Battling Back Against Red/Black

The results from GP Nagoya marked a high point for Red/Black aggressive decks. Although [card]Chronic Flooding[/card] Reanimator (featuring the Nightshade Peddler-Izzet Staticaster combo that I discussed in my last article) won it all, there were a whopping eleven Red/Black decks in the top 16.

One issue, for those players who are not part of the Rakdos camp, is that almost all of those decks in the top 16 were radically different. How do we know what to prepare our deck against?

This is probably the most familiar list, which runs the same exact creatures as Tyler Lytle’s and Jon Bolding’s GP-winning decks:

[deck title=”BR Zombies by Hajime Nakashima”]
[Creatures]
4 Diregraf Ghoul
4 Gravecrawler
4 Knight of Infamy
4 Geralf’s Messenger
4 Falkenrath Aristocrat
3 Hellrider
3 Thundermaw Hellkite
[/Creatures]
[Spells]
4 Pillar of Flame
2 Tragic Slip
4 Searing Spear
[/Spells]
[Lands]
4 Blood Crypt
4 Dragonskull Summit
4 Rakdos Guildgate
4 Cavern of Souls
7 Swamp
1 Mountain
[/Lands]
[Sideboard]
2 Appetite for Brains
2 Cremate
2 Underworld Connections
4 Vampire Nighthawk
2 Zealous Conscripts
3 Bonfire of the Damned
[/Sideboard]
[/deck]

Then we see decks that eschew the zombies in favor of a more consistent manabase and spells that are better in the mirror. This list is able to play [card]Ash Zealot[/card], [card]Cathedral of War[/card], and even [card]Annihilating Fire[/card] out of the sideboard:

[deck title=”RB Aggro by Ryuji Murae”]
[Creatures]
4 Rakdos Cackler
4 Stromkirk Noble
4 Ash Zealot
4 Knight of Infamy
4 Falkenrath Aristocrat
3 Hellrider
3 Thundermaw Hellkite
[/Creatures]
[Spells]
4 Pillar of Flame
4 Searing Spear
2 Bonfire of the Damned
[/Spells]
[Lands]
4 Blood Crypt
4 Dragonskull Summit
4 Cavern of Souls
8 Mountain
1 Swamp
3 Cathedral of War
[/Lands]
[Sideboard]
2 Tormod’s Crypt
1 Appetite for Brains
1 Duress
2 Tragic Slip
1 Dreadbore
2 Mizzium Mortars
1 Ultimate Price
2 Volcanic Strength
2 Annihilating Fire
1 Bonfire of the Damned
[/Sideboard]
[/deck]

And this last deck almost reaches the control end of the spectrum, playing the full set of [card]Olivia Voldaren[/card] and bigger spells like [card]Mizzium Mortars[/card] and [card]Rakdos’s Return[/card], plus [card]Staff of Nin[/card] and [card]Curse of Death’s Hold[/card] post-sideboard:

[deck title=“RB Aggro by Makoto Miyauchi”]
[Creatures]
4 Stromkirk Noble
4 Ash Zealot
3 Knight of Infamy
4 Falkenrath Aristocrat
4 Olivia Voldaren
4 Thundermaw Hellkite
[/Creatures]
[Artifacts]
2 Rakdos Keyrune
[/Artifacts]
[Spells]
3 Pillar of Flame
2 Mizzium Mortars
4 Searing Spear
2 Rakdos’s Return
[/Spells]
[Lands]
4 Blood Crypt
4 Dragonskull Summit
4 Rakdos Guildgate
10 Mountain
2 Cathedral of War
[/Lands]
[Sideboard]
3 Appetite for Brains
1 Pillar of Flame
1 Knight of Infamy
1 Mizzium Mortars
2 Rakdos Charm
2 Flames of the Firebrand
2 Curse of Death’s Hold
2 Staff of Nin
1 Rakdos’s Return
[/Sideboard]
[/deck]

There isn’t a perfect way of grouping all of the types of Rakdos decks. Even more variation in card selection among these 11 decks could have us wondering if cards like [card]Blood Artist[/card], [card]Mark of Mutiny[/card], [card]Sign in Blood[/card], and [card]Victim of Night[/card] are in our Rakdos opponent’s deck.

If you want to beat Rakdos decks, which should definitely be one of your goals going into any Standard tournament, it’s not going to be easy. Now that they’ve evolved to beat [card]Thragtusk[/card], it’s time to look for other antidotes. Analyzing the decks from the SCG Invitational in Los Angeles, which featured not a single Red/Black Aggro deck (and one Mono-Red deck) in the top 16, reveals a plethora of different strategies for beating Rakdos.

The key points for deck selection and deckbuilding that I’ve come to, and that I’m sure many of the Invitational competitors considered, are:
· Ability to interact early against a horde of two-power one-drops
· Having answers to the four- and five-drops: Aristocrat, [card]Hellrider[/card], and Hellkite
· After stabilizing, have a plan to end the game quickly or out-attrition

A deck that is well-positioned, but not skewed, to beat Rakdos is Naya Humans. The human tribe has an aggressive curve that can keep up with other low-end decks. [card]Selesnya Charm[/card] deals with [card]Thundermaw Hellkite[/card] and sometimes [card]Falkenrath Aristocrat[/card]. Thalia, Guardian of Thraben; Knight of Glory; and [card]Restoration Angel[/card] match up well against Rakdos’s creatures.

[deck title=”Naya Humans by Ben Wienburg”]
[Creatures]
4 Avacyn’s Pilgrim
4 Champion of the Parish
3 Knight of Glory
4 Mayor of Avabruck
3 Thalia, Guardian of Thraben
3 Borderland Ranger
2 Fiend Hunter
2 Silverblade Paladin
3 Huntmaster of the Fells
4 Restoration Angel
2 Zealous Conscripts
[/Creatures]
[Spells]
3 Selesnya Charm
[/Spells]
[Lands]
4 Temple Garden
2 Clifftop Retreat
2 Rootbound Crag
1 Sunpetal Grove
4 Cavern of Souls
3 Plains
3 Forest
1 Mountain
3 Gavony Township
[/Lands]
[Sideboard]
3 Rest in Peace
2 Intrepid Hero
3 Nevermore
2 Silverblade Paladin
1 Huntmaster of the Fells
2 Sigarda, Host of Herons
1 Zealous Conscripts
1 Angel of Glory’s Rise
[/Sideboard]
[/deck]

This deck has the tools to beat Rakdos but follows a clear, aggressive gameplan going into any matchup. The manabase isn’t as consistent as other three-color decks (or even some four-color decks), but four [card]Cavern of Souls[/card] and some fairly conservative color requirements helps to alleviate that issue. [card]Fiend Hunter[/card] and [card]Zealous Conscripts[/card] are decent substitutes for removal some of the time, but at other times they’re terrible. I’ve tried a heavier red splash for cards like [card]Bonfire of the Damned[/card] and [card]Slayers’ Stronghold[/card], but the mana just doesn’t work out as often as you need it to. Still, Bonfire might be worth a try if you expect to play against a lot of aggro. This is where I would start:

[deck title=”Naya Humans by Alex Bianchi”]
[Creatures]
4 Avacyn’s Pilgrim
4 Champion of the Parish
4 Mayor of Avabruck
3 Thalia, Guardian of Thraben
3 Borderland Ranger
1 Fiend Hunter
3 Silverblade Paladin
3 Huntmaster of the Fells
4 Restoration Angel
1 Zealous Conscripts
[/Creatures]
[Spells]
3 Selesnya Charm
3 Bonfire of the Damned
[/Spells]
[Lands]
4 Temple Garden
4 Clifftop Retreat
4 Rootbound Crag
4 Cavern of Souls
3 Plains
3 Forest
1 Mountain
1 Gavony Township
[/Lands]
[Sideboard]
3 Rest in Peace
2 Nevermore
2 Oblivion Ring
1 Rootborn Defenses
2 Garruk Relentless
1 Huntmaster of the Fells
2 Sigarda, Host of Herons
1 Zealous Conscripts
1 Angel of Glory’s Rise
[/Sideboard]
[/deck]

The [card]Chronic Flooding[/card] Reanimator deck that won GP Nagoya reigned victorious among a field full of Red/Black Aggro, and is an especially good choice if people aren’t packing enough graveyard hate. Staticaster and Huntmaster are excellent roadblocks against Rakdos, and any zombies that show up will suffer some pretty mean splash damage from [card]Angel of Glory’s Rise[/card]. One development from Magic Online that I’m fond of is [card]Kessig Malcontents[/card] to sometimes let you skip attacking altogether and go directly to the dome.

