Magic the Gathering Standard Analysis: Blue in St. Louis

StarCityGames Open St. Louis (SCGSTL) has come and gone and left us with a new list of top-16 decks to provide insight into the Magic the Gathering Standard metagame. I’ve analyzed these decks and have some data, analysis, observations, and interesting facts to share about the top decks and cards of the tournament.

Deck Archetypes

First, let’s breakdown the most played archetypes in the top-16:

  • 3 Bant Control
  • 2 Reanimator
  • 2 Selesnya Humans
  • 2 Azorius Humans

SCGSTL had a variety of decks in the top 16, including four Human Aggro (two Azorius and two Selesnya), two Frites decks, and a RUG Soulbond deck. UWG Bant Control led the way with three contenders, while the biggest representatives of the SCG New Orleans top 16, BRG Jund Midrange and UWR Midrange, each had only a single entrant in St. Louis.

The story of the week is that blue-based decks moved up in a big way. Eleven of the top 16 tapped for blue mana compared to six at SCG Open New Orleans (SCGNOLA, see my full analysis of that tournament here) and SCG Open Indianapolis (SCGINDY). Nine of these eleven decks also played white, making Azorius the most represented Return to Ravnica guild in St. Louis. Five of the top 8 decks were blue-based, and the finals showcased UWR Midrange defeating Bant Control.

Green is far from gone, however, and was played by nine of the top 16 decks, down from eleven at SCGNOLA and twelve at SCGINDY. Forest (21) joined forces with longtime ally [card]Plains[/card] (46) in seven of those decks and worked across the color pie with Island (39) in four decks.

Now let’s take a look at the cards that made up the top 16 decks. Unless otherwise noted, the number of copies of a card played in the top 16 of the tournament will be listed in parentheses after the card name (as seen above with the basic lands).

Creatures

Here are the most played creatures, segmented by main and sideboard. The second graph shows the average number of copies played in the main and sideboard.

The King has fallen. [card]Thragtusk[/card] (28) is no longer the most played creature, having been overtaken, though just barely, by [card]Restoration Angel[/card] (29). [card]Restoration Angel[/card] saw a lot of action despite the drop in UWR Tempo decks and was played in eight of the top 16 decks, including Bant Control, Reanimator, UW Control, and UW Tempo. She frequently teamed up with [card]Geist of Saint Traft[/card] (25) and [card]Snapcaster Mage[/card] (24), who together headlined the strong shift toward Azorius at SCGSTL.

[card]Thragtusk[/card] saw eight fewer copies played in SCGSTL than in SCGNOLA, though he still appeared in eight of the top 16 decks, including Bant Control, Reanimator, and Jund Midrange. Four of the copies were sideboard options between two different decks, which is a new vantage point for this oppressive beast.

[card]Champion of the Parish[/card] (16), [card]Thalia, Guardian of Thraben[/card] (14), and [card]Knight of Glory[/card] (13) joined fellow humans [card]Silverblade Paladin[/card] (14), and [card]Avacyn’s Pilgrim[/card] (12) on the most-played creature list thanks to the success of Human Aggro decks. Both Champion and Thalia increased by two full playsets from SCGNOLA.

Here are the biggest increases and decreases in creatures played between SCGNOLA and SCGSTL:

The tale of these trends is the increase of Humans and Azorius decks and the decrease in Jund Midrange in the top 16. UWR Midrange saw three fewer decks make it when compared to SCGNOLA, but the only creature from the deck that saw a decrease is [card]Thundermaw Hellkite[/card] (5). [card]Geist of Saint Traft[/card], [card]Restoration Angel[/card], and [card]Snapcaster Mage[/card] saw play in plenty of other decks in St. Louis.

Answers

Let’s turn now to answers. How did the top 16 manage opposing threats? This section is separated into cards that remove threats from the battlefield and proactive answers that keep threats from reaching the battlefield in the first place (counters and discard primarily).

Here are the most played removal spells of the tournament:

Once again we have a new number one: [card]Pillar of Flame[/card] (14) plummeted from the top spot, with the drop in UWR Tempo and Jund Midrange decks, and was replaced, very fittingly, by [card]Azorius Charm[/card] (22). Nine of the top 16 decks played Azorius colors, blue and white, so it’s no surprise to find [card]Detention Sphere[/card] (19) and [card]Supreme Verdict[/card] (16), on this list. [card]Unsummon[/card] (12) saw a +4 increase in play from SCGNOLA, joining [card]Azorius Charm[/card] as a tempo removal option.

