When was the last time you can remember when Shock, just regular old Shock and not upgrades like Burst Lightning, not only being playable in Standard but actually good? I could be mistaken because I took some breaks in competitive play at various times, but I think the last time Shock was this good was when it was printed in Onslaught. It was played all throughout Mirrodin until it left Standard with Kamigawa. Shock is just one of those solid cards that has seen many variations on the same idea but usually even those are not good enough. Think about if Forked Bolt were in Standard right now though how much play it would be seeing. Never thought I would wish for Forked Bolt, but it would be so good right now! I think that Shock being good is great for Magic and I wish for many more Standard Formats where it is this good again.
What makes Shock so good? The first thing is the cost. The fact that it is one mana, is extremely important. I have said before that I love Shock the most in conjunction with Snapcaster Mage and those two combine to beat many decks in Standard right now. One reason why the Blue Red Fish deck is so good is because of this combination of cards.
Cheap removal is so important right now due to all of the cheap, low powered threats. Wring Flesh? Vapor Snag? Gut Shot? Heck, I saw a couple people sideboarding Marrow Shards, not in a top 8 deck list or anything but still. The point is that cheap removal is really good right now because the first three turns of the game are so important. If you are not doing something during those turns to set the pace of the game or control it, you are going to lose a lot of games.
One card that is not getting nearly enough attention is Mortarpod.
I thought after Martin Juza included Mortarpod in his winning Grand Prix deck list that it would have been ported to many other decks as well. In my opinion it probably still should. The cost of two mana is much more than one mana but being able to reuse it is amazing value. My version of Green White Tokens even plays three Mortarpods maindeck.
Removal is one of those core concepts that you must examine in every format. It is a topic to consider when you are trying to build new decks or tweak existing ones. So, what are you likely to face down right now in Standard? The answer is not much actually. Most decks have a couple pieces of removal like some Oblivion Rings, or Mana Leaks, and now possibly Gut Shots to fight the Metagame. Mono Red has a lot but they don’t want to use it on your creatures as much as they do your life total. Really the only place you have to worry about a lot of removal from is Blue Black Control. Let’s take a look at the winning deck list from SCG Vegas. I know the data is a little old now but it is the most current list we have to work from and most likely the one players will be testing against and tweaking from.
The core of this decks removal is Doom Blade and Mana Leak. Against the aggro decks you hope to draw the two Black Sun's Zeniths but you cannot really play more because of how horrible it is against the ramp decks. Mana Leak is always good unless the aggro player gets their threat down before you have the opportunity to counter it, which is exactly what the aggro decks are designed to do. Does Blue Black Control have the tools to beat any deck in the format? Yes, definitely yes. My problem with the deck is that you have to hope to draw the right removal against the right deck. The threats are so diverse in Standard right now that you could have three removal spells in your hand but none of them would work against the particular threat. Planeswalkers provide an especially difficult to deal with angle of attack because once they are in play, you are in a lot of trouble.
The reason to play control decks is so you can out play your opponent and deal with all of their threats. I do not think control decks in Standard are well equipped to do this right now. If this was your goal, I think a blue white deck might be better because you gain Day of Judgment, Oblivion Ring, and Gideon Jura, who should be seeing a lot more play than he is currently. Why is the switch to Blue White Control not automatic then? Mana Cost. Blue White Control does not have access to the early removal that it needs in order to keep up with the tempo your opponent creates in the first three turns of the game. So, blue white can’t deal with early threats and blue black has a hard time matching the right removal to the right deck, how are we going to control the game then? Maybe we need to start looking at some other removal spells. The best removal spell in Standard has not even been mentioned yet.
What is the best removal spell in Standard?
I have talked a lot about this card over the last couple months but I don't think I have really stressed just how good it really is. It is so good it feels like cheating when you cast it. Will there be times when you don't have metalcraft? Yes. Those times are not often though because the deck is set up to be able to play this card. Dispatch is a serious reason to include a ton of artifacts in your deck. Tempered Steel and Puresteel Paladin decks are designed to take advantage of this card. I cannot even explain the joyful feeling I had the first time I removed someones creature with a Dispatch. Honestly I thought to myself, "Does that work? Wow, that is so unfair." I would probably never consider playing less than four. Sure you might sideboard some of them out depending on the match, but being able to remove Chandra's Phoenix, Mirran Crusader, Hero of Bladehold, and Wurmcoil Engine as well as any threat your control opponent wants to play makes this card extremely versatile.
