What is the most important card in Standard?
What is the most important card, whose position to know, will give you the most edge to win?
Is it Growth Spiral?
Convertion rates (day1->day2) at #PTFinals for decks with 3+ players :— Willy Edel (@edelgenius) July 26, 2020
4color reclamation - 73%
bant - 53%
Temur Reclamtion - 51%
mono-white - 50%
jund sacrifice - 43%
mono-green - 33%
rakdos sacrifice - 33%
uw control - 33%
Play growth spiral if you wanna 50%+ convertion rate.
It kind of can't be. It can't be if the format is so slanted toward Temur Reclamation decks; Four-color Reclamation decks. It can't be if Growth Spiral is - somehow - the baseline. To get an edge you have to do something differently than everyone else; or at least plan from a different direction from everyone else.
So, what is it?
I'll let you noodle on that one for a second.
Interlude: The Last Match
"No one comes back from a Yorion blink"
I was pretty sure I was going to come back from this Yorion blink, actually. I had kept kind of a land-heavy hand but got paid off with spells several turns. He had Oath of Kaya, which sucked; and he correctly played Glass Casket on my Heart's Desire token instead of one of my actual 1/1 creatures.
Still, that three life from the Oath of Kaya was annoying because I was just a point off of lethal, twice. I knew he had poured three mana into his Companion mechanic and was about to five-for-one me or whatever.
Given the fact that he was so deliberately telegraphing the Yorion line, I kind of had to play like he didn't have Shatter the Sky or Kaya's Wrath. I was going to lose to just the Yorion blink if I didn't kind of barf my hand onto the board in order to get the most damage in; so there was no playing around the Wrath, as it were. "Here's another four!"
I had this mighty Questing Beast but was considering whether to attack with it the next turn at all. He would almost certainly have to trade with Yorion, but that wasn't going to get me anywhere. So, it might be better to hold that attack (unless I drew a third Legendary Creature - Beast, I supposed). Before I finished thinking about it, ye olde Sky Nomad brought back the devastating Oath of Kaya and Glass Casket.
What is it going to be, Esper-friend?
I'll let you noodle on that one for a second.
Level 1: Everyone Else's Green Deck
Two months ago I was on kind of a Magic: The Gathering - Arena tear and played a lot (for me). I made it to Platinum 1 relatively quickly using a variety of decks... Simic Mutate Monsters, Jeskai Cycling, and Mono-White Lifegain aggro primarily.
You might have read my takes on some of these!
- May 5 - Simic SWOT
- May 12 - Plus or Minus One Color
- May 26 - What Makes Standard White Weenie the Best?
I played my beloved Mono-Red some; and Zvi's StOmPy some; but never got out of Platinum 1. While I arrived there quickly, I didn't play hard enough to quite pierce Diamond.
The next month I played barely at all; but in what little time I did, I was again able to repeat Platinum, though not quite Platinum 1.
It didn't seem all that special to me this month when I - again, wait for it, drum roll, etc. - got to Platinum quickly. I was mostly playing the Midrange Green decks I've been writing about the last couple of weeks.
But when I actually got to Diamond this time I decided I was going to make an actual go of it: Mythic.
I achieved Diamond around last Friday; played a few matches, and made some quick assessments.
In Gold and Platinum, there were a lot of Green quasi-mirrors. For the first stretch I mostly had Nissas and they mostly had Viviens (four mana). Though The Great Henge or one of the five mana Planeswalkers could break a game open, most were really about who played with Scavenging Ooze the greatest strategy and patience.
In Diamond the Green mirrors kind of dried up. They weren't gone or anything, but in Gold and Platinum I was playing against non-Growth Spiral / basic Forest like 40% of the time. By contrast, in Diamond I felt like there were maybe 25% mono-colored aggro decks, total; 5% nonsense, and 70% decks that played Aether Gust and / or Mystical Dispute; usually three-color Control decks or Temur Reclamation.
The lightbulb went off.
Given this, there was one very obvious best card. I could win more by playing it; or alternately win more because I realized that - even though they could - the three-color control decks weren't, and I could exploit that.
Level 2: One Step Back, Two Steps Forward
I made a quick update to Zvi's StOmPy deck and won my first two matches in Diamond, easily. In order to make room for Scavenging Ooze - now the most important card in the deck (but one Zvi hadn't had access to on his own Mythic run back in May) I cut two Barkhide Trolls. And by "Barkhide Trolls" I mean "Pelt Collectors". So I won my first two matches running only two Pelt Collectors purely on misclick. How embarrassing... For my opponents.
