Achievement Unlocked – Walking the Planes

Despite not having to work on Friday, I left the house without actually knowing what deck I was going to play. I had nothing put together, but brought the commons and uncommons I would need to build Junk Walkers and Esper Lifegain.

The Junk deck held some appeal because of my heretofore unrequited love for [card]Sorin, Lord of Innistrad[/card]. I’ve been wanting to play the card for a while but it’s never quite fit in any of my brews. I also got to play Garruk, [card]Lingering Souls[/card] and [card]Thragtusk[/card] which I feel are all well positioned right now. Esper on the other hand gave me Sorin AND Ghosty McJazzhands ([card]Drogskol Reaver[/card], for the uninitiated) but also gave me a very slim chance to actually win.

I’m often indecisive about what deck I will run, but at least I have something ready to go when I get to the store. Two somethings, in fact. Sitting on the bus I was leaning more and more towards Junk, if only because I wasn’t sure I could get back my [card]Sphinx’s Revelation[/card]s I had lent out. Having stopped at Tim Horton’s for what turned out to be a very sub-standard coffee, I walked in to Midgard to see a fair few people already there: both Twinjas, JamRand, Mike Whelan and some of the EDH crowd. Well, crowdsourcing a deck seemed like a fine idea!

Battle Plan

As I initially laid out the cards I wanted to play, it was obvious I was going to be going the Junk route. That meant a few achievements were going to be on the table:

Ultimate 3 planeswalkers in a game – With only four different ‘walkers in the deck, this will require some luck in terms of draws. Additionally, [card]Garruk Relentless[/card] has to flip AND put in some serious work to make an ultimate worthwhile. A steep hill to climb, but the view from the top of those hills is often the best.

Blink [card]Thragtusk[/card] with Restoration Angel – Chances are that as I’m playing green and white, this package will be in the deck. That [card]Thragtusk[/card] makes a token and fits my overall strategy is just gravy.

Win a game with Vraska’s Assassin tokens – I’d be lying if I said this wasn’t the reason I wanted to play this deck. I still think Vraska is better than she gets credit for, especially if she’s played into a congested board. Her +1 often encourages bad attacks out of fear, and is also a good way to get rid of the flying menaces that are making planeswalkers a little less desirable right now. She can also be sandbagged to take out a [card]Thundermaw Hellkite[/card], Tamiyo, Jace or other large threat. With all the blockers this deck can throw up, getting her to 7 does not seem all that far-fetched.

Three targets should be enough, given my recent string of poor luck in getting these achievements. So, how do we go about building our deck to maximise the chances of winning?

Weapon Selection

This deck felt like my first real good brew idea in a while. Hardly an original one maybe, but certainly something that isn’t being played right now. As I pulled the walkers from my binder, my brain was already thinking of other things that simply had to be played. [card]Lingering Souls[/card] was going to be my best defense against [card]Restoration Angel[/card] and [card]Falkenrath Aristocrat[/card], so they were a must. If I didn’t want to flat-out lose to a Thundermaw, [card]Intangible Virtue[/card] also needed a spot. That works well with all the token-making my planeswalkers will be doing anyway.

Since we’re playing [card]Thragtusk[/card], we’re playing [card]Restoration Angel[/card]. I wanted more than just that to blink with Resto though, since tokens are monumentally bad targets for that particular triggered ability. In terms of creatures that make tokens, [card]Armada Wurm[/card] is pretty much the best choice if you can reliably cast it. One might even call him the cock of the walk. [card]Geist-Honored Monk[/card] is another good choice, and one that has been overlooked since rotation. If I can keep my board full she will be a massive threat with vigilance to boot, and she loves being blinked. She’s also a great post-sweeper threat, putting at least 5 power on the board and threatening more with Virtue or a flashback on Souls.

Finally, the only thing better than playing very powerful planeswalkers on turn four is doing so on turn 3. Being able to ramp into Sorin, Garruk or even just [card]Thragtusk[/card] a turn early can easily be what keeps me alive against aggro or lets me pressure control before they can get a hand full of answers.

