As most of you know, this past weekend I traveled down to Atlanta for the Invitational.  The tournament was an awesome experience, but I did not perform nearly as well as I had hoped that I would.

I felt great about both of my deck choices, and believe that had I played against an accurate representation of the metagame, that I would have experienced greater success.  However, in Legacy I played against a random smattering of decks and ended up with a 5-2-1 record through those eight rounds.  I lost one mirror match because I did not get enough sleep before day 2 and played badly, and my draw was a RUG Delver opponent who was unwilling to scoop to my board of Jace, TMS and CounterTop while he had nothing in play and zero cards in hand.  So, all things considered, I believe that I could have hit 7-1 in Legacy.  However, Standard was a train wreck.  I ended up at 4-4, which was very mediocre.  After starting the tournament 4-0-1, I got paired against Joe Bernal’s Esper Midrange deck.  I have played with Joe before up near Chicago and am well aware as to how bad of a matchup that is for me.  Then, because I lost to Joe, I got paired against Chris VanMeter who was battling with Infect…another awful matchup.  I only played against UW Delver twice on the weekend, and drew extremely poorly in the one Delver matchup that I lost.  I realize that it probably sounds like I am just complaining about running bad, but I am just sharing the facts.  I managed to squeak into the top 64 at 9-6-1 and walk away with $250.

The next day, I joined the Legacy Open with essentially the same deck that I played in the Invitational.  I played like crap all day.  I, again, didn’t get enough sleep on Saturday night and it definitely had a negative effect on me.  I kept awful hands, punted several times, etc. etc.  It was so bad that in round 9, when I was still somehow live to win $50, I literally threw away game 3 to Adam Prozak with Mono Red burn when I could not have possibly lost had I played correctly.

But, with all of that aside I did have a fantastic time in Atlanta.  It was great to meet everyone who is affiliated with Roxie cards, and I want to give Adam another huge thank you for letting me stay at his place.  If any of you are ever looking to come to Chicago, let me know, I would be happy to put you up.  I feel lucky to have gotten the $250 from the Invitational to essentially cover my expenses for this weekend where I just got to hang out with awesome people who I hadn’t had the chance to spend time with before.

Here are the lessons that I am going to take away from this event:

–          Sleep and eating healthy very important for three long days of magic.  I felt like I took care of one of these, but definitely needed more sleep if I wanted to perform at the highest level.

–          The players at this event are much different than players at an open tournament.  Very few people actually just take a Net Deck off of the internet and battle…everyone comes with a brew ready to beat the meta.

–          It is worth it to be as outgoing as possible at an event like this.  This is hard for many Magic players (myself included…I tend to be rather quiet), but being able to have positive conversations with so many of America’s best Magic grinders and personalities is very rewarding.

 

This Invitational marks the end of a long season of Magic in which Standard was very stale and Legacy evolved rather quickly due to the increasing popularity of the Legacy Opens.  I see this trend continuing in Legacy for some time, allowing people who can stay ahead of the curve the potential for great success in the upcoming tournaments.  However, Standard gets an entirely new burst of freshness with Scars of Mirrodin Block leaving and our glorious Return to Ravnica.

 

Now, I did not play during Ravnica block.  I quit my childhood Magic participation just before Kamigawa and returned to my “adult” Magic participation during Shadowmoor.  But from what I have heard, original Ravnica was one of the greatest times in Magic’s history.  In the testing that I have done so far, this Standard format seems poised to continue that Legacy that the name Ravnica carries with it.

I don’t think I have ever been as excited for a Standard Open as I am for the Open in Cincinnati next week.  I have a great team of folks to test with (for the first time before a new format), I am traveling to an Open on release weekend feeling confident in my ability to succeed rather than scared of my unpreparedness for the format, and am so ready to leave this incredibly powerful Standard format for one that seems much weaker and less variant.  If there is anything that 22 hours worth of car rides to and from Atlanta is good for, it’s brewing new standard decks.  I believe that my group has four sweet brews ready for the event, and we are going to spend the next week testing them to determine where we want to be for this event.

Disclaimer:  I will post decklists soon.  For today, I am just going to talk about the archetypes that we want to play and why. 

 

Junk Midrange:

So far, this has been the archetype that we have been most pleased with.  Our list stomps every type of Delver and Zombie deck we have thrown at it, has a sweet plan for midrange mirrors, and has some resilience against Control.  We are playing a wide array of cards that might not seem powerful at first glance, but are all very good.  The few that come to mind initially are Centaur Healer, Attended Knight, Rootborn Defenses, and Trostani, Selesnya’s Voice.  The Healer is based on the belief that Zombies is a very real deck (which it is), and that 3/3s that gain life are very good against Zombies (which they are).  I would love for that card to be Vampire Nighthawk, but our mana base just doesn’t support it.  Attended Knight is just an all-around good card.  We are playing 2x Vault of the Archangel at the moment and his First Strike ability synergizes quite well with that card.  He helps to insure that Trostani has something to get value off of, and is also quite good against Zombies and Geist of Saint Trafts.  Trostani is currently only a two-of in the deck, but when she hits play she completely dominates the board.  Untapping with Trostani feels as unbeatable as untapping with Baneslayer Angel felt.  She doesn’t really die to any of the apparently popular removal (Abrupt Decay, Mizzium Mortars, Pillar of Flame, Flames of the Firebrand, Ultimate Price) and she allows you to improve your board state while gaining life and stocking up on cards in your hand for a sweeper.  The other cards that we are utilizing are Sever the Bloodline, Lingering Souls, Thragtusk, Retoration Angel, Call of the Conclave, Farseek, and Armada Wurm.  I would imagine that these surprise no one, as each of them is very powerful.

UW Miracle Control

As much as I write about Miracles, it might come as a surprise that I actually don’t think that the cards are very good in Standard.  However, with some of the tools that Return to Ravnica provides, I do think that a UW Miracle list can experience some great success early on.  The list that I have brewed plays 11 total miracles.  4x Temporal Mastery, 4x Terminus, 3x Entreat the Angels.  I took the Alexander Hayne approach and gave myself as many chances as possible to miracle on my opponent’s turn as well through Think Twice, Azorius Charm, and Thought Scour.  Azorius charm is probably the best option among those because it provides the flexibility of either excommunicating, gaining 8+ life off of your angel tokens, or attempting to draw into a Miracle.  I am playing a 4-2 split on Jace and Tamiyo and have been very please so far with those.  The one thing that the deck has been lacking is a hard form of early removal for the aggressive matchups.  I haven’t tested Feeling of Dread out yet, but I fear that it doing absolutely nothing to Geist of Saint Traft is going to make it a poor choice.  The mana base would suffer a little bit from splashing red, but having access to Pillar of Flame might do the trick early on against Zombies and Delvers.  Overall though, the deck can do some very unfair things in a relatively underpowered format.  Jace is awesome, ramping with a Keyrune is very powerful, and miracles can just be a complete blowout.

Jund Zombies:

I am not an aggro player.  Sure, there have been plenty of tournaments where aggro was a stellar metagame call, but it just isn’t in my blood.  I like powerful cards, and aggro decks just don’t offer a lot of power on a card by card basis.  That being said, my zombie brew is not an aggro deck.  It is a grindy engine that forces your opponent into narrow lines of play because any other line equals death.  I do not like the Rakdos Cackler, I do not like the Rakdos 2/1 hasty guy.  I believe that anyone who is cutting Blood Artist from their build is just begging to go to an open and go 6-3 missing out on the top 32.  I essentially took existing BR zombie lists and added in Lotleth Troll, Dreg Mangler, and changed around the removal a bit to create something that is far more resilient than it looks on paper.  What I really like about this deck is how it is able to change roles at any point in the game.  If you need to kill your Miracles opponent as quickly as possible before they can mise you with an overpowered Miracle trigger, you can do that.  If you need to preserve card advantage as much as possible to try and out-grind a mid-range deck, you can (try) to do that, and if you need to play better than your opponent to win a mirror match, there are a lot of intricate synergies that allow you to do that.  The list we have been testing with runs a lot of 1 and 2-ofs for now strictly for testing purposes.  As we learn more about what we think the meta will look like and what cards are worth more slots, the deck will become more streamlined.

 

4-color Frites:

This archetype has by far the best game 1 of any deck in the format that I have found.  Grisly Salvage is amazing.  Mulch and Farseek are both very good.  The deck plays out a lot like a midrange deck with Unburial Rites for either sick value, a giant fatty, or a combo finish (Falkenrath Aristocrat, Fiend Hunter, Angel of Glory’s Rise).  The consistency of this deck has shocked me so far in my testing, and I had to build a deck specifically designed to beat this in order to win pre-board games regularly.  The biggest problem this deck will face is how much less efficient it becomes when faced with Rest in Peace post-board.  Generally, the decks boarding in R.I.P. will be Midrange and Control decks that will then be more efficient at whatever strategy they are doing than you are.  I am still toying around with the sideboard quite a bit to try and find a way to beat graveyard hate consistently.  Additionally, zombies just can’t beat the combination of Fiend Hunter, Huntmaster, Thragtusk, and Angel of Serenity/Glory’s Rise.

As I said, I will come back with decklists later this week once we have solidified what we really want to be focusing on in this format.  I realize that an article without any decklists for you to scroll down to is not particularly exciting, but I hope that you are able to take something away from my thoughts on the four archetypes that I feel are the strongest available for day one of the new format.  I hope that everyone had a great Return to Ravnica Pre-release. I battled on behalf of the Azorius and managed a 3-1 record, finishing second to the guy with Mercurial Chemister and Niv-Mizzet, Dracogenius.  Thanks for reading!

Alex Binek

@PTQChamp on Twitter