Religion in Magic

I am an atheist. Don’t close the tab yet, this isn’t an article about actual religion, I just wanted to put it out there. This article is about subjectivity in Magic and why you should be aware of it. You can view it as a response to point 4 of Brian Demar’s recent article for ChannelFireball but I actually first thought about it when I read an article by Sam Black a few years ago.

Both of them argue that a decision in Magic (mostly deck choice, but Sam takes it all the way to in-game decisions) can be right for one person and wrong for another person based on their play style. As I see it, there is only one way this can be true; if your play style will influence your other decisions in the game in a way that deviating from that style for one play has so little synergy with your other plays that it will actually reduce your chances of winning. But in that case, you should look at your entire play style and if there is a better one, adapt that. Essentially, their point of view is for players who don’t want to change their play style.

For completeness’ sake, note that two plays can actually have the exact same ‘value’ in which case you are free to pick whichever you like, or it can be impossible for us to discern the actual value of the plays because they depend on information you cannot possibly know (as was the case for Frank Karsten’s awesome analysis ). But this doesn’t mean you just get to say that your play was correct because we don’t know better.

Magic may, as Sam suggests, be art, but Magic strategy is a science. Sometimes science doesn’t know the answer to our question, but the answer is still out there somewhere. I am a Magic scientist in the sense that I am interested in finding the correct answer to as many questions as possible so I can be the best player possible. I (probably) won’t become the perfect player that always gives myself the highest possible chance of winning, but I refuse to limit my potential with shortcuts like the ones suggested in the first two links.

I don’t blame you for doing so; maybe you are just playing for fun (I don’t mean the word just in any demeaning way, it is a perfectly legitimate reason for playing), or maybe you want to win a Pro Tour or Grand Prix before you die of old age and don’t have time to try to figure out the optimal play in every scenario, so focusing on one archetype may yield better results.

While there is surely a (large) narcissistic part of me that wants nothing more than to be holding a trophy, I try to focus on the process of learning and improving. I don’t care where it ends or how many times I’m wrong along the way, as long as I keep striving to improve.

Wow that was quite the rant, let’s get a bit more specific. The easiest way to get punished for focusing on your strengths is forcing archetypes in draft. It’s pretty easy to imagine someone going into an Ixalan draft knowing all the ins and outs of the Merfolk deck only to have the person on her right drafting Merfolk. The result likely won’t be pretty.

Now, you could do as Ondrej Strasky (sorry buddy for not having the correct characters for your name on my keyboard) and learn several archetypes to increase the chances of one of your archetypes being open, and indeed it might be your best chance of doing well in a tournament. In the end, though, you are limiting yourself because while you managed to steer clear of Merfolk and found the open Dinosaur deck, there might have been a Vampire deck that would have been even better for your seat if you only knew to look for it.

I want to emphasize that this isn’t the same as favoring one archetype over others because you think it is simply better. Sometimes Merfolk is just so good that it is better than Vampires even if the latter is much more open than the former. This rarely happens and often the power level discrepancy between archetypes is useful only as a tiebreaker for close picks.

It’s also often in coverage that they talk about a decision made by a player and say something along the lines of: “He likes to be aggressive, so this is the type of line he likes to take”. If the player later loses, the commentators sometimes go as far as excusing that loss with their play style. This makes sense for the Cedric Phillips school of coverage where it’s all about building appealing storylines, but for those who watch coverage to get better at the game, it’s actually detrimental. I don’t have any examples of this and maybe my memory has gone biased but at least keep an eye out for it.

We like to have answers. It’s much more comforting to have answers to all the questions you care about than to have a bunch of them be mysteries. I don’t blame you for striving for this comfort, and I especially don’t blame you for taking shortcuts for short term gains (I’m sure I will be taking some leading up to the Pro Tour). But don’t mistake the easy way for the right way. That’s how you end up with Trump as president.

Did that last sentence need to be included? Probably not, but remember the immortal words of the great Nicholas Cage.


Maybe there are very few people who play Magic for the same reasons as I do, and maybe the rest of you got nothing out of this article, but at least now you know how I approach the game, and that should make it easier to relate to my future content. And you got reminded that Nicholas Cage movies exist…

Temur’s next Move

So William Jensen crushed Worlds in what looked like a most deserved tournament win in terms of preparation and level of play. Of course he got lucky along the way but I don’t think anyone has won a tournament without luck. His and his PGO brothers’ weapon of choice was a very finely tuned version of Temur Energy (you don’t randomly put one Supreme Will and one Glimmer of Genius in your deck for Worlds), and it begs the question: “why play anything else?” An identical copy even won the MTGO PTQ on Saturday.


