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Everything You Ever Wanted To Know About Standard

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Hello everyone, and welcome to Quiet Speculation! My name is Josh Lalo, and each week I will be taking you on a journey through the many worlds of competitive Magic. I’ll keep the boring stuff brief: I’ve been playing since around the time the first Mirrodin block came out, but I played almost exclusively Vintage for years. After “quitting” a few times (you know how it is) I came back to the game last year, and started diving head first into Wizard’s supported competitive formats this past summer with the Standard PTQ season. I have a few Top 8’s to my name but no major wins, and, probably just like you, I’m looking to break through to the next level.

Each week, I’ll be providing you with my insight into the many facets of competitive Magic. There will be tournament reports and decklists, there will be theory, there will be discussion of community issues. I try to follow every format (yes, even Block and Vintage) as well as Limited, so you can expect to see quite a diverse array of subject matter here.

This past weekend, I attended Grand Prix Nashville. Suffice it to say that there are many more qualified than I to write a tournament report for this particular event (although there are quite a few good stories to share). I got a pool with a pretty decent R/W deck with the highlights being Strata Scythe + Spikeshot Elder and Kuldotha Phoenix). It was super, super aggressive, curving out nicely with Phoenix being the only 5-drop. I made a decision that I’m still deciding if I regret: 15 lands. It worked for 8 rounds but not 9, and alas, I missed day two, ending at a disappointing 6-3.

So, on to Standard. I’ve been testing with a few friends for the upcoming StarCityGames.com Invitational in Richmond, and at this point, the metagame is pretty clearly defined. There are Jace decks, Titan decks, and Aggro decks. Sure, there are some other fringe players, but those are the main archetypes one should expect to face at any larger tournament. My friend, totally bewildered by the openness of the format, asked me this: “If the Invitational were tomorrow, what would your top three deck choices be? And, more importantly, why?”

Here’s my answer, in no particular order:

1. UG Fauna Shaman.

This is the deck that some local guys and I took to the Kentucky Open. I ended the day X-2, losing to Red Deck and a UGr near-mirror deck packing Cunning Sparkmage + Basilisk Collar. Every single other round, I played RUG Control. Every single other round, I felt unstoppable. There is no good answer to Vengevine in that deck. So long as you keep a decently fast start, there is little the RUG deck can do to stabilize before you overwhelm them. Your Jaces come out as fast as theirs, and you have pressure to keep them off of their only real card draw engine. Without sticking a Jace, it’s quite easy to push the Control player into topdeck mode and beat down through almost anything.

The maindeck is suited to beat Titan Ramp decks (especially Valakut) and RUG/BUG Control before they can stabilize. Lodestone Golem is well suited to this plan, since you have so many accelerators that he is often significantly easier for you to play through than them, all while providing a huge clock. UB Control will have a hard time with Vengevine before they bring in the hate cards in the post-board games as well. You do have some trumps to Aggro decks in Masticore, Titan, Vengevine, and even Jace, the Mind Sculptor.

You are a little weak to Aggro decks like Red Deck, Elves and Vampires of all shades, as well as a few cards in the format like Avenger of Zendikar, Abyssal Persecutor, and especially Grave Titan. The new UW Tapout match is also a little iffy, since Baneslayer Angel goes way over the top of the Vine plan. The sideboard plan addresses all these problems: Unified Will is always turned on against the decks where you’d want a hard counter (mainly for Day of Judgment, Pyroclasm, etc.). Brittle Effigy allows you a tutorable out to the aforementioned annoying creatures, and Baloth provides some fast meat against Aggro, especially Red Deck. Ratchet Bomb is added protection against these decks as well, and it takes out the annoying part of Avenger and answers Pyromancer Ascension and Quest for the Holy Relic.

Cards that didn’t make the cut but certainly can be good in the deck:

Acidic Slime: This guy is sweet with Lotus Cobra (Stone Rain? Yes please!). Also provides outs to some rather annoying permanents, like Ascensions and Creeping Tar Pit.

Roil Elemental: If you expect the Mono Green Eldrazi deck, this guy is an unanswerable trump.

Gaea's Revenge: This helps you go over the top of UB postboard, who will definitely be prepared for your Vine recursion.

Clone: Believe it or not, there are so many huge game ending threats out there right now that this might possibly work. Hitting an Avenger or Titan with this guy can be quite sweet. This, like Roil Elemental, is definitely best as a 1-of Shaman target.

2. UB Control

After tinkering around with Jace control of all varieties, and finding some limited success with a more tapout UW list, I’ve come around to UB once again. Finding the optimal list is tough, and is certainly metagame dependent, but for the time being, RUG ramp, the mirror, and Valakut are the major targets. Aggro decks are inherently decent matchups due to Doom Blade, and can easily be improved with some sideboarding.

This is very much a draw-go style of UB. You have answers to pretty much any card that will be played. Inquisition of Kozilek will grab something pretty juicy against literally every deck in this format, and allow you to plan your entire game. Ratchet Bomb is incredibly underrated right now as aside from Ramp and Control, it answers everything. It beats cards that you have no right beating (Luminarch and Pyromancer Ascensions, Quest, Vampires that don’t die to Doom Blade, and it even kills your Persecutor in a pinch).

