Sanity Grinding – Updating Standard

Feature Article from Nick Spagnolo
Nick Spagnolo
7/20/2011 9:35:00 AM
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This weekend I drove to Cincinnati with Dave Shiels and Edgar Flores. On the 12 hour drive, we had plenty of time to talk about what we thought Standard was going to look like. I was convinced the addition of Ponder would push a controlling combo deck like Pyromancer Ascension over the top. Edgar was still playing CawBlade, saying Squadron Hawk is now the best card in the format. Dave was convincing us that Tempered Steel is a real deck, by smashing our brews game after game once we got to the hotel. All 3 of us went into the tournament with different decks, and we were all excited to be playing Standard with M12.

Dave and Edgar found success, while I stumbled through the tournament and dropped at 2-3. I did poorly due to a combination of playing incorrectly and playing an inconsistent combo deck. Even after my bad performance, I still think that Pyromancer has the potential to be a top tier deck, but it needs a lot more work than the other top decks right now. I'm with Dave and Edgar in Atlanta at Korey McDuffie's place, and I'm going to use their help to cover the important aspects of the decks they played.

Stoneforge Mystic and Jace, the Mind Sculptor were banned, then M12 was released. After this, CawBlade won SCG: Cincinnati, with four copies of the archetype in the top 16. Fast white artifact decks rose up out of block and made their impact. If we want to build a deck to do well in the Standard metagame, we have to understand what the decks to beat are doing.

Tempered Steel
5th Place, David Shiels, SCG: Cincinatti

Hawkward by David Shiels
Finished 5th - 8th Place at 2011 StarCity Open Standard - Cincinnati
Main Deck
4 Memnite
4 Signal Pest
4 Spellskite
4 Steel Overseer
4 Vault Skirge
Creatures [20]
4 Dispatch
4 Glint Hawk Idol
3 Mox Opal
3 Origin Spellbomb
3 Preordain
4 Tempered Steel
Spells [21]
4 Glacial Fortress
4 Inkmoth Nexus
7 Plains (230)
4 Seachrome Coast
Lands [19]
Deck Total [60]

2 Celestial Purge
2 Contested War Zone
2 Kor Firewalker
3 Mana Leak
2 Oblivion Ring
1 Revoke Existence
2 Shrine of Loyal Legions
1 Timely Reinforcements
Sideboard [15]

Click for full deck stats & notes!

Porting over from block constructed, Tempered Steel gains Steel Overseer, as well as a small blue splash for consistency with Preordain, and Mana Leak post board. For those who didn't play in Nagoya, or don't play much online, this deck being the best aggressive deck in Standard might come as a surprise. It's very fast, and the combination of Dispatch and Spellskite make interacting with it difficult. Blockers are unreliable, as their creatures are generally evasive and large. Targeted removal, wrath effects, and card draw would be a good path to victory, but only if we use the correct answers. Shrine of Loyal Legions and Origin Spellbomb punish players for overly relying on spot removal, beating the traditional shortcomings of the archetype.

Store QTY Price  
On The Square 1 $6.00
Plaid Magic 2 $6.25
Unloaded Collection 1 $6.75
MTG outlet 2 $6.75
DGH Nomad 1 $6.99
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Metropolis 1 $7.00
Comic Lair 1 $7.13
Tapped Out Gaming 2 $7.21
Yougettoomuchmail 1 $7.22
Magic MTG Card
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I asked Dave about the most important aspects of playing the deck, for advice to someone who has never piloted it before.

-It's important to remember what type of deck you are. You want to play your creatures and kill your opponent quickly, and your most important cards are Signal Pest, Steel Overseer, and Tempered Steel.

-Don't be afraid to keep one landers, as your deck can operate on very few lands.

-Glint Hawk Idol is often very difficult to kill, and games can often be won off of protecting your Glint Hawk Idols or Inkmoths. Holding onto your 4th land is often correct, so your Inkmoth Nexus can't be Tectonic Edge'd.

-When sideboarding, it's important to keep your artifact count up, as if you board out too many artifacts for colored spells, you will stumble more often.

For updates to the deck, Dave suggests cutting the Celestial Purges for Mental Missteps, as well as the Kor Firewalkers for an additional copy each of Timely Reinforcements and Revoke Existence. Timely Reinforcements is just much better against red decks than Kor Firewalker is, due to their inability to interact with it. Unlike Firewalker, which can be killed with Dismember or Shrine of Burning Rage, Timely Reinforcements is always going to provide a life and creature advantage that is the equivalent to 2 or more of their cards. Timely Reinforcements feels like a 4-for-1 for 2W.