Temur Energy

Creatures (23)
Bristling Hydra
Glorybringer
Longtusk Cub
Rogue Refiner
Servant of the Conduit
Whirler Virtuoso

Spells (15)
Abrade
Attune with Aether
Commit // Memory
Confiscation Coup
Essence Scatter
Harnessed Lightning
Magma Spray
Lands (22)
Aether Hub
Botanical Sanctum
Forest
Island
Mountain
Rootbound Crag
Spirebluff Canal

Sideboard (15)
Negate
Abrade
Confiscation Coup
Supreme Will
Glimmer of Genius
Torrential Gearhulk
Chandra, Torch of Defiance
Aethersphere Harvester
Chandra's Defeat
Appetite for the Unnatural

To answer the question, let’s start before the rotation where I thought UB Control was a good choice against Temur and the metagame as a whole. Two important changes mean that this is no longer the case. First, the departure of Grasp of Darkness really hurts, especially against Monored where you also lose Flaying Tendrils and Kalitas, Traitor of Ghet. Vraska’s Contempt is considerably worse as the two life just isn’t enough to remedy two extra mana spent to kill Hazoret the Fervent (or heaven forbid, one of the cheaper creatures).

Against Temur it is also a blow because you now have to lean heavily on Fatal Push in the early game. With Grasp you could board out some number of Pushes and still be able to deal with early Longtusk Cubs and Servant of the Conduits. Having to keep in all four Pushes means you end up in spots like Kelvin Chew did in game 4 of the semifinals where he drew all four and had to spend two on Thopter tokens while not being able to kill the Whirler Virtuoso that made them. If just one Push had been a Grasp I think he would have won that game.

Second, you can now expect Temur to have Essence Scatter in the main deck. Having such a tempo positive way to deal with The Scarab God for good or Torrential Gearhulk while stopping the trigger is huge. Of course they don’t always have it and the God is still game over if you untap with it but it does change the matchup and the way you have to play. Search for Azcanta is getting rave reviews but I just don’t think it does enough to make UB the place to be (although I have only played 4 leagues with it).

Generally I would say the way to punish Temur is to play a focused strategy that goes over the top of them. There are two decks that I think do this in Standard, Anointed Procession decks and God-Pharaoh’s Gift decks. The problem is that these decks have either/both consistency issues and/or trouble against the other big decks (UB and Monored).
So even if you beat Temur (which you might not if they prepared their sideboard for you) you aren’t necessarily favored against the metagame. There was an Anointed Procession deck that crushed the PTQ Swiss and it looks to have addressed at least the inconsistency issues with Champion of Wits, so I will be exploring that avenue soon. For now, though, I want to play the best deck and beat the mirror, a tried and true strategy:


Temur Energy

Creatures (23)
Bristling Hydra
Glorybringer
Longtusk Cub
Rogue Refiner
Servant of the Conduit
Whirler Virtuoso

Spells (15)
Abrade
Attune with Aether
Chandra, Torch of Defiance
Confiscation Coup
Essence Scatter
Harnessed Lightning
Magma Spray
Lands (22)
Aether Hub
Botanical Sanctum
Forest
Island
Mountain
Rootbound Crag
Spirebluff Canal

Sideboard (15)
Negate
Struggle // Survive
Confiscation Coup
Carnage Tyrant
Nicol Bolas, God-Pharaoh
Chandra, Torch of Defiance
Aethersphere Harvester
Chandra’s Defeat
Appetite for the Unnatural
Nissa, Vital Force

This list isn’t revolutionary but the core of the deck is so large now that there is limited room to maneuver, in the main deck at least. I like Chandra a lot and I was actually surprised to see PGO omit her from the main. I hope it was because they wanted to strand opposing Negates and that there isn’t a bigger picture that I’m not seeing (interestingly the control decks largely omitted Negate from their main decks).

As the Worlds list indicate, the sideboard is fair game and where you really make your edge with a deck like this. I haven’t liked the Torrential Gearhulk plan that much so I want to make room for some real mirror-breakers. I think Nicol Bolas is the best for the job but I don’t know if it’s a good idea to play more than one seven-drop.

