by Blake Rasmussen
Saturday, 7:51 p.m.
Round 9 Round-Up
by Nate Price
Saturday, 7:27 p.m.
Looking at Standard: A Deckbuilder's Perspective
by Blake Rasmussen
Best deck designer in the world?
by Event Coverage Staff
Round 8 Feature Match
Florian Koch vs. Patrick Cox
by Blake Rasmussen
Round 7 Feature Match
Patrick Chapin vs. Josh Utter-Leyton
by Nate Price
Saturday, 6:25 p.m.
Creatures, Creatures Everywhere
by Blake Rasmussen
Saturday, 6:10 p.m.
Tweaks: It's the little things that count
by Nate Price
Saturday, 5:35 p.m.
The Need for Speed
by Blake Rasmussen
Saturday, 5:15 p.m.
Planeswalking Through Standard
by Blake Rasmussen
Saturday, 3:00 p.m.
A Quick Analysis of Hoof
by Nate Price
Saturday, 2:39 p.m.
Movers and Shakers
by Blake Rasmussen
Saturday, 1:51 p.m.
Top 5 (or so) Cards in Standard
by Nate Price
Saturday, 12:37 p.m.
The Standards of Standard
by Blake Rasmussen
Saturday, 11:30 a.m.
Grinder Winning Decklists
by Event Coverage Staff
Info: Fact Sheet
Saturday, 11:30 a.m. - Grinder Winning Decklists
by Blake Rasmussen
Grand Prix San Antonio 2012 (Standard)
Grand Prix San Antonio 2012 (Standard)
Grand Prix San Antonio 2012 (Standard)
Grand Prix San Antonio 2012 (Standard)
Grand Prix San Antonio 2012 (Standard)
Grand Prix San Antonio 2012 (Standard)
Saturday, 12:37 p.m. - The Standards of Standard
by Nate Price
Last week, there were a couple of big new additions to our Standard Compendium, displaying some incredible innovation.
Hoof, There It Is: According to Jacob Van Lunen, Hoof is the "newest evolution" in the Standard metagame. At its core, Hoof is a Reanimator deck that uses Unburial Rites to bring a Craterhoof Behemoth back into play. Combined with an army of mana critters, the Behemoth is virtually always lethal the turn he comes into play. In addition to reanimating the Behemoth, the presence of Somberwald Sage allows the Behemoth to be cast in the traditional manner, deftly avoiding cards like Rest in Peace and Rakdos Charm.
Grand Prix Bochum 2012, Standard
Peddler: One of the most innovative decks to come out of Grand Prix Bochum was the Peddler brew run by Pro Tour Kobe 2006 winner Jan-Moritz Merkel and Max Pritsch. The creature-heavy deck revolves around the Avacyn Restored common Nightshade Peddler. When paired with Olivia Voldaren or Izzet Staticaster, the latter can be used to completely decimate opposing creatures. Considering the prevalence of one-toughness creatures, including the powerful Lingering Souls, these cards are very impressive on their own, let alone being able to kill Thragtusk, Restoration Angel, and Sublime Archangel in one shot. The deck also runs numerous other creature-based interactions, such as Zealous Conscripts/Falkenrath Aristocrats and Evil Twin as a method of dealing with problematic creatures. Tracker's Instinct makes the deck incredibly more consistent, allowing it to find the numerous two-card combos, as well as filling the graveyard with lands for their Deathrite Shamans.
9-0 Day 1
Grand Prix Bochum 2012, Standard
For the remainder of the major players in Standard, Jacob Van Lunen wrote an incredibly detailed Standard Compendium which you can check out here.
Burn: Since most of the spells that are capable of directly dealing damage to a player or creature use fire or lightning imagery, they are collectively known as burn spells, even if they don't actually use fire. Examples of burn common to Standard include Searing Spear, Pillar of Flame, and Brimstone Volley.
For every target,there is a burn spell, and direct damage for every purpose under Magic.
Card Advantage: The concept of card advantage has received more discussion over the history of Magic than any other topic. In short, the concept of card advantage relates to the equivalences of exchanges in Magic. Basically, if one card allows you to draw two cards or destroy two of your opponent's permanents, you are gaining card advantage.
Blue gives direct card advantage in the form of extra cards, but card advantage also comes from any use of one of your cards to negate more than one of your opponent's cards.
ETB: A shorthand acronym for "enters the battlefield". Creatures with ETB effects, such as Snapcaster Mage, have abilities that trigger upon entering the battlefield, giving a spell in the graveyard flashback in the case of Snapcaster Mage. Other textbook examples with cards in Standard with ETB effects are Craterhoof Behemoth and Restoration Angel.
ETB effects were used with alacrity during the Hypergenesis
era, but that's another story...
Fetch: Fetch is simply a catchall term used to describe the action of retrieving a card from the library. Farseek is an example of a card that allows players to "fetch" a land from their deck.
Metagame: The term metagame refers to the state of the current Constructed environment, most frequently speaking of the types of decks that are prominent and popular, as well as individual card choices within those decks. For example, if I told you that the three most popular decks in Standard right now were UW Flash, BR Zombies, and GW, you would have a pretty good idea of the Standard metagame. Since each tournament gives players a chance to react to what they experienced in the previous one, the metagame is constantly changing. Staying on top of and correctly predicting the metagame is one of the most challenging aspects of the professional level of Magic.
Mill: A verb derived from the card Millstone, an ancient card from the Antiquities set which has been periodically recuited into the core sets ever since. The act of "milling" a player is to put cards from a player's library into their graveyard. Since players lose the game when they can't draw a card, milling an opponent's entire library is one of the most frequently used alternate win conditions. In Standard, cards such as Nephalia Drownyard and Jace, Memory Adept, are the most common instances of mill cards.
You'd go crazy, too, if you kept losing because you couldn't draw.
"#"-Drop: This terminology is used to describe a permanent of a given converted mana cost. For example, Knight of Infamy, which costs , is a two-drop. Craterhoof Behemoth is an eight-drop. This terminology applies most often to permanents, such as creatures and artifacts, but it can be used to also describe the cost of spells.
Red Zone: The red zone is an allusion to the older play mats used for Feature Matches, which had a large red area between the players. Players would use this area to indicate the spells they were casting and the creatures that were attacking. The newest client for Magic Online includes a literal red zone feature where attacking creature cards are placed. Nowadays, the phrase "sends them into the red zone" is synonymous for attacking, whether or not there is one present.
Swing/Smash/Battle/Bash: All of these words have at some point in Magic history been the preferred method of saying "to attack". Now, they are all interchangeable and frequently used as slang.
The Stack: The stack is the order of spells that have been played during a given priority step. For example, when you play a spell in your main phase, it is said to go on the stack. After that, any spells that are played in response to the first one are said to go on the stack above them. Spells on the stack resolve from the top to the bottom.
Silver Bullet: A reference to the very specific weakness of werewolves, the phrase "silver bullet" in Magic refers to a card that exists in a deck, usually only one or two copies, that serves the purpose of providing an advantage against a very specific deck or effect. A good example of a silver bullet is the card Rest in Peace, which is good against graveyard decks, and Thundermaw Hellkite, which is especially effective against Lingering Souls.
Mirror Match: A match between two decks of the same archetype. For example, two GW decks playing against each other is called the GW mirror match.
Saturday, 1:51 p.m. - Top 5 (or so) Cards in Standard
by Blake Rasmussen
Every so often on Twitter a discussion breaks out—usually started by one Michael Flores or Patrick Chapin—about what the Top 5 (or 10) cards in Standard are at any given time. It's often entertaining and always enlightening, especially when they run the discussion back week after week to showcase and reflect the shifting metagame and tournament performance after large tournaments.