I considered and rejected both [card]Gather the Townsfolk[/card] and [card]Increasing Devotion[/card]. I didn’t like the relatively low impact that Gather has, and Devotion just isn’t impressive on turn 5 compared with the other things I can be doing. The flashback was tempting, but ultimately I had to cut it. [card]Phantom General[/card] also fell by the wayside, lacking as it does the ability to fly and basically being a rather unimpressive 2/3 for 4 if I haven’t managed to keep any tokens out. [card]Oblivion Ring[/card] and [card]Selesnya Charm[/card] both get relegated to the sideboard, though I am loathe do to do with the Charm. All three modes seem like they could be relevant in the deck.

Here’s what I ended up running:

[deck title=Junk Walkers by Chris Lansdell]
[Creatures]
4 Avacyn’s Pilgrim
4 Arbor Elf
4 Restoration Angel
2 Geist-Honored Monk
4 Thragtusk
1 Armada Wurm
[/Creatures]
[Spells]
4 Intangible Virtue
4 Lingering Souls
3 Garruk Relentless
3 Sorin, Lord of Innistrad
1 Garruk, Primal Hunter
2 Vraska, the Unseen
[/Spells]
[Lands]
4 Temple Garden
4 Overgrown Tomb
4 Sunpetal Grove
3 Woodland Cemetery
3 Isolated Chapel
2 Gavony Township
1 Vault of the Archangel
2 Forest
1 Plains
[/Lands]
[Sideboard]
3 Centaur Healer
3 Oblivion Ring
3 Golgari Charm
2 Selesnya Charm
2 Faith’s Shield
2 Trostani, Selesnya’s Voice
[/Sideboard]
[/deck]

I wanted [card]Golgari Charm[/card] against [card]Supreme Verdict[/card] and [card]Faith’s Shield[/card] against [card]Detention Sphere[/card], as both of those cards set me back substantially. [card]Terminus[/card] would be a real problem but it isn’t seeing a lot of play right now. Healer and Trostani were for aggro in general, and [card]Selesnya Charm[/card] was meant mainly for GW Aggro and Naya midrange.

War Report

The holidays continued to take their toll on attendance as we only had 20 players for FNM. At least that’s where I’m choosing to apportion blame instead of saying that people hate the format. Five rounds to test this deck would be fun, there was a lot it could do and a lot I wanted to try with it.

Round 1 – Andrew Connors with GW Aggro

I joked before the game that there should be a rule saying you scoop to people who lend you cards. Twinja Andrew had a good half-dozen of my cards in his deck and had also watched me put mine together. He and his brother Evan have only been playing since Avacyn Restored came out (in case you forgot) but they have quickly become very good at the game. Quick learners indeed.

Game 1 was not close. I have no main deck answer to [card]Silverblade Paladin[/card]s being in relationships with Rancored-up beaters like [card]Loxodon Smiter[/card]. Game 2 was similarly not close in the other direction, as turn 3 [card]Garruk Relentless[/card] on the play took out his early mana dorks and a [card]Lingering Souls[/card] kept [card]Restoration Angel[/card] at bay long enough for me to -1 Garruk the Veil-Cursed, tutor up Trostani and play her. The [card]Thragtusk[/card] on the next turn wasn’t quite enough to make Andrew concede, but the [card]Restoration Angel[/card] the turn after that was…

Sadly, game 3 was decided by a misplay. Even sadder, it was my misplay. Wisely playing around [card]Selesnya Charm[/card], Andrew once again had paired Smiter with Silverblade but had put the Rancor on the Paladin. I had a [card]Thragtusk[/card] in play and 6 mana available, and in hand I had both Vraska and [card]Restoration Angel[/card]. Andrew had plenty of mana open and two cards in hand. I knew he wasn’t running [card]Faith’s Shield[/card] and there was a Thalia in play, so I figured he was holding Thalia and a land. I dropped Vraska and went to [card]Vindicate[/card] his Paladin, which promptly got blinked with Resto. I hadn’t seen one yet in our 3 games but as Crocker said to me after the game, “you always play around Resto.” The resulting lack of a blocker and missing 5 life proved fatal next turn with the additional 3 in the air, leaving me trying to avoid tilt mode.

