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Bringing Back the Fire


No this isn't a pun about Red decks; I just want to win this RPTQ in Toronto on June 24.

Clay Spicklemire, Andrew Elenbogen, and I have been testing Team Standard over the last few weeks to get an edge. The rule is each player must have unique non-basic lands and spells in his or her deck. If I play even a single Karn, Scion of Urza in my sideboard then nobody else on my team can. This makes team communication very important. Google docs were helpful early on to establish what spells were flexible in each deck as there will be some bargaining.

I would really like to play a team Pro Tour as I find the group aspect in Magic to be the most fun and challenging. Preparing as a team for a regular Pro Tour is fun, but at the end of the day I care the most about my own record.

I want to share some of my findings as it applies to any Standard event. The deck-building restrictions haven't been too troublesome even though it may seem like it at first. There are three pillars of decks that fit the best in team structure: Red aggro, Blue control, and Black or Green.

Let's get to it!

Black or Green

As Standard settles into a Red versus Blue showdown we still need a third deck. Whatever it ends up being it will be the least popular option, but it still needs to win. Black or Green?

Green, for Lack of a Better Word, is Bad

Here's an example from Pro Tour Dominaria that finished 6-4:

Green Aggro seemed promising at first, but ultimately failed to deliver. It can have explosive starts with Ghalta, Primal Hunger and Steel Leaf Champion, but has a tough time versus Settle the Wreckage and Fumigate. To make matters worse, the sideboard plan out of Red decks can be scary, too. Chandra, Torch of Defiance, Cut // Ribbons, Glorybringer, and Fight with Fire transformed a good matchup into something more competitive. The resilient threats such as Heart of Kiran and Scrapheap Scrounger also offer little in the way of blocking, so not every draw is good against Red in Game 1.

The reason this deck was initially appealing is because it doesn't take many cards from other decks. It uses Scrapheap Scrounger, Aether Hub, and Heart of Kiran. If it were to be Mono-Green I could give Scrounger to a br deck.

Regardless of my feelings on Green Aggro, I expect many teams will show up with it in their configuration. We need to be ready to kill some creatures.

Here's another approach to Green that Top 8ed an SCG Standard Classic by Austin Collins:

I prefer bg to Green Aggro because it has a more powerful sideboard plan against uw Control. It isn't favored in Game 1, but bg gets to board in Vraska, Relic Seeker, Duress, Thrashing Brontodon, and Lifecrafter's Bestiary. These powerful cards, combined with maindeck Glint-Sleeve Siphoner, give bg a fighting chance. If uw doesn't transform after board, it has a good chance of losing games two and three.

My issue with the deck is it has the same problem against Mono Red as well as br; strong Game 1, but weakened after board. Llanowar Elves and Glint-Sleeve Siphoner will be extremely vulnerable to opposing Walking Ballista and Goblin Chainwhirler, too. The redeeming aspect of the deck is Rishkar, Peema Renegade saving your 1-toughness creatures.

Adventurous Impulse takes you down a creature-centric version of the deck with Ravenous Chupacabra over Vraska's Contempt. This might not need to happen, but it does add utility to the Green Ponder. I am not a fan of Chupacabra because it misses Heart of Kiran, Teferi, Hero of Dominaria, Hazoret the Fervent, and Rekindling Phoenix.

Duress in the sideboard creates a pressure on my teammates as they can no longer play the most impactful Black spell. It's not advised to play bg Constrictor and br Midrange in the team configuration because both decks need Duress to fight uw Control.

Here's a sample of where I think Green decks should land in the current metagame:

Sultai Energy has some appealing aspects most notable being Bristling Hydra. As a former Red mage in Standard, this card was a thorn on my side. I can't transform into a removal deck because hexproof ruins me. On the other hand, an aggressive Red deck is weak because Green is best at putting large monsters on the battlefield. The best plan I had for Bristling Hydra in the past was to hope the opponent doesn't draw any. Not my favorite strategy.

Servant of the Conduit is preferred to Llanowar Elves because of the Chainwhirler/Walking Ballista problem. I expect about 50% of the decks to have one of those two cards in their deck. Glint-Sleeve is more powerful in this deck because there are more energy synergies and it's the only x/1. There are so many other 2-drops to play early I can navigate around Chainwhirler. A savvy Red opponent will hold onto Chainwhirler if their curve isn't disrupted; don't be fooled just because it isn't cast on turn three.

Nissa, Vital Force is an annoying threat for control decks to handle, as it is effectively a Reality Smasher that survives Settle the Wreckage and Fumigate. This deck also has a transformational sideboard against uw Control because Game 1 isn't great. I like a single Lifecrafter's Bestiary and a single Shapers' Sanctuary because they have diminishing returns.

Black Decks

There are two options for Black decks that don't displace the Red mage: ub Midrange or Mono-Black.

Let's start with the more exciting option with a Mono-Black deck that finished 5-0 in a Magic Online league piloted by TheGoodSoldier:

I picked this deck even though it has some unrealistic overlap like Field of Ruin as that will almost certainly go to uw Control. It's nice to see that not every Mono-Black deck falls into the Cabal Stronghold trap. The only time I see that land doing something is when they cast an X spell that shouldn't be in the deck to begin with.

Karn is nice because he can effectively utilize all three abilities. I want lands to cast a big Walking Ballista and all of the artifact creatures pump the Karnstructs. Treasure Map flipping to make treasures pumps the Karnstructs, too.

