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Attacking the Top Decks of Standard

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States, or “Provincials,” as it’s called in my neck of the woods, has always been a good time. I’ve always seen it as a “Constructed prerelease,” as it’s often the first Standard tournament after a rotation. These days, there are so many tournaments that we actually have a hint of a metagame heading into it. As I write, there has already been an SCG Open as well as the “MTG Grudge Match.” By the time States rolls around, we’ll have had another SCG Open. Now, I’m not just going to vomit out a deck list and tell you to play it. What I am going to do is look at a couple of the popular decks and examine a few ways of attacking them.

Red-Based Aggro Decks

First, let’s take a look at Red-based aggro decks. Cheap creatures backed up by burn has always been a decent strategy, especially when a format is new and other decks aren't as efficient as they could be. Yes, losing Goblin Guide is a big deal, but Innistrad has brought with it some decent replacements in the form of Stromkirk Noble and Reckless Waif. Looking at Red's creatures, none of them are very impressive on their own, but, collectively, they can be very threatening. Koth of the Hammer and Shrine of Burning Rage are as good as ever, and if you can't deal with either one of them, you are going to lose.

How to Beat Them

Red decks are weak to life-gain, decks that can outclass their creatures, and their own tendency to run out of gas. You would think that you could just jam a bunch of Timely Reinforcements in your deck and call it a day, but Red decks have adapted to be more resilient to that card, so you need to have other support. Batterskull is still a card, though it's somewhat unrealistic to expect to be able to play and protect it early enough for it to matter. Wurmcoil Engine is still a great option, as you still get some value, even if your opponent has an Ancient Grudge. I kind of want to try out Vampire Outcasts, but I'm not yet sure what deck will be able to support it. Last, sweepers are still good, as long as you can preserve your life total. Day of Judgment, Slagstorm, and Ratchet Bomb are all good options.

So, in summary, you need to be able to do the following:

  • Manage your life total.
  • Deal with your opponent's early threats.
  • Have a plan for Koth and Shrine.

Solar Flare

Another deck you should expect to see a lot of is Solar Flare. There have been a few different approaches to building the deck, but, at its core, it's just the best Blue, Black, and White cards that aim to grind out a long game with incremental advantage. Liliana of the Veil, Snapcaster Mage, and Forbidden Alchemy are the biggest incentives to play the deck. Many versions also play Unburial Rites, which usually gets back a Sun Titan and all the shenanigans that come along with it. AJ Sacher's eleventh-place list from SCG: Indy is the one I like the best so far:

[cardlist]

[Creatures]

2 Phantasmal Image

2 Snapcaster Mage

3 Sun Titan

[/Creatures]

[Planeswalkers]

1 Gideon Jura

4 Liliana of the Veil

[/Planeswalkers]

[Spells]

1 Dissipate

2 Dismember

2 Go for the Throat

3 Forbidden Alchemy

4 Mana Leak

4 Think Twice

2 Day of Judgment

2 Unburial Rites

2 Oblivion Ring

[/Spells]

[Lands]

2 Plains

2 Swamp

4 Island

2 Drowned Catacomb

4 Darkslick Shores

4 Glacial Fortress

4 Isolated Chapel

4 Seachrome Coast

[/Lands]

[Sideboard]

1 Elesh Norn, Grand Cenobite

2 Disperse

2 Surgical Extraction

1 Day of Judgment

2 Revoke Existence

3 Timely Reinforcements

1 Oblivion Ring

2 Curse of Death's Hold

1 Ghost Quarter

[/Sideboard]

[/cardlist]

It has a nice mix of threats and answers that ensure it is almost always drawing live. There's still room to make improvements, but the overall idea is sound, and I'm sure we'll be seeing some form of this deck a lot in the future.

How to Beat Them

Solar Flare uses the graveyard as a resource, so an angle of attack is to take that resource away from them. Here's a quick survey of the graveyard hate available:

They all have their pros and cons, so it's up to you to figure out which will work the best for your deck. It's also entirely possible that the best way to go is to play a mix of two or three, depending on how your Solar Flare opponent plans to fight through the hate. Another way of attacking this deck is to prevent any of its threats from hitting the graveyard in the first place. Karn Liberated is a huge beating if you can manage to resolve it and keep it on the battlefield. Solar Flare doesn't play all that many counterspells, so it's not unreasonable for that to happen. The thing to keep in mind is that this is a late-game deck, so you need to either win quickly before your opponent can play his powerful cards, or have a better late game than he does.

This segues into the last couple of lists I want to talk about. These two decks split the finals of the MTG Grudge Match in Philadelphia:

I really like both of these decks, though my initial impressions are that W/U is better against Red, and U/B is better against Solar Flare. Wurmcoil Engine, Elspeth, Gideon, Timely Reinforcements, and Day of Judgment combine to make things as difficult as possible for someone planning to win with Incinerates. The Oblivion Rings take care of problem cards like Koth and Shrine, while the cheap removal and counters help you live long enough to play your heavy hitters.

The U/B deck is similar on the surface to Solar Flare, but it isn't subject to graveyard hate, so it gets to dodge some sideboard cards. I kind of wish there were better discard spells in the format, since Duress and Inquisition of Kozilek are difficult to replace. Despise is okay, in that it's rarely dead, but in control mirrors, you want your 1-mana discard spells to help you force through your threats and not just hope to trade with your opponent's. One mistake that many people make with cards like this is just running it out turn one without thinking. Sometimes, you want to take away your opponent's options in the early game, but if there's a specific card you're looking to make him discard, it's best to wait until right before he can cast it.

For example, say you're playing against Solar Flare. Sure, you could play Despise turn one and hope your opponent has a Liliana in his hand. Alternatively, you can wait. He's not going to run out his planeswalker into your Mana Leak, so he's most likely going to wait until turn five or six to play it so he can Leak back or pay 3 mana. If you wait until the turn before his turn five to play your Despise, he will have gone through that many more draw steps and perhaps will have drawn even more cards. Not only does this give you a slightly better chance of actually making him discard his Liliana, it also gives you more information.

This isn't to say that you should always wait. If your opponent is playing an aggro deck, by all means, Despise away as early and as often as you can. All I'm saying is that you should think about your plays and why you're making them. The fact that you can play a spell doesn't mean that you should play that spell.




This is just the tip of the iceberg. There are plenty of decks out there to consider, and I can't examine them all. Whatever you choose to play at States, I hope this helped you with making better decisions both in deck-building and in playing.

Until next time,

Nassim Ketita

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