The Quest continues

When I last discussed Standard, I had arrived at Abzan Tokens as the best way to leverage sweepers. As I continued grinding at the leagues and failing to escape mediocrity, I realized the problem; sweepers just aren’t good right now. As I alluded to last time, the combination of diverse and resilient threats and sideboard countermagic just makes it too risky to rely on resolving sweepers.

I wouldn’t accept the demise of Control so easily, so I looked for a way to 1-for-1 the opponent with good removal and then either outdraw them or play a big threat that they can’t deal with. UB is the natural place to look here but I was hesitant to be confined in those two colors since you have no way to deal with artifacts or enchantments, and very aggressive decks can be tough since they overload your Fatal Pushes.

This is what I came up with:

Creatures (10)
Whirler Virtuoso
The Scarab God
Torrential Gearhulk

Spells (24)
Fatal Push
Essence Scatter
Search for Azcanta
Abrade
Harnessed Lightning
Supreme Will
Glimmer of Genius
Vraska's Contempt
Lands (26)
Aether Hub
Spirebluff Canal
Fetid Pools
Drowned Catacomb
Dragonskull Summit
Canyon Slough
Island
Swamp

Sideboard (15)
Negate
Duress
Arguel's Blood Fast//Temple of Aclazotz
Disallow
Moment of Craving
Nicol Bolas, God-Pharaoh
Chandra's Defeat
Crook of Condemnation

One of the big reasons why I like Standard is that even if there are many distinct decks, they pretty much all fall under the umbrella of aggro, midrange or control. Furthermore, all decks in each archetype more or less does the same thing, which means the same sideboard cards are good against all of them. Cheap removal and incidental lifegain is great against both Mono Red and Mardu Vehicles, and Negate is great against both UW Approach and UB Control. Of course I am oversimplifying but the important point remains that you can put rather narrow cards in your sideboard and still have them be useful against many decks. In Modern, for example, the cards that hose Affinity are not much use against Burn.

This makes you more likely to be rewarded for predicting tendencies in the metagame, so if you correctly predict there will be a lot of aggro, you can build your deck to crush all types of aggro quite handily and you will likely face a lot of them in the tournament. You just don’t get metagaming like that in Modern.

All that being said, I think this Grixis deck has a good shot against both aggro, midrange and control. You have removal, The Scarab God and Torrential Gearhulk so midrange is very easy. All the removal alongside the full set of Whirler Virtuoso manages aggro decks quite well. More hardcore control decks are tough and close to unbeatable in game 1. So I added a bunch of Negates and Duress to the board and hoped it would fix things. As is often the case when you just shoot and pray like that, it didn’t. The problem was that Negate and Duress just didn’t create a coherent plan. When all my threats cost 5 or 6 mana they’re just too hard to force through, even with the extra disruption, it simply requires too much mana in one turn.

Luckily there is a cheap threat that fits brilliantly with the rest of the deck; Glint-Sleeve Siphoner. It comes down before they can keep countermagic up and they probably won’t have left very much removal in for it. It then keeps drawing cards and eventually forces them to act lest they just die. And the first one to act in a control mirror midgame usually loses.

I also realized that it would be nice to have a few answers to stuff like Carnage Tyrant so I added two Doomfall as well. This is where my list is now:

Creatures (10)
Whirler Virtuoso
The Scarab God
Torrential Gearhulk

Spells (24)
Fatal Push
Essence Scatter
Search for Azcanta
Abrade
Harnessed Lightning
Disallow
Supreme Will
Glimmer of Genius
Vraska's Contempt
Lands (26)
Aether Hub
Spirebluff Canal
Fetid Pools
Drowned Catacomb
Dragonskull Summit
Canyon Slough
Island
Swamp

Sideboard (15)
Negate
Duress
Disallow
Moment of Craving
Nicol Bolas, God-Pharaoh
Chandra's Defeat
Glint-Sleeve Siphoner
Doomfall

The deck feels great and I think I would have top 8’ed the MTGO PTQ last Saturday if not for my own mistakes. I will keep sporting this at the PTQ’s but for now it’s time to head back to Modern. The Pro Tour just added a ton of new data and my next Grand Prix is Modern in Lyon in a little over a week so I better get to it. By just skimming over the Pro Tour decklists UW Control could be a good choice, dare I hope that turns out to be true? Stay tuned to find out.

Standard is open for business again

A new set and a big round of bannings means we have a brewer’s paradise in Standard right? Well, unfortunately the brewing opportunities mostly involve doing a gatherer search for a creature type and then putting all the best results together along with lands and a little interaction. Other than the tribal cards, Rivals of Ixalan doesn’t seem very powerful so I don’t see what should compete with the preexisting decks that survived the bans. God-Pharaoh’s Gift exists in two different decks and both do more powerful things than anything from Rivals appear to enable.

We also already have multiple control variants in UB Control and UW or Esper Approach, and since Rivals contains no great sweepers, counterspells or card draw, I don’t see why the existing decks wouldn’t remain the top choices for that archetype. There might be some space to brew up a good midrange deck but Grixis appears to have already staked its claim as Temur’s successor.