[deck title=”4C Reanimator by snoogms”]
[Creatures]
4 Nightshade Peddler
4 Izzet Staticaster
4 Kessig Malcontents
4 Huntmaster of the Fells
1 Zealous Conscripts
4 Angel of Glory’s Rise
[/Creatures]
[Spells]
3 Faithless Looting
3 Chronic Flooding
2 Izzet Charm
4 Mulch
4 Unburial Rites
[/Spells]
[Lands]
4 Steam Vents
4 Temple Garden
2 Hallowed Fountain
4 Rootbound Crag
3 Hinterland Harbor
1 Sulfur Falls
1 Clifftop Retreat
1 Sunpetal Grove
3 Cavern of Souls
[/Lands]
[Sideboard]
4 Cathedral Sanctifier
2 Izzet Charm
2 Ray of Revelation
2 Rolling Temblor
2 Goldnight Commander
1 Geist-Honored Monk
2 Zealous Conscripts
[/Sideboard]
[/deck]

While Reid Duke’s Bant Control deck splashing for [card]Nephalia Drownyard[/card] won the event in Los Angeles, I’m more interested in control decks moving past [card]Thragtusk[/card] and adopting [card]Curse of Death’s Hold[/card]. The Black enchantment kills all sorts of Rakdos creatures present and future, including the harder to deal with or more threatening ones such as [card]Gravecrawler[/card], [card]Falkenrath Aristocrat[/card], [card]Knight of Infamy[/card], and [card]Stromkirk Noble[/card]. Notice all of the Humans in the Naya deck and Reanimator deck that have one toughness. I think that Nick Spagnolo’s Esper Control list hit the sweet spot with his spread of removal and ability to win a [card]Nephalia Drownyard[/card] war versus Bant Control.

[deck title=”Esper Control by Nick Spagnolo”]
[Planeswalkers]
2 Jace, Architect of Thought
1 Sorin, Lord of Innistrad
1 Jace, Memory Adept
1 Tamiyo, the Moon Sage
[/Planeswalkers]
[Spells]
4 Azorius Charm
1 Cyclonic Rift
1 Negate
3 Think Twice
2 Ultimate Price
2 Detention Sphere
2 Dissipate
1 Forbidden Alchemy
2 Lingering Souls
2 Supreme Verdict
1 Curse of Death’s Hold
3 Terminus
4 Sphinx’s Revelation
[/Spells]
[Lands]
4 Hallowed Fountain
4 Glacial Fortress
4 Drowned Catacomb
4 Isolated Chapel
3 Island
2 Swamp
1 Plains
4 Nephalia Drownyard
1 Ghost Quarter
1 Evolving Wilds
[/Lands]
[Sideboard]
1 Dispel
2 Feeling of Dread
3 Negate
3 Rest in Peace
1 Detention Sphere
1 Sever the Bloodline
1 Supreme Verdict
1 Curse of Death’s Hold
1 Jace, Memory Adept
1 Terminus
[/Sideboard]
[/deck]

I like the shift back towards [card]Terminus[/card] over [card]Supreme Verdict[/card], considering how much better it is at dealing with [card]Gravecrawler[/card]s, Aristocrats, and all of the undying creatures. I would consider cutting the maindeck [card]Negate[/card] to get down to 60 cards, but the rest of the list looks solid for controlling any kind of aggression from Red/Black.

Finally, Brian Kibler’s deck from the Invitational revisits [card]Predator Ooze[/card] and [card]Ulvenwald Tracker[/card], a pair of old friends from the Avacyn Restored Block Constructed “Fight Club” deck.

[deck title=”G/B Aggro by Brian Kibler”]
[Creatures]
4 Arbor Elf
3 Ulvenwald Tracker
4 Lotleth Troll
3 Strangleroot Geist
3 Dreg Mangler
4 Predator Ooze
2 Wolfir Avenger
3 Deadbridge Goliath
[/Creatures]
[Planeswalkers]
2 Garruk Relentless
1 Garruk, Primal Hunter
[/Planeswalkers]
[Spells]
4 Rancor
1 Tragic Slip
3 Ultimate Price
[/Spells]
[Lands]
4 Overgrown Tomb
4 Woodland Cemetery
3 Golgari Guildgate
11 Forest
1 Swamp
[/Lands]
[Sideboard]
3 Deathrite Shaman
2 Ranger’s Guile
2 Tragic Slip
1 Garruk, Primal Hunter
1 Appetite for Brains
4 Duress
2 Sever the Bloodline
[/Sideboard]
[/deck]

This list can outmuscle Red/Black Aggro decks with a giant [card]Predator Ooze[/card] or any creature that has been scavenged onto plus Rancor. A mix of [card]Tragic Slip[/card]s and [card]Ultimate Price[/card]s serve as answers to Aristocrat and Hellkite, respectively. But the most attractive aspect of this deck is its resiliency against sweepers like [card]Supreme Verdict[/card], [card]Bonfire of the Damned[/card], and [card]Mizzium Mortars[/card].

Archetypes like Bant Control, Frites Reanimator, and UWR [card]Snapcaster Mage[/card] decks have been passable at adapting to fight Red/Black Aggro, but there’s advantage to be gained by adopting different strategies to position yourself better against a Rakdos-infested field. This Standard format has been an interesting one to watch evolve each week, and I fully expect to see Rakdos return in force in the upcoming weeks.

Alex Bianchi
Gemmanite on Twitter and MTGO

Magic the Gathering Standard Analysis: Invitation Only

The StarCityGames Invitational took place in Los Angeles last weekend, and many of the best players in Magic: the Gathering battled in both Standard and Legacy. I’ll stick to the Standard side and analyze the decks and cards played by the top 16, as well as take a look at the Standard metagame.

The Top 16 Decks

The following graphic provides some high-level details on the top 16 decks of the Invitational, including deck types and colors played. I loaded the decklists into the Decked Builder app to get the average mana cost for the main deck, as well as prices in dollars and MTGO tickets for each list. The graphs provide a look at the overall strategies, archetypes, and colors used by the top 16 players.

INVResults

Reid Duke won the Invitational with his Bant Control deck. The link might say “4-Color Control” but don’t be fooled, this is the Andrew Cuneo Bant Control list that splashes black to activate [card]Nephalia Drownyard[/card] as part of the “games go really long nowadays, maybe I’ll just deck you” plan.

Second place went to Ben Wienburg and his Naya Humans list. Wienburg added red to WG Humans for [card]Huntmaster of the Fells[/card] and [card]Zealous Conscripts[/card]. He played thirty-four creatures, all humans with the exception of four copies of [card]Restoration Angel[/card].

It was a good weekend to be playing a tempo deck. Flash decks accounted for five of the top 16 decks. Adam Prozak finished eighth and stuck with good old blue and white, piloting a list very similar to the one he pioneered several weeks ago at SCG St. Louis. Gerry Thompson added red to the mix in order to include effective Zombie repellent  four [card]Pillar of Flame[/card] in his main deck and four [card]Izzet Staticaster[/card] in his sideboard.

UWR Tempo, a deck that saw a lot of play and success earlier this Standard season, has returned with two pilots in the top 16 of the Invitational. It’s less “flashy”, due to having to tap out on one’s own turn to play [card]Geist of Saint Traft[/card] or [card]Thundermaw Hellkite[/card], but shares many of the same cards as the Flash decks.

BR Dragon Zombies, an unholy alliance between efficiently aggressive zombies and constructed playable dragons, was shut out of the top 16 after dominating Standard the last three weeks. The sole Zombies representative was a BG Zombies deck in seventh place piloted by Leon Kornacki. His deck featured fifteen one mana creatures and a curve that tops out at three. This super aggressive brew included four [card]Deathrite Shaman[/card] for reach and four Rancor for raw pummeling power.

Cards of Choice

The following graphs will show you the most played creatures and removal spells in the top 16 decks. The number of copies in the main deck (blue) and sideboard (red) are displayed. The table below each graph adds additional detail: the number of top 16 decks the card appears in, as well as the average number of copies in the main and sideboard.