As I mentioned earlier, The Scarab God has lost a little luster with Essence Scatters being more populous, but it is still the next best in my view. However, you need to play a Swamp which I would like to avoid. The mirror isn’t everything and your mana is pretty stretched as it is. You could put a Swamp in the board but I think Swamp and a God is worse than, for example Nissa and Confiscation Coup.

By the way, I had a great chat with my friend Mattia De Colle and he brought up a good point about Confiscation Coup: what are you actually hoping to steal in the mirror? Longtusk Cub is a great target but you usually board it out. Taking The Scarab God is obviously amazing but many aren’t even playing it. Then you’re basically left with a tapped Glorybringer which means you get a two for two (I’m assuming it killed a creature so the creature and your coup for their Glorybringer and a Harnessed Lightning which they often have since you save it for Glorybringer mostly).

I guess it helps you get Glorybringer superiority but we think the game more often comes down to Bristling Hydra superiority. I will still bring in coup for the mirror but it’s mostly for mono red.

I will board in Carnage Tyrant in the mirror but it’s really there to crush UB. Bristling Hydra is your best threat against them and the tyrant is even better. It’s basically Bontu’s Last Reckoning or game over. Nissa is also quite the boss against control, I only lost one game where it stuck and that was because I punted.

Initially I wanted to cut Appetite for the Unnatural because it just seemed unimportant but with Anointed Procession and God-Pharaoh’s Gift on the rise, it gets to stay. This is also where I hope Struggle // Survive will come in handy. These decks can seem like tough matchups and you can easily lose to their good draws. They are inherently inconsistent though as they need Anointed Procession or God-Pharaoh’s Gift respectively to do broken things.

Since you have answers to both of them, it is possible to keep them from functioning properly in which case you just need to make sure to close out the game before they can find another one. This is a prime example of why Temur is the best deck: it might only be an 8 on the power level scale but it is an 8 almost every game, whereas something like tokens regularly varies from 2 to 10.

The final point I want to discuss is flooding. My list has 22 lands, the Scarab God version goes up to 23. Then you have 4 Attune with Aether which thins your library a bit but still almost counts as a land, and 4 Servant of the Conduit. That’s almost half your deck just making mana (yes you get a bit of extra energy but still).

Variance and observation bias probably plays a role here but I’ve flooded a lot since I picked the deck up a couple of weeks ago and I can’t help but wonder if there are too many mana sources in the deck. I don’t have any conclusion so feel free to chime in but I will try shaving a servant since it pretty much always gets killed turn 2 and is a pretty bad draw late.

I hope I can find something that beats Temur consistently before the Pro Tour but I am content with it as my fallback plan. Let me know what ideas you have for both. Thanks for reading.

Does Ixalan Limited suck?

Hi guys, welcome back. It’s been a while but I wanted a chance to play with the new cards so I could actually give an informed opinion. I have only been drafting so far and done about 15 and my initial impressions are good. At first glance the set looks like it could get boring super quickly because of the tribes; just pick a tribe and take all the cards you see in that tribe.

When you think about it, that isn’t much different from a normal set where you just pick your colors and take the best card in those colors. What makes a normal set interesting are the times where the correct pick isn’t just the best card in your colors but something that synergizes with what else you have going on.

The equivalent in Ixalan is then when the correct pick is not just the best card in your tribe, but that is often going to be because there is a super powerful card in your colors that doesn’t have any tribal synergies. I haven’t gone deep enough yet to know how often these things happen but at least you have to consider both tribe and colors when making a pick which is more than the base level for a normal set. I hope there will be rare times when you get to draft a treasure deck for example and I will be looking for it (probably at the expense of tickets), but today I want to talk about what has been the best tribe for me this far; vampires.

Anoited DeaconUnassuming, I know

The key to this deck for me is Anointed Deacon; most of the vampires are 2 or less power and this is the guy that can push them through. With Bishop’s Soldier, Queen’s Commission, Paladin of the Bloodstained, and Call to the Feast, boosting power is worth double sometimes and since the lifelink makes racing difficult, your opponent will often have to start trading real cards for each of your tokens. If you ever get two deacons down together, it becomes extremely hard to lose.

