May 22, 2015

Going Green in Shanghai

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A couple weeks ago, Esper Dragons was dominating Standard. There were Temple of Deceits everywhere, and all sorts of tournaments (big and small) were being won by Ojutai and Silumgar. Non-blue decks were scorned, and people were scrambling to figure out how to adjust.

Well, it looks like they adjusted. Check out the Top 16 decks from Grand Prix Shanghai:

Red-Green Devotion – 4
Red-Green Dragons – 3
Abzan Control – 3 (winner)
Abzan Aggro – 2
Dragon Megamorph – 2
Atarka Red
Ojutai Bant

That's a lot of Forests, with every single deck in the Top 16 at least splashing green, and a lot of Temple of Abandons and Sandsteppe Citadels. There were only nine copies Dragonlord Ojutai, and even more amazing, only one basic Island!


IN CONTROL

Let's take a look at the 61 cards that won the whole thing:

Yuuki Ichikawa's Abzan Control — Grand Prix Shanghai

Without getting too much into the debate of playing more than 60 cards (don't do it for consistency purposes), it's interesting to take a look at what Ichikawa has going on.

This is definitely a control deck. It's got zero Fleecemane Lions or Rakshasa Deathdealers. And the three Elspeths, two Crux of Fates, and four Den Protectors mean it is set up for the late game.

The most interesting thing about this deck is the engine it uses to grind out opposing control and midrange decks.

The combination of these three cards creates a ton of value. Wayfinder lets Ichikawa cheat on land, playing only 24, and mills Deathmist Raptors plus good cards for Den Protector to dig back. Raptor stands on its own as a relevant three-drop, providing plenty of ground defense, and Den Protector is the hottest card in Standard right now for a reason. Den Protector not only draws a good card for a low price, it brings back any Deathmist Raptors that have found their way to the graveyard, and it even leaves a very relevant 3/2 body in play. The fact that Den Protector has a very real evasive ability is just value on top of value, and it marches past Courser of Kruphix with ease. A very common play is also to Abzan Charm you Den Protector up to a 5/4, at which point very few things can stop it, letting you kill them with your card advantage machine. It's like building your own Ojutai!

Besides that engine, Ichikawa's deck features a lot of the Abzan cards we are used to seeing, with a mix of Courser of Kruphix, Elspeth, Thoughtseize, Siege Rhino, and removal spells giving this deck the power and flexibility it's known for.

What I Like About This Deck:

Ichikawa's take on Abzan does a fantastic job of combining synergy and power. He's got a ton of cards that stand on their own, many of which are just the best cards in the format, but he also found a low-cost way to fitting in a powerful engine that lets him go over the top of the opposition. This is definitely a deck to watch, and you could even call it a Top Deck, which I think makes it mandatory for me to write about it.

Play This Deck If:

You like value.

Said in a more useful fashion: if you expect lots of midrange or control. The sideboard is heavy on aggro cards, but the main deck is definitely built to play against midrange or slower opposition.


DEVOTING YOURSELF

The other big thing to come of out Shanghai is that there were seven of sixteen decks playing red-green, divided up into two distinct categories (plus an eighth deck that was Atarka Red, which is really Mono-Red Aggro touching green).

Green-Red Devotion is the most powerful of the categories, and Xie Hao Chen played the biggest version of that already-big deck.

Xie Hao Chen's Green-Red Devotion — Grand Prix Shanghai

Yes, that's three copies of Ugin, the Spirit Dragon. Playing that many Ugins is no joke, and this deck is nothing if not spirited.

All of the Green-Red Devotion decks follow the same game plan, with the idea being to ramp out four- and five-drops with Elvish Mystic, Rattleclaw Mystic, and Sylvan Caryatid. After accumulating value with cards like Polukranos, Xenagos, and especially Whisperwood Elemental, the deck can usually generate enough mana to start slamming high-end cards such as Atarka, Hornet Queen, and in this case, Ugin.

Why Green-Red?