SCGINVCreatures

Welcome to the graph Izzet Staticaster! This wizard is a one woman wall in Zombie matchups. [card]Izzet Staticaster[/card] can hit the table early enough to help against an aggressive start and three toughness blocks [card]Gravecrawler[/card] and [card]Diregraf Ghoul[/card] without dying. She can tap and ping any number of [card]Gravecrawler[/card]s back to the graveyard and neither [card]Pillar of Flame[/card] nor [card]Ultimate Price[/card] can kill her.

SCGINVRemoval

This top 16 is all charm with [card]Azorius Charm[/card], [card]Selesnya Charm[/card], and [card]Izzet Charm[/card] making today’s graph. The Charm cycle was touted as some of the best cards in Return to Ravnica during spoiler season and the Invitational results back up the early hype. [card]Azorius Charm[/card] remains one of the most popular spells in Standard and is a fixture in blue and white tempo decks. [card]Selesnya Charm[/card] is a staple in Naya lists and is the only non-creature spell in Ben Wienburg’s Naya Humans deck. [card]Izzet Charm[/card] has found a home with 1-2 copies in the main of UWR decks.

Standard Metagame Overview

The following graphs track the deck archetypes with the most top 16 finishes at major Standard tournaments. The top graph shows results in the last month, and the bottom shows results since Return to Ravnica rotated into the format in October 2012.

SCGINVMetagame

Dragon riding Zombies still top the charts over the last month, despite no top 16 finishes in the Invitational. UWR decks seem to be coming on strong and the combination of [card]Pillar of Flame[/card] and [card]Izzet Staticaster[/card] is effective against the Zombie early game. Is it enough to challenge Zombie strategies in the long run? We will see when the StarCityGames Open Series resumes next year.

Closing Out the Column (and the Year)

That does it for the Standard Analysis of the SCG Invitational in Los Angeles. I’ll provide additional details on the tournament and metagame in the comments, so check back here and follow me on Twitter for more.

Nick Vigabool (@MrVigabool)

Staticasters Rise to Glory – a Primer

So it turns out I am not that good with a guitar, and she chose someone else over me-someone who apparently had an even more chronic craving for her affections. Check out the deck that won the Grand Prix in Nagoya, in the hands of Yuuji Okita:

[Deck title=”Rise of the Humans by Yuuji Okita”]
[Creatures]
*4 Nightshade Peddler
*4 Izzet Staticaster
*1 Goldnight Commander
*4 Huntmaster of the Fells
*4 Angel of Glory’s Rise
*1 Zealous Conscripts
[/Creatures]
[Spells]
*4 Chronic Flooding
*4 Faithless Looting
*2 Izzet Charm
*4 Mulch
*1 Tracker’s Instinct
*4 Unburial Rites
[/Spells]
[Land]
*4 Cavern of Souls
*1 Clifftop Retreat
*2 Hallowed Fountain
*2 Hinterland Harbor
*4 Rootbound Crag
*4 Steam Vents
*1 Sulfur Falls
*1 Sunpetal Grove
*4 Temple Garden
[/Land]
[Sideboard]
*4 Cathedral Sanctifier
*2 Izzet Charm
*2 Ray of Revelation
*2 Rolling Temblor
*2 Goldnight Commander
*1 Geist-Honored Monk
*2 Zealous Conscripts
[/Sideboard]
[/Deck]

For those of you who don’t remember, I wrote a short introduction to this deck last week. My list was three cards and some lands off from Okita’s list as far as the maindeck was concerned (-2 [card]Armored Skaab[/card], -1 [card]Izzet Charm[/card], +2 [card]Chronic Flooding[/card], +1 Tracker’s Instinct), but the main strategy is the same.

Like I said then, the premise of this deck is simple: you mill yourself when convenient, and play out creatures to prevent your opponent from beating you while you set up. Those creatures will chump, trade and grind down your opponent’s resources, and then you bring them all back with an [card]Angel of Glory’s Rise[/card]. You can hardcast her or bring her back from the dead with [card]Unburial Rites[/card], whichever is more convenient.

This Week’s Breakdown

In today’s article, we’ll look at the deck in a bit more detail, so you can be ready to spin the wheels when you take this racecar of a deck to FNM this week. We’ll start off with a breakdown of the maindeck.

The Engine
4 [card]Faithless Looting[/card]
2 [card]Izzet Charm[/card]
4 [card]Mulch[/card]
1 [card]Tracker’s Instinct[/card]

These are the cards that process the fuel and create motion. They put creatures and flashback spells into the graveyard, while fulfilling other functions like:

  • drawing you land ([card]Mulch[/card]);
  • drawing you cards you want to cast ([card]Faithless Looting[/card], Tracker’s Instinct);
  • reducing your opponent’s clock, killing an X/3 with Staticaster when you don’t have a Peddler, countering a [card]Dissipate[/card] or [card]Terminus[/card], or filtering into more action ([card]Izzet Charm[/card]).

[card]Izzet Charm[/card] does a lot of dirty work, but it is slightly underpowered (says the guy writing about a deck with [card]Goldnight Commander[/card] and [card]Chronic Flooding[/card]) and you often don’t need the effects that badly. Still, it is a useful tool to have.

The Gearbox
4 [card]Chronic Flooding[/card]

[card]Chronic Flooding[/card] kicks your deck into high gear very quickly. If you cast two of them early, you actually have to start paying attention to not decking yourself, especially against decks with [card]Nephalia Drownyard[/card]. They fill your graveyard the fastest of all your self-mill cards, but they don’t do anything else. Feel free to board these out in favor of [card]Cathedral Sanctifier[/card]s against Zombies. Like people from mountainous areas know: when you’re driving uphill, sometimes you want to stay in a lower gear.

The Looks and the Gas
4 [card]Nightshade Peddler[/card]
4 [card]Izzet Staticaster[/card]
4 [card]Huntmaster of the Fells[/card]

This deck is not just any racecar; it is a Ferrari. It impresses not only with its racing prowess, but also just with the looks. The cool combination of [card]Nightshade Peddler[/card] and [card]Izzet Staticaster[/card] can completely dominate the board against certain decks. A lot of midrange decks have very few answers to this combo, especially when you can keep bringing them back thanks to [card]Unburial Rites[/card]. The reason I grouped them in with the other humans is that together they form the gas you need to hit the road.

While [card]Huntmaster of the Fells[/card] might not be the looker the other humans are, it fulfills some very important functions. Huntmaster is a great bump in the road for other aggressive decks that try to race you, and it adds two bodies to the field when it comes into play, which is very important for the “combo kill.”

The combo kill is your plan against sweepers, and it works like your general reanimation plan: you fill your graveyard with a good number of humans. You need the one [card]Goldnight Commander[/card] in play or in your graveyard and at least some [card]Izzet Staticaster[/card]s or the [card]Zealous Conscripts[/card]. The more you have of these, the fewer humans you need total, and Huntmaster counts double too. Once your graveyard is full of gas, you turn the key, and step on the pedal:

The Key and the Pedal
4 [card]Angel of Glory’s Rise[/card]
4 [card]Unburial Rites[/card]

You reanimate (or hardcast) an Angel of Glory’s Rise; annihilate all Zombies, if applicable; bring back all the humans in your graveyard; and start counting (in a real tournament, you might want to count beforehand). To get your opponent from 20 to 0 in one turn, the turbo has to be involved:

The Turbo
1 [card]Goldnight Commander[/card]

Let’s say you have the following in your graveyard when [card]Angel of Glory’s Rise[/card] enters the battlefield: [card]Nightshade Peddler[/card], two [card]Izzet Staticaster[/card], two [card]Huntmaster of the Fells[/card], [card]Goldnight Commander[/card] and the [card]Zealous Conscripts[/card].

They all enter the battlefield, and [card]Goldnight Commander[/card] sees eight creatures come into play: it doesn’t count itself; the Angel was already in play when the reanimation ability resolved; and the Huntmasters bring two wolves along. It gives all your creatures +8/+8 until end of turn. You can then use the [card]Zealous Conscripts[/card] to either move a roadblock out of the way or to give your own Angel haste. Then, you can attack with your hasty creatures for 8 + 8 + 11 = 27 damage (or 40 if you attacked with your Angel too).

