DGM Game Day with Junk Aristokens

Because I hadn’t played enough Magic the last two days, I also went to Game Day. I’d had quite enough of Bant Auras and wanted to go in a different direction. What I really wanted to play was the 4C Progenitor Mimic Reanimator deck because that looks like a blast, but I only have two Mimics and I knew my FLGS didn’t have any in stock so I didn’t want to show up with an incomplete deck, and it just wouldn’t be as fun to play with only two of them in the deck. I also didn’t have the time or inclination to brew, as I’m not much of a brewer to start with and even when the urge strikes me, it takes me forever to work out the deck, and I didn’t have time for that.

So instead, I went hunting for a fun rogue deck. And, courtesy of Jake Van Lunen’s very nice survey of the current Standard, I found a deck. I know it’s called “Junk Ghost Hulk” there but I like the name “Aristokens” better, as it’s really more of Junk Tokens plus Aristocrats Act 2 fusion. It’s a riot:

The deck has all kinds of cool synergies in it—very fun. Anyway, as mentioned in my last post, there was an SCG open in Dallas this weekend so attendance was down a little. 5 rounds of Swiss cutting to top 8.

Round 1: Alan playing Rakdos Aggro
Game 1 was all about Lingering Souls—I think I drew three of them and flashed them all back, and they carried the day. Would have been blown out if he had a Thundermaw, but he didn’t draw one. Game 2 I drew two Advent of the Wurm and he swung into the first one, and the second one was just more than he could handle.
1-0 matches, 2-0 games

Round 2: Josh playing Dark Bant… something. Elves, kind of
Josh is a good player (a couple PTQ top 8s) who had something of a wacky, but very powerful deck. Lots of elves including Archdruid and Gyre Sage, plus Master Biomancer and a few other goodies. Game 1 a couple Sorins did some heavy lifting, generating multiple tokens and emblems between them, and once the Blood Artist got involved it got silly, despite his Biomancer making a few very large guys on his side. It helped that he never drew a white source. I sided in the Putrefys, the Garruk, the Charms, and 2 of the Appeties (enough cards, I think). He dropped an Arbor Elf and passed, I came back with Appetite. He had two targets, an Increasing Savagery and a Master Biomancer. I had an inkling how bad the Biomancer might be from Game 1 and so I took that, which was a mistake. He dropped a Gyre Sage on turn 2 and then on turn 3 put 5 counters on it, allowing Thragtusk the next turn and flashback of Savagery the following turn. I had no removal in hand and just died to big guys—you know it’s bad when you have Advent of the Wurm in hand and it’s useless because it’s too small to really be relevant. Game 3 wasn’t very interesting—he kept a hand with an Arbor Elf and two Sunpetal Groves, and didn’t draw out of it quickly enough to answer my early pressure and then Sorin. I had him down to 2 and had a Cartel Aristocrat on board, and he realized that was game.
2-0 matches, 4-1 games

Round 3: Matt, playing Jund
Matt is a regular at my FLGS that I haven’t played in a while. I won the roll and went Doomed Traveler into Voice into Lingering Souls into High Priest and he was mostly dinking around with Farseeks. When it was clear he wasn’t going to be able to stop me from making a demon with the High Priest, he just scooped. I’m not sure exactly what I sided in; I think it was the Charms, the Putrefys, and Obzedat, but I could be remembering that wrong. Game 2 went completely the other way. I drew a slow hand and he ramped into turn 4 Thragtusk, turn 5 Thragtusk, turn 6 Thragtusk and I just couldn’t do very much with that. Game 3 was even worse. I kept a two-lander (all three colors, though), missed two land drops, and then drew… Township. Not really a good color solution. All I was doing was casting Lingering Souls and flashing it back, and he was developing a real board presence. I missed my next two land drops, finally drew a fourth land, but it was just way too late. Ugh.
2-1 matches, 5-3 games