Aside from the lifelinkers my favorite creatures in the deck are Skymarch Bloodletter, Legion Conquistador, both undersized creatures that benefit from getting an extra two power (or 4). You even get two good one drops in Duskborne Skymarcher and Vicious Conquistador. While they’re both uncommons, it’s unlikely that anyone else will be interested in them. Glorifier of Dusk is also good in the deck, but it doesn’t need as much help as the other guys.

Other good uncommons for the deck are Adanto Vanguard (which is also just a great aggressive card), Deathless Ancient, and Bishop of the Bloodstained if you are really deep in the tribe. Once you find that the archetype is open, there are also some great rares that you can expect will come to you if someone opened them; Sanctum Seeker and Mavren Fein, Dusk Apostle. These are straight bombs for you and pretty poor for anyone else.

That actually brings me to a side note on the format which is that the rares in this set are less ridiculous than they often are. Yes, you still have things like Regisaur Alpha and the planeswalkers which are insane, but I don’t think there is anything on the level of Glorybringer and because of the tribal theme, a lot of the good rares are only good in specific contexts, so your first pick will not be a windmill slam rare or mythic as often as you’re used to.

This to me is one of the most important signs of a good limited set; You might lose to Sanctum Seeker but at least it required your opponent to draft reasonably well and they would probably still have a deck that could win without drawing it. I actually didn’t even enjoy many of the draft decks where I had Glorybringer because I lost so many games where I didn’t draw it.

So back to vampires, how do you draft them? As I said, Anointed Deacon is the key but I don’t like first picking it. There a lot of generically good black and white cards that you can often first pick, like Contract Killing, Pious Interdiction, Vanquish the Weak, and Adanto Vanguard. Then if cards like that keep coming for the next few picks, maybe including a Deathless Ancient I will start to look for the deacon and the uncommons.

Legion ConquistadorIgnore this card at your own peril

One important thing to keep in mind is if you have passed any Legion Conquistadors. It is likely to wheel and you obviously need more than one for it to be playable. Let’s say it’s pick 6 and I have a couple of removal spells, a deacon, a Bishop’s Soldier and some good card in another color that hasn’t looked open so far. The pick is now between Queen’s Commission, Skymarch Bloodletter and Legion Conquistador.

If I have passed a Conquistador earlier I will probably take it here but if I haven’t, both of the other cards have higher priority (probably the flier first). Two Conquistador is just playable but as soon as you get more than that it becomes insane since it helps stall the ground and with a deacon to help them trade up, it will grind the opponent out quite effectively.

So you have a couple of removal spells, a deacon and a couple of vampires and now you have to choose between a Contract Killing and a Queen’s Bay Soldier (your first two drop). I am going to go out on a limb here and say you should lean towards the removal spell. The reason for that is that there is so much lifegain in this archetype that your curve matters less than it normally does in limited.

This particular example might be a stretch and it also depends if you have any lifegain so far, but keep in mind that the tools are available in this archetype to stabilize both the board and your life total. Of course, you would also like to have a board presence so your deacon has an effect the turn it comes down so if it’s a Bishop’s Soldier instead, I’d probably take it. I guess a more general way to express it is that you often don’t have to take subpar cards for curve considerations if you have a lot of good ways to gain life.

That’s about what I have learned so far. I will spend next week playing a lot of Standard so I’ll hopefully have something to report back soon. Until then, thanks for reading and good luck in the queues.

Hour of Devastation? Blue 5 mana sweeper

Last week, I told you about the BR Midrange deck I was trying to combat Ramunap Red with. Today I’ll tell you why I’m not playing the deck anymore. I know you’re thinking “if last week was wrong, why should I believe what you’re saying today?” It turns out, the deck has a good matchup against Ramunap Red which was why I chose it, but it also turns out that the red menace is quite beatable. Playing a deck that is almost entirely designed to beat one deck can be fine if that deck is a huge part of the metagame, but I played against it only once or twice per ten matches.

The other 8-9 I played against everything from Zombies (good matchup) to RG Ramp (close to unbeatable). The BR deck is great against linear creature strategies but struggles pretty much everywhere else and everywhere else is currently too big a place for me to be comfortable playing it.

