It’s 6:50 am and I’m sitting at a stop light on my way to work. Friends were over last night until 1 am hanging out; needless to say, I’m exhausted and regretting that decision. This light seems to stay red for much longer than expected, and my patience is already at an all-time low since I'm driving to work. A song by I See Stars starts playing from the mix on my Ipod, which automatically puts me in a better mood because they are by far my favorite band right now. (They are revolutionizing a new genre called Electronicore and they are amazing if you like that type of music.)
The light finally turns green and I accelerate a little faster than I probably should have. Then all of a sudden a huge black SUV surges past me. In my sleepy haze, I slam on my breaks with just enough time to stop before I drive through the rear passenger door. The driver never slows down to apologize or check to make sure the car is intact, they just kept on speeding down the road. At this point, I am yelling in my car for a moment until I calm down and realize that I indeed did not hit the law-breaking vehicle. Luckily I had ten more minutes on my drive to work to calm down before I had to enter the building.
In this situation it would not have mattered what car I was driving or what the other guy was driving. A law was broken which should have caused an accident. Even if I was driving my dream car (I’m particular to the Jaguar), it would not have helped me in any way.
Car Wrecks in Standard
Standard right now is this car wreck waiting to happen. Many players and other writers have stated that this is the best, most open Standard format we have ever had. I only agree with one of those statements. There are some of us out there that absolutely hate Standard right now. Yes, I know that there are more playable cards in Standard right now than in any previous format in the Modern era. Normally that would be a great thing, but for me, it’s not enough.
Standard seems like an extremely unskilled format, decided more by the number of lands you draw over the course of a game than any other factor. There are aspects of the format that are skill intensive, like the Rakdos mirror. Many of those games can be won or lost based on your skill and your decisions. Certainly there are other matchups determined by skill but overall I don’t believe it to be the case.
To make matters worse, there are no decks I enjoy playing right now. If Rakdos was not so popular, it is the type of deck I like, but playing against Bant is like punching your way through the door instead of opening it. If you don’t believe me, check out the Gerry vs. Brad video on Star City this week. Game one is supposed to be heavily in favor of Rakdos, but Brad loses ever single game one in the video.
Number one on my list of problems with Standard is the extreme length of games. Making more cards playable should not dictate that games take thirty minutes. Think about the last big event you went to. Every single round most likely went over time because of decks like Bant Control not being able to finish a game quickly. When you staple lifegain to already solid cards you end up with Thragtusk and Sphinx's Revelation and that will force games to start going longer.
These are the reasons why, despite not having plans and there being a Star City Open two hours from my house, I did not make the drive out there.
Porting G/W Auras to Standard
Despite this car wreck Standard, I still almost went to the event. I have been working on a deck that is a lot of fun but I could not solve the sideboarding issue for the control decks. My angle for creating this deck was to ignore the rest of what everyone was doing in Standard. I don’t like what they are doing so why should I play into their strategy. This deck is a bit risky though. Inspiration came to me while I was dissecting the new GW Aura deck for Modern.
Auras are not playable. That has been the common logic for as long as I have been playing. We are starting to see that there are exceptions to that rule. In Return to Ravnica Limited, for example, auras are actually quite good because of the lack of cheap removal in the format. The Modern deck shows us that if you can kill your opponent fast enough that it doesn’t matter what type of spells you are using.
The card that stuck out in my mind from the Modern deck was Ethereal Armor. For one mana, the impact it can have is quite large. You most likely need to be playing some other enchantments for it to be good enough. Armor is another card that is normally not playable in Constructed, but since that rule really doesn’t apply right now, I found myself pondering its use in Standard. My logic expanded from this one card to the following deck.
4 Invisible Stalker
4 Geist of Saint Traft
3 Snapcaster Mage
3 Restoration Angel
4 Azorius Charm
2 Amass the Components
4 Ethereal Armor
2 Detention Sphere
2 Oblivion Ring
1 Moorland Haunt
4 Hallowed Fountain
4 Glacial Fortress
3 Cavern of Souls
4 Rest in Peace
1 Rootborn Defenses
3 Sphere of Safety
3 Curse of Echoes
At first glance, this should look like a normal U/W Flash deck. Many of the cards are format staples that have been proven many times over in various format. That is always a great place to start. Changing half of a deck can drastically change how it plays but maintain the raw power of the previous version. When I am working on a format, this is one of the prime strategies I use to develop my decks.
Similarities exist between Ethereal Armor and Runechanter's Pike. In the current format, I think the auras are better than the equipment for one reason, their cheaper cost. With Pike, you are hoping for the equipment to win you the game eventually, after setting it up with Thought Scour and playing your spells noramlly. The enchantments are not the same. They aim to kill the opponent as quickly as possible and do not require that first step of filling your graveyard. Your creature’s power won’t shrink because your opponent sideboarded their graveyard hate either, which is a plus.
