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The letter A! couple of weekends back saw Zendikar Game Day, where players around the world polished off their Steppe Lynxes and Misty Rainforests in Zendikar Standard action. We have deck lists from at least four continents at this point; we are going to highlight some of the more interesting decks.


Now if you believe "the Internet" you might think of Standard as a kind of stripey Neopolitan format; but instead of the familiar chocolate, vanilla, and strawberry in the metagame's ice cream box (with the chocolate generally missing), you might expect Jund, nothing but Jund (okay, with a little Boros Bushwhacker and the odd Vampires deck playing cherry or whipped cream). But Game Day shows us that Standard has more interesting options than just Sprouting Thrinaxes and Vampire Nighthawks; following are a half a dozen of them.

Will Watkins
Standard - Zendikar Game Day, Artifex Entertainment (San Diego, CA)


We're going to open up with some pretty straightforward ideas. Will Watkins took some of the new cards from Zendikar—and mixed them up with existing Magic 2010 and Shards block tools—and ran with them. And we mean ran.

Will's deck is a study in haste. He can open up on Goblin Guide (remind me to come back to that), follow up with Hellspark Elemental, then Ball Lightning, then mana screw you with Goblin Ruinblaster and look like an all-star doing it!

All of Will's creatures have haste (and even some of his non-creature action, like Elemental Appeal, follows the theme), so he didn't go with Plated Geopede. That might have been a nice inclusion with those Arid Mesas and Scalding Tarns ... but then again, Plated Geopede (as Wild Mongrel-y as it can be) could prove a liability against his own Earthquakes and so on. Anyway, there's nothing wrong with a 9/1 Ball Lightning bouncing into the red (and we mean red) zone off a Teetering Peaks.


In case you hadn't thought about it recently .... How great a card is Burst Lightning? Absolutely famous, right? I have been playing with it happily for as long as the new cards have been legal, but it wasn't until I started writing this paragraph that I realized that Burst Lightning is strictly better than Shock. Wow! This is a card that can take out a Noble Hierarch or Steppe Lynx on the first turn, or turn around and act like the better part of a Bituminous Blast (but one that can go to the face) later in the game. Just a great card.

So ... back to Goblin Guide.

How about an early firestarter: How do you guys feel about this card? Certainly it fits with Will's aggressive theme, and helps take decent-sized chunks out of the opponent to pull him into the range of those Lightning Bolts and Burst Lightnings ... But personally, I actually like playing against Goblin Guide. Then again, I am the kind of person who will play 28 lands in a Standard deck (more on that later).


Empyrial Archangel?

Iona, Shield of Emeria?

Twenty-two lands?

Even with Lotus Cobra... Seems like a stretch. Those Angels define pricey.


But look over to the right hand columns and you will see that Paul has little interest in actually casting his gigantic Angels. This deck is all about Summoning Trap!


Here's the thing: There aren't a lot of true control decks in the Standard format right now; not the kind that actually go about countering a lot of creature spells, that is. So Summoning Trap is usually going to involve the retail counter rather than the free trial model, if you know what I mean.

But that's okay!

Six is cheaper than nine, and with Lotus Cobra, Summoning Trap can come online turn three with a Birds of Paradise. No problem.

I direct you to new card Trapmaker's Snare.


What a pounding!

Holy instant speed, Batman!

This is the kind of card that can really put an opponent on tilt, ruin his day, you know: the good stuff. Say your opponent is one of these cats who has an Essence Scatter in his opening hand. You can run out a creature, get it countered, then just cast Trapmaker's Snare to go get the Summoning Trap. Instant speed and only two mana? A very economical option.

Eric Powell's Black-Red
Goblins


One of the things that I have trying to uncover in the current Standard is an inheritor to Blightning Beatdown. Blightning was one of the best decks from the pre-Zendikar Standard, a great performer over multiple National championships and a fine PTQ deck both. However the deck has lost its popularity with the rotation of Demigod of Revenge and Figure of Destiny, and of course the invigorated status of Jund.

Many players probably haven't considered a black-red Blightning Beatdown deck because there is a black-red-green one to be had. Blightning is my pick for best overall card in the current environment, and Jund smashes a Blightning in the opponent's grill handily.

However there is a lot of incentive to playing a streamlined, attack-oriented, two-color Blightning deck instead of a three-color one with more card advantage. One of those is the ability to get absolutely unbeatable draws against control.

How do you feel about Warren Instigator pummeling out a pair of Siege-Gang Commanders on the third turn? Just filthy.


The attack in this deck is super focused on Goblins, making the Instigator and Chieftain stand out. The deck can obviously get aggressive early hands, but it also has some medium-speed action: Terminate (and sideboard Doom Blade) for the inevitable Baneslayer Angels, Sign in Blood to recover after dropping its hand ... and the potential for the double Blightning draw that is so hard to beat.

