For the longest time I’ve been mostly a casual player. I’ve been playing this game for about eleven years now, and the vast majority of it has been exclusively as a casual player, outside of the occasional draft and playing in the JSS when WOTC still ran those, and still called it that.
That all changed last summer when I started playing Standard at FNMs so I wouldn’t be completely out of the loop when I went to GP Pittsburgh with a few of my college friends. I picked up Primeval Titans, jammed Valakut for the rest of that season, and won myself a few GPTs. I went to both Grand Prix Pittsburgh and Montreal, narrowly missed day 2 at both, and have been playing “real” formats ever since.
I’m a control player at heart, and I’ve been playing all kinds of off the wall brews trying to answer everything in the format. That seems harder than ever what with Cavern of Souls being in the format, since that hypothetically polarizes the format into mono-Titan decks and turbo beatdown to answer it. The answers to those two kinds of decks can’t overlap that much, can they?
This is what I’m going to be playing for the foreseeable future if Standard continues to look anything like the Top 32 of SCG Providence. This deck is built to have a reasonable match-up against just about everything besides the more hardcore control decks like the Blue-Black decks that dominated GP Baltimore earlier this year.
There are a handful of cards in this color combination that I think make this better than Solar Flare for the upcoming metagame. The biggest loss is Curse of Death’s Hold, and it’s a big one. The ability to just slam a curse to answer all Inkmoth Nexuses, Lingering Souls, or Invisible Stalkers is certainly nothing to scoff at. You also give up a more powerful late game for the ability to stabilize earlier more easily. Here’s how:
I want to be playing some combination of Whipflare and Slagstorm against Delver decks. I’ve played UB, UW, and Esper against Delver decks, and spot removal just isn’t the same as these catch-all sweepers that you can resolve while they’re still casting guys, equipment, and setting up with Ponder. If the format devolves into aggro and ramp, I want to be running some number of these cheaper sweepers so that I’m not all-in on turn four Day of Judgment.
I also want to be running Desperate Ravings as opposed to Forbidden Alchemy. The way that you beat Delver and Wolf Run both is to answer their first few threats and then just pull ahead on cards. Desperate Ravings and Think Twice make it much easier to represent countermagic, or to do multiple things in one turn. That’s not to mention just how absurd Desperate Ravings is for fixing hands and digging for specific answers. It even sets up your Sun Titans; Desperate Ravings just does everything I want my card draw to be doing right now.
An entire article could be written about the ins and outs of playing with Desperate Ravings. Most people have this aversion to discarding at random, but the amount of card selection that you get in exchange isn’t something you want to overlook. Desperate Ravings often requires you to sequence things in ways that you wouldn’t ordinarily, and you have to think about a lot of things when you’re deciding when to cast it.
Generally, I decide whether or not I want to play it on my turn, before I do anything else. If you have to represent something, then wait on it, but otherwise I generally cast it on my main phase before I play anything. You can play a land first if you need a certain color, but it’s generally right to have as many cards in your hand as possible when you cast it, to minimize the chances of discarding the cards you need.
The other red card I’m really excited about is Pillar of Flame, and it’s the one that changes everything. Playing UB and Esper, your biggest problems were Geralf’s Messenger, Gravecrawler, and Strangleroot Geist. Creatures that demand multiple answers while applying a significant amount of pressure are very difficult for control decks to deal with, especially with the printing of Cavern of Souls. Pillar of Flame answers all of these very efficiently, while still being fine against Delver. The only match-ups it’s actively bad against are Wolf Run and Control, and even there it’s only mostly dead.
The last card that ties everything together is Desolate Lighthouse. This is the card that lets you play 26 lands and not flood out and lose. This lets you set up your Sun Titans, only use the back end of Desperate Ravings if you r hand is fine as is, and cycle away dead cards and extra lands for real spells. Desperate Ravings is the best card in this deck by a very large margin, and this card is an awful lot like a repeatable Desperate Ravings.
Let’s take some time to talk about match-ups.
This match-up is much harder than it ever used to be, since the deck doesn’t run countermagic to get around Cavern of Souls. This match-up fundamentally revolves around Inkmoth Nexus rather than anything else. You can answer all of their titans without too much trouble, but you have very few answers to Inkmoth Nexus since you’re playing Pillar of Flame over Tragic Slip or Galvanic Blast. This is one of the match-ups where your singleton Geistflame is an absolute all-star. You also are very reliant on Tamiyo tapping down Wolf Run until you can find an answer to the Nexuses.
