How to Go Over the Top

Posted in GRAND PRIX PITTSBURGH 2016 on June 25, 2016

By Corbin Hosler

The poster child is Den Protector, but that's just the tip of the magical iceberg.

When Shadows Over Innistrad first released, players made the most of the aggressive creatures available to them. From the Mono-White aggressive humans decks to a parade of tokens, players opened the Standard season attacking early and often.

We've come a long way since then.

What began as a few targeted sideboard options for the long game — Tragic Arrogance, Secure the Wastes, Evolutionary Leap and, yes, Den Protector — have not only begun creeping into players' main decks here in Pittsburgh, they're full-on taking over. Standard has undeniably slowed down, and players are working hard to find ways to continually one-up each other in the never-ending quest to go bigger, wider, longer than opponents.

Den Protector — a crushing late-game value engine — is the face of that evolution. But players are finding more and more ways to throw ever-larger haymakers.

“You need to be able to go over the top in the grindy mirrors,” explained Matt Severa, who is playing Eldrazi Displacer this weekend to try and do just that. “The aggressive white weenie decks have not been performing because it's so hard to be more efficient than Collected Company, so people are planning for ways to beat the green-white deck in the long games.”

Matt Severa knows his way around a long, grindy match, and arrived in Pittsburgh prepared to fight that battle.

The metagaming changes come in the subtle and the flashy. Cutting a few Declaration in Stone to avoid giving opponents a clue will fly under the radar, but going so far as to play Chandra, Flamecaller — as Raphael Levy did to win Grand Prix Manchester — is a bit more jarring.

“The decks haven't really changed in a month or so, and people know what to expect,” Andrew Baeckstrom said. “So there's a lot of value in just playing something your opponent hasn't played against 100 times already and knows exactly how to play around.”

Players have certainly gone to great lengths to keep the surprise factor. Den Protector has become a mainstay once again, and other popular options include Planar Outburst alongside Tragic Arrogance, Reality Smasher, Linvala, the Preserver and even Quarantine Field to go one step over opponents. Standard innovation in the form of new deck archetypes may have slowed, but the transformation of the format is far from complete.