Now that the double-standard Extended PTQ season is over, Nationals Qualifier season is approaching. The qualifiers are Standard format and a great chance for a level of competition a peg up from your regular FNM. I have competed in Nationals the last 3 years, I had a great time every year and I highly recommend it. For those of you who aren’t aware, the qualifier schedule can be found here.
The Domination of Stoneforge Mystic.
The standard metagame is largely living in the shadow of Pro Tour Paris – where Caw-blade was the top deck:
Stoneforge Mystic was the star of that top 8, featuring in 7 out of the 8 decks in 3 distinct archetypes (UW, Boros, Quest). Stoneforge Mystic (generally fetching Sword of Feast and Famine) has continued to dominate since then. Check out the top 16’s of SCG’s Open tournament series in Edison and Memphis. If you want to succeed in Standard in the next few months, you are going to have to know how to beat Stoneforge Mystic.
Stoneforge Mystic – How does it work?
The Stoneforge Mystic package can fit into any deck playing white – after all she only costs 1W and all the equipment she searches for are colourless. The amazing strength of Stoneforge Mystic isn’t just the fact that she is cheap and can search for equipment (which is strong), but she can put them into play at instant speed for 2 mana. This means you can protect your equipment from counterspells and get a mana discount on an expensive equipment.
The main target for Stoneforge Mystic is Sword of Feast and Famine. The ability to untap all your lands was used to great effect in the Pro Tour winning UW deck because once you have played your Stoneforge Mystic , you never need to tap out again. Turn 2 Mystic, turn 3 hold up counterspell mana and at the end of your opponent’s turn use Stoneforge Mystic to flash in the Sword, turn 4 equip and attack, untap your lands and pass the turn again with counterspells up. You can tap out for a Planeswalker in main phase 1, untap your lands and counter your opponent’s spells.
If you don’t need to untap your lands, or you need to protect your creatures from Jace, the Mind Sculptor , Sword of Body and Mind can be better than Sword of Feast and Famine . The milling can hurt you more than your opponent – if they are running Sun Titan or Vengevine , but most of the time the mill doesn’t matter much and the wolf makes a nice blocker.
Argentum Armor is the most expensive equipment around, which seems like a good reason to want a discount. Quest for the Holy Relic and Stoneforge Mystic are both capable of cheating the armor into play, and this strategy has been the focus of the Quest deck since Argentum Armor was printed.
Bonehoard is a great 1-of to have in the lategame. In a creature heavy deck it can often be huge and even if your germ dies, every creature in your deck can still become a bonefide threat. Lategame Steppe Lynx looks much better if you have a Bonehoard equipped. Also, Bonehoard creates opportunities for ‘hilarious’ jokes about â€œhow big is your boner?â€…
Basilisk Collar is another good equipment to search up, especially in conjunction with Cunning Sparkmage – a combo first demonstrated in LSV’s 16-0 Naya deck at last year’s Pro Tour San Diego. It’s also great on any first strike creature (Baneslayer Angel & Mirran Crusader spring to mind).
For people who don’t like splashing red in their UW decks (usually because they want to play Tectonic Edge ) Mortarpod is great at killing Lotus Cobra, Plated Geopede, Signal Pest and Squadron Hawk– especially as you normally run your own Squadron Hawks in your Stoneforge Mystic deck, which make great fodder for the bird launcher.
Sylvok Lifestaff can be a huge pain when combined with Squadron Hawk against an aggressive deck. The fact that it only costs 1 mana to play and 1 mana to equip makes it fast enough to be a real problem.
The Stoneforge Mystic Decks.
The Stoneforge Mystic plan fits into a lot of decks, here is a brief overview:
The stock monowhite version was designed by Frank Karsten for Pro Tour Paris (video deck tech here), where the people playing his build all had winning records in constructed. The main plan is to play and activate Quest for the Holy Relic, which often happens by turn 3. Argentum Armor can quickly put the game away. Stoneforge Mystic acts as a plan B – as another way of cheating the expensive equipment into play.
The green deck plays Fauna Shaman, which means it can find Stoneforge Mystic more consistently. Any deck playing Fauna Shaman should play Vengevine, giving GWQuest a solid backup plan against Day of Judgment.
Boros landfall has been a competitive deck since Zendikar was released, posting a top8 as early as Worlds 2009. Paul Rietzl managed 2nd place at Pro Tour Paris with this decklist and another Boros deck made top 8 in the hands of Vincent Lemoin. With the addition of the Squadron Hawk/Stoneforge Mystic package it is actually fairly midrange – acting as the aggro against Caw-blade and Valakut, with fast Steppe Lynx/Goblin Guide starts, but after sideboard fully able to play the control role using Arc Trail and Cunning Sparkmage to contain opposing aggro decks.
