Aether Hub: The Standard Bearer (Analysis of Standard Meta, Sideboard Choices, and Theorycrafting)
Behold, the Standard Meta! The infinitely evolving puzzle. Join me on a thoughtful analysis of the current state of the Standard format and the 75’s currently being piloted by today’s pros and ordinary folk like you and me. Today I introduce 2 column titles that I will be endeavouring to write each week. I will also look at [c]Aether Hub[/c] the card that powers the Energy craze in over 50% of the decks seen in the top 8’s of tournaments in the last 2 weeks and even more since the release of Kaladesh.
Sitting in our usual Wednesday night seats at the local store, the conversation in our
playtest group switches to the Standard and sideboards. We discuss Mono-black Zombies and Ulamog and the potential likelihood of a ban and laugh at jokes concerning how people think the Meta is too narrow. I take the opportunity of a lull in our playtesting to get up and survey the plays in the Wednesday night Standard field. The store we frequent is the home for a group of some of the more competitive local players and so I feel it tends to give me a good idea of how the Standard Meta as a whole is being interpreted.
With all of the recent changes to the environment I feel that the Standard Meta has not settled yet. I believe that recent sideboards in popular lists in top 8’s reflect this. Most sideboard choices look less targeted and more like a shotgun blast. General sentiment at the local shops I frequent is that Marvelous Energy or Temur Aetherworks is too much of the field. That does not appear to be the case on Magic Online. Slots in the top 8 for many recent online tournaments have less than 3 Aetherworks builds, many having just 1 or 2. The field is still flooded with a large number of netdecked copies of Marvelous Energy but are likely being piloted by inexperienced players with little strategy or planning.
While the deck is certainly impressive when it is firing correctly, how does it really work and are there sideboard choices that are being used to lessen the number of wins? Now first off before we look at a list, I want to point out that this deck has been around for quite a while. It fell out of favour really when Emrakul was banned and was supplanted by Copy Cat. So this honestly is nothing new.
Most builds run something similar to this:
Marvel and enablers – used to generate Energy and use it to activate the Aetherworks Marvel
- 4 [c]Aetherworks Marvel[/c]
- 4 [c]Attune with Aether[/c]
- 4 [c]Glimmer of Genius[/c]
- 4 [c]Harnessed Lightning[/c]
- 3-4 [c]Servant of the Conduit[/c]
- 2-3 [c]Woodweaver’s Puzzleknot[/c]
Main Win Conditions – best case targets for a Marvel activation
- 3-4 [c]Ulamog, the Ceaseless Hunger[/c]
- 2-3 [c]Chandra, Flamecaller[/c]
Board Support – secondary targets for Marvel and utility to slow the pace of the game
- 2-3 [c]Whirler Virtuoso[/c]
- 3-4 [c]Rogue Refiner[/c]
Combo Protection – optional cards to protect the combo
- 1-3 [c]Negate[/c]
- 0-2 [c]Confiscation Coup[/c]
22-24 Lands – every build runs 4 [c]Aether Hub[/c]
- [c]Aether Meltdown[/c]
- [c]Appetite for the Unnatural[/c]
- [c]Baral’s Expertise[/c]
- [c]Bristling Hydra[/c]
- [c]Ceremonious Rejection[/c]
- [c]Chandra, Flamecaller[/c]
- [c]Chandra, Torch of Defiance[/c]
- [c]Confiscation Coup[/c]
- [c]Dissenter’s Deliverance[/c]
- [c]Essence Scatter[/c]
- [c]Magma Spray[/c]
- [c]Nissa, Vital Force[/c]
- [c]Radiant Flames[/c]
- [c]Sweltering Suns[/c]
- [c]Tireless Tracker[/c]
By looking at this list can you tell what deck(s) they are most afraid of dropping games to? Looks like to me they are worried about Vehicles and the mirror match. Aside from a few mass removal spells (that were not included in many sideboards) there is not much tech against Zombies. With perfect execution, Marvel can activate on turn 4. This activation is not guaranteed to hit a viable target, but the odds are likely they will see either a wincon or a board support slot. Zombies and Vehicles are both well positioned to deal a lethal attack around or on turn 5 if unimpeded.
As I mention in the breakdown, every build has 4 copies of [c]Aether Hub[/c], which is the reason that the price of the Uncommon is still 3$+. In fact, several non-Energy style decks in the format are running 4 of the filter land as a staple. I have maintained since it was printed that the refillable [c]Tendo Ice Bridge[/c] clone, is a positive point in the format. I enjoy its versatility and think that it encourages people to play with Energy, even if thatisn’t the main stratagem of the deck. All that being said, land destruction is at a low point and despite [c]Crumble to Dust[/c] being around, I haven’t seen it in any sideboards. Hub may be the proverbial 3rd leg of the stool, what happens to decks with them removed? I think this bears more research.
We know from Magic 101 that Combo is supposed to do well against Aggro, so why is Zombies considered a threat? Well simply put the ‘combo’ in this case is all wrapped around a single resource and if removed the deck becomes rather slow. 2 of the best cards in the Meta to achieve this outcome are in Black and cost less than 4 to cast. Now I propose that if you are tired of losing to that one player in your shop that is running all over you with Ulamog, that you take a good long look at your sideboard and see if you can make some improvements.
