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Standard and Modern Musings

Written by LegitMTG Staff on . Posted in Competitive Magic, Modern, Standard

Lately, I’ve been spending most of my time preparing for the Starcitygames Season Four Invitational in Las Vegas, which for those of you not familiar is a split-format tournament; I will be required to play both Modern and Standard. The last few weeks have been me trying to get a solid handle on the formats as a whole and exploring my options in the larger sense. Because of this, I don’t have any deck choices locked in, but I have a general sense of what I want to do in each format and a few decks I’m considering. Today’s article is going to be an overview of what I’m trying to do in each format (or both formats, seeing as my game plans are startlingly similar) and a rundown of the lists that I’m currently considering playing.

First of all, I think that one of they key tenets of modern Magic (and by “modern” I mean all formats in 2015, not the specific Modern format) is “be proactive.” There are no longer viable control decks that sit around and do absolutely nothing until they mill their opponent out with Nephalia Drownyard or attack them to death with Celestial Colonnade. Those decks now win by attacking with Dragonlord Ojutai and Tasigur, the Golden Fang. Likewise, there are no real prison decks either. The reason for this shift is a combination of power creep and card uniqueness. I’ll explain.

Power creep is the fact that cards get more and more powerful as the game goes on. One of the driving forces behind power creep is that each new set needs to have an impact on the game, and the only real way to do that is to have cards in the set that are powerful enough to be played over cards from previous sets. And while power creep isn’t linear — Battle for Zendikar definitely has a lower power level than Khans of Tarkir, for instance — it does mean that over time formats tend to get more and more powerful. This is extremely evident in Eternal formats, as the card pools of those formats grow larger and larger over time.

Card uniqueness is the pressure for sets to contain unique and interesting cards whose effects haven’t been seen before. This leads to Wizards creating a high number of niche cards that occupy unique design spaces. Card uniqueness is great, because it encourages players to actively brew and find the right shell for a given card or cards, but when combined with power creep, it pushes Magic as a whole down a very proactive path. Unique threats often require specific answers, which can be problematic when those threats are growing more and more powerful. It leads to situations where the threats can be maindecked but the cards that answer them cleanly and efficiently are too niche to be anywhere but the sideboard.

These factors combine to make Eternal formats more and more proactive, and Standard formats have lately been proactive by design, so it looks like Magic is going to stay that way. While this isn’t a bad thing, it should influence everyone’s deck choice. Especially in formats like Modern, which pushes players to be proactive for another reason: there are so many viable powerful, linear decks that 75 cards isn’t enough to prepare for them all. Thus, any deck you play in Modern has to be able to close the game out before those decks recover from whatever disruption you’re planning to put them under.

Let’s start with Standard, since I’ve talked about that more lately. Standard is all about lining up threats with answers, and if you don’t do this properly (whether because of a play mistake, a flaw in the design of your deck, or simply due to variance) you will be put at a significant disadvantage. So my plan is to have powerful, resilient threats that challenge my opponents to find the right answers. If I do end up playing a reactive deck, I still want to be able to close games out if I need to, or at least put those games out of reach. My Morph deck from last week is perfect at putting games out of reach even though it’s extremely slow:

This deck is extremely powerful and very difficult to attack in a productive way. Many opponents will have trouble playing and sideboarding against it. That being said, it is extremely technical to play, as you often have to think multiple turns ahead and sequence your spells and triggers in exactly the right way, and while I’m confident that I can play it well I’m not confident I can play it quickly enough to avoid unintentional draws. The fact that the deck takes multiple, very involved turns and requires a lot of thinking and mechanical operations (manifest this, unmorph that, draw cards, gain life, place counters) makes it difficult to finish matches in 50 minutes. It’s definitely an option, but I’m hesitant.

The next deck on my list for Standard is a modification of GW Megamorph. Calling it Naya Megamorph wouldn’t be very descriptive, because none of the cards in it have Megamorph, but it preserves pieces of the shell and a similar (if slightly more aggressive) positioning in the meta.

It’s fast, it’s powerful, it has reach, and the mana is clean. In addition, it has access to some pretty potent sideboard options. Rending Volley is extremely good against aggressive decks as well as Jeskai and Jeskai Black, and Outpost Siege is fantastic against grindy decks like Esper. This deck doesn’t have any glaring weaknesses (other than sometimes struggling to fight through Siege Rhino in game 1) and is one of my strongest front-runners for Vegas.

And finally, my old standby:

I finally gave in and played Hangarback Walker. I still don’t like it, but it’s a necessary evil in a deck that desperately needs a second resilient two-drop. One of the best parts of this deck is the removal suite. Self-Inflicted Wound is definitely maindeckable in this format, and Murderous Cut is one of the best ways to destroy creatures around. Shambling Vent is also surprising hard for many decks to deal with, especially if they’ve already had to fight through Deathdealer, Hangarback Walker, and/or Gideon.

Those are my three candidates for the Standard portion of the Invitational. I suppose we’ll have to see how the metagame shifts in the next month and a half, but I would ultimately be excited to register any one of these decks.

As for Modern, the secret is to be proactive but have enough universal interaction to stop your opponent from executing their gameplan. Decks like Affinity, Burn, Tron, and Twin all require answers, even from the more aggressive decks in the format, lest they kill you before you kill them. There are a small subset of decks that are fast enough to kill their opponent before they can do anything and powerful enough to overcome disruption, but that field is very narrow.

The first deck is more of a thought experiment than anything else, but it’s been showing promise in testing:

This deck is fast and powerful, and has a surprising amount of resilience, but is extremely difficult to play properly and hasn’t been through any sort of rigorous testing process. I fully expect to test it more, find out that it’s actually garbage, and scrap it, but there’s definitely a chance it’s competitive and I would be pleasantly surprised to see that chance realized.

The next deck I’m looking at is an old standby that I always seem to do well with. Plus, my friend has an almost all-foil version of it and I’d absolutely love to play it at the Invitational (despite the fact that it would give me a migraine):

I don’t have a sideboard for Merfolk because that’s one of the weaknesses of the deck, and I’m not sure how to put a sideboard together that allows Merfolk to remain extremely proactive and also have good play against other very linear decks like Tron and Affinity. If anyone has any suggestions, I’d absolutely love to hear them.

And finally, my current front-runner for Modern:

This deck has it all. It’s proactive, it’s interactive, it’s hyperactive! Why, it’s Greased Lightning!

Lame jokes aside, the deck has enough disruption to slow down the extremely linear decks in Modern just enough to execute its gameplan. Being able to get value from our lands with Township and Wildwood is very valuable, and many of our threats also serve as tangential disruption against some decks, which is extremely significant.

Overall, although I am considering a variety of options for Standard and Modern, I’m probably just going to end up playing Dromoka’s Command, Anafenza, and Siege Rhino in both formats. That’s just what I’m good at.

Casper Mulholland
@CasperZML on Twitter

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