Round 4: Audra, playing Big Naya
This was a beefy version of Naya Midrange with ramp, Aurelia, Advent, Trostani, Call of the Conclave, Sigarda; the red was mostly a splash for a couple burn spells and Aurelia. Oh, and I got rounded up for this one. Audra is not the fastest player around—every draw step is a slow roll, like she’s looking for a Bonfire and then decides to put it in her hand. Game 1 we traded a couple early blows but she just got bigger stuff out than I could deal with, and she got Sigarda out and Trostani going and she just ground me out. I sideboarded the Appetites, the Charms, and the Putrefys (again). Game 2 was an epic battle. I cast Appetite turn 1 and took Sigarda over Trostani. Turn 2 was an Aristocrat, turn 3 was Lingering Souls, and turn 4 was Sorin. Sorin stayed around for a long time, alternately making emblems and tokens, and the lifelink on those tokens kept me alive, though she gained a ton of life from Trostani before I finally drew a kill spell. I did manage to have a Tragic Slip in my hand for Aurelia and sacrificed a spirit to Aristocrat to power up morbid, so that was good, but I didn’t draw much else in the way of removal, so we were grinding out Wurm tokens against each other. I was at 6 and she was at 20 when she finally drew a Reckoner but I finally drew a removal spell, an Orzhov Charm, putting me in Helix range. However, the Reckoner was her last guy on the board, and I still had the Aristocrat and two Sorin emblems (Sorin was dead by this time), and managed to get there by (finally) drawing a Blood Artist. I think we both had like 14 lands in play at this point—it was a very long game. We had less than five minutes on the clock when it ended. I didn’t think we’d make it through game 3, and we didn’t. I will say that if the game had been allowed to finish, I was in a fair amount of trouble, as she was at 43 life (Trostani again; where was all that removal?) and I was at 14, but we were stalled out such that there were no productive attacks to be had on either side.
2-1-1 matches, 6-4-1 games

Round 5: John, playing Naya
So, I again got rounded up. John could draw in, but I couldn’t, so we had to play it. There was still some outside chance he could get in if he lost, so he wasn’t too upset at his bad luck of being rounded down. His build was a little more midrange, but definitely not the Blitz-style Naya deck. Game 1 was really interesting. I started off with Doomed Traveler into Blood Artist into Aristocrat into Sorin. Sorin made a token, then got hit by a Resto that was flashed in for no value at the end of my turn. Sorin gave me one more token before dying to the Resto. However, I had two more Sorins in hand. The second Sorin made an emblem and got eaten by a second Resto. He followed that Resto with an Assemble the Legion, which I had no way to interact with. Sorin #3 came out and made an emblem before dying to Resto. I got in for a few more to get John down to 11, but his next turn had him up to six soldier tokens and I knew I just didn’t have the numbers… so I swung with the Aristocrat and a vampire token for 7. No blocks, putting John at four with one card in hand that I guessed probably wasn’t instant-speed life gain, and I had a total of five creatures in play, so I sacced the other for to the Aristocrat, draining him for four and the game. I don’t think he saw that coming. Game 2 was curvetastic for me. Doomed Traveler into Voice into Varolz, follow with Blood Artist, sac the Traveler to regenerate Varolz from a burn spell, scavenge the Traveler onto the spirit token, Putrify a blocker, swing in to bring him to 2 with his only permanent being Assemble the Legion at 1 counter, concession. Yay, into the top 8 for me. Unfortunately, John’s breakers weren’t good enough and he didn’t get in.
3-1-1 matches, 8-4-1 games

Quarterfinals: Bobby, playing Boros Aggro
This was pretty dumb, actually. Basically, both games he got Legion Loyalist on turn 1, meaning all the Doomed Travelers and Lingering Souls and Advent of the Wurms in the world weren’t going to stop his rush, and the High Priest I drew in game 1 just wasn’t going to come on line fast enough to save me. Maybe if I had managed to draw a single removal spell in either game it would have helped, but I didn’t. Actually, that’s not quite true, as I did draw one Orzhov Charm game 1 when I was at 4 life and him with a Boros Reckoner on board. Not exactly helpful.
3-2-1 matches, 8-6-1 games

The last match was awful, but overall not a bad showing for having found the decklist the morning of the tournament and throwing it together, then playing it for the first time in round 1 of the tournament. Also on the upside, I got two packs for finishing in the top 8, and they had Ral Zarek in one and Ætherling in the other, so that was pretty decent.

Now, comments on the deck. As I noted in the intro, this deck is really a cross between Junk Tokens and The Aristocrats Act 2. Junk Tokens isn’t a particularly popular archetype right now, but it does work together with some of the tricks in the Aristocrats, but it does give up the explosive power of Blasphemous Act for a more grindy, midrange feel.

The deck is fun to play. The synergy between Cartel Aristocrat, Blood Artist, Voice of Resurgence, and Varolz is great, and enables all kinds of fun shenanigans. However fun these interactions are, they mostly aren’t fast, and while they can be useful, they aren’t always all that powerful. The biggest scavenge target in the deck is Voice, which is +2/+2—nothing to sneeze at, but not exactly overwhelming. In principle it seems like it ought to be really good against aggro decks with all the tokens and incremental life gain, but if the aggro opponent is running Legion Loyalist and you don’t draw a removal spell for that guy, you will get run over even with many blockers on the table. I didn’t get to play against any control decks, but it seems like it ought to be highly resilient to sweepers and sacrifice effects, as you would expect from a token deck. So the big question is how the deck plays against other midrange decks. It is somewhat weak against large creatures, especially if those creatures have trample. There’s a fair amount of removal in the deck (and it’s generally easy to have morbid live for Tragic Slip) but if you don’t draw it, an opposing Thragtusk or Olivia can be a real problem, and Angel of Serenity seems like a blowout. I think I need to play it more against other midrange decks to get a clearer sense of those matchups. Still, a very fun deck to experiment with, even if it may not be quite Tier 1 right now.