The controlling Mono-Black decks will likely not cut it as their card advantage doesn't compete with Teferi and Pull from Tomorrow. Chunky X spells can also rot in your hand as you get beaten down by Mono-Red.

Scrap Trawler is getting some respect in Standard as a 3-power beater that also is able to easily buy back Walking Ballista. It's also a construct which helps fuel synergy in Metallic Mimic decks as well.

Scrapheap Scrounger helps apply pressure, but is weak against Mono-Red. Essence Extraction and Battle at the Bridge help ease you into a more controlling deck where needed. I'm not a fan of Moment of Craving because it doesn't kill Goblin Chainwhirler.

This deck will likely not make the final cut, but it had some neat ideas.

ub Midrange will likely be the third deck as has been decided by many powerful teams so far:

ub is currently a very Blue-heavy deck and that must change to accommodate uw Control. If I was playing by myself, I would register a Blue version of the deck instead of going heavy on artifacts and Black spells.

Many of the decks are constrained by their anti-control sideboard card. Negate and Duress are the spells of choice and one deck cannot have both. I prefer replacing Negate with Spell Pierce so uw can fight the mirror more effectively. Pierce plays well in ub because they have so many even-costed spells, so I can cast two spells on turn three easily. The only proactive 3-drop is Champion of Wits and I prefer to hold onto it in many situations.

ub is a dynamic deck. It's able to destroy creatures easily which helps against Green decks. Duress and counters are great against control. Black removal is nimble and gains life against red.

The Red Deck

If the Green decks play Black and the Black decks take all of the spells in that color it's hard to add br Midrange to the mix. It simply takes too many cards. Duress is the bottleneck. I think br is weak to Mono-Red, which is sure to be a popular choice. uw is also favored Game 1 thanks to there being so much removal Game 1.

In the case of teams it's best to have one deck that doesn't fight for cards and split the powerhouses among the other two. Keep it simple. Wyatt Darby won Pro Tour Dominaria with the following list and it barely fights other players for cards.

There isn't much room for improvement with Mono-Red. The proactive nature gives you a fighting chance against uw or ub. If your opponents happen to play br Midrange you are favored. Green decks are weak Game 1, but the removal in the sideboard plus Soul-Scar Mage change everything.

God-Pharaoh's Gift is under the radar, but Abrade backed with aggression will keep it in check. I prefer a copy of Ipnu Rivulet in uw Control and Gift decks like to play a full set unless it's the Mono-Red version which creates a constraint.

My main change for Team Standard is adding the fourth Lightning Strike over the fourth Abrade because there will be less Heart of Kiran in the format. bw Benalia plays Heart, as does br, but these are tough to play as they steal too many cards from other decks.

This deck has the best of both worlds. A creatureless deck in the first game blanks removal and acts almost like a linear strategy. It takes specific cards to interact. After board I add a ton of threats like Raff Capashen, Ship's Mage, Walking Ballista, Lyra Dawnbringer, Karn, and History of Benalia to get around the issue of facing a bunch of hand disruption or Negates. The opponent won't know what to prioritize when boarding for Game 3 as there isn't a clear answer.

Pull from Tomorrow is on the decline. I agree it's clunky, but I like to draw into exactly one copy. While Glimmer of Genius is more efficient, I don't have Torrential Gearhulk to flash it back. The scry 2 is valuable as I have 27 lands, so there are cards I want to put on the bottom in the late game.

I don't care for Fumigate against Red decks as Settle the Wreckage stops Hazoret and Rekindling Phoenix. Fumigate is even awkward against Esper Control because putting a Torrential Gearhulk in the graveyard spells trouble when they get The Scarab God. Once I have Teferi on the battlefield, playing around Settle is wishful thinking anyway.

The single Commit // Memory has been relevant in many games where I don't have Teferi in play until the late game. I need Memory to ensure I don't die trying to fire off a Teferi emblem.

Ipnu Rivulet is good Game 1 in the mirror, but I only want one copy because it does little outside of that. I haven't had to take damage from it yet, but it did cause a Glacial Fortress to enter the battlefield tapped.

Arch of Orazca has been great for me. Four Field of Ruin is too many as Mono-Red doesn't have basics. I only want to use Field to shuffle permanents I put on top with Teferi before the opponent draws them.

I have been trying to come up with plays ahead of time to minimize the amount of decisions I need to make in a game. Plains is the optimal first land because it turns on Glacial Fortress on the second turn to cast any 2-drop. I can also cycle Cast Out if I want. Island on turn one gives away the fact I'm playing a control deck. If I'm land light, I'll play Irrigated Farmland as I likely wouldn't cycle it.

The opponent knows the uw Control script. This means they have a good idea what spells I can cast each turn. I can use this to my advantage. I have decisions at times to play tapped or untapped lands. While I might not have a spell to cast with the untapped lands my opponent doesn't know that.

I can gain life when my opponent must respect Settle the Wreckage even when I don't have it. Torrential Gearhulk is also a great bluff on six mana; all I have to do is glance at my graveyard.

Disallow's Stifle ability can also be bluffed to gain an extra turn against a planeswalker that can ultimate. If Chandra is on seven loyalty the opponent may wait until eight before getting an emblem.

Esper Control is another option, but it takes Fatal Push as well as Teferi, so I don't think it will be very popular. I've been having a lot of success with uw so far so I see no reason to steal from other potentially strong decks.

That's all I have for this week. Hopefully next time I bring you a winner's tournament report!

Thanks for reading,


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