- REVIEW OF THE WEEK
by Stephen MurrayThursday 5th November 2015
- Hello friends, this weekend in standard brought us Grand Prix Indianapolis, and a clear backlash against the Dark Jeskai forces. While none of the hyped ramp decks made top 8, there was a lot of talk in the room about how people brought decks that were favoured against Jeskai, so lets see what made it.
You can find the Grand Prix Indianapolis coverage here
Abzan - Brent Clawson [1st] MAIN DECK SIDEBOARD
First of all, Abzan won, and placed a second copy in the top 8. You can't keep a good deck down, and Brent Clawson's deck is just like the Pro Tour champion's version, with only one card change in the sideboard (one additional Self-Inflicted Wound over a Transgress the Mind). It's never going away. We will never be rid of Siege Rhino. Even if you think they've gone for good, years from now, occasionally a Rhino will haunt you in modern.
It's just such a solid deck, it's basically the benchmark of the format. You can get away with having a bad match up against Red, or Esper, or Ramp, but if your deck gets massacred by Abzan then your deck isn't good enough. I've mentioned before that it's really hard to be actually consistantly favourable against Abzan, so being slightly unfavourable is okay, and more or less expected.
On to newer decks!
Esper Tokens - Raymond Perez Jr [2nd] MAIN DECK SIDEBOARD
1 Ob Nixilis Reignited
2 Sorin, Solemn Visitor
4 Gideon, Ally of Zendikar
3 Wingmate Roc
4 Hangarback Walker
4 Knight of the White Orchid
1 Ruinous Path
2 Painful Truths
1 Ultimate Price
2 Utter End
3 Secure the Wastes
3 Murderous Cut
Finalist Ray Perez Jr.'s Esper Tokens deck (previously played by Fabrizio Anteri in the October MOCS) is hot and fresh out of the kitchen, using the common strategy of avoiding removal spells out of Jeskai decks by swarming with tokens rather than playing strong individual creatures. Honestly it seems like a misnomer to call it Esper tokens, since the only use of blue mana in the main deck is to make Painful Truths draw 3 cards instead of 2. It's basically BW tokens, or if you want to follow the 'Dark Jeskai' naming scheme, 'Moist Orzhov'.
Where was I? Oh right, yes. The deck isn't super synergystic with all the tokens outside of the Planeswalker tag team of Sorin and Gideon, loading up on a bunch of removal to go with the great threats. Hence, this deck beat up the Jeskai decks by being ready for Mantis Rider, and overloading removal by only playing cards that get you something extra out of them in some way even if they're answered, whether it's an extra land, an extra card or some tokens.
The blue comes in from the sideboard in the form of counterspells. Dispel is still great, hitting all these Dig Through Times, enemy sideboarded counters, and all kinds of random cards like Rally the Ancestors that people will always want to play. Dragonlord Silumgar resumes the role of 'great sideboard card' from last season, as people will likely have less spot removal than usual post-board, considering how bad it is against the deck playing Secure the Wastes.
- Don't make the mistake of thinking this is like the other Esper decks that take a long time to kill you. The Secure the Wastes/Sorin combo in conjuction with just casting Knight of the White Orchid can really put the pressure on fast. This gets even more scary post-board if they take out some removal for counterspells, letting them deploy creatures willy-nilly while staying safe against a control deck's sweepers.
- On the other hand, if this deck wants to take the control role against you, beware being swept yourself! This deck can block quite well without committing much to the board thanks to Hangarback and the Planeswalkers, which can easily lead to over-committing your own guys into a sideboarded Languish.
- While playing this deck against something like Abzan, it's very easy to switch between more controlling roles and aggressive roles between games. Consider switching it up on the play or draw.
Bant Megamorph - Valentin Mackl [7th] MAIN DECK SIDEBOARD
Valentin Mackl's 'Bant Megamorph' is again just a GW deck that uses the excellent mana fixing for counterspells in the sideboard. Otherwise known as 'Damp Selesnya'. There's not much new with this approach, people have been doing it from day 1, but it's curious that there are essentially 2 dual colour main decks in this top 8 with a blue splash.
