ust in case you didn't know what the best deck in Standard is, the answer is Faeries.
This past weekend, Star City Games held a couple of high payout cash Standard tournaments, for $5,000 and for $2,000 respectively. The Top 8s looked like this:
|Red-Green Land Destruction
|Red Deck Wins
Remarkable thing about Faeries #1: While the Sunday $2,000 tournament showcased five out of eight players in the Top 8 with similar blue-black Faeries decks and the Saturday $5,000 only two... blue-black Faeries met in the mirror in the finals of both tournaments!
Remarkable thing about Faeries #2: Even more remarkable than that, the same player actually ended up winning both tournaments!
Alex Bertoncini's Blue-Black Faeries
Alex Bertoncini's Blue-Black Faeries
The only difference between these two decks is two Flashfreeze in the sideboard of the one versus two Peppersmoke in the sideboard of the other; I assumed that Peppersmoke would have been in the second listing (and seems like it would have made more sense considering the two-point-five times as many Faeries decks in the Sunday Top 8 over the Saturday, but Alex actually removed Peppersmoke for Flashfreeze, according to StarCityGames.com).
So... Two different tournaments, two first places, in a format chock full of Faeries. The best version of the best deck? Maybe! Probably? ... But not so fast.
American deck design darling Gerry Thompson made an appearance in the Sunday Top 8 with an interesting take on the Faeries sideboard, especially given the tenor of the Top 8:
Gerry Thompson's Blue-Black Faeries
To be fair, a day earlier, Grand Prix–San Francisco Top 8 competitor and onetime JSS star Brett Blackman finished second to Bertoncini with a very similar deck (essentially running Pestermite over Nameless Inversion in the main):
Brett Blackman's Blue-Black Faeries
To be even more fair, the second day's event was stacked with several Faeries decks... but right now we are mostly interested in Fledgling Mawcor. Fledgling Mawcor is a notable sideboard offensive / defensive weapon for the mirror match. This creature is a 2/2 flyer that is relevant on the board, but more importantly, has a "Tim" ability useful for shooting down opposing X/1 creatures... kind of like Bertoncini's Peppersmokes, but more long-lasting. As almost all the threats in a typical Faeries deck (but Mistbind Clique) are X/1 flying creatures, getting a Fledgling Mawcor to resolve can go a long way in winning a game.
In our exuberance in exulting the exciting Faeries deck, perhaps we started off a little ahead of ourselves...
So How Does Faeries Work?
At this stage, Faeries has slid into the more controlling half of the aggro-control style of deck. Where some previous versions of the deck played as many as eight 1/1 flyers for one mana, the current crop of decks run Ancestral Vision
as their only "one-drop" and follow up with Bitterblossom
(possibly the best card in Standard)... or, card advantage followed by card advantage. Bitterblossom
allows the Faeries deck to produce threats without tapping mana on its own turn; should Faeries want to tap mana for creatures, essentially the entire
air force has flash, so Mistbind Clique
, Scion of Oona
, and Spellstutter Sprite
can all come down during the opponent's turn. Of course there will be strategically and tactically devastating opportunities to play each of these... Mistbind Clique
can be a Time Walk
(or can remove the tribally stamped Bitterblossom
from play when Faeries is low on life); Scion of Oona
can shorten a race or
stymie a removal spell; and Spellstutter Sprite
joins Cryptic Command
and Rune Snag
as a set of effective permission spells, all helping to preserve the tempo of the game as Faeries chugs out threats and holds its position.
Faeries has superb board control capabilities, and has numerous options for controlling the opponent's creatures, from the now ubiquitous Terror to the straightforward—but sometimes very surprising— Damnation, a card that, especially combined with Bitterblossom for built-in recovery, can really erase an opponent's efforts to make any kind of an impact on the game.
Faeries is the consensus deck to beat in the current Standard... If Alex Bertoncini's performance at Star City is any indication, this deck is going to do its share of beating.
Calosso Fuente's Black-Green Elves
Jarvis Yu's Black-Green Elves
The next most decorated deck on the weekend was Green-Black Elves. A popular deck since the release of Lorwyn
(thanks to archetype-making cards like Imperious Perfect
), Elves continues to combine the light disruption of a Thoughtseize
with a powerful linear threat base. Two things to remember:
Chameleon Colossus is an Elf!
Profane Command means business.
Chameleon Colossus being an Elf is very important as it has a subtle synergy with Gilt-Leaf Palace, but perhaps more importantly, it can mean fully half the opponent's life when standing next to an Imperious Perfect.
Many players try to run a "control the Red Zone" plan against decks like Elves, not respecting their ability to close outside of combat, but Profane Command in modern decks of this style can really put a cramp on old suppositions. Elves, Doran, and decks like those can easily close from 5 or more life with a Profane Command to the jaw. Setting up gang blocks, chump blocks, halfhearted attempts at buying time, and so on may not be effective against Profane Command because of its ability to hand an army fear.
One of the most important new cards in Shadowmoor Standard is Kitchen Finks, featured in both the Fuentes and Yu deck lists. Kitchen Finks might not have been main deck in Black-Green Elves, but it is absolute hell on the Red Deck, and is pretty annoying for decks that rely on Wrath of God...
