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Latest News in Standard

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Adam Koska
Adam Koska

About Adam Koska

Adam is an experienced player from the Czech Republic who has a number of high-profile finishes under his belt:

  • 9th at Worlds 2009
  • 9th at Pro Tour Kyoto 2009
  • 45 Lifetime Pro Points
  • Top 32 GP Vienna 2008
  • Top 64 GP Krakow 2007
  • Three times Czech Nationals Top 8

Latest News in Standard

Hey everyone and welcome to another installment of the Level Up series! Today, we’re going to talk about Standard again, which is the most relevant format right now. There is a Modern PTQ season looming on the horizon, but there has just been a Modern Pro Tour a couple of weeks back, so the format seems to be quite „solved“ right now, and also, there is still some time before the PTQ season starts, so I’m surely going to discuss it in one of my articles in the coming weeks. Standard seems to be a lot more interesting right now, with the changes caused by the rotation of Scars block still not quite settling down. It’s true that Magic Online leads to formats being „solved“ way earlier than if only „paper“ Magic could be played (and the recent step by Wizards to stop making most daily event decklists public is an attempt to slow this process down), but I think that the Standard format is still quite fresh and innovation is still likely going to get rewarded.

There have been several major Standard tournaments recently: just this past weekend, GP Auckland and the SCG Open in St. Louis have taken place. This is the combined metagame of the top8s of these two tournaments:

  • 4C Reanimator               III
  • 3C Reanimator               II
  • UWR tempo                  III
  • UW tempo                     II
  • Bant Control                  II
  • UWr miracles control     I
  • G/W Humans                 I
  • Naya midrange              I
  • Jund                              I

The top8 of GP Auckland was literally flooded with Reanimation, with half of the decks in the elimination rounds being three or four color Frites. The other half consisted mostly of blue decks, be it tempo oriented creations with Geist of Saint Traft and burn or a purely controlish archetype relying solely on planeswalkers and miracles. Apart from these decks, a lone Naya deck found its way into the top 8, piloted by Adam Witton to the finals of this tournament, where he fell to Walker MacMurdo’s Reanimator.

The top 8 of the SCG Open in St. Louis was a bit more diverse, but even there, we can find certain patterns. The most important archetype was blue-based tempo, either with red for burn and Thundermaw Hellkite or without red, relying on attacking with Geist of Saint Traft, Snapcaster Mage, Restoration Angel, ideally suited up with a Runechanter's Pike. Three blue-white based tempo decks made it into the elimination rounds in St. Louis, making it the most represented archetype there.

The second most popular archetype in the top 8 of SCG Open in St. Louis was Bant control. Jacob Baugh and Bryan Hamburg piloted their Bant lists to second and third place finishes and their decks share a lot of characteristics. They both rely on acceleration, Wraths, a bit of countermagic, Thragtusks and then various „big spells“. Hamburg’s version relies more on planeswalkers, with both Jace and Tamiyo making it into the deck, while Baugh’s deck has more instants and packs Snapcaster Mages and Restoration Angels. Both approaches seem viable and both have their pros and cons.

Apart from these decks, one copy of each of Frites, G/W Humans and Jund made it into the elimination rounds in St. Louis. One or two weeks ago, Jund seemed to be the best and most numerous deck in Standard, threatening to become the „oppressor“ of the format, but right now, the numbers of Jund are relatively modest and apart from Marc Castillo’s top 8 list, there wasn’t a single copy of this deck in the whole top 16 in St. Louis or in the top 8 of GP Auckland. It seems that people have learnt how to deal with Jund in Standard (at least for now).

So, with the two top 8s of these two most recent Standard tournaments, the metagame seems to contain more Frites than ever before, some blue-based control and tempo decks and a handful of other archetypes. Everything seems normal, right? Well, at least until you realize that Zombies, one of the most important post-rotation decks, is missing from this weekend’s picture completely. Not a single Zombies list in Auckland, not a single one in the St. Louis top 8 or even top 16. No green-black Zombies, no red-black Zombies, no Zombies at all. Is it because all of them went partying on Halloween and still haven’t come back? Somehow, I don’t think so. The reason for the noticeable absence of Zombies is that the current state of Standard is really hostile to this deck. There are a number of cards that hose Zombies pretty badly. Efficient removal that gets rid of Zombies‘ fast threats is aplenty. Also, most decks have a pretty fast proactive game plan and aren’t so vulnerable to Zombies‘ „inevitability“ of Gravecrawler recursion. When you’re facing Unburial Rites, there’s not really any time for a slower, grinding lategame. That’s also why Jund, one of the more grindy decks, has only put up one top 8 appearance this past weekend and Zombies have been missing altogether.

I think that in the current Standard, there are some cards that are more responsible for the overall change of the format than others. If you go through the top lists from this past weekend, you’ll notice that despite the relative diversity of the decks, some cards are present in the majority of archetypes, pretty much always, as long as the particular deck has access to the respective colored mana. This is the list of cards that are most important in defining the current shape of the format. They are not necessarily the ones with the highest numbers among the two top 8s that I’ve been analyzing, but rather the ones that define the metagame the most, in my opinion.