Now for the most played proactive answers:

The eleven decks playing blue in the top 16 averaged seven counters each. All eleven, including both aggressive Azorius Human decks, played counter-magic, so it’s not surprising to see [card]Dissipate[/card] (20), [card]Syncopate[/card] (19), Negate (19), and [card]Essence Scatter[/card] (9) top this list. This was a big reason for the success of these decks, and I expect to see more counter spells out there in the near term.

Now let’s take a look at the biggest increases and decreases in answers between SCGNOLA and SCGSTL:

Again, we see counter-magic on the rise, including the arrival of Rewind (4), the value of which I discussed in my MTGO Analysis article. Both decks that played Rewind had plenty of things to do with mana on their opponent’s turn, making the four-mana counter spell less of a hardship to include. Being able to cast a hard counter on an opponent’s spell, and then untap your lands to play cards like [card]Restoration Angel[/card] (29), [card]Snapcaster Mage[/card] (24), [card]Sphinx’s Revelation[/card] (7), and other instants is a big swing in your favor. If your opponent is playing blue, beware an open 2UU on your turn for yet another reason!

Red had a severe drop off between SCGNOLA and SCGSTL, with only one Jund, one UWR Midrange deck and no Mono-Red or Naya Midrange decks making the top 16. As a result we see a big drop in red removal spells with [card]Searing Spear[/card] (3), [card]Pillar of Flame[/card] (14), and [card]Bonfire of the Damned[/card] (5) leading the drop off.

Metagaming

Counter-magic is officially back and a powerful force in the metagame. It is giving blue-based decks an extra weapon against midrange opponents, and we saw the results in the top decks at SCGSTL. Six of the top 16 played [card]Cavern of Souls[/card] (14), and decks like Azorius and Selesnya Humans were best able to profit from it.

Reanimator decks are also well-suited to utilize the protection of the Cavern. Anthony Eason ran two Caverns in the sideboard of his tenth-place Frites deck to bring in against [card]Dissipate[/card]s and [card]Essence Scatter[/card]s. His deck had six beasts: four [card]Thragtusk[/card] and two [card]Craterhoof Behemoth[/card] (5) with another in the sideboard. Reanimator decks also frequently ran several angels between [card]Angel of Serenity[/card] (13) and [card]Restoration Angel[/card] (29). Human is another good creature type for these decks, especially when running [card]Avacyn’s Pilgrim[/card] (12), [card]Borderland Ranger[/card] (2), and even [card]Huntmaster of the Fells[/card] (10). The use of [card]Cavern of Souls[/card] and optimizing creature type is worth considering for the Reanimator pilot in a counter-filled metagame.

It may also be time to trade the life gain of [card]Centaur Healer[/card] (17) for the size and resolvability of [card]Loxodon Smiter[/card] (4), at least in the sideboard. The Elephant Soldier does a better job blocking aggressive decks, loves [card]Rakdos’s Return[/card] (5), survives a [card]Searing Spear[/card] (3) to the gut, and is a good target to pair with [card]Silverblade Paladin[/card] (14). It is also a reasonable beatstick and trades well against Selesnya Humans and Aggro decks.

[card]Runechanter’s Pike[/card] (6) made an appearance at SCGSTL in a couple of UW Tempo decks, and I’d recommend that UWR Tempo pilots follow suit. That deck typically runs around twenty instants and sorceries, and if you hand a Pike to a [card]Geist of Saint Traft[/card] (25) with two suitable spells in the graveyard he will survive most combat encounters in today’s metagame. [card]Thragtusk[/card] (28) and a bonded [card]Silverblade Paladin[/card] (14) can still kill him, but a third instant or sorcery will fix that. Bring in [card]Thought Scour[/card] (12) and things will start looking really familiar.

Another factor making [card]Runechanter’s Pike[/card] better in the current environment is a lack of artifact removal. The only artifact removal played in the top 16 decks at SCGSTL was [card]Sundering Growth[/card] (6) and all-purpose removal like [card]Detention Sphere[/card] (19) and [card]Oblivion Ring[/card] (9).

[card]Searing Spear[/card] (3) will rebound and is still a good inclusion in red decks. It kills creatures like [card]Centaur Healer[/card] (17), [card]Silverblade Paladin[/card] (14), [card]Sublime Archangel[/card] (12), and [card]Champion of the Parish[/card] (16) if you get to it soon enough. [card]Pillar of Flame[/card] (14) will likely not rebound. The Zombie menace lies dormant, and exiling creatures with two or fewer toughness is less important. It is still a good choice for [card]Huntmaster of the Fells[/card] (10), but other removal, like [card]Mizzium Mortars[/card] (6), can handle him. I think Mortars will replace some of the Pillars because it can deal with [card]Restoration Angel[/card] (29) and can add a board sweeper against the aggressive human decks when overloaded. You lose the ability to do direct damage, but [card]Searing Spear[/card] helps there.