Sideboard choices against Marvel
- [c]Lost Legacy[/c]
- [c]Ceremonious Rejection[/c]
- [c]Appetite for the Unnatural[/c]
- [c]Dissenter’s Deliverance[/c]
- [c]Root Out[/c]
- [c]Release the Gremlins[/c]
- [c]By Force[/c]
- [c]Angelic Purge[/c]
- [c]Declaration in Stone[/c]
- [c]Thopter Arrest[/c]
- [c]Gideon’s Intervention[/c]
- [c]Anguished Unmaking[/c]
I admit that this list is by no means complete, as there are undoubtedly more strategies that you can find support to combat against Marvel and Ulamog. However, I would like to point out that the choices available in White are also very good against Vehicles and marginally good against Zombies. With this in mind I have been working on a deck to attempt to solve the Meta as it currently stands. Also worth mentioning is that a Black-Green combination would be very good for sideboard choices as well. I believe that the recent surge of Constrictor decks is evidence that others are thinking along this line.
The White deck I mentioned brings us to the next part of my weekly column.
Skyship MetaSolver, the Theorycraft
I love to find cards that are abandoned or not-quite-broken and champion them until I find something that works well enough to win a local FNM. My current card I have been working on is Approach of the Second Sun. I have seen all sorts of theory around this card, but I am fairly confident I went a different route.
This is my Mono-White Approach of the Second Sun build:
3 Inspiring Statuary
3 Consulate Dreadnought
3 Cultivator’s Caravan
3 Hedron Archive
3 Peacewalker Colossus
3 Prophetic Prism
2 Forsake the Worldly
4 Gideon’s Intervention
4 Planar Outburst
4 Approach of the Second Sun
4 Evolving Wilds
4 Inventors’ Fair
3 Cast Out
3 Consulate Crackdown
3 Forsake the Worldly
3 Declaration in Stone[/d]
It has done very well in test against Zombies, Marvel, and Vehicles so far. This is still a rough draft as testing is still in progress and the deck is admittedly a little weak to Zombies if they happen to be running [c]Lost Legacy[/c] and [c]Dispossess[/c] (but who does that right?). Premise is to use [c]Inspiring Statuary[/c] to reduce the cost of [c]Fumigate[/c] and [c]Gideon’s Intervention[/c] down to 2 White, and make Approach castable around turn 4-5. All the while controlling the board and swinging with Dreadnoughts and Peacewalkers on a clear field. The deck is not foolproof, but I have managed a lot of wins with it so far.
With the recent reveal of the new 3 mana board wipe from Hour of Devastation and all the good Black exile spells, I have already started a rebuild of this deck to incorporate the new card and the better sideboard choices. It is still in its infancy but this not so subtle control deck is a blast to pilot and winning with Second Sun number 2 is a great feeling.
When the list is more formalized and fully tested I will revisit the final result.
Bonus Article: Kamigawa Block Tiny Leaders 1 – Generals
After writing my first article I joked about random formats and I was asked in the comment well to actually write about the made up Tiny Leaders format I invented. Or so I thought. Apparently Travis Woo did something similar to this I found out. It was something I had been thinking about. Their thing was Pauper and I wanted to ignore that anyways, because I feel that Tiny Leaders is like Speed Chess in comparison to Constructed Standard is introductory ranked play (like a chess ELO score of 800). Tiny Leaders is a Deck Designer’s game in my opinion. The limitation on card count is maddeningly difficult to get around if you want to develop consistency in your build. The lines that you go through to win are incredible subtle (or outright barbarous if that is your thing).
I have built upwards of 30 Tiny Leaders decks and had thought about a thematic 5 colour set that I could use to play with against newcomers. Something easy to learn and balanced, with good templating. The numbers of legends under 3 CMC in Kamigawa and its focus on mono-color drew my eye of course. I have already begun construction on a [c]Adamaro[/c], First to Desire red build. So in the effort to bring the idea to full fruition, I am listing the Generals I have chosen here for each colors and the reasons why. If there is an interest in the section I will write a follow-up with the full builds.
Note: All choices were meant to be defensive or player-centric. This was intended to avoid too many inherent advantages for skilled players vs new players.
Red: [c]Adamaro, First to Desire[/c]
Simple and aggressive. Rewards Red players for playing cautiously, which while un-Red helps to balance the games against newer players.
White: [c]Rune-Tail, Kitsune Ascendant[/c]
Since your starting life is below 30, there is still some work involved. Very defensive, but does not eliminate removal from Black and Green.
Blue: [c]Kira, Great Glass-Spinner[/c]
Only real option. Makes things a little lopsided against Red and Black, but it doesn’t make the game any faster.
Black: [c]Toshiro Umezawa[/c]
Least aggressive general option. Umezawa is the king of removal. The flashback aspect is very legitimate and I have actually built him as a regular General.
Green: [c]Dosan the Falling Leaf[/c]
Designed to slow the pace and stop unfair removal speeds, Dosan is is my best available choice. He is not Azusa, who is a top tier General in every Commander style format.
Although now reading the articles about the Pauper league for this, I do like the errata of making the Non-Legendary uncommon Flip cards into Generals. That may be something to look into for future builds.
Thanks for reading,