Since the Pro Tour, Standard has continued to evolve and show that the format has a wide variety of which span the entire colour pie. It’s a format with half a dozen top-tier decks and interesting, close games in most matchups — it has been a tough nut to crack. A week before the Pro Tour, our team had been planning on playing the Boros Aggro deck which at the time was not on anyone else’s radar — or so we thought. After the MOCS results were posted on Monday and six of the 11 7-1 or better decks were aggressive white decks we suddenly needed to rethink our plan.
Did we really want to have that big of a target on our backs?
First we tried to re-work the Boros deck to make sure we had a good matchup in the mirror. This included building a version that utilized Ajani’s Pridemate, very similar to what Luis Scott-Vargas played to a finals appearance. At the same time we started rebuilding the handful of decks we’d been testing Boros against, to see what it would take to improve their matchups.
What we found was that by just adding a few more early removal spells into our control decks and four Wildgrowth Walkers back into our green decks, those wildly positive game ones for white decks became even, and post board always got worse.
Team FaceToFaceGames Test Deck – Pridemate White Weenie
Regardless of all of this, I was still holding to my guns up until 11 p.m. the night decklists were due. With an hour left Gabriel Nassif and I were the last two holdouts of our ten person testing group still on Boros, while two days earlier it had been seven or eight of ten.
After a few last minute test games going against Boros, we both decided we were a little uneasy choosing a different route and switched to our teammates’ choice of decks. While I got cold feet about playing with a target on my back, I still do think this is a quality choice in Standard. I especially liked our sideboard plan to stay small for game one and try to get a bit bigger post board with Aurelia and Tajac. Aurelia is just a hell of a card and a lot of decks tuning to beat White Aggro simply can’t deal with a vigilant five-toughness creature.
Most of the team ended up swithing to Jeskai Drakes. A couple holdouts played Selesnya due to its fantastic Boros matchup and Shaheen “Esper” Soorani did what he does best. Given that I’d been focused on Boros, I’d played a bunch of games against Drakes, but I hadn’t actually played any games with it. With this in mind, I ended up registering the exact same 75 my teammates settled on. I then spent most of my time on the Thursday getting in as many games as I could with the deck, at the expense of some of my planned Limited preparation.
Pro Tour Guilds of Ravnica, Morgan McLaughlin 7-3 -Jeskai Drakes
This preparation proved fruitful, I ended up 7-3 during the constructed portion of Pro Tour Atlanta, and combined with a respectable 4-2 Limited finish, I was able to pick up ten pro points. Below is the updated list I played in Milwaukee this past weekend. I took some cues from Pascal Vieren’s 10-0 U/R Drakes list from the Pro Tour, where his plan is to take a controlling role in nearly every matchup.
The first question you might ask is: Why Jeskai over straight U/R?
These two versions of the deck are obviously very similar and while you might take slightly more damage from your lands, you get an sometimes unbeatable answer against aggressive decks in Deafening Clarion, and some interesting sideboard options. To me, this change is worth the cost.
Grand Prix Milwaukee, 10-5, Morgan McLaughlin – Jeskai Drakes
For the Grand Prix I decided on two major changes. The first was cutting most of the one converted-mana-cost cantrips for the 21st land, another Electromancer and the rest of the Radical Ideas. This change significantly reduces the likelihood of a turn three or four phoenix, but increases the consistency of the deck in the mid to late game.
A quick note on the the choice of cantrips:
- 4 Chart a Course is the obvious best cantrip, working both as a discard outlet and as card advantage once you’ve got a creature on board.
- 2 Tormenting Voice is the other main outlet to discard Arclight Phoenix and is the minimum I’d want to play because you need one of these two cantrips to get a quick phoenix on the board.
- 4 Radical Idea is the key card advantage engine and the easiest way to get your phoenixes back in the mid to late game. This is the best option in the slower matchups to allow you to consistently recur your phoenixes but is generally too slow versus aggro unless you’ve got an Electromancer on the board.
- 1 Discovery // Dispersal This is probably the next best late game cantrip as it allows you to really dig for specific cards.
- 1 Warlord’s Fury Now I realize this one’s a little weird, and I’m still not sure about it either. In game ones it improves the chance for a quick phoenix and the second it also keeps the one CMC spell count up in matchups where you’re cutting Shock. Admittedly, this might be a bit cute.
The second was removing the two maximize velocity for an additional two removal spells as I’d realized that I really wasn’t ever trying to race anyone. I got to play a cute tech choice in Response // Resurgence. Response is able to kill many threats the deck can struggle with using Lava Coil as its main removal option against threats such as Aurelia, Lyra and hastey Drakes, while also playing a similar role to maximize velocity allowing us to potentially kill out of nowhere. This can be especially potent in the mirror match if they are planning on trying to trade off drakes. Yes, I did manage to Resurgence at the GP, and yes it did make my opponent read the card, grimace in disgust and concede the game.
At the Pro Tour we mostly expected Golgari players to continue playing the heavy Carnage Tyrant and planeswalker “ramp” builds. This was a strategy light on instant speed removal, and relied heavily on Ravenous Chupacabra,Vivien Reid andVraska, Relic Seeker to manage their opponent’s creatures.
