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Richmond, Standard, and Modern


After testing for a week or two in preparation for the StarCityGames Invitational in Richmond, I have learned a fair amount about Standard.

Narset Transcendent
I didn’t do too well in the Invitational itself (going 3–3–1 and 2–2 with Jeskai Tokens in Standard and 1–1–1 with Thirty-Five R/G Lands in Legacy).

Preparing for the first week of a new Standard format is always exciting and crazy. It’s unclear what the target is or what the most popular decks will be, so it’s a lot safer to look at the new set and gauge the strong cards from it.

In particular, one card caught my eye is Narset Transcendent. Many people played Narset Transcendent in control decks (Azorius or Esper Control) this past weekend, but I firmly believe the proper place for the card is in a proactive Jeskai deck. After coming to this conclusion, the most obvious Jeskai shell was Jeskai Tokens.

The major reason behind that is that in order for Narset Transcendent to be at its best, the rebound ability has to be good. Being able to rebound any of the following cards is quite good: Hordeling Outburst, Stoke the Flames, and Treasure Cruise. It is also worth noting you generate an extra Jeskai Ascendancy trigger on the next upkeep off the rebound.

Here’s the list that I ended up playing in the Standard Open:

The deck performed above average (a record of 10–5 in the Open with zero byes), but it certainly isn’t perfect.

I think Anticipate was the missing glue to bridge the sideboard strategy of “going big,” and Goblin Rabblemaster is at its worst versus green decks if you are not on the play.

I played against a diverse field of decks: two R/W Tokens (with Impact Tremors), Jeskai Tokens, G/W Aggro, Esper Control, R/G Aggro, G/W Devotion, Mardu Midrange, two Mono-Red, Four-Color Ascendancy combo (green for mana creatures that untap), two Abzan Aggro, and two decks that I cannot remember.

As you can see, even from my small sample of matches, Standard is extremely diverse.

How would I change the deck going forward?

Despite Narset Transcendent being a great card in this type of deck, there are a lot of matchups in which you are immediately under the gun (e.g. Abzan Aggro or Mono-Red) and don’t necessarily have time to draw one (or even two) Narset Transcendent in your opening hand.

Taking that into mind, along with the fact that the builds of Jeskai Tokens with Anticipate tended to do better than the ones without it, I’d end up here going forward:

Card Choices

The biggest points of contention are Seeker of the Way versus Soulfire Grand Master, Goblin Rabblemaster versus Monastery Mentor, and whether to be creatureless.

After having played with both versions, I prefer the late-game recursion that Soulfire Grand Master provides—as well as being a guaranteed 2/2 lifelink creature at all points of the game. Goblin Rabblemaster is more likely to run away with a game if you are on the play, and also it makes convoking Stoke the Flames a lot easier, both of which are good enough reasons for me to want to play the card over Monastery Mentor.

Dragonlord Ojutai and Elspeth, Sun's Champion alongside additional removal and attrition cards in the sideboard let you transform into a weird, hybridized control deck. Typically when you are on this plan, you shave out the weaker token-makers (Raise the Alarm) and Goblin Rabblemaster.

The other build of Jeskai Tokens that I found to be very interesting is built along these lines:

It is notable that Narset Transcendent would be even better in this deck, but the player probably didn’t want to risk drawing a dead card in Game 1 against a beatdown deck. It’s also much easier to “combo-kill” someone in this deck (with the sequence of end-of-turn Secure the Wastes into Jeskai Ascendancy functioning as an Overrun). The three-of Ojutai Exemplars is a great plan post-sideboard (once people have taken out their Hero's Downfalls, Ultimate Prices, and the like).

After I finished playing the Standard Open, I did have a chance to bird my friend Max Brown playing a new sweet deck in the Modern Premier Invitational Qualifier:

Max Brown is most notable for being a former Birthing Pod master (he had an incredible run with Top 8’ing Pro Tour Qualifiers with Kiki-Pod in the Northeast and Mid-Atlantic regions).

Anafenza, Kin-Tree Spirit
Clearly, this deck is modelled after Melira Pod (though Anafenza is a better card on its own merits), and here’s an example of a turn-four “combo” kill.

Turn one: Razorverge Thicket, Birds of Paradise

Turn two: Forest; Congregation at Dawn at end of opponent’s turn for Viscera Seer, Kitchen Finks, Anafenza, Kin-Tree Spirit; stack them so you draw Viscera Seer

Turn three: Land; end of turn, cast Collected Company (most likely putting Kitchen Finks and Anafenza into play)

Turn four: Viscera Seer, sacrifice Kitchen Finks (keep bolstering onto Kitchen Finks when it comes back because it has 1 toughness each time)

Unfortunately, this isn’t good enough against a few decks in the format (namely Splinter Twin and Tron) since Twin can just break up your combo and then combo-kill you by dealing more damage than you gained. Tron can just reset the game with Karn Liberated or deck you by using Oblivion Stone to kill its own Emrakul, the Aeons Torn and search it up again with Eye of Ugin.

In the Premier IQ, Max ended up playing against Affinity three times (going 2–1 against them), Burn (1–0), Jeskai Midrange (1–0), Twin (0–1), Ad Nauseam (1–0), and Hoogland’s Temur Blue Moon (0–1).

That’s a pretty diverse set of decks, and seems that Max’s deck can definitely stand up on its own merits—as well as be favored against the bigger elephants in the room, which are Abzan and Jund, given how the old Pod decks were favored against them as well due to most of the creatures generating value in this deck.

Max said he at least consider putting Aven Mindcensor into the main deck to fight Tron (and decks like Amulet Bloom), and at the very worst, it’s a 3-mana 2/1 flash, flying creature.

Tasigur, the Golden Fang
I look forward to giving this deck a shot once Dragons of Tarkir is released on Magic Online.

In summary, I think Dragons of Tarkir will have an even bigger impact going forward (especially at SCG Syracuse, once we are able to see how people react to a metagame, and at Pro Tour Brussels, where I expect the bigger teams to come out with some radical innovations). For now, most of the Standard decks that people chose to play in the Richmond Open and Invitational seem strong enough to be worthy of play.

Even in a certain color combination (Jeskai or Abzan in particular), there seem to be a million different ways that you can build your deck. Consider Jeskai Tokens (with or without creatures) versus Jeskai “Tempo” versus Jeskai “Control.” The lines become somewhat blurred, but there’re a lot of options there.

With regards to Modern, I look forward to recording a video with the Modern deck that I wrote about above, but I also look forward to trying Grixis Twin (with Tasigur, the Golden Fang) and perhaps recording a video with Amulet Bloom combo.

Thanks for reading, and I would appreciate any comments here or on Twitter @jkyu06.


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