Fact not Fiction – A Standard Primer by Michael Maxwell

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Fact not Fiction – The Winners and Losers from Pro Tour Paris by Michael Maxwell

With Extended season almost over and Nationals Qualifiers just around the corner, I take a look at the top decks in Standard right now – and how to beat them.

For each deck I will look at a typical decklist, the deck’s game plan, strengths, weaknesses, and common sideboard options/possible tech.

Cawblade.

Stock list:

Artifacts

1 Sword of Feast and Famine

1 Sylvok Lifestaff

Creatures

4 Squadron Hawk

4 Stoneforge Mystic

Instants

1 Cancel

1 Deprive

3 Mana Leak

4 Spell Pierce

Planeswalkers

3 Gideon Jura

4 Jace, the Mind Sculptor

Sorceries

4 Day of Judgment

4 Preordain

Basic Lands

5 Island

4 Plains

Lands

4 Celestial Colonnade

4 Glacial Fortress

1 Misty Rainforest

4 Seachrome Coast

4 Tectonic Edge


Game plan.

Cawblade has two game plans – either cast a turn 2 Stoneforge Mystic, then use the Sword of Feast and Famine it (usually) tutored for to generate massive card and tempo advantage; or play like a traditional control deck by countering early threats, sweeping the board, then riding Planeswalkers to victory.

Strengths.

This deck uses sword of feast and famine better than any other, due to the counterspells. The ability to drop a planeswalker, attack them, and then pass the turn with countermagic is extremely powerful. In control mirrors, once the mystic is active Cawblade never has to tap out in the main phase again – the comparisons with bitterblossom are not without good reason. The tag team of Jace and Gideon is also very potent.

Weaknesses.

Most versions of this deck have no removal in the early turns, so a quick creature rush can be hard for them to deal with. Cawblade often maindecks 2-3 Spell Pierce, making creatures a better avenue of attack than spells a lot of the time. A resolved planeswalker is also difficult for this deck to deal with – making them tap out for Day of Judgement and then sticking a Koth, Tezzeret or pretty much any other Planeswalker puts them in a lot of trouble.

Sideboard cards/tech.

GerryT has popularised a version with red, giving the deck access to Lightning Bolt, Cunning Sparkmage, Pyroclasm and even Inferno Titan, which go a long way towards helping the aggro matchups. Expect plenty of Ratchet Bombs, Flashfreezes, Divine Offerings, and Baneslayers/titans in the sideboard. Stoneforge Mystic gives you access to equipment bullets such as Mortarpod or Bonehoard.

Valakut.

Stock list:

Creatures

2 Avenger of Zendikar

4 Lotus Cobra

2 Oracle of Mul Daya

4 Overgrown Battlement

4 Primeval Titan

Enchantments

4 Khalni Heart Expedition

Instants

4 Harrow

Sorceries

4 Explore

4 Green Sun’s Zenith

Basic Lands

5 Forest

11 Mountain

Lands

4 Misty Rainforest

2 Raging Ravine

2 Terramorphic Expanse

4 Valakut, the Molten Pinnacle


Game plan.

The game plan here is quite straightforward – ramp as quickly as possible to get valakut online. Plan B is to beat them up with titans and Avenger of Zendikar.

Strengths.

Stopping both lines of attack at the same time can be quite difficult. Valakut also has the ability to have you dead or very close to dead on turn 4 whilst also having a very strong late game. Green Sun’s Zenith gives the deck a lot of consistency, acting as a ramp spell early on and a finisher late.

Weaknesses.

How do you beat any combo deck? Disruption plus a clock. Disruption can be discard such as Duress or inquisition or countermagic like Mana Leak and Spell Pierce. The addition of Stoneforge Mystic and SoFaF to U/W has completely turned that matchup around since U/W now has the clock it was missing to go along with the disruption. Blazing fast aggro decks can be faster than valakut, but will struggle to beat the inevitable Pyroclasms and Slagstorms in games 2 and 3.

Sideboard cards/tech.

As with many combo decks, sideboarding can be difficult since there is a core to the deck that has to remain intact for the combo to work. Against aggro decks the plan is usually to board in a few sweepers/Lightning Bolts/Obstinate Baloths which should buy you enough time to get valakut online. Against control a mix of uncounterable creatures like Thrun and Gaea’s revenge and Planeswalkers such as koth is the norm. Multiple Acidic Slimes are likely with all the swords running around, and Summoning Trap is still an option.

