I have to admit that a year ago I did not think I would be where I am today.  Not being able to find a full time job in my major has proven to be quite the blessing for my MtG grinding.  I have been playing major tournaments every two weeks for about six months now and have been playing in smaller tournaments frequently.  The next four weeks are going to be very big for me as I push towards ending the year on a high note.  I will be stopping in Indianapolis for the Opens this weekend, then attending a PTQ in Lindenhurst, IL on the 27th, then heading down to SCG: St. Louis on the 3rd before finishing it off with Grand Prix Chicago on the 10th.

I have been busily attempting to make the perfect Standard list for two weeks for the Indy Standard Open, and luckily don’t have to think about Legacy too much since I have continued to be very pleased with my UW Control deck’s performance.  I managed to finish 27th in Cincinnati in Legacy after getting knocked out of top 8 contention by our own Andrew Schneider.  The two matches I lost on the day were to RUG Delver and Andrew’s UR Delver list.  I normally feel that both of those are fine matchups, but each time I had very clunky draws in game three that could not answer Sulfuric Vortex.

Anyways, as I was saying, Standard is a bit of a monstrosity right now that no one seems to have a great handle on.  The problem I keep seeing is that one deck beats a certain archetype quite solidly, but then can’t compete with the opposite archetype.  For example, if you want to crush zombies/humans, you have to give up a lot of your big game against control.  If you want to beat midrange and control, the odds are that zombies are going to give you a very hard time. There are control decks that can definitely beat zombies and control decks that solidly beat midrange, but the two do not overlap that well and both lose to a control deck designed to beat control decks. I have been brewing new decks every day with a hope of accomplishing three main goals that all tournament winning Standard decks will need:

Goal #1: Have game against all types of aggro.  You don’t have to go crazy with this one, but it is just not OK to build a deck that just rolls over game 1 to zombies or humans.

Goal #2: Go over the top of midrange.  The midrange decks that are dominating right now have a lot of inherent card advantage and cards that are very good against aggressive strategies.  To beat them, you need to go over the top, because sneaking in underneath is not a great option. 

Goal #3: Do not lose to the control decks’ big cards.  Whether we are talking Entreat the Angels, Angel of Serenity, or even just Terminus/Supreme Verdict, a deck that cannot push through these cards will not win a major tournament. 

I have had moderate levels of success with a four color control list with a Jund base splashing blue for Nicol Bolas, Planeswalker and Forbidden Alchemy and have also had some success with a Bant midrange deck designed to take advantage of Geist of Saint Traft.  However, these decks still have some weaknesses.  The Jund Blue deck struggles with countermagic, and I mean really struggles.  I am still somewhat hopeful for my friend who is definitely running this list because a lot of players might not realize what they actually need to be countering against him.  But in our testing, we were able to neutralize his deck completely with just a few counterspells.  The bant deck struggles with variance.  Against aggro, if it doesn’t draw enough early action, it just dies.  Against control, if it doesn’t draw an early Geist, it can’t finish the game.  Against midrange, they had better midrange cards and if we didn’t have our means of protecting Geist, we could not represent a clock.  The deck has a lot of power to it, but really lacks in consistency even with four copies of Jace, AoT.

For reference, here are the two decklists:

http://tappedout.net/mtg-decks/rtr-bant-midrange/ by Alex Binek

http://tappedout.net/mtg-decks/nicol-bolas-jund/ by Jeff Hoogland

 

I also spent a good deal of time working on different reanimator shells featuring either Angel of Serenity or the Angel of Glory’s Rise combo kill.  Again, these decks were good against certain archetypes, but could not cover all three of my goals in deck construction.  I believe I was on to something when I started playing the deck like an Angel of Serenity midrange deck that used Unburial Rites for value or for overpowered Angels, but played miser copies of the Angel of Glory’s Rise and Falkenrath Aristocrat to represent a combo kill to be set up through Jarad’s Orders.  I do not have a deck list for these yet that I am willing to share, but it is something I am going to continue to work on.

The deck that I am playing in Indianapolis is awesome.  It is my own build of Esper tokens that I believe adequately accomplishes all three of the goals above.

Esper Tokens – by Alex Binek

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Creatures: Enchantments: Sideboard:
4 Augur of Bolas 4 Intangible Virtue 3 Knight of Glory
2 Favorable Winds 2 Oblivion Ring
Sorceries: 1 Dissipate
4 Lingering Souls Planeswalkers: 1 Faith’s Shield
4 Talrand’s Invocation 2 Sorin, Lord of Innistrad 2 Feeling of Dread
1 Supreme Verdict 1 Negate
Lands: 2 Purify
Instants: 4 Drowned Catacomb 1 Sorin, Lord of Innistrad
4 Azorius Charm 3 Evolving Wilds 2 Supreme Verdict
2 Dissipate 4 Glacial Fortress
1 Faith’s Shield 4 Hallowed Fountain
2 Forbidden Alchemy 3 Island
4 Midnight Haunting 1 Isolated Chapel
2 Syncopate 2 Plains
1 Swamp
2 Vault of the Archangel

