Setting up Standard

Posted in The Week That Was on May 8, 2009

By Brian David-Marshall

Brian David-Marshall is a New York–based game designer who has been involved with Magic since 1994, when he started organizing tournaments and ran a Manhattan game store. Since then, he has been a judge, a player, and one of the longest-tenured columnists on, as he enters his second decade writing for the site. He is also the Pro Tour Historian and one of the commentators for the Pro Tour.

For almost as long as there have been PTQs there have been players clamoring for Standard PTQ seasons and starting this past weekend they got their wish with the commencement of the Pro Tour–Austin Qualifier season, which coincides perfectly with the addition of Alara Reborn to the format. If that was not enough Standard to satisfy you, the first qualifier for the 2009 Magic Online Championship took place this past weekend, with more than 350 players vying for a seat in Rome at the World Championships. But wait, there's more. Next weekend will be Regional Championships here in North America which will be closely followed by Grand Prix–Seattle-Tacoma.

Congratulations to Stefan Steiner for winning the 354 Magic Online Championship Series Season 1 Championship. (Congratulations to the Magic Online team as well. It was the largest tournament ever held in the current version of Magic Online and is the largest online tournament in quite some time.) Stefan is a 23-year-old sales associate from Linz, Austria who will be heading to his first Pro Tour in Rome for the World Championships (unless he wins a paper qualifier for Austin in the next few weeks). He began playing the game with the release of Torment and has been at it steadily since then.

Stefan began playing Magic Online last year and in that short span of time has come to identify himself primarily as an online player. How does he feel about heading to the World Championships and playing paper Magic?

"I think for a Magic player it is the greatest thing to take part at the biggest tournament in the year," said Stefan. "Yeah, I am very happy."

"I played MTGO almost every day," said Stefan, who just qualified for the Championship with exactly the 15 Qualifier Points needed to participate. "I earned 3 points from an Extended daily PE and 12 points from Shards / Shards / Conflux drafts."

Stefan played Green-White Tokens for the event and made sure he was well versed in all the deck's nuances before wading into an extremely long day of Standard.

"I built the deck ten days before the tournament," he said of his deck choice. "The testing results were very good. My toughest match-up was Boat Brew because Wrath of God effects are very good against my deck. My best was Green-Black Elves. I think I can hardly lose against this sort of deck."

Stefan only took one loss in the Swiss rounds—to the aforementioned Red-White "Boat Brew" archetype—and faced the same match-up, and opponent, in the Quarterfinals.

"I played against Kellyn and all of the three games were very close," recalled Stefan of his first elimination round against his worst possible matchup. "In the end I had the luck on my side. In the Semifinals my opponent was SGGK with Green-Black Elves. I was thankful to play against this deck."

In the finals he squared off against Downfall playing the bane of Standard for the past two years: Faeries.

"After playing eleven rounds for 12 hours in row—it was 5 a.m. in my area—I did not wish to play against Faeries," said Stefan of what turned out to be an anticlimactic win to seal his berth in Rome. "My opponent mulliganed in Game 3, kept a one-land hand, and missed three land drops. That's it, I win!"

After the column went to press Thursday night, an video replay of the Finals came in (complete with commentary by Tom LaPille).

While his final game in the tournament may not have been very interactive—not that Stefan was going to complain about an invite to Worlds and the guaranteed cash just for taking a seat at the 2009 Magic Online Championships—he did recall one key play that highlighted the power of Windbrisk Heights.

"I remember one game where I attacked on turn four with three Spirit tokens, with three Windbrisk Heights and Noble Hierarch in play," Stefan recounted. "With the first Heights I played Garruk Wildspeaker to untap the other two Heights to play Cloudgoat Ranger and Wilt-Leaf Liege."

As a Magic Online player, Stefan will not get any firsthand experience with Alara Reborn until the online Prerelease events next Friday, May 15. Based on what he has seen online he did think that there was at least one card that he would be trying to make room for in his deck from the new set.

"Dauntless Escort is created for this deck," said Stefan, no doubt entertaining visions of the Escort giving his life so Stefan's side of the board could live through a Martial Coup.

If you are hankering for what Standard will look like with the addition of Alara Reborn, you need look no further than the results from the PTQ in Dallas this past weekend. The qualifier season for Austin is just lurching into gear, and it will be fascinating to see how the early results influence upcoming Regionals and Grand Prix–Seattle-Tacoma, which will also be played using the Standard format. Also fun to watch will be how these events in turn influence the remainder of the qualifier season.

Josh Utter-Leyton a.k.a. Wrapter

If you look through the Top 8 lists from the Magic Online Championship you will see that Josh Utter-Leyton, a.k.a. Wrapter—one of the most influential MTGO players in the game—piloted a Black-White Tokens deck, which he and Luis Scott-Vargas have been championing over on their strategy site, to a fifth-place finish in the event. The version they advocate, a more midrange build with plenty of persist cards that you can abuse with Ajani Goldmane, made it into the Top 8 in the hands of Brett McLeaf. You should expect to see more of it in the coming weeks but it was not the winning version of the archetype.

