Week in Review – A Tale of Two Tournaments

This weekend marked the release of Dragons of Tarkir and while it featured plenty of cards strewn across the top tables, there was little in the way of brand new decks. Depending on what you look for in a format, this may mean waiting until the Pro Tour before getting deep into Standard. At the same time, Standard is clearly still a success as a diverse format.

SCG Invitational Top 8

2 Abzan Control (Winner)
1 Abzan Aggro
1 Sultai Reanimator
1 GW Devotion
Jeskai Tokens
1 G/R Aggro
1 Mono Red Aggro

Please note that the Invitational is only eight rounds of Standard plus the Top 8. So let’s also look at the 7-1 or better decks:

3 Abzan Midrange
3 Mono Red Aggro
2 Sultai Reanimator
2 Abzan Aggro
1 Jeskai Tokens
1 Jeskai Aggro
1 Abzan Constellation
1 UB Control
1 Esper Control
1 GW Devotion

SCG Open Top 64

12 Abzan Aggro
7 Jeskai Aggro
6 G/R Aggro (Green creatures backed by Dragons and burn)
5 G/W Devotion
4 Jeskai Tokens
4 Mono-Red Aggro
4 R/G Aggro (Think RDW with Atarka’s Command)
3 Abzan Midrange
3 G/R Devotion
3 U/B Control
2 Ascendancy Combo
2 G/W Aggro
2 Jeskai Heroic
2 Mardu Midrange
1 Mono-Blue Devotion
1 Mono-Green Devotion
1 Naya Midrange
1 Sultai Reanimator
1 W/U Heroic

Both control and Abzan Midrange decks took a massive dive in the Open compared to the Invitational and the penetration of red was far more widespread in the Open. It isn’t even close comparatively. Additionally, while the caliber of player on average is higher at the Invitational, the Open is potentially a better data point since they played the full 15 rounds of Standard and still had many of the Invitational players who missed Day Two.

While Jacob Wilson took down the Invitational, it was on the back of a flawless Legacy record with his RUG Delver deck and masterful play in Standard. If you have some time, I recommend watching Jacob’s semifinals match for an example of how many small and important decisions come up in a few games of a supposedly boring midrange mirror.

The name of the game at the Invitational was to play an existing deck with slight upgrades. The finals were a showcase of two classic strategies packing Sidisi, Undead Vizier for some more oomph in the mid-to-late game. Clearly it was unlikely anyone going to the Pro Tour was going to do a dry run of their PT deck, so it shouldn’t surprise anyone that the two finalists, Reid Duke and Jacob Wilson, picked existing archetypes with obvious Dragons cards to plug in.

Abzan Control by Jacob Wilson, 1st – SCG Invitational

Sidisi Whip by Reid Duke, 2nd – SCG Invitational

I imagine both of them will have their own articles on their deck choices and tournament later this week, so I won’t go in-depth. Just from the first weekend of play it’s become clear that Sidisi is one of the most potent additions from Dragons. Not only does it make cutting extra copies of cards an appealing option, but it provides some extra flexibility in sideboarding as well. A single Virulent Plague gets a whole lot more attractive when you effectively have three copies in the deck, and the same applies to expensive end-game cards such as Garruk, Apex Predator and Ugin, the Spirit Dragon.

In Reid’s deck he can go even deeper by finding particular bullet cards or his main engine piece in Whip of Erebos. Dragonlord Silumgar is also one of the swingiest cards in the format and I imagine that jamming a 3/5 blocker and tutoring him up against GR Aggro is just backbreaking. Crater’s Claws is the only card that deals with the Dragonlord game one and Whip of Erebos is eventually going to trump any end-game the other green midrange decks can cobble together. Even against GW Devotion, the ability to find answers for Mastery of the Unseen and have access to Soul of Innistrad means you can eventually grind out a victory.

On the other side of the spectrum are the red decks, which enjoyed a bit of success themselves. Michael Braverman took Mono-Red Aggro to an 8-0 record in the Standard portion of the Invitational and got paired against his worst match in the Top 8 in the quarterfinals.

Mono-Red Aggro by Michael Braverman, 5th – SCG Invitational

While it also has a token theme alongside the Atarka’s Command variations, this version maindecks Eidolon of the Great Revel and Goblin Heelcutter. The full quantity of Lightning Berserker and Zurgo Bellstriker are also on display, leaving out Monastery Swiftspear entirely. This makes for less reliance on playing multiple spells in a turn, and the sideboard leans more on making his token generators into threats than it does on standalone threats a la Goblin Rabblemaster. Roast clears the way against all the normal threats in the format and Hall of Triumph can equal a whole lot of damage with any token creator.

RG Aggro by Zach Jeyakaran, 18th – SCG Open

You can read Zach’s tournament report here.

I already talked about the RG Aggro deck last week. Needless to say that while there were tweaks to each individual build, all of them shared the same common characteristics of token generators, burn, and 1-drops. I will admit I was caught sleeping on Lightning Berserker, which I thought at most was a 1-of when you wanted a 12th or 13th 1-drop. It actually is a bit better than that and one of the better late drops against control strategies.

Notably nearly every single red deck that placed well in both tournaments can slow down and go a bit bigger post-board. Part of this is because everyone knows that Searing Blood and Arc Lightning are very real issues and that Outpost Siege is nigh unbeatable if one player has it and the other doesn’t. The only sideboard I’ve seen that can avoid that without resorting to Siege goes up to 22 lands post-board and brings in Dragons and Xenagos to avoid some of the pitfalls against heavy-burn post-board plans.

Despite being pretty impressed with the overall power and consistency of the deck, I was surprised at how few people actually talked about red decks going in. Obviously Tom Ross was going to write an article on Mono-Red as long as the sky is blue and Stoke the Flames remains legal. But the usual red deck talk was instead displaced by chatter about RG Aggro taking advantage of the Dragons of Tarkir goodies.

RG Aggro by Dan Jessup, 3rd – SCG Open

Two of the most popular DTK additions have been Surrak, the Hunt Caller and Thunderbreak Regent. Both are reasonably costed 4-drops with some good stats and nice bonus abilities which push them slightly ahead of the classics like Polukranos. Really the biggest bonuses this deck has over classic builds are the extra fliers and better set of spot removal. Instead of relying on overpowering everything on the board or using ClawsDraconic Roar and Roast can take care of most threats while keeping your reach in hand. It also helps that the majority of control strategies simply aren’t properly configured to deal with the new waves of threats quite yet.

Next week we’ll be taking a better look at the controlling side of the spectrum, as that’s where the likely advances will come from before the Pro Tour. If I were to pick a deck to play this weekend, I’d heavily consider GW Devotion or Jeskai Tokens. Both of them can break through the midrange wars and have game-warping cards available to them. Additionally both can pick on the horde of red decks with minimal adjustments. Otherwise the metagame is as open as ever, pick what you like and go to town.


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