FNM and TCG Player with Bant Auras

So, this week I did something I almost never do: I played the same deck multiple tournaments in a row. I know it hurts my consistency to constantly be fiddling with different decks; you don’t really learn all the subtleties of a particular deck until you’ve played it a bunch. So I thought I’d play one deck a bunch. Unfortunately, I didn’t really think that cunning plan all the way through, because the deck I played is not one that has a lot of subtleties. However, it’s a good deck, and lessons were learned, so I thought I should write them down.

The deck, of course, is Bant Auras (a.k.a. Bant Hexproof). It’s straightforward and only a few cards different than the one I played at the most recent Sunday Standard at my FLGS:

The differences: (1) Got rid of Fencing Ace in favor of Loxodon Smiter. I came to really dislike the Ace, because it just dies to everything and simply isn’t any kind of threat on its own. Yes, it can be better when it’s suited up, but the Smiter just wasn’t doing it for me. (2) I changed up the sideboard, adding two Rootborn Defenses in place of Selesnya Charm. I expected more Supreme Verdict and Sphinx’s Revelation, which are bad for this deck, and can only really be managed by Nevermore and cards like Rootborn Defenses. Turns out this sideboard probably wasn’t optimal; Strangleroot Geist would have been much better than Nevermore, though I’m still not sold on Selesnya Charm.

Anyway, on to the matches.

Tournament 1, May 24th: Friday Night Magic

There was an SCG Open in Dallas this weekend, plus it was a holiday weekend, which meant attendance wasn’t great, only 17 players, so 4 rounds cutting to top 8.

Round 1: Ryan, playing Junk Midrange (not Reanimator)
Game 1 I got off to a slow start, and he was the one who ended up with a Fencing Ace with Unflinching Courage on it, and then later he got a Hydra out, and I lost that race. Game 2 I got early Geist with Courage and something else, and ran him over easily. Game 3 was similar, though this time it was an early Stalker instead of a Geist.
1-0 matches, 2-1 games

Round 2: Melody, playing Possibility Exhaustion
What, you might ask, is Possibility Exhaustion? It’s a RWU combo deck based on Possibility Storm and Cure of Exhaustion. Once your opponent gets that, you cannot cast another spell for the rest of the game. Other than that, it’s a control deck with lots of sweepers and card draw. The earliest the combo can come down is turn 5, but if it does and you don’t have any way to get rid of enchantments, you have to get there with whatever creatures you have on the board at the time the combo comes down. Urgh. Game 1 I punted, getting her down to 2 and failing to pump with the Simic Charm in my hand, and she came back with a Supreme Verdict and then next turn, the combo. Oops. I sided in all the Nevermores, the Negates, and the Ray. I got Nevermore for Curse of Exhaustion but she did get down a Possibility Storm. Let me tell you, playing Magic with one of those in play is an experience in annoyance. You cast what you have, and hope it turns into something. I managed to get two Stalkers on board, but no enchantments, which was not a fast enough clock. I finally turned a Pilgrim into a Smiter, had a Ray in hand that turned into a Negate for her Terminus, and won the day. Game 3 I got turn 2 Geist, turn 3 Rancor, sat back on a Negate and brought it home quickly.
2-0 matches, 4-2 games

Round 3: John, playing Junk Rites
John is one of the top players at the store; he makes very few mistakes, and always plays a Tier 1 deck. Fortunately, I think this particular matchup favors the Bant deck. Game 1 I got an early Giest suited up and was bashing for 9 with lifelink plus the Angel token. He even got an Angel of Serenity out, but that doesn’t stop Ghost Pants. I boarded in the Ground Seals and maybe the Feeling of Dread and off we went. I did not get a great start, though not an awful one, with a turn 2 Voice which got Rancor. He blocked it for a trade, and I followed with a Stalker and a Pilgrim. When I cast Rancor on the Stalker, he blew me out with Golgari Charm, a nice little 4-for-1. Oops, forgot about that card. The good news is that I had a Smiter next turn, and drew into the enchantments I needed, so he carried the day. This deck just really punishes decks that can’t race and don’t have enough removal, which is where Junk Rites sits.
3-0 matches, 6-2 games

