get stuck behind three lanes of grandmas every time you drive..

  2. @Anon: Read the next paragraph, moron.

    I totally agree with Thomas. You’re not a good driver. You’re a terrible driver who’s gotten lucky so far (or, more precisely, the people unfortunate enough to be around you have gotten lucky so far).

  3. The only speeds mentioned anywhere in this article are turns at which your grandma would look like a leadfoot legend. Continue with your reactionary derail; probably the highlight of the day for your sad life.

    Captain Obvious here to point out the above is guilty the same retarded inference the above brain trusts are guilty of. See how it works? Of course you don’t.

  4. Magic players are so antisocial, haha.

    I don’t think it’s fair to claim that all red players are apathetic. I mean you have a sample of what, 24 decks, and of that you’re maybe expecting less than 4 can be successes before you say that red players are lazy. I don’t think you can accept that hypothesis. Especially when you’re generalizing an entire group of players.

  5. I think red did bad because it’s the type of deck that’s good in a 4 round event but bad in a large event with many rounds. Sure, it is possible to get nearly all 3-1s and 4-0s on mtgo with red. The deck does reward skill. But when you play an event with a huge amount of rounds, there are going to be at least a few unwinnable matches, which will keep you out of the top 8. In addition, I think it’s a deck that gets worse vs good players. In daily events you can get a really good win percentage playing a deck that beats bad players, but it’s hard to win in the later rounds of a rl tournament where people actually know what they’re doing.

  6. I think RDW hasn’t done well because it’s a terribly positioned archetype. So many (properly built) decks are so good at forcing RDW to go all in on Shrine of Burning Rage by virtue of either an equally fast clock (Combo, Tempered Steel, etc) or a vastly superior long game plan coupled with some of the best disruption and stabilization tools printed in some time (Vampires, Caw/Blue-Steel w/ Firewalkers and Timely Reinforcements). For what small semblance of a metagame we have established, it’s quite a hostile environment for monored mages.

  7. Twin pod is less about Pplinter Twin than it is about Birthing Pod, so I would think it deserves a different category.

  8. Monored should look at topor orb, manabarbs and surgical extraction, imho. And don’t forget RSZ.

    The only way I can deal with steel is to splash green.

  9. What do people think is a better deck for upcoming PTQ’s, Neo Caw-Blade or U/W tempered steel?

  10. Well you better remain baffled because RDW is not going to win anything anytime soon. Look at the sideboards, DoJ, Firewalkers, Oblivion Rings, Celestial Purge, Flashfreeze, Mental Misstep, Stave Off and of course Leyline of Sanctity. Trust me it’s almost impossible to win Game 2 and 3 against any deck with white and especially against UW. Mono-red s in a very bad place right now. Once Leyline is up you have no choice but to go beatdown, and if you go beatdown, you walk straight to a DoJ or Gideon. Koth and Chandra? They’re spending their time running circles in oblivion. With so many strong enchantments and without any decent enchantment removal outside of ratchet bomb, mono-red is screwed until Innistrad hopefully gives some life to it.

  11. RDW didn’t do well because it’s hard to build, hard to play correctly, and hard to pilot through a field chock-full of hate.

  12. @Josh Silvestri: Brad Nelson’s SCG article briefly discusses why RDW failed. May be of interest.

  13. Note: I live in California. I have to drive everywhere because unless you actually live in SF, pubbie transportation isn’t getting you anywhere. Hint to those whining about turns: Most freeway on and off ramps have curves that are sharper than what I listed. You people are insane if you drive that slowly on therm or think what I listed is anything that justifies such slow speeds. You’re just a bad driver if you can’t take a slight turn at speed. Sorry guys, no excuses for that one. Then again most people can’t even parallel park so I shouldn’t be surprised.

    @guy complaining about always reading my articles: Thanks for the hits!

    @RDW players and RDW in general: I don’t buy that the deck isn’t well positioned right now. The deck should crush Valakut and it was one of the only decks with a decent Caw match pre-bans, weakening Caw by a significant margin, giving red Grim Lavamancer and you have two good answers to Firewalker. Yeah if everyone moves in on Steel and Vampires then it doesn’t look good for RDW anymore, but what are the odds of that happening?

    Like I take a look at some of the cards Mars listed and I’m wondering what I’m looking at. Since when were Day of Judgment, Oblivion Ring or Stave Off actual cards against red? Woo, sorcery speed removal against a deck that only runs 12-16 creatures! A terrible protection spell! Leyline is a legit card against half the deck, except only ONE of the WU caw/control decks that finished in the T16 even ran it!

    This is the best RDW has ever been in Standard. It should be able to plow through some hate. If you swapped 8 cards you would have a Legacy deck, FFS.

  14. @Josh S.

    – I’m sure LSV’s Gauntlet series with Owen wasn’t fair representation of the actual matchup dynamic, as LSV out-sack’d Owen basically every time it mattered (which is an impressive feat in itself). However, just based on what I observed and the tools Valakut has to stabilize against RDW, I would feel confident stating the Red Menace is no more than a marginal favorite in the matchup, if that.

    As for the matchup against white-based decks, it isn’t the cards listed by Chicken Little that make the matchup unwinnable. It’s Timely Reinforcements. Reinforcements CRUSHES red deck wins. Better stabilization tools plus undefined metagame reviving cards like Gideon Jura plus significantly reduced dependence on ‘everyone’s favorite squire’ and an overall higher creature quality makes the Caw matchup miserable.

    I had high hopes for the deck, as I was around for Grim Lavamancer’s first spin around standard and extended, and this isn’t to say that it’s all bad as the deck still remains one of the best board control decks around. However, what favorable matches RDW does have, other decks share while sacrificing less against the top-tier archetypes of the format (as of this posting). RDW appears to be a strictly dominated strategy. I for one won’t be playing mountains anytime soon.

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  16. What do you mean they didn’t have a dominant plan to counter red opponents? Of course they did. Just look at the Cinci main/sideboards. Why make such an offensive and unnecessary comment about the quality of red players?

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