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Switching Gears

Written by Tim Bachmann on . Posted in Competitive Magic, Standard

Switching Gears

Tim Bachmann

Hailing from northeast Pennsylvania, Tim has been playing since Mirrodin, and has been playing competitively since Dragons of Tarkir. With aspirations of playing on the Pro Tour, Tim plays in as many PPTQs and GPs as he can.

So this past weekend, I played in an IQ in Boonton, New Jersey. The idea when I went to this event was that I’d write a report with how it went, assuming I’d do well. What a poor plan that was! I ended up playing the Dark Jeskai list that I had been working on over the past two weeks:

As mentioned before, I didn’t do too well at my last event. I ended up going 1-2-1 drop at a 5 round event. I started off well, winning my first round pretty handily against the G/R ramp deck, and drawing in the mirror round 2 before losing to Abzan and Bant Tokens. This caps a few frustrating events for me with this deck, including some FNMs at which I did very poorly.

Needless to say, I haven’t found my way with this Dark Jeskai deck as I had found it with Abzan Control in the past. And it’s pretty disappointing. I like to think that I’m a decent player, but it’s difficult to maintain a positive mindset when you’re playing what’s billed as “the best deck” or at least one of the “best decks” and you lost to people to whom you have to explain the rules of the game at a competitive level event while they’re smashing your head in.

So instead of going over my last tournament and giving a round-by-round commentary, I’m going to put together some of the issues I have with the current Standard format, and some decks I’m going to be looking at playing at my next few events. Keep in mind these are opinions from a person who hasn’t evolved with the card game like most people have. I played from Nemesis up through Lorwyn, and then stopped, picking the game up again when M15 was released last year.

I’d like to reminisce a bit first. It’s quite the culture shock to go from a land where Mana Leak was legal, and Wrath of God was a standard card to play around, to not even having a Llanowar Elves in the format. The game slowed a ton over the past year, and I get it. Every few years, WotC decides that the power level on cards is getting too out of hand, and they have to slow down formats or print cards that are objectively worse than cards that are leaving, because otherwise we’d all be playing with 10/10s on turn one, but that’d be fine because it’d be in a format where the opponent could cast the zero cost hard counter. I understand the need to prevent power creep.

However, I think that one thing that Wizards has done by slowing down the format, and this may seem ironic, is kill control cards. If you think about it from a blue mage’s perspective, there really aren’t any good counterspells outside of a blue dragon strategy. This is a blue mage’s primary form of interaction, but it’s very difficult to interact with your opponent, when you just don’t have the correct counterspell to fight what they’re doing. We no longer have the Mana Leak to fall back on. All of the counterspells that blue has have to either be played very tightly, so that you have to plan a few turns ahead and guess what your opponent might play in the next few turns so that you cast the correct spell this turn, or you just lose because you chose poorly.

For example, you have Negate and Disdainful Stroke in your hand, you have Island, Plains, Sunken Hollow all untapped. You probably feel pretty safe, because you know Gideon isn’t hitting the battlefield. But what if they just play an Anafenza, the Foremost? You’re in a heap of trouble, just because you didn’t draw the answer to your opponent’s card.

The same can be said about removal spells right now. Take a look at black or white or even red’s removal suite. The actual playable removal spells from each of these colors require some kind of condition to be met by the opponent’s creatures. For instance, red has Roast, but good luck using that to fight Wingmate Roc or a Dragon. White has Valorous Stance, but that lines up poorly against tokens or cards like Den Protector or Deathmist Raptor. Black gets Ultimate Price, but that can’t handle Mantis Rider or Dragonlord Ojutai.

I think that this kind of card quality in terms of removal and control elements is why the Abzan deck is so good right now. They have multiple plays on each turn that are very efficient threats that play well together for the most part, and can easily play around any control elements the opponent may have, while having a decent long game and grind elements to win a prolonged battle.

And this is also the reason I think the Dark Jeskai deck has fallen out of favor and is overrated in general. After playing it for so long, I feel like the card quality in the deck is okay-ish. While you have decent spells to handle your opponent’s threats, you have to have those cards line up correctly against those threats, while having the correct mana to do so. This is where the frustration lies, because if you mess one thing up in the Dark Jeskai or other control style deck, you can be punished severely, and this includes even fetching the incorrect on turn three, and feeling that effect three turns later when you can’t cast your Crackling Doom and Dig Through Time on the same turn.

While some who read this might list it as a simple complaint of some salty Dark Jeskai player losing to someone just playing a Siege Rhino, you’re not too far off, but I think that’s what makes this Standard difficult. There’s no real reward for trying so hard to play this neat control deck, and just getting smashed by the king of Standard.

So after so many years of being considered the weakest color in magic, at least that’s how it was when I was brought up, green seems to finally have it’s place as king. Actually, it’s been the best color since Dragons of Tarkir, I think Den Protector really wrapped up that whole green package with a neat bow, and Nissa, Vastwood Seer covered that package in chocolate frosting. I think if you’re like me, and are sick of losing to those dang green mages and their recursion, and long game effects like Nissa and Den Protector, it’s time to join them, or at least leave the company of blue mages trying to control their way to winning events.

So what type of deck am I looking to play? A couple have caught my eye. I have an event this Saturday, and I think the surest bet with such little preparation is the old red deck. Something like this:

For as long as anyone can remember, the red deck has always been the audible. It’s the back pocket card trick most people have in their arsenal. I’m not too unfamiliar with aggressive red strategies, I was playing Red Deck Wins back in the day with the spicy Slith Firewalker, and I have a 9th place finish in Pennsylvania states with the Boros Aggro deck (back when Savannah Lions was like a $9 card, sheesh how the mighty have fallen).

However, I’m less comfortable with a deck like this that has elements that rely on creature damage to win. Red decks with about twenty “deal some amount greater than two damage to target creature or player” spells are more up my alley, but now since Siege Rhino is WotC’s love child, we have to either smash through it or kill it with fire before we can kill our opponent. I especially love the ability for Den Protector out of the sideboard, and Chandra, Fire of Kaladesh for some nifty combo kills.

With card availability being an issue, and my event being less than a week away, this may very well be the deck I play.

But, I have this other spicy number ready to go if the cards come in before Saturday:

I do love me a combo deck, and I was never able to play the original aristocrats deck in Standard because I didn’t play during that time period. A lot of people have had some success with this deck, and it looks like some old version of Ravager Affinity from back in the day, with the role of Disciple of the Vault being taken by Zulaport Cutthroat. This is where I want to be, I’m pretty sure. Sure it’s main strategy is thwarted by a 4-of in the most played deck in the format right now, but if we start seeing Esper Dragons back on the rise, that might put this deck in a very good position.

Not to mention that between the 4x Sidisi’s Faithful, 4x Murderous Cut, and 1x Valorous Stance, plus Jace and Catacomb Sifter to filter card draws, we have plenty of ways to get out from under Anafenza, the Foremost.

So maybe I have to start playing with some tier 2 strategies to get my juices flowing again. I think playing decks of a style I’m not used to might be a good idea. And I’m actually going to do something I haven’t done since Battle for Zendikar dropped: have fun at an event. I will most likely take the red deck with me, and that means I’ll have plenty of time between rounds to chat with my friends about how they messed up, since I’ll have been done so quick, they won’t have a chance to watch me die in my own flames.

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