Insider: Dipping Our Toes In

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The world of Magic has been in a stranglehold for months on end. The super villain known as Caw-Blade has had its claws in every major top 8 for the several months, and its lackeys like Valakut and Splinter Twin have kept would be heroes from really being able to make a difference. Hyper aggressive strategies like Tempered Steel have tried to make an impact with short bursts of guerrilla offensives, but nothing has been reliable. Other heroes such as Brian Kibler's Blade Breaker have sought to attack the problem at its source, ignoring some of the other more prominent villains to attack the true problem. But there's a new hero stepping up to once and for all shake the stagnation we have been experiencing for months and allow Standard and those who play it a collective sigh of relief.

Innistrad is here.

Where We Were

It is surprising that a world filled with horrors and those they hunt would be the good guys in town, but with the rotation of the ever oppressive Zendikar block from Standard, we look towards a standard that hopes to scale back the ridiculous power levels of cards like Jace, Stoneforge, Valakut, Goblin Guide, Splinter Twin and others that have relegated the format to a near unplayable mess. There are those who really enjoyed Caw-blade mirrors and the non-interaction of decks like Valakut and Twin, but tournament attendance would suggest that this isn't the majority of players.

Since we're going to be talking mostly about this weekend's Standard Open today, let's start by looking at how much the format had devolved by using the same metric, previous Open tournaments. Standard Open Top 8 Atlanta, Georgia 2011-09-11

Deck Name Place
Mono Red 1st
U/B Control 2nd
U/B Control 3rd
Tempered Steel 4th
Tempered Steel 5th
Mono Red 6th
Caw-blade 7th
Mono Red 8th

We only see one Caw-Blade deck in the top 8, and surprisingly no Valakut or Splinter Twin. We have to take a few things into account though. We see incredibly fast aggressive decks here in Mono Red and Tempered Steel that hope to win the game before Splinter Twin and Valakut can on turn four. These strategies also hope to be faster than Caw-Blades aggressive draws and put it on its heels enough that it can't control the game well enough. And this is without even looking two spots down to see that tenth, eleventh and twelfth were Caw-Blade and the thirteenth was Valakut. This doesn't do an accurate job at showing how warped the format is though. Here we see the results of decks trying to defeat the dominate decks of the format. But what if we go back one Open further? Standard Open Top 8 Boston, Massachusetts 2011-08-21

Deck Name Place
U/R Twin 1st
Valakut 2nd
Caw-blade 3rd
Mono Red 4th
U/R Twin 5th
Caw-blade 6th
U/R Twin 7th
Valakut 8th

U/R Twin? Check. Valakut? Check. Caw-Blade? Check. We see all of the most problematic decks taking all of the top eight spots except for one. Everything oppressive in the format that people have complained about with old standard is here in force. This is what Standard had become.

Where We Are

But what is it now? Hopefully most of you paid some attention to the open this weekend, but for anyone who didn't, let's start by showing off the top eight of the first large Standard tournament we've had.

Deck Name Place
Mono Red 1st
Mono Red 2nd
U/W Illusions 3rd
U/W Blade 4th
U/W Aggro 5th
Tempered Steel 6th
Tempered Steel 7th
Solar Flare 8th

That's six different archetypes out of the eight potential slots. Take a quick look back up at the number of different archetypes in the previous tournaments. Four of the top eight are unique. It doesn't seem like a lot of variance at first, but we do see a format not warped by turn four kills and non-interactive strategies. We do however see seven of eight decks being aggro with all eight of them being reliant on creatures to win. This seems to be the push Wizards has been making since Scars block came around, but wasn't able to fulfill until now because of the strategies present in Zendikar.

This is just a small snapshot of the tournament as a whole. There was around 500 people at the tournament and we are only privy to the top 32 decks that appeared there. For reference, let's take a look at them real fast.

Deck Name Number in Top 32
Solar Flare 6
Mono Red 5
Tempered Steel 4
U/W Blade 2
U/W Aggro (Humans) 2
Wolf Run Red 2
U/B Control 2
U/W Illusions 1
U/B Tezzeret 1
Township (GW) Tokens 1
G/W Humans 1
Naya Pod 1
Bant Pod 1
U/R Vengeance 1

We see that everyone is excited to have the Solar Flare archetype back, with it showing up more than any other deck in the top 32. After mono red and tempered steel though, we see just how diverse the format is. There isn't a deck that has more than two representatives after those first three. There is a few trends that emerge.

Of the 15 different archetypes in the top 32, only 5 don't use blue. If we're going to see the format shape up to be anything like this, everyone had better get used to playing against Mana Leak and Snapcaster Mage.

Of the 5 archetypes that don't contain blue, 3 contain red and 2 of those are aggressive red decks. Wolf Run Red is no more than Mono Red that splashes for Kessig Wolf Run and Garruk Relentless // Garruk, the Veil-Cursed.  So for anyone not wanting to play red or blue they're options from this list are G/W Humans and G/W tokens.

Now, I'm not here to break down strategy. I'm not Patrick Chapin or Brian Kibler or anything of the sort. What I and the rest of the staff here at QS can do is follow trends and hopefully tell you what is going to be popular enough to raise prices.

