SCGCON is here!
One of the most exciting events on the Magic calendar, the Invitational at SCGCON, not only caps off the first season of the SCG Tour, but also puts both Standard and Modern under the spotlight and scrutiny of a $100,000 total prize purse. Stakes are high, putting enormous amount of pressure on players to be right on top of the trends in both formats.
Further complicating things is that War of the Spark has completely upended both formats, creating one of the most dynamic week-to-week Standard formats in recent memory, while also producing waves rarely seen by a Standard legal set in Modern. There's a lot of information to take in and a lot of factors at play, making putting it all together very challenging.
These trends make the rules for each format week in and week out, and whether you want to follow the trends or buck them, you have to know what they are. Here's what's currently happening in both formats:
Standard: You Need To Have A Great Early Game Or A Great Late Game
While planeswalkers define the midgame of the current Standard format, the reality is that almost all successful Standard decks either seek to have a great early game or some sort of way over the top endgame.
While the Four Color Dreadhorde deck I've been playing a lot recently certainly is the strategy taken to its fullest extent, other decks have been getting in on the fun as well. A more fair version of Sultai Dreadhorde has been making the rounds as well, recently played by friends of mine, Dan Jessup to a MCQ finals finish and Jarvis Yu to a Top 16 finish at Grand Prix Kansas City.
Sultai Dreadhorde | War Standard | Jarvis Yu, 10th Place Grand Prix Kansas City
- Creatures (22)
- 2 Hostage Taker
- 4 Hydroid Krasis
- 4 Jadelight Ranger
- 4 Llanowar Elves
- 4 Merfolk Branchwalker
- 4 Wildgrowth Walker
- Instants (3)
- 3 Assassin's Trophy
- Sorceries (3)
- 3 Command the Dreadhorde
- Lands (24)
- 4 Forest
- 1 Drowned Catacomb
- 3 Hinterland Harbor
- 4 Breeding Pool
- 4 Overgrown Tomb
- 4 Watery Grave
- 4 Woodland Cemetery
Command the Dreadhorde is also popping up as a singleton in other midrange decks that can cast it like Esper Midrange, further cementing it as one of the most powerful endgames in the format.
However, even going over the top of that is the surge of mostly Bant ramp decks based around Mass Manipulation.
Bant Ramp | War Standard |Ulrich, Fandom Legends
- Creatures (20)
- 2 Jadelight Ranger
- 2 Paradise Druid
- 2 Shalai, Voice of Plenty
- 2 Tolsimir, Friend to Wolves
- 4 Hydroid Krasis
- 4 Incubation Druid
- 4 Llanowar Elves
- Planeswalkers (4)
- 4 Nissa, Who Shakes the World
- Instants (4)
- 4 Growth Spiral
- Lands (26)
- 2 Island
- 5 Forest
- 3 Glacial Fortress
- 4 Breeding Pool
- 4 Hallowed Fountain
- 4 Hinterland Harbor
- 4 Temple Garden
While enormously expensive, when fueled by many ramp creatures and Nissa, Who Shakes The World, large Mass Manipulations can be cast as early as turn four. Hydroid Krasis gives the deck the engine to refuel giving the deck a very robust endgame. The deck is very reliant on its mana creatures but the payoffs are huge.
Standard endgames are way over the top at the moment and you must either have something to match them, answer them, or get under them.
Mono-Red Aggro is of course the poster child for getting under these big effects, looking to end the game long before anyone should be thinking about casting Mass Manipulation while also having many effective answers to mana creatures. Amusingly enough, with Experimental Frenzy Mono-Red also threatens to have its own powerful endgame, helping to explain why it's one of the best and most consistent decks in the format.
White Weenie had fallen by the wayside, but took the MCQ I played last weekend by storm and plots out as my pick for breakout deck at SCGCON. It checks all the boxes as far as "going fast" while being very underprepared for. If all the big go over the top decks are going to skimp on removal, White is poised to run them right over and out of town. Tocatli Honor Guard is also a huge problem for any Command the Dreadhorde deck relying on the Explore package.
