August 14, 2015

An Enchanting Look at Standard

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The first tournament after the Pro Tour is always an interesting one, as people react to the information from the Pro Tour in different ways. I had a birds-eye view of Grand Prix San Diego last week, and saw quite a few cool decks from my vantage point in the coverage booth. I'd certainly be remiss in my duties if I didn't talk about how a Blue-Red Mill deck (!?) won the tournament, and even past that there were some notable updates to come out of this weekend.

Here's what the Top 8 looked like:

  • 1 Abzan Aggro
  • 1 Blue-Red Tutelage (winner)
  • 1 Abzan Control
  • 1 Abzan Constellation
  • 1 Black-Red Dragons
  • 1 Jeskai
  • 1 Green-White Megamorph
  • 1 Esper Dragons

Having a full eight different archetypes is pretty sweet, and even though three of them are Abzan colors, those decks are distinct enough that they really should be counted separately.

Let's start at the top.

Michael Majors's Blue-Red Tutelage—1st Place Grand Prix San Diego

This is by far the coolest deck in the Top 8, and it was one of the more intriguing lists to come out of the Pro Tour, where Andrew Cuneo piloted it to a 23rd-place finish (though I'm sure his 6-0 in Draft didn't hurt).

The deck has one goal and one goal only: Draw all the cards. All the deck does is draw cards, with Sphinx's Tutelage turning that card draw into a win condition. This deck is also notable because it literally does not have the means to deal a single point of damage. For it to win, which it did plenty of last weekend, it has to run the opponent completely out of cards. The main way to do that is Sphinx's Tutelage, but a flipped Jace can also accomplish that goal. Still, the fact that the deck can't deal damage is amazing to think about, and really shows how outside of the norm this deck is.

Despite my desire to draw cards, I do have to admit that this is the most important card in the deck. Tutelage is what kills the opponent, and is what enables this deck to race even reasonably aggressive decks. This deck plays more like a Turbo-Fog deck than a traditional Mill deck, because it's often trying to just stall the opponent long enough for Tutelage to kill them. It's not built in a way where it gains full control of the game and slowly grinds the opponent out, like Nephalia Drownyard Control did, so the sooner it draws Tutelage the better. Due to all the card draw, even getting the first Tutelage killed isn't the end of the world. But if the opponent can keep this deck from sticking a Tutelage, that is problematic.

This is the part of the deck that makes me the most jealous. Between the eight cheap discard draw spells and Treasure Cruises, Michael Majors had a full hand of cards just about every turn of every game. There's even a Dig Through Time lurking, as well as an Alhammarret's Archive.

The card Alhammarret's Archive won a Grand Prix.

That is not a sentence I thought I'd ever have the pleasure of typing. The speed at which this deck draws cards is impressive, and it leads to surprisingly fast games. This deck can find Tutelage within a few turns most games—and once Tutelage lands, the game goes quite quickly. A sequence of turn two, Jace; turn three, Tutelage; turn four, Tutelage; turn five, Tormenting Voice plus Treasure Cruise led to a turn-five kill in the finals. The opponent's library was depleted on turn five!

As the only creature in the full 75-card list, Jace is a little vulnerable. But the power level makes up for that. Jace pretty much always flips in a turn, unless the mill deck wants to purposely use Jace before filling its graveyard; and once flipped, Jace can stall attacks and flashback card draw until he's provided way more than a single card's worth of value.

This motley assortment of spells is the only way the deck really interacts in Game 1. True to the Turbo-Fog pedigree, cards like Whelming Wave and Send to Sleep are purely delaying tactics. Time is all you need once a Tutelage is going, and those spells provide plenty of it. Roast and Anger of the Gods can let the deck sweep all threats for good, but they too are intended more to stop the deck from dying than purely control the game.

Andrew Cuneo, the creator of the deck, wrote a primer as well, which is a great read. Michael Majors changed a few things before heading to San Diego, but the heart and soul of the deck is the same, which is a major draw.

I'd be a little wary of choosing this deck going forward, as it is one of the linear decks that can be a victim of its own success. Playing against a field of super-fast Mono-Red or decks with seven ways to kill Tutelage could be tough, and I'd wait and see what the field ends up looking like before playing the high-profile deck that just won the last tournament.


Another deck I found quite interesting in the Top 8 was the deck that Daniel Ward piloted. Black-Red Dragons is not something we've seen before, especially because every deck that's close to this ends up splashing white and becoming Mardu Dragons.