Round 4: John, playing BR Zombies
We ID’d, something he had never done before—he’s a relatively recent convert from kitchen table to the tournament scene, but coming along really strong of late. We played three games without sideboard just for funsies, and I won games 1 and 3 of those. This is actually not the best matchup, since BR Zombies can race pretty well and has enough removal that a hexproof guy is pretty much a requirement. Game 1 I got it off a turn 2 Stalker that got suited up, game 2 I didn’t get anyone hexproof and lost the race to Messengers, and game 3 I won with an early lifelinked Geist.
3-0-1 matches, 6-2 games

Quarterfinals: Zach, playing BR Vampires
Vampires? Seriously? In the top 8? I guess it was a softer field than usual. He won the roll and ran out an early Vampire Nighthawk to my Stalker, then he followed with a Stromkirk Captain. Turns out that’s actually pretty good if you’re a deck with no removal, so we had to race. I eventually got lifelink on the Stalker to make up for the lifelink on his Nighthawk and then slowly drew into enough enchantments to win the race with his other vampires. I sided in Feeling of Dread and the Nearheath Pilgrims. Game 2 I got an early Geist followed by Rancor and Spectral Flight and hit him for 10. He had a Captain again, and then put out a Nighthawk, which could actually block and kill Geist. Good think I had the Feeling of Dread in hand.
4-0-1 matches, 8-2 games

The top 4 were Melody and John (from round 3) and someone I didn’t know playing BW Tokens. I rather liked all those matchups but everyone else wanted to split to play EDH, so I agreed to it. I have to remember when I agree to top 4 splits at FNM to make getting a promo one of the conditions, though I already have one of this month’s promos from the previous week.

The deck did exactly what I wanted it to, so I was happy to sleeve it up for the next day’s tournament.

Tournament 2, May 25th: TCG Player Platinum Qualifier $1k

Houston hosts a comic con of its own every year called Comicpalooza. The relevant thing for me is that it was also hosting a TCG Player Platinum, which is a $1k event. With an SCG open within driving distance, I figured the field would be reasonable. Turns out it was not only reasonable, but quite small: only 48 players showed up. My 12-year-old son Simon came with me with his UB Zombies deck that has been doing really well at our FLGS. The real downside to the tournament was that the start time was listed as noon, but the room was really well-hidden so they gave people some extra time to find it… but they gave way too much extra time, so we started nearly two hours late. Look, an hour is excusable, even reasonable, under the circumstances, but two hours? Come on.

Anyway, we eventually got started. I was really optimistic, as I’d been playing pretty well and the deck had been cooperating. Ha, ha.

Round 1: Paul, playing RDW
RDW is not exactly the best matchup, since it can race. Pretty much like BR Zombies, I have to get hexproof guys or lifelink to win. The good news was that game 1, I won the roll, got turn 2 Geist, turn 3 Rancor and Spectral Flight, and killed him in two attacks. The bad news was that he still managed to get me down to 8, so on the draw I’d have been dead, even with that opener. Game 2 illustrated that problem pretty well; I had both a Pilgrim and a Geist in my opener (and a Smiter, which is a good roadblock against RDW) and a couple auras, but a Sunpetal Grove as my only green source. I guess I should have mulliganed that hand, as I lost with him still at 20. Game 3 I probably should have mulliganed again, as my opener was four land, two Geists, and an Unflinching Courage. Unfortunately, in the four draw steps I got, I drew… four more land. Even with the lifelink on the Geist, I could not race him. I hit him twice down to 4 but still died. If I had drawn a single chump blocker I think I should have had that one. Ah, well, variance…
0-1 matches, 1-2 games

Round 2: Dominic playing RUG PeddleCaster
I lost the roll and he played a turn 2 Nighshade Peddler followed by a turn 3 Izzet Staticaster, stranding the pair of Smiters in my hand. From there, I drew essentially only land for the next five turns… but I wasn’t dead, because he wasn’t drawing anything either. (I was taking one per turn from the Peddler.) I finally drew a Stalker and immediately suited him up and hit for 7 with lifelink the next turn. He also finally started to draw action but he could not race the 14-point swing I was generating per turn. Game 2 was one that he readily admitted he had no business winning. I got an early Geist, suited him up, and hit for 10… and then he dropped Glaring Spotlight and killed the Geist. Fine, I played another Geist, he played a Huntmaster. I suited up the Geist, which he double-blocked but it still put him at 1. I played Giest number three and still hand a Rancor. He topdecked… Thragtusk, going back to 6. I decided I had to hit him, but that again only put him at 1. Grr. I drew and played a Pilgrim, and put Rancor on him… but that didn’t get me past the beast token. My next four draws were, you guessed it, land. He came back with Huntmaster and Ral Zarek and a second Huntmaster, and killed the Pilgrim when his pair of Huntmasters flipped because I had no spell to play. OK, fine, game three. My opener was Stalker, Simic Charm, and five land. Not a keeper. My six had no land. My five had no land. My four, however, had two land in it. It turns out, however, that four cards is not enough to win with, especially when your opponent plays Huntmaster on turn 3 and 4 (he had Farseek on 2). Yeah, my Rancor’d Voice of Resurgence could hang with that. Ultimate suckage. 0-2, but I refused to drop because 4-2 could still make top 16 and my son was 1-1 so he wasn’t going anywhere, anyway. Still, not really the start I was hoping for.
0-2 matches, 2-4 games