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Round 2 – Dylan Donnelly with Rakdos Rakdos

You may remember Dylan as the kid whose mother comes with him to FNM, and the one I conceded to with lethal in hand. What you probably don’t know (because I think it happened on a week where I didn’t write) is that he was 3-0 lifetime against me as we sat down to this game…and two of those wins he earned. You might expect a 12-year-old kid to get a little cocky in such a position, but all he said was “I hope I can get lucky enough to continue my winning streak against you.” No offence kid, but I hope you don’t.

Game 1 I was able to ride Sorin’s lifelinking Vampires to a relatively quick win. It’s amazing how powerful they can be with just a single [card]Intangible Virtue[/card] on the board. They were not only able to outpace the damage he could deal, but also let me beat down and win the game.

Game 2 was not much better. I ramped into [card]Geist-Honored Monk[/card] after an early Souls and Flashback, but he was able to chump block. I had [card]Restoration Angel[/card] next turn, made a deathtouch wolf with Garruk, made a Sorin Emblem and cast two dorks…for 19 damage in one turn. I could have waited a turn to get the one-shot kill but that seemed rude. Looking back now I realise I could have used Garruk’s -3 to overrun for 1 and unlock the achievement. Oh well.

1-1

Round 3 – Nick Crocker with GW Aggro

Crocker is still one of the best players in town, a guy I think I have beaten once in constructed. Game 1 of this round confirmed my earlier suspicion that [card]Selesnya Charm[/card] should have been in the main deck, and that the matchup is REALLY tough for me. Once again Rancored Smiters and Silverblades overwhelmed my tokens in short order.

Game 2 was basically decided by me getting [card]Gavony Township[/card] online first. He had a lot of dudes out to defend, but once I got a [card]Thragtusk[/card] large enough to take out any one blocker I started picking away at his team one at a time. Vraska came down to take out a Silverblade, and when I had 40-plus power on the board and a [card]Selesnya Charm[/card] in hand against his board of 3 blockers, I was able to one-shot in for the win.

This presents an interesting dilemma. If I unlock an achievement that was not on my list of targets, can I still count it? My feeling is that I can, because in other games with achievements you can unlock any achievement at any time. As such…

Unfortunately game three was a case of Magic being Magic. I never saw a white source, and even a single one would have won me the game as I had two [card]Restoration Angel[/card]s and a [card]Selesnya Charm[/card] in hand and a [card]Thragtusk[/card] on the board for blinking shenanigans. That’s the game we love!

1-2

Round 4 – Tyler Beckett with Esper Spirits

When I started writing this series, I was challenged to take a match to time in game 1. While it’s stalling to do so on purpose, these things can and do happen. I was hesitant to accept this because I didn’t want anyone to think I was stalling at any point. Shame really, as this match was a draw…in 0. And not a single Bant Control list to be seen.

There was a lot of back and forth in this one, with some epic plays on both sides. A [card]Drogskol Captain[/card] prevented me from using Sorin’s ultimate to steal [card]Drogskol Reaver[/card], and his double [card]Vault of the Archangel[/card] held off my Vault plus Gavony combination. At one point I used Vraska’s -3 to take out an [card]Intangible Virtue[/card], used Sorin’s ultimate, stole his Captain and destroyed my Vraska, cast a second Sorin and made a token, then used Vraska’s +1. Sorin, Gavony and 3 Virtues gained me a ton of life but his fliers were overwhelming mine as his Spirit tokens were bigger than even my [card]Restoration Angel[/card]s. [card]Geist-Honored Monk[/card] ate a [card]Detention Sphere[/card], his [card]Drogskol Reaver[/card] died to Vraska, and the game kept swinging back and forth. I was sitting on 95 life for a long time, realising I had an achievement for reaching a tripe-digit life total. Vraska hit 8 counters and went ultimate, meaning I now had a definite way to victory past his seventy-odd life. [card]Gavony Township[/card] was making my tokens bigger than his, despite him having [card]Intangible Virtue[/card] AND [card]Favorable Winds[/card]. [card]Dungeon Geists[/card] got copied by [card]Cackling Counterpart[/card] (the nerve! Using my own pet cards against me…) to tap down my Assassins, and stalemate was reached. I drew into [card]Thragtusk[/card] and windmill-slammed it HARD to go to 100 life.

