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Insider: Digging for Specs in Pre-Pro Tour Standard

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I have been playing a metric ton of paper Standard over the past two weeks. After the Emrakul fiasco and three months of criticizing the format for being unplayable, I had almost forgotten how much fun Standard can be. Emphasis on almost.

I can't promise you that what is good will stay good forever. Both time and Pro Tour results are bound to change things by setting them more firmly in stone. Nonetheless, I'm enjoying learning about and playing this new Standard format and have been greatly enjoying the game play.

Coming from me, an individual who has little tolerance for playing unbalanced or uninteresting games, the fact that I am enjoying the format is indeed praise. I like that the DCI took the initiative to ban the problem cards people strongly disliked and give the format a Peter Russo 'Fresh Start.'

First things first, I whiffed on Walking Ballista.


The card is better than I gave it credit for and more important in the metagame than I foresaw. It's a threat that breaks up Copy Cat combo, a mucho-valuable commodity these days. It will probably maintain an $8-$10 price tag for a while rather than simmer down into the $5 range like I had anticipated. If it has a big weekend I could even see it creeping up a few bucks. After having gotten a chance to play more extensively with the card, I've been more and more impressed with it.

I've got to own up when I miss and I just did not see this one coming.

The Battle Lines of New Standard

Last week's SCG Open results tell us a lot about the lay of the Standard landscape at present. The Top 8 consisted of:

  • 3 Jeskai Control (3 with Saheeli)
  • 3 Golgari Aggro
  • 1 4-Color Saheeli

I guess this Saheeli Rai/Felidar Guardian infinite combo is strong... Who could have ever seen that coming? Oh, that's right, everybody! In Wizards' write-up after the bannings they said that Reflector Mage got the axe because UW had been too good on MTGO, but I think they saw the Saheeli train coming and decided to get out in front of it with the Mage ban.

It is also worth noting that Wizards changed their B&R list protocol to allow another banning after a PT, which suggest there is potential for a ban of the combo depending which way the wind blows in Dublin. I actually wouldn't be surprised to see Saheeli or Felidar Guardian go if the combo dominates the Pro Tour. I don't think Wizards can afford the bad publicity of another three months of players spewing venom about how terrible Standard is.

All of this is, of course, conjecture that hinges on events that haven't even happened yet. Saheeli would need to dominate, and the perception of the coverage would have to reflect strong dissatisfaction with the format.

I will admit that the table seems set for Saheeli to dominate the format and I do believe that Jeskai Saheeli is currently alone at the top of the mountain as the deck to beat. Is it beatable? Maybe. The real question is: will players be patient with having such a combo be tier one in Standard.

I had strong reservations about investing in a card like Saheeli Rai simply because a ban would literally tank all the value out of the card. Also, how much potential does the card really have to grow? I think now is likely a good time to be getting out of Saheeli rather than buying into it. Anybody who reads my finance column could have easily predicted that I wasn't buying in on Saheeli after the spike—I buy low and sell high. I am rarely interested in buying high and hoping to sell higher.

The other "best deck" is BG Delirium. The current favorite version of the deck is aggressive in nature, based around exploiting synergies between Winding Constrictor and +1/+1 counters. Winding Constrictor is an all-around good Magic card and I'm in favor of picking these up now.


The flavor of this card baffles me. Why does a large snake give my creatures more +1/+1 counters? Is it an allusion to Hardened Scales? Does Winding Constrictor have Hardened Scales? If so, the reference is awfully meta-contextual.

Regardless of what happens to the B&R list, the Constrictor deck is likely to continue to stay playable. It is also more budget-friendly than BG Delirium decks that feature Liliana, the Last Hope. There are people who will gravitate toward aggro and this is likely to be a popular deck choice.

Also, I think the card is in the realm of being Modern-playable or at least decent in Frontier. It is also a card that I see as being an big hit at the kitchen table. I'll likely pick up a stack of these over the next two weeks and hold them until they bring a profit.


Speaking of profitable black-green cards, Star City Games has been sold out of all copies of Tireless Tracker at $7.99 for nearly two weeks straight now. Personally, I think Tireless Tracker is likely the best card in Standard, and anticipate a strong showing from BG Control at the PT. Tracker is the kind of card that a Saheeli Control deck simply cannot handle. The endless stream of card advantage will eventually answer every attempt at comboing and grind through all of their removal and Gearhulks.

