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Anything but Standard

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The letter L!ast week we talked about a variety of Survival of the Fittest decks.


Just after the States / Provincials we got our first look at one of the rising stars of Magic: The Gathering—the various $5K and Open circuits at least—in Nick Spagnolo.

In case you missed it last time, here is the short video I did with Nick at New York States:


Nic Spagnolo

Now, at the time I interviewed Nick, I didn't know that he was going to go on the meteoric run that he is right now riding. He was just a player who had beaten me fair and square in the Swiss and made the Top 8.

As you now know, Nick went on to win the New York State Championship with his Blue-Black Control deck. Since then he won back-to-back TCGPlayer.com $5K days (both Standard and Limited portions), and to take it back to the first sentence of this article ... Nick won the Legacy portion of the StarCityGames.com Open in Charlotte ... With a Survival deck!

But that isn't the topic of this article.

Pulling back one day to Standard, Nick also finished 3rd the previous day with that signature Blue-Black deck.

Nick Spagnolo's Blue-Black Control
Standard - 3rd Place - StarCityGames.com Open Series–Charlotte, NC


The defining features of this deck are the offensive combination of Frost Titan and Trinket Mage. Nick's Trinket Mages can get any of the following:

The most important of these is Elixir of Immortality, which allows Nick to re-buy all his countermagic and win a long game against basically any deck.

The current version has moved away from Memoricide main (originally there for a Primeval Titan-dominated metagame) for Duress (anti-control).

Nick's performance in the month of October is dizzying. He won three different $5K events, made Top 8 of another, and won the New York State Championship. Just prior to that, he finished Top 16 of TCGPlayer's New York Standard tournament (albeit with a White-Blue rather than Blue-Black deck). Not long prior to that, he ousted Building on a Budget columnist Jake Van Lunen for a Pro Tour Qualifier Blue Envelope.

I have been quite impressed by Nick's run, and have tried to figure out how anyone—even someone playing great Magic like he must be—could perform at such a high level in such sustained fashion.

Then I realized it: He not only always plays Preordain, he plays Preordain way better than the rest of us do!


Nick shared an article on how to play blue spells on TCGPlayer.com last week, which was one of the best theory articles I have read in forever. But in particular I was impressed with how he plays Preordain.

Most people I know snap-keep land light hands that simply have Preordain in them. Nick not only calls keeping a one land hand with a Preordain "a trap" he says to never cast Preordain blind. This part was particularly eye opening for me:

"Preordain generates more value the longer you wait to cast it. A late game Preordain is usually game-winning, while an early game Preordain is little more than a cantrip."

Anyway, if you want to read the whole thing, I felt like it was worth drawing attention to:
Casting Blue Spells (TCGPlayer.com).


Blue-Red-Green Control Variants

So after all that chat about Nick, his everywhere-dominating Blue-Black deck, etc., the defining color combination of this tournament was Blue-Red-Green.

An update on the dominant deck from Block Constructed, this archetype mixes incentives from TurboLand with new threats like Frost Titan (and in one case, some more beatdown incentives). Let's look:

Daniel Jordan's Blue-Red-Green Control
Standard - 1st Place - StarCityGames.com Open Series–Charlotte, NC


Daniel Jordan won the StarCityGames.com Open Series tournament.


His deck main lines the Block Constructed three-card tag team of Lotus Cobra, Oracle of Mul Daya, and Jace, the Mind Sculptor. Oracle of Mul Daya is a savage combo with either of the other two cards (massive mana with Lotus Cobra; relentless card advantage and mana acceleration with Jace, the Mind Sculptor) ... Obviously all three together for more than a turn or two will generally set up an insurmountable positional advantage.

So what do you do with all that mana?

Candidates include the aforementioned Frost Titan and Block Constructed (and TurboLand) favorite Avenger of Zendikar. Speaking of which, Avenger of Zendikar + Oracle of Mul Daya is a combination itself!

Ryan Rolan's Blue-Red-Green Control
Standard - Top 8 - StarCityGames.com Open Series–Charlotte, NC


Top 8 competitor Ryan Rolen played a very similar version. They were just a basic land or two different from one another, with Jordan playing one more Frost Titan and Rolen playing one more Avenger. An odder swap was Deprive for Jordan versus Garruk Wildspeaker for Ryan.

The decks' sideboards were more significantly different, particularly in their approaches to fighting control.

Donnie Noland's Blue-Red-Green Control
Standard - Top 8 - StarCityGames.com Open Series–Charlotte, NC


A deck that is both quite similar to the TurboLand-esque builds and simultaneously comes at the format from a different direction is Donnie Noland's take on Blue-Red-Green ... I am hesitant to even call it a control deck. Noland's deck is full of creatures!

It tops up on Frost Titan like the other Blue-Red-Green decks in this section... but to get there uses not only Lotus Cobra but Nest Invader! The two-drops (along with Birds of Paradise) help hit four early for planeswalkers Garruk Wildspeaker and Jace, the Mind Sculptor; as well as Cadillac four-drop fighter Vengevine.

Alex Hon's Blue-Red-Green Control
Standard - Top 8 - StarCityGames.com Open Series–Charlotte, NC


Finally, Alex Hon played a Destructive Force deck.

This deck ramps up to seven mana for Destructive Force, and wins with 6-toughness Titans aplenty, which conveniently live through Destructive Force.


Here we see even more Frost Titan action. Frost Titan being a superb post-Destructive Force threat (you can keep whatever minuscule mana the opponent has locked down). The one thing that I found puzzling while looking at all these Blue-Green-Red decks is that of the four, Hon's is the only one with even one Primeval Titan!

