Glimpses into An Open Format

Written by Mike Keknee on . Posted in Competitive Magic, Standard

Glimpses into An Open Format

Mike Keknee

Mike Keknee has been playing Magic off and on since 1999. He is a grinder with some positive results, but brewing is his first love. You can follow him on Twitter @Big_Tears. You can also hear him on the @AtYourEndStep podcast hosted by MTGcast.

Last weekend I attended SCG Cincinnati, otherwise known as the dawn of a new Standard format. Players said good-bye to favorites like Vapor Snag, Birthing Pod and consistent Delver of Secrets blind-flips. While the old format was by no means suffocating, the anticipation of Return to Ravnica had certainly got people itching to try new things. While I had a chance to money playing Jund Midrange, I ended up with an average 5-4 record. But I encountered interesting decks full of new cards and interactions that might be overlooked.

For reference, I played:

The deck was solid, if not a bit top-heavy. Olivia Voldaren was by far the best card all day, and adding a third to the maindeck would be my first change. The Thundermaw Hellkites were bonkers anytime I cast them. I killed Tamiyo, Moon Sage all day by dropping this guy, not to mention the amounts of dead spirit tokens it left in its wake.

Bonfire of the Damned was pretty poor all day. The decks they were good against were the ones you already were stacked against. The Auger Spree and the inclusion of all four Vampire Nighthawks were concessions to other decks. Auger Spree was my desperate search to find something that killed Lotleth Troll. Tragic Slip’s morbid is hard to trigger when Pillar of Flame is your go-to removal spell.

Dreadbore is amazing, and I would definitely be willing to add more to the main. Even the midrange decks are full of planeswalkers now, and being able to kill card like Tamiyo with a minor investment is awesome. Mizzium Mortars is also pretty impressive. The ability to overload boards away is consistently just a win condition. They are pretty awkward, however, against things like Armada Wurm.

Vraska the Unseen was awful. I would suggest staying away from her as she literally does nothing. The permanent she removes is OK, but opponents just ignore her. If she could hit lands then she would be better, but overall she is underwhelming.

My list is nothing too unexpected. Like many decks, it just jams quality cards. I want to highlight  the other new decks and interactions. Let’s begin with Round 2, because who needs to start at the beginning?

Round 2: G/W/B Tokens by Mark Sun

Mark Sun is a rather good player known for his Legacy prowess. I knew Mark from the Columbus area, and we were less than excited to get called to the feature match area to knock one of us down early.

During Game 1, Mark played two, yes two, Parallel Lives. I played an Olivia Voldaren, and Mark immediately laughed. He realized he did not have an answer for the flying vampire.

We quickly went to Game 2, where I was bashed out by many Armada Wurms and Thragtusks. But Game 3 blew my mind when Mark cast … Pack Rat … WUT?!?! I loved the synergy. Imagine this scenario (also known as Magical Christmasland) — Parallel Lives with Pack Rats, then you discard Lingering Souls to the Pack Rat. SO MUCH VALUE!

Anyways, I dropped an Olivia, and we raced. I was able to stem the tide of rats, and it turned out Mark may have punted a bit by discarding an early Garruk Relentless which could have dropped my vampire.

This round was an absolute blast, and his deck was a great example of pure fun in an open format. Make sure to look out for Pack Rat and friends because his was one of the day’s deck techs. This deck had a scary amount of synergy, and with a Pack Rat in play, your opponent is always going to draw a creature.

While my round against Mark had me excited for the new format, it was my opponent in Round 4 that offered me the greatest shock of the day.

Round 4: G/W/B Junk by Jeremiah Schmidt

Jeremiah was playing an interesting Junk list full of powerful cards. There were many Junk lists running around, and they all seemed to feature the Thragtusk, Restoration Angel and Disciple of Bolas engine that more than a few writers were high on. Jeremiah’s deck had this engine with the added bonus of Centaur Healer (take that, zombies!).

Game 1 was a grueling affair where I played Rakdos’s Return twice only to watch Disciples refill his hand. Eventually I got there with tons of mana and a Kessig Wolf Run. I saw some interesting things like Lingering Souls, Sorin, Lord of Innistrad and Cremates.

Game 2, however, was crazy. We started off trading land drops, and he got a few creatures into play while I ramped with Farseeks and Keyrunes. We got to a point where he was ahead on board, but I could use Rakdos’s Return to empty his hand. It would be easy to stabilize from that point so I pulled the trigger … and got crushed. After I announced the spell, he quickly tipped his hand to show me this:

… Awkward

Games on both sides stopped in their tracks and watched this blowout. I couldn’t help but laugh as I watched him untap and bring the father of demons into play. Needless to say, I lost that game (overloaded Mizzium Mortars are severely less sweet when Griselbrand is in play).

I managed to win Game 3 on the back of Olivia, but Game 2 was by far one of the most hilarious moments I have had while playing Magic. This transformational board package caught me off-guard and unprepared. This may be an interesting way to build your junk sideboards because Grisly Salvage is quite playable here. In the future, be weary of opponents who seem too happy about seeing Rakdos’s Return.

