Time is closing in on me to finish preparations for the first Regional PTQ. Initial numbers indicate that the Chicago event I am attending will likely be the largest event in the U.S., but that should ensure that all members of the Top 8 are qualified for the Pro Tour. Not having to play an elimination match in the Top 8 is definitely a benefit that I hope I can take advantage of.
This past weekend we had some innovations from the Pro Tour burst into the metagame. SCG Providence had the normal compliment of Abzan decks (Aggro, Control, and even Reanimator) as well as Mono-Red, Jeskai Aggro and Sultai Reanimator. This Top 8 is something we have typically been seeing, but there were some standouts. We had Den Protector in Abzan Reanimator, Dragonlord Atarka in Sultai Reanimator, and Goblin Heelcutter in Mono-Red. While those innovations are certainly important, they are not going to cause major metagame shifts or anything.
There were a couple decks in the Top 8 that stood out among the crowded room of decks with only a couple new cards in them. The first one that caught my eye was a deck mistitled as Abzan Control.
As I said, the title for the deck is completely wrong. Certainly it does share some cards in common with Abzan Control, but so do Abzan Aggro and even Sultai Reanimator. We need a name for this deck that’s uniquely representative. The creatures in the deck are mighty and morphing so let’s go with something like Power Rangers. It would be sweet if we could start seeing decks with cool names again. At the very least we should have seen this deck listed as something like Abzan Raptor Protector to distinguish it from Abzan Control, which is not at all the same deck.
What’s great about this deck is dual nature of Deathmist Raptor. Everytime a new set comes out with a recursive creature, the first thing I always say is that if the creature could block, control decks would be running it. I said that for Gravecrawler as well as Bloodsoaked Champion, but that is not the case for our out-of-place lizard beast friend here. He can switch from attack to defense mode whenever you choose. That does make the card better than I originally gave it credit for. This line of play seems so good that I think I would immediately make room for a fourth copy, probably cutting the Duress.
A lot of the other cards in the deck are the usual suspects that you see in these colors. With this deck you can play an aggro-control game plan and switch gears to attacking easily once your opponents’ threats are dealt with.
Players love their Jeskai decks and anytime there is an opening in the metagame, players will jump on board. This latest iteration involves creature spells, instead of token makers, mainly due to the addition of Thunderbreak Regent from Dragons of Tarkir. I’m not sure I agree with Soulfire Grand Master in place of Seeker of the Way, but it should gain you some life to fight the aggressive decks a little better as well as once or twice in the tournament giving you the ability to buyback a spell.
This deck might be a throwback to the first couple weeks of Khans Standard, but it seems great in this metagame. Players are still not prepared enough to face Mantis Rider and that creature can typically take huge chunks of your opponents’ life total.
My major concern is that Valorous Stance, one of the decks primary removal spells, isn’t as well positioned as it was prior to the release of Dragons. It doesn’t remove Deathmist Raptor or Den Protector for example, in addition to some other important creatures. You do have burn spells to help pull weight though.
The main reason you would play a deck like this is because you like its position in the metagame. The burn spells, for example, provide significant reach against any controlling decks. If your opponent is at a low enough life total, this deck closes the game extremely well. What you need to decide is if this deck has good enough matchups because the cards in the deck are all solid.
The other major event was GP Esper Dragons. I know players didn’t know that when they registered for the event, but anytime you have essentially six copies of the same deck in the Top 8 of the event, things get a bit crazy. I am, of course, referring to GP Krakow this past weekend where control decks dominated the event.
It seemed to me that Esper Dragons was a Pro Tour-only deck that wouldn’t translate over into the normal Standard environment. We see this sometimes when pros create a metagame-dependent deck and then it never shows up at the top tables again due to metagame shift. Mainly because the deck didn’t Top 8, I assumed that this would be the case for the new control deck.
Apparently I was off on that assumption because although it didn’t show up at the SCG Open, it arrived in force at the GP. Here’s the winning list from Alexander Hayne.
This deck is cut from the same cloth as our previous control slot in the metagame, U/B Control. The difference is it's much less clunky the majority of the time. It has many ways to interact with decks in the early turns of the game and it does not rely on Perilous Vault to control the board. Against U/B Control it was easy to play around their couple of removal spells and position yourself to kill their Perilous Vault before they wiped your board, or hold back a couple threats to reload once they cracked the Vault.
You cannot play the same way against Esper Dragons. Strategies like these are some of the ways we have been fighting control decks for a long time now, but adaptation needs to occur depending on the menace you are facing. Esper Dragon's goal is to remove some of your creatures and mitigate damage until it can summon a dragonlord. The main three finishers you will see are Dragonlord Ojutai, Silumgar, the Drifting Death, and occasionally Dragonlord Silumgar.
The crux of the deck is not one of fate but rather the scorn of the dragons. Silumgar's Scorn, to be precise, is the fearsome enemy that you need to consider when planning to face this deck.
This deck gaining access to a two-mana Counterspell is crazy and immensely powerful. You can either play around Force Spike, or run your spells out there and hope they don’t have it. My initial testing observations are that it’s better to play around Force Spike, but I’m sure it will depend on the structure of your hand.
I think one-mana threats, like Warden of the First Tree, get much better as well because you can go under what your opponent is doing. Then even if they have a two-mana removal spell, you can get another creature in play once they spend their mana.
No matter what, be prepared to face this deck in your next event. Especially with the RPTQ this weekend, I’m sure lots of players will jump over to this deck.
Last up today we have one deck that is fun and well positioned. The construction of this deck is geared towards hard-to-deal-with threats that gain you virtual card advantage. My initial impression was that Bant Dragons was an aggro deck, but it really is midrange deck. The list has Elvish Mystic and Sylvan Caryatid to get you to the midgame quicker, but you want to end the game as soon as possible.
Don’t get me wrong, the deck is good, but these aspects of the deck are at odds with each other. At the very least, I would like to see Rattleclaw Mystic in place of Caryatid. Not only does it help with your splash color, but it also helps recur your Raptors. I’m not sure this deck is better than Abzan, but it’s just different. It attacks from multiple angles, which is always important. If you like the green white shell but don’t like pairing that combination with black removal spells, then this may be the deck for you.
My friend has been playing this list and his major adjustment has been squeezing in Dragonlord Dromoka. Anytime I've seen Dromoka in play, I have been extremely impressed. Once it resolves, which we know he will since he's uncounterable, your opponent is locked out of casting spells. That is potent. You can also give him haste with Surrak and create a huge swing in the game.
Costing six mana is a lot for decks that want to run it and it competes with Elspeth, Sun's Champion for a slot, but I think the Dragonlord accomplishes the goal better than Elspeth. Playing against Dromoka can be daunting without black removal spells. In this deck, you will have counters to protect your Dragonlord once you untap with him as well.
That's all for me this week. These have been your metagame updates for the week. This weekend I will most likely be battling with my updated Abzan Aggro list. I will have a tournament report for the long awaited Regional PTQ, so wish me luck.
Until next time,
Unleash the Force!
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