There are games where just stepping on the pedal is enough to impress, especially when combined with the looks of [card]Nightshade Peddler[/card] + [card]Izzet Staticaster[/card]. In matchups where no sweepers are involved, just reanimating the Angel once or twice “for value” will be more than good enough.

The Wheels
4 [card]Cavern of Souls[/card]
1 [card]Clifftop Retreat[/card]
2 [card]Hallowed Fountain[/card]
2 [card]Hinterland Harbor[/card]
4 [card]Rootbound Crag[/card]
4 [card]Steam Vents[/card]
1 [card]Sulfur Falls[/card]
1 [card]Sunpetal Grove[/card]
4 [card]Temple Garden[/card]

Last but not least, the wheels that keep the car rolling. For the deck to function, red is the most important color, then blue, then green, then white. However, in some sense, white is the most important to get at least one of, or you won’t be reanimating anything. This makes your mana base slightly complicated, especially when running only 23 lands and the full suite of Cavern of Souls-the shiny rims you need to hard cast an Angel to combo off through counterspells.

I do not like Okita’s wheels very much. It seems like he has a bit too little green mana to cast his Mulches reliably, and he is low on colored sources overall because he liked the bling of the [card]Cavern of Souls[/card] a bit too much. Perhaps we can take a page out of another deck from the same tournament, which, like Okita’s deck, also went undefeated on day one of the GP:

[Deck title=”Rise of the Humans by Daisuke Hirose”]
[Creatures]
*4 Nightshade Peddler
*4 Izzet Staticaster
*1 Goldnight Commander
*4 Huntmaster of the Fells
*4 Angel of Glory’s Rise
[/Creatures]
[Spells]
*4 Chronic Flooding
*4 Faithless Looting
*4 Izzet Charm
*3 Pillar of Flame
*4 Unburial Rites
[/Spells]
[Land]
*2 Cavern of Souls
*3 Clifftop Retreat
*4 Hallowed Fountain
*1 Hinterland Harbor
*3 Rootbound Crag
*1 Shimmering Grotto
*4 Steam Vents
*4 Sulfur Falls
*2 Temple Garden
[/Land]
[Sideboard]
*1 Purify the Grave
*2 Negate
*2 Ray of Revelation
*3 Loxodon Smiter
*2 Rolling Temblor
*1 Clone
*1 Zealous Conscripts
*2 Elderscale Wurm
*1 Craterhoof Behemoth
[/Sideboard]
[/Deck]

Hirose has even fewer green sources than Okita, but he also doesn’t need them as much, as he cut Mulch from his deck. Instead, he plays one extra land and three [card]Pillar of Flame[/card]s to help in the Zombie matchup. The [card]Shimmering Grotto[/card] lets you sometimes hardcast [card]Unburial Rites[/card], but this costs six, and you should have no issues getting the Rites into the graveyard. Otherwise, it is a bad fixer, and I’d rather cut it for an extra [card]Cavern of Souls[/card].

I think cutting Mulch was a good decision for this manabase, though, and that probably helped him get his undefeated record on day one. His not making it into the top eight, or even the top 16, probably has to do with his sideboard. Okita’s sideboard has a much better plan against control decks than Hirose’s or my sideboard had. We’ll discuss this after I present my proposed (and hopefully improved) list.

By cutting Mulch, Hirose had to increase his [card]Izzet Charm[/card] count to four to make sure he still had enough enablers in his deck. I don’t know if I would want the full four, because, as I mentioned earlier, while versatile, they are slightly underpowered.

I like adding maybe one or two copies of Tracker’s Instinct over some Charms, as it gives you more action out of the graveyard and helps you find missing “combo” pieces while milling yourself. I’d probably also look to cut some number of [card]Pillar of Flame[/card]s or move them to the sideboard. While this makes you a tad worse against aggressive strategies game one, Okita still managed to best a traditional BR Zombie list in the finals of the GP. [card]Izzet Staticaster[/card] is really good against Zombies, after all.

This would be my list going forward:

[Deck title=”Rise of the Humans by Jay Lansdaal”]
[Creatures]
*4 Nightshade Peddler
*4 Izzet Staticaster
*1 Goldnight Commander
*4 Huntmaster of the Fells
*4 Angel of Glory’s Rise
*1 Zealous Conscripts
[/Creatures]
[Spells]
*4 Chronic Flooding
*4 Faithless Looting
*3 Izzet Charm
*1 Burning Oil
*2 Tracker’s Instinct
*4 Unburial Rites
[/Spells]
[Land]
*3 Cavern of Souls
*3 Clifftop Retreat
*3 Hallowed Fountain
*1 Hinterland Harbor
*3 Rootbound Crag
*4 Steam Vents
*4 Sulfur Falls
*3 Temple Garden
[/Land]
[Sideboard]
*1 Cavern of Souls
*4 Cathedral Sanctifier
*2 Armored Skaab
*2 Ray of Revelation
*2 Rolling Temblor
*2 Goldnight Commander
*1 Geist-Honored Monk
*1 Zealous Conscripts
[/Sideboard]
[/Deck]

This is basically Okita’s and Hirose’s main combined, all the numbers they agreed on, but without Mulches or [card]Pillar of Flame[/card]s. Instead, I have two Tracker’s Instinct, three [card]Izzet Charm[/card], and a [card]Burning Oil[/card]. I also chose to have a Conscripts in the main, because I feel it is important to be able to have the combo kill available game one, and the Conscripts just makes it easier.

Not having Mulches has a few consequences: first, it means we can base our manabase off of Hirose’s, as we don’t need that much green anymore. This lets us cast our spells like [card]Izzet Charm[/card] much more reliably, as aside from the [card]Temple Garden[/card]s and Caverns, every land produces red or blue. It also means that we’ll have a harder time drawing enough land, and specifically drawing [card]Cavern of Souls[/card] against control, which is why I added the 24th land, like Hirose, but made it a third [card]Cavern of Souls[/card].

Mulch sometimes also helped drawing into excess lands we could discard to our Lootings. To alleviate that loss, I added the [card]Tracker’s Instincts[/card] and a [card]Burning Oil[/card]. The Oil is untested, but I can’t imagine it being much worse than [card]Pillar of Flame[/card], and you can actually cast it if you mill it. If it turns out to be terrible, replace it with Pillar or the fourth Charm.

The Sideboard

The sideboard is mostly modeled after Okita’s because it was much better at fighting control decks. With Hirose’s and my old sideboard, you couldn’t really rely on combo-killing quickly, because you only had one or two Commanders. We both had [card]Craterhoof Behemoth[/card] as a kill that comes out of nowhere, but that one costs eight instead of the Angel’s seven, and it spreads your Caverns very thin. You want one on Human, which makes you have to choose between Angel or Beast for the second one. Craterhoof is also weak against timely sweepers, as that by itself won’t kill anyone.

Okita’s sideboard has extra copies of both the Commander and the Conscripts available because the one-hit kill is your main avenue to win against control thanks to its resiliency both to counters (thanks to [card]Cavern of Souls[/card]) and against sweepers. You need extra copies because you need to be able to find them quickly, as your goal is to kill them either before a [card]Rest in Peace[/card] or very soon after destroying a Rest in Piece with [card]Ray of Revelation[/card]. Getting the combo together quickly is very important even after destroying a [card]Rest in Peace[/card], because most people who have them in their sideboard have two, and [card]Sphinx’s Revelation[/card]s lets them find the second one very easily.

In my suggested sideboard, I have only one extra copy of the Conscripts, as it is less important than the Commander, and I needed an extra slot for the fourth [card]Cavern of Souls[/card]. Against control you want to draw two Caverns: one to make your Humans uncounterable and one to resolve your Angel. With only three copies in the deck, the risk of milling one too many becomes too high. Also, [card]Geist-Honored Monk[/card] can fill in for the Conscripts in a pinch. It might not have haste, but hopefully the +3/+3 bonus to your Staticasters and the creatures you already had in play is enough to get the job done.

Against Aggro

-4 [card]Chronic Flooding[/card]
-1 [card]Zealous Conscripts[/card]
-1 [card]Goldnight Commander[/card]

+4 [card]Cathedral Sanctifier[/card]
+2 [card]Armored Skaab[/card]

I added the [card]Armored Skaab[/card]s to my sideboard over the [card]Izzet Charm[/card]s, partly because I moved one of those main already, but mainly because when I board out [card]Chronic Flooding[/card]s, I want something that can help me stay alive and fill my graveyard.