Round 5: WR Humans by Travis Hixson

Speaking of blowouts, I wanted to highlight this round because I was utterly thrashed. While my draws were average at best (I saw no Thragtusks either game), Travis quickly wrecked me with his impressive aggro deck.

Game 1 went like this:
T2: Lightning Mauler
T3: Silverblade Paladin, pair, hit for eight
T4: (After the Paladin was destroyed) Lightning Mauler, pair, hit for four
T5: (Bonfire of the Damned killed both Maulers) Riders of Gavony
T6: (I played a Thundermaw Hellkite to stabilize) Zealous Conscripts, take dragon, crush face

To say this deck was fast is an understatement. I opened a much better hand Game 2 with double Dreadbore. Unfortunately, his Turn 2 and Turn 3 plays were Knight of Glory. He also played Bonds of Faith to great effect before finishing me off.

I was dead by Turn 6 both games despite seeing tons of removal. After seeing control and reanimator do well this weekend, it is the blistering aggro deck like Boros that can seemingly come from nowhere. It gets to play Thalia, Guardian of Thraben and Knight of Glory, which seem incredible right now despite Pillar of Flame. The mana is pretty solid with Clifftop Retreat and Cavern of Souls. You get a powerful curve with Lightning Mauler promising some explosive starts.

This may be something to consider in the coming weeks if Zombies remains the fastest deck in a slow format.

Cards to watch

Beyond my actual rounds, I found myself sticking around my table far longer than I had in prior tournaments. The allure of new decks and hilarious game states had me glued to my seat. Many cards piqued my interest.

Intrepid Hero: While there many G/W aggro and midrange decks running around, I had not seen this guy used yet. Some humans list may want him, but he’s so squishy. However, early in the day I was treated to seeing this play: Play Rancor, target the opponent’s Restoration Angel, tap Intrepid Hero to destroy the Angel, get Rancor back, smash face. Not the most suffocating lockdown, but Intrepid Hero seems interesting when Thragtusk makes up 50 percent of the format. Rancoring the opponent’s creature can also enable you to exile it with Selesnya Charm.

Wingcrafter: In another interesting humans matchup, one player was G/W with Mayor of Avabruck and the other was U/W. During Game 2, I watched Turn 1 Champion of the Parish followed by Turn 2 Wingcrafter. The interaction was interesting, and the flying carried (literally) the U/W player to victory. While Silverblade Paladin and Wolfir Silverheart are the splashier soulbond creatures, look out for the little guy that flies.

Bonds of Faith: I saw this enchantment more than a few times throughout the weekend. It was a way to keep creatures like Thragtusk at bay, and it also allowed the human decks to punch in more damage. Selesnya Charm is good at this as well, and Bonds of Faith is shaky if you are counting on it to stop opposing Geralf’s Messengers. But the versatility of this Pacifism is something to consider.

Angel of Glory’s Rise: While there were many Unburial Rites decks running around, after Round 1 I stuck around at my table to witness this number. The deck was a four-color deck featuring some of the game’s best humans and Grisly Salvage. The angel returned multiple Huntmaster of the Fells and Fiend Hunters to play. While I assume Angel of Serenity is just better, this deck definitely had style points for also blowing out zombies.

Underworld Connections: This little enchantment really did some work at the top tables. Some of the zombie builds had this in their sideboard, and it was definitely impressive in conjunction with Blood Artist. After playing against the U/W/R control deck, I will definitely add some of these to my board. Extra cards are the only things that can keep you in the game sometimes.

Sigarda, Host of Herons: It seems like this angel may finally seem some play. There were definitely a few matches where I saw her doing a ton of work. She is strong, but her deck (G/W) is a little weak, at least the aggro variants. In the right shell though, she will be an absolute house. It doesn’t hurt that the cheap Clone effects have left the format.

Niv-Mizzet, Dracogenius: Wow, so this card is insane. There is no way that a control deck should lose if they get to untap with this monster in play. Olivia Voldaren is fine and dandy, but drawing cards is just crazy. Niv-Mizzet is dangerously easy to cast for control decks at the moment, and look for him to be the finisher of choice as the format evolves.

Lessons Learned

Much of the new Standard seems to hinge on players durdling until they can drop a haymaker. Most decks seem to be adaptable and tunable in the new format. With reanimator and the new control deck surfacing, we may have a format where combo, control and aggro will all be present and playable in a number of ways.

The only deck that seems truly weak is the G/W aggro deck. Loxodon Smiter is powerful in a bubble, but their terrible removal makes the match infinitely winnable. G/W seems best right now when paired with another color. Both black and blue offer the best choice for adding a little more to the deck.

Be careful of playing something this weekend that only derives power from its creatures. The removal in the format is not as bad as advertised, and you will definitely get punished for such one-dimensional strategies.
I am going to continue tuning Jund for States this week after reviewing those that finished higher than me this weekend. Enjoy watching the new format develop as we see hidden gems rise to the top!

— Mike Keknee
Twitter: @Big_Tears

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