I've always been a big fan of the "great card is great" philosophy of card evaluation and finance. I play four copies of this card in my Modern deck. If I could cast it using blue, white, or red mana, I would play it in my Miracles deck in Legacy. It is the real deal in Standard and perhaps even better in Modern with fetches.


This card makes you feel like every opponent is playing a tribal Insects deck...

I love to buy low and sell high, so I'm always looking for cards at the bottom of the heap that I can acquire many copies of and then flip at a nice profit later on. Fumigate feels like it could be one of those cards. First of all, it is one of the best five-drop wraths ever printed.

A wrath that gains a bunch of life is exactly what a control deck wants against opposing creature decks. Take away their board and take it out of reach.

It is also worth noting that the Jeskai Saheeli decks are maindecking multiple copies, and playing additional copies in the sideboard. Fumigate is actually becoming a very important piece of Standard. With that being said, it is basically sitting on the rung above a bulk rare right now.

I also like the fact that even if Saheeli were to get banned, the Jeskai Control deck would continue to be a format mainstay. Let's be honest with ourselves, Saheeli Rai combo is obnoxious to play against, but the real hero of the blue decks is Torrential Gearhulk:


Are you sick of losing to Torrential Gearhulk? Well, to quote Yoda: "You will be. You. will. be..."

Torrential Gearhulk is easily the best and most important card in Standard. It is so powerful and so difficult to answer. Let's just put it this way: I don't play Lost Legacy in my Delirium sideboards, but if it could name Gearhulk I would play multiple copies. That is how important Gearhulk is to Jeskai.

The card is already expensive but I could see it ticking up a little after the Pro Tour. It isn't like the card is unlikely to put 16+ copies into Top 8. The card has also been seeing some Modern play. It likely isn't a long-term hold, but I believe it could tick up a bit and hold value for a minute. If you are leaning toward playing with Gearhulks post-PT, you should think about picking them up now rather than later because they won't get cheaper.


Not just a traditional Rakdos toast anymore...

To the Slaughter is another card that has proven better and better the more that I play it. One of the biggest problems with Torrential Gearhulk is that it is very difficult for non-blue decks to answer without taking an absolutely devastating beating in the process. To the Slaughter is nice because it is instant-speed and can get the Gearhulk before it can eat a creature on blocks. It also answers both halves of the Copy Cat combo at the same time.

Not to mention that To the Slaughter is just plain good against powerful planeswalkers like Gideon and Nissa. GW Tokens is another very good deck and this spell has it covered.


I'm a big fan of Dragonmaster Outcast and have been for a while now. I have a feeling that it is going to be a big piece of Standard sideboarding moving forward. In a control mirror match, everything is about mana efficiency and getting ahead of things with a threat. A one-mana threat that can easily win the game is a pretty big deal. At the very least it is an absurd distraction. It is cheap to play and can be easily defended.

It seems particularly devastating out of the sideboard of creatureless Jeskai decks without the combo, where opponents are likely to sideboard out removal. Talk about a must-kill threat!


"L-U-X-U-R-I-O-U-S..." Finally, a card that Fergie can really embrace.

I'm playing multiple copies of this card in basically all of my decks that play black cards. The format has become increasingly hostile to aggressive decks because outside of the combo and hulk, the Jeskai decks nothing but removal, counters, and card draw. The best decks are just so good at killing things that you need cards that generate card advantage in order to stay above water.

Gonti is the perfect card for midrange decks because he will gain you a great spell from the top of the opponent's deck and leave you with a body. The deathtouch is better than you'd think in this format. Bristling Hydra, Gearhulks, and other fat creatures bite it when they mess with the Luxuirous Lord.

I really want to get my Gonti's altered with Hedonismbot from Futurama on them... Wouldn't that be delightfully absurd? The card is a bulk rare and there is a very real chance it becomes a thing.

Until Later

Enjoy the PT coverage this weekend! I wish I had some crazy technology to share, but Gonti is pretty much the hottest deal I've got at the moment. Tune in next week when we'll get started on analyzing PT results and looking for new trends! Good luck finding value and may it translate to a life of LUXURY.

One thought on “Insider: Digging for Specs in Pre-Pro Tour Standard

  1. Very interesting article, i bought some copies of all of the mentioned cards, hoping at least one will make it worthwile. I share your feelings for Gonti, can’t believe no one is playing it atm…

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