MTG WMCQ 2015 Standard Primer by Marco Orsini Jones
The first of the 3 WMCQs takes place this weekend and we have just had the mammoth-sized GP London in the same Standard format this past weekend, so it’s a good time for a primer on the format. In this article I’ll break down the main archetypes to expect, tell you what is good and what is not, and give you tips so you can be one step ahead of your competition at the WMCQ.
There was one big story at GP London (other than Fabrizio winning his third(!) GP): Hangarback Abzan. The 1st, 2nd, 8th and 9th placed players all played the deck and it put the 2nd highest number of people into Day 2 of any archetype, after Abzan Control. In case it’s not already clear: this is now the deck to beat in the Standard format.
The cyclical nature of the current Standard has come up a lot recently, with many people expressing the view that this is an excellent Standard format because every weekend the metagame shifts and there is a new target ‘best deck’ to aim at. I think that this may be the weekend that has actually ‘settled’ the format. Let me explain why.
This deck will not go away. It has next to no real weaknesses, it is aggressive and resilient and it can be customised to fight any foe, particularly post-board, as the Abzan colours give you access to the best sideboard options. I believe Hangarback Abzan will remain the deck to beat for the foreseeable future, so you must be ready to either play it or beat it at the WMCQ. The deck plays a lot of the best cards in the format ([card]Siege Rhino[/card] is probably the best) and also contains a lot of synergy with the +1/+1 counter-based cards ([card]Dromoka’s Command[/card] and [card]Abzan Charm[/card] paired with [card]Den Protector[/card] and [card]Hangarback Walker[/card]). It is able to make full use of [card]Dromoka’s Command[/card], which is one of the best cards against all of the ‘cute’ decks in the format (UR Mill, Constellation, UR Thopters, Heroic).
Lastly, being able to play 4 [card]Den Protector[/card]s in the deck, as both an aggressive 2 drop and a late game 5 drop, is incredible, as it allows the deck to out-card the actual card advantage decks, and gives the deck a solid out to Elspeth, which was previously the biggest weakness of the aggressive midrange strategies.
You can read Fabrizio’s GP London 2015 Tournament Report – 1st Place with Hangarback Abzan, plus Sideboarding Guide here.
This deck has settled into the spot of ‘second best deck in the format’. It puts up a good finish every week and is always going to be a solid choice provided you choose a well-tuned version (pay attention to your sideboards – they’re important!), you know the format well and you are able to pilot the deck. I wouldn’t recommend playing this deck if, like me, you are not the quickest player, as it tends to win very grindy drawn-out games, making going to time a real issue.
The debate on Megamorph vs regular Control has mostly been settled in favour of the regular version at this point, and I think that the results from GP London further confirm this to be the case, with maindeck [card]Anafenza, the Foremost[/card]s making relying on the [card]Den Protector[/card]/[card]Deathmist Raptor[/card] package riskier than before. [card]Bile Blight[/card]’s stock has risen again with the emergence of Hangarback Abzan, and [card]Ultimate Price[/card]’s has gone down, as it kills nothing of relevance in Hangarback Abzan, so I would suggest completing the switch to all [card]Bile Blight[/card]s in the 2cc removal slot.
This deck is likely to be the biggest ‘riser’ as a result of the GP London result. Traditionally it has always been Abzan Aggro’s toughest matchup and even though Abzan Aggro has received an upgrade, it is unlikely to be enough to dramatically swing the matchup round – particularly if people start tweaking their Abzan decks to win mirror matches, as they likely will. The deck is strong and proactive, but does not have a huge amount of ‘play’ to it, making it an excellent choice if you don’t know the format especially well or don’t want to get involved in an Abzan ‘tech-war’ of who has made their deck the most twisted to win the mirror match.
The rise of Hangarback Walker shouldn’t unduly concern GR Devotion players as it is mostly able to power clean through other Midrange decks and has [card]Dragonlord Atarka[/card] to remove any pesky 1/1 flyers. If you are afraid of losing to a swarm of 1/1 flyers, the deck has good options in the board against [card]Hangarback Walker[/card] including [card]Unravel the Aether[/card] and [card]Windstorm[/card]. It may also be time to find room for [card]Hornet Queen[/card] in the maindeck again. Honestly though, I think the best response for GR devotion players to the rise of [card]Hangarback Walker[/card] may just be to ignore it and rub their hands with glee in anticipation of the rise of Midrange decks tuned to win Midrange mirrors.
This deck is like Abzan-lite in that it always seems to be around putting up decent numbers and also tries to play ‘fair’, but never does quite as well as Abzan in terms of its finishes. That also sums up nicely how I feel about the deck. It is solid enough and a good choice if you want to pilot a deck with some ‘play’ to it, but I can’t help but feel that you might be better off just playing some shade of Abzan instead.
[card]Siege Rhino[/card] is a tough card to say “no” to. Having said that, if you want to play [card]Jace, Vryn’s Prodigy[/card] (understandable), this is likely the best choice, and as with Abzan you will be rewarded for playing the deck well and knowing the format well. It is also tougher to play against than either Abzan deck, giving more opportunities to profit from opponents’ errors.