Last weekend gave us a ton of information after both Grand Prix Bochum and Grand Prix Charleston turned the metagame on its head. Going into the weekend, many of the best players saw UW Flash as the best deck and, consequently, Restoration Angel and Dissipate as among the best cards. And if you would have asked players the best creature to Unburial Rites, the answer would have almost uniformly have been Angel of Serenity, but Brad Nelson and Martin Juza showed us that the answer might just be Craterhoof Behemoth.
So here we are a week later and the answers have changed again. Pros have re-evaluated and recalibrated their perceptions on the format, and the result is a new(ish) set of cards at the top of Standard.
Here's a sample of what the Pros (and one former Pro Tour-winning coverage reporter) think are the best cards this week.
Luis Scott-Vargas (with some help from Pat Cox)
Cavern of Souls
Cavern of Souls
Michael Flores (via Twitter)
Thalia, Guardian of Thraben
Jacob van Lunen
Cavern of Souls
A couple cards stand out immediately. Thragtusk and Sphinx's Revelation made every list, even the aggro-slanted Cedric Phillips list. The effect of these two cards on the format, the players say, is profound.
"You have to be pretty serious about playing control or aggro," Scott-Vargas said. "There is no midrange."
Philips and Utter-Leyton, completely unprompted, gave the exact same analysis of midrange's poor spot in this week's metagame.
"Sphinx's Revelation pushes out midrange decks. For example, it completely invalidates Jund decks," Utter-Leyton said, adding that cards like Huntmaster of the Fells, pretty much the quintessential midrange card, just aren't good when people are playing giant Sphinx's Revelations.
The answer to Sphinx's Revelation, for a time, was the Blue-White Flash deck that popped up and was popular into last weekend. Combining cheap, multi-purpose threats with countermagic and card drawing, not to mention all-star Restoration Angel, has long been a way to combat "big spell" decks like the Bant decks trying to cast Thragtusks and massive Sphinx's Revelations.
However, that equation changed when people started playing Cavern of Souls again, even in Bant decks that had nothing else to cast with it besides Thragtusk. Pat Cox said they were siding out Essence Scatter every round in Charleston, a card that had previously been regarded as one of the best answers to Thragtusk. But with Cavern of Souls back in the picture—and back in the Top 5 cards in the format—that simply wasn't a viable strategy anymore.
That doesn't look like it'll change this weekend, as Cavern of Souls was easily the most played in the six grinder-winning decks. It looks like people came prepared for Flash.
Other patterns emerge from there. One of the most interesting is that, after Thragtusk, the creature set players selected was fairly diverse. Thundermaw Hellkite, Falkenrath Aristocrat, Geralf's Messenger and Hellrider all have one thing in common that puts them at the top of the food chain (besides all going in the BR Zombies deck)—they're all very good against the Scott-Vargas-Top 5er Supreme Verdict. Three have Haste and the other Undying, making them some of the best tools aggressively minded players have to bypass Supreme Verdict.
Phillips commented that the resilience of these creatures forces a diversification of removal.
"Some decks can play Ultimate Price to kill Restoration Angel, but then it doesn't do anything against Aristocrat or Centaur Healer. It's not like the old days when you could just play four Lightning Bolt," Philips said.
According to Utter-Leyton, those creatures, Thragtusk especially, have simply pushed spot removal out of the format right now. One-for-one removal is pretty bad when the creatures you would want to remove come back or replace themselves with a 3/3.
Now, going one step further, Utter-Leyton said that, because those creatures push spot removal out of the format, cards like Silverblade Paladin become better as well, the "Baneslayer"-type creatures that don't have the built-in resiliency of a Thragtusk, but do have the raw power to run a player over. Silverblade Paladin, he said, is just such a card and it's why it landed a spot in his personal Top 5.
And what about last week's darling Hoof (there it is!)? The consensus seems to be that several of its marquee cards—Gavony Township and Deathrite Shaman in particular—while certainly Top 15 or even Top 10 cards, were Top 5 cards last week due to their strength against Flash and true Top 5 all-star Cavern of Souls. The deck is still a force to be contended, but Deathrite Shaman won't be played in nearly as many decks as, say, Thragtusk and doesn't have the raw, flashy power of a Thundermaw Hellkite.
So, to review:
There is no midrange
Thragtusk good, removal bad
Haste, very good
Counterspells, not so good
And above all? Everything changes next week. If you take nothing else away from this, just know that this week's Top 5 might look nothing like next week's Top 5.
So what's your Top 5 cards in Standard? Sound off in the forums or take to Twitter, hashtags #gpsanant and #top5mtg
Saturday, 2:39 p.m. - Movers and Shakers
by Nate Price
With the advent of Magic Online, players have near-immediate access to the latest information about the state of a given format. By looking through the last couple days worth of Standard events, players can track the rise and fall of cards and archetypes, making sure that when the time comes for them to select a deck for a Grand Prix, they have the one best suited to deal with the field.
Standard has changed quite a bit since the beginning of the season. From its aggressive origins to the glacial metagame present in Bochum and Charleston last weekend, players monitored the ever-slowing format and tried to come up with new and inventive ways to go over the top of their opponents, playing the newest unbeatable finisher. As of the end of last weekend's Grand Prix, that finisher appears to be Craterhoof Behemoth thanks to its ability to end the game the turn it is cast.
But the shifting seas of Standard never stay idle for long. A new tide has been swirling as players sail into Grand Prix San Antonio. As the decks have reached the apex of "slow," space at the bottom has freed up, allowing the "fast" decks to once again achieve dominance. Thanks to Cavern of Souls, these aggressive decks have a potent weapon against Essence Scatter and Syncopate, the control decks' greatest weapons against the early onslaught offered by decks like GW Humans and BR Zombies. As such, players wishing to play control decks have had to adapt, adding more creatures to take the place of their counterspells.
Carried along with the ever-shifting tides of change are the fates of certain individual cards in the format, cards like Essence Scatter, Supreme Verdict, and Thundermaw Hellkite. The fluctuations in the metagame have a very strong impact on the strength of cards like these, and they rapidly oscillate between overpowered and unplayable given the current picture of Standard.
Here are some of the biggest movers and shakers in Standard right now, and the conditions that led to their rise or demise:
Pillar of Flame - With the rise of Cavern of Souls last week, aggressive decks are on the rise. As such, spot removal spells have become very important at combating the early rush of creatures. As David Ochoa put it, "With the number of aggressive decks increasing, cards like Pillar of Flame have become very important to stop them. It kills Thalia, Guardian of Thraben, and the early creatures from UW, as well as doing double duty to remove Gravecrawler and Geralf's Messenger in Zombies."
Riders of Gavony - Renowned deckbuilder Sam Black was the one to point this gem out. Looking at the decklists from Grand Prix Charleston and Bochum, it was clear that there were a large number of creature-based decks filling the top levels of the tournament. Since most of them have a strong tribal base (think GW Humans and BR Zombies), Riders of Gavony is the ideal way for the GW decks to ensure that opposing creatures don't get in the way of their winning the race.
Essence Scatter - Nearly every player I talked to immediately keyed in on Essence Scatter as being the single biggest loser in Standard following last week's GPs. With three or four Cavern of Souls becoming standard in every deck that relies on creatures, it is easy to see why. Ochoa explained, "Having the ability to Essence Scatter on turn two and then flash it back with a Snapcaster on turn four was very good at slowing down early aggression. With Cavern of Souls so prevalent, it is effectively a blank card right now." Many others echoed this sentiment, including Christian Calcano, who noted, "I was less surprised by the number of Cavern of Souls being played in Charleston than I was with the fact that Pat Cox was able to Top 8 with two Essence Scatters in his deck."