Black-White Tokens in general—which finished second at Pro Tour–Kyoto in the hands of LSV—is on the march, giving Mandee Peralta the win in Dallas and placing another two players into the elimination rounds. Alara Reborn may prove key in facilitating the decision for players who are torn about what version of Tokens to play—Black-White, Green-White, or Red-White. Zealous Persecution—an instant-speed one-card answer to an opposing Spectral Procession—may be the card that pushes the other versions back down in the standings. One thing is for certain: Windbrisk Heights has become the Cadillac card of the Standard format.

Alara Reborn also provides a sideboard card to tuck away under the hideaway land. You may recall the cat and mouse game played between Gabriel Nassif and Luis-Scott Vargas over a Head Games tucked under a Heights. With the addition of Alara Reborn you can now put a hole in your opponent's head (á la the old school Amnesia) and not leave them a graveyard to boot thanks to Identity Crisis. Take a look at Mandee Peralta's winning deck list and Michael Ferri's Semifinal list to see how both of the new cards were worked into the mix. Brett's version eschewed Zealous Persecution but did feature Identity Crisis in the sideboard.

Mandee Peralta's Black-White Tokens

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Justin Lenhart finished second using a playest of Maelstrom Pulse from Alara Reborn and a set of Terminates in his sideboard. With all the hype around Bloodbraid Elf you would expect that a Jund deck would be the ideal home for the ballyhooed beater, but Justin did not include it in his build. I know that Mike Flores was testing a similar list and quickly abandoned the Elf after flipping Banefire in multiple games, which was blank since X equals 0 if you flip it off of cascade. I have seen Bloodbraid Elf hit a Civic Wayfinder and Gift of the Gargantuan, both of which were spectacular. If these lists serve as a starting point, then the version that will go into most people's Regionals gauntlet will start with the Elf on the bench.

Justin Lenhart's Jund Ramp

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Brett McCleaf's Black-White Tokens

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Michael Ferri's Black-White Tokens

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Five–Color Control—an archetype that many players pronounced dead with the printing of Anathemancer—finished in the Top 8 with a single Terminate from Alara Reborn in the list of 75 as played by Andres Suarez. The Vengeant Weenie deck that was played by Gabriel Costa-Giomi featured nary a Reborn card, but this was the same weekend as Launch Parties, so players barely had time to find the cards, much less tinker with established deck lists to find room for them.

Andres Suarez's Five-Color Control

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Gabriel Costa-Giomi's Vengeant Weenie

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Ben Jackson's Reveillark makes use of the exciting interaction between the Borderposts and Knight of the White Orchid. One of the persistent problems with playing the Knight has been that if you are on the play, in order to get any extra value off of the Knight you would have to skip a land drop—assuming both players drew sufficient lands to start the game. Now with the Borderposts you can play virtual lands that don't count when the Knight of the White Orchid hits play.

Ben Jackson's White-Blue Reveillark

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Rounding out the Top 8 was Brian Tidwell with Black-Green Elves. The deck is decidedly Rock-like and features a maxed out set of the Vindicate-like Maelstrom Pulse and a pair of Lord of Extinction.

Brian Tidwell's Black-Green Elves

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Certainly card availability and a limited amount of time to incorporate changes—as well as a shroud of secrecy around techy Regionals lists—have been a factor in the development of this new Standard format, but we can expect exciting developments in the coming weeks. There are PTQs all over the world—including a double PTQ weekend in Virginia here in the States—but the real push always comes from Regionals, which is the weekend after this one.

There will be dozens of tournaments throughout North America and the massive computing power of the entire Standard-playing community is sure to churn out something new and exciting. If you are looking for a Regionals near you please visit the Regionals page.

Two weekends after that will be GP–Seattle, which promises to be the most star-studded Grand Prix the Northwest portion of the U.S. has ever seen. With the tournament in Wizards of the Coast's backyard, we can expect Magic R&D members and other Wizards personalities to turn up, along with an impressive stable of artists. On the player side, the event is just one week before Pro Tour–Honolulu, and the word is that most of the game's frequent fliers—and plenty of the less frequent ones—have booked a trip that goes into SeaTac airport before heading to Hawaii. More adventurous players will continue on from Hawaii down to San Paulo the weekend after.

You wanted Standard. You got Standard.

Firestarter: New Brews on the Horizon?

Does Alara Reborn in all of its gold craziness open up any new archetypes? I could certainly see a hand destruction deck that sports Thoughtseize, Meddling Mage, Vendilion Clique, Runed Halo, and Thought Hemorrhage. I also have fantasies about returning a Time Stretch to my hand with Vengeful Rebirth (powered up by Garruk Wildspeaker of course). Head to the forums and share your predictions for the Regionals metagame.

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