This deck is basically Boros and UW smooshed together, an innovation that took Gerry Thompson to 1st place in the Starcitygames Open. It uses Lightning Bolt, Cunning Sparkmage and Divine Offering to attack opposing Stoneforge Mystic decks. LSV posted a video-article on Channel Fireball, so if you are going to play this deck I recommend checking it out.
Another variation on UW Caw-blade, utilising the explosive power of Lotus Cobra and the consistency of Fauna Shaman. This deck also uses Vengevine as a foil to Day of Judgement and a trump against the Planeswalkers out of UW. It’s main way to compete against other Caw-blade decks is to get Stoneforge Mystic faster and more often, but Squadron Hawk also has nice synergy with Fauna Shaman and Vengevine so the deck is overall very synergic.
What Beats a Stoneforge Mystic?
There are two fundamental ways to attack the Stoneforge Mystic plan:
1) Remove the equipment.
Instant speed removal is great – when your opponent spends the first 4 turns setting up an equipped Stoneforge Mystic only for you to destroy his precious Sword when he tries to equip can buy you a LOT of tempo.
Valakut, Elves, GWx Fauna Shaman decks can use a toolbox singleton to handily remove opposing equiment at sorcery speed. You might get hit once (because your opponent uses Stoneforge Mystic’s tap ability at the end of your turn), but only having to dedicate 1 slot in your deck to nullifying an opposing Stoneforge Mystic is nice.
Black cards don’t usually deal with artifacts once they’ve hit play, but both of these discard spells can be played immediately after a Stoneforge Mystic to take the precious equipment from your opponent’s hand and put it handily out of reach in their graveyard.
For colours that aren’t usually able to deal with artifacts (Blue, Black) Ratchet Bomb provides an eventual answer to troublesome permanents, even if you have to tap it several times before it can destroy a sword.
2) Remove the creature.
Instant speed removal can really mess up your opponent’s plans if they were planning to untap their lands with Sword of Feast and Famine. Most often you will want to cast the removal in response to the equip ability, to make your opponent waste their mana.
Sorcery speed mass removal can be just as good at disrupting the equipment plan, since most Stoneforge Mystic decks don’t play haste creatures they will have to spend their following turn casting more creatures to equip. If you use Journey to Nowhere or something, be aware that they can just equip their other creature.
The UW decks run a lot of counterspells, so you might run into problems if you are tapping out on your turn to play sorcery speed removal. In that sense, the instants are better because you can play them when your opponent taps out – but most of those have specific timing restrictions too (Go for the Throat, Disfigure and Lightning Bolt have to be used in response to an equip, Condemn has to be used during combat.) Usually you would be able to bottleneck their mana, but if Sword of Feast and Famine connects they get to untap anyway. Basically you’re screwed if they have a counterspell for your removal – which is part of the reason the Stoneforge Mystic decks are so good!
Sparkmage stops Squadron Hawk, giving UW Caw-blade far fewer creatures to actually equip. Cunning Sparkmage can be surprisingly effective, and adding 1 Basilisk Collar to your deck to fetch with your own Stoneforge Mystic (or Trinket Mage) gives you a nice trump to opposing creature decks.
Tezzeret and Valakut decks have taken to using Tumble Magnet to tap the equipped creature at the beginning of combat. Unless you’re proliferating, this does only last 3 turns – but hopefully the Tumble Magnet will buy you enough time to find a more permanent solution.
Some Advice to Nationals Qualifiers
Nationals Qualifiers aren’t like your usual tournaments where you’re trying to win 1st place. Your aim is to be in the top 1 in 8 players (e.g. 6 players will qualify in a 48 player event), There is one piece of advice that is given every year to players who are serious about wanting to qualfy for nationals. Here it is:
PLAY A NETDECK!
There will be plenty of time to brew your innovative tech’d out metagamed masterpiece for Nationals. Homebrews have a tendancy to be either amazing* or terrible, but netecks have a proven track record. All you need is a solid record at one of these events and you’re qualified, so take a solid deck. Netdecking a list from the Pro Tour, a Magic Online Premier Event or a StarCityGames Open event will guarantee you a deck that is able to compete. Take the list card-for-card, don’t add in your extra little tech, it’s almost certain that whatever you took out was important in a way you don’t fully understand. If you aren’t too confident in your ability to outplay your opponents, you could always take Patrik Sullivan’s Red Deck Wins – because you don’t need to be a good player to win with that deck.
*Home-brews of people who aren’t already qualified on rating or pro level are extremely unlikely to be good enough to compete with established decks built and refined by Pro level players.
And finally, good luck in the Qualifiers – I look forward to seeing you all at Nationals!
Thanks for reading,