Luckily, a lack of brewing potential doesn’t mean the format isn’t interesting; even though a lot of the decks are established, we still have to figure out which to play and how to build them. True to my heart, I started with control. I was originally more inclined towards UB because it has The Scarab God and because it operates more at instant speed. Sweepers are great against tribal decks generally but Merfolk is the tribe gathering the most hype and their access to cheap countermagic makes it a risky proposition to base your game plan on resolving Fumigate or Settle the Wreckage. In that case, 1-for-1’ing them beginning from turn 1 with Fatal Push is likely a safer route to victory.

On the other hand, UB has two major issues as I see it. The lack of sweepers might be preferable against Merfolk, but it really hurts against all the other creature decks. Fumigate is just fantastic in the current Standard and even against Merfolk it can save you if your early plays didn’t line up. You can’t count on resolving it every time but it’s not like they always have Spell Pierce or Negate. Second, as has always been the case, UB can’t remove artifacts or enchantments. Tokens is still a deck and turn 2 Hidden Stockpile is close to unbeatable. If the Vampire deck picks up, Oketra’s Monument spells trouble as well and the list goes on.

So I looked to Approach of the Second Sun for help. You get sweepers, Cast Out and a win condition that doesn’t just die to the removal that has been stuck in your opponent’s hand. Yes, you can sometimes jam The Scarab God turn 5 and it wins the game by itself while Approach usually requires you to establish control of the game first. I don’t know the definitive answer to this question but for now I’m leaning towards Approach. I have already had a few games against UB where I was able to remove all of their Scarab Gods and Torrential Gearhulk, and it is especially reasonable to have happen in game 1.

As I was putting together a UW list, I got increasingly concerned about Merfolk. Kumena, Tyrant of Orazca was 20 tickets on MTGO and the deck seemed quite hyped. I didn’t want to rely on just sweepers and I still am in love with The Scarab God so I tried if I could have my cake and eat it too.

Creatures (2)
Torrential Gearhulk

Spells (32)
Fatal Push
Censor
Search for Azcanta
Disallow
Supreme Will
Cast Out
Glimmer of Genius
Settle the Wreckage
Fumigate
Approach of the Second Sun
Lands (26)
Fetid Pools
Irrigated Farmland
Glacial Fortress
Drowned Catacomb
Concealed Courtyard
Aether Hub
Plains
Island

Sideboard (15)
Regal Caracal
The Scarab God
Fragmentize
Baffling End
Duress
Negate
Arguel's Blood Fast
Fatal Push

This didn’t work out. The mana is too stretched and there are far too many tapped lands. You need 14 black sources for Fatal Push turn 1 (and turn 1 is sort of the point of playing push, 18 white for Settle turn 4, and 20 for Disallow turn 3 (this one you don’t have to have turn 3 so a little less could be fine). Aether Hub is the closest we have to a tri-land and it leaves quite a bit to be desired in a deck like this. Without a tri-land would need almost all your lands to produce two colors in order to satisfy these requirements and then the amount of tapped lands kills you.

Not to be discouraged, I cut push and just splashed for the black sideboard cards. I also cut a Cast Out and added 2 Essence Scatter 2 Opt. I could then rework the mana:

Lands (25)
Irrigated Farmland
Glacial Fortress
Fetid Pools
Drowned Catacomb
Aether Hub
Field of Ruin
Swamp
Plains
Island

I’m not sure how much of a colored source you should count Field of Ruin, but I wanted to try out the lighter splash and killing Azcanta, the Sunken Ruin in the mirror would be a nice possibility.

After several more leagues, I realized a big problem: the sweepers weren’t getting it done. Settle was too easy to play around because I’m not applying pressure and there are too many creatures that are resilient to Fumigate, Rekindling Phoenix in particular is seeing a lot of play at the moment. I lost so many games because my sweepers were not able to kill more than one creature.

In that case, UB might just be the better choice but I couldn’t let the sweepers go so I looked for a deck where they might be more effective and remembered Abzan Tokens:

Creatures (4)
Anointer Priest

Spells (34)
Renegade Map
Legion's Landing
Fatal Push
Hidden Stockpile
Treasure Map
Start//Finish
Cast Out
Anointed Procession
Settle the Wreckage
Vraska, Relic Seeker
Lands (22)
Concealed Courtyard
Evolving Wilds
Shefet Dunes
Arch of Orazca
Plains
Swamp
Forest

Sideboard (15)
Profane Procession
Lost Legacy
Duress
Sunscourge Champion
Treasure Map
Ixalan's Binding
Arguel's Blood Fast
Regal Caracal

Usually, this deck has played Fumigate as it’s sweeper but I think the time to switch to Settle is now. The plan is to grind towards an insurmountable board presence so the opponent has to try to kill you. They will rarely have the luxury of being able to play around Settle and it will get rid of whatever creatures they have.

This is where I am at the moment, and I do recommend this deck for now. Try it out and let me know what you think. Would you build it differently? Any sick tech I am missing? Let me know, and thanks for reading.