 

 

Let’s talk about a few of the cards in this list:

4x Lingering Souls, Talrand’s Invocation, Midnight Haunting:

–          I am sure that no one is surprised that these represent the heart and soul of the deck.  They are all powerful enough cards on their own, but get insane with the presence of the anthems.  The beauty of these is that they accomplish all three of my goals on their own.  They slow the game down immensely against aggro, each copy is worth at least one fog if nothing else.  They literally go over the top of midrange, because they have flying.  With an Intangible Virtue in play, having several flying, vigilance 2/2+ creatures represents a great clock and a formidable defense as well.  Against control, the cards represent resilience to wraths.  Each side of a Lingering Souls will usually be 6 power in that matchup, Midnight Haunting gets around sorcery speed removal for a turn.  The deck also plays enough counter magic to consistently stop Entreat the Angels.

4x Intangible Virtue, 2x Favorable Winds

–          One of these bad boys in play and all twelve of our token producers become insane.  The game gets very out of hand once we see multiples.  I settled on six as the magic number after trying anywhere between 5 and 8.  I like to board out the Favorable Winds and one Intangible Virtue in certain matchups where we need more of an early board presence, but the 6 main deck provide a lot of consistency and power against midrange and control.

4x Augur of Bolas

–          Finally I have found a deck that takes complete advantage of Augur of Bolas.  The list currently has 24 main deck cards that work with the Augur ETB trigger, and I have not missed very often in my testing.  Augur blocks quite well against the incredibly large number of 2 power creatures in the format, and usually chump blocking to gain 3-4 life will usually buy enough time to drop some fat tokens.

2x Dissipate, 2x Syncopate

–          Having access to counterspells is very powerful against midrange and control decks.  I have found this split to work quite well, though I have strongly considered moving up to three dissipates and only one syncopate for a few reasons.  Having a hard counter going late is very good, point Dissipate.  I am rarely passing the turn leaving up two mana unless it is with intent to Azorius Charm an aggressive creature and am frequently passing the turn with three mana up to represent a counterspell while accessing Midnight Haunting or Forbidden Alchemy, points Dissipate.  The few times that Syncopate have been better are in the mid-game when my opponent is tapping out for things like Jace or Tamiyo and I am casting additional two-three drops.  I haven’t gotten enough situational testing to really solidify this difference in card choice, so the 2/2 split seems reasonable as Syncopate can still counter stuff most of the time.

 

 

The Rest

–          The rest of the deck just keeps things rolling along.  Forbidden Alchemy is a great tool for digging deep into my deck to find specific cards while generating random value with Lingering Souls.  Azorius Charm helps me stay alive early, gain a rather impressive amount of life, or cantrip late.  Sorin, Lord of Innistrad is an invaluable tool against control and midrange decks by providing a consistent stream of tokens, additional anthems in the form of his Emblem, and a late game win condition that is particularly valuable against opposing Planeswalkers, Angel of Serenity or Thragtusk with his ultimate.  The miser Faith’s Shield is there to dig for against Detention Sphere and Sever the Bloodline, the miser Supreme Verdict is there to dig for against Entreat the Angels, Humans, or Geist of Saint Traft.

I am really looking forward to this weekend in Indianapolis.  I am traveling with some good friends from college who I haven’t gotten to spend much time with lately.  Our car is a perfect example of the state of Standard at the moment. A few months ago a car coming from the University of Illinois would have had multiple Delver players and then myself on some RG deck like Ramp or Naya Pod.  For this weekend however, we have: David Kolschowsky battling with a sweet GW Humans List featuring Silverblade Paladin, Rancor, Ajani, Caller of the Pride, and Sublime Archangel.  Marc Castillo with his Bant Control brew featuring Jace, Tamiyo, Angel of Serenity, Thragtusk, and Detention Sphere.  And Jon Cheng, who has absolutely no clue what he is playing yet (though I think he should just play this awesome Esper Tokens list).

This weekend, I am going to make an effort to post updates regularly on Twitter, so if you want to hear from me about how the tournament is going, follow me at @PTQChamp.  If you have any questions about the tournament, let me know and I would be happy to answer them along the way.

I hope this article helped inform everyone a little bit on the state of Standard.  I think that the format still has miles to go, but with Magic Online results starting to pour in, it won’t be too long until many of the archetypes are tightly refined.  Thanks for reading!

Alex Binek

@PTQChamp on Twitter

P.S.  Check out this sick Fantasy Pro Tour Return to Ravnica roster (there are six of us in the pool):

Paulo Vitor Damo da Rosa, Yuuya Watanabe, Shahar Shenhar, David Ochoa, Tom Martell, Robert Jurkovic, Lucas Siow, and Matt Hoey.

Lucas was my sleeper pick and I was pumped to get him late and Matt is a solid Chicago grinder who I have gotten to know since I moved back up to the Chicagoland area.  Doing things like a Fantasy Pro Tour draft can be a lot of fun and really bring up the level of excitement to watching and interacting with the pros.