Everything to Everyone

Posted in Top Decks on November 17, 2011

By Mike Flores

Michael Flores is the author of Deckade and The Official Miser's Guide; the designer of numerous State, Regional, Grand Prix, National, and Pro Tour–winning decks; and the onetime editor-in-chief of The Magic Dojo. He'd claim allegiance to Dimir (if such a Guild existed)… but instead will just shrug "Simic."

By the time you are reading this, the 2011 World Championships will be mere hours away. Some of the best players in the world—joined by some of the greatest players of all time—will battle it out across four days and multiple formats. For singles competitors, Worlds is a three-format tournament, combining Modern, Innistrad draft, and of course the Standard format over a three-day period. At the end of the three Swiss formats, we will cut to a Top 8, who will determine the 2011 World Champion via single-elimination Standard play.


Today in Top Decks we will focus on the myriad of different Standard decks that have defined—and continue to define—the Standard metagame. Ours is an incredibly rich Standard this year, with every color represented and numerous different angles of attack being exploited across everything from -1/-1 counters to deck exhaustion in addition to damage and card draw.

Let's check out what each different color is offering in Standard.


The Innistrad Standard season opened on a Red Deck mirror match in the finals of the Star City Games Open event in Indianapolis, Indiana. That event was won by David Doberne:

David Doberne's Mono-Red

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Straight Red Deck Wins has quite a few tools and synergies. Fast beatdown including Spikeshot Elder, Grim Lavamancer, the Liliana of the Veil-frustrating Goblin Arsonist, and of course Stromkirk Noble help set up Stormblood Berserker on turn two.

The red decks in this format have strong finishers, including Koth of the Hammer and Shrine of Burning Rage (both cards with various kinds of counters) as well as the resilient Chandra's Phoenix. Some versions of the red deck have swapped out Brimstone Volley for Volt Charge, with Volt Charge helping the Shrine, the mighty Koth, and any number of +1/+1-counter-bearing beaters to level up.

That said, straight red seems less common in live tournament Top 8s than it was just a month or two ago. Straight beatdown with burn spells may take on a purple hue:

Lu Cai's Blue-Red Aggro

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Borrowing from the success of Delver of Secrets and Snapcaster Mage in Legacy, the Blue-Red Aggro deck takes many of the principles of the burn-oriented red deck and layers on a 3/2 flying creature for one mana and maybe the best overall card in the format (and a friend to any kind of instants, in particular Brimstone Volley)... Snapcaster Mage!


The Blue-Red Tempo deck even incorporates Vapor Snag to help Snapcaster Mage "build your own Æther Adept"... Simultaneously giving the offensive set an answer to a big creature that might otherwise be out of red removal range (with the point of damage being a relevant bit of gravy).

That said, much of red's contribution in this format seems to be going hand-in-hand with longtime color ally...


Green decks in Standard take advantage of both of those things that distinguished current Magic boss Aaron Forsythe as a competitive deck designer 10+ years ago: mana and bombs.

Mana includes Birds of Paradise, Llanowar Elves, and other such accelerators.

Bombs include everything from battlefield-dominating Planeswalkers, to the mightiest creature to cast its long shadow across the Standard tables, to a literal game-ending Overrun.

The most common green decks seem to be red-green... and more specifically, Wolf Run variants.

Brian Sondag's Wolf Run Ramp

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Brian Sondag gave the world its first look at Wolf Run Ramp when he won the Nashville, Tennessee Open event. Sondag's deck is like a post-Zendikar reimplementation of Valakut, the Molten Pinnacle principles; personally, I actually think that Wolf Run is a better structured deck than Standard Valakut, seeing as it is a green deck with actual green-producing lands rather than being Valakut-locked into playing a million basic Mountains (and—eep—Evolving Wilds and Terramorphic Expanse).

