We’ve had 2 weeks of Opens to see the impact New Phyrexia has had on the Standard and Legacy tournament scenes. I’m going to focus on Standard, since the Grand Prix this weekend is Legacy, and will almost certainly have more players than the SCG Open series gets. Waiting on that will give us a bit of a better view on the format. However, for Standard, there’s no reason to wait, especially since the format hasn’t really undergone much of a change.
Caw-Blade is still the king. New Phyrexia didn’t actually change that. The #banjace discussion on twitter ended up fading away due to Despise and Hex Parasite, but those cards have had minimal impact thus far. The printing of Batterskull and Sword of War and Peace has done more for Caw-Blade than any of the hosers could have dreamed of.
Alex Gonzalez, Louisville Open champion:
Edgar Flores, TCGPlayer WWS Big Apple 2nd place (small changes from his Orlando-winning decklist):
Of course, it’s not quite the same. Sylvok Lifestaff and Sword of Body and Mind are gone, upgraded to Batterskull and Sword of War and Peace respectively. More interesting is the utter absence of Tumble Magnet from not just these two decks, but almost the entire top 16 for both Opens! The card has quickly gone from savage tech to borderline unplayed (2 in the sideboard of a Valakut deck) with the release of a single set.
Darkblade may not carry a trophy or wear a crown, but the King’s shadowy brother has done well enough for itself, putting 5 people in the top 16 of the WWS Big Apple, 5 in the top 16 of SCG Louisville (4 in the top 8), and 6 in the top 16 of SCG Orlando (3 in the top 8).
Michael Long (no, not that one), SCG Louisville, 2nd place:
Despite the continued dominance of Caw variants, one challenger stands above the rest: Splinter Twin.
Michael Flores, WWS Big Apple champion
Tim Landale, SCG Orlando 3rd place:
What these decks have in common is the use of Inferno Titan and Jace as additional win conditions to punish opponents who depend too heavily on stopping the combo victory.
Compare to the Grixis Twin deck, which is considerably less successful despite being better able to protect the combo.
John Cuvelier, SCG Orlando top 16:
Because of this deck’s inability to realistically win outside of the combo, it’s much less successful overall, and has a great deal of trouble against fringe strategies such as Soul Sisters. Let’s reiterate: this is a 2-card combo that can be cast turn 4 at the earliest, with no tutors in the deck. At best, you’ve got some cantrips plus Jaces. That’s not going to get there reliably through a 10-round event, and certainly not once people start packing hate. Using the combo as a way of keeping people from properly fighting against a UR or RUG deck is a much more robust plan.
Speaking of robust plans, what about just jamming it in Caw-Blade?
Tyler Winn, SCG Louisville top 8:
He didn’t run the Twin combo, but how many people misplayed against him once they saw the Deceiver Exarch? It wouldn’t be hard to tweak the manabase to run more fetchlands, throw in 2-3 Mountains, and fit in the Twins; but would it be worth it? Unlike Flores’ deck, Twin doesn’t have random Pilgrim’s Eyes or Sea Gate Oracles to gain value, but Splinter Twin on Stoneforge Mystic isn’t exactly a play to be ashamed of.
The other major change New Phyrexia has brought to Standard – though it hasn’t really much of a splash yet – is the Hawkward deck, with several new cards.
Ken Adams, SCG Louisville top 16
Playing much like a swarm deck, this aims to end the game in one or two big swings early. Shrine of Loyal Legions is a solid refuel card to get involved when sweepers ruin your day, but for the most part this is a deck that lives and dies based on what kind of a defense its opposition is offering. If Splinter Twin is seeing more play, 3 Dispatch won’t cut it, and some more defense – Celestial Purge or even Demystify will be necessary additions to the sideboard.
Another white weenie deck made an appearance in the same event.
Neil Michalares, SCG Louisville top 16:
Yes, that 3 next to Squadron Hawk is accurate. This is another Mystic deck, but unlike Caw-Blade, Soul Sisters trades in Jace and Preordain for lifegain and the possibility of running out the Leonin Relic-Warder+Phyrexian Metamorph infinite combo. For those of you who are unaware, a Metamorph entering the battlefield as a Relic-Warder can exile itself, which causes it to return to play again. This produces infinite Soul’s Attendant or Suture Priest triggers, which is enough to put you out of reach of basically everything in this format but Exarch-Twin. The trick is, this deck has an amazing matchup against them since the mere presence of Soul’s Attendant or Suture Priest on the board shuts down the infinite combo.
Spellskite can protect the life-gain cards from removal, and it can just play as a random white weenie deck with incidental lifegain to get ahead in races, much like the role Vampires aims to take in aggro mirrors thanks to Kalastria Highborn.
I don’t really endorse this deck since it’s even more vulnerable to sweepers than Hawkward, but it has certain points in its favor, and could be a sick metagame call if you’re expecting a lot of Twin combo.
Aside from all that, we’ve got some incidental appearances in top 8s from U/B control (Despise, Gitaxian Probe, a singleton Karn Liberated, a singleton Life’s Finale), Bant Caw-Blade (new equipment plus Beast Within), Eldrazi Green (Dismember and Spellskite in the sideboard), Vampires (Dismember, Batterskull, Act of Agression), Goblins (Shrine of Burning Rage in the sideboard), and Valakut (no new cards).
The former “second best deck” – RUG Ramp – has completely disappeared from top 16s. When people who’ve made multiple top 8s with a former tier 1 deck switch to a different deck without even trying the deck they won with, you know it’s not going to cut it. Lotus Cobra seems to be homeless as a result. Splinter Twin may fill that hole in the metagame, but Caw-Blade players are sure to adapt.
The problem is that it’s nearly impossible to actually fight Caw-Blade. Before Batterskull, Sword of War and Peace, and Spellskite, the Red mages could fight the good fight, as they had a positive matchup against Caw-Blade, especially when the Caw players weren’t playing Kor Firewalker. Now? Let’s just say that Caw-Blade doesn’t even need the Firewalker- it can just batter more skulls. Splinter Twin, as dumb as it may be, might actually be the best option – but if the Caw players can sideboard to beat Twin (and I think they can), it won’t make a difference.
@JoshJMTG on Twitter