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Recent Shifts In Standard And A Bonus Interview

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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

Recent Shifts In Standard And A Bonus Interview

Hey everybody and welcome! Several Standard GPs have taken place over the last two weekends and today, we’re going to have a look at what’s new in the most popular format, what new trends have these tournaments brought and how has Standard evolved recently. And to give you also someone else’s perspective, the second part of the article contains an interview with Tomáš Vaněk, fresh off a third place finish at GP Bochum, a Standard tournament with over 1700 players that took place on the weekend of 17th-18th November.

So, what’s new? The biggest change in the Standard metagame right now seems to be the surge of Zombies’ popularity. R/B Zombie-based aggro decks won the last two Standard GPs on US soil, with GP San Antonio having three R/B Zombie lists in the top 8, and the deck has put two more players into the top 8 of GP Bochum. Zombies have been preying on the shift of focus towards Bant control decks. Last week, Sphinx's Revelation was probably the most important card of the format. This week, Zombies have taken advantage of the fact that many people tried to increase their defenses against control decks and countermagic and took Standard by storm. If you’re going to play Standard in the coming weeks, I strongly encourage you to be prepared for Zombies.

Zombies proved to be one of the defining decks of the format and part of the reason why they succeeded was that they adapted to the old hate. If you take a look at the current lists, you’ll notice that most of the successful Zombie lists have dropped some of the small creatures like Rakdos Cackler and Bloodthrone Vampire and instead went for a more midrange approach of having cards like Hellrider or Thundermaw Hellkite. I think that this move makes sense in the light of what answers people play. Control lists have good anti-creature tools these days, but if you present too many serious threats, the control lists will run out of answers eventually. The key right now is to make sure that every single threat you play matters and you should have as many cards as possible that can kill the opponent on their own. Another common sight in the Zombies list is Knight of Infamy and that’s more of a metagame call than anything else. Some of the most widely played cards in the format are Azorius Charm, Restoration Angel and white weenie humans in general. Knight of Infamy is awesome against all of these, while at the same time playing the all-important role of being a two-drop, which has traditionally been the weak spot in the Zombies curve.

Zombies is not the only aggro deck in the current metagame that’s trying to overload the opponents with threats which have to be dealt with. The G/W deck has also experienced quite an upsurge of popularity and together with Zombies, these two beatdown decks have made up almost one third of day two metagame in San Antonio. The key here is the same – it doesn’t matter if your opponent draws a few extra cards with Sphinx's Revelation or two-for-ones you with a Thragtusk, as long as you can have cards that just kill them on their own if not dealt with quickly. The combination of Sublime Archangel, Silverblade Paladin and Rancor can cause such dramatic life-point swings that the five-life gain from Thragtusk will seem almost insignificant. Also, cards like Mayor of Avabruck, Precinct Captain and Gavony Township can create an army out of nowhere, which is, again, a very important feat when your board gets swept by Supreme Verdicts every other turn.

So how do control decks fare in this new environment? First, countermagic is not really a good way to fight this metagame anymore, partly due to the high number of Cavern of Souls. It’s still very good against control and if you’re playing blue, you should definitely make room for some Dispels and Negates in the sideboard to stop opposing Sphinx's Revelations and force through your own. But Essence Scatter has massively underperformed in the most recent tournaments and U/W flash decks should have a plan against aggro that doesn’t rely on countermagic.

Where is Reanimator positioned in this metagame? While this deck has been probably the best choice at GP Auckland a few weeks ago and the „Hoof“ version has been possibly the best deck choice in Bochum, the deck’s not that well positioned anymore, due to several reasons. First, aggro decks have adapted and are now easily capable of dealing many more than 20 points of damage in a single game, so Centaur Healer and Thragtusk are not backbreaking against them anymore. And second, even control decks have adopted new tools to beat reanimator. While two weeks ago, killing your control opponent with a Cavern-powered Craterhoof Behemoth couldn’t be easier, because neither Supreme Verdict nor Azorius Charm could deal with the hasty Beast and the massive damage it would deal, now the bant decks are actually playing some answers. The best one – and at the same time probably the most inconspicuous one – is Alchemist's Refuge. Because of this land, you can be prepared for Craterhoof Behemoth and cast your Supreme Verdict on their „big“ turn. Also, Refuge gives you an edge in the control mirror, making sure that you never have to tap out on your turn.

