2009 Standard Roundup

Posted in Top Decks on December 17, 2009

By Mike Flores

This is the part where I usually post the breakdown of all the States (or Regionals, or the PTQs of the week) with different icons, blue and white boxes ... stuff like that. But in this case, it would be either too boring or just plain depressing. (Two large tournaments held elsewhere recently tell a slightly different story ... but we'll get to that.)

What you would have seen (had I gone through with posting the tallies that I took the time to count up, and am now shielding you from) is a line of Jund decks so long that it would not have been easily containable on a single line of digital space ... Something like 73 Jund Top 8 appearances with a dozen first-place showings ... and that is just reading 24 of 50 possible U.S. tournaments!

So to make a long story short, Jund is still the deck to beat, and more populous than the next five Top 8 appearing archetypes combined (those decks being Boros Bushwhacker, Naya Lightsaber, Bant, Red Deck Wins, and Vampires). And that count didn't even take into account the Sedraxis Specter Jund variations.

Tom Visconti's Sedraxis Specter Jund

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A question that you might not be asking yourself yet, but that will make a lot of sense when you start to think about it, is how the Jund v. Jund match-up goes.

There has been some talk about cutting Putrid Leech, playing Rampant Growth or even Borderland Ranger in its stead, and lifting the curve to accommodate Siege-Gang Commander.

Basically, Putrid Leech, while it is among the best two drops in the format—and the kind of two-drop that makes life really depressing for many a three-drop, let alone a fellow two-drop in the current format—mostly runs into other Putrid Leeches in the Jund mirror; hence, many top players removed them for cards that generate a greater positional advantage.

My personal opinion is that Blightning is the strongest single card in the Standard format, and it really seems to be a factor in the Jund v. Jund fights. Blightning, "merely" a very good two-for-one, serves a powerful function heads up. Typically a third-turn Blightning will take out one land and one spell. The Jund deck is relatively top heavy, so the spell will often be something along the lines of a Broodmate Dragon, and the land a card that facilitates the (eventual) casting of the aforementioned Broodmate Dragon (or similarly spectacularly steeply costed threat).

What ends up happening when one player hits the other with multiple Blightnings (which is what a successful mirror outing often comes down to) is that the player on the receiving end of the Blightning beating ends up wasting like seven mana over the course of the game. He or she sits there with three or four (or sometimes more) mana available, but not enough to play that last expensive card in hand (which itself may be the victim of a future Blightning). So a land that is discarded relatively early becomes the harbinger of highly inefficient mana usage sometime in the future.

Or in some games, players will have the Terminate, have the Maelstrom Pulse, have Bloodbraid Elves turning over Blightnings and Terminates and Maelstrom Pulses, and one or both will be playing off the top. This is where a deck like Sean McKeown's second place version from New York looks good.

Sean McKeown's Slightly Modified Jund

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Sean went through a pair of decorated local Pros on his way to the Finals—Adam Levitt and former New York State Champion Jim Davis, both with Jund—before Tom Visconti's Sedraxis Specter deck took him out in the Finals.

Sean templated between two and four cards depending on how you want to think about it, but they were highly effective in the mirror. One card was that main-deck Mind Rot. It gave him a fifth Blightning, and a fifth potential Blightning to flip off the Bloodbraid Elf in the mirror. He also played an extra land (see above) ... which he could play straight to the battlefield in the position that he was coming off the top (rather than having a relatively expensive card lost to an opposing Blightning). And he played two copies of Master of the Wild Hunt in the main. This is a card that might not immediately seem gangbusters in the mirror, but is pretty effective. It is faster than Siege-Gang Commander heads up, and is a relevant defensive measure against every threat in the opposing Jund deck's starting 60. It sticks around, can show up off a Bituminous Blast, and in lucky cases, can act as a source of recurring card advantage.

Tom's Sedraxis Specter deck proved an effective foil to traditional (or even slightly modified) Jund decks. Sean's mana did not come out in his match against Tom, and Tom capitalized mercilessly. The defining element is of course that four-pack of Sedraxis Specters, and they twist his configuration quite a bit afield of the expected Jund deck.