Acceleration is supplemented in this deck, somewhat, by Garruk Wildspeaker. Garruk's ability to jump mana is of course attractive in the context of a deck that wants to ramp to six or seven.

Sideboard All-Star across the entire four-deck suite was Obstinate Baloth; great against discard, even better against Red beatdown decks.

Speaking of which:

Christopher Cannon's Goblins
Standard - 2nd Place - StarCityGames.com Open Series–Charlotte, NC


Christopher Cannon played a mono-red Goblins beatdown deck.

This deck hybridizes the disparate camps of metalcraft and Goblins tribal/linear. The deck puts together combinations like Goblin Bushwhacker + Devastating Summons and Goblin Cheiftain + everything else.


All these seemingly disparate elements are glued together by a little spell by the name of Kuldotha Rebirth. Kuldotha Rebirth works brilliantly with both the Bushwhacker and Chieftain haste elements of the deck. All the artifacts that fuel the Rebirth link arms and power up the metalcraft parts of the deck.


Creatures like Memnite make for both cheap metalcraft synergy (costs nothing, but makes Mox Opal and Galvanic Blast look good) and, of course, more and more free damage in conjunction with Goblin Bushwhacker.

Many of the rest of the artifacts are essentially interchangeable (Trusty Machete for example), but the cards really build on one another in a snowball—err fireball—of violence.

Michael McDermott's Blue-Black-Green Shaman
Standard - Top 8 - StarCityGames.com Open Series–Charlotte, NC


We've seen all different kinds of Fauna Shaman color combinations since the little two-drop appeared in Magic 2011. The most common have been Naya- and Bant-partitioned decks designed to re-buy Vengevines with Bloodbraid Elf or Ranger of Eos.


But now those creatures have left Standard, and with them, the free ride to free Vengevines.

Michael McDermott still used the Fauna Shaman + Vengevine combination, but in this case mixed it with what feels like a heavy discard package: Inquisition of Kozilek and a singleton Bloodhusk Ritualist (that, to be fair, he can find at any time with Fauna Shaman). Instead of a purely aggressive slant, complimenting his disruption is not just a fair number of planeswalkers named "Jace" but flexible removal and permission, as well as some heavy-handed landfall finishers:

As with nearly all the decks in this Top 8, most games will probably be closed by Frost Titan. Again, even in the context of a base-green deck with landfall killers, the humblest (at least presumably, and at the outset) of Titans is the one taking down games.

Stephen Mercatoris's Pyromancer Ascension
Standard - Top 8 - StarCityGames.com Open Series–Charlotte, NC

Main Deck

60 cards

Halimar Depths
Island
Mountain
Scalding Tarn

23 lands


0 creatures

Burst Lightning
Call to Mind
Foresee
Into the Roil
Jace Beleren
Lightning Bolt
Mana Leak
Preordain
Pyromancer Ascension
See Beyond
Spell Pierce

37 other spells

Sideboard
Flashfreeze
Frost Titan
Jace, the Mind Sculptor
Pyroclasm
Spell Pierce

15 sideboard cards



Rounding out this Top 8 is a Pyromancer Ascension combination deck.


The fundamental deck is not so dissimilar from the superb combination deck pioneered by Jake Van Lunen over the summer, though a deck leading up to this list has recently been discussed by Patrick Chapin. The exit of Magic 2010 took with it two important cards: Time Warp and Ponder. Of the two, Time Warp is the more glaring exit. After all, most games decided in favor of Pyromancer Ascension over the summer featured a seemingly limitless stack of Time Warps powered by Pyromancer Ascension and Call to Mind. But today, with no Time Warps, the deck has to play a much blunter game.

The "modern" Pyromancer Ascension has become a blunt instrument. All four copies of Foresee. Card advantage. Selection. Like a stone being thrown through an expensive department store window. Fill up your hand, power up Ascension, and throw all the cards at your opponent. The deck can theoretically do tremendous damage with multiple copies of Call to Mind and the burn suite, but realistically you only need about four actual pieces of cardboard to kill the average opponent.

While Time Warp is the more obvious missing link from the previous format, Ponder is probably the more important one. As you can see from the viability of this deck in general, taking infinite turns is, in a sense, overkill. You can get 80% of the way there just drawing way more cards than your opponent and pointing burn spells. What Ponder offered, on the other hand, was a pair to Preordain, and an incentive that almost no other deck in Standard could boast: The ability to keep almost any hand.

If you read Nick Spagnolo's strategies around Preordain, great! Like I said before, I felt it was a great article and had a lot to teach. However in my opinion, Nick's rules don't apply to combo decks like Pyromancer Ascension the way they do against progressive control decks that intend to draw and play lands every turn, and win after interacting with the opponent and his cards. A combo deck will often be able to determine exactly what it wants out of its cantrips just by looking at its opening hand. The sequence in which you play your blue sorceries will often be determined by when you draw Pyromancer Ascension. But otherwise? The reason Pyromancer Ascension plays so many cards with such similar functions is because it needs to dig up particular parts.

As we can see from week to week, tournament to tournament, there are all kinds of different, exciting, decks you can play! Early on it looked like a format full of Primeval Titans but now even the big green decks are at least sometimes eschewing that most titanic of six-drops. There are all different kinds of beatdown decks, up to and including Goblin/metalcraft hybrids. And of course, Pyromancer Ascension represents combo.

Basically, the format is wide open to beatdown, control, combo, and hybrid decks. Innovation and new viable decks are everywhere. In short, enjoy!

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