I also add the Roiling Temblors if I feel their deck is weak to it-against the WG Human decks and Sacrificial Zombie lists, for example-by shaving an Angel or [card]Unburial Rites[/card], or sometimes a Cavern or Charm, depending on what I feel I need more of in the matchup.

Against Midrange

We are pretty well set up in these matchups: they are slow enough that we have plenty of time to set up, and our endgame trumps theirs. On top of that, our Izzet Staticaster-Nightshade Peddler combo is often dominant against them. This is how I sideboard:

-1 [card]Unburial Rites[/card]

+1 [card]Geist-Honored Monk[/card]

On top of that, I board in the Temblors if they have a lot of mana dorks or tokens, sometimes the Conscripts if they try to go big, and the [card]Ray of Revelation[/card]s if I expect [card]Rest in Peace[/card]. To make place for those, I either shave an extra [card]Unburial Rites[/card] or two (in case of hate), a [card]Chronic Flooding[/card], and either a [card]Burning Oil[/card] or an [card]Izzet Charm[/card], depending on which amount of damage is relevant in the matchup.

You can also bring in or take out the combo pieces depending on whether you think you need them or not (if they don’t have hate or they have a lot of hate or you are running out of time, for example).

Against Control

Here we board in the cards that help us combo quickly:

+1 [card]Cavern of Souls[/card]
+2 [card]Goldnight Commander[/card]
+1 [card]Geist-Honored Monk[/card]
+1 [card]Zealous Conscripts[/card]

-1 [card]Burning Oil[/card]
-3 [card]Nightshade Peddler[/card]
-1 [card]Unburial Rites[/card]

I generally add the [card]Ray of Revelation[/card]s as well (most control is white-based, and is likely to have [card]Rest in Peace[/card]). You can start with one [card]Ray of Revelation[/card]s if you doubt they have hate, but better safe than sorry. To make space, you can cut the last Peddler or shave an [card]Unburial Rites[/card] (or both). You can’t rely on resolving [card]Unburial Rites[/card], but I like keeping some in case they don’t have or don’t draw their hate cards, and sometimes you even get to protect it with an [card]Izzet Charm[/card], though this usually only works once though.

This deck is a ton of fun to play, and I suggest you try it at your local FNM. You haven’t lived until you’ve exiled your Zombie opponent’s entire board while adding twelve creatures to yours.

Good luck as always, and see you next week!

Jay Lansdaal
iLansdaal on Twitter and MTGO

Magic the Gathering Standard Analysis: Sin City

StarCityGames Open: Las Vegas took place last week, December 8, and 342 players faced off in a Magic: the Gathering Standard tournament. What happened in Vegas will not stay in Vegas this time, as I am here to bring you analysis from Sin City, including the top 16 decks, the cards they played, and an updated look at the Standard metagame.

 

The Top 16

The following graphic provides some high-level details on the top 16 decks of the tournament, including deck types and colors played. I loaded the decklists into the Decked Builder app to get the average mana cost for the main deck, as well as prices in dollars and MTGO tickets for each list. The graphs provide a look at the overall strategies, archetypes, and colors used by the top 16 players.

 

BR Zombie decks were coming off a big showing at SCGBALT where they claimed ten of the top 16 spots. They retained a healthy chunk of this top 16 with four decks grabbing a spot in Vegas, three in the top 8. Three of these were what I like to call “BR Dragon Zombies” (I’m open to more clever names) which include [card]Thundermaw Hellkite[/card] to close out games after an early zombie rush. The fourth Zombie deck, piloted by Emmet Clarkson, was a more traditional strategy that used [card]Blood Artist[/card] for reach and [card]Falkenrath Aristocrat[/card] at the top of his curve.  Clarkson was the most successful Zombie deck in Vegas, taking third place.

Naya midrange decks grabbed four of the top 16 spots, and two of them splashed a fourth color for additional options. Glenn Jones (eight place) worked in black for access to [card]Ultimate Price[/card] and the ability to flashback [card]Lingering Souls[/card] in his main deck. Jones had [card]Tragic Slip[/card], [card]Rakdos’s Return[/card], and [card]Slaughter Games[/card] in his sideboard. Jun Yu finished second and went with a blue splash in order to play a pair of [card]Sphinx’s Revelation[/card] in his main deck and [card]Detention Sphere[/card]; [card]Jace, Memory Adept[/card]; and [card]Curse of Echoes[/card] in his sideboard.

Jeff Levine piloted a four-color midrange deck to sixth place.  The deck featured the [card]Izzet Staticaster[/card] and [card]Nightshade Peddler[/card] combo (a very useful creature control duo discussed in detail in Jay Lansdaal’s latest article) alongside some of the top creatures in the Standard metagame.

Chad Peter brought a hasty brew to the tournament, placing 15th with a Jund Aggro deck that played 17 creatures with haste and four [card]Flinthoof Boar[/card]. He was looking to outrace the walking dead and supported his speedy team with 12 removal spells and two [card]Giant Growth[/card] in his main deck.  Peter also packed a pair of [card]Bower Passage[/card] in his sideboard, which kept [card]Lingering Souls[/card] from chump blocking his team, made [card]Thundermaw Hellkite[/card] almost unblockable, and limited the value of a [card]Restoration Angel[/card] flashed in during combat.

 

Cards of Choice

The following graphs will show you the most played creatures and removal spells in the top 16 decks. The number of copies in the main deck (blue) and sideboard (red) are displayed. The table below each graph adds additional detail: the number of top 16 decks the card appears in, as well as the average number of copies in the main and sideboard.

SCGVEGAS saw [card]Restoration Angel[/card] and [card]Thragtusk[/card] reclaim the top spots, but the Zombies and their hasty friends are right behind them.

The top three removal spells are all red, a metagame adjustment to manage the recent resurgence of Zombies’ power.  [card]Pillar of Flame[/card] was the most played card in the top 16 with 42 copies.

 

Standard Metagame

The following graphs track the deck archetypes with the most top 16 finishes at major Standard tournaments. The top graph shows results in the last month, and the bottom shows results since Return to Ravnica rotated into the format in October 2012.

BR Dragon Zombies is already the top Standard archetype of the last month and is on its way to quickly becoming the most successful tournament deck of this Standard season.

 

Closing Out the Column

That does it for the Standard Analysis of SCGVEGAS. I made some changes to the type of information presented and how I presented it this week, and I hope you liked them. Please leave comments below and let me know what you think. I’ll provide additional details on the tournament and metagame in the comments, so check back in here and also on Twitter. I’ll be back next week to bring you data and analysis from the SCG Invitational in Los Angeles.

I’d also like to give a special thanks to Matt Beverly, @MattyStudios, for the awesome new feature graphic for this weekly column. Matty is a passionate and very involved member of the Magic community and, as you can see, an impressive graphic artist. If you have need of visual design services check him out!

 

Nick Vigabool (@MrVigabool)

Beating Zombies – a Love Story

It all started a while ago. I was happily playing with [card]Jace, the Mind Sculptor[/card], using fetchlands to shuffle away chaff after a brainstorm, while [card]Stoneforge Mystic[/card] was fetching me Swords to wreck control opponents. I loved the deck, it was great and full of powerful cards. And then, as usual, GerryT made it even better. He added [card]Cunning Sparkmage[/card] and [card]Basilisk Collar[/card].

Yes, I am talking about Zendikar-Mirrodin Standard. What did you think?

Anyway, back to [card]Cunning Sparkmage[/card]. This guy, combined with [card]Basilisk Collar[/card], was insane. Creatures couldn’t touch you, no matter how big they were. They just died. The only thing opponents could do was play out as many creatures as possible, trying to overcome the Abyss for their best creature every turn-only to be wrecked by the [card]Day of Judgment[/card] that Jace tucked away on top of your deck for when you needed it. Good guy Jace always had your back. I remember this one time, when Jace and I went to a bar, and we…

Ho, getting off track again. [card]Cunning Sparkmage[/card] I was talking about. You see, [card]Cunning Sparkmage[/card] was a lot of fun for me, even after they banned Jace and [card]Stoneforge Mystic[/card]. You needed to play more [card]Basilisk Collar[/card]s to be able to kill bigger creatures, but the Sparkmage did some work on his own too. Did I tell you yet they reprinted it, but made it better?

