Mono-a-Mono in a Muta-Meta

The first big Magic the Gathering Standard tournament is in the books, with StarCityGames having held one of their Open tournaments in Richmond this weekend. There are really two separate stories to this event, and when you look at the top eight, both are easily discernable.

First of all, we have the dominance of Jund: three copies in the top eight, another three in the top 16, and another five in the top 32. That’s about a third of all the decks at the top tables and a very popular deck overall. This is what Jund looks like with the release of M14:

[deck title=Jund by Owen Turtenwald (13th at SCG Open Richmond)]
[Creatures]
2 Arbor Elf
3 Scavenging Ooze
4 Huntmaster of the Fells
3 Olivia Voldaren
4 Thragtusk
[/Creatures]
[Spells]
2 Tragic Slip
1 Abrupt Decay
1 Doom Blade
1 Dreadbore
4 Farseek
2 Putrefy
2 Garruk, Primal Hunter
2 Rakdos’s Return
4 Bonfire of the Damned
[/Spells]
[Lands]
4 Blood Crypt
3 Dragonskull Summit
2 Forest
2 Kessig Wolf Run
4 Overgrown Tomb
1 Rootbound Crag
4 Stomping Ground
1 Swamp
4 Woodland Cemetery
[/Lands]
[Sideboard]
2 Duress
1 Grafdigger’s Cage
2 Tragic Slip
3 Liliana of the Veil
2 Underworld Connections
2 Barter in Blood
2 Curse of Death’s Hold
1 Rakdos’s Return
[/Sideboard]
[/deck]

While not the highest finishing list, Owen probably worked on this list together with Reid Duke, and both those players have a ton of experience with this deck, so I’m sure it’s a good starting point. Also, most of these lists (understandably) look much alike, and the only new cards in the list are the already expected [card]Scavenging Ooze[/card] and [card]Doom Blade[/card].

Then, we have the more exciting story of three completely new decks in the top eight, of which two are completely mono-colored. With all the mana-fixing in standard, people have been playing three- and four-color decks without any trouble, so why would these players have decided to play a deck with 18 basics of a single color? The payoff for going mono must’ve been huge. Could it be [card]Mutilate[/card] combined with Corrupt? Geralf’s Messenger? [card]Ash Zealot[/card] into Boros Reckoner?

Nope.

I have a feeling both decks stayed in one color so they could play a full playset of [card]Mutavault[/card]s. I doubt it was just for [card]Predator Ooze[/card]…

[deck title=Mono Green Aggro by Richard Nguyen (3rd at SCG Open Richmond)]
[Creatures]
4 Arbor Elf
4 Elvish Mystic
3 Strangleroot Geist
4 Elvish Archdruid
4 Predator Ooze
4 Wolfir Silverheart
2 Craterhoof Behemoth
[/Creatures]
[Spells]
4 Rancor
3 Ranger’s Guile
2 Garruk, Caller of Beasts
4 Revenge of the Hunted
[/Spells]
[Lands]
18 Forest
4 Mutavault
[/Lands]
[Sideboard]
2 Naturalize
2 Scavenging Ooze
3 Wolfir Avenger
2 Garruk Relentless
4 Thragtusk
2 Primeval Bounty
[/Sideboard]
[/deck]

Despite not generally being very fond of decks filled with big green creatures, I played the [card]Dungrove Elder[/card] deck from a while back long enough to know that it is a valid strategy. From the same experience, I know that [card]Revenge of the Hunted[/card] is often better than [card]Bonfire of the Damned[/card] in creature-on-creature matchups. Like the once $50 mythic, it lets you wipe their board and deal them a bunch of damage; however, unlike the widely played red card, this one costs a measly green mana instead of all the mana you have. With all the mana dorks in the deck, you can even hardcast it quite easily.

This deck also makes great use of [card]Garruk, Caller of [card]Beast[/card]s[/card]. It can function as a card drawer (25 creatures should allow you to draw two creatures off the +1 ability easily enough), but can also cheat the bigger creatures into play. Imagine the following sequence:

T1 [card]Elvish Mystic[/card]
T2 [card]Elvish Archdruid[/card]
T3 [card]Wolfir Silverheart[/card], attack for five with the Mystic
T4 [card]Garruk, Caller of [card]Beast[/card]s[/card], put a [card]Craterhoof Behemoth[/card] into play, crash in for 30.