An interesting thing I've noticed about this standard is that there's basically no way to tell if the deck you are facing is 2 colours or 3 colours or even 4 colours. The way the dual land/fetch land mana bases are set up, it usually makes sense to have say a Prairie Stream in a B/W deck just so you can find white mana with a Polluted Delta. As a consequence of this, decision making becomes more complex than normal. Basically anyone could have Dispels or Disdainful Strokes at any time, so pay attention even if they haven't played any blue cards at all in game 1.
This makes the stock of cards like Duress rise a little bit, since it's more valuable to know exactly what's going on over there.
RG Landfall - Scott Kirkwood [3rd] MAIN DECK SIDEBOARD
Scott Kirkwood's RG Landfall deck is another relatively stock deck. Cheap guys, Atarka's Command, Become Immense, so on. There are some advantages to playing a bunch of green creatures over cards like Dragon Fodder, such as evading Surge of Righteousness a bit easier, being able to smash through Arashin Cleric, and just overall a tad faster. You are a bit more vulnerable to one-for-one removal spells this way, but Kirkwood compensates for this with Outpost Siege in his sideboard.
The Become Immense decks have been quite consistant so far, but never dominating. There's just enough of it to remind you not to take out the anti-red cards from your sideboard. The red decks are somewhat natural foils to decks like Esper that are targetting Abzan and Jeskai, so I expect there will be a pack of Become Immense in every top 8 for the foreseeable future.
Alright, time to look at something exciting again. Very few things in Magic make my inner Magical Child happier than putting +1/+1 counters on my creatures, and boy does David Phelps's deck deliver on that!
GW Hardened Scales - David Phelps [5th] MAIN DECK SIDEBOARD
4 Managorger Hydra
2 Abzan Falconer
4 Avatar of the Resolute
4 Hangarback Walker
4 Den Protector
4 Servant of the Scale
4 Dromoka's Command
4 Stubborn Denial
2 Feat of Resistance
2 Valorous Stance
4 Hardened Scales
Hardened Scales was a fringe deck last season, but it was always missing a little something to make it a real contender. Part of the problem was that the mana wasn't great, needing to play a bunch of Mana Confluences and so on to get through the slightly hard mana requirements.
Now, everyone's mana got better, and Hardened Scales is no exception. Now we find what is a fairly sleek set of creatures that get enormous alongside Hardened Scales, with a package of cards to protect them from removal.
When this deck gets going it really gets big, Managorger Hydra in particular is hilariously fast at getting out of control alongside the Scales. It's normally quite easy to kill the Hydra though.
Enter: Stubborn Denial. Stubborn Denial does everything this deck needs. It counters Crackling Doom, it counters Silkwrap, it counters Planeswalkers, it counters sweepers, you name it.
In the earlier versions of the deck, you'd end up with an 8/8 Hangarback Walker or similar, and you'd just get ruined by Abzan Charm. Obviously, 4 Stubborn Denial isn't going to save you every time, but I think this deck is at least going to be competitive going forward but not tier 1. It's still a bit inconsistant overall, but I would expect to see this in small amounts in most events since it's the type of deck that appeals to many players.
- Bring lots of counters or dice. Tearing up pieces of paper or hoping your opponent has dice will not be good enough this time!
- If you are playing against another GW deck, try to hold Hardened Scales in your hand until you will get a couple of guaranteed extra counters if you don't have a Denial in hand for Dromoka's Command.
- You will never feel more delight than when you cast Inspiring Call to defeat a Planar Outburst and draw 3+ cards. If you were planning to save 'the happiest day of your life' for your wedding or first born child, you might need to take that card out of the sideboard.
Next up, on a more serious note we see Pat Chapin's take on Esper.
Esper Control - Patrick Chapin [6th] MAIN DECK SIDEBOARD
Taking a leaf out of Reid Duke's deck last week, a few pros played variations on Esper this weekend to largely positive records but overall not earth shatteringly well.
