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By: Psychobabble, PB
Apr 30 2015 2:17am
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Last week I said something which, with the advantage of a very short amount of hindsight, is starting to look a little silly. Reflecting on the relatively diverse field at the pro tour, including among decks with a winning record, I said "this is a diverse Standard format without a clear best deck." Well, testing for today's column made me start to realise how incorrect that statement actually is and there's been an absolute flood of content across the internet as people start to realise that, perhaps, standard is utterly broken even if the numbers haven't quite caught up with that conclusion yet.

Metagame overview

When this column covered the block constructed format, I compiled metagame statistics based on my own analysis of all of the published MTGO daily events. With switching over to standard though, that is no longer feasible due to the sheer volume of events and the fact that a meaningful amount of the metagame is played in offline events too. So until or unless I come up with a better idea, I will be basing this section off the metagame compilation that is displayed at Mtggoldfish. That site takes results from all reported online events and high profile offline events over the past couple of weeks, automatically categorises them into broad archetypes and reports the statistics. Never fear though, I will still be adding some value here! MTGGoldfish automatically characterises archetypes based on its algorithms. These algorithms are easily thrown astray by things such as off-colour temples, a single unusual card choice or a list not including a single card that most other lists are using. In fact, if you look at the full list there's over 100 "different" standard archetypes listed. This is clearly incorrect, so I've gone through all of the lists described by MTGGoldfish and reclassified them as one of the major archetypes where possible. This means that the statistics reported here will look sometimes quite a bit different from the ones on the MTGGoldfish site, trust me though - these ones are better! Here's this week's numbers:

I said earlier that the meta might be broken, but this still looks like fairly healthy numbers. UBx control has a slight edge, but beyond that you have mono red and the green-splash variant, a couple of flavours of abzan and a long tail of devotion, dragon and whip decks. The "other" category is made up of a bunch of decks, some truly rogue but many falling into some sort of heroic, black, warrior or token-based aggro strategy, as well as a smattering of UW/Jeskai control and various less common midrange flavours (including most commonly Temur, Jund and Bant). This time, though, the statistics appear to be lying as they have a habit of doing. Based on my personal experience and the opinion of a bunch of top pros, it seems possible that the format may be in the process of being broken by (surprise, surprise) a card which costs UU and says "counter target spell" on it:

Will WoTC never learn? Last time a 2-mana counterspell with as general applicability as this was in standard, Mana Leak, the deck it spawned was annoying enough that they went and printed Thragtusk to deal with it, and then we all had to live with that beastly abomination for the next twelve months. Two is incredibly less than three mana for all spells, but counterspells in particular. In addition, counterspells that hit any type of card are inherently tough to play against because no matter what you play it doesn't have any effect unless the card you cast is specifically immune (and there's no good, cheap, "can't be countered" threats in standard which is also unusual in recent history). That isn't true of any other type of spell in the game. Against creature removal you can play resilient creatures, planeswalkers, token makers, enchantments or spells of your own. Against discard you can at least rely on the top of your deck, card draw or redundancy of your threats. And against the conditional 2-mana counterspells we've seen recently (Nullify, Disdainful Stroke and Negate) you can play the card type that it doesn't hit. But "counter target spell" gets everything. Now, Silumgar's Scorn does have an element of a condition, but like so many cards that prove frustratingly powerful, it's a condition that exists outside not inside the game. Like Delver of Secrets or Treasure Cruise in formats with enough cheap spells to break them, the condition on Silumgar's Scorn can feel virtually irrelevant once the game has actually begun.

All that is to say that I believe the current numbers lie, because people are slow to react, and/or are out of date and will be corrected as more people wake up. I've wasted enough column space here, but for all their tendency for overstatement Chapin and Flores have a point when they say that the card and the decks it has spawned has virtually invalidated all of the major decktypes that came before it. And, unfortunately, this week's deck choice is an object lesson in that fact...