Ochoa was quick to point out that it's only really Essence Scatter that took a hit. "Other counterspells are still fine. You still have to counter cards like planeswalkers and Sphinx's Revalation. Being able to do so cheaply is why cards like Dispel and Negate are still so good."
Supreme Verdict - In direct response to the rise of aggressive decks, and control decks' inability to prevent creatures from reaching play, mass removal spells have returned to the main deck of many control decks. Many players in Charleston last week admitted that their lack of Supreme Verdicts was a mistake. After again explaining about the rise of aggro in Standard, Calcano laughed, telling me, "Shaheen Soorani told me I should be playing four in my deck, and I think I might agree with him."
Rest in Peace - Owen Turtenwald and Reid Duke pretty much simultaneously spat this out as a card with significantly decreased value in the wake of Charleston and Bochum. "UW Flash isn't as popular this weekend because of Cavern of Souls, so Rest in Peace just isn't as good," Turtenwald told me. Since Hoof decks are able to simply play their Craterhoof Behemoths with Somberwald Sage, graveyard hate is considerably less effective against them. Since Rest in Peace rides as UW does, this week, it lays low.
Alchemist's Refuge - Now this was an interesting suggestion by Owen Turtenwald and Reid Duke. In contrast to worrying about Cavern of Souls, Turtenwald and Duke were interested in dealing with Standard's new darling: Hoof. Alchemist's Refuge provides a perfect way for Bant Control to deal with a hasty, trampling horde. "If they play Hoof, you can just flash in a Supreme Verdict," Duke explained. "It's also very good against the UW Flash decks."
Saturday, 3:00 p.m. - Quick Analysis: Is Hoof a one-week flash in the pan or a long-term player in the metagame?
by Blake Rasmussen
The breakout deck of last weekend's pair of trans-Atlantic Grands Prix was, far and away, Brad Nelson's Craterhoof Behemoth deck. Catapulting Nelson himself to a high finish and clearing the way for Martin Juza to take down Bochum, Reanicrator/Hoof, there it is!/insert hoof pun here was clearly a strong choice for last weekend.
But what about this weekend?
Will we be seeing more of these two formerly underplayed Avacyn Restored cards in the weeks to come?
Surprise decks are often good when unknown, as Hoof was, but become less so when they become a known entity. So as soon as Juza hoisted the trophy, the question quickly became: Does the deck have staying power, or is it a one-week-wonder?
The consensus among those on the floor seems to be that the deck is here to stay. Owen Turtenwald called it the "best version of Reanimator" since it was far more explosive and had a strong backup plan.
But, it has lost that new-car smell, and players aren't going to be surprised anymore when someone plays a Somberwald Sage on Turn two. That takes away some of the advantage it enjoyed last week.
"Oh, it's just another form of Reanimator. Probably the most popular form, though it's significantly worse against spot removal," said Patrick Chapin, citing an uptick in Pillar of Flames and Searing Spears.
Players have adapted in other subtle and not-so-subtle ways as well. Alchemist's Refuge has become been added to a number of Bant decks this weekend in part because it allows those players to Supreme Verdict at instant speed. Sure, it costs a total of seven mana to do so, but it's better than being dead.
Other options include Izzet Staticaster, which is excellent not only against the decks' plethora of mana creatures (other than multi-format All-Star Deathrite Shaman), but also against Lingering Souls. Well, as long as Gavony Township isn't active, that is.
There are plenty of ways to fight a bunch of 1/1s. Will players play enough of them to hold back Craterhoof and friends?
Beyond that, Curse of Death's Hold seems like a strong answer, though Black isn't the most popular color this weekend. It could certainly serve as a mirror breaker, though, coming down as turn three in that deck should the format move that way. And if things get really nutty, Druid's Deliverance turns a bunch of 7/7s into a bunch of 1/1s and a 5/5 for the low, low cost of two mana.
Add to that the presence of Rest in Peace and Ground Seal in sideboards and main decks around the floor, and there are plenty of answers should players want to attack the Hoof.
Because of the adjustments players have made and the fact that Hoof is now a known entity, David Ochoa expects the deck to underperform a bit from last week, but to certainly maintain its presence. For now at least.
Final Word: Hoof Reanimator is here to stay.
Saturady, 5:15 p.m. - Planeswalking Through Standard
by Blake Rasmussen
Much of the attention in the last week has been focused squarely on the broad shoulders of Thragtusk and the less broad, slightly rotting shoulders of the Zombie hordes, as well as the menagerie of creatures that are coming to define Standard.
Sure, players are definitely crowing about Sphinx's Revelation, a Top 5 card on pretty much everyone's list, but, by and large, Standard has become about creatures.
But lost in the shuffle is the important role Planeswalkers are carving out for themselves. Somehow simultaneously ignored and adored, Magic's mythic characters aren't taking the center spotlight like they did in the heyday of Jace, the Mind Sculptor. Nor, however, are they taking the backseat they did in the days of Bloodbraid Elf into Blightning.
Instead, we have a plethora of Planeswalkers all filling different roles and ranging from All-Star game-winning monstrosities to Thundermaw Hellkite fodder and everything in between.
Take two different players packing Tamiyo, the Moon Sage near the top tables. On one hand, a player at Table 12 had a Tamiyo in play tapping down his opponent's fifth land, preventing that player from casting...Tamiyo.
Just a few tables down was another player with a Tamiyo that was protected by two Spirit tokens and a very intimidating Drogskol Reaver (which in itself is exciting). Of course, none of that mattered with a Hasty Thundermaw Hellkite cleared out any blockers, then cleared out the Blue planeswalker.
First of all, the card's power is pretty undeniable. So undeniable, Reid Duke—who Top 8'd GP Charlotte last weekend playing Amass the Components over Jace—has swapped in the Planeswalker over Amass the Components.
During Round 5, I spotted Duke using all parts of the Jace, first holding off a few Spirit tokens with the +1 ability then, once he could comfortably deal with the tokens, using Jace to repeatedly draw cards. It was no surprise after having Jace in play for multiple turns fulfilling multiple roles that he was able to win that game.
On the other hand, there's a pretty cool fight that happens when a Sorin, Lord of Innistrad faces off against Jace, Architect of Thought. It was one of the interactions that I had my eye on during my own States tournament last month, where I played Esper Walkers in an attempt to win any Jace wars that could happen.
The fight is intriguing. Sorin makes 1/1s, which in turn get blanked by Jace's +1 ability. However, a single Sorin Emblem essentially negates Jace's protective ability for the rest of the game, freeing Soring to concentrate elsewhere. And, ultimately (excuse the pun) (or don't, it's a good one), Sorin's Ultimate is very, very, very good against Jace. In the end, it's a fight Sorin wins fairly handily, as Owen Turtenwald saw in Round 5.
Notice the different sleeve? That Jace and that Sorin do not belong to the same player.
But that doesn't mean Sorin has to be enemies with other Planeswalkers just because he's good against them. Actually, Sorin has been the Planeswalker most likely to be paired with his fellow 'walkers.
Sorin and Garruk Relentless, for example, were the duo that gave Turtenwald so much trouble in his match, spewing out tokens left and right, all of which benefit from Sorin's Emblem. Because the only thing better than making one token per turn is making two (ok, making three or four is also better).
Two heads are better than one.
Speaking of more than two, Esper Walkers—sometimes called Super Friends like any good multi-Planeswalker deck—can go to eleven...er, three.
