The Moore Report - Not Wedges
Standard Not Wedges (Significantly Less Delicious)
But still good. Welcome back to my strategy article series! Today I want to carry on from my last article, where I talked about each of the Khans of Tarkir wedges and competitive decks from each. That piece covered a fair percentage of the standard environment that we find ourselves in, but it certainly wasn’t comprehensive. There are a lot of very good decks that don’t need to stretch to three colours to be competitive (like Mono-Blue!). I’ll try to cover them all, and once I have we can move on to how to beat this format in future articles.
Interestingly, the wedges seem to cover the middle ground of the strategy spectrum. What I mean is if you consider Magic strategy as a straight line that starts with hyper-aggressive decks at one end, moves through midrange decks and ends with pure control decks (with some kind of strange series of mutant branches for combo decks along the way), the wedge decks all sit somewhere near the middle. That does make sense, because hyper-aggressive decks are usually one colour (often red) because they eschew powerful cards for impeccable mana and quick kills, and control decks need good mana that doesn’t punch them in the face. If you look back to the previous standard format, control decks had access to Ravnica dual lands, which were much more attractive than the current offerings of Apocalypse pain lands and Onslaught fetch lands. So, to find the extremes in the standard format we’re in, we have to (at least for now) look further than wedges.
Let’s start with aggro. We have a couple of decks here: mono-red aggro, red-white aggro, and blue-white heroic. Mono-red has and will always be around in some form in Magic, even when it’s not good. Some players just like to point Lightning Bolts at their opponent’s faces, and who can blame them? Here is a list that has put up some results recently:
Observant readers will notice that almost every spell in the maindeck costs exactly 1 red mana to cast. The only spell that doesn’t, Stoke the Flames, has convoke, so it costs whatever you want it to. Everything costing one mana is what lets this deck get away with a scant 17 mountains, which means that it will almost never run out of gas. This is a scary deck that can come out of the gates very fast, but luckily there are some trumps in the format that can shut it down efficiently, namely Drown in Sorrow, Anger of the Gods and even Barrage of Boulders. I’m sure the mono-red players out there are already on top of this list, but for those of you who aren’t and have a hankering for some 1/1s this deck might be for you.
Next on the list is red-white, which is similar in strategy to the mono-red deck, but it moves a bit up the curve to play bigger spells. Here is an example:
This type of deck is a lot less “all-in” than the previous one. Instead of one mana pump spells and Frenzied Goblins, we’ve got unconditional removal like Chained to the Rocks and creatures that cost all the way up to five mana. In general, I feel as though this list is more consistent than the mono-red, but a lot less explosive. With this deck, you’re almost never going to kill your opponent on turn 4, but you’re also almost never going to have to play with a solitary mountain as your source of mana. There are merits to both, so it just depends on what you’ll have more fun with. I would add that the deck that moves up the curve can be built in a similar way to the mardu midrange deck that I talked about last time, in that you can make it bridge two strategies by utilising a transformational sideboard - which is something that the mono-red deck can’t do. If you want to do that, I’d suggest looking up Brad Nelson’s list from the most recent pro tour. There is a deck tech video in the coverage that goes over his card choices, and will give you a great place to start from….OK fine, here it is.
The last deck I want to touch on is blue-white heroic. This is almost a combo deck rather than an aggro deck, but it still fits the mould. Let’s have a look:
I’m sure there is a lot of movement in the numbers here. This list is a Todd Anderson test deck, so I don’t know whether this particular list is good enough to play in a tournament, but the general strategy remains the same. This deck functions by getting one of the heroic or prowess creatures into play and dumping a whole bunch of auras on to it, all the while protecting it with Gods Willing or Feat of Resistance. I was dismantled by this deck piloted by Ka Wing Lau at the most recent Hobbymaster Standard 500 series tournament. Ka Wing is known for playing off-beat aggro decks like affinity, so it’s not much of a surprise to see him attack with a 9/9 unblockable Hero Of Iroas. I didn’t particularly enjoy that it happened specifically to me, but it’s undeniably a powerful deck. Aqueous Form seems very strong in this strategy, so I’m a little surprised that Todd Anderson’s list only has one. If I was to play this deck, I’d probably add more of those, but I’m hardly an authority on this type of strategy. Maybe Ka Wing can help you out if you’re interested!
That does it for aggro decks, so let’s swing all the way to the other side. I want to talk about one of the break out decks from Pro Tour Khans of Tarkir, namely blue-black control. Personally, while Ivan Floch made the top 8 of that event piloting the deck, I prefer the list that put Owen Turtenwald at 11th. This is mainly because I know that Andrew Cuneo worked on that list, and apart from Guillaume Wafo-Tapa I consider him to be the best builder of control decks out there. Here is the list:
Floch’s list didn’t have any Perilous Vault, which I think is incorrect. I’m not sure how this strategy can succeed without it, so I’d advocate playing the full four. Past that, If you like control and want to try out this list, would highly recommend (at a minimum) reading this, this and this. Some control decks are easy to play, but this is not one of them. Last season saw a high concentration of esper control, which could rely on Supreme Verdict, Detention Sphere, Jace, Architect of Thought and Elspeth, Sun’s Champion for comfortable wins. This deck doesn’t have that luxury. If you want to win games with it, you need to know exactly what each card is for, and when to deploy them. More than any other, this deck relies on you knowing what is important in each game and match-up, and that can only come from reading a lot of articles and playing a bunch of games. Pearl Lake Ancient is a sweet card to win with though, so if you’re up to the challenge I say go for it!
