SCG Cincinnati Open has now come and gone, and we have now seen the first look at the the new “face” of Standard. And although in it’s majority it is the same face, it does have some new Journey into Nyx make-up on. For a format that (at least to me) was getting quite stale, we saw a Top 8 this weekend with 8 different decks. Much better than just a few weeks ago!
So let’s take a quick look at this Top 8:
1. B/g Devotion
2. U/W Control
5. B/W Midrange
6. Mono-Black Devotion
7. Esper Control
8. G/R Monsters
Quite a list we got here. 3 Control decks, 3 midrange decks and 2 “aggro” decks.this is quite surprising, considering the amount of buzz there was around aggressive decks thanks to the introduction of Mana Confluence. So, what happened? Where are the aggro decks? To be fair, there was one true aggro deck in the Top 16, and that was G/W aggro. But not that great of a showing after all.
Where are all these decks that people were clamoring about? Where is Athreos, God of Passage, one of the JOU cards with the most buzz? Well, they are in the same place that all these newer cards are: buried under the huge power curve set by the Return to Ravnica block cards.
Look again at this Top 8. All three control archetypes are dominated by the three pillars of Standard control: Sphinx’s Revelation, Supreme Verdict and Detention Sphere. Black-based devotion has used Pack Rat and Desecration Demon as their main beat-machines, although Theros-block does have some defining enablers in Gray Merchant and Thoughtseize. And let’s not even speak about the most Theros heavy deck in Standard now, mono-blue devotion. the poor guy couldn’t even get a Top 16 showing this time around.
So if you are looking for a huge shakeup in the format, I think you will have to wait another 6 months until Return to Ravnica rotates out.
Forget Mana Confluence. The card is great, and we are not yet done seeing the end of it, but when JOU spoilers were being announced I told my friends that the more important pieces of the puzzle coming out where the two new temples, Temple of Epiphany and Temple of Malady. And in that prediction I may have been right. Three out of the Top 4 decks at Cincinnati were sporting at least 3 copies of one of these two cards. More than Mana Confluence these were the cards that truly enabled the current changes in Standard.
Let’s start bottoms up. In 4th place we saw Christopher O’Bryant pilot a very fun-looking version of American Control, sporting none other than lightning-daddy Keranos, God of Storms as the only creature in the main sixty (good-o’l Aetherling was demoted into sideboard). If you saw the matches this weekend, you probably saw that work that Keranos put in. Card advantage OR free lightning bolts are never a bad idea. Speaking of card advantage, Christopher sported a copy of a card never seen in Standard: a singleton Firemind’s Foresight. Think about it for a second. He is basically playing a fifth copy of Sphinx’s Revelation. In Izzet colors. the deck is chock full of great options in all 3 casting costs. For 1 he can snag a Syncopate or a Quicken. For 2, a Deicide, Izzet Charms or Turn // Burn. And for 3, he gets all the utility in the world: Sphinx’s Revelation for more card draw, Dissolve or Counterflux for counters, or Turn // Burn for targeted removal.
We then have our other relative newcomer to the Standard scene, Junk Midrange. I saw a few copies of this list in the last few weeks before JOU, and the final set in the Theros block definitely helped round out this deck into a true powerhouse. Jeff Hoogland piloted this list to 3rd place by playing both powerful creatures and planeswalkers early, thanks to the acceleration from full complements of Sylvan Caryatid and Courser of Cruphix. The deck sports premium removal and control options such as Hero’s Downfall, Abrupt Decay, and Banishing Lights to live into turns four and five. He then starts dropping powerhouses at all mana costs after that. Blood Barons, Obzedats, Elspeth and Ajani can all be blowouts if the opponent doesn’t have answers in hand.
Moving on up we got Eric Rill with an updated list for the old standby U/W control. Not a lot of surprises here, with the expected additions of Banishing Light, Nyx-fleece Ram and Deicide. His biggest surprises came in the form of no Aetherling main board, and instead a copy of Jace, Memory Adept in the sixty. When I first saw this play, I was baffled, but then I saw the true genius. Most people see this card for the zero ability, milling 10 cards, as a weapon against the control mirror. But Eric really mostly used it for the excellent +1 ability, being straight, unadulterated card advantage. And, he even got to ultimate it at least once during the Top 8 rounds!
Finally our winner Andrew Tenjum with B/g Devotion. When you look at it, it’s just mono-black control with a splash of green for Abrupt Decay and Vraska. Seems like a very minor addition, but the results were extraordinary. Virtually no loss in speed now that Temples of Malady are in play, and Abrupt Decay answers so many threats that mono-black devotion had always struggled with (namely, Detention Sphere, but also Domri, Courser and many others). Relentless hand destruction is still there with four Thoughtseize and Lifebanes, explosive starts with Pack Rats and Mutavaults, and a great late-game with Desecration Demons and Gray Merchants.
And there we have our “new” standard. Sure, we have a lot of the same, but a Top 8 with eight different decks is a great thing to see finally. Think back to just a few months ago, where the Top 8 lists were Mono-black Devotion, Mono-blue devotion and U/W/x Control and almost nothing else. As per usual, we will not see the big shift people are waiting for until RTR rotates out, but we may still see a few rogue decks and new strategies come out in the next 6 months or so.
I know I will be trying some new cards next weekend, when I get to participate at the SCG Open in Knoxville. I am traditionally a control player in Standard myself, so I may do either straight U/W, esper or american, but I will hopefully playtest all of them more this week. Keranos is looking pretty good!