Lastly, it gets to play some of the best cards in the format against [card]Hangarback Walker[/card]. Some number of [card]Magma Spray[/card] should be in the main deck over the [card]Wild Slash[/card]es now, and [card]Anger of the Gods[/card] in the sideboard is also nice. Similarly, [card]Roast[/card] is probably the best way to try to contain [card]Siege Rhino[/card] for ‘fair’ decks.
This is possibly a slightly controversial choice, as the deck has not put up very good results for the past couple of weeks. However, I remain convinced that the deck is a solid choice and has the card quality required to remain powerful even now that people are ready to face it. The lists from the Pro Tour probably require some tweaking to account for the rise of Abzan, but otherwise the core of the deck is strong, and as with Jace-skai, Mono Red is able to use both [card]Magma Spray[/card] and [card]Roast[/card], two of the best cards against Hangarback Abzan. I would recommend playing some number of both cards maindeck if you choose Mono Red this weekend, and would suggest cutting [card]Eidolon of the Great Revel[/card]s from the main to avoid splash damage from [card]Dromoka’s Command[/card].
I’m reluctant to put GR Dragons in this category, because honestly I’m not 100% sure how good the deck is. However, it was solid pre-Magic Origins and seems to be solid again now, with Martin Juza and Brad Nelson both doing well with the deck at GP London. Having access to 4 [card]Stormbreath Dragon[/card]s is the main draw to this deck, and that card is only likely to get stronger now, with everyone playing [card]Abzan Charm[/card] as their removal of choice. Although Juza and Nelson played [card]Wild Slash[/card] at the GP, I would again suggest going with [card]Magma Spray[/card] in that slot, to combat the rise of [card]Hangarback Walker[/card]s. As with Jeskai, a big draw for this deck is the chance to play both [card]Magma Spray[/card] and [card]Roast[/card] main. The deck has serious issues with [card]Languish[/card], so don’t play it if you expect a lot of that card in your local metagame.
Todd Anderson was very close to making Top 8 at GP London with Bant Heroic, and Tom Ross also put up a solid finish with it. It is a very difficult deck to play with and against, so I would recommend practising with the deck beforehand if you want to play it. The deck has a strong proactive strategy and both rewards good play and punishes opponents’ errors, so is not a bad choice if it fits your style. However, the metagame shift towards Abzan Aggro is not good for Bant Heroic as it is likely the deck’s worst matchup with its cheap threats backed by non-burn removal, so I would not recommend playing the deck this weekend.
This deck is good in a very specific metagame where everyone is playing some shade of Midrange, as it is the Midrange deck to out-Midrange them all. However, if people are playing aggressive decks with 4 [card]Dromoka’s Command[/card]s in their maindeck and [card]Tragic Arrogance[/card]s in their sideboard (i.e. Abzan Aggro), I would not recommend playing Constellation.
Please see above, under “Constellation” (except the bit about [card]Tragic Arrogance[/card]).
This deck’s time is now well and truly over. It is trying to do a lot of the same things the Abzan decks do (medium-paced aggression backed by card advantage and disruption), but it is worse than those decks at doing them. It has serious issues beating [card]Tragic Arrogance[/card] after board, and to top it all off it matches up badly against both shades of Abzan in a one-on-one fight.
Just don’t do it. The deck sucks.
Please see above, under “UR Thopters”.
Some tips to beat the crowd
I mentioned it above but I’ll say it again: [card]Magma Spray[/card] and [card]Roast[/card] are both very well positioned as a result of the rise of Hangarback Abzan. If you are playing red cards (other than [card]Dragonlord Atarka[/card]), I would recommend playing some number of both of these cards in your maindeck, and more in your sideboard.
Be ready to face Abzan. I know, I know, this is obvious. But seriously, the deck will be everywhere. An option utilised by the Italian players at GP London to win mirror matches (for the Hangarback version) is to play maindeck [card]Wingmate Roc[/card]s, and this might be the way in which the deck shifts going forward. I wouldn’t recommend twisting the deck particularly to beat the mirror, as there will be plenty of other archetypes around, and making the deck much weaker vs those players just for a small edge in the mirror is unlikely to be the way to go. However, practise the mirror matchup and have a good sideboard plan ready. Note that the Hangarback Abzan mirror matchup plays out quite differently depending on whether you are on the play or the draw. Cards like [card]Dromoka’s Command[/card], [card]Sorin, Solemn Visitor[/card] and [card]Wingmate Roc[/card] are far, far better on the play and make it very difficult to catch up for the opponent in a straight race. On the draw those cards are worse, so you should consider replacing some of those cards and sideboarding into a more controlly strategy instead if you win the first game.
I hope that this guide has helped you regardless of what you decide to play at the WMCQs, and good luck to all of you looking to qualify (except those who I face in Manchester this weekend)!
Thanks for reading,