In essence, it comes down to the old adage of threats being better than answers in an open metagame. Make no mistake, this is a very open metagame despite Ramunap Red dominating the Pro Tour. It’s not like right after a rotation where you don’t know what decks people will bring, it’s just that the decks you can expect to face are vastly different. I still wouldn’t want to bring a deck that gets crushed by Ramunap Red, and it’s still the deck I would expect to be most popular at an event, but there is so much else going on in Standard right now. What I want is to find the next God-Pharao’s Gift deck; a deck that has a more powerful game plan than anyone else. The reason I don’t choose the actual God-Pharaos Gift deck is that people are ready now with Scavenger Grounds and Abrades and then the deck can easily fall apart. If you’re looking for the most powerful card in Standard, there is really only one answer:

 

“Now, if only we could get to 10 mana”

 

The problem, of course, is that Ramunap Red isn’t really in the business of giving you time to cast this bad boy. But if we spend all our slots on ramp and cheap cards that buy us time, maybe we can get there. This is what the RG Ramp deck does and I am currently trying out different builds. Hour of Promise is as real a card as they come and Kozilek’s Return is in a great spot right now. My main issue with the deck is consistency; If you don’t draw Hour of Promise, 10 mana is a lot, and if you don’t draw Ulamog, you’re often just buying time to die a few turns later. Here is my current list, mostly courtesy of Gabriel Nassif’s stream:

 

Another problem which, I guess, is an extension of the first one, is that you’re quite threat light and in a way linear, so people can beat you if they want to. Lost Legacy is obviously great against you but even Transgress the Mind and Doomfall can poke a big hole in our plans. Luckily no one seems to be playing Lost Legacy at the moment. I have felt pretty good playing Ulamog decks against control because control decks in standard are so reactive that you can run rings around them by diversifying your threats post board. Game 1 they are going to have a ton of dead cards and I don’t expect they will be able to answer all our big eldrazi. Not that I would expect to face dedicated control decks in this metagame but I bring it up for completeness.

 

So how do we combat our inconsistency issues while maintaining our powerful game plan. I looked to some rares and mythics, you might not even realize are still in Standard. Here is how I planned to crush (spoiler alert) my opponents:

Creatures (11)
Greenwarden of Murasa
Jaddi Offshoot
Ulamog, the Ceaseless Hunger
Walking Ballista

Spells (24)
Censor
Crush of Tentacles
Gift of Paradise
Haze of Pollen
Hour of Promise
Nissa’s Renewal
Weirding Wood
Lands (25)
Botanical Sanctum
Forest
Island
Lumbering Falls
Shrine of the Forsaken Gods

 

“Now, if only we could get to 10 mana”

 

Before Magic Origins rotated out, Steve Rubin played a UG Crush deck at Worlds and it was sweet! It ramped and then looped Crush of Tentacles with Den Protector. We might not have Nissa’s Pilgrimage anymore but there are still plenty of good ramp options. Greenwarden of Murasa is a poor replacement for Den Protector but it will have to do. We also get a new toy with Walking Ballista which combos with Crush in two ways; you can play it for zero to surge Crush if you only have 5 mana, and when you have a lot of mana you can play a big Ballista and then use all but one counter from it and get it back into your hand. We also get repeated lifegain with Gift of Paradise and repeated clues with Weirding Wood. It can be annoying to have to ramp your mana back up again after each Crush though. The rest of the cards, like Haze of Pollen and Jaddi Offshoot try to buy us enough time to get a bunch of mana in play.

 

After a couple of leagues and some brew talk with second year(!) gold pro Simon Nielsen, a couple of things became clear: Permeating Mass is probably better than Jaddi Offshoot. Spring // Mind is better than Weirding Wood and I’m frankly embarrassed that I forgot that card existed. Kozilek’s Return might be too important to the ramp strategy to forgo. Hour of Promise is likely better than Nissa’s Renewal since without renewal we can trim basics for deserts. Even without any other delirium payoff, Traverse the Ulvenwald makes perfect sense in the deck. Simon made the next draft:

Creatures (15)
Champion of Wits
Permeating Mass
Ulamog, the Ceaseless Hunger
Walking Ballista
World Breaker

Spells (21)
Crush of Tentacles
Gift of Paradise
Hour of Promise
Kozilek’s Return
Spring // Mind
Traverse the Ulvenwald
Warping Wail
Lands (24)
Botanical Sanctum
Evolving Wilds
Forest
Hashep Oasis
Island
Lumbering Falls
Mountain
Sanctum of Ugin
Scavenger Grounds
Shrine of the Forsaken Gods
Wastes

