May 01, 2015

Regionals Roundup

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Last week was the inaugural weekend of Regional Pro Tour Qualifiers, and the results from that can give us a good look at the top decks in Standard. Whether you are going to Grand Prix Toronto, local preliminary PTQs, or just like to battle Standard, it's good to take stock of where the format is at, especially after a weekend where a ton of Magic got played and a ton of results got collected.

I do first want to mention how much (as an observer) I like the new Regional PTQ system. I had a lot of friends playing in RPTQs last weekend, and the events felt like a big deal—both because they were all on the same weekend and because having a smaller number of four-slot qualifiers made each one more important. It felt like old-school Regionals was back when, and that's a tournament I remember fondly. I look forward to the program continuing…and from talking to the people who played last weekend, so do they.


The three big winners last weekend were undoubtedly Esper Dragons, Red Aggro (Mono-Red + Atarka Red combined), and Abzan Aggro according to the numbers of each that finished in various Top 8s (credit to the Reddit thread where the numbers were collated).

Esper Dragons and Red Aggro both put 52 copies into the Top 8, with Abzan Aggro coming in at 27. The next highest number was Bant Midrange at fifteen, with a few different decks clustered in the ten-to-fifteen area, which does give us a pretty clear line between the top three and the rest of the field. What I (unsurprisingly) like about these numbers is that they line up with my expectations. I went into this with these as my pick for the three best decks, and their performance last weekend gives me more confidence that such a pick is accurate. It's not all the evidence I need, but I thought they were the best based on my evaluation of the format, and having some numbers to back that up does help.

The logic for these being the best decks is as follows:

  1. First, Esper is the best because of how powerful it is. It's a deck that beats everything in the long game (with some small exceptions), and does so without playing cards that are awful when cast early, as Counterspell (Silumgar's Scorn), Thoughtseize, and removal spells function at every point in the game. Dig Through Time is an incredible card in a deck full of cheap interaction, and the Dragonlords are the finishers control has wanted for a long time.
  2. Red Aggro is good against Esper, even if the matchup isn't a rout. Nobody really thinks it's 80% in red's favor, but if you were to ask Esper pilots which deck they least want to play against, it is red. Red also reaps the benefit of Esper driving away many of the Courser of Kruphix decks, which red did not want to play against.
  3. Abzan Aggro is solid against both these decks, and really against everything in the format. It too would prefer not to play against some of the decks that Esper is hounding out of the format, like GW Devotion, but the reason Abzan Aggro is such a good choice is that it's a deck that can pressure Esper with Thoughtseize and aggressive creatures, while still mounting a Siege Rhino-driven defense against the Red Aggro decks.

Esper is the deck I've been playing the most recently, and here is the list I've been liking.

LSV's Esper Dragons

I've talked a lot about Esper recently, so I'll just explain some of the less standard choices:

  • No Ultimate Prices, and access to the full number of Bile Blights and Foul-Tongue Invocations. With fewer midrange green decks and Stormbreath Dragon decks, Ultimate Price gets much worse, and this removal setup is better against Esper, Red Aggro, and Abzan Aggro. Convenient, isn't it?
  • No main deck Ugin, the Spirit Dragon. I've been liking this move ever since Gerry Thompson recommended it. You don't need the power of Ugin to clean up most matchups, and I'd rather have it in the side to board in against midrange and devotion.
  • 4 Dragonlord Ojutai and 1 Dragonlord Silumgar. First, I don't like Silumgar, the Drifting Death. I don't think it's a powerful enough card, and I'd prefer to play the more powerful Dragonlord, even if you aren't on 100% hexproof Dragons at that point. Second, Ojutai is the best Dragon, and given that Ojutai draws you extra cards, it's hard to get flooded on Ojutais, so just play the max number.

This would still be my choice, but let's take a look at what Red Aggro might look like.

Atarka Red

Atarka Red, named for the Command that makes a green splash worth it, is the most common version of the deck. The combination of cheap creatures/tokens + Atarka's Command + burn spells is a good one, and this is the deck with the potential for the most busted draws in Standard. Atarka's Command serves as a super burn spell when the +1/+1 and "deal 3" modes team up, and countering life gain from Siege Rhino is no joke either. I have yet to see the "play an extra land" mode get chosen, but technically it is an option.

