Modern is a format some players spend days working on before the World Championship. As important as the potential 12 match points from Modern were, Standard edged that out: It was another 12 match points possible today, but with the twist that it's also the format for the Top 4.
The right deck for Modern could position a player well for Day Two. The right deck for Standard could create a new World Champion.
For players, that means not only wading through the diverse selection of potential decks – hyper-aggressive heroic, token-based, and/or red; powerful midrange Abzan or Sultai machines leaning heavily on green; Whip of Erebos-backed flavors of fatties, constellation, and/or devotion; and even full-on blue-based control with either black or white-red to round things out.
Standard, if you haven't been following at home, is wide open. This is the breakdown of what players chose for the World Championship:
|(11) Sam Black||Red-White Tokens|
|(19) Patrick Chapin||Abzan Midrange|
|(13) Stanislav Cifka||Blue-Black Control|
|Paulo Vitor Damo da Rosa||Sidisi Whip|
|Lars Dam||Jeskai Control|
|(2) Jeremy Dezani||Mono-Red Aggro|
|(3) Reid Duke||Black-Green Constellation|
|Willy Edel||Sidisi Whip|
|(5) Ivan Floch||Blue-Black Control|
|(25) Yuuki Ichikawa||Abzan Whip|
|(7) William Jensen||Black-Green Constellation|
|Raphael Lévy||Mono-Red Aggro|
|(17) Tom Martell||Sidisi Whip|
|(4) Shaun Mclaren||Abzan Midrange|
|Raymond Perez, Jr.||Abzan Midrange|
|(16) Paul Pietzl||Abzan Midrange|
|(14) Shahar Shenhar||Sidisi Whip|
|(10) Lee Shi Tian||Jeskai Ascendancy|
|Nam Sung-Wook||Mardu Tokens|
|(1) Owen Turtenwald||Black-Green Constellation|
|(20) Josh Utter-Leyton||Sidisi Whip|
|(9) Yuuya Watanabe||Jeskai Tokens|
|(12) Jacob Wilson||Abzan Midrange|
|Kentaro Yamamoto||Sidisi Whip|
Summarized by archetype:
There's a few interesting features about this field:
- There's just five aggressive decks – about a quarter of the players – and none are the 'heroic' variety seen at the top of recent large Standard tournaments.
- Decks playing at least black and green dominate more than half the choices. While many picked the Pro Tour-winning Abzan Midrange, slightly more have the powerful Sultai-colored Sidisi, Brood Tyrant deck that carries many of the same answer while playing a longer game out of the graveyard.
- Pure control was left to just two blue-black and one Jeskai versions, with a single combo deck—Lee Shi Tian's Pro Tour Top 8 pick built on Jeskai Ascendancy—to round out the field.
The Japanese trio—Kentaro Yamamoto, Yuuki Ichikawa, and Yuuya Watanabe—tested together and brought the same Temur-colored Delver of Secrets deck for Modern. Here, in Standard, the choices varied wildly.
"In Standard there are so many different decks that are equal we wanted to choose the one they suits our play style," Yamamoto explained. "There are a few different kind of decks with Hornet Queen and Whip of Erebos, but I chose the version with Sidisi, Brood Tyrant because it's consistent. I get to play Thoughtseize and Hero's Downfall as well, which lets me react to opponents."
Does Yamamoto thinks other have the same thoughts? "I think Hornet Queen and Whip are very good and that a few others brought the same concept. I don't think anyone will bring Mono-Red Aggro and other fast decks, like White-Blue Heroic."
It was true, however. There were two players with Mono-Red Aggro: Jérémy Dezani and Raphaël Lévy.
"I tested it a lot for the Pro Tour, and the Mono-Green Devotion match-up was really bad," Lévy explained. "At the time that was a popular deck and I didn't want to get in the tournament and lose to it. All the sideboards had like eight cards against me. Then the Pro Tour happened and the format evolved so the sideboard cards weren't there anymore."
The deck oft forgotten that tends to keep the very controlling strategies in check is the deck of choice of both Dezani and Lévy this weekend.
Does he think anyone else approached the World Championship the same way? "I posted it three weeks ago in an article I wrote," Lévy admitted. "I don't know if people paid much attention to it but I think it's a very good Standard deck. I'm looking forward to playing it."
Is there anything he expects? "I expect to see everything. There's not just one deck. It's like Modern: There isn't that one deck we have to beast. We saw yesterday there were all kinds of decks. We expect everything."
Lévy wasn't the only player looking at the Pro Tour for inspiration. Both Stanislav Cifka and Ivan Floch were played a familiar Blue-Black Control deck.
"It's very similar to Turtenwald's from the last Pro Tour," Cifka said. "I have a lot of experience with Blue-Black Control in the format. They went with Prognostic Sphinx, but ours is a slightly different deck. We're using Jace's Ingenuity and Perilous Vault. Against Owen's deck if something resolved it was tough but we have ways to deal with it now. It's a bit slower through, so if they have a fast draw they can smash you."
So what did Cifka expect from the rest of the competitors? "I have to say I'm not sure. At a Grand Prix the field is very wide and people are playing a lot of different decks. I think here it's going to be a little more focused on the Tier 1 decks: Abzan, Jeskai, maybe some Mono-Red and Mardu. I'm really sure to be honest. I don't think there's going to be many Sidisi Whip or Nykthos, Shrine to Nyx decks, those grindy kind of decks. Those are super fun to play but I think the other decks are slightly better."
One trio of teammates playing exactly that grindy type of deck was the Peach Garden Oath of William Jensen, Owen Turtenwald, and Reid Duke.
"My personal approach was that given four formats to prepare for, with lots of possibilities in Modern and Standard, to narrow down the scope of preparation I decided to find the best version of black-green playing Courser of Kruphix and Sylvan Caryatid," Duke explained. "I tried the Abzan, Sidisi, and Black-Green Constellation builds. Independently, Jensen was testing Sidisi Whip and liked it, and Edel was on the deck with another team. So at that point we narrowed it down to some black-green graveyard deck and in testing the pseudo-mirror match the most important card was Pharika, God of Affliction. We chose the constellation deck since it made the best use of Pharika, with smoother mana."
So what did Duke expect to find the other players bringing? "I can't say anything with certainty, but Jensen and I identified the Whip of Erebos and graveyard strategy to be the most powerful in Standard so I expect others to find that as well. I'd be very surprised is Edel didn't play Sidisi, and that he didn't convince Utter-Leyton and other teammates to play as well. It seems like a deck Utter-Leyton would play and would put the time into testing as well. I have a lot of respect for Edel and Utter and I expect they'll find how good the Whip deck is."
How Standard shakes out will reveal two things: Identify the teams made the best calls for the format, and which players rise to return on Sunday for the Top 4 of the 2014 World Championship.