The first stop is under two weeks away. The season kicks off March 16th in Orlando. That date is rapidly approaching, so get ready to game! Gaming in Orlando to escape the clutch of winter seems like a fine plan.
The following event will be in Chicago on the 30th, so mark your calendars for that as well. I can't promise sunshine outside for this one, but the action inside the tournament hall will be hot!
With Standard being the focus of the 5ks, I will be sure to provide plenty of Standard content in the coming weeks as I always do. I had been playing an absolute ton of Magic leading up to Pro Tour Gatecrash, so I have a strong grasp on the format. I was looking forward to a little break when I returned home, but was soon drawn back to Magic Online. Instead of Standard seeming stale, I was actually interested in seeing how the online metagame would develop in the wake up the Pro Tour.
Online players are quick to adapt, and things were no different this time. After Gatecrash the Aristocrats deck started seeing immediate play, along with the rest of the Top 8 decks, including Wolf Run Bant. Players also took inspiration for decks they were more familiar with. In the wake of the tour Naya decks started looking more like Eric Froehlich's build. Similarly, there was a wave of 18 land aggro decks inspired by the list of Shahar and Team Panik. Over time things have mellowed out, with the consequence being a Standard metagame broader than ever.
This month I acquired plenty of Magic Online Qualifier Points, which allowed me to play in a grinder for the end of the month MOCS event. The event would be Standard, giving me another reason to sling some spells. I had experience with URW from the PT but wanted something new, I went to Ben Stark's Esper Flash build. It seems much better than traditional planeswalker versions, more like a UW flash deck that is splashing black. I played a few matches and liked the feel of the deck, but it did not seem significantly better than the red version.
I quickly gravitated towards Arbor Elf Jund and did not look back. Some players online were successful using two copies of the elf, including Reid Duke, but I used three to get more play with the card. I also am a real sucker for turn two Liliana of the Veil and wanted to do make the play often. It is quite difficult for a lot of decks to beat, and casting it early is a strong tempo play.
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Most Jund players online quickly adapted some number of Arbor Elf. Personally that card was the most exciting innovation of the Pro Tour. I've played a lot of Standard Jund and immediately recognized just how good the card would be in the deck. Playing some games confirmed these notions. With Arbor Elf I felt like I was playing a completely new and evolved deck.
Another useful card to come out of the Pro Tour was Murder. This instant speed removal spell kills every creature, and the BB mana cost is not restrictive for this deck; it is the plan. It seems better than Ultimate Price, because having a dead card in this deck can be fatal. Murder is a nice hedge, and the speed bump is a price worth paying. I was using two for a while and think it is correct, but one in the sideboard with one main is a fine option as well
With the success of the Aristocrats, headlined by Falkenrath Aristocrat, Jund players need an answer. This hard-to-deal-with creature is also played in Jund aggro. The best answer out of Jund Midrange is Tragic Slip. It will essentially always kill the vampire. If it is 4/1 then -1/-1 gets the job done. If they sacrifice to make it indestructible then the morbid kicks in, and -13/-13 will take out the indestructible creature. If they have thirteen humans to sacrifice, there are bigger problems at hand.
I failed to qualify through the MOCS Grinder, but plenty of players qualified with Jund. Moving forward, I'd look towards the list of Reid Duke, who piloted Jund to a Grand Prix T8 in Quebec City.
The biggest story in Standard has to be the rise and dominance of the hyper aggressive Humans deck, aka Naya Blitz. There was a buzz building about this deck on the internet for awhile around the Pro Tour, but nothing to the level of hype surrounding UWR Reckoner. Naya Blitz deck did not have a high profile finish there, but players like Willy Edel played the deck to success. Hype and online presence built for the following week, culminating in a breakout finish for the deck with Nico Christiansen's win in Quebec City.
This deck eschews expensive cards like Huntmaster of the Fells, playing only the cheapest and most efficient creatures. Flinthoof Boar is powerful enough to make the cut, but the rest of the creatures are humans, creating synergies with Champion of the Parish and Mayor of Avabruck. The deck operates much like a zoo deck. It floods the board with high power creatures and seeks to end the game quickly. The game plan is made evident when looking at the spell package. A set of Searing Spear and a handful of Giant Growth clear out blockers in combat and create some reach for killing the opponent. A low 20 land count means draws have a high threat density and allow the deck to compete with attrition strategies.
This deck is extremely fast and can fight through token resistance with ease. It takes a more coordinated effort to stop the onslaught. One of the best ways to deal with the humans is Boros Reckoner. If one can keep Frontline Medic off of the table, Boros Reckoner will profitably block all the humans, trading for large ones or creating a 2-for-1 situation. A well backed up Boros Reckoner will buy enough time for Sphinx's Revelation to put the game out of reach.
