The First Bits of Standard

Posted in Feature on November 22, 2006

By Frank Karsten

Last week the first Constructed Premier Event started again, after their short break during the Time Spiral release events. Naturally, today I will cover these first online Standard tournaments. Curious how the online players are abusing the new Time Spiral cards? Here is the metagame chart, based on 10 premier events (#850892 – #852721). You can click on a deck name to go to the corresponding post in my deck-o-pedia forum thread, where you can find a decklist and short explanation of each deck archetype.

Deck NamePopularity
1. Izzetron■■■■■ ■■■■■ ■■■■■ ■■ (17%)
2. Boros Deck Wins■■■■■ ■■■■■ ■■ (12%)
3. Dragonstorm■■■■■ ■■■■■ ■ (11%)
4. Solar Flare■■■■■ ■■■ (8%)
5. Vore■■■■■ ■■■ (8%)
6. U/R/W Angel variants■■■■■ ■■ (7%)
7. U/W CounterMesa■■■■■ (5%)
8. U/R Snow■■■■■ (5%)
9. Scryb & Force■■■■ (4%)
10. Zoo■■■ (3%)
11. Martyr Proclamation■■■ (3%)
12. Soggy Pickles■■■ (3%)
13. Solar Pox■■ (2%)
14. U/R/B Reanimator■■ (2%)
15. Battle of Wits■■ (2%)
16. Satanic Sligh■ (1%)
17. GhaziGlare■ (1%)
18. Goblins■ (1%)
19. G/W/B Control■ (1%)
20. Snake Blink■ (1%)

Interestingly, the online metagame is vastly different from the State Championships metagame. Where GhaziGlare and Solar Pox dominated the Champs weekend, I dare to say that Steam Vents was the defining card of the online metagame. Izzetron was the most popular and best performing deck, with Dragonstorm, Vore, U/R/W Angel variants, and U/R Snow not close behind. So today I will start with a journey through the many flavors of Steam Vents decks.

Izzetron

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If you had been following the Standard format lately, this deck should be familiar. Izzetron survived the rotation quite well. The post-Time Spiral version still includes all the familiar elements; it retains the game plan of the Izzetron deck of the old Standard. You start off with a Mana Leak or Remand to stall your opponent. Then you play Electrolyze and Repeal to defend yourself against fast creature onslaughts, while at the same time you are digging deeper in your deck. Compulsive Research and Tidings draw more cards, until you have found one of each Urza land, completing the so-called “Tron.” With that much mana in place, you can end the game with a huge Demonfire, or one of the expensive fatties. Back in the days, Keiga, the Tide Star held that fatty slot. But since Time Spiral has kicked out Kamigawa Block, Bogardan Hellkite and Draining Whelk have taken over. And this is an understandable choice: these creatures are clear game-winners and the large amount of colorless mana in their mana costs works well with the Urza lands. Furthermore, they should also survive Wildfire, which is a big plus.

There are a couple possible variations on the Urzatron theme. Some decks play Triskelavus along with Academy Ruins for obvious combos, whereas other versions include Think Twice for more card draw, or Spell Burst for a late-game lockdown. No matter how you build it, Izzetron is just a fine all-round choice. But I have to admit I was quite surprised to see that Izzetron took the #1 spot last week, because it didn't change significantly from the version of last Standard, and it was hardly popular back then. My best guess is that many players opted for a solid, proven deck that is just decent all-round, instead of fooling around with cute new archetypes. Or maybe they anticipated a metagame similar to Champs, full of GhaziGlare and Solar Pox, and chose Izzetron because it stands a fair chance against those decks.

Dragonstorm

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The idea behind this deck is to play Dragonstorm with a storm count of at least three and search 4 Bogardan Hellkite out of your deck, dealing 20 damage to your opponent right away. In case you have drawn a Bogardan Hellkite, you can still search one of the two Hunted Dragons out of your deck as a backup. Since the deck is focused around generating a high storm count for a 9 mana spell, it has to play some mana producers. Rite of Flame, Seething Song, and Lotus Bloom are cornerpieces in this strategy.