Now, something like this is the dream scenario, but there are a lot of lines with this deck that approximate this kind of draw. You can also put down a turn-three Garruk and just keep drawing creatures, threatening to go for an emblem (which turns every [card]Arbor Elf[/card] into a [card]Craterhoof Behemoth[/card]), while the creatures you draw defend him.

I also really like [card]Mutavault[/card] in this deck, as together with [card]Rancor[/card]s they make life really hard for control decks. If they don’t draw instant speed, permanent removal ([card]Azorius Charm[/card] doesn’t quite cut it), they’re stuck taking four damage a turn.

There are also some choices I do not like. The fourth [card]Revenge of the Hunted[/card] seems like a bit much, and I’m not sure I’d want three [card]Ranger’s Guile[/card] main. I’d rather cut one of both and replace them with more creatures. I could see moving a pair of [card]Wolfir Avenger[/card]s to the main, but I can also imagine [card]Witchstalker[/card] does some work in this deck, providing another “safe” target for [card]Revenge of the Hunted[/card] and [card]Rancor[/card]. It could be that being just a 3/3 for three isn’t good enough, though.

[card]Primeval Bounty[/card] is another card I’m not sold on. I’d rather have extra big Garruks if I were to play this deck.

The second mono-colored aggro deck in the top eight also played 18 basics and four [card]Mutavault[/card]s:

[deck title= Mono White Aggro by Joshua Everly (8th at SCG Open Richmond)]
[Creatures]
4 Champion of the Parish
4 Doomed Traveler
4 Dryad Militant
4 Imposing Sovereign
3 Precinct Captain
3 Thalia, Guardian of Thraben
3 Banisher Priest
4 Frontline Medic
1 Mikaeus, the Lunarch
[/Creatures]
[Spells]
4 Brave the Elements
2 Ajani, Caller of the Pride
2 Oblivion Ring
[/Spells]
[Lands]
4 Mutavault
18 Plains
[/Lands]
[Sideboard]
2 Purify the Grave
3 Celestial Flare
2 Renounce the Guilds
1 Thalia, Guardian of Thraben
3 Fiendslayer Paladin
2 Gideon, Champion of Justice
2 Immortal Servitude
[/Sideboard]
[/deck]

Could this deck mean that the white planeswalkers in standard have finally found a home? Both Ajani and Gideon make their appearances, and they seem reasonable enough in this deck. I love the full four [card]Brave the Elements[/card], and combined with the full set of [card]Imposing Sovereign[/card]s, I doubt Joshua’s opponents did much blocking throughout the day (which kind of makes me want the fourth [card]Precinct Captain[/card]).

I wonder why [card]Boros Elite[/card] did not make the cut here. I’ve always found [card]Doomed Traveler[/card] to be terribly underwhelming in white aggressive decks, unless it’s in something like the Aristocrats, where its ability to die twice is more valuable than the lack of power. Here though, with cards like Ajani, I would instinctively put more value on the potential three power of the Elite. Even if that turns out to be wrong, Dryad Militant’s not being a Human also feels a bit awkward.

This deck’s weakness probably lies with sweepers, as it does not have cards like [card]Boros Charm[/card] to prevent being crippled by a [card]Supreme Verdict[/card]. This is probably why Joshua had two [card]Immortal Servitude[/card]s and the fourth Thalia in the sideboard. However, the most played sweeper right now is probably [card]Bonfire of the Damned[/card], and this deck (with its four [card]Frontline Medic[/card]s) has plenty of ways to brave the damned fire.