Round 3: Robert, playing Boros Aggro
My round 1 opponent lost and I was literally at the bottom table–worst record with the worst tiebreaks. Whee. Worse, my opponent was playing what looked a hell of a lot like my DGM prerelease deck. I lost the roll, but kept since I had a Geist and some auras in hand. I still lost this game, on the funniest thing ever. He dropped a Boros Elite on turn 1, and on turn 2 dropped a Syndic of Tithes. Turn 3 he played a Firefist Striker and extorted. That one extort won him the game. Why? I swung back for ten (Geist plus Spectral plus Rancor), which put him at… 11. I could not kill him next turn and so I was dead to a haste creature or a burn spell. I had not other play so I had to just swing and hope. I hit him to 1 and died to I don’t remember which. I guess I could have held the Geist back to block, but there was no other draw that got me out since the Striker would have prevented any other creature I could have put in the way from blocking. Grr. In went the Nearheath Pilgrims, the Fogs, and the Feeling of Dread. Game 2 I mulled to five (ugh), keeping four land and a Stalker. Fortunately, the top of my deck was kind and gave me Courage on turn 3 followed by a pair of Ethereal Armors. Game 3 I got an early Geist and got him suited up and killed him in three attacks, including a second attack with Courage, bringing my life from 6 to 12 so I could win the race. Of course, the thing that even kept me at 6 was… Fog. Tech! And fortunately I got off the schnide, which was good.
1-2 matches, 4-5 games

Round 4: Clark, playing RWU
Clark’s deck was something between a midrange deck and a control deck. I got turn 2 Stalker with Courage and he went all the way, though on his last turn to live Clark did burn me down to 11. In went the Negates, the Rootborn Defenses, and two Nevermores. Game 2 was a near thing. The key thing was me drawing both Negates and both Nevermores. I managed to nullify both Revelation and Verdict and Negated a key Helix along the way, and actually outraced an Ætherling with a 8/6 flying, trampling Loxodon Smiter—one of the few things Ætherling cannot do is fly. He died with both a Revelation and a Verdict in hand and was none too pleased about it. Not really my best matchup but I got there. I was also finally above .500 in games, which was good.
2-2 matches, 6-5 games

Round 5: Chuck, playing Gruul Aggro
Chuck was top 4 in Texas States the weekend before with the same deck, so he was a capable pilot with a good deck, and a bad matchup for my deck. Game 1 proved that really effectively; he got the god draw, turn 1 Stromkirk Noble, turn 2 Burning-Tree into Firefist Striker, turn 3 Flinthoof Boar with haste, turn 4 Hellrider. Yeah, OK, no way I’m beating that. In went the Nearheath Pilgrims, the Fogs, and the Feeling of Dread. Game 2 he mulled to five, kept a one-lander, and was looking at turn 2 Geist and had no second land to play, so he just scooped. Game 3 was more interesting. He burned my turn 1 Avacyn’s Pilgrim, which I followed up with a turn 2 Nearheath Pilgrim and I could tell he was annoyed with that play. I followed with Geist, bonded to the Pilgrim. I then had turn 4 Spectral Flight plus Ethereal Armor, hit him for 10 and gained six back up to 17. He came back with a kill for the Pilgrim but did not have the damage to kill me, and I had another Armor to hit him for a zillion. He was annoyed that he didn’t have the mana for a Reckoner because he drew the one Forest in the deck, but I don’t see how even a turn 3 Reckoner was going to get him out of that. Nice to now be above .500 in matches after the horrible start I had.
3-2 matches, 8-6 games

Round 6: Ryan, playing Junk Rites
Yay, a midrange deck! I lost the roll and he opened with a Pilgrim off a Temple Garden, and I opened with a Pilgrim as well. His turn 2 was swing with the Pilgrim, land, go. My turn 2 was Geist. My turn 3 was Armor, Armor, swing for 12. He scooped. I put in the two Ground Seals. I have to admit I don’t really remember how game 2 went other than that I didn’t have much going on and he managed both a Thragtusk and a Centaur Healer during that game. Game 3 I got an early Voice and a Geist but no auras and he kept holding up 4 mana on his turn, which I read as Resto. When I drew the second Geist I tested that, and he did indeed have the Resto. I drew auras after that, including Courage, trampling over another Resto, then drew Armor, then Armor, and that was it.
4-2 matches, 10-7 games

I had the worst tiebreakers of all the 4-2s (by rather a lot), so 4-2 was only good enough for 16th, but given the horrible start I was pretty OK with that. Unfortunately, 16th wasn’t enough for cash, but I got a very nice playmat and 10 TCGPlayer points, though I’m not sure what good those are since there are few TCG events in my area, so getting the other 10 necessary to go to their $50K tournament in November seems unlikely, not that I could make it anyway—November is horrible time for me to be traveling.