Daniel Hoppenstad's Green-White Aggro
Standard - 2nd Place, Zendikar Game Day, Battlezone Games


Hiawatha, Iowa featured a Top 8 pitch-painted in Vampires, plus the overall most engaging deck of the Game Day (which was a Deck of the Day earlier this week) ... but I decided to go with Daniel's.

Why?

This little two-card combination:

Beastmaster Ascension + Conqueror's Pledge

Even if you only have one counter on your Ascension, one Conqueror's Pledge (unopposed) will get everything online in a single swing. Long story short: I can't even count that high.

Maverick Kimman's Red-White Control
Standard - 5th Place, Zendikar Game Day, Monster Den Games


I actually stopped working on this article when I saw this deck and booted up Magic Online. I had no choice! The strategy didn't disappoint.

Here we have a minor Valakut, the Molten Pinnacle subtheme grafted onto a red-white control shell reminiscent of Mark Hendrickson's successful Spanish Inquisition from US Nationals 2009.

In this deck Maverick largely exchanged Obelisk of Alara for Chandra Nalaar as the big winner. The Valakut sub-theme forced him to play a ton of Mountains and faux Mountains (Arid Mesa and Naya Panorama), so a card like Obelisk of Alara loses a lot of its options opportunity.

The deck is very direct damage-heavy. In addition to Valakut—which is fed not only by the Mountain-heavy mana base but those familiar Armillary Spheres—there is Lightning Bolt, Burst Lightning, and even Banefire to kill.


I found this deck super rewarding to play. The general lack of counterspells in the format makes it a comfortable fit, especially with all those expensive cards. The format is predominantly creatures, and I found them to be pretty easy to suppress with the fast action of both Path to Exile and the many flexible burn spells. After a few attrition wars you can settle into planeswalker mode, where you actually activate multiple murderers per turn.


This deck from FUNtainment Berlin has so much going on!

It's a Sphinx-themed deck, a cycling deck, all about board control, and Empty the Vaults, too!

Sphinxes: A lot of these cards—even before you get to the insurmountable-if-it-gets-there Sphinx of the Steel Wind—are very good against the popular Jund deck. Sphinx of Lost Truths has a wide rear end that can absorb even a Broodmate Dragon assault. Its ability and the many cyclers can help dig for lands until the biggest Sphinx becomes a reality.


From the non-Sphinx (but still artifact creature) wing, we have Vedalken Outlander. Some decks will just never get through that.

Architects of Will + Glassdusk Hulk: I am actually just surprised that Artie didn't play a second copy of Sharuum the Hegemon. With two Sharuums killing and resurrecting each other indefinitely, a healthy Glassdust Hulk can get lethal in one attack.

Board Control: I am always impressed with a Scepter of Dominance (or thereabouts) linking up with Day of Judgment. The Scepter can keep one threat occupied, forcing the opponent to commit multiples in order to deal any damage. Then, post-Day of Judgment, he or she is still up a creek behind that Scepter.

So there you have 'em ... Several different cool, reasonably effective, and non-Jund ideas you can take to FNM tomorrow, or your more significant tournament of choice.

Speaking of more significant tournaments, this past weekend was the Star City Games $5,000 in Nashville. The Top 8 results were simply inspiring.


So what made the Top 8 so inspiring?


If someone can correct our beloved Storyteller on this, we'd all love to hear it, but Evan Erwin speculates that Todd and Kali Anderson are the first married couple to make Top 8 of a significant tournament together (Kali actually beat Todd, a member of the current U.S. National Team, in a Quarterfinals mirror match).

Kali Anderson's Eldrazi Green
Standard - 1st place, StarCityGames.com Standard Open in Nashville


Last week I mentioned trying to "bend" Nissa Revane. Have the Andersons actually broken her?

There is a lot going on here.

One theme is Nissa Revane plus everything else. There are a lot of Elves so she can explode into even more Elves later. But perhaps more importantly, Nissa—alongside Ant Queen—can produce a great many creatures to feed the ravenous Eldrazi Monument. These kinds of decks have historically been weak against the card Wrath of God; in 2009, Eldrazi Monument is remedying that for Day of Judgment.


The big smasher here seems to be Oran-Rief, the Vastwood. Every creature is green, so every creature is potentially bigger.

Andrew Shrout's Eldrazi Green-White
Standard - 3rd place, StarCityGames.com Standard Open in Nashville


Just for contrast, a version with Oblivion Ring in the sideboard and Path to Exile main. The idea is that same... Make green creatures, make green creatures big; activate planeswalkers making green creatures, attack Attack ATTACK ... but Shrout has a more flexible sideboard than straight green mages are subject to.