Zvi took my phone call and did a quick bootcamp with me. While I'll never match his level of intuitive execution, I at least started to understand the specifics of the deck's strategy. It was more what not to try to do that what everyone else was (I presume, incorrectly) doing with their Green decks. What I was supposed to be doing was supposed to be obvious. He wanted me to play 4 Gemrazer but I couldn't find the right cut. Zvi's thesis was again obvious: If Temur Reclamation is the best deck, how could you not play 4 Gemrazers?
Here's what took me through the middle of Diamond (and the last punch):
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I made #mythic on Magic: The Gathering - Arena for the first time yesterday! ? One of the two primary decks that took me through Diamond tier was a StOmPy deck that I worked on with the incomparable Zvi Mowshowitz. Sadly I never got the fourth Gemrazer in the main deck. ? 4 Pelt Collector 4 Gingerbrute 4 Stonecoil Serpent 4 Scavenging Ooze 2 Barkhide Troll 4 Syr Faren, the Hengehammer 4 Lovestruck Beast 3 Gemrazer 4 Questing Beast 4 Giant Growth 2 Titanic Growth 20 Forest 1 Castle Garenbrig #magicthegathering
Zvi StOmPy | M21 Standard | Mike Flores
- Creatures (33)
- 2 Barkhide Troll
- 3 Gemrazer
- 4 Gingerbrute
- 4 Lovestruck Beast
- 4 Pelt Collector
- 4 Questing Beast
- 4 Scavenging Ooze
- 4 Stonecoil Serpent
- 4 Syr Faren, the Hengehammer
This true StOmPy deck made mincemeat of most of the opposition I described. Its MO was to get a disproportionate advantage by going first but really shined because no one in Diamond was playing Arboreal Grazer. You could not only de facto get them (if not cash the actual W) before the opponent had their strategy online, if you knew how to play with Gingerbrute, you could sometimes get them even when they got everything they wanted.
Both of the decks I'm going to talk about today have kind of the same sideboard strategy. I hate it and hate it a second time, even though it carried me. Basically, you shed a lot of your deck's unique identity, whether compact pump spells or an overabundance of acceleration, to become more like the opponent's main deck configuration. Which is weird and feels behind. Against other aggro decks - certainly other Mono-Green decks - you're usually taking out cards like Syr Faren, the Hengehammer which are never going to get through anyway for fight cards and Oakhame Adversaries.
The only cards in the sideboard that matter, really, are that eight-pack of Ram Through and Oakhame Adversary. The rest of the stuff is pretty tuning; pretty conditional. Like, Ranger's Guile is a one mana pump spell... But not that impressive of one, offensively. Sure, you get to bamboozle opponents with expensive removal once in a while, but playing Ranger's Guile almost always involves taking out at least one Titanic Growth so you can't help but concede explosiveness.
Primal Might is one of the cards that kind of put the midrange version I've been writing about recently on the map... But I was never really that impressed with it. Heads up, unless they're using Primal Might on a deathtouch creature like Questing Beast or Oakhame Adversary you can often just beat it with a Giant Growth. That is because - unlike Ram Through - Primal Might is a true fight: Both creatures deal damage to one another. Giant Growth will out-class many but the burliest Primal Mights. When you surprise someone this way you not only defeat their big mana tap, not only likely steal their whole turn... You get a two-for-one.
"What would you ever want in Magic but a two-for-one?"
-Pro Tour Champion Mike Long
Zvi's StOmPy was really good for me, tearing up that first half of Diamond. That said, I got exactly zero turn-three kills and zero turn-four kills anywhere through the Diamond run.
Strategically this deck really rewards commitment to a plan. The right thing is often just to throw all your stuff on the battlefield and make them have an answer. At the high tiers of MTGA, people are so inbred fighting other Temur Reclamation variants they can lack some of the basic defensive stuff that would let them, in less sideways days, to defend themselves.
This deck gets people really well contextually.
Like look at the card Gingerbrute. It has so much going for it. It kills the bejeezus out of a Teferi that just bounced someone bigger. It's not Human and it has both evasion and haste. It's a great lead-in for Syr Faren and a delicious little back to bear Gemrazer. People don't really understand how to play against it, despite the fact that it was such a widely played Limited card. Or Scavenging Ooze. It has even more going for it. When the dust starts settling, Scavenging Ooze can auto-beat the mirror or quasi-mirror, completely deflate Rakdos Sacrifice, or unhitch the engine of poor Orzhov Doom Foretold. It also buffs a first-turn Pelt Collector just fine.
Level 3: Pilgrim's Eye 2020
One of the decks that really caught my eye early on was Simic Ramp played by _SHATUN_. So obviously I went and changed everything I originally liked about the deck.
Notably I loved Leafkin Dryad setting up the transformative sideboard; but I myself ended up only keeping one Nightpack Ambusher. _SHATUN_ didn't play any copies of Uro, Titan of Nature's Wrath at all but I ended up finding a really good and different sideboard path. As you can see, I upped Uro to all four copies.