Deck Notes

Anyway, the deck. It’s not like I could say I didn’t know what I was getting into with this deck. First, it’s inconsistent. It’s a high-risk, high-reward deck. The great draws are fantastic–turn 2 Geist plus a meaningful aura can win against most opposition. The bad draws are unplayable, so you have to be willing to mulligan aggressively, which sometimes backfires. It’s not a hard desk to play in terms of the number of decisions that have to be made, but because the deck is so “all in” on its core strategy, the decisions you do have to make (frequently, the decision is “can I win if I just race?”) are very high-impact.

Second, it’s pretty matchup-dependent. Its best matchup is against midrange decks like Jund and Junk Rites, and there are a lot of those in the field right now. It can be soft to sacrifice effects (e.g., Liliana) that do appear in some of those decks, but that’s not a fatal weakness and can often be played around. It does not match up particularly well with the premier aggro decks because it can be out-raced; the better draws of Gruul Aggro, for instance, are very difficult to beat. Control decks are a mixed bag: RWU isn’t too bad, but Esper control seems like a tougher matchup because of the possible sacrifice effects; Far // Away seems like a particularly good card against Bant Auras, though I haven’t actually played that matchup.

Were I to play it again, I wouldn’t modify the main deck at all; I strongly prefer Loxodon Smiter over Fencing Ace, but that may be a matter of personal preference. I would change the sideboard, however. I did not fully appreciate why some people are running Strangleroot Geist in the sideboard, but now I get it. SG buys time against the aggro decks, being able to trade with most of the stuff in those decks more than once. It’s also good against sweepers and sacrifice effects. It’s good enough here that I would consider running it main deck if it weren’t for the GG casting cost.

The one real upside to this deck, particularly for long tournaments, is that the matches are usually short, one way or the other. It’s much less draining to get through many rounds when your matches take 10–15 minutes.

Early DGM Standard Metagame Overview: 2013 Spring States

This is, in some ways, almost scooped by a very nice survey of the current Standard by Jacob Van Lunen appearing on the mothership. I’d refer you there for decklists for almost all the archetypes mentioned here, though I will have a couple comments on some of them.

Van Lunen’s piece does a great job of detailing what is in the metagame, but it doesn’t describe how much of each thing there really is in the meta. That’s my main purpose here.

First, what I did: I looked at all 368 top 8 decks posted for the 2013 TCGPlayer Spring States. States are an interesting meta, not quite a PTQ but more competitive than your average FNM. By looking at the top 8, however, i think it may provide some insight into what might be expected to be found running around a PTQ or maybe an SCG Open (of which there are two Standard Opens in Dallas this week, plus a TCGPlayer 1K in Houston—what’s up with Texas this weekend?). It’s also not quite the MTGO metagame, but again, I think it’s an interesting picture. The data aren’t perfect, of course, since the listings on the site aren’t always consistently named, but I think there’s enough overall data to overwhelm that little bit of noise.

So, I did a little counting and aggregating across decklists, and generated this:

wpid-StatesMeta46States-2013-05-23-23-38.png

That is a lot fewer overall archetypes than appeared in Van Lunen’s piece, but of course the “other” slice of the pie is quite large here. That “other” slice represents all decks with less than 2% of the metagame, 47 different archetypes spread across 100 decks.

So, your Big Two decks are clearly Jund Midrange and Junk Rites. Junk Rites was maybe not the consensus “best deck” before Dragon’s Maze, but it was pretty clearly one of the top “decks to beat.” It still is, but it looks like at the top tables, there are more Jund Midrange decks being played. Sire of Insanity is be the big addition from Dragon’s Maze.

Our next two decks are Bant Auras, a deck that was popular for a while then went away, and now is back, probably mostly because of Armadill…err, Unflinching Courage. (Voice of Resurgence is pretty good in that deck as well), and Gruul Aggro, a deck that mostly doesn’t run any Dragon’s Maze cards at all.

The real takeaway, though, is that the metagame has a lot of variety in it. There is no single “deck to beat” and a lot of different things can be successful right now. Control continues to be a little down, though I have a suspicion that as Ætherling starts to show up in standard, we may see at least a little bit of a comeback for control. (Esper control also go Far // Away and RWU got Turn // Burn, both of which seem very viable.)