Check out [card]Izzet Staticaster[/card].

So, we trade the ability to shoot your opponent for Flash, two extra points of toughness, and the ability to kill multiple creatures at once? People weren’t kidding about power creep! Also, a foil [card]Izzet Staticaster[/card] looks so good, your opponents will surely get distracted and make misplays, so it’s even better than you already think!

All kidding aside, with nine BR Zombie decks making the top 16 of the StarCityGames Open in Baltimore, it might be this pretty girl’s time to shine. Staticaster blocks [card]Diregraf Ghoul[/card] all day and kills [card]Gravecrawler[/card]s, Knight of Infamies and [card]Falkenrath Aristocrat[/card]s on sight. That means [card]Izzet Staticaster[/card] deals with every creature but [card]Thundermaw Hellkite[/card], [card]Hellrider[/card] and [card]Geralf’s Messenger[/card] out of the common BR Zombies deck for a measly three mana. I think I’m in love.

But, what deck do we play this card in, then? Well, it depends on your preferences, and because I’m an all-inclusive kind of guy, I’ll give you a combo deck, a control deck, and a creature deck that all use and abuse the Staticaster.

Combo: Rise Against the Undead Machine

[Deck title=”Rise of the Humans by Jay Lansdaal”]
[Creatures]
*4 Nightshade Peddler
*2 Armored Skaab
*4 Izzet Staticaster
*1 Goldnight Commander
*4 Huntmaster of the Fells
*1 Zealous Conscripts
*4 Angel of Glory’s Rise
[/Creatures]
[Spells]
*2 Chronic Flooding
*4 Faithless Looting
*3 Izzet Charm
*4 Mulch
*4 Unburial Rites
[/Spells]
[Land]
*2 Cavern of Souls
*2 Clifftop Retreat
*2 Hallowed Fountain
*4 Hinterland Harbor
*4 Rootbound Crag
*4 Steam Vents
*1 Sulfur Falls
*4 Temple Garden
[/Land]
[Sideboard]
*3 Cathedral Sanctifier
*1 Purify the Grave
*1 Feeling of Dread
*2 Ray of Revelation
*4 Loxodon Smiter
*1 Clone
*1 Goldnight Commander
*1 Zealous Conscripts
*1 Craterhoof Behemoth
[/Sideboard]
[/Deck]

The premise of this deck is simple: you mill yourself when convenient and play out creatures to prevent your opponent from beating you while you set up. Those creatures will chump, trade, and grind down your opponent’s resources; then you bring them all back with an [card]Angel of Glory’s Rise[/card]. You can hardcast her or bring her back from the dead with [card]Unburial Rites[/card], whichever is more convenient.

There are a couple of nifty things about this deck: first, excluding the Huntmasters, the entirety of non-land spells together costs less than a single [card]Cavern of Souls[/card], but your manabase costs about a million dollars. Real estate is a good investment in Magic though, so with that financial tip of the week (who needs Medina?), this might be a nice semi-budget option.

Other interesting things include the new Cunning Sparkmage-Basilisk Collar combo in Izzet Staticaster-Nightshade Peddler, and the use of [card]Goldnight Commander[/card] and [card]Zealous Conscripts[/card] to kill opponents the same turn you reanimate an Angel. [card]Nightshade Peddler[/card] might seem janky if you don’t draw a Staticaster, but it’s also good with [card]Huntmaster of the Fells[/card]. It can also just bond with whatever other creature you have and threaten to trade with their biggest creature thanks to deathtouch.

After game one, you can bring in the second Conscript, the second Commander, and a [card]Craterhoof Behemoth[/card] against sweepers, to try and kill your opponent the turn you reanimate an Angel or the ‘Hoof. Against decks with a bunch of counterspells but not as many sweepers, you can bring in [card]Loxodon Smiter[/card]s to just beat them down, and against aggressive decks, the Sanctifiers and a [card]Feeling of Dread[/card] come in. [card]Ray of Revelation[/card] is there against [card]Rest in Peace[/card] and [card]Detention Sphere[/card]s; Clone and [card]Purify the Grave[/card] can come in against Reanimator decks.

Things to take out are the Commander, Conscripts and [card]Chronic Flooding[/card] against aggressive decks; [card]Armored Skaab[/card] and one or two Peddlers or Staticasters against control; Floodings and [card]Armored Skaab[/card]s if you’re bringing in Smiters; and an [card]Unburial Rites[/card] or two, and maybe an Angel, if you expect a lot of graveyard hate.

Control: Guess What I Have?

[Deck title=”UWR Flash by Gerry Thompson”]
[Creatures]
*4 Augur of Bolas
*4 Snapcaster Mage
*4 Restoration Angel
[/Creatures]
[Spells]
*4 Pillar of Flame
*4 Thought Scour
*4 Azorius Charm
*1 Izzet Charm
*2 Think Twice
*1 Runechanter’s Pike
*1 Counterflux
*1 Dissipate
*1 Rewind
*1 Supreme Verdict
*3 Sphinx’s Revelation
[/Spells]
[Land]
*4 Clifftop Retreat
*4 Glacial Fortress
*4 Hallowed Fountain
*2 Island
*1 Moorland Haunt
*1 Mountain
*1 Pains
*4 Steam Vents
*4 Sulfur Falls
[/Land]
[Sideboard]
*2 Dispel
*1 Negate
*1 Rest in Peace
*4 Izzet Staticaster
*2 Oblivion Ring
*1 Supreme Verdict
*3 Jace, Memory Adept
*1 Drogskol Reaver
[/Sideboard]
[/Deck]

I’m sure there will be an article on StarCityGames (or already is by the time this gets published) by the master himself, so I won’t embarrass myself here by trying to give you an extensive breakdown of Gerry Thompson’s deck. I will point you at the 4 [card]Izzet Staticaster[/card]s in the board, just to show that better players than I are apparently also vying for the affection of this powerful lady.

Otherwise, this is an updated version of the now well-known UW Flash deck, which lost a lot of its appeal with the number of [card]Cavern of Souls[/card] being played (see Nick’s article). Gerry cut down on the number of counters, and played more removal to make his deck stronger against the Cavern decks. He did not cut all of the counterspells, which I agree with not only because they are still good against control decks. Against a deck like Zombies, you would like to counter [card]Hellrider[/card]s, [card]Falkenrath Aristocrat[/card]s, and [card]Thundermaw Hellkite[/card]s, which all happen to be a different creature type. So unless your opponent drew three Caverns, those counterspells aren’t completely dead.

Creatures: There’s a Bug in My Rug

[Deck title=”Staticaster-Jund by Chris Benzinger”]
[Creatures]
*4 Deathrite Shaman
*4 Nightshade Peddler
*4 Izzet Staticaster
*1 Evil Twin
*2 Falkenrath Aristocrat
*3 Huntmaster of the Fells
*4 Olivia Voldaren
*4 Thragtusk
*1 Zealous Conscripts
[/Creatures]
[Spells]
*4 Farseek
*4 Tracker’s Instinct
[/Spells]
[Land]
*4 Blood Crypt
*2 Cavern of Souls
*3 Hinterland Harbor
*1 Kessig Wolf Run
*4 Overgrown Tomb
*4 Rootbound Crag
*3 Steam Vents
*4 Woodland Cemetery
[/Land]
[Sideboard]
*3 Appetite for Brains
*1 Duress
*1 Huntmaster of the Fells
*1 Mizzium Mortars
*3 Pillar of Flame
*1 Rakdos’s Return
*2 Slaughter Games
*2 Snapcaster Mage
*1 Zealous Conscripts
[/Sideboard]
[/Deck]

Like the previous deck, this deck also made top 8 at the TCGplayer MaxPoint 50K Championship, and is also good at beating up on a bunch of Zombies. Once again wielding the powerful Izzet Staticaster-Nightshade Peddler combo, this grubby four-color deck dominates creature matchups. For a more in-depth article on this archetype, check out Alex’s article.

In short, [card]Nightshade Peddler[/card] can also pair with [card]Olivia Voldaren[/card] to create a deathtouch pinger that can be used more than once a turn, and you have Tracker’s Instinct to find the right combination of creatures or sometimes just fix your mana.