Dragonstorm
To ensure a consistent combo, the deck holds Telling Time, Sleight of Hand, Compulsive Research and Remand, which allow you to dig for Dragonstorm or Seething Song, whatever you need to pull off the huge stormy turn. Telling Time and Sleight of Hand are particularly good in this deck, because they allow you to put any dragons you see on the bottom of your deck instead of in your hand; right where you want them to be. The game plan against control decks with countermagic is Gigadrowse. Usually, you first sit there charging up your Dreadship Reef for a couple turns. When the time is right, you unload it and tap down all your opponent's lands at the end of his turn with Gigadrowse; then you go off on your own turn.

There are some variations on the Dragonstorm theme. Some decks play 12 Urza lands, which allows them to easily hardcast any Bogardan Hellkites they might draw, as well as offering a potential transformational sideboard plan. That involves taking out the Dragonstorms and Lotus Blooms, and putting in typical Izzetron control elements, such as Demonfire. This can be a valid strategy if you're scared of Trickbind, Shadow of Doubt, and whatnot in games 2 and 3. The concept of switching “decks” is pretty cool, but switching from Dragonstorm to Izzetron isn't the only option. How about switching from Dragonstorm to Vore after sideboard? lchu2003 posted a Top 8 with this strategy. He had a regular Dragonstorm deck with a couple random Wildfires maindeck, and after sideboard he could suddenly play Cryoclasm, Stone Rain and Magnivore. Shadow of Doubt, Trickbind, and other sideboard hate are the Achilles heel of the Dragonstorm strategy, so switching to a Magnivore plan that is largely unaffected by such cards is quite a nice find. You can definitely get quite funky with Dragonstorm decks!

Vore

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Cryoclasm
Ah, good old Magnivore. As long as you can still get the god draw of turn-two Boomerang, turn-three Stone Rain, people will keep on playing you. There haven't been many changes to the Vore deck that was reasonably popular in the last Standard season. The plan is still to use sorcery land destruction and Wildfire to keep the opponent low on lands, thereby keeping him from casting any spells. Eventually a Magnivore the size of a Polar Kraken – the deck plays that many sorceries – comes down to end it all.

Cryoclasm has found its way into many maindecks, because about 98% of the decks in Standard either play Plains or Islands. I would have loved to show a decklist that included Avalanche Riders instead of Spell Snare, and Ancestral Visions over Tidings, since quite a few online players made those switches and I love versions that respect the new cards. But many players are trying to keep their decks secret for the upcoming World Championships and don't want to share lists, and I have to work with what I'm given.

If this deck wins the die roll and gets a turn-three land destruction card, it should win most of the time. But even if that perfect draw doesn't show up, Magnivore can play a good game and the high amount of card drawing will make sure the land destruction will keep on flowing. Vore has a good matchup against basically any control decks with fragile mana bases and expensive win conditions. It fares less well when paired against a turn-one Kird Ape or Savannah Lions, but it can still put up a good fight, especially after sideboard when the anti-aggro suite (Repeal, Volcanic Hammer, etcetera) comes in.

URW Angel

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You can actually build this deck in a bazillion possible ways. You could go for a “This Girl” aggro variant featuring Serra Avenger and 4 Demonfire, or a “Firemane control” variant featuring Firemane Angel, lots of countermagic and card draw, or even a “Resurrection control” variant such as the above one. I considered tallying these versions as separate deck types at first. But when I found that some players had come up with crossover versions (for instance, including Firemane Angel and Resurrection), I figured classifying them separately was doomed to fail, so eventually I just lumped all U/W/R variants together as one archetype in my metagame table. They have at least one thing in common: all U/W/R decks play Angels, whether it is Lightning Angel, Firemane Angel, or Akroma, Angel of Wrath. Furthermore, pretty much all U/R/W decks play Wrath of God, Compulsive Research, Lightning Helix, and Signets. Those are the best cards available in these colors. After that, the decks tend to differ. You have so many good other cards that everyone dives into another direction, and I think we will have to wait until the World Championships to see which direction is the best.

