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Insider: Origins of the Format

Mike-Lanigan QS Magic the Gathering MTG

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When the first weekend of a set jumbles up the format and creates interesting new situations, it's my favorite time to play Magic. Wizards provided a stellar finale to the core set model with a beautifully designed set. Long is the list of not only playable but also intriguing cards from the set.

Most of SCG Chicago this past weekend consisted of established decks, but many of them used at least a couple new cards. G/R Devotion took advantage of the sideboard powerhouse finisher Gaea's Revenge as well as a Sword of the Animist and a Nissa's Revelation. These are minor changes but important ones that will prod the shift in the metagame along.

One of the biggest changes to the metagame is the inclusion of new cards in Abzan. As I mentioned would likely happen last week, players quickly adopted Nissa, Vastwood Seer as well as maindeck Languish. One version used a couple Elvish Visionarys and another added a Tragic Arrogance in the sideboard, but for the most part the Abzan decks got some more tools while still taking advantage of their already powerful lineup. This archetype was the largest percentage of players to make Day 2 of this event.

I also noted a couple different decks utilizing Jace, Vryn's Prodigy, like Jeskai Tokens. That same deck also added Sphinx's Tutelage in the sideboard as well. Other than those minor changes to pre-established archetypes, the other known decks didn’t change at all. Some decks, like U/W Heroic, didn’t swap any new cards into their decks and opted for their already streamlined lists.

The main avenue for new cards was through the new decks they brought to life.

Last week I talked about some of these sweet new decks that were obviously possible based on the card pool. Although they were straightforward in viability, they are nuanced in deck design. Let’s take a look at the archetypes from last week that found success on opening weekend.

Goblins

First up, we have Goblins. This archetype posted a few good results in these two main configurations. Although it’s not a goblin, both decks still included the potent Monastery Swiftspear instead of the new Goblin Glory Chaser. They also both utilized Goblin Heelcutter in place of the slimmer Subterranean Scout, but they did have the can't block effect in some capacity.

Goblins is going to be lurking at tournaments for the next couple of months but it needs to come prepared for the horde of Arashin Clerics hiding in every white deck's sideboard. There is some room for adaptation, but most of the spots are almost irreplaceable. Maindeck Languish is like a giant moat that your little critters need to swim across before you can defeat your black opponents. Only time will tell if Languish is enough to send the goblins back to their caves or not.

Elves

One of the main aspects of Elves that I discussed last week was the dilemma of the four-drop in the deck. John Ostrem, the only Elf player to crack the Top 64, decided that they were all too good to leave at home! He played a whopping ten four-cost cards as well as the full set of Chord of Calling!

I imagine there are a lot of hands with an odd assortment of clunky parts, but this does provide you with the most powerful tools available. To offset the bottlenecking at your top end, he included the Lorwyn block reprint, Leaf Gilder. Although I don’t feel secure with this many high-cost spells, this deck is certainly capable of recovering from a board wipe which is a positive quality to possess.

Constellation

This unique take on an enchantment deck gives up on the wonderful new white cards so it can focus on green and black. A deck like this is not something most of us would brew up on our own. Herald of the Pantheon certainly enables this deck to spit out enchantment creatures more quickly, but that is the only new card the deck is sporting.

If this deck was well positioned in the meta, I would have thought that the same configuration but with Golden Hind or Sylvan Caryatid would have been present previously.

It is still my belief that a white-based enchantment deck will surface, but it’s possible that the mana costs of that version make the deck too inefficient. I know I will be working on the deck as I’m sure other deck builders will as well. With the Pro Tour coming up soon, I’m hoping to see the pro hive mind create something wonderful with these cards.

Mono-White Devotion

Surprise! Mono-White is back. If you’re like me, seeing this deck being mentioned truly is surprising. There was an inkling in the back of my mind about building a white aggressive deck, but I didn’t think others would grab onto the idea and certainly not this quickly. New metagames evolve much faster than they used to thanks to so many players writing about new cards and social media spreading the word.