Outside of the creature-killing combos, the deck plays full suites of a bunch of good cards, and can become a regular Jund deck after game one. Against control decks, [card]Appetite for Brains[/card] into [card]Snapcaster Mage[/card] flashing back Appetite should strip them of a lot of their relevant actions, letting your creatures smash through what’s left.

In Case She’s Not Your Type

Now, I can totally understand if you’re not as madly in love with [card]Izzet Staticaster[/card] as I am. She might not be your type. So what do you do if you still want to bury some Zombies for good?

First, let’s assess why Zombies is a problem in the first place. The most common Zombie deck is the one that tops out with [card]Hellrider[/card]s, [card]Falkenrath Aristocrat[/card]s, and [card]Thundermaw Hellkite[/card]s. These heavy hitters are the undoing of most decks trying to beat Zombies with conventional methods-you know, the ones who play a turn-three [card]Centaur Healer[/card] into a turn-five [card]Thragtusk[/card] and hope that is enough. With these four- and five-drops, the Zombie deck can push through so much damage, especially with the flyers, that it can ignore [card]Thragtusk[/card]s. The beast might as well not even be there.

There is also an issue with the removal spells people play. [card]Pillar of Flame[/card] is great for stopping the initial onslaught, but it does next to nothing against a [card]Hellrider[/card] or a [card]Thundermaw Hellkite[/card]. Even Aristocrat sometimes just eats a creature on their side and lives to fight another day. There are few instant-speed removal spells that hit all three of the heavy hitters, and if you play sorcery-speed answers like [card]Detention Sphere[/card], you’ve already taken a chunk of damage. Even popular spells like [card]Azorius Charm[/card] often aren’t very effective (unless paired with a [card]Thought Scour[/card]), because the Dragon will just come down again next turn thanks to [card]Cavern of Souls[/card]. The loss of tempo is minimal because you generally aren’t winning a race against Zombies.

Now, let’s get to some actual advice.

You could just play Mono-Red to beat the Zombie deck with its own tools (except you get to play more burn, and most of your creatures can actually block), but if you’re beating Zombies already, you don’t need my advice, now do you?

If Zombies is going over the top by doing more damage, why don’t we gain even more life? Playing as many as four [card]Rhox Faithmender[/card], combined with whatever lifegain you probably already play ([card]Thragtusk[/card]s in Bant; [card]Sorin, Lord of Innistrad[/card], in Esper; [card]Sphinx’s Revelation[/card] everywhere), gets you the time you need to deal with everything Zombies can throw at you.

Other creatures that do a lot of work are [card]Trostani, Selesnya’s Voice[/card], and [card]Drogskol Reaver[/card]. Both of these creatures have a big enough butt that they won’t die to just a [card]Searing Spear[/card], and both can get you out of the reach of Dragons, Devils, and Vampires alike. Combine them with [card]Rhox Faithmender[/card] for even more demoralized Zombie players.

Of course, if you go the ground creature route, you need a way to deal with [card]Thundermaw Hellkite[/card] and [card]Falkenrath Aristocrat[/card], because if they get to attack every turn, the damage will add up. If you’re in green, Plummet or similar effects deal with both quite efficiently. If you’re in white, Pacifism neutralizes the flyers as well, but is less effective against [card]Hellrider[/card]. [card]Oblivion Ring[/card] costs one more mana but might be what you’re looking for. In black, if you have enough other removal, [card]Tribute to Hunger[/card] gets the lone haster that swings in after a sweeper from your side. If you’re in blue, but none of these other colors, I would like to see your deck. I’m always up for a good Mono-Blue list.

Good luck showing those Zombies why you’re still alive, and if you need me, I’ll be under the [card]Izzet Guildgate[/card] with a guitar.

Jay Lansdaal
iLansdaal on Twitter and MTGO

Staticaster Jund

A few weeks ago, on November 3, this original list popped up in the top 16 of SCG St. Louis.

[deck title=”RUG Soulbond by Josh Hendricks”]
[Creatures]
3 Nightshade Peddler
2 Snapcaster Mage
3 Izzet Staticaster
3 Huntmaster of the Fells
2 Zealous Conscripts
2 Deadeye Navigator
1 Niv-Mizzet, Dracogenius
[/Creatures]
[Planeswalkers]
2 Jace, Architect of Thought
1 Tamiyo, the Moon Sage
[/Planeswalkers]
[Spells]
1 Pillar of Flame
3 Farseek
2 Izzet Charm
2 Mizzium Mortars
2 Dissipate
3 Forbidden Alchemy
2 Gilded Lotus
2 Syncopate
[/Spells]
[Lands]
4 Steam Vents
1 Overgrown Tomb
1 Blood Crypt
4 Sulfur Falls
4 Hinterland Harbor
4 Rootbound Crag
3 Forest
1 Island
1 Mountain
1 Kessig Wolf Run
[/Lands]
[Sideboard]
2 Deathrite Shaman
3 Pillar of Flame
2 Negate
1 Clone
2 Slaughter Games
3 Thragtusk
2 Thundermaw Hellkite
[/Sideboard]
[/deck]

There are plenty of “cool” interactions to be found here. [card]Nightshade Peddler[/card] paired with [card]Izzet Staticaster[/card] or [card]Niv-Mizzet, Dracogenius[/card], creates a pinger with Deathtouch. [card]Zealous Conscripts[/card] paired with [card]Deadeye Navigator[/card] allows you to untap your [card]Gilded Lotus[/card] and create infinite mana, which can be used to steal all of your opponents permanents, gain infinite life, and make infinite Wolf tokens with [card]Huntmaster of the Fells[/card] or ping your opponent to death with Niv-Mizzet.

This list is very rough for a combo deck, though, with no four-ofs and a bunch of cards that don’t seem to have much focus. The combos are placed within a RUG Control shell, which is a weak secondary plan that isn’t going to beat anyone. On top of this, the [card]Deadeye Navigator[/card] combo is expensive and requires you to assemble a lot of different pieces.

Max Pritsch and Jan-Moritz Merkel did an excellent job of improving Hendricks’s deck for GP Bochum, with Pritsch going 9-0 on Day 1.

[deck title=”Staticaster Jund by Max Pritsch”]
[Creatures]
4 Deathrite Shaman
4 Nightshade Peddler
4 Izzet Staticaster
1 Evil Twin
2 Falkenrath Aristocrat
3 Huntmaster of the Fells
4 Olivia Voldaren
4 Thragtusk
1 Zealous Conscripts
[/Creatures]
[Spells]
4 Farseek
4 Tracker’s Instincts
[/Spells]
[Lands]
4 Blood Crypt
4 Overgrown Tomb
3 Steam Vents
4 Woodland Cemetery
4 Rootbound Crag
3 Hinterland Harbor
2 Cavern of Souls
1 Kessig Wolf Run
[/Lands]
[Sideboard]
3 Appetite for Brains
1 Duress
3 Pillar of Flame
1 Mizzium Mortars
2 Snapcaster Mage
1 Huntmaster of the Fells
2 Slaughter Games
1 Zealous Conscripts
1 Rakdos’s Return
[/Sideboard]
[/deck]

While Hendricks’s was pretty much a RUG Control deck, this is Jund splashing blue. The splash is made easier thanks to [card]Deathrite Shaman[/card], [card]Farseek[/card], and [card]Cavern of Souls[/card]. The rest of the manabase is similar to what you’d see in a typical Jund list, but with [card]Hinterland Harbor[/card]s and [card]Steam Vents[/card] in place of basic [card]Forest[/card]s.

[card]Tracker’s Instincts[/card] is a major addition, giving you a way to dig for combo pieces or simply generating card advantage by acting as a [card]Think Twice[/card] and milling into additional [card]Tracker’s Instincts[/card]. It also fuels [card]Deathrite Shaman[/card] and will occasionally trick unknowing opponents into boarding in graveyard hate, assuming that you’re some type of Reanimator deck.

This deck plays almost identically to a Jund Midrange deck, accelerating into Huntmaster, Olivia, or [card]Thragtusk[/card] and gaining incremental advantage that way. [card]Deathrite Shaman[/card] can be awkward sometimes if you’re curving out and don’t get a chance to activate him or don’t have any targets for him, but when he’s good, he’s really good.

Some matchups, you’ll be pressed to assemble the Peddler-Staticaster combo as fast as possible. In other matchups, the combo will have little effect. It’s important to figure out what you’re up against right away, so you know which creatures to take with [card]Tracker’s Instincts[/card] and which to play out first. Things can get weird when you and your opponent both have creatures with the same name-beware of this before you go killing your own!

