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The Cost of Innovation

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

The Cost of Innovation

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.

Toward the end of the last standard format, I was a pretty big fan of Abzan Control, along with the majority of standard players. The deck was just a pure value midrange-control deck that played to the board very often. We were able to grind people out through sweet, sweet spells like Courser of Kruphix, Abzan Charm, Nissa, Vastwood Seer, Tasigur, the Golden Fang, and Elspeth, Sun’s Champion. We also got to play just the best spells in the format, including Thoughtseize and Hero’s Downfall. I really clicked with the deck, I knew the sideboard plans inside and out, and was just very comfortable with the matchups, even the bad ones.

Now, I was playing the deck since Dragons of Tarkir was released, so I wasn’t playing it for as long as probably most of the people playing it in the overall meta, but I was playing it for long enough to play it really well.

One thing I noticed, was that people were playing Arashin Clerics in their sideboards for the red deck. This was fine, and accepted, because a mini Siege Rhino that came down on turn 2 and kills goblin tokens from Hordeling Outbursts or Dragon Fodders was a pretty good deal. If you knew anything about this deck, you knew that the red deck was probably the worst matchup in that standard for the deck, especially with the additions from Dragons of Tarkir.

With Dragons of Tarkir came Esper Dragons, and when that caught on, people were claiming that the Abzan deck couldn’t win, which was false, it was pretty easy to beat that deck on average. With the rise of Esper Dragons, people started trying to metagame against the high prevalence of that deck by playing the Mardu Dragons deck with Crackling Doom to fight the almost oppressive behavior of Dragonlord Ojutai. I was much more afraid of the Mardu Dragons deck in that standard than the Esper Dragons deck.

So while people were losing to the Mardu Dragon deck with their Abzan Control decks, my win percentage went up. Why? I innovated. Not many people were doing it, but I found space for 2 Surge of Righteousness in my sideboard. By removing some of the cards that the cookie cutter deck lists were playing to beat the Esper Dragons list because they feared that matchup so much, I figured out how to beat that deck, and was able to improve my matchup versus the red deck and the Mardu deck at the same time with the same spell.

Surge of Righteousness was INSANE, and still is. It was a free kill spell for an Eidolon of the Great Revel, and only let you take one damage from a Thunderbreak Regent. It was also pretty decent against the Jeskai decks when they popped up. Sure, it was weak to Stormbreath Dragon, but our black kill spells were just fine against that card.

My point here is that innovation is free. Just because the top lists of some deck aren’t running some card, doesn’t mean it’s correct. The same is true for cards that the top decks run that you aren’t running.

The biggest one of these, for me at least, a person who plays the Dark Jeskai list, spawned from the successful Dark Jeskai lists from the Pro Tour piloted by Owen Turtenwald and Jon Finkel. They ran one Sarkhan, Dragonspeaker in their deck. That card was a fine metagame choice, as it killed Gideon, Ally of Zendikar the turn after he came onto the battlefield. He is also a difficult to remove win condition that didn’t get countered by Ojutai’s Command in the mirror and against the Esper Control decks. Seems fine. I ran it for a couple weeks after the Pro Tour. But that card is just really awkward feeling to me in the deck.

When I have five mana, the ideal scenario is I’m casting a Tasigur, the Golden Fang for one, with four mana up letting me either Ojutai’s Command my opponent’s creature spell, Crackling Doom them if they attack with Gideon, Ally of Zendikar, or activate Tasigur, the Golden Fang if they do nothing. I don’t want to pay my entire turn to play a worse Ob Nixilis Reignited, which I don’t believe is a standard playable card anyway, just to answer four cards in my opponent’s deck. I would much rather play something more versatile in that slot, which I believe exists.

When I decided I didn’t like Sarkhan, the Dragonspeaker in my deck at all, I leaned in the direction of Jeskai Charm. This was an idea I liked for a few reasons:

1 – It plays very nicely with Soulfire Grandmaster. You can gain for life a turn late game while pressuring your opponent with loops.

2 – It conveniently kills Gideon, Ally of Zendikar even if he’s at 5 loyalty, if he’s a creature, you can just tempo your opponent by placing him on top of their library, which is very good also if they decide to use a fetchland while he’s active.

3 – The pump and lifelink mode isn’t irrelevant. Gaining life when you’re playing 12 fetchlands is very convenient.

4 – It also deals with Hangarback Walker efficiently.

I’ve been a fan of Jeskai Charm since it had been printed. However, after playing with it for a couple of weeks, and through testing, I just don’t believe it’s good enough anymore without the good burn spells we had last standard supporting it. So I nixed it, and am now playing a Pia and Kiran Nalaar.

That card has been insane, and I don’t know why more people aren’t playing it. It helps you catch up on board if you’re behind, it can deal a surprising amount of damage to the opponent to close out a game that way, and can just flood the board if you have excess Kolaghan’s Commands to bring them back and recast them, and it can still kill Gideon pretty effectively.

1 – It blocks multiple creatures the turn it comes out, even if the opponent has a removal spell, so it gives you a turn at least to try and catch up.

2 – It is effective with Fiery Impulse against Wingmate Roc.

3 – Attacks over typical creatures that are run next to Gideon, to help kill Gideon,

4 – You can do tricky things with blocks with the thopter tokens, preventing your opponent’s lifelink creatures from being effective.

Another example with innovation with this Dark Jeskai deck was Todd Anderson’s list from the Open event in Philadelphia last weekend. He got top 8 with a list that didn’t have Mantis Rider or Tasigur, the Golden Fang:

Moving from a sort of midrange control deck seemed to work out well for Todd, and I really like a lot of his decisions. The 2 Silkwraps are neat here, and we saw these being played in this sort of deck before the Pro Tour as ways to deal with early threats, but since the Pro Tour, this card has kind of waned in popularity. Other notable changes, there are a full 4 Dig Through Time, and with no other delve spells to fight with, this seems really good, as this deck loves to see that card. There’s also a Planar Outburst hanging out in there, ready to be picked up through a Dig Through Time, and I’m also a fan of the Erase in the sideboard, though I think I like it more if I’m running more creatures, since the enchantments I’m worried about in the format really only hit creatures.

Again, the point is that innovation is pretty much free. If you have an idea that a card might be good, there’s no penalty to play that card in your deck, and then you might inspire others as well to innovate, and this way you bounce ideas off each other just by looking at your successful decklists.

Innovation doesn’t mean you have to create a whole new archetype that will bust open the format and beat all of the decks. Innovation means that you have some pretty sweet tech that just might be better than what other people are running. We saw this with Wingmate Roc. That card started as a two of, and people just started playing 4 eventually just because of how powerful it is in the midrange mirrors.

If you remember my article from just before Battle for Zendikar came out, I talked about how white had the best removal in the format. I’m still waiting for cards like Swift Reckoning and Gideon’s Reproach to be the format staples I know they can be, but that might have to wait until Khans of Tarkir and Fate Reforged rotate out of standard.

Until next time, don’t be afraid to not netdeck!

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