If control decks like UWR (which also made the top 8) rise in popularity, though, this deck might have a hard time, and splashing for another color to help with its sweeper-vulnerability could be necessary. While red for [card]Boros Charm[/card] might be the first option for most people, could I perhaps interest you in trying black instead? A.J. Sacher did so before you, and look where that got him:

[deck title=WB Humans by A.J. Sacher (1st at SCG Open Richmond)]
[Creatures]
4 Champion of the Parish
4 Doomed Traveler
4 Blood Artist
1 Bloodthrone Vampire
4 Cartel Aristocrat
4 Xathrid Necromancer
[/Creatures]
[Spells]
4 Tragic Slip
4 Gather the Townsfolk
1 Orzhov Charm
4 Lingering Souls
3 Sorin, Lord of Innistrad
[/Spells]
[Lands]
4 Godless Shrine
4 Isolated Chapel
2 Mutavault
1 Orzhov Guildgate
7 Plains
5 Swamp
[/Lands]
[Sideboard]
2 Appetite for Brains
1 Brave the Elements
1 Pithing Needle
2 Doom Blade
2 Intangible Virtue
2 Lifebane Zombie
2 Sin Collector
1 Obzedat, Ghost Council
2 Profit // Loss
[/Sideboard]
[/deck]

The winning list is only couple of cards off from Gerry Thompson’s list for the same tournament, with A.J. playing a [card]Bloodthrone Vampire[/card] and an extra [card]Tragic Slip[/card] over Gerry’s Mikeaus, the Lunarch, and singleton [card]Brave the Elements[/card] and making a couple changes in the sideboard. AJ mentioned on Twitter he planned to write about the deck, so keep an eye out for that article if you want to know the ins and outs of the deck.

The basic idea should be clear though: you play a game similar to the original Aristocrats with a better manabase (you can even fit two [card]Mutavault[/card]s in there!). You’re a fairly aggressive deck, using Sorin emblems to power up your otherwise somewhat unimpressive bodies. [card]Xathrid Necromancer[/card] makes playing those bodies completely worth it, providing just about every creature you play with a purpose in the afterlife.

The last deck I want to look at is another deck with 18 basics and 4 [card]Mutavault[/card]s in its 75:

[deck title=Mono Red Blitz by Drew Levin (88th at SCG Open Richmond)]
[Creatures]
4 Foundry Street Denizen
4 Rakdos Cackler
4 Stromkirk Noble
4 Burning-Tree Emissary
4 Firefist Striker
4 Young Pyromancer
3 Hellrider
[/Creatures]
[Spells]
4 Dynacharge
4 Pillar of Flame
1 Weapon Surge
4 Krenko’s Command
[/Spells]
[Lands]
18 Mountain
2 Mutavault
[/Lands]
[Sideboard]
2 Mutavault
3 Electrickery
2 Mizzium Mortars
3 Skullcrack
1 Mark of Mutiny
4 Burning Earth
[/Sideboard]
[/deck]

I would rather cut a land for a second [card]Weapon Surge[/card] and replace the [card]Hellrider[/card]s with [card]Legion Loyalist[/card]s, bringing the curve down. That should help against getting stuck with a bunch of four-drops before sideboard. In games two and three you can go up two lands to help cast [card]Burning Earth[/card], which for me would be the main reason to try this deck. With all the 12-shockduals-plus-12-buddy-lands manabases of today, I don’t think many opponents can ever beat this card if you resolve it after the initial onslaught.

Drew did well early on in the tournament and was even featured on camera versus the eventual winner, but the wheels apparently fell off later in the day. I do think the deck has legs, though, which is why I wanted to feature it here. [card]Young Pyromancer[/card] is a great addition to this deck and could push it from “fun and interesting” to “fast and powerful.”

Now if only someone could build a good mono-blue deck, then together with my awesome [card]Shadowborn Apostle[/card] deck, we could have five top-tier* mono-colored decks in Standard! When was the last time that happened-1996?

Have fun going back to basics,

Jay Lansdaal
iLansdaal on Twitter and MTGO

*So maybe my [card]Shadowborn Apostle[/card] deck is not quite top-tier, but it is good. Well, good might also be overstating it. It is interesting, though.

Actually, it’s not all that interesting, so let’s just call it “fun”.

God, I hope it’s fun.

What the hell am I going to do with these 50 Apostles?