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Post-PT 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:

  • 14th at Pro Tour Portland 2014
  • 9th at Worlds 2009
  • 9th at Pro Tour Kyoto 2009
  • 64 Lifetime Pro Points
  • Three times Czech Nationals Top 8

Standard in the Post-PT World

Hi everybody!

In my last article, I tried to define some of the basic principles of the current Standard format - mostly those of the aggro, midrange and combo kinds, as the PT is always the tournament that defines control. And boy, did PT Hawaii deliver, with two completely different control decks in the finals. On a related note, I feel obliged to say that Shouta Yasooka is simply unreal and I have a secret suspicion that he is a machine, not a human. His play is crisp, his decklists are amazing, which is even more impressive due to the fact that he doesn't work in a team. Also, this time around, he - quote - "built his deck on Thursday after the Hall of Fame dinner". That's just sick (and I mean that in a good way).

Torrential Gearhulk
Versions:
Kaladesh (Foil)

I still believe that Smuggler's Copter, Verdurous Gearhulk and Cathartic Reunion are the pillars of the format. Verdurous Gearhulk has underperformed a bit, mostly because of the presence of combo decks (Temur Aetherworks was the most played deck in the day 1 metagame), but once the metagame shifts back to green midrange preying on decks it has favourable matchups against, we should certainly be able to see more of the green Hulk again. But in addition to these key cards, we now have to add the control pillars as well, which, above all, means Torrential Gearhulk. Three decks in the top 8 played the blue Hulk, all of them planning to "flashback" a mix of removal, countermagic and card draw spells. Generally speaking, the three most important targets are probably removal, Void Shatter and Glimmer of Genius. Removal is probably self-explanatory, but the three-mana counterspell means that you don't have to run more than just a handful of counterspells and thanks to the Hulk, you should be able to match the number of threats of decks like Aetherworks Marvel, which will throw several must-counter threats at you during a game. Playing more counterspells would mean clunky draws against the more aggressive decks, but not having access to enough pieces of countermagic would regularly lead to situations where the combo decks have more threats than the control deck has answers. Torrential Gearhulk + Void Shatter solves this dilemma in a very elegant way and at the same time, it also gives you a big threat which can close the game before the combo opponent can get to more threats. Glimmer of Genius is the second key target for the Hulk. It's not quite a Sphinx's Revelation, but in the lategame, scry 2 + draw 2 will often be equal to drawing three or four cards when you know what to dig for. Gearhulk + Glimmer helps with making sure you draw more Gearhulks or counterspells to end the game in a quick fashion.

Even though blue control took the top two seeds at the Pro Tour, when you look at the decks that did the best overall, the picture is a bit different. If we didn't count the Limited part of the tournament, four different people would be in the top 8 and it would obviously include four new decks as well, three of which would be U/W midrange/spirit decks. That's right - if the PT was only played in Standard, the top 8 would have four U/W midrange decks, making this archetype by far the most successful one of the whole tournament. Let's have a look at two of the best performing blue-white decklists, the first one piloted by Steve Hatto to 9-1 and the second one played by Luis Salvatto to the same record:

U/W midrange by Steve Hatto

9-1 at PT Kaladesh

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U/W midrange by Luis Salvatto

9-1 at PT Kaladesh

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Spell Queller
Versions:
Eldritch Moon (Foil)

Why is it that this archetype went under the radar in the weeks leading up to the Pro Tour and then managed to thrive in the metagame there? The SCG Open that took place in Indianapolis two weeks before the Pro Tour did feature an "U/W aggro" list finishing 37th, but perhaps the reason why that particular build didn't get the attention (and result) it should was that it was a bit too focused on attacking, having cards like Toolcraft Exemplar and Scrapheap Scrounger ("splashed" by making the manabase a bit worse, including Aether Hubs). Then two weeks later, U/W midrange dominated the top tables at the Pro Tour and there are several reasons for this. First of all, all of the successful lists opted for more countermagic - both pre-board and post-board. Main deck counterspells are great against the "all-in" combo decks: Spell Quellers and Negates work incredibly well when 17,6% of the field is Temur Aetherworks like at the PT - the U/W deck can create reasonable pressure and back it up with countermagic, which is a winning formula in this environment. The numbers of Aetherworks Marvels going down (which can be expected in the post-PT metagame) means that U/W's best matchup won't be so common, but the deck still has plenty of other good matchups as well. Control decks are fine, thanks to Smuggler's Copter, Gideon and - again - main deck countermagic, and even aggro matchups are playable. The combination of Selfless Spirit + Archangel Avacyn can trigger Avacyn's transformation whenever you like, which should give you a huge edge in these matchups. The fact that Smuggler's Copter survives the blast thanks to not being a creature in most upkeeps is obviously also a big upside.

