Welcome back! After last week’s article I’m relieved to get back to a more light-hearted topic, but if you suffer from depression or know someone who does please take a few minutes to read that article.
This week I’m continuing my 3 part series exploring the decks that would be possible in Standard if Mono Blue Devotion wasn’t so damn consistent. Trust me, I’m not complaining. I used to be one of the people who always thought “Standard would be SO much better if CARDNAME were banned,” and many people believe that CARDNAME should be replaced in that sentence with Pack Rat, Sphinx’s Revelation, Thoughtseize, etc. I disagree. I’ve come to accept that Standard is a format of 1-3 great decks, 5-10 good decks, and the rest are just bad. Every once in awhile certain cards completely dominate the format and should be banned to shake things up. While the same DECKS have shown up in every top 8 from the first day of Theros being legal until today, no single card has proven to be broken enough to deserve a ban. Furthermore, the sheer number of tier 1/1.5/2 decks is greater than it has been in years, and to deny the diversity of the format is to take a selfishly short-sighted view of the current Standard. Just because someone’s pet deck isn’t viable doesn’t mean that the format isn’t diverse. Stale, maybe, but still diverse.
I spend a lot of energy trying to talk Stephen out of playing the exact kinds of decks I’ve been talking about in these articles. Stephen is, by his own admission, a “deck hipster.” Stephen wants nothing more than to play a deck before it is popular, and then as soon as it catches on he abandons it for the next unsung hero. The problem is, Stephen is one of the best Red mages I know, at a time when Burn has consistently been one of the top decks in Standard. Stephen made the Top 4 of TX States playing RW Burn, losing to Alec May playing Mono Blue Devotion, and the most impressive win I’ve ever seen from a Red Deck was Stephen winning through DOUBLE Leyline of Sanctity in the finals of a Modern Win-a-Box tournament. That was at SCG Dallas, (located not in Dallas AT ALL, but rather almost 45 minutes away in beautiful downtown Fort Worth, which is not even in Dallas County. It’s in Tarrant County. Just STOP.) after scrubbing out with Naya Tokens, while Alec May went on to top 8 playing Mono Blue Devotion.
My theory is that Stephen could have taken Alec’s place in all of these events if he had consistently played Burn at every event. Burn is Stephen’s preferred archetype, and the deck that would give him the best chance of winning. I don’t know Alec that well, but I’ve never once seen him playing anything else besides Mono Blue. Focusing his attention on one deck allowed Alec the additional testing reps and competitive match experience necessary to beat a Red mage of Stephen’s caliber, one who may have wasted some of that valuable testing time trying to make Riddle of Lightning + Enter the Infinite work. (that deck will be featured in my next article, one that most certainly deserves to be under the headline “The Ugly”)
There’s nothing wrong with Stephen following every single trail he picks up a scent on. He had Mono Blue Devotion built almost card-for-card before the deck hit the big time, and has a keen sense for deck building and card interactions in general. The problem lies in his tendency to test these decks for big events when he should just be figuring out the optimal Burn list for the expected meta and finalizing his sideboard.
This isn’t meant to be a slam piece about Stephen’s poor choices. That article would fill innumerable volumes. My point is that for Stephen, this experimentation is futile. Every single player from Jon Finkel all the way down to Joe Schmo wishes their preferred deck archetype was playable at a competitive level. In the current Standard environment, aggro, midrange, control, and combo are all represented in the top tiers. (I’m counting Burn as the combo deck here, which I know is a stretch but Wizards has done a pretty good job or neutralizing combo lately. I guess Maze’s End could count too but who plays that? Really. *sheepishly raises hand* ok guilty, but just once!! Ok maybe twice!!) Simic Aggro isn’t showing up in GP top 8s because Selesnya is so much better. Someone who wants to play aggro competitively in this format won’t always have the luxury of playing the specific color combination of his or her choice, but at least aggro is available in some form. This hasn’t always been the case. (Remember the Titans)
It baffles me when I hear a Red mage say something like “Standard is so boring” when Burn is one of the best decks in the format. Usually the problem with Burn is that it can’t beat the best decks, but this season’s Burn can even beat a Control deck containing 4 copies of a spell that says “gain X life.” A stale format is Burn’s best friend. If the deck can beat all of the other “boring” decks in the format, what more do these people want? If the answer is “a deeper format with a wider variety of decks,” that is actually in the MTG Thesaurus as an antonym for “Standard.”
