Competitive Magic right now is at a weird spot. While I’m on the PPTQ grind where Modern is the format this season and seems wide open right now, Standard is blowing up. There are a bunch of new decks, or, at least, decks that are performing better in this Modern environment without the presence of Splinter Twin and the Eye of Ugin fueled Eldrazi decks, while Standard is currently being dominated by my favorite card since Siege Rhino, Collected Company.
Normally, I wouldn’t really care about Standard. “Let’s focus on Modern since that’s the path we’re on right now to ultimately make the Pro Tour.” That’s the mindset I’d typically have. However, my main goal since last year’s New Jersey Invitational was to qualify for and play in this year’s New Jersey Invitational. So I’m in the unfortunate spot of having to deal with both of these wild and crazy formats.
You see, I was completely happy jamming Bant Company the last few season. I’ve gotten very comfortable with the deck, and it is very powerful. However, having half of a given field up until this point playing Bant Company has me worried. Mainly from an “I don’t want to unintentionally draw” point of view. That’s the risk I’m running right now in Standard.
So while I am pretty comfortable playing the Bant Company deck in Standard for this Invitational, even though it may lead to me having a few draws and may end up biting me as I try to do really well in that event, I am almost completely lost in Modern, where the likelihood of playing a mirror match in a given round drops significantly. There are so many sweet and scary decks out there that can win any given event.
Last week I mentioned that I was unhappy with the Abzan Company deck, and was moving either to Jund or Infect for the PPTQ in which I played this past weekend. While I had some experience playing the Infect deck in Modern, I felt like it was a deck with which I on a personal level was unlikely to beat people who were better than me. I know people typically hedge to beat better players by playing combo decks, so it would have made sense for me to play Infect given that logic, but I felt more comfortable mulliganing into nice, on curve Jund hands than mulliganing until I see an Infect creature. So I followed the old adage.
When in doubt, Jund ‘em out.
My first round was against Burn. What a great way to be introduced to Jund. I ended up losing in three games. Game three, I ripped apart his hand, following the plan of throttling his mana to damage ratio. Essentially I was at seven, when I stabilized with a Tarmogoyf and Kalitas, Traitor of Ghet against his solitary Eidolon of the Great Revel. He drew perfectly. The next turn I attack with Kalitas, he Skullcracks before damage. The following turn I attack with Kalitas, and he Atarka’s Commands me, preventing lifegain. Then draws any burn spell to finish me off. The Tim coaster has left the station, and it’s just going down.
I then rattled off the next four rounds to end the Swiss at 4-1, beating another Burn player, UW control, Bogles, and Grixis Delver. I was unable to draw in the last round, I was in tenth on breakers, so I had to play to guarantee my top eight spot. We got there.
In top 8, I beat the Goryo’s Vengeance deck in two games. I felt pretty lucky, but I had a plan and stuck with it, discarding their goodies, and smashing with Dark Confidant. I even beat a Through the Breached Worldspine Wurm in game 2.
In top 4 I had to play against this new Dredge deck. It’s the real deal, but it’s not insanely unbeatable. I took it to three games and never even saw any sideboard cards, which I should have been more aggressive to find in mulliganing. I knew going into the event that I’d be weak in the matchup, but my sideboard had some cards for it with Anger of the Gods, Grafdigger’s Cage, and Jund Charm. I feel that losing to this deck is a lot more difficult if you have a plan against it, and are somewhat prepared. Discard spells are generally very good in the early turns if you’re able to hit an enabler. You just never want to let them choose which cards to discard, so I think Liliana of the Veil and Kolaghan’s Command are generically poor in the matchup. The game that I did take, I was able to force him to discard his enabler, and played a bunch of Tarmogoyfs and Dark Confidants, and outraced him. Even without hate, that seems like a way to beat them, as they are very slow to win in terms of combo decks in Modern. They are early to flood the board though.