Fun Facts

Competitive players are very discriminating when making card choices for their decks. Only the most effective cards see play in the Standard metagame at any given time. How discriminating? The top 16 decks of SCGSTL used only 13% of Standard-legal cards. The combined top 16 decks of all five SCG Opens so far during Return to Ravnica Standard have used only 20% of the available card pool.

When the mechanics of a new set are revealed and spoilers start rolling in, there is always some discussion about how relevant those mechanics will be in Standard. Now that we’re several weeks in let’s take a look at how much play each Return to Ravnica mechanic has seen over the five SCG Open Standard tournaments thus far. Note: the numbers in the parentheses of cards mentioned are the total number of copies played in SCGSTL, not overall.

Populate: 51 cards total

  • Most Played: [card]Sundering Growth[/card] (6) is a [card]Naturalize[/card] to take care of [card]Oblivion Ring[/card] (9) or [card]Detention Sphere[/card] (19) with a nice boon if you have tokens on the battlefield. It also hits [card]Runechanter’s Pike[/card] (6), which I think will become more and more relevant.
  • Has Potential: Rootbound Defenses has an interesting interaction with [card]Geist of Saint Traft[/card]: protect Geist from combat damage and populate to keep a bonus angel. It might be cute rather than necessary, but bonus angels are good. [card]Rootborn Defenses[/card] also has potential to protect your team against a [card]Bonfire of the Damned[/card] (5) or [card]Supreme Verdict[/card] (16), if it doesn’t get countered.

Overload: 48 cards total

  • Most Played: [card]Mizzium Mortars[/card] (6) is versatile creature removal and is particularly good against aggressive decks where the overloaded option can act as a one-sided board sweeper.
  • Has Potential: [card]Counterflux[/card] should see more play out of UWR sideboards as a hard counter that wins counter wars against the other blue-based decks. A pretty easy swap for [card]Essence Scatter[/card] (9) or [card]Dissipate[/card] (20) in those matchups.

Unleash (Rakdos): 35 cards total

  • Most Played: [card]Rakdos Cackler[/card] (0) is a super aggressive one-drop for Zombies and Mono-Red aggro.
  • Has Potential: [card]Gore-House Chainwalker[/card] is already seeing inclusion in Mono-Red Aggro decks as another early aggressive attacker. Once you get above a two casting cost level it’s harder to see these cards making the leap from limited to constructed playable. [card]Hellhole Flailer[/card] could find a home in a Rakdos deck; a 4/3 with some reach for 1BR is worth consideration.

Scavenge: 24 cards total

  • Most Played: [card]Dreg Mangler[/card] (0) has seen play in Golgari Zombies and BRG Jund Aggro.
  • Has Potential: [card]Deadbridge Goliath[/card] is a 5/5 for 2GG with an upside, the ability to add five +1/+1 counters to a creature once you have 4GG. This creature contributes to the middle and late game and only requires you to be in one color. I could definitely see this picking up when Gruul, the red and green guild, appears on the scene with Gatecrash, especially alongside [card]Kessig Wolf Run[/card] (4).

Detain (Azorius): 13 cards total

  • Most Played: [card]Lyev Skyknight[/card] (8) provides an evasive and aggressive threat for an Azorius Humans deck. It also generates a tempo boost by detaining a target non-land permanent.
  • Has Potential: [card]New Prahv Guildmage[/card] is worth consideration in the same deck because he is a human in a deck that makes good use of [card]Cavern of Souls[/card] (14). The Guildmage grants flight to your [card]Geist of Saint Traft[/card] or soul bonded [card]Silverblade Paladin[/card] and can start detaining non-land permanents as needed once you hit five mana.

Next Up

That wraps up this week’s article on SCGSTL. I will add more information and observations about the tournament and metagame in the comments of this article and on Twitter over the next few days. Thanks for reading and see you next week for SCG Open Dallas!

Nick Vigabool (@MrVigabool)

2 thoughts on “Magic the Gathering Standard Analysis: Blue in St. Louis”

  1. I am honestly baffled that you did not mention by name what is (arguably) the most important “new” deck to come out of this open, which was 2 copies of the UW tempo/midrange deck played by Prosak and Marriot. I mean, of course these decks contributed to the numbers you’ve tallied, but if I just read this article I wouldn’t even know that deck exists.

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