Hi All. Last weekend I attended the RPTQ held in Cardiff, which was probably my last competitive Standard event featuring cards from Kaladesh and Amonkhet blocks. In this article, I’ll provide some coverage of the event as well as bid farewell to some key players leaving Standard and some suggestions about which cards remaining in Standard might continue to make waves.
Choosing a deck for the RPTQ was not particularly a particularly complicated process for me. The logical starting point was to play the dominant Red/Black deck. However, despite it being very much in the mainstream, I didn’t want to close off options without looking at the shape of the current metagame which I decided (for better or for worse) mainly consisted of:
- Black/red aggro
- Esper control
- Blue/black midrange
- Green Stompy
Of course, there were a few strategies putting up some numbers such as the Mono-red The Flame of Keld and White/blue control. However, I didn’t feel these choices were as consistent as those bulleted above.
From this point I considered Black/red as my fall-back option, favouring Esper control and Blue/black midrange over Turbofog and Green Stompy mostly because I was more familiar with these styles of decks and, having concentrated a bit more on Modern in recent months, thought it would be safer to stick to something with which I’d likely be more confident.
I watched the coverage of GP Brussels which put multiple Esper control decks into the Top 8. It seemed that between Disallow, Vraska’s Contempt and Teferi, Hero of Dominaria, Esper had the tools to handle both the Black/red and the Turbofog decks. The main concern I had was the manabase. It looked serviceable on paper… just! Throw in a mulligan or a missed land drop here and there and it suddenly looked like a wagon about to crash.
Then Autumn Burchett won English Nationals with Blue/black midrange which admittedly gave that deck a bit more of my attention. It’s a deck I’ve liked the style of, played before. I was perhaps just a little reserved about how it lined up against Goblin Chainwhirler. Luckily I found plenty of resource on the deck on Starcitygames.
- ‘Winning Nationals with B/U Midrange’ Autumn Burchett (Starcitygames Premium)
- ‘The B/U Midrange matchups guide’ Jadine Komplarens (Starcitygames Premium)
- ‘How to beat Red with B/U Midrange’ Emma Handy (Starcitygames Select)
These I have to credit for swaying my decision to play the deck, improving my ability to play the deck, particularly sideboarding strategies, and confidence facing off against the triple-red goblin. I also watched Autumn’s Twitch channel and picked up a few more ideas on the deck moving on from Nationals.
Now I was confident with my deck choice and it was all about deciding on the last couple of maindeck/sideboard cards. I also compared notes with my friend Rob Catton who was also on the deck. I wanted to play Walking Ballista in the list because I had a hunch it would be good in the mirror and against Bomat Couriers. However, I didn’t bite the bullet in the end as I’d not done any testing with the card at all (and couldn’t think what it should replace). Here’s the list that I registered for the event.
The RPTQ took place at Firestorm Games in Cardiff. As this was quite some distance away from Leeds, I was keen to make a weekend of it, just to make getting there and back as comfortable as possible. I’m lucky enough to have many qualified friends around me so it was relatively easy to make a group trip out of it including Rob Catton, Matt Duggan, Alfie Bennett, Tommy Hayward, Luke Bradshaw and Alex Roebuck.
The event was attended by 81 players meaning seven rounds of swiss with a cut to Top 8, which was essentially a bracket for a play-off round for the Pro Tour as the Top four finishers receive this prize (and there are no further prizes, therefore no need to play out the semi-finals and final).
Here is how the rounds played out for me:
- Round 1 vs Turbofog 2-0 WIN – 1-0
- Round 2 vs Black/red aggro 1-2 LOSS -1-1
- Round 3 vs Blue/black mirror 1-0 WIN – 2-1
- Round 4 vs Black/red aggro 1-2 LOSS – 2-2
- Round 5 vs Esper control 1-1-1 DRAW 2-2-1
- Round 6 vs Mono-red Flame 2-1 WIN – 3-2-1
- Round 7 vs Mono-red Flame 2-1 WIN – 4-2-1
Here are the main talking points from the rounds:
- Round three was probably the most intense of the tournament. I won a reasonably grindy game one, the tone of which was mainly set by me being able to Essence Scatter my opponent’s Scarab God, untap and slam my own. In game two my opponent kept a land-light hand but managed to get both Arguel’s Blood Fast and Search for Azcanta going early on, which made it very tough for me. Even a timely Commit//Memory and Gearhulk into Commit//Memory on the enchantments only really delayed my opponent, however the game state dragged out into what I’ll refer to as a ‘Scarab God sub-game’ with both of us only really concentrating on how many times each others’ Scarab Gods could be activated, making sure we could protect them with Temple of Aclazotz. In the end my opponent couldn’t kill me. I was glad to come out with a win but I felt very tested and drained by the end of it.
