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Standard After Hour of Devastation


Hour of Devastation
The Hour of Devastation has come and gone, and as it turns out, a set named after a Red card had its flagship PT Top 8 littered with Red decks. Evidence of the Illuminati? I’ll let you decide for yourselves. Personally, another 10-6 finish at the PT resulted in missing cash (on tiebreakers, even!) after a disappointing 3-3 in Booster Draft and a 7-3 in Standard. Our team’s deck of choice? Just as was discussed last week, bg Aggression with Energy and Counters Sub-themes.

(Yes, okay, it was bg Energy, but this is coming from a guy who calls sriracha and mushed avocado “guacamole”. Let me give my decks bougie names if I want! Incidentally, the next deck I play will have “artisanal” in the name, and no, I won’t be playing any copies of Nissa, Nature's Artisan!)

Anywho, my whole Pro Tour can be summed up in one sentence. “Dreamstealer over Open Fire, P1P1.” I asked the only person whose opinion matters, Owen Turtenwald, if my pick was right, and he said he would (and this is a direct quote) “Probably take Dreamstealer and lose.” That’s exactly what happened, Owen! How smart! In all seriousness, there was little Black available at the table, I ended up in ug after a complex pack one, 1-2ed the Draft, battled back to 4-2, only to lose the last two rounds of Day One to ur Control and bg Midrange (just a bit bigger than my Energy deck, with a solid advantage in the semi-mirror.)

Day Two started off with a loss to Jon Stern caused by a misplay on my part, then five wins in a row before losing the penultimate round to Craig Krempels (again, caused by bad play on my part) and a final round win against Mike Hron’s “unplayable” Mono-White aggro deck. It always sucks to make mistakes, and boy howdy, have I made a lot of them at Pro Tours this year. Half a dozen clear game losing errors across a couple of tournaments is frankly embarrassing, and this coming from a guy who ended the season with a respectable 39 Pro Points. Next year, it’s all about getting that elusive PT Top 8 and hitting Platinum, and since next year starts now, it behooves us to take a look at my list, the winning list, the metagame, and where to go in Standard in the coming weeks.

The Best Deck

From the results of the Pro Tour, it seems like we have a fairly clear “best deck” in Standard right now. Mono-Red Aggro is consistent and powerful, with the best early game in the format and great ways to use its mana going long. There are often 4-6 points of damage lurking in the mana base, not to mention the power of Hazoret the Fervent to throw Shocks over the top just when the opponent thinks they’ve stabilized. This is a great deck, on par with the Rabble Red deck of 2015 on sheer power. Paulo Vitor Damo da Rosa’s winning list is by no means perfect, but it’s certainly where folks will start:

What a beauty. Tons of play up and down the curve, a busted God and a busted Planeswalker to run a midrange gameplan against removal-heavy decks, and reach baked right into the mana base. (Incidentally, Owen Turtenwald spoke so highly of Hazoret in various conversations and tweets over the weekend, that it would not surprise me at all to see four maindeck Hazorets become the standard, just as four Heart of Kiran became standard for Mardu Vehicles despite the Legendary drawback. With this one, even though it’s much harder for opponents to kill, you can still pitch excess copies to the one on the table!) Even a deck as well-suited to handle aggression as Sam Pardee’s bg Delirium/Constrictor midrange pile can lose to this beast, which is exactly what happened in the finals of the tournament. Abrade over Incendiary Flow is an interesting choice, to be sure, but if Paulo expected a decent amount of God-Pharaoh's Gift to show up at the tournament, it makes a lot of sense to hedge there while maintaining much of the utility of Flow in games against the mirror and against bg Constrictor decks. This is not going to be an easy enemy to take down, unlike some Mono-Red decks of the past. The best bet is, of course, a bg midrange deck, with alternatives like God-Pharaoh's Gift or Emerge brews metagamed to beat Red aggro, but even then it will be a struggle to get above 60% win percentage.

My team’s deck from the tournament was actually reasonably well-positioned against Red, and its metagame position combined with the general ease of play would make a decent starting point for anyone interested in doing well at local Standard tournaments going forward:

A few of the card choices are not necessary in the more settled metagame of post-PT Standard, but the formula of big, cheap creatures to gum up the ground and hefty Gearhulks and Ballistas to turn the corner is a good one. This deck is more single-minded and aggressive than Sam Pardee’s bg midrange deck, but Sam’s list has more access to powerful cards like Kalitas, Traitor of Ghet via its four Traverse the Ulvenwalds, so the choice is ultimately one of personal preference. Ari Lax was adamant about the importance of staying aggressive in an unknown metagame, and the nut draws involving Glint-Sleeve Siphoner or Longtusk Cub alongside a Constrictor were just peachy, but the deck does run the risk of flooding out more with Attune with Aether over Traverse the Ulvenwald, and sports a markedly worse Control and midrange matchup than the Pardee deck. As it stood, I went 2-0 against Red, 0-1 against the semi-mirror, 2-0 against God-Pharaoh's Gift (which was extremely lucky for me), 0-1 against Mardu Vehicles, 1-0 against Mono-White Aggro, and 2-1 against ur Control (again, lucky for me, as that matchup is somewhat unfavorable).