 

 

At this point, I think we were trying to do too many things; delirium, Kozilek’s Return, Crush of Tentacles. For example, Simon didn’t think Crush was good enough and I agree that now it just looks like a ramp deck that randomly has a few copies. I think you have to focus more and I still wanted to explore blue before just conceding that RG Ramp is just a better direction. I played some more with straight UG versions but the results were still very varied. There is of course some implied inconsistency by having a deck with such a span in converted mana cost but I had more problems with drawing low impact cards in the late game, than I had with not getting off the ground. Here is how I plan to fix it without completely surrendering the early game. If this doesn’t work I’ll look elsewhere, since I’m playing the RPTQ on August 20 and I need something by then that I know works.

Creatures (11)
Champion of Wits
Greenwarden of Murasa
Ulamog, the Ceaseless Hunger
Walking Ballista

Spells (27)
Censor
Crush of Tentacles
Dissenter’s Deliverance
Gift of Paradise
Hour of Promise
Part the Waterveil
Spring // Mind
Traverse the Ulvenwald
Lands (22)
Botanical Sanctum
Forest
Hashep Oasis
Island
Sanctum of Ugin
Scavenger Grounds
Shrine of the Forsaken Gods

Sideboard (15)
Permeating Mass
Tireless Tracker
Pulse of Murasa
Negate
Summary Dismissal
Dispel

I also should mention the sideboard as another reason I wanted blue instead of red. The RG Ramp lists I’ve seen have pretty much no way to win the mirror with any consistency. I’ve seen plenty that basically only contained one Void Winnower and that is in no way guaranteed to win you the matchup. Ramp is already heavily dependent on its draws to line up and the mirror just seems like a complete die roll.

With blue we get access to a bunch of countermagic that can lock down opposing ramp decks, and they are also great against control. With UR and UW Control starting to put up some numbers that should become relevant. Actually, some of the UW lists look like appealing places to go if this doesn’t pan out. But I haven’t given up on 8/8 octopuses yet, and I hope you haven’t either. If you have any suggestions for cards I might have forgotten about or just ideas or comments on the deck, let me know in the comments.

How to beat Ramunap Red (… and zombies)

This weekend, the Pro Tour finally happened and Standard is alive again. The top 8 contained 6 Ramunap red decks, and red was the talk of the weekend.

It’s a very powerful deck with some very fast draws and at the same time a lot of staying power between Hazoret, the Fervent and Ramunap Ruins. If you think you can just play a truckload of cheap/mass removal and be safe, you have another thing coming. So is this the new caw blade? First of all, we need to look deeper than just the decks in the top 8.

This has always been overvalued, because remember the Swiss includes 6 rounds of draft. We also have to keep in mind that basically all the top pros/teams brought Bomat Courier and friends to the table and it was almost 25% of the starting metagame so you should expect to see some copies doing well.

I prefer to look at the decklists published on the coverage page sorted by standard record. That reveals the following: 1 Ramunap Red went 10-0. 2 Zombies and 1 Ramunap Red went 9-1. 1 Ramunap Red and 1 BG Constrictor went 8-1-1. At 8-2 were 6 Ramunap Red, 2 BG Constrictor, 2 Zombies, 1 Four Color Vehicles and 1 Temur Energy. Going down 7-3 there were 12 Ramunap Red, 13 Zombies and 7 BG Constrictor with a few copies of assorted other decks.

Any of these could have been in the top 8 depending on their limited records. Considering that there were more than twice as many red decks as zombies and almost three times as many red decks as constrictor, you could argue that Ramunap Red actually did worse than the other two. Additionally, there was a Standard PTQ on MTGO on Saturday with a top 8 of 3 Zombies, 2 Constrictor, 2 RG Ramp and zero(!) Ramunap Red decks. What I take from all of this is that Ramunap Red is very beatable.

It will continue to show up in the coming tournaments because a lot of people will just copy a list from the pt top 8, especially the winning one, but the decks you should really Metagame against right now are zombies and BG Constrictor. Luckily, all three decks have a comparable game plan: cheap aggressive creatures backed up by resilient, hard-hitting top end threats. First of all we need cheap removal; these decks hit the board early and hard and if you take too much damage from their cheap creatures, you will be hard pressed to keep up answers to their late game.