One unexpected side-effect of having these achievements is that the rounds after I lose a second time still mean something to me, so if I enjoy playing the deck it’s not a waste of time to play on. I started grinding away at his blockers, a tough assignment with two active Vaults on his side to make every block into a trade, but I couldn’t get him below 3 blockers AND destroy all his Geists. Once again I cursed the lack of main-deck [card]Selesnya Charm[/card], as trample at any point would have ended things. Every other player in the store was gathered around the match as we went to time, and the game was swinging back to Tyler as we went to extra turns. I got his Geists off the board but ran out of time to swing with the Assassins, leaving us at a draw.

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Round 5 – Kyle Allen with UWR Flash

Good to see ol’ Spider-Man back at FNM. The poor guy’s deck didn’t treat him very well though, and I won in two quick games with nothing of note taking place.

2-2-1

Aftershocks

The deck is definitely powerful. Sorin is really good in combination with [card]Lingering Souls[/card] as long as you can deal with Rancor and [card]Thundermaw Hellkite[/card]. Sweepers present very little danger to the deck unless they come along when you have no walkers out. [card]Armada Wurm[/card] never showed up, so I can’t assess its value in the deck. That said it would be a likely cut along with a mana dork for two [card]Selesnya Charm[/card]. That card is so versatile and suits this deck really well.

Getting three achievements out of the way was awesome, and the feeling when I windmilled that [card]Thragtusk[/card] to hit 100 was the sort of thing I had been missing in previous weeks: the thrill of just playing Magic and having fun, win or lose.

Next week I wanted to play Esper Lifegain, but many of the achievements I wanted with that deck were reached this week. Instead I might go with a RUG Deadeye brew, or try the all-Dragon achievement. If you have suggestions for any of those decks or for a different deck, please let me know. Thanks for reading, and I will see you next week!

Achievement Unlocked – An Enchanted Evening

Even for someone as addicted to Magic as I am, a break is sometimes required. I have taken it easy over the past few weeks, concentrating on getting real life in order and being a better me. I had a business trip in the middle of that time, and played very little Magic over the course of it. Then game Grand Prix Toronto, again affording me little time to actually play the game but an amazing weekend of being around it and its players. I am not exaggerating when I say it was the best weekend I have had in a very long time.

The return to the drudgery of daily life did have the bright point of also returning me to FNM at Midgard Gaming. Having only played Modern for two weeks and not looked at any Standard lists for about the same length of time, I had absolutely no idea what to build come Thursday. Not that this is an unusual situation in which to find myself, but for some reason I just couldn’t be bothered looking online. Instead I hit up social media with my two possible choices: a [card]Bruna, Light of Alabaster[/card] deck or Junk Walkers. Overwhelmingly the Twittersphere wanted me to play Bruna.

Armed with a concept, I emailed audio editor extraordinaire and good friend Kyle (@kerrydan) to see if he had done any Brew-na goodness. I had some ideas but wanted to see where another brewer’s head was at. Most of his ideas were on the Esper front (and gave me some future thoughts…) but he did have a couple of techy ideas to slip in for this week.

Battle Plan

Bruna-related achievements were some of the first ones suggested to me. The card resonates a lot with Johnnies apparently, and it’s not hard to see why. If you manage to attack with her or even just block, that triggered ability is amazing. That she has vigilance and is a 5/5 as well are really just gravy.

Target 1: Go at least 2-2 with a [card]Bruna, Light of Alabaster[/card] Deck I had a few ways I could go with the deck, but [card]Ethereal Armor[/card] and Rancor were in all of them and seemed likely to give me a couple of free wins if I could get in with them early. Power level was important for a deck that could go .500 or better, so things like [card]Geist of Saint Traft[/card] and [card]Sigarda, Host of Herons[/card] were in my initial plans.