At the time we felt favoured just attempting to pick away at them with phoenixs and then cast a Maximize Velocity on a drake to finish them off when they’d go to cast their large threats. What we found at the Pro Tour is that the Golgari decks had begun to adapt to this strategy and had played more copies of Vraska’s Contempt, Cast Down and [Card]Assassin’s Trophy’s making our hasty strategy less effective. The new plan against Golgari has become to take on more of a control role in the matchup, with just enough threats to try to keep them off balance.
The trick to the Golgari matchup is paying attention to what their plan is and trying to adapt to it, so while I’ll provide a sideboard guide to how I expect them to play, you should feel free to change up the plan as you see fit for a specific opponent. If your meta is filled with sorcery speed answers, feel free to combo them out. If not, you’ll have to adjust like we did. If your opponent is ready for you this matchup is quite close, especially the newer lists which that have returned to Doom Whisper.
On the draw I would also frequently remove all of the Clarions — as it wasn’t as effective catching Wildgrowth Walker — for an Ixalan’s Binding or the Response // Resurgence. On the flip side, I’d leave more in if my opponents were playing a lot of the mana elves.
Selesnya & Boros Angels
These matchups are likely our best, and part of the reason I’d give as to why you should consider playing this deck. They are basically worse versions of Golgari against us. They have no way to block and inconsistent ways of keeping our creatures off the board. We just need to make sure we have some answers to their early threats, then be ready with answers to Lyra and their other top-end threats of choice.
These lists can vary wildly between players, so be ready to change your sideboard plans on the fly. I’d start with the same plan as Golgari, but also add Invoke the Divine. From there you just need to be able to roll with what types of threats they are presenting and switch up your configuration accordingly.
In this matchup your roll is to become as close to a pure control deck as possible. While we keep in all of our creatures, the plan is to block with them. We need enough removal to catch their Benalish Marshal and then take control of the board by turn four or five. We board in our enchantment removal to make sure we can keep our drakes on the board and land a nice Deafening Clarion with both modes.
Also, if we’re ever able to cast a Clarion with a drake in play, the game is almost always immediately over. One note, is that it’s frequently correct to wait to set it up with a drake or catch the second chapter of History of Benalia. Ixalan’s Binding and Response // Resurgence also give us many more options to handle an Aurelia than the U/R version can.
I’m not sure if I’d call us a favourite in this matchup, but I’m definitely not worried about it with this build of the deck.
This is a very similar matchup to the White Aggro matchup. They generally have a bit less of an explosive early game, but have better removal and the threat of an Experimental Frenzy just taking over a game. I like our matchup more here than if I was running straight U/R as we have multiple answers to Frenzy and Clarion to clear their early pressure.
This mirror match is an interesting one. You can aggro each other out if someone gets ahead, so you need to be mindful of that, however most post-board games at come down to an unanswered Niv Mizzet. This is where our sideboard Ixalan’s Bindings really get to shine. Our sideboard plan can also depend on how we think our opponent is trying to attack us.
If they are on the Dive Down plusEngima Drake[Card]s plan, we need to be ready to counter their early aggression, but if they are playing something closer to Pascal Vieren’s control phoenix list we want to essentially board the same as we do against Control. If I believe my opponents are trying to get aggressive with me I’d leave in some of the [Card]Shocks and the Enigma Drakes and probably trim on my pheonix package. Below is my generic plan where I assume most people are slowing their deck down.
This is our worst matchup, and one that needs a significant amount of help out of the sideboard. Also with the significant amount of control in Milwaukee I’d consider increasing the number of cards for this matchup. The plan is to essentially play a control mirror where they have Teferi and we don’t. This still works reasonably well post0board once we get to add our Niv Mizzets. But, we’re still at a disadvantage.
Changes Moving Forward
I’m fairly happy with my main deck configuration, though with control on the rise I’d consider trying to find space for some maindeck Niv Mizzet. With all of our cantrips, even just one or two should improve our pre-board game against control and the mirror without giving up too much in other matchups. With aggro on the decline I’d consider Enigma Drake being the card to cut.
In the sideboard, I’d likely replace the Conjecture for the third Niv Mizzet. Niv is simply fantastic, I’m never been disappointed to see him in my hand, and I’m still not completely sold on the need for The Mirari Conjecture. Going with that plan I’d consider adding another “blue rampant growth” (Search for Azcanata) to help power-out the Niv Mizzets as well as another Negate. Lastly, I’d consider finding space for a third Beacon Bolt if our midrange opponents continue adding 5+ toughness creatures to their decks likeDoom Whisperer.
I’ve learned quite a bit from my past four weeks of preparing for Standard events. It has been quite fruitful picking up a crucial 11 pro points, edging myself ever closer to Platinum. With 7 points to go by the end of March, when my points start to rotate, I’ve got four events planned, including a Pro Tour in Cleveland and Ultimate Masters Limited in Vancouver — which I’ll try to do a bit of a write-up for before the event.
The hunt for Platinum continues.