Hope Eternal—My Last Stand in Standard

 This past weekend was the Twenty Sided Store’s Players’ Championship.  You have already likely heard about this from Matt, and you’ll get to read about Li’s heartbreaker later today.  I did less exceptionally than both of them, in a literal sense.  Matt came in 16th place, I came in 10th, and Li came in fifth.  I was middle of the pack, and that left me with all sorts of complicated feels as the tournament moved on.

Standard Pauper, Rounds One through Three

I don’t feel that posting my list would be helpful here, but I was playing Blue–Red Delver.  I had tested a Monoblack list with Dana, but feeling that it was vulnerable to Electrickery I switched over to the Delver plan.  Dana stayed with Monoblack and won our pod.  My experience went more like this:

Round 1: James, Monowhite Falcons

This would be the first of many times that I played against James over the course of the day.  Game one was a two–Delver game.  I played one, had it flip on my first turn, hit with it once before it got pacified, and then dropped another one that flipped after an extra turn.  James got me down to one life, but I removed his blockers and swung in the air for lethal.  Game two was less close.  I had boarded in Silent Departures and more Electrickery, and while the card was never a board wipe, at one point I did kill a number of War Falcons with it.  Basically, I harried his board presence to keep the Falcons at bay until a few of them piled up, glaring, and then I electrocuted them all.  It was fun.  For me.  Not James.

1–0 in matches, 2–0 in games

Round 2: Johnny, Monoblack

And here’s where the wheels started to fall off.  I got Johnny down to twelve game one before he rallied, and he ended the game up six life having removed my (fewer) creatures.  Keeping up countermagic was rough, because he had a lot of threats and removal, and my countermagic was either conditional or expensive.  It didn’t help that he saw all four copies of Bloodhunter Bat game one, and while I countered three of them, he was running Haunted Fengraf to get them back.  Game two was more of a race.  I thought I might have had a chance, and I knocked him down to 5 life, but he was in Bat Country and I died first.

1–1 in matches, 2–2 in games

Round 3: Joe, Blue Red Delverless Delver

This one went to three.  Game one was a blow out on my part.  Game three was a blow out on his.  He was running Mist Ravens and had sided in Silent Departures game three, making my Stitched Drakes even more futile to keep on the board.  But game two was fascinating.  Joe spent all of his gas knocking me down to two life, but I had the dispel for the searing spear he pointed at my face.  Out of cards, but at 20 life and with a few creatures on the board, he still looked inevitable.  But I tried my hardest to change that.  I Silent Departured his creatures, and swung in with my Stitched Drakes.  He dropped from 20 to 17 to 14 to 8, and then after I had knocked him down to two life, with lethal when I untap, he drew the second spear and won the game.

1–2 in matches, 3–4 in games.

Meanwhile, Dana beat Johnny in the finals, and Johnny had beaten Joe’s list to get to me, so it’s safe to say I was kicking myself for not sleeving up the monoblack list instead.  Still, with Pauper done we moved on to cube, a format about which I felt a little better.

Cube Draft, Rounds Four through Six

What I had not accounted for is the degree to which the pressures of actual competition weigh on a cube draft.  People were serious!  It wasn’t about taking the most fun cards this time around, and everyone was trying to just build the most powerful thing they could make, even if they hated the strategy they ended up in.  I tried to resist this urge, and was mostly successful.  See, I like me some ramp in cube.  I don’t have my exact list, but it looked something like this:

Creatures: Ulvenwald Tracker; Mayor of Avabruck; Sylvan Ranger; Skinshifter; Sakura-Tribe Elder; Grazing Gladehart; Penumbra Spider; Oracle of Mul Daya; Silklash Spider; Golgari Decoy; Kamahl, Fist of Krosa; Krosan Tusker; Hornet Queen; Myr Battlesphere; Instigator Gang

Spells: Explore; Awakening Zone; Cultivate; Harmonize; Explosive Vegetation; Green Sun’s Zenith; Sever the Bloodline; Loxodon Warhammer

Lands: 14 Forest, 2 Swamp, 1 Mountain

There may have been a few cards there that were in the sideboard, and I was heartbroken that I couldn’t support my pack one pick one: Pack Rat.  But it was a deck after my own heart, in that it was super consistent and had an explosive endgame.  Plus, both Hornet Queen and Loxodon Warhammer proved to be all–stars, perhaps unsurprisingly.

