Why Standard is not (that) bad at all.
Editorial Note: 13. June 2017. Aetherworks Marvel is out.
Hi folks. My name is Anders and I’m here to talk about standard, and before you close this tab let me tell you that it is not as messed up as the internet mob will have you believe. Let’s take a look at what people say is wrong with standard:
1: Turn 4 Ulamog, the Ceaseless Hunger is unbeatable. This is true, but there are two things to consider; it doesn’t happen that often but it is of course not a good thing for magic when it does; and there are ways to stop it from happening, mainly censor and negate. I have played Marvel since the Pro Tour and it is very rare in the mirror to face a 10/10 library eater on turn 4. And the games without turn 4 Ulamog are great games of magic. It is very similar to the copycat mirror but I think actually more fun because turn 3 Saheeli on the play was much harder to stop and put the opponent in a terrible spot. Now you at least have Censor which does great work in slowing things down and letting both players play magic.
2: Marvel decks are pushing everything else out of the format. That’s just not true. There were 3 GP’s last weekend and 8 of the 24 top 8 decks were Marvel with only one in each non-american GP. The top 8’s featured several different archetypes beyond Marvel with UW flash winning Manila and GB constrictor winning Amsterdam against UR control in the finals.
3: Playing Aetherworks Marvel is a lottery, takes the skill out of playing. In the case of turn 4 Ulamog, yes very little skill is involved, but plenty of decks have nut draws where the deck basically plays itself. Turn 2 Constrictor, turn 3 Rishkar isn’t that hard of a line to see and that has won plenty of games. As soon as we leave nutdraw territory though, Marvel is quite intricate to play, especially the mirror and UR. I played it in Grand Prix Amsterdam myself and lost at least two rounds because I missed a tricky line of play. Stuff like when to leave up and play around Censor, how to manage your energy reserve, and even when to hardcast Ulamog can be difficult. Against UR control for example you should not play Ulamog into a counterspell unless they have 2 threats in play to remove. Against RG Energy aggro I won a game because I Harnessed Lightninged their turn 2 Longtusk Cub and spent 0 energy. I’m not saying these are top pro plays but they are not exactly intuitive either.
This standard format is all fine
Now, I am not going to tell you that I don’t think Marvel is the best deck but you can easily choose another archetype and be successful. Since I don’t think Marvel will be banned it makes sense to talk about the deck to help you learn how to play it. First, let’s find a list to play and I don’t see a better starting point than Brad Nelson’s winning list from Grand Prix Omaha:
Temur Aetherworks by Brad Nelson
What a masterpiece! I love how streamlined the maindeck is for maximizing Marvel. Most other people were fiddling around with Whirler Virtuosos, Gearhulks, maindeck Tireless Tracker and such. I even shaved a Woodweaver’s Puzzleknot. Paul Dean and Brad Nelson realized that game one is about Marvel -> Ulamog against basically everything but UR control. After sideboard, most everyone will have ways to deal with Marvel so they just went straight for hardcasting Ulamog with a third Shrine of the Forsaken Gods and Ulvenwald Hydra. Getting a guaranteed 2 mana towards Ulamog along with the biggest creature on the battlefield is great in the mirror and not getting hit by Negate is great against the way most blue decks are set up against Marvel.
It also seems great against Spell Queller decks. I played a single Oblivion Sower in the main to help hardcast Ulamog and I’m not sure which I like better. Hydra is better if you can count on it resolving, but I like Sower better against UR and if more people play Disallow in the mirror (I had one in the board and a few of my mirror opponents did as well). My choice for next week would be a split with Hydra main and Sower in the board. I would assume that most Marvel lists will contain Hydra for the next few weeks so would like 2 Disallows after board.
I’m not that high on Confiscation Coup and I’m not sure about Dispel vs. Negate. Dispel is almost only for forcing through your own stuff and countering things like Chandra, Torch of Defiance in the mirror can be paramount. I’d go for just one Dispel for now. Tireless Tracker is in a weird spot right now. It’s obviously a great value machine to have in play but Censor means it’s not a guaranteed two for one on turn four and if your opponent untaps and plays Marvel you can be in big trouble. It’s still great against UR, and also on the play against stuff like UW since you can run it out on turn 3 and they have almost no way of removing it.
The last contentious spots for me are Dissenter’s Deliverance, Radiant Flames and Chandra, Flamecaller. We have seen Manglehorn and Sweltering Sun’s take their place in other lists but I like Brad and Paul’s choices more. Deliverance can be played main unlike Manglehorn, freeing up sideboard space without subtracting too much from your game 1 plan. I had cut Deliverance because I wanted to deal with Marvel on the stack but Deliverance is a great card against Vehicles and they did well enough last weekend to expect it for the foreseeable future.
Sweltering Sun’s could also be in the main (although cycling 3 is obviously harder to find time for) and it can be hit off Marvel. On the other hand, with all these Shrine of the Forsaken Gods (and I would like another Island for Disallow) double red is not trivial, and if you need a sweeper, you most likely need it early. More importantly, Zombies have taken massive beatings since the Pro Tour and they are pretty much the reason for running 3 mana sweepers so there’s actually an argument for cutting them. Big Chandra also loses a lot of luster with the decline of zombies. I’ve talked to several players who cited the 0 ability as a great way to turn dead Ulamogs into real cards but hardcasting Ulamog is becoming a larger and larger part of the game plan and in the mirror you often can’t afford to discard copies of him. She is still a powerful card and good at pressuring planeswalkers so I’m looking to play one for now. Here is the list I would play if I was playing this weekend:
Temur Aetherworks by Anders Gotfredsen
Whirler Virtuoso has made it back into the deck, this time in the board. I have replaced Radiant Flames with it because it has more utility against Vehicles and GB, both of which appear to be on the rise. They are joined by Baral’s Expertise which is the best card I could think of against GB and maybe there should be another one somewhere. Their creatures can get out of range of your sweepers pretty easily and Expertise doesn’t care how many counters are on them. Virtuoso also doesn’t care and both are great at buying time which is what the matchup is about to me.
Lastly, I’m playing Shielded Aether-Thief instead of Aether Meltdown. The only situation where Meltdown seems better is against flyers, notably Heart of Kiran, but we are already playing 3 Dissenter’s Deliverance and Aether-Thief has much higher upside. It is a lot better when you also have 3 damage sweepers but I still prefer it to the enchantment.
Today’s article has two main takeaways.
1: Standard isn’t all bad.
It has some bad aspects, but so do all other formats. There is diversity and a lot of great gameplay so no need to ban anything.
2: Be careful assuming that a metagame is solved.
Brad Nelson has done well in established metagames many times before by adding subtle twists to existing tier 1 decks. Maybe your Naya Planeswalker brew doesn’t have what it takes to compete but taking a successful deck and tweaking it to beat the metagame you’re expecting is a recipe for success. If you have a good reason for thinking a certain card of combination of cards are good in a popular matchup, don’t be afraid to pull the trigger just because no one else has done it yet.
Next week is GP’s Vegas which is sure to be completely awesome, wish me luck and good luck to everyone else going. I love to discuss magic so please comment with your opinions on any of the stuff I have talked about.