Target 2: Have 5 or more enchantments in play with [card]Sphere of Safety[/card] and/or Ethereal Armor [card]Ethereal Armor[/card] was always going to be in the deck, and [card]Sphere of Safety[/card] is what made me want to play the deck in the first place. [card]Ethereal Armor[/card] gets silly in multiples, especially if you are playing things like [card]Abundant Growth[/card] and [card]Detention Sphere[/card] along with it. Sphere is obviously less good if the tournament is full of control decks, but aggressive decks will not be able to do much about it which should buy me the time I need to set up and one-shot them. Which reminds me…

Target 3: One-shot an opponent I love open achievements like this because they let me go after them multiple times with different decks. It’s going to be a bit of a challenge in this one, but the ability to have Bruna steal any Rancors that my opponent might have plus any [card]Ethereal Armor[/card]s in my hand or yard might be enough to pull it out. I wish there were an aura that gave double strike.

Target 4: Deal 20 with a one-drop I initially came up with this for [card]Champion of the Parish[/card], but I’m thinking I’ll be playing [card]Avacyn’s Pilgrim[/card] in this deck and being able to suit it up early with some Armor or Rancors and then use [card]Detention Sphere[/card]s and [card]Oblivion Ring[/card]s to keep the board clear might just get me there.

Weapon Selection

With my targets in place, much of the deck was built. One piece of tech I was determined to include was [card]Divine Reckoning[/card], which had been mentioned to me by local player Chris “Goober” Parsons. As I was likely to only have one creature in play that I wanted to keep, and as that creature was likely a lot better than anything my opponent would have, the “drawback” of the card was negated a great deal.

Since I wanted to get Bruna in play as early as possible, ramp seemed necessary. [card]Avacyn’s Pilgrim[/card] was on the list as it also gave me a target for early enchantments, but I figured [card]Farseek[/card] would help too. Fixing in a three-colour deck is never a bad thing, and [card]Arbor Elf[/card] could not make me blue mana. [card]Abundant Growth[/card] not only filled the blue mana role but also drew me a card and powered up the [card]Ethereal Armor[/card], so it was a certainty.

[card]Detention Sphere[/card] and [card]Oblivion Ring[/card], in addition to being the most versatile removal spells in the format, are also enchantments. A natural inclusion then. I also wanted something to help me punch through, so I included a single [card]Tricks of the Trade[/card].

[card]Righteous Authority[/card] seemed like a really powerful way to finish the game, and would also help me draw some cards. If I was going to go that route, playing two of the best card in Standard ([card]Sphinx’s Revelation[/card]) seemed like a good idea that would keep me alive, fill my hand for Bruna and [card]Righteous Authority[/card] AND help me find answers.

My creature suite was the hardest to nail down. I knew Bruna and Pilgrim were in, but I was running out of slots for the others I wanted to include. To offset the inherent danger of playing Auras I wanted hexproof creatures to put them on, which left me 3 obvious choices: Geist, [card]Invisible Stalker[/card] and [card]Sigarda, Host of Herons[/card]. With counterspells being a thing again, [card]Cavern of Souls[/card] was a card I knew I wanted to run, which was a point in Sigarda’s favour. Stalker is obviously great when suited up but horrible otherwise, and although Geist is clearly a very powerful card I couldn’t find main-deck space for it. Here’s the list I ran:

[deck title=Bruna.dec by Chris Lansdell]
[Lands]
4 Hallowed Fountain
4 Temple Garden
4 Hinterland Harbor
4 Glacial Fortress
4 Sunpetal Grove
2 Cavern of Souls
2 Forest
[/Lands]
[Creatures]
4 Avacyn’s Pilgrim
2 Sigarda, Host of Herons
2 Bruna, Light of Alabaster
[/Creatures]
[Spells]
4 Rancor
4 Abundant Growth
3 Ethereal Armor
4 Farseek
4 Detention Sphere
3 Oblivion Ring
2 Sphinx’s Revelation
2 Divine Reckoning
1 Tricks of the Trade
1 Righteous Authority
[/Spells]
[Sideboard]
2 Ground Seal
2 Nevermore
2 Geist of Saint Traft
2 Divine Reckoning
2 Sphere of Safety
4 Thragtusk
1 Drogskol Reaver
[/Sideboard]
[/deck]

The board was built to cover aggro and Bant control as well as graveyard shenanigans. I might have gone a little heavy on both fronts, but we’ll find out soon.