Round 4: James, URb Burn

James was sitting next to me when we drafted and built, and I had made some suggestions as for how to make his deck more powerful.  And it was scary powerful; it didn’t have many creatures, and the ones it had were like Talrand and Guttersnipe in that they made his burn spells even more terrifying.  Game one James burned me down to four life before I top-decked Kamahl, Fist of Krosa with at least eleven mana available to me, and immediately overran for the win.  Game two was more brutal.  At six mana I dropped a Loxodon Warhammer and equipped it to the Oracle of Mul Daya and swinging in for four life, bringing James to twelve.  He untapped, played Talrand and made about three drakes that turn.  I untap, and drop Myr Battlesphere.  Even the Talrand’s Invocation he casts next turn, netting him another three drakes, can’t beat 11 points of lifelinked, trampling damage per turn.  We play a few more games for fun and he wipes the floor with me, but I’m just happy I got to play with big game again.

2–2 in matches, 5–4 in games

Round 5: David, Grixis Hymn

David eventually came in fourth in the whole tournament, so I am glad to have given him one of his three losses.  I had seen him take apart Matt next to me when we were playing, so I knew he had Hymn.  Game one it arrives too late, and a Kamahl overrun gets there while I am still at 18 life.  Game two he just takes my hand apart early with a Hypnotic Specter and Ashling, the Edicter.  His Massacre Wurm finisher doesn’t really give me a chance to stabilize.  Game three goes long, and I have a warhammer early.  I go up to 35 life before Green Sun Zenithing for Kamahl with ten mana.  When I untap, I double overrun for victory.

3–2 in matches, 7–5 in games

Round 6: Richard, Junk Ramp

And if the wheels were falling off before, here’s where I break an axle.  I win game one through a mess of a combat math situation.  I’m still not 100% sure that there wasn’t a way for him to beat me that game, because I had to do things like Sever the Griselbrand he cast at 5 life.  Game two he lethals me with a large Profane Command.  Game three I drop a turn three Instigator Gang, a turn four Silklash Spider, and a turn five Kahmal.  Meanwhile, he drops a turn four Nath, forcing me to discard my Harmonize.  My play was stupid aggressive, and I more wanted to do it for the point of the story than for it being the safest line of play, but Richard hadn’t shown me a ton of removal, and if he didn’t have it he was dead on untap.  Unfortunately, he had the Profane Command again, and dropping Sorin Markov into Griselbrand only sealed it.

3–3 in matches, 6–6 in games

Standard, Rounds Seven through Nine

I was running Junk Reanimator, specifically Ben Stark’s list from GP AC.  I had moved off Zombies because I knew there was going to be a lot of aggro in the meta, particularly Dirty Red and Bant Hexproof, both of which are faster than I can be.  I wanted a deck that had the potential to be explosive, and I had fun playing Junk Rites at the start of the format, so I thought, “hey, this will be fun, what’s the worst that could happen?”

3–6 in matches, 6–12 in games

Return to Ravnica Draft, Rounds Ten through Twelve

By this point, I’d been sorted firmly into the pride bracket, and it is honestly super freeing.  Without the intense competition to win out to make top four, I can just relax, take my losses in stride, and have a fun draft.  I first pick Vraska and start to put together a sweet Golgari deck; then I get shipped two Hellhole Flailers and a Carnival Hellsteed and decide I can go into Jund just as easily.  My deck ends up solid, but a little weak to intense aggro.  Which is, of course, my first matchup.

Round 10: Joe, Rakdos Aggro

Before we start, Joe and Jason have an intense fight where Loxodon Smiters are standing in proxy for something more serious.  I hope.  Really, I think Jason was just on tilt and taking it out on people near him, but he put Joe on tilt, and that put me on tilt.  I like my opponents to be a little chatty, since I think it lightens the mood and gives both players a little extra time to think without seeming like you’re slowplaying.  Anyway, game one he wrecks me with traitorous instinct for exact damage, when if I had not cast a Spawn of Rix Maadi I might have still had a chance.  Game two looks hopeless, and I concede in frustration at one life with Joe at five.  After I concede (of course, because I am apparently the only one who assumes competence of my opponents in Magic tournaments), Joe points out I had lethal if I scavenged onto my Centaur’s Herald.  Tilt.  And annoyance, really, but that’s to be expected.  Anyway, Joe gets trounced round two, and it’s the little things that make a girl feel better.