Since we are playing white for Dispatch, we might as well be playing Oblivion Ring as well. It deals with planeswalkers as well as any problematic creatures. It can be destroyed by a variety of cards other players are using so it is not quite as good as it used to be. What deck plays both Dispatch and Oblivion Ring? That's right, Voltron!
I know, I know. I have written a lot about Voltron, a.k.a. Puresteel Paladin.dec.
Even the articles that are not solely about Voltron cover the various incarnations of the deck and insights I have learned from playing it so much. I truely love the deck and still think it is a blast to play as well as being very good. I remember when LSV, in one of his Running the Gauntlet videos on Channelfireball, talked about this deck. His quote was memorable because of how potent it was and how much of an impact it has had on me. Basically what he said was that Puresteel Paladin decks are like Caw-Blade with more busted draws but have a bit more variance to go along with that. Puresteel Paladin decks are like Caw-Blade. Let that sink in for a minute.
The previous versions pale in comparison to the leap I made recently with the deck. The change is so dramatic it is like comparing the original Tron to Tron: Legacy. The new version is so much better than the original in virtually every way. What leap did I make?
I just lept over the Empire State of deckbuilding! The Mortarpod, Garruk Relentelss combo was my favorite part of the new Green White Tokens deck and including it in this deck is so perfect. Not only does it create death touching tokens to fling at your opponents creatures, but the initial side creating a steady stream of 2/2's is amazing also. Garruk Relentless is so versatile he is like combining Ajani Vengeant and Elspeth Knight Errant into one card. Think about how good he is against the new hot Blue White Illusion deck also because he doesn't lose counters to kill all of their illusion creatures. I have been so impressed with Garruk Relentless in every deck I have played him in. I would not be surprised at all to see him take over as the most expensive card in the set as Standard progresses. Requiring only one green mana makes him playable in a variety of decks due to the easy casting cost.
Take a look at the best deck I've been playing in Standard.
There are tons of synergies going on in this deck that might not even be apparent at first glance. I mentioned a few above but don't forget about Mentor of the Meek and Garruk Relentless. I still feel that two is the right number of mentors because often they are not good in the early game. Drawing a card for one mana when you make a token is pretty broken and with how cheap all your other creatures are, you can often add a mana to their cost rather easily.
Many players are adjusting to Mirran Crusader in the format but Etched Champion has protection from all colors. That makes him pretty hard to deal with. When there were more Solemn Simulicrum, he was not as good but that was really the only concern.
One question I have right now is the distribution of one cost creatures. I know I want some combination of Flayer Husk, Vault Skirge, and Doomed Travelers. With all the Gut Shots running around, Doomed Traveler might just be better than Vault Skirge but I really like the initial evasion provided by Vault Skirge as well as the fact he is an artifact to set up metalcraft. All three are good, it just depends on what your expected metagame is. I have considered going back to 3/3/3 and cutting the third Etched Champion for mana curve considerations.
Another question is about the lands. Gavony Township is not as good as Moorland Haunt in this deck but this wasn't the best Moorland Haunt deck to start with so it is not that big of a loss. I'm not sure that the Gavony Township even belongs in the deck at all but I have won a couple games because it was there so I am hesitant to remove it. Four Inkmoth Nexus is appealing though.
The sideboard is still tenative. I like all of those cards but I am not sure they are entirely necessary. Bringing in Gideon Jura on the draw against an aggressive deck seems sweet but that is just a theory right now. I need to play with this green version a little more before I settle on a sideboard. Spellskite is a possibility but the zero power always bothers me. I considered Grand Abolisher also but not that many cards need to come out against control so that is still a maybe.
Even with some questions up in the air, one thing I am certain of is this decks ability to win games. You are not afraid of any cards your opponent can play because you have answers to all of them. Your threats are potent and can take over games so you are not just waiting on your opponent to respond to them. If I were qualified for worlds, there is no doubt in my mind that I would be playing this deck.
Until next time,
Unleash Voltron the Relentless!