Another card quite strong against Naya Humans is Bonfire of the Damned. It has widely fallen out of flavor with the advent of Boros Reckoner, but those in the know still play the card to success, including Reid Duke and a host of online Jund players.
One card that is quite useful against Naya Humans is Pillar of Flame. For one it removes the critical Mayor of Avabruck, but it also stops any of their small beaters, including Burning Tree-Emissary and Boros Elite. Pillar of Flame was not heavily played at the Pro Tour, not nearly as heavily as I expected, but the metagame has since moved in a more aggressive turn. Pillar of Flame is an excellent tool against an expected metagame.
When we turn to the online metagame, there are other factors at play. As of a recent MTGO update, Pillar of Flame, along with other “remove from the game instead” cards, are bugged, and do not in fact remove from the game. This turned Pillar of Flame into a glorified sorcery speed shock, nothing to write home about. Bugs happen on MTGO with some sort of regularity, and they are often fixed quickly with updates and the world goes on. Things were a little more awkward this week, because WOTC failed to fix the bug before this past weekend, more importantly the Standard MOCS tournament on Sunday. This MOCS is the premier event series on MTGO, the equivalent of the Magic Online Pro Tour. This particular MOCS was showcasing Standard, WOTC's most important format, so the format should have been made sound before the event was held.
As a consequence to the bug (which also made the card Gloom Surgeon nearly indestructible), the metagame was thrown into some disarray. Most players went about the event like nothing was wrong, many still playing their efficient Pillar of Flame as cheap removal. After all, removing the creature is such an afterthought in most cases. It does make the card much worse against the Human Reanimator deck, but even with that edge the Human Reanimator deck was nowhere to be seen at the top tables of the MOCS. Instead, some enterprising players saw the real advantage to be gained from the bug, and pushed it to the max.
No cards gained more from the Pillar of Flame bug than undying creatures. Strangleroot Geist is nice but has generally been outclassed by more powerful green creatures available. The card that gained the most from his was Geralf's Messenger. This powerful black creature is among the best in Standard, but it was driven from the metagame with the release of Gatecrash, the influx of aggressive red decks, the advent of Pillar of Flame, and Boros Reckoner. With this bug, Geralf's Messenger and best friend Gravecrawler have been given free reign to run roughshod over Standard. And boy did they. Both of the finalists decks of the Standard MOCS were three color Jund Zombie aggro decks
There is nothing too special in these lists, they are simply updates of the multi-color zombie decks that have existed since Return to Ravnica. People were even using three color back then, but the BR version rose to dominance. The Jund version has seen play post Gatecrash, including a top 8 at the latest Grand Prix. The MOCS results show these decks are the real deal and should be able to compete with the best going forward, even without their unfair advantage.
Third place in the MOCS also featured a bugged card with a playset of Gloom Surgeon. The cards are never removed, so it can take damage forever and never deck you. Some good! The third place deck is downright crazy and not similar to anything else I've seen in Standard. It's essentially a Jund control deck packed with removal and powerful creatures. It eschews the green acceleration and value creatures for white. This provides a lot of great cards, particularly a set of Lingering Souls. Boros Reckoner is made possible by the splash, and is sure to dominate many opponents. It is the perfect card for a Jund style deck so I could see this BRW deck being played going forward. Higher on the curve is Obzedat, Ghost Council, which is a downright nasty creature against every opponent in most every situation. What surprised me most was two Aurelia, the Warleader in this list, but it is quite useful for ending the game quickly and pairs well with evasive Lingering Souls tokens. Faithless Looting also gives this deck a nice consistency throughout the entire game. I would make note of this deck as a possible contender going forward. I really do like what it has going for it.
Farther down the Top 8 are a Rakdos Zombie deck, a Human Aggro deck, a Jund Midrange deck, and a pair of Esper control builds, one Flash and one planeswalker. The Esper Flash build was piloted by Paul Rietzl, littledarwin, and looks to be an update of Ben Stark's PT T8 list. The other Esper deck was piloted by Royal, someone who constantly crushes online events, so his deck is worth noting too:
The bugged status of the last MOCs do make me question the results somewhat, and I wonder about their value in the real world, but I think for the most part it was a fine event and still provides us plenty food for thought. Moving forward, it seems as if nearly every deck is playable if not outright good. There are a lot of great available cards, including sideboard cards, meaning decks can be built in a lot of different configurations and adapted to particular metagames. For example, Zombies might not be optimal in a world of Pillar of Flame, but it could be devastating in a local metagame lacking that card. I actually have a large Standard local tournament at Great Lakes Game Emporium to attend this weekend, this time for over $3,000 in prizes. I will be bringing my game face and my best Standard deck, hopefully with a more successful result than last time. I will return with what I learn and ideally my winning decklist!
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