[card]Falkenrath Aristocrat[/card] and [card]Zealous Conscripts[/card] form another cute combo, one that I mentioned in my article on Fervor Jund. What’s better than killing every Thragtusk? The sequence of steal-attack-sacrifice-get a Beast token. It’s not always reasonable to pull this off, so sometimes you’ll board these guys in or out.

So, why does the Peddler-Staticaster combo warrant adding a fourth color?

As I talked about in my article last week, Standard is currently dominated by creatures, be they one-drops ([card]Gravecrawler[/card], [card]Stromkirk Noble[/card], [card]Avacyn’s Pilgrim[/card]), five-drops ([card]Thragtusk[/card], [card]Thundermaw Hellkite[/card]), or up in the seven to eight range ([card]Angel of Serenity[/card], [card]Craterhoof Behemoth[/card]). It’s tough to find removal spells to deal with all of these equally-until you have a deathtouch pinger, that is.

Yes, the combo is fragile and susceptible to [card]Searing Spear[/card], but it is generally assembled early enough for you to get value out of it. If [card]Nightshade Peddler[/card] dies but takes a creature down with him, then he was functionally a [card]Doom Blade[/card]. Both [card]Nightshade Peddler[/card] and [card]Izzet Staticaster[/card] are Humans, meaning that [card]Cavern of Souls[/card] is an easy way to protect against countermagic.

The combo is at its best against GW, which has no way to interact while you gun down infinite numbers of [card]Loxodon Smiter[/card]s, [card]Restoration Angel[/card]s, and [card]Silverblade Paladin[/card]s. The next best situation is against decks like Junk Tokens and Reanimator that don’t run a lot of removal. Here the combo will often go unabated for several turns and kill a handful of targets.

Another great aspect: [card]Izzet Staticaster[/card] isn’t the worst on her own. She needs no help in killing X/1s and is especially proficient at shooting down [card]Lingering Souls[/card] tokens. She survives [card]Pillar of Flame[/card] and can block [card]Gravecrawler[/card], [card]Rakdos Cackler[/card], [card]Snapcaster Mage[/card], and [card]Ash Zealot[/card]. Once in a while, she’ll allow a Wolf or Beast token to trade up in combat. Staticaster has even been gaining favor as a sideboard card in UWR decks, where she can be an effective pinger on her own.

The goal, though, is to make things difficult for any deck trying to win with any creatures whatsoever. BR has to deal with your combo, which puts their [card]Hellrider[/card]s and [card]Thundermaw Hellkite[/card]s at risk. The combo can sometimes be dead in control matchups, but even against Bant, it’s great at tearing apart their [card]Thragtusk[/card]s and cleaning up the Beast tokens, clearing the way for your ground threats. Jund is all about gaining incremental advantage and winning a battle of attrition, and the Peddler-Staticaster duo does exactly that, while giving the deck something to do early on.

After playing the deck, I liked the maindeck but wanted another answer to [card]Geist of Saint Traft[/card] and [card]Sigarda, Host of Herons[/card]. I also wanted more [card]Slaughter Games[/card] or [card]Rakdos’s Return[/card]s, depending on the type of control decks that exist. If I were to play Staticaster Jund in a tournament this week-a great choice for an aggro-heavy metagame-this is what I would run:

[deck title=”Staticaster Jund by Alex Bianchi”]
[Creatures]
4 Deathrite Shaman
4 Nightshade Peddler
4 Izzet Staticaster
1 Evil Twin
2 Falkenrath Aristocrat
4 Huntmaster of the Fells
3 Olivia Voldaren
4 Thragtusk
1 Zealous Conscripts
[/Creatures]
[Spells]
4 Farseek
4 Tracker’s Instincts
[/Spells]
[Lands]
4 Overgrown Tomb
3 Blood Crypt
3 Steam Vents
4 Woodland Cemetery
4 Rootbound Crag
3 Hinterland Harbor
2 Cavern of Souls
2 Kessig Wolf Run
[/Lands]
[Sideboard]
2 Appetite for Brains
1 Duress
3 Pillar of Flame
1 Mizzium Mortars
1 Snapcaster Mage
1 Evil Twin
1 Falkenrath Aristocrat
3 Slaughter Games
1 Zealous Conscripts
1 Rakdos’s Return
[/Sideboard]
[/deck]

Vs. BR Aggro

+3 [card]Pillar of Flame[/card], +1 [card]Mizzium Mortars[/card], +1 [card]Snapcaster Mage[/card]

-1 [card]Evil Twin[/card], -2 [card]Falkenrath Aristocrat[/card], -1 [card]Olivia Voldaren[/card], -1 [card]Zealous Conscripts[/card]

The goal in this matchup is to survive until they are out of resources. You get to take out some of the worse creatures, add removal spells, and lower the curve after sideboarding. It shouldn’t be a surprise that Huntmaster and [card]Thragtusk[/card] are the most important cards. [card]Hellrider[/card] and [card]Thundermaw Hellkite[/card] are a concern in the later turns, so setting up Peddler-Staticaster is still important in order to keep them off the table.

Vs. Bant Control

+2 [card]Appetite for Brains[/card], +1 [card]Duress[/card], +1 [card]Snapcaster Mage[/card], +1 [card]Falkenrath Aristocrat[/card], +3 [card]Slaughter Games[/card], +1 [card]Rakdos’s Return[/card]

-4 [card]Nightshade Peddler[/card], -4 [card]Izzet Staticaster[/card], -1 [card]Huntmaster of the Fells[/card]

The deck isn’t set up to be great against control, so that’s what most of the sideboard slots are for. Depending on their build, you may still want some number of Peddlers and Staticasters to kill [card]Restoration Angel[/card]s and [card]Thragtusk[/card]s. But against the creature-light lists, you want to ditch the combo in favor of [card]Slaughter Games[/card] and discard to prevent them from casting [card]Supreme Verdict[/card]s and [card]Sphinx’s Revelation[/card]s. Another [card]Evil Twin[/card] can be brought in if you see or expect Sigarda.

Vs. GW Aggro

+3 [card]Pillar of Flame[/card], +1 [card]Mizzium Mortars[/card], +1 [card]Snapcaster Mage[/card]

-1 [card]Evil Twin[/card], -2 [card]Falkenrath Aristocrat[/card], -1 [card]Olivia Voldaren[/card], -1 [card]Zealous Conscripts[/card]

This is by far the easiest matchup if you can assemble the Peddler-Staticaster combo. Even [card]Izzet Staticaster[/card] on its own has a lot of good targets. Be wary of the exile mode of [card]Selesnya Charm[/card] when using Olivia or [card]Kessig Wolf Run[/card].

Vs. UW Flash

+1 [card]Duress[/card]

-1 [card]Zealous Conscripts[/card]

In this matchup, you’re mostly looking to resolve a Huntmaster or [card]Thragtusk[/card] off of [card]Cavern of Souls[/card]. You also want to get to work on their graveyard with [card]Deathrite Shaman[/card] right away. If UW Flash becomes a concern, you can easily go up to three or four [card]Cavern of Souls[/card] without much of a mana issue.

Vs. Reanimator & Various Midrange Decks

+2 [card]Appetite for Brains[/card], +1 [card]Evil Twin[/card], +1 [card]Zealous Conscripts[/card]

-4 [card]Huntmaster of the Fells[/card]

Against Reanimator or other Midrange decks (Junk, Jund, Naya, etc.), the Peddler-Staticaster combo won’t always lock up the board, but it can still be crippling, especially if they rely on [card]Lingering Souls[/card]. [card]Olivia Voldaren[/card] and [card]Evil Twin[/card] also tend to be excellent creatures for winning [card]Thragtusk[/card] wars.

The Peddler-Staticaster combo is a powerful strategy in this creature-heavy Standard format. It’ll get even more interesting once the Gruul and Simic guilds introduce new cards. Right now, I think that Jund is the best home for Peddler-Staticaster, but a more combo-oriented list with [card]Chronic Flooding[/card] and [card]Angel of Glory’s Rise[/card] has had some success on Magic Online. Staticaster Jund should be one of your top choices if you’re looking to trump aggressive decks this week.

Alex Bianchi
Gemmanite on Twitter and MTGO