Speaking of Elspeth, I have seen some blue-white control lists floating around too. You just replace all of the black removal with spells like Banishing Light, Last Breath, Devouring Light and End Hostilities. It also gets to play Elspeth, Sun’s Champion herself. I’m not sure that I like this strategy, since End Hostilities doesn’t take care of non-creature permanents like Perilous Vault does, but it’s possible that it has a better match-up against the hyper aggressive decks, since Last Breath and Nyx-Fleece Ram out of the sideboard do a lot of work. Blue-black gets to play with Jorubai Murk Lurker though, so it can’t be that much better. Is there anyone out there who plays blue-white control that can enlighten us?
At this point we’ve covered the strategy spectrum, but we haven’t covered every deck. These decks sit around the middle of the range that we’ve been analysing. They are green-black constellation and green-red monsters. I’m going to go ahead and start with the constellation deck:
Decks like this have been around for a while, and there’s a reason that they’re still here. The combination of Hornet Queen, Doomwake Giant and Whip of Erebos is very powerful, and beats up on most decks in the format. When backed up by the card advantage engine of Courser of Kruphix and Eidolon of Blossoms what you have is a very powerful deck. I especially like Murderous Cut in this strategy (or just, you know, in general. The card is very good). Often you can spend your turn durdling by casting Satyr Wayfinder and Commune with the Gods, then spend that spare mana you happened to have killing their best creature. I definitely think this strategy can be improved on, which we’ll talk a bit about at the end of this article, but for now I’d just like to ask: where is the meat? One issue I can see with this deck is that if it can’t find a big threat to win with it could have trouble closing out games. It’s all very well drawing cards and playing a bunch of little men, but if your opponent just serves up an End Hostilities or Perilous Vault (or even Doomwake Giant + enchantment) you might find yourself without a beater. Genesis Hydra, as an example, provides a huge body and a semi-tutor effect, both of which seem desirable. It’s possible that Brain Maggot belongs in the sideboard, and if so I’d definitely look to add some Hydras. However, it’s also probable that Hydra isn’t exactly what you want since it doesn’t combo well with Whip of Erebos. Is there another giant monster that we could have in this slot? Maybe you don’t need it, and I’m just being pessimistic? Hmmm.
Taking another leaf from Brian Kibler’s book of Magic strategy, we’ve also got green-red monsters. Feast your eyes on this beast:
When you look at this deck as a whole, you can see that it’s really just a green-red devotion deck which has swapped out the black removal and graveyard theme for some red burn spells and planeswalkers. There are the Genesis Hydras that I’m so in love with! I like a lot of what’s going on in this deck. Planeswalkers are sweet, and Xenagos looks like it does a lot of work in this deck. Making satyrs is still good, since at the moment there are less Searing Bloods and Bile Blights running around to ruin your day. I’m not sure about Nissa, since she doesn’t have a fun time against Sarkhan, but there aren’t too many of those running around either. Basically this deck looks like a collection of really good cards. If temur aggro isn’t getting it done, I could definitely see the players on that deck gravitating toward something like this, which has been doing some serious work on the StarCityGames circuit. I really just want to play it so that I can see how much I can cast Crater's Claws for.
The last deck I want to talk about is the deck that won Grand Prix Santiago a few weeks ago. This is a deck that I should have featured in my abzan section in my last article, but I missed it, so here it is now:
As you can see, this deck takes a lot of the best elements from the green-black devotion deck, which is great, and it supplements it with some powerful white cards. I spoke about the green-black deck lacking some meat, well, Siege Rhino and Soul of Theros definitely qualify as meat! A Soul of Theros activation with just a Hornet Queen and her children in play is a huge 16 damage, which, by the way, comes with lifelink and first strike. Soul might not combo that well with Whip of Erebos, but the threat of it in your graveyard is just as good, if not better. It’s cool that Siege Rhino gets some value from the whip by at least draining your opponent for three when it pops back into play. I like this deck a lot, and I will be testing it out in the coming weeks. Look out for an article in the future with some more detailed commentary on this one.
We’ve come to the end of a fairly comprehensive list of decks, and it’s quite long. This tells me that standard is in a really good place right now. There is no clear best deck that I can see, which means there’s lots of room for innovation. I’m a big fan of innovation, and I’m looking forward to seeing what people come up with next!