Interview with Tomáš Vaněk

GP Bochum took place last weekend and the Czech Republic had two participants in the elimination rounds. Martin Jůza, who ended up winning the whole thing, is a mainstay on the GP circuit and seems to be especially invincible in Bochum, where he won for the second time in a row. Armed with probably the best deck for that particular weekend, he seemed to win the 1700+ players tournament almost with ease. The second Czech player in the top 8 – Tomáš Vaněk – is a name that perhaps most people reading the coverage didn’t recognize. However, Tomáš is a very solid player and is regarded as a „constructed specialist“ in Prague, winning a Standard WMCQ and posting a second place finish in a PTQ in the past year or so. He’s also a good friend of mine, so I asked him if he could find some time in his busy schedule for a short interview for Blackborder.com. This is the deck that Tomáš played in Bochum:

RB Zombos by Tomáš Vaněk

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3rd place at GP Bochum

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Tomáš Vaněk

Hello and once again, congratulations on your third-place finish at GP Bochum! You are very well known in the Czech Republic for being a constructed specialist, who regards limited as a „necessary evil“. Why do you prefer constructed and – more importantly – what are the most important skills for a constructed player?

I regard constructed more as a „safe choice“. I’m a very risk-averse person and in my opinion, there is much more variability going on in limited – during the draft, the deck construction and also in the game itself. To put it simply, more things out of your control can go horribly wrong. I feel that in constructed, the result of the match depends more on the abilities of each player and on the respective draw that you get. Because of this, in constructed, I feel that I can predict the outcome of the match a lot better and therefore lower the risk of a loss, particularly a loss to a player you normally shouldn’t lose to. Of course I expect to lose even in constructed, but these losses don’t upset me so much, because I can see them coming.

Also, I quite enjoy repeating the same in-game processes of a deck I get used to.

As for important skills in constructed, I don’t think that they differ all that much from the skills you need in limited. Only that perhaps creativity is not needed that much and precision and good technical play will bring better results.

What do you think about the current Standard format? What are the most important decks and how are Zombies positioned in the metagame? What are the good and bad matchups of the deck?

I think that the power level of cards in Standard is really high, perhaps even too high. Cards are so powerful that if you don’t have an answer even for one particular card, it can cost you the game. If a creature like Geist of Saint Traft, Thundermaw Hellkite, Falkenrath Aristocrat or Olivia Voldaren slips through, it can easily kill you in a very short time. Because of this, being reactive is a losing strategy and that’s why I decided to run Zombies in Bochum.

The important decks are: G/W aggro, Zombies aggro, U/W control, Bant control, U/W/R midrange, Jund midrange and U/W midrange. With Zombies, it really depends on the build. When built correctly, they are always tier 1.

I’ve heard you saying that you were not very happy with the deck. Why was that? What would you change about the deck if you had to play the tournament all over again?

It’s not easy to complain about a deck that just helped you to a top4 finish at a Grand Prix, but truth to be told, my deck really wasn’t good. I had six maindeck Threaten effects and I sided them out in about eighty percent of the matches I played (I got paired against a lot of U/W decks). The manabase is somewhat shaky, you get clunky draws sometimes, don’t have access to powerful cards like Thragtusk, Supreme Verdict or planeswalkers... As long as the deck was firing on all cylinders, it was good, but a single hiccup meant that everything fell into pieces. If I could pick a different deck, I would have played Martin Juza’s reanimator. Hands down the best deck for the tournament.

With your finish in Bochum, you qualified for PT Gatecrash in Montreal. How are you planning to prepare? Is there any special method that you use when preparing for a major tournament?

I think that the most important part of preparing for a tournament is to understand the format very well and play as many different decks as possible before the event. If you have enough time before an event, try to test the format and then play new decks, presumably something like Orzhov or W/R/B in Montreal, and if you don’t have too much time, play a deck like Zombies or G/W (Gruul or Boros in Montreal). Special method: play a ton of games.

Leveler
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You racked up five pro points in Bochum, which – together with some points you already had in the season and also the minimum of three from Montreal – means that you have a good shot at making the Silver pro level. Does this mean something to you? Do you think you can level up and reach Gold or eventually even Platinum?

I would like to use this space to briefly express my opinion on the current pro level system. If everything goes well, I’m going to reach the Silver level. If I’m really lucky, maybe even Gold. But it’s entirely possible that I finish the season with something like 20-25 points and I remain on Silver, which means I get absolutely nothing. I do think that Wizards should change the current pro level system. The Silver level is almost embarrassing for anybody who reaches it. It’s not easy to reach 20 points and what you get as a reward are two byes and access to one MTGO PTQ? I really miss the bonus of having one invite to a PT, like the old level 3 used to give you. I hope that Wizards make some adjustments in the „lower“ part of the levels system, either by introducing one additional level or by adjusting the system as a whole.

Any message you would like to send to the readers of Blackborder.com?

Testing is overrated.

Thanks for your time and good luck in Montreal!

That wraps it up for today. Thanks for reading and see you next time!

Adam Koska

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