War Report

It was good to be back. While putting my deck together and testing it out, I regaled the guys with tales of GP Toronto. Most of the local players have never ventured to one, so I take every opportunity I can get to let them know how awesome it is to just be in attendance at one. A combination of exams and Christmas was having an effect on attendance, so we only had four rounds on the night. Still, the players who did show up were good ones.

Round 1 – Mike White with BR Aggro
Before the event started I had lent Mike 2 [card]Thundermaw Hellkite[/card]s. “Watch now,” I said to one of the Twinjas, “I’ll get paired against Mike and he will topdeck one of them to beat me in the deciding game. Mark it down.” I hate it when I get these things right.

I was relatively sure there was no way I could win game 1 in this matchup. It would need some really good Sphere/ORing draws and a fast clock on my part to do so, and when he opened with double [card]Knight of Infamy[/card] I was about ready to scoop. You know what can’t remove Knight of Infamy? [card]Detention Sphere[/card] and ORing.

Game 2 Mike had a slower start but, as would be a pattern all night, I kept drawing ETB tapped lands and none of my shocks. I had brought int [card]Thragtusk[/card]s but never drew them, and Sphere never showed either. I was on the verge of stabilizing and had resolved a Bruna when the Hellkite made its grand borrowed entrance and Thundermawed all over my face.

0-1

Round 2 – Tyler Beckett with Junk Tokens
Sadly I don’t remember much about this matchup, except that I never had a [card]Detention Sphere[/card] for his tokens and that I never game close to winning a game. I was having fun though, because the deck was fun. This was the only time I would land [card]Sphere of Safety[/card] all night, and it almost immediately ate an [card]Oblivion Ring[/card].

The best part of the evening would come between rounds 2 and 3 when I threw together a Legacy deck and played some games with Lawrence. Getting to show off my swagtastic judge foils and play with powerful cards was a real thrill and made me want to get into the format more. And I wasn’t even using a real deck!

0-2

Round 3 – Jonathan Smith with UW Flash
I was a little more confident in this matchup, since I had Cavern to resolve Bruna and his removal was not a major problem. Of course I forgot that tempo decks only need to buy a turn or two in order to actually kill you, and that’s what he did. I did manage to attack with Bruna, and Jonathan was kind enough to let her trigger resolve before casting the [card]Unsummon[/card], but that was about it for highlights.

One thing that consistently happened was that people read Bruna and were surprised at just how much her ability did. It triggers on attacking AND blocking, it can steal auras AND she has vigilance. Sadly she dies to [card]Dreadbore[/card] and can be bounced or Azorius Charmed just as well as any other creature.

0-3

Round 4 – Brennon Woolridge with Rakdos Rakdos
Brennon is really good with this deck, which is basically Joe Bernal’s list. It’s faster than the RB Aggro decks that did well at GP San Antonio, which did not augur well for me. Indeed I got rolled in game 1 before I could do much of anything.

Game 2 saw a dream start for me, letting me put [card]Abundant Growth[/card] on a Cavern and enchant a Pilgrim with Rancor and [card]Ethereal Armor[/card] early on. The great thing about [card]Gravecrawler[/card] is that it can’t actually block, and Pilgrim went all the way. DING!

Achievement_Unlocked_20_dmg_1_crit

Game 3 wasn’t really a game, as I played running [card]Thragtusk[/card]s on turns 4 and 5 and Brennon couldn’t find enough threats to answer the first-striking one.

1-3

Aftershocks

Boy did I build this wrong. Goober was playing something similar and went 3-1, with only 22 lands and no [card]Farseek[/card]s. Looking back I went too heavy on the top end and could easily have forsaken the ramp for more threats. Colour was never a problem, and I could have played [card]Geist of Saint Traft[/card] in that spot quite easily. [card]Divine Reckoning[/card] worked pretty well when I cast it, and the threat of flashing it back made people think twice a couple of times. Literally, not casting the spell [card]Think Twice[/card].