- I feel obliged to mention the matches against Black/red. At no point did I feel my deck was ‘bad against Black/red’. The matches were reasonably contested except where variance intervened adversely (not to take anything away from my opponent’s wins against me). Sometimes it is just a simple matter of the cards you draw off the top – and that’s Magic. In one of the games I lost, I kept three lands and ended up dying with four Vraska’s Contempt in hand, having never played a fourth land.
- Round five included a very grindy game which lasted over half an hour and left me winning with only three cards left in my library! I felt confident in game two as I had board advantage, card advantage and some decent pressure, but my opponent slammed a Chromium, the Mutable, seemingly out of nowhere and outraced me. There wasn’t really time for a game three.
- I’m quite glad I had the chance to test the matchup against The Flame of Keld with Alfie before the tournament (he was actually my round 6 opponent). It probably made the difference between me winning and losing the last two rounds. Don’t underestimate how much damage can be dealt when the saga is complete – they have a lot of haste creatures and burn!
4-2-1 was a pretty mediocre finish in a tournament for which I felt quite well prepared. Obviously there was likely more I could have done, but I’m generally happy with the way I played on the day.
Matt made Top 8 which was very exciting for us! From speaking to him prior to the event, it was my perception that out of all of us he had probably put in the most preparation and was justly rewarded with another RPTQ Top 8! He faced off against Autumn Burchett in the Top 8 but unfortunately lost out!
Farewell to Kaladesh and Amonkhet
Instead of some strategy content on decks in current Standard, I’ve decided to share my own thoughts on how I see rotation affecting Standard. Please note this will mainly based on the cards that are leaving Standard as I don’t currently have much knowledge of what’s arriving with the new set. In addition, my quick breakdown is framed mainly from the perspective of how the decks currently prominent in Standard will move on.
The current Red-based deck departs almost entirely. It’s quite hard to imagine a more powerful set of cards taking the place of ‘must answer’ threats like Chandra, Torch of Defiance, Glorybringer and Hazoret the Fervent at the 4-5 drop slot. It should also be mentioned that Bomat Courier has played a key role in supporting the red archetype – free early damage and some huge card advantage potential in the mid-late game has made sure this deck can defeat control decks that are traditionally favoured against ‘red aggro’. Rekindling Phoenix will likely continue to feature in red decks. More components of the Flame of Keld deck remain, so we might see a shift to a more burn-heavy type of deck in the future.
Blue-based control will retain Teferi and Search for Azcanta, arguably it’s ‘two best cards’, but it loses a few pieces along the way in Disallow, draw spells like Hieroglyphic Illumination, Glimmer of Genius and a key finisher/engine in Torrential Gearhulk. I honestly think it’s likely to continue in a similar form to its previous iteration, mainly because the aforementaioned cards it is losing through rotation are likely to be replaced with similar version (other than Gearhulk). This doesn’t mean it will definitely be as good – but with Teferi and Search there’s every possibility
The Blue/black midrange deck I played at the RPTQ almost vanishes apart from Vraska’s Contempt. The mighty Scarab God provided a reliable, versatile and resilient finisher for midrange and control decks over the last year or so. On average, we’re unlikely to see something similarly powerful in the new Ravnica set.
The loss of Fatal Push, and on a more recent note Doomfall weakens the black-based removal suite. However, with Cast Down and Vraska’s Contempt staying (and Murder in M19) I don’t think the black decks will be short on removal if you consider possible additions from the new set. One thing to note is that Vraska’s Contempt is currently a vey important card, but the main cards it is ‘required’ to answer (Hazoret, Chandra, The Scarab God) are leaving Standard. You’ll still need to answer a Rekindling Phoenix, but it will be interesting to see how many other threats need to be killed off by the ‘exile’ clause.