The triple redundancy at three came from this new addition, Pilgrim's Eye 2020:
Back when Pilgrim's Eye was first printed Pro Tour Historian Emeritus Brian David-Marshall joked it was going to be my favorite card to play. I was of course famous for playing Civic Wayfinders and Borderland Rangers in all manner of decks, so why not a Pilgrim's Eye?
But a 1/1 version? No way!
Yet just like when he predicted J.R. Smith would become my favorite player upon moving from New York to Cleveland, Brian was right and I repped a solo Pilgrim's Eye that one time I invented Splinter Twin.
Though _SHATUN_ -- to be fair relying more on Leafkin Dryad for the two-to-four acceleration - played many copies of Solemn Simulacrum, I didn't initially have enough Wildcards to play that many. Just to try it out, I substituted one with a Llanowar Visionary and it didn't take me long to substitute them all.
The Visionary is - sad to say - more reliable than Uro a lot of the time. Both of them draw a card on turn three (or sometimes turn two) but you actually have to have another land handy to get extra mana out of Uro. Which even in a land-heavy deck like this one isn't a certainty. But all you have to do is untap to get mana out of Llanowar Visionary. If you don't actually draw another land, Visionary might not get you three-to-five for Nissa when Uro won't, but it will do things like bridge a small-to-medium Hydroid Krasis while you're just trying to stabilize and hit your land drops.
This was Our Hero's Weapon of Choice for n-1 matches in the second half of Diamond:
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The other deck I used to clear Diamond was a Simic Ramp deck that played Llanowar Visionary -- a powerful and underrated new card. ?? This deck plays kind of the most accelerators in the format and can get the edge against other Growth Spiral decks by starting on Arboreal Grazer. One of the great play patterns is to land a third turn Nissa, Who Shakes the World or Elder Gargaroth if you draw two pieces of acceleration. #magicthegathering
Simic Ramp | M21 Standard | Mike Flores
- Instants (4)
- 4 Growth Spiral
- Lands (28)
- 4 Island
- 8 Forest
- 1 Blast Zone
- 1 Ketria Triome
- 2 Temple of Mystery
- 4 Breeding Pool
- 4 Castle Vantress
- 4 Fabled Passage
I assume it has a pretty good matchup against Temur Reclamation only because I made it to Mythic by Sunday morning. Ergo I must have posted a reasonable percentage against the neverending Temur variants. Right?
Look: It's not like you want-want that matchup.
But Game 1 especially is at least build-dependent. Some of these people with all Aether Gusts and Mystical Disputes are basically pre-sideboarded against you. Even when you get "your draw" you're dancing on the razor's edge. There is only one Blast Zone plus the Ugins to deal with a Wilderness Reclamation (or three) that actually resolves. If they have one going a few turns you're usually going to end up on the wrong side of an Expansion // Explosion.
But you can come out pretty fast - especially if you have that first turn Arboreal Grazer - and jump to Nissa, Who Shakes the World as early as turn three; Ugin as early as turn four. Outside of a Wilderness Reclamation-driven Expansion // Explosion, everything about your deck is both faster and more powerful than everything [else] about their deck. But the fact that they can so easily disrupt you with Aether Gust, Mystical Dispute, or even Negate means that you might never have the chance get there.
You're the Beatdown.
Speaking of which, the beatdown decks - by in large - are also pretty medium. You don't crush any of them, but you do have game against all of them just because your core plan is so good. Most of these creature decks with no reach aren't coming back from even a single Ugin activation. Even if you make it look close, Simic is rarely beating their fastest draws on the play, but on the other hand there is simply no contending with your God Draw from their side. Beatdown matchups are therefore frustratingly draw dependent for both Magicians. They tend to win all the close games; Simic tends to win most of the blowouts. None of this has anything to do with actual W-L percentages, which, as I said, are pretty medium.
Where you really excel is all the other two- and three-color Blue decks. Azorius? Whether sixty or eighty cards... Not a difficult matchup. Sultai? Super bye. Grixis? Easier than Sultai or Azorius. Bant theoretically has most of the same tools, but that never actually bore out in practice.
It mostly has to do with the lack of permission. Opposing Control decks aren't good at limiting your mana engine - which is many times more vigorous than a deck with just Growth Spiral and a couple of Uros - which you can translate into either inevitable card advantage, or never missing land drops, or both. When the opponent is all creature destruction, or the most powerful thing they can do is an Elspeth Conquers Death, and it takes them 100 turns to win, they can't strategically contain a deck that just wants to tap Castle Vantress or make a Hydroid Krasis that is twice as big as theirs. Simic's chip shot cards - Llanowar Visionary and Cultivate - start nibbling away at card advantage earlier than opposing Control decks can, which forces them to take actions or waste resources that are inefficient relative to their usual plans.