Bruna is very powerful but she might as well read “Target player discards a removal spell” because she just isn’t attacking. She’s likely to win the game if she ever does though, so I guess NOT playing her would be kind of stupid. [card]Tricks of the Trade[/card] was a wasted slot, it could easily have been another [card]Divine Reckoning[/card] or even a maindeck Reaver.

One thing this deck managed to do that a lot of others haven’t done is to let me have fun while losing. That was, after all, the reason I started doing this series: to have fun at FNM first and to win second. I had so much fun that I think I will try a slightly different Bruna strategy next week, with many of the same achievements.

Thanks for reading, and thanks to everyone who came up to me at GP Toronto to let me know they read the articles and enjoy them. It means a great deal to me that people enjoy what I have to say. See you next week!

Magic the Gathering Standard Analysis: Season in Review

The Holidays are a quiet time for the competitive Magic the Gathering Standard scene. There was no StarCityGames Open or Standard Grand Prix to analyze this week, so I considered skipping my column, but the world needs graphs, so I pondered what to do. Then it came to me: with 2012 coming to a close and 2013 rapidly approaching, I decided to take a look back at the Standard season to date. In today’s article I’ll analyze the metagame that started with the release of Return to Ravnica in early October. I’ve analyzed the decks that have finished in the top 16 of a major tournament and will discuss the most played archetypes, creatures, and removal cards.

 

Metagame Evolution

This standard season has seen several competitive decks. The following graph shows the deck archetypes with the most top 16 finishes.

TopResultsSeason

The most successful decks so far have been Reanimator, which has been a contender in tournaments since rotation, and BR Dragon Zombies, which started dominating more recently. Jund Midrange was an early powerhouse, and Bant Control has been the most successful control deck.

This graph helps us understand overall success, but it doesn’t do much to chart archetype results over time. Let’s take a look at the top finishes by month of this standard season: October, November, and December.

TopResultsByMonth

 

Now we can more clearly see trends like how Jund Midrange dominated in October, dropped off in November, and all but disappeared in December. UW Flash sprung up in November as one of the top strategies but diminished in December when BR Dragon Zombies rose to prominence. Decks like Reanimator and Bant Control have consistently been top decks month after month.

Let’s take an even closer look at the ups and downs of the top six archetypes of Standard.

 

Reanimator

Many an angel, beast, and behemoth found new life this season and were unburied from their planeswalker’s graveyard. The Reanimator archetype is tied for the most top 16 finishes with 23. It’s been a very consistent deck with at least one pilot in the top 16 of every tournament save SCG Baltimore.

DragonZombies

 

The necromancers of the past standard season faced stiff opposition after rotation and took a beating early. Left with little choice, they made a deal with a devil and a dragon to create a monstrosity of a deck. BR Dragon Zombies, featuring [card]Hellrider[/card] and [card]Thundermaw Hellkite[/card], crawled, cackled, and shrieked to the top, winning GP Charleston. The deck flew high above the metagame from there, with eight top 16 finishes at SCG Baltimore and seven at GP Nagoya.

Jund

 

In the beginning, Jund Midrange ruled the world of Standard. Huntsmen and beasts dominated the battlefield as socialite vampires circled overhead. The deck started out strong with two copies in the top 16 of the inaugural tournament of the season, SCG Cincinnati. Jund powered through the next three weeks with big shares of the top 16 at Providence, Indianapolis, and New Orleans before giving way to other decks in November.

BantControl

 

Bant Control is the old faithful of this Standard season, appearing in every top 16 thus far. No revelation here: the ability to play some of the most powerful creatures, removal, and other cards in the format is a recipe for success.

UWRTempo

 

UWR Tempo put a blue-based tempo strategy back on the Standard map in late October at SCG Indianapolis, stealing a pair of spots in the top 16 from creature-heavy midrange decks with the help of counterspells, burn, and Unsummon effects. UWR Tempo was also the arrival party of [card]Thundermaw Hellkite[/card] in competitive Standard. The deck hit a high point at SCG New Orleans, claiming four of the top 16 before passing the tempo baton to UW Flash. It might be back, however, with a couple top 16 finishes in each of the last several tournaments.

