Hit the Ground Running

Posted in Top Decks on June 27, 2013

By Jacob Van Lunen

Jacob Van Lunen began playing Magic in 1995. He has participated in organized play at every level of competition and was a member of the winning team at Pro Tour San Diego in 2007, thanks to an innovative draft strategy. As a writer, Van Lunen has had more than three hundred Magic strategy pieces published

Welcome back to Perilous Research, DailyMTG.com's exclusive Magic Online column. Last week, we looked at the Standard format and discussed some of the changes we were beginning to see in major archetypes. Many of the points we discussed last week are becoming truer than even I might have imagined.

The Standard format is more about a board presence than it has been since last year. Sphinx's Revelation decks, especially those without Farseek, are finding themselves outpaced by the smaller decks. In fact, aggressive red-green decks were outperforming every other archetype in Daily Events until this past weekend.

Sphinx's Revelation

Why are Sphinx's Revelation decks suffering? Here's the problem with the big spell right now: There's a lot to interact with in the early turns of the game. You need the right mix of reactive cards for the early turns if you're going to survive to the point where your Sphinx's Revelation is big enough to matter. A lot of the time, you get stuck on four or five lands and your reactive game plan starts getting outshined by your opponent's five-drops.

The best threats being played today all have pretty specific answers. You need exactly Turn & Burn to deal with Thragtusk; exactly Pillar of Flame to deal with Voice of Resurgence, Geralf's Messenger, or Strangleroot Geist; exactly Supreme Verdict for Burning-Tree Emissary draws; exactly two burn spells to deal with Thundermaw Hellkite; and exactly Renounce the Guilds to deal with Obzedat, Geist of Saint Traft, or Assemble the Legion. This is a major problem for the control decks. If you find yourself without the specific card necessary for your situation you'll likely end up getting run over. It's hard to draw the seven lands you need for your Sphinx's Revelation to be truly gamebreaking and still have drawn all the correct answers.

Renounce the Guilds
Supreme Verdict

As a result, red-white-blue players have begun playing a lot more creatures. It's a lot more reasonable to control the first four turns (rather than the first seven) with Augur of Bolas, Pillar of Flame, Azorius Charm, Warleader's Helix, Restoration Angel, and Snapcaster Mage. Once the game transitions into big spells, you need to put your opponent on a clock immediately. This is where Thundermaw Hellkite comes in. The Dragon gives red-white-blue players the ability to pick a fight the moment the game looks like it's getting even. These decks then use Azorius Charm's lifelink mode aggressively with Snapcaster Mage to ensure they will be victorious in the racing situation.

Azorius Charm
Snapcaster Mage

These newer creature-heavy versions of control decks have been cutting Supreme Verdict. This makes a lot of Burning-Tree Emissary strategies jump out of tier two range and hop right up into tier one territory. Aggressive Jund lists have been the big winner this week in terms of viability jumps.

Bant Hexproof was on the cusp of tier one for a while. Now, with no Supreme Verdicts or Liliana of the Veil in sight, the deck is more powerful than ever. Sure, consistency can be an issue at times, but the deck's power level puts it a step beyond the rest of the format in its current state. I wouldn't be surprised if we started seeing a lot of Ray of Revelation/Liliana of the Veil popping up in sideboards this coming weekend.

Ray of Revelation
Liliana of the Veil

Let's take a look at the new decks of Standard.

Burning-Tree Emissary decks have gotten a lot better now that Supreme Verdict is being played less, so let's see what's cooking in the aggro department!

Azazel314's Gruul Aggro

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Aggressive Gruul strategies have been doing well since the start of the format. The deck is becoming more streamlined now and the lists are finally starting to look similar. Hellrider is almost always a four-of in the main deck now. Eight burn spells have become much more commonplace now that most decks are playing guys at two, three, and four mana. Some lists still have Domri Rade, but most players are opting for the most aggressive build possible. Volcanic Strength has become the mirror-breaker card of choice in the deck. Electrickery is good at sweeping away big swaths of tokens or mana creatures and it doubles up as a good way to interact with Invisible Stalker in response to Unflinching Courage. I expect this deck to remain the top dog in the aggro department for the foreseeable future.

Volcanic Strength

Xeroo's Aggressive Jund

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The lack of Supreme Verdict in the format has encouraged a lot of players to experiment with different Burning-Tree Emissary decks. More aggressive versions of Jund, like this one, are beginning to pick up a lot of steam. The deck is still a bit midrangey, but it can power out its draws with Arbor Elf and Gyre Sage while not worrying about a Supreme Verdict accruing too much value. The Thundermaw/Aristocrat plan is a player-tested, Grand Prix–approved way to destroy control decks, while four copies of Bonfire of the Damned punish other players for building a board of their own.

