Standard Tech from Winning Decks

Feature Article from Adam Yurchick
Adam Yurchick
10/26/2017 11:00:00 AM
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Last weekend was a great one for Standard decklists. The best resource was Magic Online's monthly MOCS Qualifier, which brings out the highest-quality players online, including Pro Tour regulars and some of the top pros in the game. As such, it is an amazing resource for decklists and tech. With the Standard Pro Tour coming soon, in theory some players held back on exposing their best developments from testing, but others surely seized the perfect opportunity it presented to put new ideas and cards to the test in the field. Either way, the majority of the field gave it their all and brought everything they had to the table. Decks that were successful last weekend included carefully selected cards that helped them get on the top of the metagame. Today I'll share this new technology and explain why it gives the decks using them an edge.

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Starting with some tech from the most popular deck in Standard, savvy Temur Energy players have been using Nissa, Steward of Elements to wreck control decks. It's not exactly news, as it could be found in the Top 8 of US Nationals, but make it be known that it's catching on with an increasing number of the best Temur players.

Nissa, Steward of Elements can come down as early turn three to start generating card advantage, which puts control decks in a difficult position because grinding out the opponent becomes impossible. As a planeswalker it avoids creature removal, and it plays very well against opponents holding up mana for Essence Scatter. It grows as a threat as the game goes on, and if cast in the late-game it can win the game singlehandedly with its ultimate. It's a perfect card for fighting against nearly creatureless decks like White-Blue Approach and Blue-Black Control, and I suspect it does good work against Token strategies.

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 Vizier of Many Faces
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Another piece of tech for Temur that is proving itself a staple is Vizier of Many Faces. It's at its best against midrange decks, specifically the mirror match, where it can copy the most powerful creatures like Glorybringer at a discount. It's better than ever now that Carnage Tyrant is often played in Temur, and it works well against any players still using Torrential Gearhulk. With embalm it can be used a second time for more value, so it's a great way to get an edge in grindy mirror games.

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 Harsh Mentor
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Temur Energy is Ramunap's Red most common opponent but also one of the more difficult matchups it encounters, so Red players have benefited from slanting their deck towards beating Temur, and that includes playing the hoser Harsh Mentor in the main deck.

Harsh Mentor is startlingly effective against Temur, which is full of activated abilities on their most important energy payoffs, Longtusk Cub, Whirler Virtuoso and Bristling Hydra. These are the cards that give Red the most problems because they dominate combat and play well against burn, but Harsh Mentor fights them on a different axis. Two life an activation is a very steep price to play given the pressure that Red applies, and it typically has the effect of making these abilities all but unusable except in extreme circumstances. It puts the onus on Temur to remove it, which stresses their limited and valuable removal. Combining Harsh Mentor with Rampaging Ferocidon, which also passively pressures Temur's life total, makes the deck feel something like a Red Death and Taxes deck full of hatebears that constrict the opponent's ability to play their game.

Harsh Mentor also does great work against Tokens, where it triggers from Hidden Stockpile being activated to scry, and against Adanto, the First Fort generating tokens. It also triggers against their Evolving Wilds and Renegade Map, which the opponent may simple be forced to suffer through in order to develop their mana.

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 Archfiend of Ifnir
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Some fantastic tech to come out of the MOCS is Archfiend of Ifnir in the sideboard of Blue-Black Control. It's the classic transformational sideboard strategy of creatureless control decks bringing in creatures against opponents that will have cut their answers, and it's devastating against creature decks that suffer from the -1/1 trigger, like Ramunap Red and Mardu Vehicles.

Between Censor, Hieroglyphic Illumination and Fetid Pools, Blue-Black Control plays plenty of cyclers to trigger Archfiend of Ifnir, so it's a really simple sideboard addition that makes a big positive impact in the most difficult matchups.

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 Drake Haven
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White-Blue Approach traditionally plays no way to win the game besides casting Approach of the Second Sun twice, and that makes it slow and predictable. To give it an alternative proactive plan, one player added Drake Haven, which like Archfiend of Ifnir in Blue-Black Control, is already well-supported by the deck with plenty of cyclers.

Drake Haven allows White-Blue Approach to get on the board and start developing with creatures, which is a great alternative plan. It's at its best against control decks, where it can win the game singlehandedly and Approach of the Second Sun is nearly useless and easy to counter, but it's great in general and can help grind out aggressive decks by generating a stream of blockers or can even turn the tables and start pressuring the opponent.

This player included Countervailing Winds as an additional cycler and counter. Another card that might be worth trying in the sideboard is Nimble Obstructionist, which I've seen as tech in White-Blue Control as a way to beat the ultimate abilities of planeswalkers, and as a threat that can be simply cast to pressure their loyalty.

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 Fourth Bridge Prowler
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Players continue to tune God-Pharaoh's Gift decks to compete with the ruthless top-tier of the metagame, and they have found some great new tech with Fourth Bridge Prowler.

