It was history in the making. From the nearly 1,000 people who preregistered online to the number of packs opened at an event, this past weekend in Charlotte was record-breaking for Magic. A whopping 2,693 people played in the largest Magic tournament the world had ever seen, and I was a part of that groundbreaking event!
It was exhilarating standing there in a room full of thousands of people all doing exactly what they love. Drafting. Standard, Legacy, and Modern eight-man tournaments. And the main event, oh my! I had never hoped so badly for a good Sealed deck before in my life.
From the Meet and Greet with Gerry Thompson, Brad Nelson, Mike Flores, Brian Kibler, and Patrick Chapin for their new StarCityGames.com tokens all the way to Team Rochester Draft with Adam Prosak and company, there was just so much to do!
For many players, this event was like being in a fantastical story. Depending on what side of the coin you were on, it was either the greatest or worst event in history. I lean heavily towards the former, though it did cause some unpopular situations. Round 4 starting after 5:30 PM was a little bit awkward, but that's the kind of stuff that happens when nearly 3,000 people show up to play in a tournament!
To be honest, I was not expecting Grand Prix Charlotte to be that big. No one was. It kind of just happened. There are some obvious factors you can use to try to justify those numbers, but the fact remains that there was a Grand Prix in Charleston, SC just a few months ago, only a few hours' drive away, where the attendance was a paltry 661 players. StarCityGames.com might have had a little something to do with it, as their promotional ideas were pretty awesome.
The Gold Rush, where each attendee of the tournament received an envelope containing a potential Black Lotus (or other card from the complete sets given away), was a huge draw. I didn't open anything sweet myself, but a guy near me picked up a Mox Emerald, while another fellow a few seats down opened an almost mint Black Lotus! It was exciting to watch as his friends all ran over, high-fiving and calling him the luckiest man in the world.
The Meet and Greet for the player tokens was also a pretty huge success. People turned out in droves to get their tokens signed by StarCityGames.com's own writers. Just standing near those guys ended with me signing some playmats and Delver of Secrets, so I can only imagine what the full two hours felt like!
It was a historic weekend for all involved with Magic, and I can only hope that Wizards of the Coast is listening. There are a lot of tweaks to be made here, as the nearly 3,000-man Grand Prix did have a few kinks due to the large number of attendees. If this results in a revamp of the entire system, I wouldn't see that as a bad thing. I'm excited to see what's in store for us over the new few years in Magic.
To help put things into perspective, I want to share a tidbit from the tournament. The total number of packs opened in just the main event was equivalent to 1/10th of the entire print run of Alpha. The sheer number of booster packs opened during this weekend was just staggering! It is pretty awesome to watch as our game continues to grow even during hard economic times. I am proud to have been a part of this monumental occasion.
Naya Blitz and Giant Growth
While Gatecrash Sealed and Draft is fun, I think I may enjoy another format a bit more! Standard did have a Grand Prix this past weekend in Quebec City, though it didn't come remotely close to Charlotte in attendance. A little under 1,000 people showed up to battle Standard, and all I can say is this:
The weekend of Pro Tour Gatecrash, Brad Nelson and I were at home watching coverage and battling with Naya Blitz. The above link is to Brad's video article from last Friday where he goes over almost every matchup in Standard, giving you insight into how the deck plays out against each strategy. We both wanted to test out various versions of the deck to see what the best combination of cards for it was. There were about 30 or so locks for the deck, but we really needed to hammer down those last eight to ten cards in order to find the perfect list.
Every time Brad came up with a kooky idea to try in the deck, I was the guy trying to figure out a reason why it was bad, but we still tested it. While I am usually a theory-driven deckbuilder, Brad is much the opposite. He wants to test and figure out for himself just how good or bad certain cards are. I didn't have much else to do, so I was in the same boat!
I came up with a few cards to try out, but Fiend Hunter was really the only one that stuck. Over the course of the entire testing process, I think we went through about ten different iterations of the deck, all with their own strengths and weaknesses. From Firefist Striker to Bonds of Faith, we tried just about everything. In the end, the Giant Growth and Searing Spear ended up making Nico Christiansen's winning decklist, which seriously turned some heads.