This list is pretty standard and I’m sure you’ve all seen something similar by now, but the one card I’d really like to discuss is Mind Rot. This card is severely underplayed right now. There are so many decks that, should you answer their one source of card advantage (mainly Jace) are totally playing off the top. RUG is a prime example of this. This is not to mention decks like Valakut who have no card drawing at all and rely on being able to use every single card in their hand, even their lands. It may not kill Jace, but the best part of Blightning is still very, very good. I’d advise you at least give it a try.

3. Goblin Guide decks

There is definitely a place in this Control and Ramp infested format for super fast Aggro, if that’s your type of thing. The Vampires deck and the Br Vamps deck certainly have legs, but personally, I’m partial to good ol’ Goblin Guide and crew. Consistency is key, and Red Deck allows you to keep up pressure and have a semblance of a late game with Koths and Masticores. Adding white gives you some good options as well, and the Adventuring Gear + Spikeshot Elder synergy is hard to ignore. Quite honestly, I don’t have quite enough experience with Boros to offer a list that I think is better than what’s out there GerryT's is quite good), but straight Red is a different story:

The maindeck is streamlined to allow for fast Aggro starts backed up with real pressure from leveled up Kargans, Koths, and Masticores. With even the Control decks adopting the small, important creature plan, Searing Blaze is poised to make a triumphant return. Mark of Mutiny maindeck is unexpected, but will totally seal the deal whenever your opponent taps out for their finisher. Since this deck is well prepared for the Ramp decks and RUG, the sideboard is built to let you beat your nemesis, UW Tapout (Koth, Brittle Effigy), and to transform into Control for all types of Aggro matchups with Arc Trail, Pyroclasm, and Ratchet Bomb. If Jace or Titans aren’t your thing, this deck is certainly well prepared to take on the field. The most important piece of advice: Red Deck is a lot more complicated than it’s given credit for. If you’re going to play this, play smart, squeeze in damage when you can, and playest, playtest, playtest. There is a lot of power in this deck, and you have to be prepared to milk every last ounce out of it.

Aside: Why I Would Never Play Valakut:

Seriously, has anyone ever sat down and played this deck? I know I’m not the only one who groans any time someone asks, “Will you test Valakut against my deck?” But yet, surprisingly, it still manages to do consistently well (more so on MODO than in real life). Someone must like playing it. But that person is definitely not me.

This deck cannot recover from a mulligan, at all. And yet, as a ramp deck, it has to mulligan the “all big dudes” hand, as well as everyone’s favorite “where’s the Green?” hands (note how the deck is all Green spells and all Mountains…). It’s probably ok to keep “all ramp hope to draw something big” but it’s certainly not optimal. So with a good portion of your starting hands being sketchy, with only a few being super awesome, and even those few relying on drawing well and resolving critical spells, I find this deck incredibly frustrating. You see, there are a lot of ways to lose at Magic. If I misbuild my deck, if I sideboard improperly, if I’m outplayed or even if I punt horribly, I’m upset, sure, but I can take responsibility for my loss and fix it in the future. This is stuff you’ve heard a million times. Mulligans are a different story. Yes, there is a lot of skill in knowing when to send a hand back and when to run it, but those aren’t the kinds of mullligans that Valakut has to take. You’re looking at the obvious all six-drops and one landers, etc. Remember pre-M11 Mythic from last season? Where every spell that cost one or two mana was Green and everything else was Blue or White? So that your mana guys would die and then your board would be: Forest, Stirring Wildwood, Celestial Colonnade, Plains with a hand of Jace, Sovereigns of Lost Alara, and Birds of Paradise? Same concept, same frustrations. My worst PTQ experience came when I played Mythic, mulliganed to 4 or 5 every game just to find a hand that is actually playable, and then lost horribly, only to go to Arby’s to find out that they’re out of meat, and, when I settled for Subway, of course they’re out of bread. Sweet. So, if you’re like me, you like playing Magic. And, if shuffling up and drawing one less card frustrates you to no end, don’t play Valakut. It might be the best deck, it might work for everyone else, but don’t play it. It’ll only make you wonder just how flammable your deck really is.

Experiments:

I’m a college senior, and I’m not afraid to admit that I spend most of my class time writing decklists. My school notebook is about 5% class notes, 50% doodles, 40% decklists. The rest is life totals. I like to try out a bunch of crazy ideas, across all formats and with lots of unusual cards that I develop an affinity for. Recently, I had a love affair with one Skithiryx, the Blight Dragon. Now I knew he wasn’t ACTUALLY going to work in Standard, even in that U/B Proliferate Control from Conley Woods’ Deck Doctor. But I eventually found a good home from him in my EDH deck. It’s a lot easier to deal 10 damage than 21.

My local shop runs Standard tournaments every Tuesday and Thursday night in addition to FNMs. They’re not super competitive, so often I’ll try out some of these strange creations. I’d like to leave you guys every week with something rough yet potentially really good to check out and report back on. Feel free to tweak it, and let me know how it goes!

This week’s experiment, which is a list I got from a friend and promptly cut a bunch of 6+ drops from:

Let me know what you think! I’m always open to talk, share ideas, etc.

-Josh Lalo
xhollwy0odx on AIM
joshualalo at gmail dot com

4 thoughts on “Everything You Ever Wanted To Know About Standard

  1. Like many of the decks I enjoy designing, the last one (Venser Bant) is lacking in interaction / control. Ran it out into the Casual room on MODO to see how it worked, and was gradually beaten down by a guy with a 120 card swarm deck. Sure, 2x Ratchet Bombs help post-board, but wow. I'm not THAT bad a player… am I? (answer: probably)

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