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Standard Deck Selection

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

With no conveniently located IQs or PPTQs within a reasonable distance from my home, I’ve been relegated to household and outdoor chores.  Keeping the wife and kids happy is something I take pride in, but I’ve got an itch to compete, and the soonest I am able to receive the salve for it is on May 24 with an IQ.

So since I’ve been benched the last few weeks, I’ve posited a question to my playgroup.  In the current standard metagame, if your goal is to win, do you stick with one deck, and make minor adjustments week after week depending on which decks you’re expecting to be popular?  Or do you attempt to spike what you believe to be is the best deck week after week?  This came up because of my poor performance at my last IQ, and I also felt a bit bored with the Abzan control strategy.

You see, I played a lot back when Scourge came out, up until Lorwyn, and in that whole timespan, there was almost always a best deck to play.  In those older standard formats, and from what I understand, the same was true when caw blade ruled standard (I had missed magic between Lorwyn and Khans of Tarkir).  So typically, I’m used to there being one or two best decks (tier one), and if you’re not playing one of the best decks in a format, you’re playing a deck that is built to beat either or both of those best decks (tier 2).

You may say if there are decks that beat the supposed best decks in a format, why not just play those?  The main reason this didn’t happen, was because in order to gain percentages against the best decks, the other decks lost percentage against the other tier 2 decks that would show up to events.  So the tier one decks would be good in a room full of tier 2 decks, and the tier 2 decks would be good in a room full of tier 1 decks.

An example of something like this would be like back in Mirrodin standard, where ravager affinity was clearly the best and most busted thing to be doing.  Ravager beat a ton of tier 2 strategies back then, UW control.  But it lost to big red strategies with heavy artifact removal elements.  So in a room full of affinity, I would play the big red deck.  However, I would cry crocodile tears when I got paired up against the UW control deck, because the big red deck just lost to the control deck.

However, in this day and age, Wizards R&D has done such a great job of developing this standard  metagame to not have a single dominating best deck in the format, that the tiers of decks are much closer, and fluctuate on a week to week basis rather than on a set to set or block to block or even banning to banning basis.  There are arguments for and against this kind of standard.

The argument for this type of “open” standard metagame, is that you get to play almost any card you want in almost any cohesive deck with the idea being competitive, and your deck will be just that.  You have the potential to do well in a tournament setting.  This is healthy for secondary markets, for keeping card costs low across the board, since not everyone is diving for the same cards, and new decks show up in different events.  What won a week ago might not even show up in the top 16 of the next big event.

There is also an argument against this type of format as well though.  The argument is, that this changes what it has been for so long to be the best player in the room.  For so many years, the best player, or at least the most deserving player to win an event, was either the one who was most skilled at playing the best deck, and was able to outplay all of their opponents who were also playing the best deck (as well as other decks, but mostly the better player in the mirror), or the person who read the metagame so correctly that their tier 2 deck was the perfect deck for the event.  With this new standard, though, these two stipulations aren’t as paramount to winning an event.

Regardless of your stance on this issue, we are left to play in the new open standard format.  So back to the question: do you stick with one deck making minor changes week after week, or try to chase the metagame, and play what you believe to be is the best deck each week?

With the past few weeks off, I had been on the plan of abandoning Abzan.  I just felt that the deck had a few faults that I didn’t want to deal with.  For instance, I felt that the mana just wasn’t coming together for me.  Game after game, especially after my last IQ, I felt as if the deck would either strand me on one of a color when I needed multiples, or I would get stuck on 5 lands with an Elspeth stranded.  So I thought it would be time to try something new.

Given my comfort with control decks in the past, I was immediately drawn to Esper dragons.  It’s really the only tier 1 competitive blue deck, and it runs cards that I really like, being dig through time and anticipate, as well as counterspells.  However, I couldn’t justify to myself playing the deck.  I never thought the deck was very good, although I do understand it has a powerful gameplan.

There are still plenty of games though where the removal suite is suboptimal, such as foul-tongue invocation in hand and a sylvan caryatid on the other side of the board, and I also feel that if mana issues are the reason I’m abandoning the Abzan control deck, there’s no reason to move to a deck with worse mana, tougher color requirements, and no courser of kruphix.

The other decks on my radar were Atarka red, Abzan aggro, or a den protector/deathmist raptor deck.  For Abzan aggro, the deck never suited my personal playstyle preference.  If I’m attacking with creatures as a non-control deck, I want to have reach in the form of burn  For the megamorph decks, I felt that the mana was a bit better, since the deck is more centered on green and doesn’t dig as deep into the white or black cards, but the deck is really slow for a non-control strategy.

This left me at Atarka red.  This deck is simply insane.  The mono-red deck is fine, but adding the green splash for atarka’s command makes the deck just nuts.  This was the deck that I was very high on coming out of this weekend.  The ability to go either big (relatively) with monastery swiftspear and lightning berserker, with the going wide capabilities and over the top burn provided with the token generators, and the namesake of the deck atarka’s command allow for a very dangerous gameplan.  I am all in on this deck.

And then I played a Friday Night Magic.  I played Abzan control, since I was still missing a couple of cards from Atarka red.  The deck worked flawlessly.  I lost one game the entire night against a G/W aggro deck.  Everything else was a clinic in how well the deck is able to run.  I was able to handily defeat a gauntlet of mono-red aggro, blue black control, black white warriors, green white aggro, and Sidisi whip.  Courser of Kruphix was giving me lands, I experienced very few games where I felt the deck wasn’t giving me cards I needed, and it just blew people out.

So back to the question we started this article with, do you pick a new best deck each week to play?  Or do you constantly tweak the same deck for expected metagames.  I think there are a lot of factors to take in to answer the question, I think that the standard metagame and which decks are tier 1 play a large role in the answer, but for this standard metagame, just play what you know and are comfortable with, especially if you’re looking to win as much as possible.

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