Three heads are better than two...and better than pretty much anything, truth be told.
That pretty much covers the premier Planeswalkers in Standard. Garruk, Primal Hunter is seeing some play (often alongside Garruk Relentless), but Ajani, Caller of the Pride, both versions of Liliana, and Chandra the Firebrand are all mostly on the outside looking in right now. And decks like Zombies and Green White often skip playing them altogether. Follow along all weekend as we see if Jace and Co. can make a lasting splash in the metagame, or if the most mythic of cards are an endangered species.
Saturday, 5:35 p.m. - The Need for Speed
by Nate Price
Last week's Grand Prix marked an upheaval in the standard order of, well, Standard. Entering the event, the speed of the format was utterly glacial. Beginning with Thragtusk, decks had been finding more and more ways to add turns to the game, stealing the initiative from the aggressive decks in the format. Cards like Essence Scatter, Snapcaster Mage, and Azorius Charm continued Thragtusk's work, culminating in an atmosphere to watching a lit firework; you watched a long fuse burn slowly until it finally exploded in an all-too-short flash of brilliance.
Unfortunately for the aggressive decks in the format, the slower decks in the format represented a two-pronged attack that would be hard to deal with. The UW decks attacked their early development with Essence Scatter and Snapcaster Mage. The combination of the two would allow UW Flash players to deal with three creatures over the early portion of the game, extending the game by more than enough for them to stabilize. On the other side of things, Thragtusk presented them the problem of lifegain and a larger creatures, effectively going over the top of their creatures much as a midrange deck could. Combining the two into one deck, resulting in the predecessor of the current Bant control deck, resulted in an impossibly solid one-two punch against aggressive decks, pushing them into near-obscurity.
Last week, aggressive decks proved that they were capable of competing on both fronts and reclaiming a place at the head of the class. The much-discussed Cavern of Souls was the perfect answer to the early countermagic that prevented it from getting its army assembled. Even with the army in place, Thragtusk still represented an incredibly large problem. To deal with the beastly threat, aggressive decks began to stock themselves with threats capable of reraising the Thragtusk decks. Cards like Hellrider, which can simply punch through the lifegain for a lethal blow; Falkenrath Aristocrat, which can literally go over the top of the Thragtusk; and Sublime Archangel, which combines the best attributes of both of the previous cards. The combination of these two types of cards gave the aggressive decks exactly what they needed to get the job done, enabling their continued existence in Standard.
With these cards in Standard, aggressive decks have been able to take back the turns that the slower control decks had taken from them. They are, in essence, making the format faster. As such, the ball has been passed to the control decks' court to see how they respond. With options of slowing the format down more exhausted for the meantime, many of the control decks have opted to speed themselves up. The UW Flash decks, like Gerry Thompson's Grand Prix Charleston Top 8 deck, have effectively disappeared. Most of the players who have decided to stick with control have audibled to Bant Control.
With their ability to counter the early threats from opposing decks removed by Cavern of Souls, control players needed to adapt. Instead of relying on Essence Scatter for their early control, many players opted to run Cavern of Souls themselves and use creatures like Centaur Healer to stem the early tide. While this protected their life totals while they set up, they still had to deal with the switch to late-game threats by the aggressive decks. Bant packs numerous answers to large, threatening creatures, such as Detention Sphere, Supreme Verdict, and even Azorius Charm in a pinch.
Perhaps the biggest thing that Bant offers to the control player in the face of all of this speed is Farseek. Tom Martell, who is playing the new, speedier version of Bant, says that it is the most important card in the deck. "I would play eight if I could," Martell said without a hint of exaggeration. "We actually had four Mana Blooms in this deck when testing that way it could effectively serve as the second four Farseeks." Farseek fills multiple roles for the control player. First, it acts as the obvious accelerant. Getting to cast Jace, Architect of Thought, on turn three is incredibly powerful, and Thragtusk is scary enough when it comes down on turn five, let alone a turn earlier. Secondly, Farseek lets the Bant player fix their mana, essential in a deck that wants to be able to cast cards like Azorius Charm, Sphinx's Revelation, and Jace, Architect of Thought, freely. One of the weaknesses of adding additional colors has always been ensuring the quality of the mana base, and Farseek attends to that weakness nicely.
Tom Martell quickly takes control against mono-red.
Cards like Farseek, Centaur Healer, and Azorius Charm greatly enhance the Bant deck's ability to interact with the early game antics of its aggressive opponents, but speed in this area comes at a cost in another. The non-aggro decks in the slower iteration of Standard were designed in such a way that they were able to take control and then kill opponents quickly. This was especially important with the prevalence of control decks in Standard at the time. Even if you established control, a single Sphinx's Revelation could completely turn things around. As such, ending the game in two swings with a Runechanter's Pike or a single hit with a Craterhoof Behemoth became a way of ensuring that opponents couldn't draw out of their situations.
In Bant, the linear nature of those strategies is not a possibility. Your deck is designed to interact with opponents at every phase of the game, and establish true control of the game. As such, the deck doesn't have that same two-punch feel of the previous control decks. "The deck definitely takes longer to win than a deck like UW Flash does," Martell explained. "Sure, your creatures can end things pretty quickly on an empty board, but you've usually got to start whittling them down with Restoration Angels for a few turns before you can actually kill people." It's less like a firework burning and like a zombie apocalypse: slow and inevitable. Sure, there are large fliers, and Thragtusk is a five-powered creature, but the deck still takes many more turns to kill opponents than we are used to seeing from Standard control decks. Ironically, it is much closer to what we traditionally expect from control, much more so than the quick denouement of past weeks.
The speed of Standard today is no doubt considerably faster than in previous weeks. With the environment becoming much more conducive to aggressive decks, control decks have had to respond by becoming faster themselves. Traditionally, control decks have been able to use their permission to affect the early turns against aggro before going over the top with larger creatures. With Cavern of Souls removing one of those possibilities, the control decks have been forced to respond by getting over the top even faster than they could before with cards like Centaur Healer. The combined effect of a greater aggressive presence and faster control has led to a format that is markedly different from the one played just a week ago. Considering the fluidity and ingenuity of players nowadays, and their unrivaled access to information, I see no reason why this would be the final iteration of this Standard format.
"We've got cards like Azorius Charm and Detention Sphere to do double duty against their aggressive creatures and their big threats. We've got Farseek to get ahead in mana. We've got Supreme Verdict in case things get out of hand. We can be just as fast as they can," as Martell put it.
That's good, because right now, speed rules.
You either get fast, or you die.
Saturday, 6:10 p.m. - Tweaks: It's the little things that count
by Blake Rasmussen
In a game of endless information and parades of decks available online, oftentimes it's the most subtle changes that give players an edge. It's the addition of Knight of Infamy and Thundermaw Hellkite to Zombies or a single Black source and Nephalia Drownyard in Bant that can make all the difference in the world. And last weekend, those changes mattered in big ways.
Sometimes the smallest changes reap the biggest rewards.
This week is no different, and players came with decks that look incredibly familiar to anyone paying attention last week, but often with subtle differences that can take the deck to yet another level above last week's list. At least that's the idea.
You could see those things on display in Round 6 here at Grand Prix San Antonio, where Luis-Scott Vargas, Sam Black and Reid Duke were all lined up near the top of the tournament playing Bant decks that, while essentially the same, contained subtle tweaks that could make things vastly different.
For example, Black and Duke were playing, more or less, Duke's deck from his Top 8 at Grand Prix Charlotte. But some small changes helped flip the script in several matchups.