The white decks I’ve played in Standard over the last couple of years have largely been driven by synergy with artifacts – triggering Toolcraft Exemplars or Reanimating Angel of Invention by Refurbishing a God Pharaoh’s Gift. I might therefore be looking at things through rose-tinted glasses when I say I’m unsure what white has to ‘worry about’ as a consequence of rotation. We will lose Authority of the Consuls which has proved to be something strong against Red decks over time, and also Approach of the Second Sun – a way for decks to go ‘over the top’ of grindy tactics. Having said this, with Lyra Dawnbringer, Shalai, Voice of Plenty, History of Benalia and Settle the Wreckage all staying, there’s a very strong foundation on which to build.
In terms of green cards – it’s hard not to think about whether Llanowar Elves gets better or not – that’s usually the main thing on people’s minds as historically mana acceleration on turn one in conjunction with what ‘three drops’ can be played has influenced the decks we see in Standard. In terms of what green loses, it will no longer have Winding Constrictor as a Golgari-based option. The Steel Stompy deck remains mostly intact save a few role-players like Rhonas the Indomitable and Blossoming Defence so it could be a good pick for week one of the new format while everyone else is trying to figure out what’s good – then again, the new set has a reasonable emphasis on playing multiple colours so you might not be able to take full advantage of the new toys – but we’ll see.
From busted two drops in Scrapheap Scrounger and Heart of Kiran to busted seven drops in God Pharaoh’s Gift we’ll likely be seeing artifacts play less of a role in multiple decks. The ubiquitous Walking Ballista also departs. While it’s true that Wizards put the ban-hammer to Smuggler’s Copter and Aetherworks Marvel, I think there’s a sentiment of sickness in seeing some of these cards pop up again and again in multiple decks that some players will be happy to see change.
We lose a cycle of ‘enemy Fastlands’ and a cycle of ‘allied Cyclelands’ but will receive five new Shocklands. The latter are overall stronger cards than the others because the flexibility to potentially enter the battlefield untapped at any time outweighs the lack of life-loss or ability to be cycled away most of the time. However, we will have less colour flexibility across the board for the first few months as the remaining five Shocklands do not come out until the next set. Here’s a quick breakdown by colour pairing in terms of their ‘go-to’ manafixing lands:
- White/blue: Glacial Fortress (1)
- Blue/black: Watery Grave, Drowned Catacomb (2)
- Black/Red: Dragonskull Summit (1)
- Red/Green: Rootbound Crag (1)
- Green/White: Temple Garden, Sunpetal Grove (2)
- White/Black: Isolated Chapel (1)
- Black/Green: Overgrown Tomb, Woodland Cemetery (2)
- Green/Blue: Hinterland Harbor (1)
- Blue/Red: Steam Vents, Sulfur Falls (2)
- Red/White: Sacred Foundry/Clifftop Retreat (2)
Half the guilds have better manafixing options than the others. Some quick implications for deckbuilding:
- White/blue Teferi decks will be left with only Glacial Fortress as a premium option to fix its two colours, but there are plenty of good premium mana fixing options for a Jeskai deck as it can make use of up to five colour fixing lands.
- Green decks have better options pairing with White or black – Turn one Llanowar Elves into turn two History of Benalia can now be a reality!
- Grixis still has some good options for manafixing as it gets two Shocklands and three ‘buddylands’ or ‘checklands’ in Drowned Catacomb, Dragonskull Summit and Sulfur Falls. Maybe we’ll be seeing more of Nicol Bolas, the Ravager!
There’s likely to be a lot of content coming out on what might be good or less good in Standard as spoiler season rears its head, so I’ll leave you with these brief considerations of my own for now.
My focus is now on GP Hong Kong. It’s been fortunate that I’ve been playing a lot of Modern recently owing to the PPTQ season. I will be sure to bring you something from that event when I return, though it may be a couple of weeks after the event itself as I will be taking a holiday immediately after the GP.
You can find me on Facebook, Twitter (@Chris54154) or at most PPTQs in the North of England, RPTQs, GPs in England and some other large competitive events like Mega Modern and Legacy Masters that arise during the year in the UK.
As always, thanks for reading, good luck and have fun in your next event!