GR devotion

I have an unabashed affection for green devotion decks. It was the deck I was playing most heavily before the new set came out, and I felt it had a legitimate claim to being one of the best decks in the format. During the pro tour coverage I was excited to see the deck performing, and particularly followed the excellent run of Ondřej Stráský. He went 6-2 on day 1 and was the top seed after day 2 with an overall record of 13-2, which reflected a record in standard of 8-1-1 (the draw being intentional). His deck tech revealed some interesting twists on the old deck, including an interesting (if somewhat optimistic) interaction between See the Unwritten, Surrak, the Hunt Caller and any other arbitrary large threat. It was the sort of play which can break open midrange mirrors and put the screws on any control deck that lets its guard down at the wrong time. Here's the full list, which eventually fell in the semi-finals to Shouta Yasooka's UB control deck. Here's the list:

 

 

There's a couple of things that stand out about this list compared to the pre-DTK version. The most powerful new addition is clearly Dragonlord Atarka which is incredible against other midrange decks and a card which closes the game out awfully quickly if unanswered. It also happens to kill opposing dragons in control deck as Ondrej displayed in spectacular ("the last five spells that went on the stack were dragons!"), if ultimately futile, fashion. Surrak, the Hunt Caller also adds a new aggressive angle to the deck, hitting seriously hard and at times out of nowhere if following a flashed-in Boon Satyr (tapping out on turn 3 for Ashiok never looked more suspect). The lack of Crater's Claws here is interesting. I thought that would be a liability in midrange decks before testing the deck, but it turns out Dragonlord Atarka is swingy enough in those matchups that you don't miss the inevitability that claws otherwise gives.

The maindeck matches up strongly against midrange decks so the sideboard is built to attack the opposite ends of the spectrum. A bunch of walkers for control decks and the full four Nylea's Disciple and additional acceleration for aggro decks. The Arbor Colossuses (Collosi?) round out the relatively simple sideboard package, addressing Green's typical weakness against flyers, particularly from the RG dragons deck that was heavily played early in the new format but also against the new dragon-themed control deck.

So here I was, a sweet new spin on my favourite archetype takes its pilot to the top of the standings after the swiss rounds of the pro tour and ultimately placed in the top 4. I couldn't wait to put the deck together and jump into the on demand queues. Abzan, no problems. Red, a struggle but Whisperwood Elemental and post-board Nylea's Disciple generally did their job. RG Dragons, pah. But turn 1 Dismal Backwater? This wasn't good. In fact it wasn't just "not good", I almost felt I might as well concede on seeing the first two land drops from a UB control player. As I continued playing, I managed to steal a few games or even a match or two here and there if I got lucky or my opponent played badly, but it was clear the matchup was nigh-unwinnable given normal draws. I hadn't felt the same way pre-DTK, quite the opposite. The UB control deck was susceptible to early accelerated pressure and the threats in this deck, particularly Whisperwood Elemental and post-board Planeswalkers, are good enough to win on their own. No more, though, and Silumgar's Scorn plus the new dragons are the reason why. If you don't draw an early Boon Satyr then you end up in a situation where you just don't have any real chance of sticking an early threat. And where the old version of the deck frequently gave you dozens of turns to draw more threats before locking up the game, Dragonlord Ojutai means that you no longer have that time. It's worth thinking about why this matchup has suddenly become so horrible, to do so you just need to look at what the basic strategy of the RG devotion deck. Essentially you aim to turn these cards:

Elvish Mystic Sylvan Caryatid Courser of Kruphix Nykthos, Shrine to Nyx

Into a mana advantage, allowing you to play out the following cards one or preferably more turns earlier than you otherwise would:

Polukranos, World Eater Whisperwood Elemental See the Unwritten

The breakdown of the maindeck is 24 land, 16 mana dorks/Courser (Courser can get you card advantage, but its main purpose in the control matchup is to hit land drops and add green pips to help fuel Nykthos) and 20 threats. Of those maindeck threats, only Whisperwood Elemental requires an immediate answer or counterspell, although See the Unwritten probably does too if ferocious is triggered and Dragonlord Atarka can, in fairly rare spots, gain value against an opposing dragon or Ugin, the Spirit Dragon. The upshot of that is that fully two-thirds of the deck is essentially unthreatening in the matchup. Mana dorks, other than Caryatid, can eventually win the game if left completely unchecked but are hardly what you want to be relying on. It's not only that the deck is threat-light against an answer-heavy deck, it's that many of the threats aren't especially threatening because they don't gain value if they don't get to do combat damage. In addition, the acceleration plan actually helps the opposing UB deck gain value from their removal or counterspell. When you play a mana dork, you are investing a card into acceleration to gain tempo. But virtually all of the UB deck's answers are two or three mana plays, so you are making the tempo advantage they get from answering your 4+ drop with a 2-3 mana card even greater.