It's a tough tightrope to balance, with decks having such great late games and early games with a ton of play in between, but it's a huge part of why this format has been so dynamic.
Standard: Nissa Is The Current Queen Of Standard
The more the Standard format adapts, the more stock that Nissa, Who Shakes The World gains.
It's no surprise that both the Sultai Dreadhorde deck and the Bant Ramp deck are centered around Nissa, Who Shakes The World, who is quickly becoming one of the best cards in the format. When it comes to going over the top Nissa and her static ability is one of the best cards you can have, and her ability to pressure planeswalkers and defend makes her incredibly well rounded. Oh and with Llanowar Elves leading the charge you cast her on turn three.
The format has done a good job adapting to Teferi, Time Raveler, but now needs to also adapt to beat Nissa. The tools are certainly there though.
Tomik, Distinguished Advokist isn't just for Legacy! Tomik is already a well costed creature with evasion, but she also shuts down Nissa's ability to effect the board which goes a long way toward taking Nissa out of the picture. Any aggressive deck playing Tomik should be able to make the turn a player plays Nissa without adding a blocker to the board very punishing.
Sweepers are some amount of good against Nissa! Neither card is seeing any maindeck play at the moment, but both are astoundingly punishing against decks built around Nissa and mana creatures. The downside of course is that they don't effect planeswalkers, but they're also both good against Mono-Red Aggro, White Weenie, and Gruul, which is a large portion of the format.
If someone can find a good Kaya's Wrath deck for this weekend they are poised to do very well.
Modern: War Of The Spark Planeswalkers Are Changing Everything
There's no doubt that Planeswalkers are the name of the game in Standard, but the real surprise is how much of an impact they are having on Modern as well.
Karn, The Great Creator's impact on Modern has been fairly well documented at this point, giving Tron a powerful and versatile new tool as well as boosting up Eldrazi Tron and various other prison and big mana strategies. It would be remiss of me to not mention him, Mycosynth Lattice, and friends, but that's not the real surprise.
These two again?
That's right,Teferi and Narset are not just for Standard. Both cards are currently changing the landscape of Modern, throwing huge wrenches into the plans of many of the established decks.
Teferi drastically hurts the plans of any reactive deck in the format, while indirectly messing with a whole bunch of cards and abilities; Finale of Promise, Chandra, Torch of Defiance, Bloodbraid Elf, Rift Bolt, Search for Tomorrow, and so on. Narset is just as brutal, attaching a static ability that turns off everything from Serum Visions to Faithless Looting to Chromatic Star on top of a Dig Through Time spread over two turns. That's a lot of value for three mana!
Both Teferi and Narset have the ability to completely change how we think of control and combo decks in Modern, while also spawning the possibility of new archetypes. Teferi in particular is very good at defending combos from interaction and hate cards, and I expect both to be major players both at SCGCON and going forward.
Put these cards in your Modern decks and make sure you can beat them!
Modern: Be Ready For A Fair Fight
With Teferi and Narset pushing toward interaction and Humans, Izzet Phoenix, and Control all making bids for the top deck in Modern, the pendulum has certainly swung pretty hard towards the "fair" side of things. Just being fast or super linear is a risky thing at the moment, as if you lack the tools to interact and play a longer game you may find yourself in trouble.
Having a feel for how fair or unfair a format is goes a long way toward both selecting your deck for an event or for tuning your chosen deck and sideboard for what you expect. Make sure your deck can deal with these new, interactive elements and don't be shy about including a plan B of some kind.
Eyes On The Prize
SCGCON is always an exciting event, but even more so as we get to see what the conclusions drawn by the best and brightest minds on the SCG Tour are in a high stakes environment. I of course will be playing in the event, but whether you're there or not you should be paying close attention to the event and coverage.
And make sure to watch both formats! Split format events are notorious for spreading false information, as a player who make have broken the format in one format may do poorly in the other and fall short of Top 8. Keep an eye on the decks that are doing well in their respective formats and at the new ideas being presented. Not every idea will work at first, but it may be a pathway to something great later on.
Hopefully I'm the one you watch hoist the trophy!