Giant Growth is a strange card. I played it before back in original Ravnica Standard since there were so many copies of Lightning Helix running around. As I talked about last week and as Brad mentioned in his video article, Giant Growth is a sweet combat trick that is solid against the format's most popular removal spell. Who would have thought that a worse version of Incinerate—Searing Spear—would be so good right now!
While the decks that cropped up at Pro Tour Gatecrash and Grand Prix Quebec City are definitely good, they are not without their weaknesses. I think that it is important to figure out those weaknesses and find ways to exploit them regardless of what strategy you are trying to implement. There are certain cards that just destroy the top decks, but those cards aren't always easy to figure out. This is pretty much all I do when brewing for a tournament, so hopefully my process can help you guys in the future with coming up with ways to exploit the weaknesses of the opposition.
First up, we have The Aristocrats!
- 4 Boros Reckoner
- 4 Cartel Aristocrat
- 4 Champion of the Parish
- 4 Doomed Traveler
- 4 Falkenrath Aristocrat
- 3 Knight of Infamy
- 1 Restoration Angel
- 2 Silverblade Paladin
- 2 Skirsdag High Priest
- 2 Zealous Conscripts
As you can see, this deck is full of hard-to-kill creatures that are resilient to the format's most-played removal. This was definitely a "metagame deck" in that they built it with a lot of things in mind. They wanted to beat Supreme Verdict and spot removal, and it seems like they did so handily. The strengths of the deck are obvious, as the creatures are the most important part of it. Each one has a unique role that it plays in either stabilization or aggression. Boros Reckoner is the centerpiece of that since he plays both roles quite well.
The deck is full of synergistic creatures that rely on sacrifice outlets in both of the Aristocrats. Do you really think Skirsdag High Priest is any good without a way to sacrifice your Doomed Traveler? Of course not! But with a Cartel Aristocrat in play, Skirsdag High Priest becomes an absolute monster!
The glaring weakness I see in this deck is that it doesn't have raw card advantage. A control deck that uses mass removal over and over followed by Sphinx's Revelation is set up pretty well against this deck. Of course, Falkenrath Aristocrat is your go-to girl when fighting through Supreme Verdict, but the rest of the deck isn't really built to be hyperaggressive. It doesn't have Burning-Tree Emissary to flood the board with power before the opponent can set up. The deck is going for resiliency over power, but that will lead to some losses due to slower draws. Doomed Traveler is not a great creature on its own and really only works when being sacrificed to generate value.
The other weakness I see is a high number of one- and two-toughness creatures. This means that Izzet Staticaster along with Restoration Angel or in multiples will be incredible difficult to beat. While you do have access to Orzhov Charm to kill it, the fact that it has flash will make your life hell. You will be tapping out basically every turn to try to cast spells to create your "engine," which will leave you vulnerable to a mid-combat or end-of-turn Izzet Staticaster. If they get a turn to protect it, then it is probably lights out. Their creatures aren't very big, which means that something like Jace, Architect of Thought should be particularly sweet as well, though you do have Falkenrath Aristocrat to pressure it. Having a card that shuts down 80% of their deck or more can't be ignored, though.
The last weakness that comes to mind is Terminus, though it is slowly getting replaced with Planar Cleansing. I don't necessarily agree with this change in Esper Control, but I do understand the mentality behind it. When more of the midrange decks are playing planeswalkers, you need an all-encompassing answer. Planar Cleansing could be that answer, but then you are virtually drawing dead to The Aristocrats with a reasonable draw. Terminus would basically shut the door on the matchup because miracling one at basically any point in any game would be #game.
- 4 Boros Elite
- 4 Burning-Tree Emissary
- 4 Champion of the Parish
- 4 Experiment One
- 4 Flinthoof Boar
- 4 Frontline Medic
- 1 Ghor-Clan Rampager
- 4 Lightning Mauler
- 4 Mayor of Avabruck
This deck, while incredibly powerful, has a very tough time beating a few strategies (and cards) unless you get an incredible draw. Obviously, that happens a lot when your entire strategy involves flooding the board with threats and swarming your opponent before they can execute their strategy.