I tweeted an earlier version of this graph to Aaron Forsythe, head of WotC R&D, to get his reaction. Here was his reply:

wpid-PastedGraphic-2013-05-23-23-38.png

It is indeed very green. In fact, a substantial proportion (69%) of the “other” slice include decks that run Forests (remember, many shocklands count as Forests). Green is almost everywhere in the current metagame. Aristocrats, Esper Control, American Midrange, and a few rogue decks aren’t running green; everyone else is.

After I tweeted another version of the graph—which Aaron kindly retweeted—@joshuamilliken asked a very pertinent question: Which decks actually won those top 8s? So I generated another graph, this time with just the winners, and something interesting emerged:

wpid-46States1st-2013-05-23-23-38.png

Whoa! What happened to Junk Rites? And look how hot Naya Humans (also commonly called Naya Blitz) is, relative to how many made the top 8. Also, looks like going rogue can get you to the top 8, but it’s not as good a bet once it gets there. Note that American Midrange, Naya Midrange, and Bant Flash are now part of the “other” category, and that all 8 decks in the “other” category are singletons. (Esper Control is not—not a single Esper Control pilot won any of these 46 states.)

So what’s going on?

I think Jund Midrange gains here because it’s a hard deck to hate out. Look at a typical Jund Midrange 1st-place list from States. It’s just a collection of strong, moderately synergistic cards from the Jund colors. There’s no one clear strategy to hate out there. True, it’s not super fast, but it has a lot of removal for the early game and life gain for the middle game, plus ‘walkers and Olivia for the long game. There’s no obvious “sideboard this particular card” that handles this deck, so it’s pretty resilient against the field. I also think Sire is helping Jund in the control matchups.

The one place you’d think it might be weak, particularly game 1, is against Junk Rites. However, what’s particularly interesting here is that I took a more careful look at the 12 Jund Midrange decks that came in first, and the majority of them (I think it was 7) run at least one, and often two, Ground Seal in the main deck. That’s right, not just in the sideboard, in the main deck. Sure, most Junk Rites decks are running 3 or even 4 Acidic Slime main deck, but still, that’s a meaningful hurdle.

Main decking Ground Seal seems like a great strategy against Junk Rites and any deck running Snapcaster Mage, and while it doesn’t seem very good against the rest of this pie chart, at least it doesn’t cost a card. Making what can be a tough matchup into something where you’re actually favored game 1 is probably worth it, and those can be boarded out in game 2 against everything else.

Naya Blitz also gains a lot when it reaches the top 8. I think this is because the deck is just too fast for Junk Rites, which lost a little in this matchup because of the popular change from Centaur Healer to Sin Collector. The Collector is a great 2-for-1 against a lot of decks, but Blitz runs few non-creatures and a 2/1 body is just not the speed bump that a 3/3 body plus a Healing Salve is. So my guess is that Junk Rites is giving away top 8 matches to both Blitz and Jund, but even that’s not enough to quite account for Blitz’s big jump here.

Bant Auras, Gruul Aggro, and The Aristocrats also all get a little bit better in the top 8, but this change is not dramatic. My guess—and this is speculation, I don’t have numbers to back this up—is that this is mostly at the expense of the “other” category, and this is probably where most of the Blitz increase is coming from as well.

Also note that this chart is even more green than the last one. Apparently, in the current Standard, is actually is easy being green.

First DGM Standard: Money with Bant Auras

I know I haven’t done one of these things in ages—not since GTC Game Day—but I’ve been busy. I only played about a half-dozen constructed tournaments with GTC standard anyway, and had to replace a bunch of cards because my son lost a deck along the way. So not the best set for me.

So, my first DGM Standard, and I decided to play something simple and fast, or at least potentially fast. During GTC I played Aristocrats a couple times, Junk Rites a couple times, and Bant control a couple times, and wanted something a little less grindy. Here’s the list I played:

Not a huge turnout, so 4 rounds of Swiss cutting to top 4.

Round 1: Ryan, playing Junk (not Reanimator)
I lost the die roll, and I actually managed to lose Game 1 to a turn 4 Primordial Hydra despite hitting for 16 on my turn 4 (that’s Fencing Ace with Spectral Flight, Rancor, and Ethereal Armor), because he O-Ring’d the Ace the next turn and the following turn put an extra counter on the hydra with Common Bond. Ugh. Game 2 he kept a 1-lander and scooped to my turn 2 Geist, turn 3 Spectral Flight. Game 3 I got turn 3 Geist and while I didn’t immediately have enchantments for it, I found some and carried it home.
1-0 matches, 2-1 games