For one, they've added two Augur of Bolas and a few Azorius Charm simply as a way to fight the expected (and realized) uptick in Zombies they expected this weekend.
But the coolest tweak was Alchemist's Refuge, a reaction to the Craterhoof Behemoth deck that Martin Juza won Grand Prix Bochum with. Duke looked at the matchup—which was his only loss in the Swiss—and realized he needed to be able to do more at instant speed. Enter the single Alchemist's Refuge, which also gave him percentages against UW Flash. And because the whole point of his list is to cycle through his entire deck, the single copy is exactly what he needed to turn the deck on its head.
"Alchemist's Refuge is one of those cards that you don't notice if the game is quick, but it makes a dramatic difference if the game goes long," Duke said.
But it was the Drownyard tweak from the previous week that prompted a few tweaks from the ChannelFireball crowd, who were also on the Bant deck, but with enough subtle differences that it played entirely different.
Tom Martell said the team decided it wasn't interested in getting into a Drownyard Arms race, so it opted to sidestep the whole thing and fight on a different level. They've essentially conceded game 1 by playing no Drownyards—Martell said the Drownyard plan was so impossible for them to fight in Game 1 that he actually would consider just conceding Game 1 on the spot as soon as they reached five mana—but stocked their sideboard with ways to go even bigger than Drownyard (I won't give away their tech just yet, but it's pretty fantastic) and then went a different direction with Kessig Wolf Run instead.
The idea with Kessig Wolf Run is that, even if out resource your opponent, it's still likely they'll be at 30 or even 40 life with Thragtusk and friends in the format. But with Wolf Run, you can simply pour all of your mana into even just a Beast token and cut your clock considerably. By adding that and a single Steam Vents, the team found a subtle way to add yet another way to win the game to their arsenal.
They also found a way to get Centaur Healer, Restoration Angel, and Angel of Serenity in the deck to give them a more attack-based end game that complimented their Kessig Wolf Runs and Thragtusks. Those are all cards that see play in some variation in Bant decks, but the ChannelFireball team put them together in a configuration that gives them a way to attack from another angle, one that can be surprisingly aggressive.
They key to making the tweaks that make a difference, Duke said, is knowing your deck inside and out.
"My biggest successes have been playing with decks that I've played a lot," he said. "It takes intimate knowledge to be able to move one thing here and one thing there and make a big difference. That's my best advice to anyone looking to tune their deck."
Saturday, 6:25 p.m. - Creatures, Creatures Everywhere
by Nate Price
At the outset of Grand Prix San Antonio, the card on the forefront of everyone's mind is Cavern of Souls. After watching the format slow down and control begin to take over the Standard metagame, aggressive decks fought back, using the Cavern to slip their aggression in past the attempts to slow them down with Essence Scatter and Syncopate. As such, this week's Standard metagame appears to be dominated by the almighty creature. GW decks and BR decks absolutely litter the tables, a far cry from the UW flash deck's minuscule complement of creatures from this past weekend.
As such, knowing the big players in the format, and why they are so good in it, becomes important if the field is going to continue to evolve. The big trio of Thragtusk, Restoration Angel, and Snapcaster Mage have already had so much coverage about them that I'm going to assume that most of you know why they are good and skip them. Instead, here are some of the newest players on the Standard scene, and how they earned their stripes:
Silverblade Paladin - To call Silverblade Paladin a new player is a bit unfair to him. He has been an integral part of GW decks since the beginning of the season. Up through last week, the Paladin's stock has been steadily rising, as less players dedicated slots in their decks for creature removal. In an earlier interview, Josh Utter-Leyton explained that the reason people have stopped playing creature removal is the presence of incredibly resilient creatures like Thragtusk and Geralf's Messenger. As such, creatures that would normally be vulnerable to this spot removal but possess a large amount of raw power have become incredibly powerful. The Paladin has the ability to not only act as one of these "Baneslayer" creatures itself, but it turns another into one as well. With the rise of aggressive decks through last week and into this one, it will be interesting to see if the Paladin and his ilk can survive the reintroduction of spot removal that seems to be on the Standard Horizon.
Knight of Infamy - "Knight of Infamy is so unfair. Especially when you have two of them," David Ochoa sighed as he swung by the coverage booth after a Round 4 loss. Knight of Infamy is a card that is perfectly positioned to have a lot of lasting power in Standard. A great introduction to the BR Zombies decks that rose to prominence last week, the Knight's main initial draw was his ability to ignore Lingering Souls tokens. This allowed the BR deck to deal with one of the best defensive tactics that control decks used to stem the tide of aggression. It wasn't lost on players that the Knight's protection from white is also an excellent way of combating the GW decks in the field as well. Coming into this week, GW Humans is even more popular than before, keeping the Knight extremely relevant, even in the face of change.
Somberwald Sage - Thanks to the recognized weakness of spot removal in the current format, another card that has been able to benefit is Somberwald Sage and his master Craterhoof Behemoth. Normally, the Sage would be utterly unplayable. No one wants to pay three mana for a creature that dies to absolutely every removal spell in the entire format. It's simply too vulnerable to justify the cost. With that simply not the case coming into the weekend, the Sage has allowed Hoof players to successfully navigate the maze of hate directed at their graveyards by simply casting the Behemoth from their hands. Three mana from one card is a whole lot of mana, and it can allow players to do ridiculous things. One of those ridiculous things is playing a Craterhoof Behemoth on turn five or six and attacking for lethal damage. With Thragtusk keeping spot removal on the outside looking in, it will be interesting to see if people find other uses for this impressive mana engine.
Falkenrath Aristocrat - Falkenrath Aristocrat is like the negaverse version of Thragtusk. Cedric Phillips cites the Aristocrats as one of the main factors that keeps spot removal at bay. According to him, cards like Ultimate Price "Don't do anything against Aristocrat... It's not like the old days where you could just play four Lightning Bolt." It's resilient nature gives it the ability to defy even Supreme Verdict, which is rapidly gaining support among deckbuilders. Perhaps equally important, as a large creature with flying and haste, it provides aggressive decks a good way to close out games in the face of Thragtusk. The haste also makes Azorius Charm considerably less useful than it is against other threats. The combination of resilience and sheer punch has cemented Aristocrats as a major player in the current Standard format.
Thundermaw Hellkite - Originally intended as an answer to the ubiquitous Lingering Souls, Thundermaw Hellkite has certainly lived up to its design role. Nowadays, though Lingering Souls is still a fantastic card, many players are finding much more value in the sheer power of the Hellkite's 5/5 flying, hasty body than in its ability. In a format where games can begin to stall out around turn four or five thanks to cards like Thragtusk, having a powerful finisher is an absolute must. Just like the Aristocrat, Hellkite is capable of flying high above Thragtusk. While it certainly more fragile than the Vampire, the ability to kill Lingering Souls tokens or prevent a Restoration Angel from blocking is very potent, giving the card a feeling all its own.
Round 7 Feature Match - Patrick Chapin vs. Josh Utter-Leyton
by Blake Rasmussen
I'll admit, I was kind of ecstatic to see this pairing this round. Not because I'm a fan of Patrick Chapin and Josh Utter-Leyton (though I am), but because finding a matchup because marquee players who aren't playing some kind of Bant control mirror is becoming increasingly difficult. One can only write "And then he cast Sphinx's Revelation for a million" so many times.
Thankfully, though Chapin had jumped on the Bant train (and with good reason, the deck is very good), Utter-Leyton had not joined the majority of his teammates slinging Blue, White and Green spells. Instead, he had stuck with just the White and Green colors, opting to run an aggressive WG humans deck that he had played to a 6-1 record so far. The matchup was dynamic, indicative of the format and, at least for this coverage reporter, very interesting.