Second, you need a way to take over the game, once you’ve dealt with their early onslaught. You need to close the game out fast or it could slip away to their top decked Hazoret, Dark Salvation or Verdurous Gearhulk. Lastly, you need to be prepared for their sideboard plans. All of them pack extra punch and Resillience in the board, mostly in the form of Planeswalkers like Ob Nixilis Reignited, Liliana, the Last Hope and extra copies of Chandra, Torch of Defiance. Don’t just board in a bunch of extra Fatal Pushes and Sweltering Suns, lest you risk losing to one of these.

My current way to deal with these 3 decks is BR Midrange. It started just after Hour of Devastation came out, when I saw this list 5-0 a league:

BR Midrange

Creatures (9)
Glorybringer
Goblin Dark-Dwellers
Gonti, Lord of Luxury
Kalitas, Traitor of Ghet

Spells (25)
Abrade
Chandra, Torch of Defiance
Doomfall
Fatal Push
Hour of Glory
Liliana, Death’s Majesty
Liliana, the Last Hope
Live Fast
Magma Spray
Never // Return
Lands (26)
Aether Hub
Canyon Slough
Endless Sands
Evolving Wilds
Foreboding Ruins
Mountain
Smoldering Marsh
Swamp

I took it for a spin and liked a lot of it, but there were a few problems; there was too much of a gap between the early removal and the late game.

You often needed to be able to play 5-6 removal spells in the first 4 turns to have enough room for your 5 drops to take over. And then other games you needed to draw much less removal and more big threats because they had a slower start and answers to your first 2 threats. It was basically the classic non-blue control deck problem where you needed to draw the right half of your deck without any card selection.

I knew I wanted 4 Liliana for sure because it was both removal and threat at a cheap cost but other than that I wasn’t too sure. Then last week, Paul Rietzl 5-0’d a league with a similar deck that also top 8’ed the MTGO PTQ the weekend prior:

BR Midrange - 5:o Standard League by Paul Rietzl

Creatures (12)
Demon of Dark Schemes
Glint-Sleeve Siphoner
Glorybringer
Goblin Dark-Dwellers
Kalitas, Traitor of Ghet

Spells (22)
Abrade
Chandra, Torch of Defiance
Collective Brutality
Doomfall
Harnessed Lightning
Liliana, the Last Hope
Live Fast
Ruinous Path
Lands (26)
Aether Hub
Blighted Fen
Canyon Slough
Foreboding Ruins
Mountain
Smoldering Marsh
Swamp

The key for me is the 4 Glint-Sleeve Siphoner.

It might look out of place in a control deck but it helps keep the cards flowing and at two mana, it will rarely be stuck in your hand, and you can play it and a removal spell on the same turn in the midgame. It also puts the opponent in an awkward spot for sideboarding because if they board out their removal, they could just flat out lose to it but if they keep removal in for it, they lessen their chances of enacting their own game plan because of a card you might not draw.

It even presents them with a dilemma in-game when you play it turn two because they have to spend mana to kill it in which case it did the same for you as a removal spell; keeping one of their threats off the board.

Along with the 4 Lilianas you have strong proactive early plays that are good against both aggro and control meaning the losses to ‘drawing the wrong half of your deck’ become much less frequent. I was not satisfied with the removal suite though; nothing at 1 mana and 6 at 2 is just not going to cut it against Ramunap red.

I also think you need ways to deal with Hazoret in a deck like this and Doomfall won’t hit it when you don’t have enough cheap removal to keep their small stuff off the board. I want some Grasp of Darkness instead of Harnessed Lightning and some combination of Fatal Push and Magma Spray. Spray is very good in the metagame but Kalitas, Traitor of Ghet is a big part of our plan and push is much better against gb so I think 3 Fatal Push, 1 Magma Spray will be good for now.