Common Lines of Play
Instead of talking about each card individually, I think it would be more beneficial to talk about some general scenarios that occur frequently.
When your opponent also has many creatures in their deck, your goal is to race them. Use your life total as a resource. There are a couple main ways to go about this.
Scenario 1: You have Invisible Stalker, Ethereal Armor and Curiosity in your opening hand. You should be able to bounce creatures to their hand and/or top of their library while playing more auras to make Stalker kill quickly. Three damage a turn, even unblockable, is not good enough on its own. What makes it get there is the extra card every turn, which will give you the resources to continue to interact with your opponent.
Scenario 2: Geist of Saint Traft is in hand but not Invisible Stalker. This is also the same if you have both creatures but no auras. When this happens your most likely route to victory is to play a bounce spell at the end of your opponent’s turn two and then try to force Geist through three times. With the tempo removal in the deck plus Snapcaster Mage, this is usually fairly easy. In these games, often I don’t find time to ever cast Invisible Stalker except as a chump blocker. Suiting up Geist with Armor is close to unbeatable for most aggro decks unless they are faster than you and you can't control them at all. The power bonus on Armor even turns Thragtusk into two chumps, which is amazing.
Scenario 3: You have great spells in hand but your only creature(s) are Snapcaster Mage, Restoration Angel or both. In this case, you want to play the game more like a straight up U/W Flash deck, which can be difficult. Sometimes it works, but any small error can spell your end. This plan works best when you draw your removal enchantments and then finish them off with a large Ethereal Armor. Even if you have to play auras on a creature without hexproof, many times your opponent won’t have removal for them. Try not to play that way if you can avoid it but remember multiple Armors add up to a ton of damage.
**In all three scenarios against another aggressive deck, using the lifelink option on your charms will win you many games as well. Don’t forget about that part of the card just because it doesn’t come up that often.
Versus U/W Control
When you are playing against a deck built for the long game, you need to change how you evaluate your spells. Your Unsummons become spells that save your creatures from removal rather than a way to gain tempo. Azorius Charm tends to be a cantrip the majority of the time and then a second time as well when you flash it back with Snapcaster. The scenarios are basically the same for these matches, but how you play your cards is vastly different. Unless you can present lethal even through a Sphinx's Revelation, do not over-commit to the board. One creature with an enchantment or two is enough pressure to force your opponent to respond. Losing two or more creatures to Supreme Verdict may cost you the game so be cautious.
Versus Nonblue Midrange or Control (Jund, Naya & Reanimator)
If your opponent doesn’t have Supreme Verdict, you can pressure them with more creatures. Don’t sacrifice your Geist hastily to their bigger blocker. Dig for a way to remove the blocker or find a second Geist. This way you will maximize damage and have a creature to enchant when you eventually draw your auras. The only way they have to interact with you is usually [card Bonfire of the Damned]Bonfire[/card] so save those Unsummons to get around that card.
Sphere of Safety - Against aggressive decks my strategy has been to bring in Sphere of Safety. Sometimes it is not fast enough, especially against Monored, but if you have enough time to cast it, games become much easier after that. The part I like best about Sphere is that it negates the power of the haste creatures in Standard. That slows players down quite a bit.
Curse of Echoes – This was the solution to Bant that I didn’t find until too late. Resolving it is not easy, but once it’s in play, they have a hard time winning. Anything they cast, you get a copy of, so none of their counters work and when they draw cards, so do you. A neat interaction is with Supreme Verdict. Since it gets played twice, there is no token left from Thragtusk.
Nevermore – Most of the time you want to name Thragtusk so you can kill them quickly. When your opponent doesn’t have Thragtusk though, this card is more effective. Because you have Unsummon and Azorius Charm, you can wait until your opponent casts Hellrider for example, and after bouncinig it cast Nevermore. By doing it this way, you will always leave them with a card in hand that they cannot cast. This enchantment is also a catch-all. If you run across something you didn’t expect, you can always bring this in to beat it.
Negate – This instant has a variety of uses. It obviously comes in most of the time against any control deck like Bant or Jund, but it does have other applications as well. Some decks have enough spells to make it worth bringing in. Naya, for example, sometimes has enough spells like Bonfire to justify one or both post-board.
In conclusion, remember that even when your format is a car wreck, you can still find something fun to play. If I had decided to attend the Star City Open, I was certainly confidant enough in this deck to run it.
Until Next Time,
Never Give Up, Never Surrender!
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