For me, I think that during the entire second half of Diamond I lost to only one Azorius deck. My twenty-eight land / one-third acceleration deck stalled on two Game 1 and Game 2. While I lost some games, I won literally every other match against any of the more controlling decks that are popular at that tier.
Basically it goes like this: You have Arboreal Grazer so can break serve even if they go first and have a Growth Spiral. Your Cultivate is very likely to resolve. It's just rock and roll time. If you have a Castle Vantress one thing you can do is keep hitting your land drops and force them to do something at some point. Inevitably they miss a land drop before you do. Maybe two or three times. They have to do something if only to draw more land or not discard. Even if they string two or 3 powerful things together you end up getting them with Ugin or Mass Manipulation.
In Game 1 neither side has great solutions to Uro (but you have Ugin so can actually remove theirs permanently). However, because you have so much mana you can do twice as many powerful things in the middle turns plus you never draw matchup-pointless cards like Heartless Act or Shatter the Sky. When so many of your permanents are cantrips (or - LOL - Arboreal Grazers) Doom Foretold just isn't that impressive.
While I was excited to Ultimate Ugin, I did not do so at any point during Diamond. In fact, I've only landed one Ultimate in all the time the card has been legal on MTGA. On the subject of Ultimates, I hit barely more Nissa ones... Maybe two? One was decent (I always forget about Breeding Pool) and one I had literally no Forests left in my deck.
So, let that be three lessons:
- Think about the immediate to long-term payoffs of Forest or Island on any given Fabled Passage or Cultivate. The Control matches usually go to the point that you have fifteen or fewer cards in your deck after all the Jellyfish, land searching, and cantrips. Whether or not it actually happens, that means many games will go long enough for Nissa to Ultimate.
- This is also why the Control matchups are so favorable: You have time to set up your game and establish inevitability unlike the compact, pressure-driven, beatdown or Reclamation ones. They're not killing you any time soon. Your deck has a lot of air. In the late game your Cultivate might not have any text. It's very common to play turn fifteen Arboreal Grazers with no trigger just to buy time against a Shark token. Literally the most likely way to lose is to try to win before you have your resources lined up. That basically turns on their interactive cards. You want to play lands and strand their removal, not give text to their Mystical Dispute or Elspeth Conquers Death. Because your game plan is highly predicated on cantrips and Hydroid Krasis, the one possible exception to this is if the Control opponent lands a Narset, Parter of Veils. You usually want to jam a Nissa strike for that if you can. Ditto on Teferi, or opportunistically. Just don't imagine Nissa will live very long.
- Because you theoretically are playing early game creatures (that are really little gold farmers getting resources for you) and they have the removal cards, they are nominally the Control in-matchup. That is not very convenient given how much more powerful your top end is.
Return to the Last Match
So, what's it going to be?
Glass Casket correctly jumped from Belle to Beast. That's a subtle skill move by experienced Yorion players. When given the choice between a 1/1 Human Soldier and a 1/1 Selfless Savior; or in my matchup a Heart's Desire or a Gingerbrute, it's usually better to Glass Casket the token.
A 1/1 is a 1/1 when it's mostly just hitting your face. You're not winning in a hurry, so plan to eventually blink the Glass Casket with Yorion, Sky Nomad! That way you can eke one more resource out of it than if you exile the "real" 1/1 card. Belle to Beast was old hat at this level.
He would have Yorion left on defense, along with some reset Planeswalkers that I wasn't really thinking about. The Oath would put him back to 7. I assume he was assuming I'd swing with the Questing Beast; meaning he'd be obligated to block and trade with Yorion, or risk lethal + lose a Planeswalker anyway.
I suppose that's why he Oathed the 2/2 Pelt Collector. All other things held equal, 6 > 5.
But remember what I said before about people not knowing how to play with or against Gingerbrute? At Grand Prix Phoenix right before the pandemic hit, I lost a winnable round because
my opponent topdecked I forgot my Robber of the Rich could block his Gingerbrute. Sure he ripped an equipment to hit me for lethal instead of not doing that, but I missed a preventable line. There's like $500 and a slightly fatter fractional invite I'll never see.
My Esper opponent apparently forgot about Gingerbrute's many lines of text, too. So, imagine his surprise when I geared it up with Gemrazer, made it unblockable, and had the lethal Giant Growth for exactsies.
It was with those seven points I made the first of hopefully many Mythics.
Post Script: Having never made Mythic before I thought it was some kind of special accomplishment a la winning the lottery, or at least a Grand Prix. If a Grand Prix were like, one incremental pack.
Apparently Mythic is just the start of a whole 'nother ladder? Looks like we're not sleeping any of the next four days, either, lads!