Posted in NEWS on January 29, 2014

Ok, ok, so you know the basic shape of the Standard format. Your deck is prepared for everything. You've won a PTQ before, this stuff is easy, right? Not so fast, Kemosabe. When you go to a Grand Prix, you're not just going to run into Cheetos-munching local players; you've got to face the big names too. Nine of the Top 25 ranked players are in attendance, and many more who certainly could be or have been, in that Top 25. Just because you've got your local metagame figured out, doesn't mean you've figured out the big-name metagame. What about the people who know this format inside and out? What are they bringing? I walked around and watched cardboard be slung across the tables, taking a gander at what the faces of Magic were packing.

Unsurprisingly, a majority of the big guns are packing Mono-Blue Devotion or Mono-Black devotion. Paul Rietzl summed it up well. He was testing some other interesting and powerful builds, but they weren't quite enough. "I didn't want to bring a deck and play B+ Magic all weekend." Rietzl continued that this format really rewards feeling comfortable with a deck. He said, "there isn't really a 'best deck'. Mono-Black is really good, but it's very beatable." Rietzl continued that overall, that's a good thing. When the format isn't "solvable" it allows you to play the deck you like the best, and importantly, the deck you know how to play the best.


Paul Rietzl 

Rietzl clearly spoke for a fair amount of pro players like Eric Froehlich, Christian Calcano, Owen Turtenwald, Shahar Shenhar, and Matt Sperling who were all on the tried-and-true plan of either Mono-Blue Devotion or Mono-Black Devotion. Why mess with a great-tasting recipe? However, some other players were a mite more exotic. For example, though Brian Kibler eschewed the "true" part, though he went with the "tried" side. He's playing a tweaked version of his Black-Green Midrange deck he's been tinkering with during this format. He's knows the deck well and he knows it can succeed, and now he's looking to prove that before Born of the Gods shakes up the format.

Even a little less predictable, though it's a stereotype that pros don't play aggro decks, Conley Woods, Pascal Maynard and two-time Grand Prix winner Ben Seck are slinging Mountains this weekend. Though they are playing those lands in completely different ways, they are all hoping to burn the crap out of their opponents before they knew what hit them. One of the above pros, I won't say who yet, has gone so far as to play Foundry Street Denizen and Seismic Stomp. Yes, that Seismic Stomp. As he told me, "when you're on a plan, you're on a plan." He was undefeated so far when I talked to him. Seems like a fine plan so far.

William Jensen, who has two Top 8s to his name in the Standard format (of his 12 total), like Rietzl, is sticking to his guns as well. The Azorius Control deck that took him to the finals of Grand Prix Dallas Fort Worth is still a very solid deck. As he knows that puppy backwards and forwards, he's hoping it might vault him back into the Top 8 like it did less than two months ago. Alexander Hayne is playing a similarly situated control deck, but the Esper version, using the discard and removal suite black offers, albeit with a tad less mana consistency.


Pascal Maynard 

And then there's David Ochoa and Josh Utter-Leyton. They are both playing a deck that Utter-Leyton built, and boy does it seem fun, and really dangerous. Utter-Leyton had a text feature match in the fourth round where he decimated his opponent with his Blue-White splash Red Control deck. The red is mostly there for Counterflux and Assemble the Legion, powerhouses in their proper matchups. Both Ochoa and Utter-Leyton have been successful with the deck thus far, so watch out for it the rest of this weekend. If it keeps performing the way it has been, it might see Sunday night play, even though there are only two pilots out of 1040 players (although the two pilots have 12 Grand Prix Top 8s between them).

Although Rietzl's words are instructive and correct, they might not be all that helpful when trying to figure out what a given top player is doing. Since there are so many playable decks in the format, "tried-but-true" can mean five different things for five different pros. Jensen, Turtenwald, and Kibler are playing decks you could have guessed without knowing, but outside of them, there are at least eight viable builds among about 16 players. Even as this format edges closer to the Born of the Gods release, there is no "right deck;" the format has not been "figured out;" and there is still a bevy of viable decks. So even the pros who value consistency sometimes to a fault, concede that you should play what you want – as long as you can play it right. Good advice, but it's that second part where so much of us have the trouble.