Burning-Tree Emissary is a hell of a card.
While the deck is lightning fast, being on the draw can lead to some awkward situations. Boros Reckoner from basically any deck is a kick in the teeth, as your will likely lose your two best creatures in combat. This is why we tested out things like Bonds of Faith and Pacifism, though they look pretty awkward against Restoration Angel. Something had to be done!
This strategy is also incredibly weak to Farseek into Supreme Verdict. This combination is pretty popular since Melissa DeTora's Wolf Run Bant deck was the talk of the town at Pro Tour Gatecrash. Having no good way to defend from Supreme Verdict in the maindeck and only Thalia or Boros Charm after sideboard is pretty rough. I don't think that Melissa's deck will be that popular going forward since there are plenty of other archetypes to explore, but there are various Bant-splash decks that can implement the same strategy.
I also found when playing this deck that if my opponent was able to Pillar of Flame or Tragic Slip my opening creature, my draw was much less impressive. Champion of the Parish is the best card in the deck, but if it dies, your draws are much less exciting. This is true for the rest of your one-drops, too, as them dying means that you will be unlikely to trigger battalion or attack for enough damage to kill them before they begin slamming Thragtusks.
Up next we have Owen Turtenwald's Jund deck:
Classically, Jund is a tough strategy to hate out. It is "rock," while virtually every aggro deck is "scissors" and control decks are "paper." It is full of fair, midrange-style cards that are usually pretty good on their own and don't have much synergy, so it is hard to define what actually "beats" it. Normally, heavy control decks are the foil, but with the addition of cards like Rakdos's Return and Slaughter Games to the format, a control deck relying on a single card (like Sphinx's Revelation) to take over a game is going to be in for a world of hurt. Those control decks would do well to find another angle of attack or to use something like Witchbane Orb for protection.
Reanimator strategies are generally pretty good against Jund since they go over the top and their threats are all pretty resilient to the slew of removal being thrown at them. With cards like Angel of Serenity to bring back with Unburial Rites, it is unlikely that many of the threats that Jund plays will stay in play, and many of the creatures that die to their removal will be brought back with Unburial Rites or Angel's ability.
Geist of Saint Traft is also a card that Jund normally has trouble dealing with. Whether it is coming from Bant Hexproof or just a Geist deck, all they can really do is play threats and hope they survive to block. That isn't a great proposition if you're the Jund player, but it can be quite difficult to punch through a resolved Thragtusk.
Of course, there are answers to Geist of Saint Traft. Liliana of the Veil, Bonfire of the Damned, and Mizzium Mortars are all decent, but the last two are quite mediocre at solving this problem. Jund plays fair, and all you can do to beat it is play unfair. If your deck is just creatures that attack, you will likely lose to their decent draws. You need creatures or permanents that are hard to interact with. This includes things like Assemble the Legion, though they can sometimes fight through it with Kessig Wolf Run.
This deck has received some hype as of late since it does a lot of things right. Planar Cleansing, as we talked about before, helps you handle a lot of different cards that would normally be a real problem. The addition of the Augur of Bolas and Restoration Angel "engine" is quite nice in a deck full of instants and sorceries, but I wouldn't say that we actually win many games through attacking. They are mostly defensive measures to buy you time and card advantage until you can use Sphinx's Revelation to draw you into answers and Nephalia Drownyard.
The biggest weakness of this deck is that it doesn't win very fast. The deck will get some unintentional draws because of how resilient some of the decks in the format are. If your deck is lightning fast, like Naya Blitz, then you shouldn't have too much trouble beating this deck. With additional answers like Thalia and Boros Charm to protect from Supreme Verdict, you should be fine.
Rakdos's Return and Slaughter Games are also pretty sweet against this deck, though the former can be pretty difficult to resolve. They will likely bring in Witchbane Orb to protect themselves from your spells, so make sure you have something like Rakdos Charm to deal with it. Since Rakdos Charm doubles as a way to deal with the graveyard against Unburial Rites decks, it is probably the go-to sideboard card for both situations.