Well, games two and three were interesting. Game 1, less so. But I'm getting ahead of myself.
Utter-Leyton got off to a strong start with Champion of the Parish into Avacyn's Pilgrim, quickly putting Chapin under the gun. And it only got worse when Chapin was forced to play Hallowed Fountain untapped in order to cast Farseek on turn two.
Utter-Leyton used that opening to strike hard and fast. Sublime Archangel let him attack for five, quickly dropping Chapin to just 11 life before even taking his third turn.
Supreme Verdict would bring Chapin right back in it, but he had neither the sorcery nor a fourth land to cast it. Instead he cast Augur of Bolas and passed back. It was the last turn he would get this game.
A second Sublime Archangel gave Utter-Leyton eight exalted triggers and 12 damage, a point more than he needed to take the opener in decisive fashion.
Utter-Leyton 1 – Chapin 0
Here, however, is where things got cool.
On the play for the second game, Chapin found himself staring at a hand of multiple Supreme Verdicts, surely counting on them to keep the match far more under control than the previous.
Utter-Leyton started on Champion of the Parish into Avacyn's Pilgrim again, and even had the Faith's Shield to protect it from an Azorius Charm.
Chapin, stymied for the moment, simply played a tapped Hallowed Fountain and passed without a play.
Utter-Leyton then played a Rancor and attacked for five, knocking Chapin to 13, likely playing around the very dangerous and very likely Supreme Verdict.
Only, Chapin once again had found himself short on lands. So instead of wiping the board clean, he cast Farseek to find his fourth land. He was far from dead, but that hiccup could end up costing him.
Under the gun from the get-go, Patrick Chapin kept finding ways to scrape and claw his way back into Game 2.
Utter-Leyton, however, was having a more difficult time with his mana. Stuck on two lands, the Supreme Verdict that finally did come set him back on both creatures and mana.
He did find a third land on his next turn, which netted him a Silverblade Paladin, though it looked lonely without a friend. Utter-Leyton had previously called the card one of the five best in Standard, and he would be leaning on it now to help knock Chapin out quickly before Sphinx's Revelation got online.
One of the weaknesses of Silverblade Paladin, however, is its reliance on a second creature and, thus, its relative weakness to Supreme Verdict. This forced Utter-Leyton to play a Champion of the Parish in order to turn on double strike and attack for 8 damage (thanks to a Rancor).
That's when Chapin's deck started doing what it does. A Sphinx's Revelation for three kept Chapin at exactly three life, while the follow-up Supreme Verdict punished the Soulbound knight.
A second Sublime Archangel was met with a third (!) Supreme Verdict, and a Rhox Faithmender threatened to let Chapin run away with the game with some help.
He found that help in the form of a Thragtusk and Restoration Angel, skyrocketing his life total to a whopping 25 life.
Suddenly, Utter-Leyton's follow-up Sublime Archangel wasn't so threatening. For about two seconds anyway. A second Silverblade Paladin and a Rancor changed that math yet again.
"So he's 8 power of double-strike," Chapin said, suddenly facing 16 trample damage. He was at 25 life, but it's tough to race 16 a turn, no matter how much life you gain.
"I'll go to 9," Chapin said.
That's a pretty low life total considering how much life you gained last turn," Utter-Leyton mused.
"Unstoppable object meet immovable force."
Meanwhile, Chapin was digging for an answer. He flashed back Think Twice on his main phase to find something, anything, that could keep him alive through another attack.
He found some reprieve in a Thragtusk, shooting back up to 19 life. Which may sound like a lot, until you realize that the Sublime Archangel had approximately infinite power (not quite, but close enough).
Chapin attacked back after landing the Thragtusk, knocking Utter-Leyton to 10 life while Chapin ticked up to 21 life. With Restoration Angel to block, would Chapin have enough to survive the Doublestriking Angel?
Apparently he would. Playing for the long game, Utter-Leyton cast Nevermore naming Sphinx's Revelation, then followed up with Thalia, Guardian of Thraben. The Sublime Archangel attacked for 18 damage, dropping Chapin to three life and giving him yet another turn to do some damage.
Chapin would need some help though, and Sphinx's Revelation was no longer an option.
That's when Chapin drew Azorius Charm.
That draw let Chapin attack in with his entire team. With Utter-Leyton at just 10 life, he'd need to block.
Chapin chose to lifelink his entire team with Azorius Charm and did the math, "So I'm gaining 34?"
All Utter-Leyton could do was smile. Centaur Healer for another six life was more than enough to send Utter-Leyton to his sideboard.
I didn't really do the math, but I'm pretty sure Chapin gained about a billion life that game. Unfortunately for Utter-Leyton, he was only able to do about 999,999,957 damage. Close though.
Utter-Leyton 1 – Chapin 1
On the play once again, Utter-Leyton uncharacteristically lacked a one drop. Though with good reason. His two drop was Thalia, Guardian of Thraben, sometime top card in the format and foe of control decks everywhere.
Thalia kept Chapin from casting Farseek until after the ideal turn two, and freed up Utter-Leyton to play Champion of the Parish and Precinct Captain without fear of Supreme Verdict for at least a turn. Chapin, now on three mana, simply passed.
Utter-Leyton, perhaps sensing the impending Azorius Charm, paused and began to do some math. He knew he needed to hit quickly before Chapin's more powerful late-game spells took over, but attacking with Thalia opened him up to Supreme Verdict if he wasn't careful. Still, he cast an Avacyn's Pilgrim and attacked with everything.
Josh Utter-Leyton was bucking the ChannelFireball trend this weekend with a GW humans deck that had served him well so far.
Azorius Charm put Precinct Captain on top of Utter-Leyton's library to prevent any token schenanigans, or, more accurately, another pump of Champion of the Parish, and the attack put Chapin to 13.
Detention Sphere took out Champion of the Parish, but Utter-Leyton fought back with a 2/2 off Selesnya Charm on Chapin's end step. The tension was palpable as the game stayed close, ready to turn on a Supreme Verdict or Sublime Archangel at a moment's notice.
In an effort to keep that from happening, Utter-Leyton cast Nevermore on Thragtusk. It was a cagey choice, as not only did it shut off Chapin's likely turn 5 play, it turned off his long-game plan of attacking with the 5/3 as well. Now at just 8 life, there might not be much more game left for Chapin anyway.
Township plus Thalia and the 2/2 knight token put Chapin in reach at two life, but Terminus cleared the board and gave Chapin the breathing room he needed to start his recovery.
Utter-Leyton merely had Precinct Captain to follow up, but lost it quickly to Detention Sphere. Utter-Leyton attempted to intervene with Faith's Shield, but Dissipate stopped him cold.
"You have Dissipate in your deck?" Utter-Leyton said, bemused.
"I've been known to level," Chapin said before casting Sphinx's Revelation for four, going to six life.
An Avacyn's Pilgrim backed by Gavony Township put Chapin to four life, and he looked to be in real trouble when his Revelation and draw step yielded nothing but lands and Farseeks.
A second Nevermore landed for Utter-Leyton, shutting off Sphinx's Revelation for the foreseeable future, but Utter-Leyton passed without an attack, fearing Azorius Charm, Restoration Angel, or perhaps both.
Turning up nothing again on his draw step, Chapin used Nephalia Drownyard on himself to look for Think Twice, but found nothing. Still, Utter-Leyton refused to attack.
Another draw step for Chapin, another chance to make a comeback thanks to Utter-Leyton's reluctance to attack. It wasn't a land, that much was certain right away...