For one thing, he has four copies of Ancient Ziggurat to help cast the Specter, which are also access to Noble Hierarch on turn one (which itself can help cast Sedraxis Specter, on the second turn). The presence of Ancient Ziggurat helped to prompt the removal of staple Bituminous Blast, putting Tom in the Siege-Gang Commander camp.

But why Sedraxis Specter? If you think about it, this card is just the creature version of Blightning. Most opponents—best-case scenario—are going to deal with the Specter as if it were a Blightning. They use one removal spell for it, then it comes back, hits for 3, and takes a card out of your hand. Two cards, 3 life ... Blightning with wings.

Watching Tom against Sean was one of the rare cases that the Jund games didn't come off the top. Tom was able to set up enough of an advantage, especially against the mana tight McKeown. If you are cool with giving up Bituminous Blast (but still want to play close to the beloved Blightning), a deck like this one might be worth a look.

So how about the rest of the rooms?

Here is a deck with as many game plans as it has cards:

Jacob Messick's Esper Hybrid

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You can almost force a full card run-down here.

There is a full eight-pack of artifact creatures that cycle for one mana—Architects of Will and Glassdust Hulk—to smooth out draws and ensure action from turn one. These cards of course have tremendous potential synergy with Open the Vaults! You can cycle Cycle CYCLE into an Open the Vaults, simultaneously helping to get yourself to six mana and fueling your Open with a fair number of bodies. Of these, Glassdust Hulk is actually a real threat; what happens if you have a Glassdust Hulk on the battlefield already when you run out an Open the Vaults? It might accidentally kill the opponent on the spot! (It's not like blocking is an option.)

One of the cards that made a lot of rain at the World Championships was Great Sable Stag ... Jacob played a two-mana creature with protection from Bloodbraid Elf, Terminate, and Lightning Bolt (and Morphling knows what else) in the form of Vedalken Outlander (did we mention Sprouting Thrinax?).

But the cool part of the deck is the Akroma, Angel of Wrath–like Sphinx of the Steel Wind. Jacob could either draw up (and discard) this Sphinx in anticipation of an Open the Vaults, or curve into it via a fifth-turn Sphinx of Lost Truths (with the unkicked smaller Sphinx setting up Open the Vaults for the bigger one). Any creatures this expensive should be able to hold down a game, and this one is almost untouchable by Jund decks. Maelstrom Pulse is green. Terminate is red. Et cetera.

The lifelink on this Sphinx helps make it a Get out of Jail Free card on the order of Baneslayer Angel, as inexorable, if not as quick to the draw.

Switching back to the Savage Lands for a moment, let's say for the sake of argument that you decide that you really like the colors of Darigaaz, the Igniter, you think Savage Lands is in the shard to be and all that, but you don't want to limit yourself to the realm of reasonably costed spells. Say instead that you would like to pay a visit to Magical Christmas Land ....

Like Conley Woods at Worlds, you too, can play a third turn Violent Ultimatum!

Robert Dalton's Magical Christmas Land

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The excitement of Magical Christmas Land is largely linked to the explosive potential of Lotus Cobra. Uninhibited, it can blow up all of the opponent's lands on turn three, and with the semi-transformative sideboard including two Islands, the deck can go Cruel Ultimatum in the alternative (because you can never have too many Ultimatums in Magical Christmas Land). The power level of this variation is much higher than the typical (or even Sedraxis Specter–enabled) Jund decks, though it does not play according to typical Jund parameters. Instead, look for this deck to make sweeping plays along the lines of Caldera Hellion blowing up any and all, or Goblin Ruinblaster and even Mold Shambler mana-screwing the opponent into conceding to, you know, the Magical Christmas Land destruction.

Aside: Speaking of Magical Christmas Land, if you are stumped as to what to get for your favorite fellow gamer this holiday season (or you are in the market for a present for yourself), might I suggest My Files Part One by Hall of Famer and Pro Tour Champion Zvi Mowshowitz? My Files Part One is 500+ pages of the best strategy, um, ever by one of the greatest players ever to dedicate himself to the twin hobbies of Magic and thinking about Magic. End aside.