Caw-Go by Edgar Flores
Finished 9th - 16th Place at 2011 StarCity Open Standard - Cincinnati
Main Deck
2 Consecrated Sphinx
2 Spellskite
4 Squadron Hawk
Creatures [8]
2 Gideon Jura
2 Jace Beleren
Planeswalkers [4]
3 Dismember
3 Into the Roil
4 Mana Leak
4 Preordain
3 Spell Pierce
3 Sword of Feast and Famine
2 Timely Reinforcements
Spells [22]
4 Celestial Colonnade
4 Glacial Fortress
3 Inkmoth Nexus
4 Island (234)
3 Plains (230)
4 Seachrome Coast
4 Tectonic Edge
Lands [26]
Deck Total [60]

2 Batterskull
2 Day of Judgment
1 Dismember
3 Mental Misstep
2 Negate
2 Oblivion Ring
2 Ratchet Bomb
1 Timely Reinforcements
Sideboard [15]

Click for full deck stats & notes!

Even without Stoneforge Mystic and Jace, CawBlade is still a very powerful archetype full of the best spells in the format. Sword of Feast and Famine turns every 1/1 into a threat that must be answered, and plays just as well with Squadron Hawk as ever. Timely Reinforcements is a very important card for the aggro match ups, as it's one of your only reliable ways of getting ahead. Spellskite and Consecrated Sphinx are Edgar's creature suite, as he wants all of his creatures to be resilient against opposing Dismembers.

I'm probably going to be playing a CawBlade variant in my next tournament, whether that's Seattle or Pittsburgh I'm not sure, as I haven't yet booked my flight. CawBlade is as consistent and reliable as it gets, and with the “best version” up in the air, people can't play around every possibility out of the deck. Do you leave up Mana Leak on turn 4? If your opponent is playing Hero of Bladehold, and you don't have the Dismember, you would definitely want to. If your CawBlade opponent isn't playing Hero, their turn 4 is one of the safest times for you to tap out.

If there is anything we should learn from this weekend, it's that artifact removal is still valuable. Moving forward from Edgar's list, we want to work on our Tempered Steel and Puresteel Paladin match ups, as those are the decks we need the most help against.

Ratchet Bomb is one of the best cards against the Tempered Steel deck, often killing multiple permanents and fitting your curve easily. The 4th Dismember in the board is a slot we can cut, as well as the Batterskulls. The best performing aggro decks in Cincinatti were Tempered Steel and Puresteel Paladin. Unlike when Mono Red and Vampires were the decks to beat (though to an extent, they both still are), Batterskull is not very effective at beating the permanent-based creature decks. Puresteel Paladin and friends will gladly let you tap out to put a Batterskull into play, as they have many trumps to the card. Batterskull doesn't profitably interact with the cards out of Tempered Steel, as they won't ever need to use Dispatch before you cast it, and they can largely ignore the card when they win with Inkmoth Nexus, or gigantic evasive creatures.

Pyromancer Ascension
This is the Pyromancer list I played, with the changes I'd make after playing in the tournament.

Pyromancer Ascension by Nick Spagnolo
Main Deck
3 Burst Lightning
2 Deprive
2 Foresee
4 Gitaxian Probe
4 Into the Roil
4 Lightning Bolt
4 Mana Leak
4 Ponder
4 Preordain
4 Pyromancer Ascension
3 Spell Pierce
Spells [38]
1 Arid Mesa
1 Halimar Depths
8 Island (234)
2 Misty Rainforest
6 Mountain (242)
4 Scalding Tarn
Lands [22]
Deck Total [60]

1 Call to Mind
3 Flashfreeze
2 Into the Core
2 Koth of the Hammer
4 Mental Misstep
3 Pyroclasm
Sideboard [15]

Click for full deck stats & notes!

Foresee is better than Call to Mind in the main deck, as both will end the game when you have an active Pyromancer Ascension, but Foresee is much better when you don't. Having a form of card advantage, even as a 2 of, is very important, and Scry 4 is worth at least a card itself. Saturday morning, Caleb convinced me that playing less than 4 Into the Roil is wrong, and he was definitely correct. Into the Roil answers any problematic permanent, from Phyrexian Obliterator to Leyline of Sanctity to Deceiver Exarch, and drawing multiples is often advantageous due to Pyromancer Ascension and their ability to protect you from any way your opponent wants to kill you. Unlike other decks, where a Disperse would too negatively impact your card economy, even the Boomerang half of Into the Roil is often good enough, especially against the decks which can't interact with your enchantment.

Spell Pierce was definitely hit-or-miss in my matches, sometimes being an all star and other times the worst card in my deck. It's completely possible that Mental Misstep is a better main deck choice than Spell Pierce, and if I expected a black or red heavy metagame, I would want to play the Legacy staple in my main. As for now, I think that the white artifact decks are stronger, and want to have more slots for them, so I'm playing 2 copies of Into the Core in my sideboard. Into the Core helps deal with Glint Hawk Idol and Shrine of Loyal Legions equally, as well as half of the Puresteel Paladin deck.