Instead, it was Sphinx's Revelation. The best card in Chapin's deck. Foe of aggressive decks everywhere. And, for this game at least, utterly useless thanks to Nevermore.
Now with enough counters on his Avacyn's Pilgrim to not have to worry about Restoration Angel, Utter-Leyton swung in. No blocks, no effects, and Utter-Leyton was moving on to a 6-1 record, one win short of Day 1.
Utter-Leyton 2 – Chapin 1
Round 8 Feature Match - Florian Koch vs. Patrick Cox
by Nate Price
Based on their results last weekend at Grand Prix Charleston, it's fairly apparent that both Florian Koch and Patrick Cox know a thing or two about Standard. The German Koch finished in Top 32, while Cox made it all the way to Top 8. After the incredible rise of Cavern of Souls last week, Cox opted to add red to his UW Flash deck for a bit of extra removal. Koch had also moved away from his UW Flash deck from Charleston, opting to go with a variation of UR Flash playing green for Huntmaster of the Fells. Koch's version of the deck was designed to defeat the creature decks that were predicted to run rampant here in San Antonio, but he had managed to play most of his matches against UW Flash variants so far in this tournament, a deck that was supposed to be dead.
In a repeat of one of his losses in the tournament so far, Florian Koch began his first game with a mulligan.
"Are you writing how I skillfully made my opponent mulligan," Cox asked with a smile? It wasn't a comment intended to rib his opponent, more one to acknowledge that beating an opponent with bad draws takes a lot of the skill out of the game.
Cox was first on the board. He began with an Augur of Bolas, netting himself a Thought Scour. A Steam Vents revealed that he was playing the UWR deck that was one of the new variants on UW Flash. Rather than running the early counterspells that Cavern of Souls negated, his deck dips into red for cards like Searing Blaze to help defend against early aggression. Both he and Koch made Runechanter's Pikes, displaying the spell-heavy nature of their Flash variants.
Cox drew a look of surprise from Koch as he dropped a Restoration Angel into play on Koch's end step. He wasn't surprised that Cox was running the powerful Angel, simply that he had somehow Cheatyface'd it onto the table a couple seconds earlier and Koch hadn't noticed. They both laughed as Cox grabbed a Searing Spear with his Augur of Bolas, effectively turning the Angel into a cantrip. With only two instants in his graveyard, Cox's Runechanter's Pike was currently little more than window dressing, and he opted to leave his mana available during Koch's next turn. Even unadorned, the Angel was a potent attacker, beginning the long work of taking Koch's life total to zero in chunks of three.
Koch tried to find an answer to the Angel, but to no avail. He began to dig into his deck with a Thought Scour of his own and a Snapcaster Mage to flash it back. When he found himself a Huntmaster of the Fells, Cox finally had a good target for his Searing Spear. Now that he had three spells in his graveyard, Cox decided to equip his Pike and begin attacking. A second Restoration Angel came down on his side as well, and, with only a turn left to live, Koch conceded to Cox's air force.
Florian Koch 0 - Patrick Cox 1
Cox was on the board first once again in the second game, finding a Searing Spear with an Augur of Bolas. At the end of that same turn, Koch added a Talrand, Sky Summoner, and Mizzium Mortars to his graveyard with a Thought Scour.
On his next turn, Cox attacked and added a second Augur to his team, finding a Dispel which he could play off of a brand new Island. At the end of his turn, Koch used a Snapcaster Mage to flash the Thought Scour back, which Cox let resolve. After untapping, Koch made the incredibly impressive Talrand, Sky Summoner, knowing that there was a Searing Spear waiting in Cox's hand to deal with it.
Sure enough, Cox wasted little time in killing Talrand with his Spear. He then attacked with his two Augurs, played a Runechanter's Pike, and passed the turn. Koch played and equipped a Pike of his own, attacking Cox for 3. Cox's Pike was no more impressive as he equipped his and sent back for an equivalent attack.
As we all know, though, perfectly symmetrical fighting never solves anything. Cox really began to take control of the tempo with a Thought Scour milling two more copies of Thought Scour into his graveyard. Koch kept him tapping mana by using a Mizzium Mortars to kill the equipped Augur, but Cox simply equipped the other and attacked. Koch was down 13-8, and his board was currently outclassed by Cox's. Things got even worse for the German pro when Cox once again made two Restoration Angels over the course of the next two turns. Facing a massive pair of fliers, Koch conceded the match.
Florian Koch 0 - Patrick Cox 2
"This deck is designed to be good against the creature decks, but I haven't really had the best matchups," Koch admitted to a nodding Cox.
"Yeah, we switched things up to deal with them ourselves," Cox admitted.
"I've played against Flash three times out of the four matches I've played," Koch said with a heavy sigh.
"Ugh," Cox grunted. "Well good luck in the last round."
Quick Questions - Who is the best deck designer in the world?
by Blake Rasmussen
Saturday, 7:27 p.m. - Looking at Standard: A Deckbuilder's Perspective
by Nate Price
The ease of access to information in the current age of Magic provides both boons and banes. More information means more informed decisions, but it also means that things are constantly changing, and at a greater rate than ever before.
With things constantly in flux, making deckbuilding decisions can become incredibly difficult, even with the massive amount of available information. As one variable changes it completely changes the power level of every other card in the format. As such, the faster things change, the harder it actually becomes to adapt.
I had the opportunity to sit down with Brian Kibler, Gerry Thompson, and Conley Woods to discuss how Standard and the shifting tides is viewed through the eyes of an expert deckbuilder, someone who has to deal with it on a daily basis.
"Last week, I had much less information," Kibler explained. "This week, I had a much better idea of how to tune my GW deck for the field."
After the weekend worth of Standard, Kibler realized that players were going to have to start playing cards like Supreme Verdict to deal with the abundance of creature-based decks.
"Once you decide that you want to play Supreme Verdict, you are more inclined to play Sphinx's Revelation. With both of those cards in your deck, you have no reason not to play Thragtusk. Since the control decks were going to be doing that, I needed to find a card that would be good against all of those threats to my deck," Kibler elaborated.
Gerry Thompson, a noted deck-tuning master, echoed Kibler's thought process.
"When you're preparing for a tournament, you have to acknowledge that there are all sorts of levels that players can approach the tournament with. Some show up with the best deck from the week before, some show up with the deck designed to beat that deck, and some decide that since players are going to try and beat the best deck, they'll bring the deck that beats the deck that beats the best deck. It can get incredibly confusing sometimes," he admitted.
Woods elaborated on Thompson's point.
"For example, some players will look at the Hoof deck from Charleston, decide it's sweet, and run it here. Others will realize that since the Hoof deck is sweet, a lot of players might be playing it and choose a deck that will beat it. Still others will try to go a level above that. What makes this so hard is that there is no such thing as a perfect 75 cards. You will never, especially in this day and age, have a deck that is unbeatable against the entire field. What you want to try to do, is figure out as many levels as you can and then play the deck that does the best against the largest number of possibilities. You are going to be wrong for most of the events you play in. When you're right, though, you get to breeze through the tournament. Even when you're wrong, you aren't so wrong that it kills your chances of succeeding in the tournament."
The crux of this approach to deck selection is in properly identifying how things are currently and how they might change in the future. Much of this relies on understanding what the decks in the field are trying to do and why they are successful at it. For example, Bant is a successful control deck because it plays large creatures, potentially gains a bunch of life, and can sweep the board. This combination of cards is very good against most of the aggressive decks that popped up in Charleston and Bochum, and it's why many control players have switched to Bant Control over other options. Recognizing this trend, Kibler chose to take his GW deck from Charleston, which was already reasonably good against the other aggressive decks in the field, and tune it to deal with the expected shift to Bant Control, and the addition of Supreme Verdict especially.