The deck itself is a Red-Green Ramp deck that plays Green Sun's Zenith, Rampant Growth, and so on to get ahead of the opponent on mana, eventually laying bombs like Garruk, Primal Hunter and of course Primeval Titan. The Wolf Run Ramp's unique end game is driven by Primeval Titan. Sondag would go and get Inkmoth Nexus and Kessig Wolf Run with the goal of eventually poisoning the opponent to death. Especially early in the format when Sondag broke the deck, four copies of Inkmoth Nexus might actually overwhelm a Solar Flare's point removal base! It doesn't take many activations of Kessig Wolf Run to kill an opponent, not when these specialty lands have been set up by a Primeval Titan.

Since Sondag's initial win, Wolf Run decks have morphed into different specialty areas. A good example of customization is Player of the Year frontrunner Owen Turtenwald's Wisconsin States-dominating Dungrove Elder deck:

Owen Turtenwald's Wolf Run Ramp

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Owen played a whopping 20 Forests, cutting his mana base down to the bare minimum requirements to set up Kessig Wolf Run (one, along with one Mountain to activate it). Owen played only two Inkmoth Nexus main.

With so little red, Owen could no longer support Slagstorm, and he chose to go with a more traditional Birds of Paradise / Llanowar Elves package rather than Viridian Emissaries.

What Owen got in return was the ability to break Dungrove Elder.


Dungrove Elder is absurd against a large portion of the field. You can play it on the second turn off a Birds of Paradise or Llanowar Elves... and the presence of that one-drop will also give the Elder some basic defense against Geth's Verdict and its ilk (you know, because of having another body). Because you are green, you can usually keep your Elder bigger than the opponent's planned Black Sun's Zenith. Ultimately, most of the time, if you can slip a Dungrove Elder down early, it's not going anywhere.


A third look at the Red-Green Wolf Run strategy would be Wolf Run Robots:

Corbett Gray's Wolf Run Robots

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This kind of a deck, with so many colorless-mana-producing lands, has to resort to cards like Copper Myr... It just can't reliably have Llanowar Elves mana on the first turn.

The difference here is the versatility of the mana base. Wolf Run Robots plays four copies of Glimmerpost to defend against beatdown (with Primeval Titan setting up 6 to 14 life). Additionally the deck plays not only all four copies of Inkmoth Nexus but four copies of Kessig Wolf Run! The justification of the latter is that sometimes you are counter-locked by Blue-Black Control, and being able to naturally draw a Kessig Wolf Run makes every dorky mana creature into a legitimate threat.


In addition to the Wolf Run variants, green decks have been getting along quite famously with white during this season. The best example of the two working together is the Grand Prix Hiroshima deck list that Martin Juza used to win that event:

Martin Juza's Green-White Tokens

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Juza's deck has Avacyn's Pilgrim and Birds of Paradise ("mana," four of each), which help to set up for a late-game insurmountable attack. Overrun and Gavony Township make little guys big, whereas some of the guys (say, Hero of Bladehold) are plenty big already.

Almost everything about this deck produces tokens. Geist-Honored Monk? Tokens. Hero of Bladehold? Tokens. Both planeswalkers? Tokens and tokens. Having a ton of tokens on the battlefield paves the way for a devastating Overruns, or, again, tremendous synergy with the new land Gavony Township.

Speaking of Gavony Township, Overrun, and whatever makes guys bigger, Mirran Crusader (despite neither being nor producing a token) gets double bonuses from anything that gives bonuses, on account of having the envelope-pushing two-word text combination double strike.

Mirran Crusader is one of the most important threats in the format, and it has been adopted across a variety of decks, viz. White-Blue:

Adam Boyd's White-Blue Blade

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This look at White-Blue is kind of an inheritor to Caw-Blade, with card advantage-producing creatures, plus Sword of Feast and Famine and light counterspells. Top designers like Gerry Thompson have talked about favoring White-Blue Blade over the more common White-Blue Humans "because you aren't winning with Elite Vanguard anyway. He's not elite at all."

White-Blue comes in many flavors, for instance the Illusions deck:

Adam Prosak's White-Blue Illusions

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The Illusions deck is actually a good bit less Illusions-centric than it was when people were still playing Phantasmal Dragon.