3–7 in matches, 6–14 in games

Round 11: Zach, Selesnya Enchantments

Zach was clearly having fun this draft.  He had done better in Standard than he expected, and worse in Pauper and Cube, which are normally his formats.  It was interesting to see how variance and strong competition put many of us in different positions than those to which we are familiar.  I kept joking around with Dylan when we ended up in the same pod, calling out “Day Two Club!”  It was our way to blow off some steam, since by that point we all had at least one (and often many more than one) bad beat stories.

Anyway, Zach’s draft deck was an echo of his standard deck, only this time the hexproof beasts were five–drops and he was running Codex Shredder for pseudo-advantage.  Game one is a blow-out, with Vraska dropping to provide convenient removal before dying to bird tokens.  Game two reminded me that even when he’s having fun, you should never underestimate Zach; two of the enchantments he dropped that game were Collective Blessing and Growing Ranks.  So not only did he have infinite large birds, but his hexproof dude with Ethereal Armor got huge.  On to game three!  This time he hit me twice with pumped guy, but I kept scavenging onto my Hellhole Flailer and eventually won by sacrificing it for tremendous value.

4–7 in matches, 8–15 in games

Round 12: Matt, Junk

Amusingly we had spent some time between rounds playing it out.  I won those games.  His deck is a little slower than mine and has a less brutal top end.  So of course we get paired together in our final round.  I win in three, after getting horribly mana–screwed game two, and off a mulligan to five in the final game.  Vraska again comes out to kill something and then die herself, but it’s fine.  A five–mana near–vindicate is still amazing in draft.

5–7 in matches, 10–16 in games

So I crawled my way back a little bit.  The tournament still played hell on my win percentage, but literally no one cares about that but me.  Plus, I should get used to it being less than stellar, because there’s a new draft format coming up and I’m never the best at those.  After the tournament is done I do a Shards draft with Zach, Li, Micah, James and a few others.  I run into James again round one and beat down with my Jund deck that’s splashing for Realm Razer.  I end up meeting Zach in the finals, and losing to him.  No shame in that.  I hear the guy’s pretty good at drafting!

And that was my marathon experience in the Twenty Sided Store’s Player Championship.  I win a Steam Vents, and then come home and pass out fairly quickly.  But one thing is for sure.  I am done with Standard for the foreseeable future.  Gatecrash draft is coming out soon, and the set doesn’t look like it’s going to have the biggest splash on Modern or Legacy (fingers crossed), so I don’t have to scramble to put together cards to play in the formats I love.  But standard is just boring these days.  It’s strange that so much diversity doesn’t manage to add any color to the experience, but the truth is all those decks are attacking you in one of a few different ways.  There’s no combo, there’s no lifegain strategies, there’s no control strategy that’s not based off winning via a planeswalker or the activated ability of the same irritating land.  Every midrange deck runs Thragtusk, every Blue White deck runs either Geist, Sphinx’s Revelation or both, and every red-based aggro deck is going to be running out a Hellrider on their best turn four.

Trying to have fun in a format like this… is difficult.  Maybe Gatecrash will change things up, what with an actual combo entering the format (the Orzhov Guildmage plus Exquisite Blood).  Still, I am keeping my hopes reasonable; it seems more likely that we’ll see the omnipresence of cards like Aurelia’s Fury instead of a weird two-card combo that requires ten mana and a way to make your opponent lose life.

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11 Responses to “Hope Eternal—My Last Stand in Standard”
  1. Matt Jones says:

    The emotional swing from the highs of good play and victory to the lows of mana screw, weak brews, playing against the grain of my style/attitude as a player, etc. … regardless of this and how much I may or may not tilt/whine/sigh I don’t ever stop thinking about Magic. I have dreams about Magic. I learned that cube is 0% interesting to me, that I love two day Magic events, that I remain uninterested in off-beat formats like pauper, and that I very much disagree with what seems like everyone that Standard is boring. Gatecrash will obviously change it up–but it doesn’t seem “boring” presently. I have yet to be convinced that a format with over five teir one decks can ever be bad/boring. It beats the Delver & whichever-deck-beats-Delver days of yore (and even THOSE days weren’t boring b/c taking down the Empire is super fun!).