Overall, my first experience with Jund was a good one, and I’m looking forward to fleshing out my “Jund pile.” The pile of Jund cards you bring in an extra deck box and just play the best 75 cards that exist in that pile that you believe are good for the event. I get Jund though, I understand it now, and it’s pretty fun. I am now Jund dad.
So aside from the Dredge deck picking up in popularity on paper, there’s this Death’s Shadow aggro deck. Now this deck has been around for a while, and was a decent deck even back in the days of Splinter Twin Modern. I played against it in a PPTQ once, and it was very scary. The only thing is, if you’re playing a Lightning Bolt deck, you probably have a good matchup there. They deal so much damage to themselves, that usually it doesn’t take many times to connect to their face to win, and a surprise Lightning Bolt might just be enough sometimes.
The thing about Modern these days though, is that it’s no longer a turn four format. And I mean that in a negative way. Back when Splinter Twin was a deck, the term “Turn four format” got thrown around more than so many “YOLO”s a year or two ago. That was because, as much as people hated the deck, Splinter Twin was the cops. The police of the format. While I, in retrospect, agree that Splinter Twin was just a little too good, I do believe that with no suitable replacement, Modern has been allowed to become much faster.
There’s no longer a deck with counterspells that plays to slow the opponent down and can win on the spot. This means that without the presence of Deceiver Exarch or Pestermite to interfere with opponents’ mana or creatures to prevent them from being used for a turn, all of these glass cannon decks can exist in a much safer environment.
In fact, one of my teammates is playing Infect this season. Typically a very fast deck, it has a potential turn 2 win, can pretty much 100% win on turn 4 if unhindered. The deck had a poor Splinter Twin matchup. Splinter Twin kept the deck in check for the most part. When Splinter Twin was banned, it became very popular (blah blah Eldrazi Winter aside). So Splinter Twin was banned, and the Infect players were happy.
But! Now the Infect deck which has a turn 2-3 kill feels too slow. We were having the discussion where the new Death’s Shadow deck wins probably regularly one turn faster than Infect. Dredge is able to gum up the board one turn quicker than Infect can win, which makes attacking that deck more difficult as well. Meanwhile, Jund is the most popular deck, meaning Infect has a slightly unfavorable matchup there.
Modern more than ever feels like just a bunch of people deciding whose opening seven cards are better, and who is on the play, and that typically decides the match. Now I know this is hyperbole, but still, without some good cops around, the criminals are just running rampant.
And finally, Standard. We saw this past weekend a good amount of the people playing in day 2 of the SCG Open in Baltimore were playing decks with the idea of defeating Bant Company in mind. AND THE OTHER HALF OF THE PEOPLE WERE SMART AND JUST PLAYED THE BEST DECK. There are some calling for bans on the Company deck. There are some people saying it’s on the levels of Caw Blade, or Ravager Affinity, calling it a tier zero deck.
While I’m not going to argue for or against Bant Company, this does bring up an interesting point. There was time when Siege Rhino existed, and while it was probably the single most powerful card in Standard, it was never in a tier zero deck. It was always solid. And it always drew hate from people.
Even within my own team, there are people now saying how much they hate Collected Company and can’t wait for it to leave. These same people said the same thing about Siege Rhino. They probably said the same thing about Pack Rat.
Listen. At the end of the day, Magic is a game. Different people play the game for different reasons. If you’re playing to win, you have to suck up that these cards that are very powerful are going to be found, and they are going to be played in strategies that allow the powerful cards to be as good as they can be.
Unfortunately, Wizards of the Coast cannot nerf or buff their paper products as easily as some digital products are able to. Magic has a much longer development cycle than its digital competitors, so banning a card and printing a fix are not actions that should be done lightly and frequently. Complaining about cards or decks isn’t going to help you win, it’s not going to help you have fun. So what if we’re in a new Caw Blade era? I know a lot of people that liked that deck and that time in Magic. The cards are busted. Enjoy playing with them while you can, because I doubt you’ll ever get to play with many of these cards once they rotate. And if you’re just waiting for your least favorite card to cycle out of a format before you start playing again, you’ll probably never play Magic again in your lifetime.
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