UWFlash

 

UW Flash was born when Adam Prosak dropped the red from UWR Tempo and went instant speed at SCG Seattle. The deck stayed consistent with at least two top 16 finishes in each of the next five major tournaments. It slumped for a couple weeks but has remained in the mix in December.

 

The Cards

Let’s move now to the most played cards of Magic’s Standard metagame. I did an analysis of the cards played in the top 16 decks of every StarCityGames Open Series so far. To give some perspective on volume, here are some quick stats:

  • There were 160 decks more than 10 tournaments
  • Those decks contained 282 unique cards, about 25% of the Standard format card pool
  • There were 12,010 total cards in these decks

 

The Creatures

Creatures have ruled Standard so far this season, and an average of 23 creature cards were played top 16 decks. Let’s check out some graphs (everybody likes graphs) to breakdown the creatures played by type, mana cost, power, and toughness.

CreatureGraphs

 

It’s been a midrange kind of a year: 58% of creatures had a converted mana cost (CMC) of three, four, or five and a power of two or three. Fifty-nine percent had a toughness of 2 or 3. If we were to sketch out the profile of the average creature in today’s Standard metagame it would like something like this:

 

KYTCreature

 

This is a KYT. As you can see, he has the following very mundane stats:

  • Creature Type: Human
  • Converted Mana Cost: 3.1
  • Power: 2.6
  • Toughness: 2.5

KYT may seem unplayable, but in reality he represents a tough road for aggressive decks, in part because KYT does not actually have average abilities. Nineteen of the 20 most-played creatures, in terms of number of cards, have very relevant abilities, and 13 have more than one. Ten of them have enters the battlefield abilities. So maybe KYT is a little stronger, a little tougher, and enters the battlefield carrying a Healing Salve for whomever casts him. Perhaps he is a little less powerful, a little tougher and has flying, deathtouch, and lifelink.

Time to move away from hypothetical cards and take a look at the most played creatures of this Standard season. The following graphs show the most played creatures in top 16 decks this season. The one on the left ranks them by total number of cards, and the one on the right is ranked by the percent of the total decks (160) the card appeared in.

MostPlayedCreatures

The top of the charts should come as no surprise to anybody who follows Standard, especially if you read my column every Monday. [card]Thragtusk[/card] has appeared in nearly half (46%) of the top 16 decks and has been a staple in many of the most popular decks of the format including Jund Midrange, Naya Midrange, Reanimator, and Bant Control.

[card]Restoration Angel[/card] is right behind the beast appearing in 41% of decks. She has been a mainstay in decks like UWR Tempo, UW Flash, Reanimator, Naya Midrange, and some versions of Bant Control.

 

The Removal

Now we’ll talk about the tools every good player needs to deal with opposing creatures: removal spells. The following graphs summarize the removal cards played this season by mana cost, type, color, and whether they are targeted, a board sweeper, or have options for both due to overload.

 

RemovalGraphs

Removal in Standard has been cheap (62% cost one or two mana), overwhelmingly targeted, and mostly at sorcery speed. Three cards: [card]Pillar of Flame[/card], [card]Azorius Charm[/card], and [card]Searing Spear[/card], accounted for 27% of the total removal cards played and had a big impact on these numbers. Return to Ravnica has a number of multi-colored cards, known as gold cards because of the frame color on the card, and many of them are popular removal spells like the Charms, [card]Supreme Verdict[/card], and [card]Detention Sphere[/card].

Let’s take a look at the most played removal spells. Again, the graph on the left ranks them by number of cards played and the graph on the right by the percent of total decks they appear in.

MostPlayedRemoval

 

[card]Pillar of Flame[/card] is far and away the most played removal spell in Standard and is the second most played card overall, behind [card]Thragtusk[/card], in both total number of cards and percent of decks.

 

Closing Out the Column (and the Year)

That’s all the Standard Analysis I have for you this year. I hope you enjoyed this review and I invite your feedback. As usual, I’ll provide some bonus details on the Standard season in the comments and on Twitter (including links to some bonus graphs), so check back and follow up! I will be back on January 7 with analysis for SCG Open Columbus, but until then have a Merry Holidays and Happy New Year!

 

Nick Vigabool (@MrVigabool)

 

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