Daniel Ward's Black-Red Dragons—Top 8 Grand Prix San Diego

This deck is about as midrange as midrange gets. It is capable of fast starts due to Hangarback Walker and Rabblemaster, but most of its threats cost four to six mana. Draconic Roar does pressure the opponent, but Thoughtseize plus a ton of other removal means that clearing the board is obviously the priority—and the presence of Outpost Siege confirms that. The combination of efficient removal and powerful threats lets this deck live in the place between control and aggro. It tends to occupy the role opposite whatever it's playing against (which I find to be the most useful definition of "midrange").

With sixteen creatures total, this deck is very capable of attacking and ending games, though the versatility of some of these creatures is what I find most appealing. Hangarback Walker isn't a very fast clock, but once it gets up to 3/3 or greater, it's going to provide a ton of value. On the other hand, Stormbreath Dragon and Thunderbreak Regent can kill the opponent quickly, and they too provide good value defensively and against removal. Part of why I believe this deck was so successful at this tournament was that there were a ton of Green-White Megamorph decks. I'm pretty happy playing a deck full of Stormbreaths and efficient removal against a midrange Green-White deck, and Green-White being the second most popular deck on Day Two was very good news for players running Dragons.

The removal suite here is impressive. Fourteen different removal spells mean that this deck is ready to play against creatures, and the range from Magma Spray to Kolaghan's Command to Murderous Cut means that it doesn't care what kind of creatures they are. This deck can kill everything twice over, and I'm sure did plenty of that on its way to the Top 8. Building your deck like this is a risk, and we actually saw Daniel lose to Reid Duke during the Swiss, with Reid being on Blue-Black Control. If you look at this decklist, there are way more cards that want to come out against Blue-Black than want to come in, and I would not want to be on the Black-Red Dragons side when sitting down in that matchup. Still, there wasn't a ton of control present, which is why Dragons was a good choice, and having bad matchups is inevitable in Standard, given how many decks exist right now.

This deck is definitely what I'd call a metagame deck. It's certainly powerful enough to have a game against most random decks, but it is targeted at creature decks—and green-white specifically. That made it a great choice for last week, but it becomes less appealing if next week is full of control decks. I don't think control is quite ready to make a huge resurgence, so I like this deck's chance going forward. And even if you do predict more control, you are allowed to take some of the excess removal out of the sideboard for more cards like Duress, Read the Bones, and Outpost Siege.


The last deck I want to talk about is an enchanting one indeed. Artur Villela made the finals with Abzan Constellation, which is a touch different from the Green-White Constellation deck that has recently gained in popularity.

Artur Villela's Abzan Constellation—2nd Place Grand Prix San Diego

This is another very focused deck, featuring 24 lands, 23 enchantments, and thirteen cards that enable enchantments. The gameplan of "play a ton of enchantments and cards that care about them" got Artur to the finals, and he won some very convincing matches on the way there.

The most important engine card is Eidolon, as it makes just about every card in the deck draw another card, but Starfield isn't too far behind. When Starfield is in play, not only does the game end fairly soon due to all enchantments becoming creatures, the opponent is also forced to kill the same ones over and over again. Creature removal becomes temporary; it is almost impossible to win a war of attrition against a Starfield. These engines also help fuel themselves, as Eidolon immediately draws a card and Starfield protects Eidolon (as well as everything else in the deck). Getting back enchantments even triggers Eidolon and Doomwake, making this deck quite resilient.

Disruption in the form of enchantments is also very powerful. The deck can't afford many non-enchantment slots, so having cards that stop the opponent that don't fill those slots is key. Brain Maggot and Banishing Light can be short-lived, but Starfield gives them an additional layer of protection. At the very least, they slow the opponent down long enough for Constellation to really get going.

The contingent of normal creatures is here to speed things up, and both these green creatures help accelerate. Herald even gains some life while doing so. Having one of the accelerants in play is key to making sure the deck, which is full of four- and five-mana spells, gets to cast its cards in a timely manner.

The rest of the deck is filled out with Kruphix's Insight to find enchantments and Courser of Kruphix and Doomwake Giant to provide incremental value. Courser is a very powerful card in its own right, and it being an enchantment is just a nice bonus. Doomwake can provide a roadblock early and completely wipe the board late—something I'm sure Artur did many times.

This is another deck that can fluctuate in value depending on how much people care about beating it. It's funny, but every week looks like it should get more and more hostile to enchantments, yet the finals was two decks that completely relied on them.

All I can say is that if you are playing Standard in the next few weeks, you should have a minimum of a couple cards that interact with enchantments, and it's very possible that it should be more than just a few. We've started to see main deck Reclamation Sages and Dromoka's Commands all over the place, and I don't think we've maxed out yet.

LSV



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