"Wolfir Avenger may be the best card in my deck for this field," Kibler admitted. "The regeneration is incredibly powerful against Supreme Verdict and Thragtusk both, allowing the Avenger to remain on the table as a persistent threat. In addition to that, the flash is incredibly relevant. To beat the control decks in Standard right now, you have to be able to build up early pressure while having a way to make sure you don't simply fold to removal. You want to play as many reasonable threats as possible. That's why a card like Gavony Township is so impressive right now. With Township in play, all of my threats are legitimate threats to end the game, especially the Avenger. With decks needing to run more copies of Supreme Verdict now, Thalia, Guardian of Thraben, has become even more powerful than she already was. Delaying a Farseek, Supreme Verdict, or Sphinx's Revelation can be absolutely brutal for the Bant player. Thalia can really make their decks unable to win."
Another card Kibler singled out as being incredibly impressive right now was Slaughter Games, a card that Christian Calcano was excited to play in Grand Prix Charleston. While the format in Charleston was certainly conducive to Slaughter Games, the rush of people to Bant makes the environment here in San Antonio even better.
"If you resolve a Slaughter Games against Bant and hit their Sphinx's Revelation, they are going to have a really hard time beating your aggressive deck," Kibler told me. "In fact, I think that right now, an effect like Slaughter Games is probably the best that it has ever been, even considering the Gifts Ungiven format where resolving an Extirpate meant that they legitimately couldn't win. It's that good right now."
Thompson and Woods are in agreement, but it's only because this is an explored format.
"Slaughter Games is great, but it's absolutely abysmal in new formats, no matter how well you think you understand what people are going to do," Woods said.
"Yeah," Thompson continued. "It's pretty embarrassing when you Games them, name a card you expect everyone to be playing, and find out that they don't have one. Your opponent just smiles and thanks you for wasting a turn and discarding a card."
The most important thing that I learned from discussing deckbuilding in Standard with this trio was to focus my aggression wisely. There is a great deal to be lost if a player is trying to be too clever.
"It's hard to be a brewer, with that mindset, and not potentially end up getting greedy," Woods admitted. "Now, with information traveling so fast, all of the good strategies have been found a few weeks into the tournament. Players with the 'break the format' mindset at this point often end up spiraling around until they find some really obscure card combination that no one else is playing and think they're on to something when they should realize that there's probably a reason that no one is playing it."
Words of strong advice coming from a brewmaster of his caliber.
"I've learned that no matter what benefit you think you may be giving your deck while tuning, you have to be careful not to take away from what your deck is supposed to be doing and what makes it good," Woods continued.
To this, Thompson added, "I'm playing red removal in the same slot I was playing Unsummon because I thought I needed to. After playing more with it, I realized that while I gained the ability to kill creatures I might need to, I lost the ability to protect my own against their removal. I haven't really been incredibly hurt by it so far, but I could definitely see that possibly being an issue."
Despite a desire to stay close to what people know works, don't be afraid to look a little outside the box if it can help you without hurting you. Take one of Kibler's sideboard gems, for example.
"I'm playing Rootbound Defense in my sideboard, and it's just an incredible card in Standard right now. My deck is very fast, can outfight a Thragtusk, and kill players before they can get off a good Sphinx's Revelation. They absolutely have to play Supreme Verdict against me. Rootbound Defense is just backbreaking."
- Try to predict the future, not just recognize the present.
- Prepare for as many decks as you can, but don't be upset if you can't beat them all.
- Don't be clever for clever's sake. Sometimes the reason something isn't being played is because it isn't that good.
- Always keep your deck's needs in mind.
Saturday, 7:51 p.m. - Round 9 Round-Up
by Blake Rasmussen
For Round 9, I'm going to give you some results. I'm going to tell you some stories. I'll even show you some pictures. But none of it will compare to the great story that was happening at table one.
Two best friends who share a collection, Will Craddock and Tyler Lytle, were playing as two of the last four undefeated players in San Antonio. They were playing the 74 card mirror, with Lytle playing one more Vampire Nighthawk (over a Cremate) in his sideboard. To hear their friends tell it, there were some serious bragging rights on the table.
Also Zombies. But mostly bragging rights.
At any rate, it's about as good as it gets for a pair of friends playing to be one of just two players to make it through Day 1 unscathed. After splitting the two games, it came down to a decisive Game 3 and an equally decisive sideboard card for Lytle.
That extra Vampire Nighthawk.
Craddock drew one Nighthawk while Lytle drew two in the decisive match, moving him to 9-0 and likely giving him bragging rights till at least...well, tomorrow. Since they're both set up nicely for a run to the Top 8, there's a lot more than bragging rights on the line for the pair.
Best friends and playtest partners Will Craddock and Tyler Lytle faced off as undefeateds in Round 9.
Right next door, David Gomez joined Lytle as the last two undefeated players by taking down Pedro Carvalho's Black Red Zombie deck 2-0 thanks to a bevy of White and Green creatures and some timely flood for Carvalho.
Down on tables 29 and 30, Brian Kibler and Cedric Phillips were fighting for their tournament lives at 6-2, though not against each other. Phillips Mono Red deck was paired against Zombies while Kibler faced off against Esper control piloted by Fernando Aguilar.
Cedric Phillips (left) will be back tomorrow. Brian Kibler wasn't so fortunate.
Phillips quickly burned through his opponent, backed by faster creatures that could actually block sometimes (if not unleashed) and quickly found his way to Day 2.
Kibler wasn't so lucky. A string of lands in the final game left him vulnerable to Talrand, Sky Summoner and Sphinx's Revelation. HOWEVER, 6-3 turned out to be juuuust good enough to make Day 2, finishing 121st on the day.
Another pro on the edge of elimination, Patrick Chapin, fared better. Facing a GW Populate-ish deck, a timely Sphinx's Revelation for 6 kept him alive for the turn, then gave him enough gas to limp to the finish line as his opponent drew a succession of lands. Chapin finished the day 7-2.
Patrick Chapin finished 7-2 with Bant Control
Conley Woods 4-color special treated him well in the last round against Esper. A succession of Huntmaster of the Fells were more than his opponent could handle, and he finished Day 1 at 7-1-1.
Conley Woods finished Day 1 7-1-1 with a 4-color brew.
Reid Duke, fresh off a Top 8 at GP Charlotte, was already qualified for Day 2 at 7-1, but as many people can attest, the difference between starting Day 2 8-1 or 7-2 is miles apart. Fortunately for Duke, but unfortunately for his opponent Christian Dawson, Duke's Bant list was more than enough to overcome Mono Red.
It was painful at first, but Reid Duke is riding high at 8-1.
Willy Edel, he of the recent Top 8 at Pro Tour: Return to Ravnica, also made it into Day 2 by the skin of his teeth, winning a tight game three to finish 7-2.
Can Willy Edel capture another Top 8? He'll be back tomorrow to find out.
Less fortunate was Ben Stark, who fell to Zombies 2-0, missing the cut at 6-3, despite playing the popular and powerful Bant control deck sported by a number of other Channelfireballers. But, like Kibler, the story has a happy ending. The Ben Stark finished exactly 128th, the last player to make Day 2.
Zombies ate Ben Starks brains in the last round, keeping him stuck at 6-3, but they couldn't keep him stuck on Day 1. 128th is good enough to do it today, and Ben Stark is the last player in.