Okay, back to Standard.

Last week we talked about some $5,000 tournaments around the country, including TCGPlayer's foray in Philadelphia and Star City Games hosting yet another of their generous two-day Standard + Legacy weekends.


Once again, Jund was the victor, but we got to see a smattering of different decks along the way. Here are two very different looks at Mono-White (besides the third deck, reminiscent of the Top 8 of the World Championships):

John Lee's White Weenie

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Sixteen lands only! (Only eight of which produce mana!)

This deck is long on highly efficient attackers, from the Elite Vanguard on one, through about a million sick twos, to ... is that ... is that really Kor Hookmaster?

Is that creature really worth three mana in a strategy as tight as this one?

What happens is, this kind of a deck comes out all Lynxes and Blademasters a-blazing, and then some jerk goes and plays a Baneslayer Angel. The White Weenie response is to tap that action, and then keep her down to hopefully force in enough damage to win; Brave the Elements should help with those last few points of damage.

Considering the popularity of red decks (see below), White Weenie may be a better option that you think!

Anthony Loman's Mono-White Control

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Planeswalker (2)
2 Elspeth, Knight-Errant
Sorcery (5)
4 Day of Judgment 1 Martial Coup
Instant (4)
4 Path to Exile
Artifact (4)
4 Armillary Sphere
Enchantment (3)
3 Oblivion Ring
Land (24)
4 Emeria, the Sky Ruin 20 Plains
60 Cards

I actually love this sit-there.

It can win with Baneslayer Angel, as can any of the Baneslayer Angel decks.

However, it can also just sit and gain a million life with Wall of Reverence (and Baneslayer Angel of course), and eventually win with Felidar Sovereign. The Sovereign is actually inexorable; in a long game it will come back and Back and BACK thanks to Emeria, the Sky Ruin, and the opponent's day will be well and truly ruined. Not only was said opponent completely unable to breach a line of high toughness harriers, but he or she died not honorably, skewered upon the slings and arrows of the red zone, but to the text box on Felidar Sovereign.

I don't know if I am 100% down with Devout Lightcaster in the main ... but she sure does make Sprouting Thrinax look silly.

    St. Louis

Richard Wayne's Red Deck Wins

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The popularity of Jund and the relative unpopularity of Island has made Quenchable Fire a playable—even main-deck playable—card. Essentially it is four mana for 6 damage, more expectation against a Jund player than one of the innumerable possible Blistering Firecats in the format.

The rest of this deck is remarkably straightforward. The eight-pack of fetch lands are there to help Plated Geopede look like LeBron James on a fast break. The rest, haste.

Unstable Footing seems to be a concession to Jacerator, but one with an attractive potential bonus.

Robert Graves's Grixis Control

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Brandon Burks's Grixis Control

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No one is surprised to have two Jund decks in the Top 8 (except, maybe, that there are only two), but two identical Grixis control decks? That is a story!

I think the exciting part about these decks is the black cards. Sorin Markov joins a planeswalker set that includes Chandra Nalaar, but strangely, no Jace Beleren (Jace being replaced in these decks by Divination). But look at those sideboards. There are important black cards—specifically black creature cards—galore.

Vampire Nighthawk is not just a first-pick card out of that Zendikar pack any more. With adoption in decks as far afield as Jund and now Grixis Control, the Nighthawk is proving to be an effective deterrent to violence, and a bit of a clock. But the really special black creature is the Nighthawk's five-mana colleague, Malakir Bloodwitch.

Quite simply, some decks can't beat Malakir Bloodwitch. She can block Baneslayer Angel all day, and can shrug off blows from Lightning Bolt, at least unaided. Good modifications, it seems; perhaps we will see Grixis in the winner's circle again as the format proceeds.

That's it for Top Decks this year!

The next couple of weeks we will be running some repeats of old—but still very good—articles. See you in three. I wish you joy this holiday season. Topdeck something nice, won't you?

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