    • thejlina says:

      I think it’s because the five tier one formats have very predictable matchups. There’s an archetype you’re favored against heavily, an archetype that’s favored against you heavily, the usually sloggy mirror, and then one or two matchups that could go either way, but usually one of those is really luck dependent and the other one is super grindy. I mean, I get that people like that? But it’s a rock paper scissors format, unlike Legacy, where there seems like there are a wider variety of matchups and ways that games play out.

      Like, once I outplayed a Blightsteel Colossus in Legacy when I was at 9 poison and 1 life. I won that game! But the only situations like that you see in standard either involve a) an aggro deck like monored running out of steam, or b) Thragtusk or Sphinx’s Revelation giving enough lifegain to get you out of it. And neither of those things really involve tight play.

      • Tim says:

        Completely agree with Jess regarding the state of the standard meta. The obvious fix would be to reprint brainstorm. =)

        But I guess I could live with ponder (or preordain if they feel like bringing back scrye)

      • thejlina says:

        Oh man, wouldn’t that be something! If Ponder came back, though, I’d want it with some sort of playable combo that doesn’t cost ten mana and two cards. Otherwise, Ponder just helps out Control and Flash/Delver, and that seems like it would just narrow down the options in the R-P-S game.

      • tim akpinar says:

        Yeah, real combo would be nice, but I’m not getting my hopes up. I’m not even a combo player at heart, I just think it makes for a far more healthy and interesting meta when it exists.

        My REAL gripe with the current state of affairs is that answers are too narrow, and threats have too much of an impact before you have a chance to answer them.. unless you counter them, but even that’s not a sure thing with uncounterable things and caverns running around all over the place. I think Wizards really needs to reestablish a healthy balance between threats and answers OR reintroduce a combo deck that can be a serious contender. Either of those two things would be awesome.

  2. Matt Jones says:

    Yeah you’re probably right about the predictable match ups. We should all play one of the five and/or anything (and I mean anything) that Travis Wu comes up with. Kadar txt’d me last night asking me to pick him up a playset of Primal Surge. Later I checked Facebook and Wu’s feed listed a Surge deck he’s playing. Seems like some crazy shit can still happen and we all have lives outside of magic that don’t provide for much deck innovation. Luckily TWoo doesn’t have this problem.

    • thejlina says:

      I mean, what’s his deck idea to relevance ratio look like? Sure, Omnidoor became a thing (although it’s seen a lot less play in the past month or so), but Pillow Fort was a splash in the pan, and now this Primal Surge deck is probably not going to make a lasting impression. They’re fun, sure, but they’re not really things you have to prepare for in the meta. Same with the Chronic Flooding reanimator deck. Awesome idea, won a major tournament, and it’s only a footnote in the overall meta.

      And I don’t think you need innovation for a format to be fun. You don’t see a tremendous amount of innovation in Legacy, but there are still fun decks to be played in all different directions. Same with Modern.

      • Li Xu says:

        Completely agree. I really wish people wouldn’t always jump on the Woo bandwagon and think every brew he made was worth taking seriously. I am done with Standard until the rotation, and if things don’t pan out there (if the format still remains grindy and rock-paper-scissors-y) I’ll just focus entirely on Modern and getting into Legacy.

  3. I have played a different deck every week since i started to go to 20ss again and my record is no less than 3-1 or better. Just pick a deck, have a board ready for your more weaker matches and play tight is all. Yes there’s lots of different decks but to the most part they mostly all play the same so you know how to play against whatever is across from you and what hands to keep.

    • thejlina says:

      It’s the “to the most part they mostly all play the same so you know how to play against whatever is across from you” part that gets me bored, though.

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  1. […] worked so hard for: the Twenty Sided Store Championship. By now you’ve probably already read Jess and Matt’s reports on the event. Here’s how this whirlwind of a weekend all went down […]



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