U/R Snow

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This is a “draw-go” style deck. The plan is to just play a land every turn and pass. You almost never play a spell in your own turn in order to keep mana open during your opponent's turn. If your opponent plays something threatening, you use your open mana to counter it. The deck includes 14 counterspells, so you should usually hold one. If you happen to have mana open at the end of your opponent's turn, you activate Scrying Sheets, hoping to look at a snow land, or play/flashback Think Twice. Eventually you have countered everything your opponent has played, and overwhelm him with card advantage. Well, that's the plan at least. In case a creature has slipped under your countermagic, you can either Repeal it, or use the red splash; Skred will gladly clean up the table. Your lands were all snow for Scrying Sheets already, so Skred fits right in. Skred also doubles as a kill card in combination with Stuffy Doll. In fact, the main way the deck kills is not by Teferi, Mage of Zhalfir beatdown. Nope, playing double Skred on your own Stuffy Doll when you have ten lands out is an even easier win. Why pay eleven mana for a Demonfire when Skred does the same for only one red? Stuffy Doll is nice as it functions as a big wall that doesn't encourage attacks, plus it lives through Wrath of God.

And Now Some Extra Cool Decks…

We have concluded our journey through the Steam Vents. Hope it was hot and inspiring. Now I want to touch upon two really cool decks that abuse Time Spiral cards in an innovative way that you might not have seen before.

Soggy Pickles

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The aim of this deck is to deprive your opponent of untap steps. How do you accomplish that? You first have to get a face-up Brine Elemental and a face-down Vesuvan Shapeshifter in play. You turn Vesuvan Shapeshifter face up and copy the Brine Elemental that is in play. This triggers the “each opponent skips his or her next untap step” effect, shutting down your opponent for a turn. In your upkeep, you opt to put Vesuvan Shapeshifter / Brine Elemental face-down, then you pay its morph cost to flip it over again and copy Brine Elemental. This triggers the untap step deprivation effect once more, and then you can keep on going. The end result: a one-sided Stasis.

In case you don't have Brine Elemental yet, Vesuvan Shapeshifter plus Fathom Seer is a nice combo that can keep you occupied as well. Gigadrowse is like a Vindicate with replicate once you have the lockdown going. Momentary Blink is in the deck to speed up the combo a bit. The lockdown combo needs a face-up Brine Elemental on the board to work, and flipping it face up for is easier than paying the steep unmorph cost.

Gavin Verhey (Rabon) made it to the top 8 of two Premier Events last week with this deck, and he said the following:

“I am 16 years old and live in Washington state. The Brine Elemental deck was first created by the one and only Brian David-Marshall. He made it on a whim, kind of as something to throw around, and he and Mike Flores just started winning every match with it. He talked about it on his podcasts at www.Top8magic.com, and being intrigued, I sent him a e-mail asking for the decklist. He sent it back and I started working on it.

“After trying it out in real life with proxies and finding it to be fantastic, I built it on Magic Online, making a few changes to the original list, the largest probably being Court Hussar over Compulsive Research, and I won two 8 man Standard queues straight. I refined the deck and played it in these Premier Events to outstanding results, as well as winning several more 8 man queues.

“While many people like to call it names like ‘The Morph Deck' or ‘The best draft deck ever,' the deck is actually named Pickles. That was the original deck name that Brian gave it because of the connotation between Brine and Pickles. However, the deck is mana hungry, so I added Azorius Signets. That's why the decks new name is Soggy Pickles. Many people call Signets ‘siggys,' and I changed the ‘i' to an ‘o.'

The decks matchups are great all around. Through testing I found Izzetron to be a big problem for the deck, so I added the sideboard package of Teferi, Mage of Zhalfir with Cancel and the fourth Gigadrowse. Some people may scoff at Temporal Isolation, but Brian told me that it was better than Condemn. I am certainly inclined to agree after playing with it. Not only does it work on defense, but it takes creatures down out of combat, and also works on offense. Also, when Dragonstorm goes off, you can Temporal Isolation one of their dragons in response to its trigger and prevent the damage while nullifying the dragon.”