Where We're Going

So the finals were a mono red mirror match. This could lead us to believe that it's an archetype to be prepared for, which to an extent is true. Everything right now is fragile and untested, and we can break a deck apart and find what can beat it.

Mono-Red by David Doberne

4 Shrine of Burning Rage

3 Chandra's Phoenix
2 Goblin Arsonist
3 Grim Lavamancer
2 Hero of Oxid Ridge
2 Spikeshot Elder
4 Stormblood Berserker
4 Stromkirk Noble

4 Brimstone Volley
3 Incinerate

3 Koth of the Hammer

3 Arc Trail

Basic Lands
23 Mountain

1 Sword of War and Peace
2 Perilous Myr
2 Hero of Oxid Ridge
3 Manic Vandal
4 Vulshok Refugee
1 Arc Trail
1 Traitorous Blood
1 Mountain

An archetype people thought was dead, Doberne's mono-red shows the deck is alive and kicking, but significantly different. It thrives on the one drop into Stormblood Berserker. The deck's biggest weakness? Single toughness guys. This is something that can be noticed across a great deal of the decks. One toughness guys seemed to be prevalent this weekend, whether it be Signal pests and Memnites, mana dudes, mono reds one drops or even the all powerful Snapcaster Mage, everyone is starting with little guys. Some mono red decks were starting cards like Geistflame and Illusions even played Gut Shot out the board. The reliance on one toughness creatures may prove to be a defining point of the metagame as people begin to play cards like those already mentioned to fight them. Pros had been expecting mana guy into 3 drop on the two to be good, but if everyone is playing cards like Geistflame, that becomes a much less fortunate option. Do we have something to compare this too?

I was talking with a friend of mine about this reliance on one toughness guys and the cards like Geistflame and he said quite simply "Sounds like it's time to be playing Doran in a room with Punishing Fire." Creatures need to get bigger in order to survive the most commonly played removal. Outside of Solar Flare and Tempered Steel's Dispatch's burn was the only real removal played in the room on Saturday.

R/G Daybreak by Brian Kibler

Artifact Creatures
1 Phyrexian Metamorph

2 Acidic Slime
4 Birds of Paradise
4 Daybreak Ranger
2 Hero of Oxid Ridge
1 Inferno Titan
4 Llanowar Elves
4 Skinshifter

2 Ancient Grudge
2 Dismember

Legendary Creatures
2 Thrun, the Last Troll
1 Urabrask the Hidden

4 Garruk Relentless

2 Arc Trail

Basic Lands
8 Forest
6 Mountain

4 Copperline Gorge
3 Kessig Wolf Run
4 Rootbound Crag

3 Nihil Spellbomb
2 Sword of Feast and Famine
1 Phyrexian Metamorph
1 Inferno Titan
1 Ancient Grudge
1 Naturalize
2 Koth of the Hammer
2 Arc Trail
2 Bramblecrush

The Dragonmaster is advocating something different, and it shows where the format could be going. The mana dorks are there to accelerate on the one, but the deck doesn't fall to pieces when they are gone. With the speed of decks that are currently showing up, we can reasonably expect midrange decks to try and take control. Without Valakut around to keep Midrange decks from disappearing, they can easily step up to slow the format down a hair.

So for now, we can expect cards that are doing well like Stormkirk Noble and Champion of the Parish to go up in the short term, but as speculators the goal is to find the next thing while it's still cheap.

States will see a lot of people playing these decks, and the ones that are ahead of the curve will do well. We want to look at what will beat the current crop of cards, which seems to be disruptive decks with a decent portion of removal. We haven't played in a format where creatures are the most important things in awhile. Splinter Twin wasn't a creature deck, and neither was Valakut. Caw-Blade relied on its swords and card advantage to win. The last time this was the case, Jund was dominant as it focused on two for ones and playing the best creatures. It seems like what we need to be looking for is the best creatures and ways to generate two for ones.

The biggest thing to take from this weekend is that very few to none of the players we look for when it comes to innovative and powerful strategies showed up to play. Kibler, Chapin, Nelson, Thompson, not any of these names were present. There were great Magic Players, but none of the ones we associate with the best decks we've seen out of the last year or two of standard. Also, Indiana is notorious for aggressive strategies, Mono Red in particular. the takeaway from this tournament is that people will mimic these decks, but the format is far from set in stone. It's a good time to be playing Standard, and that's something I haven't been able to say in awhile.


3 thoughts on “Insider: Dipping Our Toes In

  1. "The biggest thing to take from this weekend is that very few to none of the players we look for when it comes to innovative and powerful strategies showed up to play. Kibler, Chapin, Nelson, Thompson, not any of these names were present. "

    Brad Nelson and Gerry Thompson actually *were* present at the Open Series weekend in Indianapolis. Brad was one of our two SCGLive commentators, and Gerry competed in both the Standard and Legacy Opens. 🙂

    Best wishes,

    Pete Hoefling

  2. Gerry T and AJ were running the same deck/tech for Legacy, although there were a few differences in their lists. AJ took top 8 in Legacy with the Snapcaster/Unearth fun, which he innovated.

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