However, the one card that makes white-blue decks go is Moorland Haunt. Moorland Haunt gives the deck lasting power in case primary creatures are dealt with. Moorland Haunt is the whole reason Illusions is white-blue instead of just blue.



Esper (Solar Flare) and Blue-Black

Blue is most commonly paired with black in this format, and that is largely based on the synergy between Snapcaster Mage and fast removal sells like Doom Blade. Traditionally, Blue-Black Control decks (as opposed to White-Blue Control decks, which have traditionally had Day of Judgment or previously Wrath of God) have suffered falling behind the beatdown for lack of removal tonnage. Snapcaster Mage just helps Blue-Black shore that up (without wasting a whole lot of extra slots on cards that are bad in the mirror).

Blue-Black may be a popular choice among the most highly skilled Worlds competitors. It is just chock-full of all the things control players love to play (Nick Spagnolo told me he just wants to play Think Twice and Forbidden Alchemy forever). This kind of deck draws cards, counters target spell, and finishes the game with amazing nails-in-coffins like Consecrated Sphinx. Even its land—Nephalia Drownyard, and all four after going to boards—is so irresistible in the mirror... where you of course mill yourself the first several times to set up Snapcaster Mage, before eventually killing the opponent with it.

Jeremy Neeman's Blue-Black Control

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Neeman won GP Brisbane with the above; note in particular Wring Flesh, a card that most players probably ignored, but that handles first-turn Birds of Paradise or Stromkirk Noble well... and Geth's Verdict, which can kill Dungrove Elder to death.

Solar Flare

Especially early in the format, the control deck of choice was probably Solar Flare.

Solar Flare is almost "everything to everyone"... With many of the control trappings of Blue-Black, Solar Flare includes more white removal like Day of Judgment or the flexible Oblivion Ring, and a saucy one-two punch in Sun Titan + Phantasmal Image as a finishing combo (you can double up on Sun Titans there, or use Phantasmal Image to kill Thrun, the Last Troll).

The down side is that Solar Flare's mana is a bit more difficult to hit consistently than... almost every other deck in the format, and all that flexibility can come at an additional cost (here we see Jonathan Medina's list, with nary a Mana Leak to its name):

Jonathan Medina's Solar Flare

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Medina's deck includes a reanimator sub-theme, with Liliana of the Veil and Forbidden Alchemy helping to set up Unburial Rites and great big fatties. You can literally cast a Forbidden Alchemy and bin Unburial Rites and Jin-Gitaxias, Core Augur on the third turn, then get the latter onto the battlefield via the former on the fourth.

It is not hard to imagine why some players love a Solar Flare.


Black is obviously combining with blue in various control lists in Innistrad Standard, but it also has a deck of its own that has been performing with some degree of dominance: Mono-Black Infect.

Joshua Wagener's Mono-Black Infect

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Former US National Champion and GP Top 8 competitor Joshua Wagener showcased some poisoner's skills in 2011 with this Infect decklist.

Infect is... Infect. Straightforward, double damage; an inheritor of Phyrexian Scars Block Constructed dark arts. Big things to keep in mind: 1) Phyrexian Crusader is a big game; it can attack right through many creature configurations and laughs off Lightning Bolts. 2) Lashwrithe is the insta-kill; if Infect hits the Lashwrithe, it can come in for lethal poison in just one or two evasive moves quite often (no mana cost to equip + massive incremental power... ka-pow!).

Better than it might look: Virulent Wound.


This card might be better at what Wring Flesh does than Neeman's Wring Flesh! Obviously a great first play in Infect to take out a Birds of Paradise on a turn where black has no proactive play. Between Contagion Clasp and Tezzeret's Gambit, it might even be possible to win without rumbling in the Red Zone (but it's not like you should try that).

Well, there you have them all.

All the colors.

Lots of different decks and unique strategies: A wide palette of possibilities for the finale of the 2011 season... and this list of lists isn't even everything. There are Blue-Black decks that focus on removal rather than control, Tezzeret decks, Ramp decks with white and probably other stuff we haven't seen yet; we didn't even talk about Humans!

I don't know about you, but I can't wait to see who's trading blows on Sunday afternoon.

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