Next up is Gerry Thompson's U/W/R Flash:
This deck is pretty awesome against a lot of the decks in the format and is particularly good at beating decks that can't interact with Boros Reckoner favorably. If they have to use Searing Spear or combat to deal with it, then it should be pretty smooth sailing.
The few things this deck has trouble dealing with is Rakdos's Return and Slaughter Games from Jund decks. Those two cards strip your hand and your best way to recoup from such a devastating beating, Sphinx's Revelation.
Since the deck doesn't feature Pillar of Flame anymore, I think that undying creatures are primed for a comeback. I played with this deck against a Zombie deck recently; Geralf's Messenger was particularly annoying, and I can only imagine that Strangleroot Geist is about the same.
Thragtusk, while not unbeatable, is pretty hard for this deck to deal with. Unburial Rites strategies bringing them back over and over is also quite annoying. With aggressive decks being all the rage in Standard, it means Flash has to play fewer counterspells, which means that going big is a great prospect. Cavern of Souls to protect what few creatures you do have to cast is just an upside.
Next we have Melissa DeTora's Wolf Run Bant:
This deck is well designed to beat aggressive decks. If you are playing an aggro deck, then this is probably the one matchup you don't want to face. It has ramp into Supreme Verdict as well as a ton of creatures that gain life. It even has removal in Azorius Charm!
As for control, Wolf Run Bant is inherently weak to milling strategies. Jace, Memory Adept and Nephalia Drownyard are incredibly problematic because this deck has a tough time playing the "aggro" role. With cards like Restoration Angel and Centaur Healer, it isn't impossible, but it isn't the spot you want to be in.
Of all the decks in the format, this one is probably the hardest to hate out since it doesn't really do anything specific. It is just a collection of awesome spells, creatures, and even lands that all work in harmony to generate card and board advantage. Much like Esper Control, cards like Rakdos's Return and Slaughter Games are good, but Witchbane Orb is a good answer to them.
Last but not least:
- 4 Boros Reckoner
- 4 Burning-Tree Emissary
- 4 Flinthoof Boar
- 4 Gyre Sage
- 4 Hellrider
- 4 Loxodon Smiter
- 1 Thragtusk
- 3 Thundermaw Hellkite
While this deck has a lot of sweet things going for it, it is particularly vulnerable to Supreme Verdict. Though you do have Domri Rade as well as a lot of creatures with haste, it is pretty important to remember not to overextend into a Supreme Verdict unless you have to. Mizzium Mortars is also quite good, no matter if it's coming from a control deck or aggro deck. The fact that it can kill Smiter for two mana or sweep the board in the late game is pretty bad for Naya.
Since you aren't progressing the board on the first turn, you are slower than most aggressive decks, though your threats hit harder on their own. After a sweeper effect from the opponent, they will need a follow-up answer to your follow-up threat or will likely be dead.
As for aggro decks trying to race this deck, I would highly recommend Pacifism and Giant Growth (two Limited all-stars). Hopefully, the trend of Hellrider will continue, and people won't revert to Restoration Angel, which can make Pacifism quite embarrassing.
While there are some graveyard-based decks in the format, they are all pretty straightforward. They only have a few different cards that matter, so being able to foil their plans is essential. After sideboarding, you need an anti-graveyard card to really shut them down or to race them by being faster. Naya Blitz is a deck that can do this, but I still wouldn't leave home without some number of Rest in Peace or Grafdigger's Cage.
The last few weeks have been exciting for Magic, and I'm definitely looking forward to playing more Standard with Gatecrash! I should be attending some SCG Open Series in the coming weeks, so keep an eye out for me in coverage. I'm not quite sure what I want to play yet, but I'm sure I'll figure it out with more testing.
I hope this guide to beating the best decks in Standard helps you in your deckbuilding, as I know it can be frustrating to not actually understand what is beating you. While cards like Sphinx's Revelation and Supreme Verdict don't win the opponent the game, it is important to know that those are the cards that are beating your aggressive decks. You need answers to them if you want to keep them from beating you. Figure out your Kryptonite and try to fix it!
Thanks for reading.
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