Goblins

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This deck is as rogue as it gets. It has a lot of synergy and many possible game plans. On the one hand, you could aim for a huge turn with Seething Song, Rite of Flame, perhaps unsuspending Greater Gargadon or Rift Bolt, maybe throwing a Mogg Sentry in between, whatever, as long as it ends with a big Empty the Warrens. If you think just making about twelve 1/1s is not good enough, then throw in Goblin King to beef them up or Pandemonium to shoot 12 points of damage. Greater Gargadon comes in play pretty quickly if you work through the three Goblins by Mogg War Marshal, which in turn has synergy with Goblin King. Yes, this deck definitely has a lot of nice interactions, that's for sure.

Ib Halfheart, Goblin Tactician
If you like a crazy rogue strategy that tries to do something different from all the other Standard strategies, the Goblin or Pickles decks might be the deck for you, even though I don't think they are Tier 1. Nevertheless, I really like how the large card pool full of good cards can spawn cool decks such as Pickles and this Goblin deck, as well as around 50 viable other decks. Whereas this format depth is good for variation and deck innovation, it makes a deck recommendation very hard. Many people have asked me already for my opinion on what the best deck is, but I honestly wouldn't know! There are about 20-30 decks vying for the “best deck” award, and pretty much all of them seem equally good to me right now. The array of viable decks is so vast that some of them haven't even managed to surface online yet. For example, I didn't even see red-green decks or W/B(/R) Phyrexian Arena decks in the Premier Event Top 8s, while these are just as good as any other deck. If the metagame stays full of blue-red control decks, then a blazing fast deck such as Boros Deck Wins or Zoo should cruise well. But I doubt the metagame will remain that stable. Especially in the first weeks of a new format, the metagame is in constant flux, the decks change every day, and everyone is trying out new tweaks. It's hard to prepare well for such a mess and there is no consensus “best” strategy/strategies yet. There are so many good cards in the format and so many good mana fixers that pretty much everything appears to be feasible. The best I can advise you is to find an archetype strategy that you like, whether it is control, combo, aggro, or somewhere in between, and then tweak it, play it a lot, and beat opponents because you know your deck inside out. That experience should give you more of an edge than a never-ending struggle to find the “best” deck. I'm definitely looking forward to the upcoming year of Standard, which will surely be full of great decks, metagame swings, and innovation.

New Chat Symbols

Wotc_Elf has added new chat symbols in the update a few weeks ago. Here's a list of what they are:

Ctrl+Q, Shift+1 = Orzhov hybrid mana
Ctrl+Q, Shift+2 = Boros hybrid mana
Ctrl+Q, Shift+3 = Izzet hybrid mana
Ctrl+Q, Shift+4 = Dimir hybrid mana
Ctrl+Q, Shift+5 = Golgari hybrid mana
Ctrl+Q, Shift+6 = Selesnya hybrid mana
Ctrl+Q, Shift+7 = Simic hybrid mana
Ctrl+Q, Shift+8 = Azorius hybrid mana
Ctrl+Q, Shift+9 = Gruul hybrid mana
Ctrl+Q, Shift+0 = Rakdos hybrid mana
Ctrl+Q, Shift+I = Adept Eye
Ctrl+Q, Shift+L = Lizard
Ctrl+Q, H = Wizard hat
Ctrl+Q, J = Mute symbol

To do the first dozen, you hold Ctrl and hit Q, releasing both as normal. Then, you hold Shift as you press the next key. The hat and mute symbol don't require Shift.

Thanksgiving Events

There will be a 4x Open Event each day from November 23-26. You can see the fact sheet for these events here. In addition, all 8-man Draft queues will be “Nix Tix” from Wednesday, November 22 at 9AM PST through Monday, November 27 at 9AM PST.

Conclusion

Alright, that's it for today. Thanks for reading, I hope you enjoyed it. You can definitely expect to see many more cool new Constructed decks in the upcoming weeks that explore cool Time Spiral cards. And if you have a good new deck idea, be sure to post it in the forums or to send it to me!

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