That was one hell of a rant. The TL:DR version, now available in 2nd person:
1) Play the best deck available in your preferred archetype in competitive events, and stick with that deck for as long as possible. You’ll drastically improve with a deck the longer uninterrupted stretches you play the deck for.
2) Don’t try to force deck Y if deck X in the same archetype is already a proven winner, unless you feel certain you have a read on the format that no one else has. Even then, small deviations are better than sweeping changes, since there’s minimal damage done if your read is incorrect.
3) Learn to accept that Standard is static by nature. Rather than fighting it, embrace the nuances. Choose your weapon and master it. Look at Standard like the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: there are only 4, and they never swap weapons. Don’t try to be Donatello with nunchaku. Become one with your bo staff.
4) Despite everything I’ve said above, never be afraid to put your craziest ideas to the test!!! Just be realistic about your chances with these decks, and don’t take them to events where they’ll easily be outclassed.
Oh yeah, decks.
Since we’re so close to the end of this Standard season, it’s time to toss everything I just said out the damn window and brew up the craziest things we can think of. Part 1 of this series presented decks that I thought could be real contenders in the brief period before rotation. The decks presented this week are better off played at FNM, at the pilot’s own risk. Most of these focus on favorite cards or strategies of mine that don’t quite seem to have legs in the current environment. Since I had so much to say in the prior rant, I won’t talk at great length about these lists. I’m only going to point out the major interactions that make me excited about each deck.
Waste Not, Why Not?
Waste Not has proven to be a pretty sweet addition to the Modern 8 Rack decks, so I wanted to see what could be possible with the card in Standard. Turns out, not much. The problem with discard strategies in general is that once the opponent has no cards in hand, many of my cards are just dead in hand. Shrieking Affliction does put a pretty fast clock on my opponent though. Unfortunately Lifebane Zombie is a nonbo with Waste Not since it exiles. I think I just want to resolve Liliana and keep tutoring for Shrieking Afflictions.
Phenax, God of Terrible Decks
First, let me start by saying how proud I am that I didn’t already have every single Mill card in Standard memorized. 2nd, I can’t believe just how many Mill cards there are in Standard currently! The fact that so many exist and the deck isn’t even close to viable is a testament to how bad this strategy is. The appeal of the alternate win condition is strong for many, but the best description of Mill I’ve ever heard is that it’s a burn deck that counts to 60 instead of 20. I originally had Nightveil Specter in place of Wall of Frost, but who wants to win games? Sounds stupid. Ugh. I can’t. Moving on.
Mino Taur Devotion
I love this deck more than I care to admit. Not because of the tribe, but because of the combo between Boros Reckoner, Fanatic of Mogis, and a Twinflame cast with Strive. Having that potential interaction at the top of the curve makes this more than just a cute tribal deck, but not too much more.
Well, if there was ever a deck to test the limits of Necromancer’s Stockpile, it’s this one. I was bummed to learn Varolz, the Scar-Striped wasn’t a Zombie. I don’t know if I’d want Endless Obedience or Whip of Erebos in this deck. Probably. When I build decks like this that abuse 1 particular card the best starting point is to go all-in on it and then shave underperforming cards for cards I’m considering. This is obviously a rough sketch and not a tuned list.
Actually, kinda cool. For people who want to make Burn’s life a living hell. Every creature here except the Pridemate gains life in some way, and Pridemate is going to get huge FAST. This was the last deck I came up with tonight and it might be my favorite of the 5. Decent curve, aggressive, and nearly impossible to race.
Well, that’s all until next time. I don’t even know how these decks can get any worse, but next week I’m going to present “The Ugly,” Part 3 of this series. I already did Mill, how can it get any uglier than that?
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