"Imagine the opponent has a two-drop and a three-drop, and you play Wrath of God, only to be attacked the next turn by a Treetop Village, a Safehold Elite, and a Kitchen Finks! That's how good Wrath of God... err... persist is." –Osyp Lebedowicz
Daniel Salmon's Mono-Green Aggro
Daniel Samson nearly won the $5,000 day, coming in third behind the pair of Blue-Black Faeries decks. His Mono-Green Aggro deck was like a showcase floor for everything Shadowmoor has done with hybrid mana and -1/-1 counters.
The most obvious card in the deck is Wilt-Leaf Liege. In case people didn't realize they should play with this guy, he hands +2/+2 to more creatures in this deck than I can easily count (and +1/+1 to the rest).
The less obvious one is Heartmender. Why is Heartmender any good? With the numerous -1/-1 counters in this deck thanks to persist, Heartmender (besides being a conditional 4/4 creature) can keep Kitchen Finks and Safehold Elite going and going forever.
Shield of the Oversoul is surprisingly impressive in this deck because so many of the creatures are white. Not only does it make an already hard to kill green creature even harder to kill, but Shield of the Oversoul also hands that creature both size and evasion to quicken the pace and cut down the race.
A deck that has... interesting positions on racing from either side of the table is Scott Jeltima's Predator.
So how does Predator work?
The signature creature—besides Tarmogoyf of course—is Kavu Predator. This creature actually gets bigger as the opponent gains life, so it is one of the better solutions (for a creature deck) when the opponent runs out Kitchen Finks (and the Standard Predator has four Finks, main, of its own). The deck is suited very nicely to exploit the Predator, playing spells like Fiery Justice and taking the edge off the usually disastrous (again, for a creature deck) Grove of the Burnwillows. In fact, many Predator players will be happy to mana burn at the end of the opponent's turn while giving the opponent life in order to accumulate counters on Kavu Predator (theoretically you are just breaking even); with two Predators in play, you actually net potential damage in +1/+1 counters (apologies to -1/-1 Counter Week) for every tap of the Grove of the Burnwillows.
One of the less appreciated features of Predator is Stonecloaker
. Andre Coimbra used to love fighting Tarmogoyf
, putting damage on the stack, then lifting (and ultimately saving) his own Tarmogoyf
. Meanwhile, the opponent would be short a card in graveyard (ideally the only sorcery, ideally a Call of the Herd
) but anything that put the opposing Tarmogoyf
-1/-1 post combat would be acceptable.
Today Stonecloaker not only helps win the dying Calciderm, but in resetting Kitchen Finks (especially when already wearing a -1/-1 collar); additionally, Stonecloaker costs exactly the right amount of mana to tangle, memorably, with a Reveillark. Say the opponent pays the full to evoke Reveillark... The Reveillark leaves play and targets two creatures in the graveyard. You can play Stonecloaker in response for three mana, target one of those targeted creatures, return Stonecloaker to your hand, and re-play Stonecloaker to nab the other... effectively Time Walking the opponent and costing him not only his best card, but probably his entire strategic game to that point.
Red Deck Wins
Faeries seem inexorable, Elves are snapping (or trying to snap) at their heels, green creatures are big and surprisingly subtle, Predator is big and classy at the same time; but if you really want to hear the crowd roar and the young girls squeal, knocking their knees as they cheer from the sidelines of the Top 8, waving glossy photographs desperate to be autographed with a few big wags from a black Sharpie marker, you have to focus on Sunday's third place deck—Red Deck Wins—and its pilot, the Invitational Storyteller and fan favorite, Evan Erwin.
Evan Erwin's Red Deck Wins
This deck is essentially a true Red Deck Wins, all red, multi-faceted and disruptive. Magus of the Moon
takes the place of Pillage
or Molten Rain
, and can attack as well. Tattermunge Maniac
is the modern Jackal Pup
. Countryside Crusher
is the muscle. Keldon Marauders
joins one of the finest burn lineups to grace Standard since the days of Dave Price and his Fireblast
Lash Out might actually be better than Incinerate; Incinerate is very good. Shard Volley isn't, but it does three, as does Rift Bolt (itself quite good)... That said, Shard Volley can be a bit of surprise bite with the aforementioned Countryside Crusher, or a nice trick when Mutavault or Ghitu Encampment are going to the graveyard anyway. The card that really laces this strategy together, though, is Flame Javelin. Flame Javelin acts like a three-mana spell in this deck, and works awfully hard, taking out 20% of the opponent's life total or dealing with a monster the likes of Mistbind Clique or Chameleon Colossus, something Red Decks have not always been able to do.
From that standpoint, Spitebellows becomes a nice point removal spell out of the board... The rest seems to be solutions to common problems, such as counterspells (with Vexing Shusher), Kitchen Finks (with Everlasting Torment), and creatures and life totals in general—such as Faeries, those little troublemakers—(with Sulfurous Blast).
Another nice finish of note was Daniel Snell, who made the round of eight in both the $5,000 and $2,000 tournaments.
Snell played the same main deck Saturday and Sunday, but switched his sideboard from a very anti-red one of Dragon's Claw and Flashfreeze to a much more general mix of anti-creature spells. Merfolk Assassin from the first day actually seems pretty cool for the mirror; presuming that one or both Merfolk mages has Lord of Atlantis, Merfolk Assassin can go to town on the opponent's side of the table.
So there you have it. The entire gamut of possible Standard metagame choices? Probably not... but the Star City tournaments seem like a great snapshot of Standard situated reasonably ahead of the upcoming Pro Tour–Hollywood.
Bitterblossom – 28
Tarmogoyf – 16 (all Day 1)
Who'd a thunk?