In addition, your opponent is actually gaining card advantage in the situation where you have invested a Sylvan Caryatid into your acceleration and then they answer your threat with a single card. Yes, there are spots where your opponent stumbles on mana and your acceleration brings the threat online quicker than they can answer it allowing you to steal the game, but Silumgar's Scorn and Ultimate Price (far, far better against this deck than Bile Blight) makes that much less likely post-DTK than it used to be. Post-board the situation gets somewhat better. You side out of your most expensive threats (Atarka and See the Unwritten) and a couple of Caryatids to bring in seven planeswalkers, which are threats which basically require a counterspell, and Arbor Colossus which at least gives you some play against dragons. It's still not pretty though (especially against post-board Disdainful Stroke and Negate and you remain fundamentally disadvantaged. On the subject of sideboarding if you, against the recommendation of this column, decide to play this deck then Martin Juza has a full sideboard guide here.

Conclusion

 

So what I thought was going to be an exercise in copying a top 8 deck and crushing queues and having fun with it, became a lesson in blind netdecking without proper consideration of a changed metagame. Looking in more detail at Ondřej's full tournament experience shows how deceiving a top 8 pro tour's deck results can be without digging a little. Ondřej went 5-1 in draft and 7-1-2 with the deck all up, but the decks he played against and some of his comments on the individual games are enlightening:

  • Round 4: Sidisi whip W
  • 5: GR Devotion L
  • 6: RW tokens W
  • 7: GW devotion W
  • 8: UB control W ("It's a nightmare matchup but I managed to steal game 1 with Polukranos into Surrak while my opponent whiffed with Ingenuity.")
  • 12: GR aggro W
  • 13: Abzan W
  • 14: UB control Draw (ID)
  • Quarterfinal: UB control Win ("I thought I was losing in both games, but in the end Andrew got quite unlucky and made some mistakes game 2 so I narrowly got there.")
  • Semifinal: UB control Loss

The summation of that was that this deck went 5-1 against a bunch of "pre-DTK meta" type decks such as whip, tokens and the mirror, won a match against the new GR aggro deck, stole two matches against UB control players who got unlucky, took an intentional draw and then ultimately lost to a UB control deck. The vast majority of this deck's strong performance is against a different metagame than you should expect now that the dust has settled, so just because the pro tour was only a few weeks ago doesn't mean you can expect to pick up this list and do well with it. Now, you can try and paper up the cracks by adding in cards like Genesis Hydra or maindeck Xenagos, the Reveler but that's shuffling deckchairs on the Titanic in my opinion. In any metagame there are predators and prey. Right now this deck is prey - avoid.

3 Comments

Great write-up; nice to see by Tom Scud at Thu, 04/30/2015 - 22:00
Tom Scud's picture

Great write-up; nice to see someone willing to go out there and say "don't do this."

Thanks for the feedback. I by Psychobabble at Fri, 05/01/2015 - 00:23
Psychobabble's picture

Thanks for the feedback. I actually tossed up whether to write this deck up before doing so, but thought that being honest about my experience and analysis of the deck would be of use and interest. Far more so imo than Martin Juza's article, linked here, which was posted only this week and seemed to strongly recommend not only playing the deck but playing the version posted here that doesn't even try to do things like play genesis hydra or maindeck xenagos to combat the Omni-present UB decks.

I think that Standard is by TheKidsArentAlright at Fri, 05/01/2015 - 06:46
TheKidsArentAlright's picture

I think that Standard is perfectly healthy right now. Has DTK flipped the metagame on its head? Certainly. Is it broken? I would actually argue just the opposite; the format is healthier and more strategically diverse than it has been since KTK came into the picture. I'm sure this sounds strange given how "diverse" and "dynamic" it was previously. Let me say that I think it was neither. Fully 90% of the decks played could be lumped into 2 broad categories: G/x Midrange and R/x Aggro. The "evolution" of which was really just the Midrange decks trying to "out-midrange" each other. In comparison, the current metagame is equal-ish parts Control, Aggro, and Midrange.

What DTK really did was change the paradigm of Standard. Where KTK and FRF were all about accelerating into cards than went over the top of whatever your opponent was doing, DTK is all about efficiency and threat/answer density. The top 3 decks of the format all share one thing in common. They supply a steady stream of efficient and impactful cards. None of them are unbeatable or broken in the way that Academy, Affinity, Delver, or Caw-Blade were. But, as you pointed out, they do stomp all over the previous best decks that are a lot of air and a few big payoffs.