This is pretty straightforward, you board out all of the worst spot removal and board in things that actually matter. I would kind of like to have another card to board in for this match-up, but I’m not sure that there’s really space. If this is particularly prevalent though, you could board another Ghost Quarter and another Geistflame over a Purify the Grave and a Phantasmal Image.
This match-up is pretty favorable, in general. The biggest decision that you have to make is whether or not you can afford to play into Mana Leak in any particular game. If you decide that you have enough time to play around it, and then they force you to play into it, you’re just dead, whereas if you’d just started jamming things into their Mana Leaks, you might have been able to force something through in time. This is another match-up where Geistflame is absurd; you can let them have equipment and just Geistflame their Moorland Haunt tokens when they go to equip and buy yourself a ton of time to find an answer to their Pike or Sword in the meantime.
After sideboarding, you pretty much just need to make sure that you don’t die to a random Geist of Saint Traft, Runechanter’s Pike, or Jace, Memory Adept. As long as you can keep those things under control, you shouldn’t have too much trouble winning the match.
If you can, you want to stick Ratchet Bomb on two counters and leave it there for as long as possible, since that hits the most problematic permanents: Pikes, Stalkers, Snapcasters to start with, and easily ticks up to three to hit Swords and Geists.
This is the kind of deck that this is built to prey upon. The decks that are relying on resilient creatures to get through damage against the control decks. You have Pillars to hit creatures with Undying, a billion sweepers to keep them from assembling much pressure. You have to be a little careful with Sun Titan and Planeswakers, so that you don’t get blown out by Clones or Zealous Conscripts.
How you sideboard in these matches depends a lot on what you see. For instance, I like Tamiyo and Geistflame against BR zombies, but not against UB Zombies. Against BR you can afford to let Messengers sit in play, but against UB you can’t. I’d rather have some number of Purify the Graves to protect myself from Undying Messengers. Similarly, I might want Revoke Existence against RG or Zombies if I see enough targets in game one, especially Metamorphs.
This is the match-up that I’m the most afraid of, but your ability to win depends a lot on how their deck is built. If they’re running heavy countermagic, you basically can’t win. If they’re all Mana Leaks and bombs, then you’ve got a fight on your hands.
Liliana and Consecrated Sphinx are the two cards you’re most afraid of, since it’s very difficult for you to answer them without getting very far behind, and because both apply a ton of immediate pressure. On your end things tend to come down to using your Negates effectively and not dying to Lingering Souls. Generally your plan revolves around resolving a Tamiyo, Sun Titan, or Entreat the Angels and backing those up with Negates.
You need to keep some number of sweepers in, but you’re best set up to win the fight over Sun Titans, and your Planeswalkers are more powerful. The cards that are the most important are still Consecrated Sphinx and Liliana of the Veil, but now you’re slightly better set up to deal with at least Liliana. If they don’t have an early Lingering Souls, you want to start thinking about ticking up your Ratchet Bomb, either to three to deal with Liliana or to six to deal with Titans and Sphinxes.
If you wanted to board more heavily for this, I’d consider Azure Mage, Tibalt, the Fiend-Blooded, and Volition Reins as sweet sideboard cards to crush the control mirror. It’s important to remember that the easiest ways to lose are to miss land drops and to start tapping out before you have to.
So that’s what I’ve got going on for the early Avacyn Restored metagame. I think this deck is pretty sweet, and is probably one of the better control decks in the format. You have a pretty strong proactive plan, but also have the ability to answer most of the problematic cards in the format and sculpt your hand with Desperate Ravings. Worst case you can just sit back on Lighthouse and find the answers you need.
If you take nothing else away from this, you should know that Tamiyo is much, much better than she looks, and she looks pretty good to start with. Every one of her abilities is very good, and control decks are able to make games go long enough that her Emblem isn’t actually out of reach. If nothing else, it’s an incredible amount of fun to play a turn or two with a Tamiyo Emblem before you get a concession. Desperate Ravings as a pseudo Ancestral Recall, counting red sources to see if you can Pillar of Flame them to death, Legend Ruling their Planeswalker and then recasting your copy – these are all things that are incredibly unfair and even more fun.
I’m excited to see how this Standard format plays out; there are a lot of interesting things that you can try to do, especially with these sweet new miracles. Terminus in particular has been over performing in my games with this deck, but I’m also excited to try some kind of RUG or Bant ramp deck with Temporal Mastery. New formats are always the best, and I hope this one’s treating you as well as it is me!
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