Recalling some points about the sliding Standard metagame, where Emerge decks blend into Delirium decks which then blend into Snake/Counter/Energy decks, it’s possible that a heavily metagamed Emerge deck with a number of Kalitas, Traitor of Ghet is the solution.

It’s possible to slant this deck even more toward pre-boarding against Mono-Red, but at some point the returns diminish beyond the point of rationality. It’s also possible to take this deck, cut the few remaining Vessels and Grapples, and replace them with more low-end creatures, with options like Cryptbreaker and Collective Brutality as great choices for those slots. The mana base gets shaky with four colors, a reliance on Green and Black early, and a need for double Blue in the midgame, but another possibility involves cutting the Green altogether for a Grixis or straight ub Emerge midrange deck. A tentative starting point might be:

This deck has lower power than the Four-Color version and misses Traverse the Ulvenwald immensely, but Cryptbreaker is a real treat as a one-mana play that serves as draw engine, discard outlet, and board-clogger all on its own. It’s not necessarily ready for the big time, but there is a lot of appeal in playing a one-card one-mana self-contained game plan, especially one that works perpendicular to the hate that folks will bring in against an Emerge strategy. Just don’t Kozilek's Return away your own board if you’ve got a better board presence than your opponents!

Of course, Zac Elsik (one of the original God-Pharaoh's Gift brewers) was no slouch in attempting to shore up the Mono-Red matchup with his baby, and this Bant version of the deck incorporates Heron's Grace Champion as an additional lifelink body that also works spectacularly well against Ahn-Crop Crasher, Earthshaker Khenra, and the like.

Strategic Planning still strikes me as a low-power card to be playing in an aggressive format like this one, and Zac might be better served with a few copies of Declaration in Stone, but the ability to turbo out a Gift while presenting a relatively normal game-plan otherwise is not to be ignored. This one goes in the brew box for sure, and if a pile of Thalias, Authority of the Consuls, and lifegaining flash blockers don’t do the trick, I’ll be hanging my head in shame and picking up the Red menace. I especially love the sideboard of this deck, where it can go “full normal” and side out all nine of the God-Pharaoh's Gift pieces for two Fumigates, two Kefnet's Last Words, three Tireless Trackers, and two Tamiyo, Field Researcher. Minister of Inquiries is super weak in that hypothetical post-boarded deck, but it’s possible to keep in a single Gift and a couple of Gate to the Afterlife in order to maintain some potential to “go off”.

If neither Emerge nor God-Pharaoh's Gift are your cup of tea, nor are you interested in playing bg Midrange or Mono-Red itself, the last great option for you is the deck MTGMintCard picked up, the winner of the last PT, Zombies. Zombies is a terrific choice as a board-clogging tribal strategy that quickly goes bigger than the Red deck can handle, with decent removal in Fatal Push and Grasp of Darkness to boot. Red’s sideboard plans can throw a wrench into the works, but Zombies can pack Kalitas and/or Aethersphere Harvester to give the Red deck fits if needed.

We’ll use newly minted Platinum Pro (and Worlds competitor!) Christian Calcano’s list, in honor of his recent achievement and in the hopes that he’ll make us all proud at the World Championships this fall.

Only three maindeck Liliana's Mastery seems loose to me, but then again, I’m not a Worlds competitor, and the Calcfather is. Removal, synergy, replaceable creatures, and a low curve are the keys to beating up on Mono-Red, so it’s possible that the Mint Card team wanted to reduce the likelihood of drawing the fatal “four lands, two Liliana's Mastery” draws that make a Zombies player want to retch. Clearly, the deck is powerful, and Calc’s 12-4 finish at the PT is a testament to its potency. If you want to beat up on Red, it’s another great choice, incidentally one that also does a decent job of beating up on Constrictor decks at the same time.

The time immediately after a Pro Tour is the most fertile for my preferred style of brewing, with a few main targets and proven shells to tweak and tune. If you (like me) are looking to start off this new Pro season of Magic with a bang, this is the format you’re going to be working with for the next few months. Take advantage of others’ indolence, do some deep strategizing about the levels of the format, and you might just find yourself holding a GP trophy in the next month or two. Good luck!

Ben Friedman,

@40cardfriedman on Twitter

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