Standard after the Invitational

Written by Zach Cramer on . Posted in Competitive Magic, Standard

Standard after the Invitational

Zach Cramer

Zach is a Northeastern Magic grinder who specializes in eternal formats. When building decks, he has a strong preference to Blue cards, toolboxes and combo decks. With a recent RPTQ finish just short of an invitation, Zach hopes to take his skills to the next level and play on the Pro Tour.

Greetings all, after the Star City Games Invitational, I think it’s important to readdress some changes in heuristics we have about Standard. First and foremost, this is clearly the healthiest Standard format we have had in a very long time and that’s because there is diversity and flux within the metagame. Everything that you have heard about matchups in Standard has been true one week, false the next week, and maybe even true again after that. The ability to drastically change your matchup percentages by configuring your deck slightly differently is immensely beneficial and gives competent pilots a huge leg up week in and week out. This week, I would like to break down the dramatic changes that this week featured.

Black Green has a Favorable Izzet Drakes Matchup:

The BG v. UR Matchup is potentially the most dynamic matchup in current Standard. At this point, I have hundreds of matches with both sides and would like to explain what to expect. When the Phoenix deck first came to pass, it was an aggressively slanted deck using Goblin Electromancer and Maximize Velocity to quickly close out games. It preyed on the fact that there were very few cheap removal spells that could productively answer Arclight Phoenix. Because there was very few Seal Aways and Conclave Tribunals in the metagame, Arclight could get under traditional removal and feature a daunting late game with lethal Drakes out of nowhere. Since GP New Jersey, more and more answers to Arclight Phoenix have entered the metagame and Seal Aways, Cast Downs, and Settle the Wreckages make Maximize Velocity less enticing. The Phoenix deck has moved away from the Phoenix package for good it seems. Andrew and Danny Jessup utilized Ben Friedman’s Enigma Drake plan to great success last week implementing a plan to use Dive Downs and Spell Pierces to take over the game with large, protected Drakes and unchecked Niv Mizzets. This has complicated the Black Green side of the matchup. BG has added more point removal spells to combat the uptick in Boros Aggro and originally used Doom Whisperer from Matt Nass’s Pro Tour list to combat large Drakes, but, the success of Black Green has forced Golgari players to prepare for the mirror, which means recalling many of the cards that were traditionally meant for Phoenix. Moreover, the advent of Wildgrowth Walker has given Black Green players an attempt at a “fish” plan. This is to say that Black Green attempts to use disruptive Duresses and early creatures to provide enough damage that they can play Chupacabras and Assassin’s Trophies for minimal value to squeak in the last few points of damage. Additionally, putting your opponent on the back foot lets you leverage a lot of your powerful cards for the Black Green Mirror: Carnage Tyrant, Midnight Reaper, and Vivian Reid. Finally, Black Green has looked to address Niv Mizzet specifically which has led to a high quantity of edict effects in Plaguecrafter and The Eldest Reborn which offer a problematic plan for the Phoenix decks. If the Invitational Top 8 had been Standard, I have no doubts Austin Collins or Evan Whitehouse would have been the champion. Perhaps even 3-0ing Jessup in the finals.

If the Drakes/Phoenix players are hoping to address this matchup, I believe they need to have a plan for the Edicts and go back to keeping cards like Shock in for the post-board games. I have even brought in Raptor Hatchling against Black Green to make the edicts worse and helps slow down the pressure presented before you can stabilize with large creatures. Additionally, if there is a move away from Jeskai Control, I could see UR players returning to the Phoenix shell as both Electromancer and Arclight Phoenix are not afraid of mediocre beatdowns and edict effects.

Jeskai is bad against UR Drakes:

Another heuristic that has to do with the Drakes deck was that the Arclight Phoenix versions were fairly low impact against Jeskai. When the deck was full of synergy cards like Arclight Phoenix and Goblin Electromancer rather than truly powerful threats, it was easy for the Jeskai deck to take over the game and win with the inevitability of Niv Mizzet. The Jessup brothers were able to take Ben Friedman’s Drakes list to a successful finish because they were able to morph into a threat dense Niv Mizzet deck that could productively tempo Teferis and Ixalan’s Bindings with a good post-board plan. Jeskai players who were able to take over games with unchecked Teferis are now getting annihilated by Spell Pierce and Dive Down and can no longer steal Game 1 with ease. The invitational showcased that Enigma Drake isn’t just a way to address the aggro matchups, it is a great tool against Control because it can easily come down before the Teferi turn and be more easily protected from their counterplay. This shift as well as suring up the late game from the Niv Mizzet side was critical. During Day 1, we saw BBD defeat Harlan Firer with Jeskai by bringing in Legion Warboss to alter the tension in the matchup. Harlan was not able to recover from the early threat and fell behind after running out of answers to Brian’s problematic permanents. Jeskai’s uptick in Seal Aways originally shifted the matchup in their favor, but, the presence of Spell Pierce and Dive Down has allowed Drakes to gain a powerful mana advantage which if they’ve built their deck appropriately can yield vast benefits. Another critical piece to this matchup is the prevalence of Search for Azcanta and, to a lesser extent, Treasure Map. The ability for Izzet decks to sculpt their plan in Game 1 and remove troublesome Shocks and Lava Coils from their deck gives them better card selection and the ability to actually ramp themselves ahead of the Jeskai decks. In the Jeskai matchup, I try to flip Search as quickly as possible in order to protect my key threats and develop while being able to have access to an extra blue mana.

If Jeskai hopes to retake this matchup, I would expect that they need to begin playing Spell Pierces of their own and having ways to overmaster the Niv battle. Cards like Legion Warboss or even Firemind’s Research on the Jeskai side could help jockey the shape of the matchup. Moreover, moving away from conditional removal like Lava Coil and Seal Away and towards cards like Justice Strike might also be critical. Lastly, operating at instant speed with Chemister’s Insight might help them utilize their dead mana more efficiently and cloak the countermagic they have, which is another way to productively answer Drakes threats.

The theme in both of these matchups is that the side of the table that is now favored was able to attack the heuristic plan that was working before and flipped it on its head. This plan is critical in taking advantage of week to week changes in the standard metagame. A competent metagame plan from Drakes, Black Green and Jeskai can easily take down a tournament on any given week, but, being a week ahead or behind can be deadly.

Green White Midrange is Back from the Dead:

Lastly, I wanted to take some time to discuss another facet of Standard: the meddling rogue deck. Two players were able to make the Top 8 of the Invitational playing Green White Midrange. The tokens shell from Week 1 seems to have not changed too much. The major difference between the tokens lists is the difference between Adanto Vanguard and Thorn Lieutenant. I believe Adanto Vanguard to be clearly the best thing you can be doing in the archetype, but, both cards seem to be well-situated given the removal of the aggressive decks from the metagame. Additionally, the sideboards of these decks seems to be incredibly well positioned. The Immortal Sun, Planeswalkers, and large Angels are critical tools in solving the midrange and control plans. Being able to remove opposing late-game plans helps ensure the inevitability of the March of the Multitudes plan. This was clearly the plans of the Green/White decks otherwise I have to assume that they would have played Nullhide Ferox. I really like the approach that Green White took on the metagame this weekend. People were certainly not prepared for March and that plan was able to succeed because of it. With that in mind, it is not a deck I would explore much going forward because it’s been clear that it will be able to be hated out if people are expecting it.

The emergence and success of Green White speaks to the fact that having access to a holistic plan is integral to achieving success in Standard. Additionally, it helps that when decks that have disappeared from the winner’s metagame return, there are far fewer problem cards waiting for them. I’m sure in a week or two we’ll be talking about how silly we were to cut Golden Demise and Fiery Cannonade from our sideboards in the wake of Boros Aggro. A critical detail in building the right deck for the weekend is having respect for the unexpected. Standard being as wide open as it is offers a window for any deck to emerge and take the trophy under the right circumstances. If you can spare some sideboard slots or are debating about flex slots, try to pay some attention to decks that used to be good in the face of last week’s winner, because people will be playing those decks too.

Where to Go Next:

This weekend I have two PPTQs that I will be attending and my plan is to tool the UR Drakes deck to address the change in the BG matchup as well as consider the increase in enchantment-based removal. I still think that Niv Mizzet is the single most powerful card in Standard, and it’s certainly more fun than any other card in my experience. I’m looking forward to casting Spell Pierce, Dive Down and maybe even a Sailor of Means this weekend. The logic behind Sailor is that it serves to protect against the edicts out of Black Green while helping you accelerate out a Drake with a protection spell. I also like Disdainful Stroke because of its ability to address a large subset of the cards that can steal the game from you. My list won’t deviate too much from Jessup’s list, but, I will probably register something like this:

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