Why was Chapin more successful? Being a Hall of Fame worthy wizard helps, but really I think it's in the fine-tuning of his decklist. There are a lot of cards with only 1 or 2 copies, indicating he's tested the deck a bunch and made little tweaks. For example, 2 Clash of Wills/2 Negate/1 Horribly Awry instead of 4 Clash will have won games. The removal mix in particular stands out, with gutsy main deck Surge of Righteousness and Hallowed Moonlight.
Surge makes a lot of sense with a field of Jeskai, Abzan and Become Immense decks since it's great against all of those, and you can always discard it with Jace if it's dead. Moonlight is usually a bit more subtle. While it's obviously unbelievably good when someone is trying to cast Rally the Ancestors, it does have some uses against Thopter tokens, Wingmate Roc and so on. It's also possible that Chapin expected some Secure the Wastes to pop up!
Moonlight also is like a weak Anticipate in the worst case scenario, where it cycles and powers up Delve slightly.
Chapin has been a champion of sideboarding in cheap threats in the past, so while it's a bit unusual for most people to have Monastery Mentor in the sideboard, it's normal for him. In addition to the obvious part of punishing people who take out all their removal, it's a way to solve problems you might not necessarily know about going into the event. If someone has an unexpectedly effective strategy against your deck, having threats in the sideboard let you shift gears and take the initiative. Having Tasigur, Dragons and Mentors in the sideboard lets you sideboard unpredictably which is always an advantage.
While the ramp deck is known now, this version of Esper needs to lean less heavily on Infinite Obliteration to defeat Ulamog, the Ceaseless Hunger. He still has one, but he doesn't need to play lots of cards for that one specific match up, because after board he can just execute plan Mentor Murder.
- This deck is quite effective against Dark Jeskai. If you want your Mantis Rider deck to be better against Esper, try playing more Duress main deck in Dark Jeskai or a version with additional Planeswalkers, even if Chapin's build is more ready for Planeswalkers than most.
- If you don't have Jaces, you can build a completely creature-free version. Narset isn't very expensive these days!
- Abzan has the best shot of combining discard spell + Planeswalker, since it's easy for them to play a bunch. Just make sure you leave in answers to Mentor though, if you're far behind on board playing Planeswalkers one at a time doesn't help too much.
Finally, there is Daniel Chan's Soggy Abzan deck. It's more or less the Abzan you know and love, but (say it with me!) splashing for counterspells.
Blue Abzan - Daniel Chan [8th] MAIN DECK SIDEBOARD
That's not all though, this version has made some tough cuts of powerful cards like Anafenza and Gideon to lower the curve a bit, including pre-Dragons of Tarkir option Heir of the Wilds. I like this, since it reduces the number of clunky hands while increasing overall aggression. It is a bit weak to the various Jeskai Shock effects, but it beats having 5+ 3 cost and higher cards in your hand.
I also have to compliment the inclusion of Pitiless Horde and Planar Outburst. The Horde is great at applying pressure without committing it to the board, and is decent at dashing in to punch out unsuspecting Planeswalkers. It also even goes slightly well with your own Outburst, since you can keep attacking them without indicating that you have a sweeper.
Also, I'm sure no one expected a maindeck Planar Outburst against a more aggressive version with Heir and Horde. Now people will somewhat suspect it though, even if someone doesn't have the Outburst in their deck. The mindgames!
Moving forward, don't discount the ramp decks. No top 8 this time, but it was popular throughout the weekend, so be prepared with your Infinite Obliterations! If I had to pick something unexpected for this weekend, I'd consider something Temur-ish. With more and more people trying to splash for Dispels, Negates and Disdainful Strokes, and Crackling Doom on the downswing, it might be just time to start slamming into people with Savage Knuckleblade and friends.
Stephen Murray @JechtMurray Best Gaming Performance? Top 8 World Magic Cup in 2012 as part of Team Scotland, 2 Pro Tour top 50s and 3 time National Champion.Favourite Format? 2HG DraftFavourite Deck? Competitively, Living End. Casually, any deck with Armadillo Cloak and Savage Beating. Lifetime Pro Points: 62