Last week, when the Banned/Restricted announcement was dropped by the lovely folks over at WotC, I had decided that I was going to take a break from competitive Magic this season. I had about half the article written, why I was fed up, why Wizards missed it (again!), why I was just not in the mood to play in this Standard anymore, and why I was just going to practice Modern, which I’ve actually been preferring over the last few months over Standard.
And then they did it. The little hope that I had remaining in WotC came through and they banned that stupid cat. The frustration had been mounting at least for me for the past few months. First, they actually announced that their testing team of former Pro Tour Magic players missed an infinite damage, kill you on turn 4 combo in Standard. And then they banned a bunch of cards, allowing the silly cat to dominate Standard, slowly at first, but ultimately destroying the format along with Mardu Vehicles. Then they decided at the halfway point in the season, the new Banned and Restricted announcement date that they added (I’m convinced because they missed this combo in the first place), to not make a move.
And then the last round came out, and they didn’t ban it. I was convinced that my favorite game was drifting into Yu-Gi-Oh! or Pokemon territory, and that its days were numbered. And then they got the data they needed. Two days’ worth of Amonkhet Standard results from Magic Online dailies in a new Standard format. That was the thing that pushed Felidar Guardian over the edge, it seems.
Anyway, sarcasm aside, I’m back in business. Of course, it’s only the first week, so naturally, Mardu Vehicles is the most popular deck, and was a dominant performer over this first weekend at the SCG Tour stop in Atlanta, as it won in the hands of Andrew Jessup, and put five copies into the top eight, but the field going into day 2 was relatively diverse. Of course, the two mainstays of last season, Mardu and GB were the top performers, but other decks showed up especially online, where all of the Saheeli combo players have put their eggs in the Aetherworks Marvel basket.
I personally have moved onto an Emerge strategy, right now championing Blue Red. It got a few new tools, and is right up my alley in terms of playing mostly on your opponent’s turn, and being able to grind. Hopefully the addition of Magma Spray along with untested cards like Bloodrage Brawler and Drake Haven can give the deck the extra oomph it needs to compete. At least for right now I feel like it’s a solid tier 2 choice, and is budget friendly, while having a positive BG matchup, and a winnable Mardu matchup backed up by counterspells. All things I’m looking for right now, as this is really the last Standard season I’ll play probably before rotation, with Modern on the horizon.
One thing that I’m actually very excited for is the Pro Tour. This is actually a huge shakeup. While there are two very good strategies going into the Pro Tour, the teams and the community as a whole don’t have too much time to test new strategies in a format without Saheeli Combo, and it’s been a while at least since there’s been a Standard format without a full rotation. A new, full size set has been added, while the most played deck is no longer legal for play, but the rest of the decks are still here.
I think after this weekend, from both the online PTQ and the SCG Tour stop, Mardu Vehicles is strictly the best deck in the format. But now there seems to be only one best deck, and every deck after it is much closer to both Mardu Vehicles and the other decks in tier 1/2. I think it’s a format now where it’s safe to say you can play the cards you enjoy, as long as you’re prepared for the Mardu matchup, and you can probably do well.
While it’s unfortunate that Wizards had to ban so many cards from so many Standard formats over the past few months, it makes the game both more enjoyable from both a spectator and player’s perspective. You no longer have uncontested turn 3 Saheeli Rai into turn 4 Felidar Guardian because someone kept a decent hand with no interaction. The only thing to watch for now is the curve of aggressive creatures into a Gideon, Ally of Zendikar, with Cut // Ribbons ready to be Aftermathed.
I personally believe that formats with a single best deck are the healthiest, since you know the known quantity going in, and still have to have a reasonable game plan against a wide variety of decks. But I’m sure those that have been reading me for a while know that anyway.
Speaking of being interested in playing a U/R Emerge strategy, of which most of you are familiar already, there was quite an innovative list that top eighted the Standard PTQ on Magic online this past weekend. Now, a typical U/R Emerge deck would look something like what Zach Voss played to an 18th place finish at SCG Atlanta:
This was the highest placing U/R Emerge deck at the SCG Open in Atlanta this past weekend. This is the typical graveyard recursion strategy. There are some new cards in here, and you’ll also notice some cards moved around, like the Fevered Visions to the sideboard, but typically this is the creature suite people have in mind when they talk about this deck. You’re looking to churn through your deck, and turn all of the “discard cards” as part of the costs into card advantage overtime due to your recurrable threats, while being able to reduce the cost of your Elder Deep-Fiends that you would love to chain off of Sanctum of Ugin.
This is the bonkers list that top eighted the Magic Online PTQ:
Obviously the main differences here are the synergies. Instead of going for a more graveyard centric, grindy, Lightning Axe/Cathartic Reunion style deck, Jaek decided to use the artifact synergies in Kaladesh to abuse the Improvise keyword to make his Elder Deep-Fiends super mana efficient, while having a more proactive, quicker beatdown strategy with his cheaper Improvise threats.
From the looks of it, this looks like an even worse version of the U/R Emerge deck. The creatures aren’t really much better than the ones in the traditional deck, as even in going wide, he has no real way to make his thopters that are generated by some of his creatures real threats. While this is surely an innovative take on the deck, it’s not something I see as having real legs. The creatures you’re creating to replace the Stitchwings aren’t much better, and you don’t get to run the Cathartic Reunions or Tormenting Voices to filter through your hand to find good spells to cast. The “good spells” in this deck are just junky ones it feels like, and I can’t help but feel that a lot of the wins garnered by the deck in the event were due to it just simply catching its opponents off guard.
That being said, it was truly an innovative approach to an already existing archetype that most people probably were not prepared for. In fact, I didn’t even know some of these cards even existed!
I get to start the PPTQ season this weekend with a Standard event. I have been testing mostly sealed deck in Amonkhet to get ready for my RPTQ in June, but that format is frustrating if you’re as unlucky as I am. I’ve also been practicing a bit of the Emerge deck alongside Aetherworks Marvel for this Standard season. I don’t expect the Pro Tour to really change Standard too much, but I am excited to see what innovations unfold while the cats are out of the bag, or back in the bag? Anyway, until next time!
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