U/B control.

Stock list:

Artifacts

2 Ratchet Bomb

Creatures

3 Grave Titan

Enchantments

4 Spreading Seas

Instants

2 Disfigure

1 Doom Blade

1 Go for the Throat

4 Mana Leak

2 Stoic Rebuttal

Planeswalkers

2 Jace Beleren

3 Jace, the Mind Sculptor

Sorceries

2 Black Sun’s Zenith

4 Inquisition of Kozilek

4 Preordain

Basic Lands

5 Island

3 Swamp

Lands

4 Creeping Tar Pit

4 Darkslick Shores

4 Drowned Catacomb

1 Misty Rainforest

4 Tectonic Edge

1 Verdant Catacombs


Game plan.

U/B control is the most passive deck in the format. Discard and counterspells keep them alive in the early game, Black Sun’s Zenith clears the board and then Grave Titan to end the game in 2 hits. Jace keeps the cards coming whilst Disfigure and Go for the Throat pick off opposing threats.

Strengths.

Despite the printing of Go for the Throat, Grave Titan is still one of the best finishers in the format. Access to up to 8 1-mana discard spells gives you a lot of information to work with and the ability to force your threats through countermagic in the late game.

Weaknesses.

Sword of Feast and Famine is a major issue for this deck. Blue and black have no real way to deal with a resolved sword, and Ratchet Bomb isnt the quickest answer in the world. The deck can also struggle to keep up without Jace in play, as a lot of your draws are less than exciting come turn 10.

Sideboard cards/tech.

U/B now has access to both the black zenith and Consume the Meek, so try and play around both if you can. Most lists have an alternative finisher in the sideboard, such as Precursor Golem or Massacre Wurm. Spreading Seas is also more common in U/B than U/W.

Boros.

Stock list:

Artifacts

2 Adventuring Gear

1 Sword of Body and Mind

1 Sword of Feast and Famine

Creatures

4 Goblin Guide

2 Hero of Oxid Ridge

2 Mirran Crusader

4 Plated Geopede

1 Spikeshot Elder

4 Squadron Hawk

4 Steppe Lynx

3 Stoneforge Mystic

Enchantments

2 Journey to Nowhere

Instants

3 Lightning Bolt

Planeswalkers

1 Koth of the Hammer

Basic Lands

5 Mountain

5 Plains

Lands

Arid Mesa

3 Evolving Wilds

4 Marsh Flats

4 Scalding Tarn

1 Teetering Peaks

 

Game plan.

Probably the best aggro deck in the format, Boros attacks your life total early with Steppe Lynx, Goblin Guide, and Plated Geopede. Koth and Hero of Oxid Ridge give the deck a pair of four-drops that really hit hard, and Squadron Hawks are there to pick up the plethora of equipment which can be found with Stoneforge Mystic. Spikeshot Elder and Mirran Crusader can both get quite filthy when carrying equipment.

Strengths.

Easily capable of turn 4 kills, this deck hits hard and fast. Hero of Oxid Ridge makes blocking difficult, and Koth can be a real pain for the control decks. Stoneforge Mystic and Squadron Hawk provide a lot of card advantage and a stream of dangerous attackers.

Weaknesses.

Boros has one of the worst manabases in standard. There are no W/R dual lands, although Arid Mesa and Terramorphic Expanse obviously help. The deck runs 25 lands in order to ensure hitting landfall triggers, but only runs a handful of cards that cost more than 2 or 3 mana, so flooding can be an issue. The deck can also struggle for creatures in the midgame if you dont draw a Squadron Hawk.

Sideboard cards/tech.

Sparkmage/Basilisk Collar out of the sideboard is fairly standard. Mark of Mutiny, Arc Trail, Koth, and Kor Firewalker are all common, along with some sort of artifact destruction. Bonehoard is proving quite strong, as it is a threat in itself and makes any creature you draw ginormous in the late game.


These 4 decks accounted for nearly two-thirds of the field at Pro Tour Paris. If you want to have a good chance at the upcoming qualifiers, I suggest you have a plan to beat all four.

Join me next time when I take a look at some of the fringe players in Standard, such as Vampires, Kuldotha Red, Quest, and RUG.

Thanks for reading,

Michael Maxwell

 

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