  1. Restoration Angel – 37 out of 64 copies possible
  2. Thragtusk – 36 out of 64 copies possible
  3. Azorius Charm – 26 out of 64 copies possible
  4. Centaur Healer – 26 out of 64 copies possible (10 of them in sideboards)
  5. Unburial Rites – 19 out of 64 copies possible

Four of the top eight decks in Auckland and six out of the top eight decks in St. Louis played Restoration Angel. The four mana 3/4 flyer has its place in most Geist of Saint Traft decks, Bant control decks and also in many Reanimator decks, especially those that try to be more midrange instead of going „all in“ on reanimation. Restoration Angel is a great tool for many decks and can play many different roles, but it’s not really oppressive, because it doesn’t render any strategy or card too weak, except maybe for midrange creatures with power less than 4, because those tend to not attack well into an opposing board of four untapped lands, some of which can produce white. A metagame rich on Restoration Angels is not friendly to creatures like Wolfir Avenger or Hellrider. And it seems that the numbers of Restoration Angels will remain high in the foreseeable future. Creatures in Magic really have gone a long way since Troublesome Spirit was good in Standard.

I’ve mentioned that Restoration Angel is not an oppressive card, but that’s not necessarily true for the second card on our list, Thragtusk. Nine decks out of the sixteen total played the green five-powered monster, mostly in playsets. If you were wondering why there wasn’t a single burn deck or even a Rakdos aggro deck and why the numbers of non-blue aggro decks have been low in general, this is a big part of the explanation. Thragtusk shines in all green-based midrange decks like Naya or Jund and also as a „medium-sized threat“ in Reanimator, where he buys you enough time to find some bigger dude like Angel of Serenity or Craterhoof Behemoth to end the game with. And in case there are no better reanimation targets, casting Unburial Rites on Thragtusk is also not the end of the world. Right now, the popularity of the ‘Tusk is extremely high and I don’t see that changing anytime soon, so if you’re planning to go aggro, you’d better have a good plan against this angry Baloth.

The number three card on our list might come as a bit of a surprise. It’s not necessarily the third most popular card in the sixteen lists we’re talking about – that spot would probably go to some dual land. But we’re not talking about dual lands right now, we’re talking about cards that directly influence the characteristics of the metagame. And Azorius Charm does just that. While it might not be the all-around most powerful of the five charms (that award probably goes to its Izzet cousin), Azorius Charm is still a very potent card, which is clearly illustrated by the fact that almost all decks with access to blue and white played it. For control, Azorius Charm does two main things: temporarily gets rid of attackers and provides a cheap card draw in your opponent’s turn, which is essential in order to enable miracles. For the miracle control decks, it’s like a Think Twice on steroids – a cheap card draw / removal.

The fourth card on the list – Centaur Healer – was another surprise for me. The card is clearly good, but twenty-six copies out of sixty-four possible, that’s really quite a lot, especially considering that the Healer is a two-colored card and in green-white no less, a combination that’s not all that easy to reach. Centaur Healer is like a small Thragtusk. He provides a solid body and gives you value with Restoration Angel (and even curves well into it). Yet another reason why aggro decks were stopped dead in their tracks and why Zombies, a deck that’s clearly on the attacking side, posted very disappointing results this past weekend.

The fifth card on the list is Unburial Rites and I put it there to underline the fact that Frites – both the three color and the four color version – are now not only a tier 1 deck, but one of the few most important ones. In Standard, we usually don’t see narrow strategies that can be easily hated out by a dedicated sideboard plan. The sideboard is usually there to provide tools against archetypes in general, in a broad sort of way. Duress is popular against control, Olivia Voldaren against creature decks, Sigarda, Host of Herons, against removal-heavy decks... but Reanimator demands a more specific sideboarding approach. If you want to beat Frites, you certainly can, but in order to do that, you’d better be prepared. We’ve slowly started to see cards like Rest in Peace creep into people’s sideboards and I think that in order to be able to beat Reanimator, such measures are necessary, especially if the more dedicated versions start to be popular, like the one Dylan Brown has played, which includes Séance. If you haven’t checked Dylan’s list from GP Auckland, I highly suggest taking a closer look. The deck can do some really awesome things with the four mana white enchantment – for example putting a token-fatty into play from the graveyard and then copying it with the populate ability of Trostani, Selesnya's Voice. Needless to say, the token stays on the battlefield even when the original Séance-invoked token leaves for the afterworld. And in case Trostani is nowhere to be seen, it should be enough that the vast majority of creatures in the deck have some comes-into-play trigger, so even summoning them without using their body in combat should be fine. Even a spirit of Thragtusk leaves a 3/3 beast behind when it disappears, after all.

So – these five cards are the ones that I believe have the biggest impact on Standard right now in terms of what important things are going on there. It always takes some simplification to create a list like this and I’m sure that we could argue for many more cards that should be on the list as well, but this article has its space limits and it’s not possible to include many more. We can, however, talk about some more important cards in the comments. As always, I’m looking forward to what you, the readers, have to say. Thanks for reading and see you next time!

Adam Koska

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