This deck is brutal against unprepared opponents, and even with the spotlight on it, as it has been, it's still a good choice. It was one of the most anticipated decks going in to last weekend, and yet 38 copies still finished in Top 8s (with the other fourteen Red Aggro decks being Mono-Red). That indicates to me that this isn't a fragile metagame deck, or anything of the sort. Even people who are ready for the deck don't crush it, and any deck that truly crushes this is likely an underdog to Esper.

Mono-Red

This isn't tactically all that different from Atarka Red, but it eschews the green splash in favor of the most elegant of mana bases: 20 Mountains. It's a very valid choice, as this deck plays seven fewer lands that deal damage to its pilot, one less "enters the battlefield tapped" land, and no Forest (which is practically colorless). The mana base improvement shines most against other aggro decks, as the pain isn't very relevant against Esper, and when you expect a significant portion of the field to be attacking your life total, that's a tangible advantage.

The loss of Atarka's Command doesn't really change what the deck is trying to do, as there is still a strong token theme, even if there aren't as many ways to take advantage of those tokens. It turns out that Dragon Fodder and Goblin Rabblemaster are just too efficient to leave on the bench, and interact too well against removal.

As an aside, I love how much play Goblin Heelcutter is getting, and you could easily fit Heelcutter into either Red Aggro deck. It's just funny to me that the best Limited common also has Constructed applications, despite not looking initially like an awesome Constructed card. It sure does wreck an opponent who tapped out for a Siege Rhino and expects it to hold the fort, which expands the range of what red decks can do against large creatures.

I can get behind either red deck, and which you play largely depends on how many times you think you will play the aggro mirror. Atarka's Command is a fantastic card, but whether it's fantastic enough to make up for losing an extra 1–3 life per game is less clear. If I thought I'd play against less than 30% aggro, I imagine it is worth it, but once that number gets bigger, it becomes less exciting.


The last deck of the triumvirate is Abzan Aggro, and it occupies a spot somewhere between the other two archetypes (though firmly on the aggro side of the spectrum). This is the deck that leans closest to midrange, and is definitely the least linear. What I mean by that is that it's the most "normal", being that it's a combination of two- to four-mana creatures and disruption/removal spells. It's not full of just one-drops and burn spells; or counters, card draw, and nearly creatureless as the other two decks are. That's both good and bad, as being "normal" means that most decks are set up to interact with you well, whereas they may not be fully prepared against a deck as aggressive or controlling as the other decks. It is an advantage because Abzan Aggro is the least vulnerable to targeted sideboard slots and, in general, is a very robust deck.

Abzan Aggro

All this deck is trying to do is cast creatures that hit hard, and draw one to three spells per game to stop whatever the opponent is up to. It does this consistently, and one of its main strengths is how resilient all of its creatures are. Given enough mana, every creature in this deck can present 4+ power, even the one- and two-drops, and all of them can end the game with minimal backup. The cost is that the deck isn't incredibly fast, and plays about one spell per turn for most of the game. It's good that those spells are impactful, but it does mean that when this deck gets behind, it really needs Siege Rhinos or a cheap Tasigur to get back ahead.

Abzan Aggro is a good choice if you have a good read on the metagame, and can tune it accordingly. There's way more potential for customization with this deck than Esper or Red Aggro, again due to the less-linear nature of the deck. As long as you leave in Thoughtseize, Anafenza, Siege Rhino, Fleecemane, and Deathdealer, you are probably on the right track. And that means a lot of slots can change based on what you expect. The list I included above is one I think makes sense given our current metagame, but don't be afraid to make all sorts of adjustments if you have a better idea of what you'll play against.

These are certainly the most popular decks right now, and understanding what they look like is important even if you don't play them. There are tons of other good decks, and this Standard format rewards you for choosing a deck, practicing with it, and tuning it. So I'd recommend you do just that. Esper may be the best deck, but it is by no means the only deck, and what is most important is that you find a deck that you like and become a master of it.

LSV



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