If you want to fit both the Pyromancer Ascension and the Deceiver-Twin combo in the same deck, you should be playing Shrine of Piercing Vision. I was playing some games with my Pyromancer list against Gerry T's U/R Twin list, and Shrine was easily one of the most powerful cards in the match up. It shines most against opposing control and combo decks, where you often can sit around, leaving your mana up, and wait for the 2 mana artifact to become a Demonic Tutor. Even at it's worst, it's free to activate, and a delayed Impulse is an appreciated effect in a deck that has a 2-card combo.

The other card I was again incredibly impressed with is Gitaxian Probe. While Pyromancer Ascension specifically appreciates the free to play cantrip, in any deck with spot removal and counter magic, a “free” Peek is a powerful effect, letting you know exactly what to play around and how best to utilize your mana. In the U/R on U/R match up, if one person had Probed and the other one didn't, the person with perfect information was hugely advantaged.

In Legacy I played U/W, this time with Stoneforge Mystic and Batterskull. I eventually went back to Stoneforge Mystic based off of my desire to play Vendillion Clique. First, I wanted Vendillion Clique in the main, as it is simply one of the most powerful blue cards in the format. It's always good, your opponent almost always has to kill it, and it's difficult to answer profitably. In order to make Vendillion Clique better, Stoneforge Mystic is important, as it makes it more realistic for you to kill your opponent with damage, and is an additional target for opposing removal. With both Stoneforge and Clique in my deck, I moved back to Standstill over Ancestral Visions.

UW Control by Nick Spagnolo
Finished 33rd - 64th Place at 2011 StarCity Open Legacy - Cincinnati
Main Deck
3 Stoneforge Mystic
3 Vendilion Clique
Creatures [6]
4 Jace, the Mind Sculptor
Planeswalkers [4]
1 Batterskull
4 Brainstorm
1 Crucible of Worlds
4 Force of Will
4 Mental Misstep
4 Spell Snare
4 Standstill
4 Swords to Plowshares
Spells [26]
1 Celestial Colonnade
4 Flooded Strand
3 Island (234)
4 Mishra's Factory
1 Misty Rainforest
1 Plains (230)
2 Scalding Tarn
4 Tundra
4 Wasteland
Lands [24]
Deck Total [60]

1 Crucible of Worlds
1 Elspeth, Knight-Errant
1 Oblivion Ring
4 Path to Exile
1 Relic of Progenitus
2 Spell Pierce
2 Surgical Extraction
1 Vedalken Shackles
2 Wrath of God
Sideboard [15]

Click for full deck stats & notes!

Three Stoneforge Mystic and a single Batterskull as the only equipment in the 75 might look strange, but I'm fairly convinced it's the right numbers. Any other equipment you could be messing around with just isn't worth the slots in your deck, and drawing multiple Stoneforges in Legacy is not usually what you want to do. Your primary plan is to cast multiple one for ones, and get ahead either on board either with Batterskull or in cards with Standstill.

Even against a lot of the aggressive decks, we want to board out the Stoneforges and Batterskull for the full set of Paths and Wraths. Stoneforge is more like a safety net in the deck, instead of the all-star it is in other formats. Stoneforge offers a different angle of attack, but we are playing a very slow, controlling deck in a format where creatures are more often than not ignored, or easily killed. Drawing too many creatures and equipment will let the unfair decks run over you.

I started the tournament 5-0, then picked up a draw in the U/W mirror. I lost game 1 in a quick “Still had all these!” fashion, and won a 35 minute, extremely grinding game 2, where I finally caught my opponent's Batterskull while he was tapped out with my Oblivion Ring. With 5 minutes left to start game 3, we drew.

Then the wheels fell off.

My next round was against Ben Weinberg on camera, and as in my last match on camera, I got demolished by Hive Mind in less than 10 minutes. In game 1, I didn't know what deck Ben was playing, and kept a double Factory + Wasteland hand with Force of Will, and it fell just short. In game 2 I have to mull to 5 and keep Factory, Tundra, with Spell Pierce, Force of Will, and another blue card. I thought that was about as good as it gets on 5, though I just died on turn 3 even with my double counter spell back up.

After that, I played against Caleb, and badly misevaluated his deck. In game 1, I die to a resolved Jace, and for game 2, I don't sideboard correctly at all. I left half of my Path to Exiles in the Sideboard, boarding out all of my Force of Wills. Afterwards, I'm getting beaten down by Wild Nacatls, and though my deck should still have been advantaged against his, I create a bad game plan, realize my plan is bad, then switch it half way through, and die due to my turn by turn blunders. I'll blame Caleb for being so entertaining that I forgot how to win my match.

Next Weekend
As for now, I'm sitting here refreshing the page on all of the travel websites I know, hoping one of them is low enough to convince me to go to Seattle. If not, I'll be planning for Pittsburgh while enjoying the ups and downs of summertime in Atlanta.

-Nick Spagnolo

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