As far as these two decks are concerned, there are parts I like about both of them. In the first one, Heliod, God of the Sun and Archangel of Tithes to enable it seem quite strong. The second deck offers much more opportunity to take advantage of Kytheon, Hero of Akros. Kytheon seems like a potent weapon in decks designed to take advantage of him.

One thing both decks have in common is they both start out with aggressive white creatures with powerful abilities and finish strong with the often forgotten Wingmate Roc. Nykthos can power Wingmate out a turn early or it can churn out Mastery of the Unseen manifests later in the game.

I love this archetype but I don’t love the breakdown of either version because I think they can be improved upon. There are so many decks I want to develop further! This is definitely one of them on my list.

Jace Decks

Gerry Thompson has been working on this deck for a little while. He and Adam Varner played nearly identical deck lists and finished next to each other in the standings, which is quite impressive. This deck seems more like Jeskai Tempo but some of the cards seem out of place for that type of strategy.

Take our new buddy Jace, Vryn's Prodigy for example. What exactly is his function in this deck? He can filter your draws to hopefully find more of what you need instead of what you have and he can flip in the midgame thanks to all of the cheap interactive spells. Maybe what makes new Jace work in this deck is the ability to imitate Snapcaster Mage once he has flipped. Flashing back your removal or burn seems like a great line of play.

Ojutai's Command might be the biggest hidden gem in the format and it’s no surprise that Gerry included some in this deck. All of the modes are great against every deck. If this spell could counter anything and not just creatures, it would be dominating the metagame. There are some great two-cost creatures to get back so all the modes are turned on in this deck. I think we’ll be seeing more of this deck in the coming weeks.

I’m sure you’ve heard about this crazy concoction by now but it definitely merits mention in this article. This deck utilizes some interesting cards to fuel its strategy. We are also starting out with new Jace but quickly proceeding into new territory with Gather the Pack into Rally the Ancestors.

This deck definitely seems fun but I’m not so sure it will be sticking around. With no removal spells, it seems easy to overwhelm with threats backed up by a couple removal spells. If you get lucky with your flips, you could be returning a bunch of creatures with a midgame Rally though.

5c Rally is trying to do a dredge impersonation, but the accent is off. The green cards are the backbone of the deck and maybe they will be enough to carry this deck into the future.

Hangarback Decks

Next up, we have the Hangarback Walker decks. That phrase is not something I ever thought I’d be writing in one of my articles. Jeff Hoogland is a brewmeister like myself and he’s been working long hours in the factory to build this contraption. I am definitely not a Blue-White Control player but a version like this with Thopter Spy Network makes me think about giving it a go.

Not many other control decks did well at this event so that leads me to believe that this deck is well positioned in the metagame. It’s unclear to me how many control players will be able to stomach this odd of a control deck, so I think it would be impossible to predict how much of the metagame this deck will take up.

Most games playing against this deck will feel like typical control matchups where they kill your guys, draw cards, and play a big finisher. The distinguishing factor is that many times after they clear the board, they will end up with thopter tokens in play from Thopter Spy Network or Hangarback Walker. With these cards, the deck can pressure its adversaries into overextending regularly. This is the hidden strength of this deck.


Onto our second Hangarback Walker deck of the event. This curious red-white deck appears more like a token deck than a typical aggressive deck. It even curves all the way up to Dictate of Heliod! Our red-white oddball here intrigues me because the card choices are well outside the normal iteration of similar decks.

I’m uncertain that four Chained to the Rocks is a great idea with only an effective eight mountains in the deck. It is cheap and that seems important in this midrangey deck, but there are not many other removal spells to rely on if you can’t locate a mountain.

Pia and Kiran Nalaar, as well as Foundry of the Consuls, was also found in another midrange red deck, so it seems like that card is the real deal.

There were a lot of interesting advances in the format this weekend. I can’t wait to see what happens next weekend! Share your thoughts on these decks or others in the comments.

Until next time,
Unleash the Force!

Mike Lanigan
MtgJedi on Twitter
Jedicouncilman23@gmail.com

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