The interesting take-away here is that Green-Red Devotion has supplanted Green-White Devotion as the most popular way to use green cards + Nykthos, Shrine to Nyx.

As with many Standard changes, there's a Dragonlord behind this one.

Atarka came to party, but the party really came for Atarka. She is the common thread among the Green-Red Devotion decks, indicating that her presence alone is why Green-Red has surged in popularity. It turns out that seven mana isn't too much for an 8/8 Trampling Flyer that eats one or more of the opponent's threats, and it's interesting to see yet another sign that Standard is rotating at a fast clip. This Standard format truly is great. The best deck changes often, and even established archetypes have plenty of room for innovation, all while leading to good, interactive games. I am not exaggerating when I say that this may be the best Standard format I've played since I started playing Magic.

Besides Atarka, there are a few different ways you can try and close out the game with Devotion. The decks in the Top 16 settled on some combination of these big spells, and there's no reason you can't just mix and match. It might even be better to do so, as all these cards are incredibly powerful and drawing a copy of a few different ones can't be a bad thing (though make sure you have enough creatures to enable See the Unwritten if you go down that path).

What I Like About This Deck:

It casts spells that cost seven-plus mana all the time. Sounds pretty awesome to me, and ensures that nobody is going over the top of you. Deathmist Raptor is a cute little engine and all, but a Devotion deck that's going off can very easily ignore it.

You Should Play This Deck If:

Esper Dragons is still in hiding. Devotion decks really don't like playing against the full set of Thoughtseizes and Silumgar's Scorns, not to mention Dragonlord Silumgar himself. And the biggest reason to play this right now is that Esper may be on the back foot.


DRAGONS

Devsharn Singh's Red-Green Dragons — Grand Prix Shanghai

The other three decks playing red-green in the Top 8 also featured Dragons, enough that the deck is named after them. There is some overlap between this deck and the Devotion decks, but they don't play very similarly at all. Red-Green Dragons is a midrange beatdown deck, not a ramp control deck, and a deeper look at the decklist shows exactly why.

All this deck is trying to do is curve out power three-, four-, and five-mana plays; after which it can finish the game with one of its eight to ten burn spells (this list in particular plays nine). There are fourteen threats that can plausibly finish the game themselves, with Boon Satyr providing backup to any of them.

These cards all attack for a minimum of 4 damage per turn, and often much more, all while having multiple different abilities that make them harder to kill. Getting even one hit in per card adds up quickly, and this is a deck that jealously counts each point of damage. Having a bunch of burn spells and haste creatures will do that, and finishing the game with a bestowed Boon Satyr on a mana elf is not an uncommon occurrence.

This deck is a little bigger than most aggro decks, which does let it lean back into the control role when needed. Den Protector plus cards like Arc Lightning give it a decent card advantage machine, even if that's not usually the primary plan. It's also filthy to combine Den Protector plus Boon Satyr, and if you ever draw both cards, you should probably look to do so.

What I Like About This Deck:

It has lots of powerful threats and plays them quickly. Red-Green Dragons shows that you can play an aggro deck without giving up on power level, and this deck is perfectly capable of winning a long game if it comes to that (while being quite adept at winning short ones).

You Should Play This Deck If:

You want to.

Seriously, this deck is pretty good against most things the metagame will throw at you, and glib answers aside, it's a good choice if you aren't exactly sure what will show up. It's got the tools and power level to compete with anything, and there's not a specific deck I'd target with it or fear to play against. That's one of the advantages of playing a proactive deck, especially one that can get fast draws such as this one.


I'm currently loving Standard, and look forward to continuing to explore it. I am in the midst of doing Modern Masters 2015 Edition preparation, as as Grand Prix Vegas (and Chiba and Utrecht) is next week, but seeing what is going in Standard is always interesting. If I were to play an event right now, I'd probably play something close to Ichikawa's deck (Owen Turtenwald won Standard Super League with that deck minus one Tasigur), just because of how much value the deck accumulates.

May you always flip three Deathmist Raptors and a land with your Satyr Wayfinder (that's my plan, at least).

LSV



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