In the wake of Pro Tour Dragons of Tarkir, every day that passes brings another refinement of the Standard Constructed metagame. In broad strokes there are a lot of viable decks. Anticipating which of those decks will be popular at a particular tournament lets you take an existing archetype and tighten its focus, getting edges on the matches you are likely to face while giving up edges against decks you won't. It's not about which is the best deck in Standard. It's which deck is best against the sixteen hundred players in Toronto this weekend.
By Round 6 in Day 1 a few decks emerged as successful specialized weapons. I talked with their pilots about the process that brought them to their deck of choice, what aspects of the metagame they were hoping to poach, and where their weaknesses were.
First up was the road warrior, Christian Calcano. Though he was feeling the effects of an early morning Saturday flight, he was off to a 6-0 start with a very peculiar take on Blue-Black Control. Calling Christian Calcano's Blue-Black Control deck a metagame deck would be underselling things. It's closer to a full-on metagame gamble.
“I can't beat a mountain. This morning I found out Shahar was going to play mono-red so my only out was that he somehow couldn't get the basic lands he needed.”
It's not entirely an exaggeration. Calcano decided to surrender the matchup against Mono-Red entirely. He doesn't have Drown in Sorrow anywhere in his 75. Instead he stocks up on traditional control tools – countermagic, removal, and card draw, and cards that tilt midrange matchups in his favor. “People aren't ready for Perilous Vault anymore. Ashiok – absurd.” Doesn't that just open him up to Hero's Downfall? “Who plays four Downfalls anymore? They might have two.” He also gets big mileage out of Foul-Tongue Invocation by pretending that there won't be any tokens in play. “I even got to gain four, off my ONE dragon.”
He's crossed his fingers. Even if he drops two to mono-red, that's enough for a Top 8. “The thing is, if this deck is good, it's only going to be good for this tournament. People will stop skewing their decks this far.”
Next up was a deck in the Abzan colors, but far from what the majority were playing. Former Player of the Year Brad Nelson might be the winningest man in Standard. He kept a reserved seat at the top tables with a slick Abzan Aggro list. Before I could snag him for a sit-down, I got the inside scoop from Randy Buehler: The man I wanted to talk to was Brian Braun-Duin. Personal commitments had kept Nelson from testing for this event, and he happily relied on BBD's expertise. I managed to catch Braun-Duin at the rail watching the last of the feature matches and asked him about the decision to go Abzan Aggro.
“First of all, you're going to get a lot of easy wins off your aggressive starts. Sometimes you can just 2-drop, 3-drop, 4-drop and that's enough. It also trumps a lot of decks that are relying on Den Protector and Deathmist Raptor to close out games. Wingmate Roc doesn't care about Deathmist Raptor. The deck also makes the most out of Thoughtseize. It's just very well positioned.”
In a way it was about finding the right combination of very powerful cards. “It does have a lot of raw power, but it also has a lot of play to it. Skilled play gives you a lot of edges.” I asked if there were any matchups he particularly wanted to dodge. He said there weren't any absolute nightmares, but that Sultai Whip decks are an uphill battle. “The problem is that their top end can outmatch you. Hornet Queen is bad news. Also Whip cuts down on your ability to race, which would otherwise steal games.”
With plenty of players making surprising moves, perhaps the biggest surprise was members of The Pantheon sleeving up Foundry Street Denizens. Naturally, they had the time between rounds for interviews. I caught up with Matt Costa for the full explanation about the decision to go Mono-Red in Toronto.
“Well, it's the best deck in the format.”
For a minute he was content to leave it at that. Dogged persistence won out, however, and he walked me through it. “I mean, at the top level, that's the reason. We played it against a bunch of decks and it performed well against all of them. The thing about the metagame right now is, it's shifted to this place where everyone's trying to out-midrange each other and win the long game. They're shaving efficient removal and strong turn one and two plays to make room for cards like Ashiok and Den Protector.”
That shortness in the early game, coupled with clumsy or painful mana means that they're susceptible to the early rush. Dragon Fodder is one key player, powering up both Foundry Street Denizen and Monastery Swiftspear, but Costa says the real lynchpin comes on turn three. “Rabblemaster is the card that does it. It presents a ton of damage when decks are already under pressure.” While not favored in the long game, Mono-Red is not lost immediately once the rush is stopped. “Decks right now, they can stabilize the board, but they'll still give you four or five turns to draw a burn spell.”
All three decks were still performing well as Day 1 entered its final phases. Will they have what it takes to break through the concentrated Day 2 metagame? Tune in tomorrow to find out.