If you like this kind of deck, consider dipping your toes—or pointed ears, as the case may be—in red instead; when you blow up Nissa (presumably to play the other you drew) you can get the maximum number of Elvish Archdruids and the maximum number of Bloodbraid Elves; the Bloodbraid Elves don't cascade the way they usually do, but they have got haste, and with the Archdruids all in play .... Didn't I say something about being unable to count really big numbers?

Chase Lamm's Cascade
Standard - 2nd place, StarCityGames.com Standard Open in Nashville


Derek Mong's Cascade
Standard - 5th place, StarCityGames.com Standard Open in Nashville


As you can probably guess, I am absolutely gushing about the double Top 8 appearance of the five-color Cascade deck. For those of you who don't recall, I posted a pre-Zendikar version of the deck about six weeks ago. All 33 spells in the main survived the rotation of Shards of Alara block, so Lamm and Mong were able to devote their efforts to upgrading the mana base.

The mana bases are actually pretty close to one another here, with just slight differences in double Magic 2010 and solo Zendikar dual lands; I felt that Cascade was the strongest strategy pre-Zendikar, but was worried about its ability to recover from the loss of Vivid lands and Reflecting Pool. These two made it look easy themselves, scoring a Top 8 and second place in the Nashville tournament.


For those of you unfamiliar with the deck, it's simple: Every card is like a cross between Mind's Desire and an Ultimatum. You play a spell, you go up a card, or many. Any spell. Bloodbraid Elf on turn four always flips over Blightning or Esper Charm to hit the opponent's hand for two. That is the genius of the deck.


Because every single spell (barring a flip of Baneslayer Angel by Enlisted Wurm or Enigma Sphinx, which is differently horrendous for especially an opponent with no cards in hand) results in some kind of crazy chain that finishes up with a "hit your hand for two" the deck is basically the most predictable deck possible, giving you the best room for planning of almost any deck in recent memory. Your cards always do the same thing, often at surprising speeds; it is just a matter of how badly you are going to demolish your opponent when you cast one.

For instance, you can wait until your opponent's draw to cast Bituminous Blast on Noble Hierarch. It is just a question of your receiving a bonus 3/2 or 4 life before you empty your opponent's hand; at that point it is a question of Esper Charm or a real wrecking from an instant-speed Blightning. But the gross result is the same ... so you can always plan for this to go this way.

The thing I like about the deck more than any other Cascade deck is that you never have to hold back. Sometimes you play your fourth-turn Bloodbraid Elf against an empty board and flip a Terminate or some other useless removal spell. This deck never does that.

Despite Chase and Derek rebuilding the mana base, that is still the potential weakness of the strategy. The inherent power and predictability of the deck also makes it one of the slowest competitive decks in the history of Magic. There are no cards in the main deck under three mana whatsoever. You can go the first four turns without doing anything. In fact, playing against a beatdown deck, you might be posed with the question of playing a Blightning on turn three and playing a Savage Lands, saving your Island or whatever to play untapped on turn four; you will generally opt for the latter. Then again, doing nothing for four turns is not necessarily a great plan against some of the fast beatdown decks in the format.


On the other hand, this kind of deck can basically never lose to a great many decks that people play. Any control deck topping up to a Sphinx of Jwar Isle or Cruel Ultimatum is basically going to lose every time you manage to hit five lands. These controlling decks simply can't deal with being the butt of a Blightning every turn. Ditto on Pyromancer's Ascension decks; I have shipped to Paris three times on the draw in games where my opponent played Mind Spring twice and still won with him on no cards in hand. Why? Because every card is a Mind Rot, and even if there were counterspells, there wouldn't be enough.

Ryan Rolen
Standard - 4th place, StarCityGames.com Standard Open in Nashville


The most surprising thing about this Jund deck ... is that it was the only one in the Top 8. That, and Goblin Ruinblasters in the main. That probably caught a couple of cats off guard.

Contrast that "regular" Jund deck with this:

Chad Page's Lotus Jund
Standard - 7th place, StarCityGames.com Standard Open in Nashville


Chad played a Lotus Cobra enabled Landfall deck that just happened to be in Jund colors. It can go Cobra-into-Ob Nixilis on the third turn, then blast you to bananas with an Arid Mesa.

Shane Giachetti's Emeria Aggro
Standard - 6th place, StarCityGames.com Standard Open in Nashville


This one is full of unusual calls, especially for a mono-white creature deck. The biggest are Devout Lightcaster and Celestial Purge starting. Blowing up a Borderpost with one of these is probably a lot of fun, but they also deal with Sprouting Thrinax without waking up its children.

I encourage you to try out some of these great Standard decks. Like I said before, I really enjoyed playing the Red-White Control deck ... Others out there who have filed their teeth to points and are wanted in seven states might like Mono-Red Aggro. Despite rumors around Jund, the format is wide open enough that a rogue mono-green strategy can put husband and wife in the Top 8 of a very competitive environment. I can't wait to see what happens come Worlds.

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