As we are approaching Pro Tour Aether Revolt fast, the first Standard tournament was held a week ago, as usual by guys over at SCG, it is kind of like a very big release celebration. While things happening there do not have the same weight as what happens at the Pro Tour, there are still some merits to having these early results. For starters we can take a look at what decks can look like and what didn't work out.
Going in, everyone was buzzing about the new Splinter Twin deck, Saheeli Rai and her newfound friend Felidar Guardian. The first question to answer is if the combo really is good enough for Standard and what a deck built around the combo should look like.
If we look at the Top 8 decklists, there were actually three Saheeli lists in the elimination rounds, and they are quite different as well. So you could say that the opening debut of Felidar Guardian was quite successful. I am just not so sure about these numbers. You see, having watched the whole tournament, I can say that most of the established names of the SCG tour were playing the Saheeli combo and having most of them fail in the end could actually mean the opposite of that.
But what we can deduce from these results is that there is something out there and that there are many different directions in which you take the combo. The Jeskai control version, which leaned very heavily on Torrential Gearhulk to do the heavy lifting when they did not assemble the combo in the early turns, was very popular but did end up putting only one copy in the Top 8.
What I was more impressed with and what looked way sweeter were the four-color versions, especially Tyler Hill's version. All these Oaths, which you can blink with the Guardian for value. Even if the Jeskai version proves to be better positioned and more efficient, I can't help but think that Oath of Chandra's stock is going to rise. This is a permanent I do not mind to target with the new cat on the block even if Saheeli is not around. Also, blinking the other Oaths is just gas, mostly resulting in finding the missing piece of the puzzle.
In the end, what really prevailed over new Exarch-Twin was good old Basic Forest. All of the semi-finalists played their own version of a green-based aggressive deck. While there was one copy of former superstar G/W Tokens among them, the rest was wholeheartedly dedicated to the new powerhouse Winding Constrictor. Golgari seems to be the way to go these days.
Funnily enough, a lot of discrepancies can be found when comparing the remaining three lists. What stands out in all three of them is:
Rishkar, Peema Renegade
Grasp of Darkness
Both finalists also played Tireless Tracker, which is a good enough card to see Modern and even Legacy play, so I think there is definitely a correlation between these two facts. Only the third place finisher had Catacomb Sifter and it may be that the Golgari Eldrazi is just not good enough now. It does not really synergize with the rest of the deck whereas the Tracker not only profits from double +1/+1 counters but also represents a very serious threat and even a win condition on her own.
Questions that need to be answered moving forward are:
Is there a place for Planeswalkers in this kind of deck? If so, which one do you want to have access to? The more aggressive Nissa, Voice of Zendikar to go with Winding Constrictor or the more controlling Ob Nixilis, Reignited, to have a more independent threat? Also, where did Liliana, The Last Hope just go?
Do you want to play some sort of Vehicle? Is it Heat of Kiran or Aethersphere Harvester?
Is the Energy subtheme good enough and is Glint-Sleeve Siphoner really the new Dark Confidant?
Or is the Delirium subtheme better? Grim Flayer or Servant of the Conduit?
The real winner though, clearly is Walking Ballista and you can witness this in the price spike as well. Spiking a whopping 300% is impressive, as it was getting called the best Rare / Mythic from the new set. This hybrid of Hangarback Walker and Triskelion really does it all and you do not even need a Winding Constrictor for it to get going (although it certainly does not hurt either).
Walking Ballista stops the Saheeli combo as long as it sits on the battlefield (by shooting down Saheeli Rai when her activation waits on the stack), lets the controller keep mana open at all times for the good black removal spells while not wasting any mana and shoots down all sorts of things. I have seen it gun down a Planeswalker, attacking creatures, double-blocking creatures, creatures getting targeted by Rishkar, oh and yeah, it also shoots the opponent's face when the time has come.
So, what should you not do in this format?
Two words - fall behind. There is a reason why the different control decks did not make an impact on the first week of Aether Revolt. Even against the Jeskai versions of Saheeli, it is not that difficult to fall behind by simply not doing anything for the first two turns or having played just one creature and it getting shocked. When the Saheeli player can land a planeswalker on an empty board, it is a headache inducing situation. You have to pressure it but then you are tapping out to get comboed out. Most of all you have to avoid this situation. And it goes the same for every other matchup. You could witness this best in the finals, where the player on the draw either had to remove all of the creatures the opponent played or would get run over by the sheer synergy and power of Rishkar and Winding Constrictor.
Maybe there is a good control deck in the format, but right now it seems very hard to find the right early interaction you need to not fall behind, as well as the power to fight all the value the midrange decks can generate. If you want to trade with your opponent 1-for-1 and then cast a Glimmer of Genius but the opponent then has a Cloudblazer and can immediately copy it with their planeswalker, you are doing it wrong.
Well, that's it for today. Of course, we will only see the truth when Pro Tour Dublin comes around and maybe not even then. This format Standard format is new and exciting. Here's hoping that the Pro circuit does not break the format to the point where it gets stale again.
About Jasper Grimmer
Jasper is a player from Germany who can be found at almost every European Grand Prix and prepares a lot for them. Being on the GP circuit since 2011, he has had a number of good finishes:
- Top 8 GP Malmö 2012
- Top 8 GP Paris 2015
- Top 4 Team GP Florence 2015 (with Amit Cohen & Robin Steinborn)