Gyre Sage
Bonfire of the Damned

Red-white-blue decks are playing a lot more creatures these days and leaning less on their Sphinx's Revelations. Let's see what's cooking in the "control" department.

JVLTMS's Red-White-Blue Flash

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I played a few Daily Events last week in preparation for a Standard Event I played last weekend. This is still a Sphinx's Revelation deck, but the fourteen creatures in the main deck let you interact on the battlefield while you wait for the big spell to become relevant. Since this event, I've cut another Sphinx's Revelation for a third Thundermaw Hellkite in the main. I've been really impressed with the Dragon and I expect most red-white-blue lists to look more like this in the coming weeks.

Thundermaw Hellkite
Warleader's Helix

Thorhoffman's Red-White-Blue Dudes

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Here's an interesting take on the red-white-blue deck that will probably remind you of a lot of the decks from Pro Tour Gatecrash. This deck is interesting and powerful for the current format. The deck underperforms on Magic Online because it's pretty much impossible to "go infinite" with Boros Reckoner. In live events, the deck can use the lifelink mode of Azorius Charm, the indestructible mode of Boros Charm, and a Boros Reckoner to gain infinite life. Here's how it works: the Reckoner is going to take damage, so you use both charms, you repeatedly target the Reckoner with its own ability and gain life equal to the damage dealt each time. On Magic Online, you need to manually click through each trigger, you can still gain a ton of life and put most aggressive decks out of range, but there's definitely a difference between being at 200 and being at 200,000,000 life.

Boros Reckoner
Azorius Charm

Ral Zarek makes an appearance here; kicking boars through windows and untapping Staticasters seems pretty good right now. This deck will finish a lot of its games with burn spells. The reach provided by Boros Charm and Snapcaster Mage is very easy to underestimate. I look forward to seeing more decks like this in the coming months. Normally, Lingering Souls would be pushing strategies like this out of the format, but Thundermaw Hellkite does a good job at preventing the 1/1 fliers from lingering around for too long.

Ral Zarek
Boros Charm

Bant Enchantments has an opportunity to enjoy an environment with no Supreme Verdict or Liliana of the Veil. This seems like a great opportunity for the format's biggest cheese to steal another Grand Prix title this weekend in Miami. Let's take a look.

Lister1991's Bant Auras (Ghost Pants)

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The new versions of Bant Enchantments aren't as cold to board sweepers as the decks once were. Voice of Resurgence and Strangleroot Geist do an incredible job of making the deck less susceptible to cards that used to be a problem. The deck outraces just about everyone, especially when Unflinching Courage finds its way onto a Geist of Saint Traft or Invisible Stalker. It's somewhat obvious what the game plan is here, but many players don't give this deck the credit it deserves. Draw a few opening hands with this deck and you'll realize that it's not as straightforward as everyone thinks. The deck gives you a ton of room to outplay opponents and a lot of the draws are simply auto-wins. I think this deck is the next big thing. Bring Ray of Revelation to Miami if you expect to go deep into Day Two. I imagine there will be a lot of pants at the top of the standings.

Geist of Saint Traft
Invisible Stalker

The new format shift should eventually favor midrange decks like Jund. The Jund decks are mostly outdated now, though. Main-deck Ground Seal is a fine card against Snapcaster Mage and Unburial Rites, but those only make a small percentage of the total format now and those may be wasted slots. Many players are looking to improve their midrange game plan and they're doing so by playing the most powerful creatures available in white, black, and red. Let's check out a list.

Scream's White-Black-Red Midrange

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This is a deck I can get excited about. I'd like to find room for at least a single copy of Rakdos Keyrune, but the general concept of playing the best creature every turn seems pretty good to me. There are a lot of nightmare cards for control decks here and the aggro matchups seem good. The deck even has a psuedo-reset button/combo kill in the form of Blasphemous Act.

Blasphemous Act
Rakdos Keyrune

As Standard moves further toward aggressive game plans we can expect the format to react even more in the coming week. Grand Prix Miami will give a lot of players more insight into the format and I'm excited to see how that changes the Magic Online Standard metagame. Next week, we'll take a look at the decks that rise to the top of Standard in the wake of the Grand Prix. I would recommend any of these decks I wrote about today to players planning on attending a Standard event this weekend.

Knowledge is Power!

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