Fourth Bridge Prowler's ability can be used to destroy any one-toughness creature, so it's a perfect solution to the hyper-aggressive decks that give the deck trouble. It destroys Bomat Courier and Earthshaker Kenra against Red, it's amazing against Mardu decks where it can destroy Toolcraft Exemplar and Veteran Motorist, and it's useful against the Mono-Black Aggro deck that has been gaining popularity. After it has destroyed something, it does double-duty as a blocker that can trade with these same creatures, making it a two-for-one that the opponent will be forced to grind through. The deck simply needs to buy time to get God-Pharaoh's Gift online, and Fourth Bridge Prowler does that. It's also a nice card to eternalize to get a bit of come-into-play value. Don't forget the ability can also finish off a blocker after combat, or even shrink one before attacking.

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 Dhund Operative
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The recent success of Mardu has paved the way for others to play around with aggressive Heart of Kiran strategies, which has led some players to cut white entirely in favor of a streamlined black-red deck.

From another perspective, this deck is an evolution of the black aggro decks that splashed for Hazoret, the Fervent, or even the Ramunap Red decks that splashed black for Scrapheap Scrounger and Unlicensed Disintegration. The result is a truly black-red deck that takes all of the best elements from these strategies. Embracing the artifact theme turns on more than Unlicensed Disintegration, and allows Dhund Operative to reliably function as a deathtouch creature. It's a great attacker and plenty threatening against control decks, but it's at its best against Temur Energy. It takes down Temur's troublesome creatures regardless of their size and abilities like hexproof, so it's the perfect way to shut down Bristling Hydra.

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 Bone Picker
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Another deathtouch creature that players are putting to work is Bone Picker, which is right at home in the Mono-Black Aggro deck that has been quietly operating on the sidelines of the metagame but last weekend emerged as a legitimate contender.

Bone Picker becomes an efficient threat when its ability is triggered by creatures clashing in combat, and the deck can easily turn it on with its efficient removal package of Fatal Push and Walk the Plank, which is the star of the deck in this Temur-dominated metagame and the best reason to be playing a mono-black deck that can consistently cast it. Bone Picker is at its best attacking in the air as an efficient threat, but in a pinch it joins Gifted Aetherborn as another deathtouch blocker. Blocking with a deathtouch creature is made more attractive when backed up by Supernatural Stamina, which can return them to play for another go.

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 Harsh Scrutiny
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Harsh Scrutiny was included as a four-of staple in a Blue-Black Midrange deck that had a successful record in the MOCS.

Thoughtseize and Inquisition of Kozilek were each four-of staples during their times in Standard, and Wizards has since learned their lesson by scaling back the power of discard, but even at two mana Transgress the Mind was a staple. Harsh Scrutiny not only costs one mana, but it comes up the upside of a scry ability, which will often be as good as drawing a card, especially on turn one when it is digging for a land. The downside is that it's relatively narrow, being restricted to just creatures, but if the metagame is filled with so many creatures that it will always have a good target, then it's worth playing.

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 Harsh Scrutiny
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What brings it from merely playable to a great card is the fact that it so cleanly and efficiently answers the most troublesome creatures that arguably define Standard, including cards that generate value even if they are destroyed like Rogue Refiner, Whirler Virtuoso, Glorybringer, Torrential Gearhulk, and the cards that simply can't be dealt with like Bristling Hydra, The Scarab God, Carnage Tyrant, and Hazoret, the Fervent.

Discard is at its best in midrange decks that use it as disruption to break down the opponent's gameplan and allow their own threats to win, and with Harsh Scrutiny rounded out by Kitesail Freebooter to hit non-creature spells, discard allows this deck to operate in the face of more powerful strategies and cards.

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 Fragmentize
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Metagame changes have quickly turned Fragmentize into a very effective sideboard card and new Standard staple with applications in numerous matchups. It's at its best against Token decks, where it can destroy one of their 12 critical enchantments, so it surely gave Sam Pardee an edge in the Tokens mirror match on his way to finishing undefeated in the MOCS, and it allows White-Blue Control decks to deal with any enchantments that make it onto the table past countermagic.

Fragmentize is also effective against Search for Azcanta, so it's excellent from control decks for preventing an opponent from taking over the game with one of the very best cards against other control decks. Fragmentize has also benefited from the rise of Mardu as an answer to Heart of Kiran.

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 Demystify
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An alternative to Fragmentize is Demystify, which gives up destroying artifacts for instant speed, which makes it trickier, and more importantly gives it synergy with Torrential Gearhulk. It's also not limited by casting cost, so it's a blowout against Sunbird's Invocation.

What's your opinion on these cards? What Standard tech are you using to get an edge on your opponents? Share your thoughts in the comments, and I'll answer any questions.

-Adam




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