Round 2: Paul, playing WBR Control
Paul is a regular who I’ve played many times. I got turn 2 Invisible Stalker and turn 3 Unflinching Courage, so I decided that I could just race him regardless of what he did and didn’t immediately kill his turn 4 Sorin (with four spirit tokens on the board from a Lingering Souls with flashback). That was a mistake, as he ultimately was able to race with some timely lifelink of his own. Game 2 I got an early Geist with Ethereal Armor and sailed in. I have to admit I don’t really remember game 3 all that well, but I’m pretty sure it involved a Geist as well.
2-0 matches, 4-2 games

Round 3: Ryan, playing Bant
Didn’t see any Prime Speakers or Wolf Runs but there were mana dorks Farseeks and Acidic Slimes and Ætherlings. Game 1 I got a turn 2 Fencing Ace followed by turn 3 Unflinching Courage and got in once, but he took out the Courage with an Acidic Slime. We went back and forth a bit, he got down an Ætherling but actually had to chump with it (he couldn’t blink it out before damage because the Fencing Ace he was blocking had Rancor on it) when I alpha struck with the Ace and a Geist. That killed both my Geist and Ace, but left him at 2, and I was able to get there with a Voice. Game 3 he got an early Centaur Healer an then a Thragtusk but I had a Stalker out with Rancor and then Unflinching Courage and then Spectral Flight and his lifegain wasn’t going to outrace that.
3-0 matches, 6-2 games

Round 4: Simon, playing UB Zombies
Yeah, you read that right, UB Zombies: Diregraf Ghoul, Gravecrawler, Messenger, Blood Artist, Killing Wave, Diregraf Captain, etc. It’s better than you think, as Simon has won or top4’d three straight tournaments with it (note: sans sideboard!) and every time I play against it, it’s just better than it should be. The only RTR-block cards are shocklands, Syncopate, Rakdos Cackler, and Ultimate Price, but those are pretty good ones. Anyway, we were the only undefeateds, so we ID’d.
3-0-1 matches, 6-2 games

Semis: Angel, playing RWU Control
Angel is one of the store’s quality players and always plays a strong deck. I lost the roll, came out with turn 2 Fencing Ace (ate a Pillar), turn 3 Geist, turn 4 Spectral Flight on the Geist, hit him down to 11. He came back with Supreme Verdict, I played another Geist and a Rancor, he played Snapcaster to flash back the Verdict, I came back with a Voice with Rancor on it. Voice ate a Warleader’s Helix, I got the token, Rancor’d it up, played a mana dork, and hit him back down to 10. He was out of cards and top decked… his singleton Entreat the Angels. Well, then. Game 2 an early Verdict netted me an Elemental token, which got Rancor on it, and went almost all the way while I was stuck on two lands. He killed it, I got another Voice, he killed that and was down to two cards and mostly tapped out, I came back with Nevermore and named Sphinx’s Revelation, which he conveniently had two of in hand. He drew, I hit him down to 1 and tried Nevermore again for Supreme Verdict, he countered it and I passed back. He didn’t have many outs there, said “I need a miracle” and then topdecked… Entreat the Angels. Again? Really? I never got through his wall of fliers.
3-1-1 matches, 6-4 games

Not too bad overall, though a bit of a bummer losing to the same topdecked singleton both games. (At FNM two days prior I lost in the final to turn 2 Pack Rat both games… I think I’ve had enough of this for a while.) Still, a money finish is a money finish, and I’ve finished in the money the last five straight events I’ve played (counting this one; the last four were all limited), so I’m on a bit of a roll right now, which is nice.

Now, the deck. It’s been in the top 8 or top 16 of a lot of big events recently, and that’s not an accident. It is, however, a pretty high-variance deck. The best openers are amazing (turn 2 Geist, basically) and the weaker ones still have potential. I think the hardest part about playing this deck is mulliganing, otherwise it’s pretty much suit guys up and turn them sideways. Playing a deck with no removal at all always creeps me out a little, but the deck is fast enough to race a lot of things, even Thragtusks.

Most of the lists for this deck are pretty much the same—maybe a little variance in the land mix (but not count) and the sideboard. Fencing Ace feels like the weak link here because it just dies to everything. Yes, the double strike is great when he’s got some kind of enchantment, but he dies to Tragic Slip and Electrickery and Pillar and leaves you with nothing when he goes down. There was a recent list that won a PTQ that didn’t run Voice in favor of a playset of Loxodon Smiter. I’m not sure I like that, as Voice seemed pretty good, especially with Rancor around.

A more interesting variant finished 12th at this weekend’s SCG Open: it ran a playset of Loxodon Smiter and didn’t run any Fencing Ace. I’ll have to test out that version as well.

The deck also felt like it was running 1 too many land. If I put in Smiters then the curve goes up a little and that will probably be fine. If I keep in the Fencing Aces, I’d consider cutting the basic Forest and adding another Simic Charm, which seemed very good in this deck.