Apart from U/W midrange builds, blue control decks were also fairly common at the top tables. Shouta Yasooka was one of the very few people running Grixis and he crushed everyone with his spicy list, but Jeskai and straight-up U/W was more common than the control deck with a black splash. The backbone of most control decks is obviously Torrential Gearhulk, but a card also present in many Jeskai lists is Nahiri, the Harbinger and I have to say that I was quite surprised to see Carlos Romao main deck Dovin Baan instead of Nahiri. I guess that further testing will show which one of the two four-mana planeswalkers is better in this shell.

Another interesting control tool is Dynavolt Tower. Some players like Pierre Dagen went "all-in" on it, having it as a primary win condition, but the Tower also made a token appearance in several of the control lists. I like the inevitability it provides and also the fact that it's a sink for leftover energy from Harnessed Lightning, Glimmer of Genius and Aether Hub, but I'm still not sure whether it's fast enough against aggro decks - matchups that it's supposed to shine against. In Jeskai, I think I like the more "proactive" cards like Spell Queller a bit more, but obviously, which one of these two approaches is better depends heavily on the metagame.

Aggro was also present - and fairly successful - at the PT in Honolulu. Apart from the R/W Vehicles lists, three of which finished in the top 8, red-black was the most successful archetype, with two R/B players reaching an 8-2 record. This is basically a faster version of R/W - instead of relying on more expensive cards like Depala and Gideon, you have access to more 1-drops in Inventor's Apprentice and Bomat Courier, better removal in Unlicensed Disintegration and the madness synergies of cards like Bloodhall Priest or Voldaren Pariah. Key to the City is a surprisingly strong card in this archetype - because you are faster than most other decks, pushing through extra damage as well as having an extra discard outlet has a lot of value. Some versions of the R/B deck are more focused on graveyard (with Prized Amalgam and Haunted Dead), other versions just play cheap creatures that attack and at this point, it's hard to say which version is better. Either way, R/B aggro seems like a fine way how to interact if the format becomes more "midrange" oriented. B/G should contain U/W and perhaps even R/W pretty well, but R/B can go "under" the delirium decks, killing them before they take over the board with Ishkanah and friends.

The Pro Tour is in the books, but several Standard GPs are just around the corner, so the question we should be asking ourselves is "What's the next step". Aetherworks Marvel decks didn't really deliver - despite some of the best teams playing this archetype (Channelfireball and also some of the Japanese superstars, including Yuuya Watanabe), their best records were mostly unimpressive. Matt Nass did reach the top 8, but he managed that on the back of a 6-3-1 Standard record (6-4-1, if we count his loss in the quarterfinals). Metalwork Colossus decks also didn't perform very well, again despite the fact that some of the big names of the game played the deck (Martin Müller, among others). I believe that the downfall of these combo decks was to a big extent caused by the popularity of blue decks with countermagic and as long as the numbers of Spell Quellers and Void Shatters remain high, combo decks will have a hard time.

Liliana, the Last Hope
Versions:
Eldritch Moon (Foil)

When the numbers of combo go down, it will open the door for midrange decks to shine - in theory, they should beat the "smaller" decks thanks to having bigger creatures and if they go with correct threats, the matchup against blue decks should also be fine. Verdurous Gearhulk, for example, seems perfect in a world full of Spell Quellers and Ishkanah, Grafwidow is also a trump card in this matchup. In short, the U/W decks are rather weak to B/G delirium type of decks: Selfless Spirit is terrible against Liliana, the Last Hope, etc. It seems natural that the next evolutionary step could see decks that prey on U/x midrange go up and these could be the ones that see success at the four Standard GPs that take place over the course of the next two weeks. Then again, combo decks should be the natural predators for these slower midrange decks without blue. Right now, it seems like this could be the default "evolutionary cycle" of Standard and to succeed at a particular tournament, we will need to figure out which phase the format is in, how quickly is the metagame wheel spinning.

I'm planning to do some serious preparation for GP Warsaw that takes place at the end of October. I know that I have a preference for blue control decks, but the "metagame wheel" is what I'll try to keep in mind above anything else, so at this point I have no idea what I'm going to play at the GP. Right now, the plan is to get familiar with the decks that suit me the most and then try to find the one that will have the best chances against the expected field - if you're planning to play the GP as well and don't have extensive preparation from before the PT under your belt, I recommend doing the same.

The bottom line after the Pro Tour seems to be that the format is wide open and the most powerful archetypes are kept in check by various reactive decks. I think this is a healthy place to be and I hope the format is going to be more diverse than the Collected Company world we've seen just a couple of months ago. I'm sure I'll keep paying attention to the various metagame cycles and will keep you updated in future articles.

Thanks for reading and see you next time!

Adam

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