You want more against Ramunap red and zombies but that’s what sideboards are for. I’ll give my current list before discussing further:

BR Midrange by Anders Gotfredsen

Creatures (11)
Glint-Sleeve Siphoner
Glorybringer
Goblin Dark-Dwellers
Kalitas, Traitor of Ghet

Spells (23)
Abrade
Chandra, Torch of Defiance
Doomfall
Fatal Push
Grasp of Darkness
Liliana, the Last Hope
Live Fast
Magma Spray
Ruinous Path
Lands (26)
Aether Hub
Canyon Slough
Evolving Wilds
Foreboding Ruins
Mountain
Smoldering Marsh
Swamp

Sideboard (15)
Chandra’s Defeat
Magma Spray
Never // Return
Ob Nixilis Reignited
Lost Legacy
Dispossess
Transgress the Mind
Dreamstealer
Sweltering Suns
Chandra, Flamecaller

Against the current “big 3”, the plan is pretty straightforward; keep the board clear for the first few turns, stick a planeswalker or Kalitas and snowball the advantage from them.

If you have Liliana for turn 3, let one or two of their one toughness creatures live. If you have Kalitas, try to conserve your removal until he hits the board. It’s not easy knowing when you should play him turn 4 and when you should wait until you can leave up a removal spell the same turn.

Some of the red decks play Collective Defiance but people almost always copy the winning list (especially when it’s someone as well known as PV) so I would default to running it out turn 4 for now. Zombies have both Grasp of Darkness and Dark Salvation so here I would lean towards having removal the same turn as I play Kalitas.

Of course some games you see their hand with turn 3 Doomfall and the choice will be easy.

Doomfall is an interesting card for standard. I didn’t even consider it for constructed when I first saw it but it has the same kind of flexibility that makes Supreme Will good; it has an “answer” mode and a mode for when you don’t need to deal with something they have played.

The big difference of course is that Doomfall is a sorcery, and sorcery hurts a modal card much more than a one dimensional card. Specifically, exiling Hazoret after it has attacked you once is unpleasant. Unfortunately, discard spells tend to be sorcery so we’ll have to make do. It is bad against Ramunap Red and servicable against Zombies and good against Constrictor but I think you need it main to not auto lose game 1 to decks like ramp and control.

Just having a few makes a big difference when you’re playing Goblin Dark-Dwellers, and as long as it’s not completely dead in any matchup, I think you can get away with it.

The thing I’m most uncertain of is the mix of 5-drops. Goblin Dark-Dwellers is both a good card and a personal favourite of mine, which I fear makes me a bit biased.

The problem is that a lot of the time your first opportunity to play is on an empty board and it happens that you don’t have Live Fast in the yard and either no Doomfall or the opponent has no cards in hand. Glorybringer is often fine to jam on an empty board, though it is true that removal can answer it cleanly compared to the goblins.

There are also situations where the opponent has 2 or more creatures and you can’t really afford to exert it to kill one of them leaving you tapped out and defenseless, where goblins can both kill a creature and stay back to block.

What Glorybringer excels at, which I initially underrated, is end games, and while the goblins are also hard to block, 4 flying haste power is a big deal. Hopefully further testing will give me a clearer indication of which way to lean (if any).

I think we should have the aggressive decks covered by now so let me finish with the two other decks I would expect to face: UR(x) control and RG Ramp. Both are going to be very tough game 1 (maybe you should even move the Doomfalls out of the main and just concede game 1 to be even more sure to crush aggro.

But you still have a shot against control since they have a lot of useless removal, so maybe they are fine). Against control, hope to draw as little removal as possible outside of the stuff that kills Torrential Gearhulk; it is possible to just run them out of wincons. You have value creatures, discard and planeswalkers so you can come out on top if you pace your spells properly. Try to hold on to your discard until you can play it and a threat the same turn to overwhelm their mana.

Post board we get even more discard and a new favorite of mine; Dreamstealer. This is a nightmare for them. They have to spend a removal spell on it the first time around and when it comes back they can’t even block it with gearhulk so it’s a guaranteed two for one and if they don’t kill either half, they pretty much just lose on the spot. I haven’t played against ramp yet but it looks rough.

You only have 3 Doomfall that really do anything game 1 and unless you can snipe their only Hour of Promise, it don’t know how you win game 1. You get to bring in more discard along with a Lost Legacy, but it’s probably not enough to make it a good matchup overall. Ramp might pick up in popularity now and I will consider adding another Lost Legacy to the board in that case.

I really like this deck as it has a lot of play to it and a lot of room for innovation to the list. I just saw someone has 5-0’d a league with 4 Gifted Aetherborn instead of the siphoners. If I keep facing all aggro decks, that is a change very much worth considering. Give it a try if you like grinding, and let me know any ideas you have for the deck.

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