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The Standard Metagame - Tier 1 Decks

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For the next few articles I’ll be looking at the Standard environment and what the top decks are as well as a few of the more roguish decks.

I’ll be using the results for Regionals as an indicator of the metagame.

First up is the most obvious and clearly the best deck in the format.

Tooth and Nail:

66 of the top 8 decks at US Regionals were Tooth decks making by far the most common deck to find in the top 8. Not anywhere near as bad as Regionals last year where Ravager Affinity was something like 4-5 slots in every top 8 but still a significant number. It is most assuredly the deck to beat.

A standard Tooth list looks something like this:

This is a pretty basic list and by far the most common configuration.

There really isn’t a huge amount of variance between builds. It used to be that there was a few choices to make about which creatures you ran to Tooth into but even those are becoming more standard. Most versions are running a second Sundering Titan over the Darksteel Colossus and practically no versions are running the Platinum Angel Leonin Abunas combo anymore. Mephidross Vampire is often in the sideboard but rarely main decked. You occasionally find a Rude Awakening or two in the maindeck as well usually over a few Mindslavers. Also Kodama’s Reach is a fairly new addition to the deck since Terry Soh ran it in the Invitational (which he won). They became standard pretty quickly though and most decks have them.

Where the decks tend to actually vary is in the sideboard. Terry Soh provided the Troll and Nail sideboard. The theory was that every deck was sideboarding heavily against Tooth by bringing in land destruction spells like Molten Rain and Sowing Salt. When playing the mirror or against red decks The Troll and Nail decks would board out all its copies of Tooth and Nail and the tooth targets for Plow Under and a bunch of fatties, generally including Troll Ascetic, Razormane Masticore, Molder Slug, and Iwamori Of The Open Fist. The actual fatties tend to vary (as you can see in this list) but the plan itself is fairly standard. The fat would make the land destruction much less useful (as you are no longer trying to cast a 9 mana Sorcery) and Plow Under would make the mirror much better. Just don’t bring in the fat against decks that lose to Tooth and Nail as that would be stupid. Black decks have a much easier time Terroring Molder Slug than they do of dealing with Sundering Titan so leave the fatties in the board and be happy you beat them anyway. Green players also have more problems with the Tooth plan than the fatty plan as its own fatties are usually bigger and more numerous.

The basic game plan of Tooth is simple; Get to 9 mana and cast Tooth and Nail with entwine. You then throw some creatures into play that tend to win the game. Sundering Titan + Kiki-Jiki, Mirror Breaker is by far the most common Tooth targets as they tend to blow up all the opponent’s land and give you 14 damage a turn. The game will be over quickly. Kiki-Jiki + Darksteel Colossus will kill the opponent next turn. Kiki-Jiki, Mirror Breaker + Duplicant or Triskelion will deal with pretty much any creatures. Notice a pattern for Tooth targets yet? With the exception of the rarely used anymore Platinum Angel + Leonin Abunas or the post sideboard Triskelion + Mephidross Vampire all the common Tooth pairs involve Kiki-Jiki, Mirror Breaker. It think as far as the Tooth deck goes it is the only real mistake Wizards made. Tooth and Nail itself isn’t broken. It costs 9 mana. A sorcery that costs 9 mana better win you the game when resolved. Darksteel Colossus is powerful but is still possible to deal with, with things like Duplicant and Molder Slug. Even Grab the Reins can cause problems. Sundering Titan is scary but isn’t quite as scary when he blows up one of your lands on the first turn rather than 3. Also the fact that Kiki-Jiki, Mirror Breakerhas haste is what makes him broken rather than just powerful. The other smaller problem is Boseiju, Who Shelters All. The reason it isn’t common that a 9 mana sorcery sees tournament play is that under normal circumstances if you try to cast it your opponent will just tap a few Islands and counter it. Right now though there is the first fact that Wizards has been actively hosing countermagic. Then there is the other problem that all the Tooth player needs to do is use one of his 7+ non-basic land searchers to find a Boseju and suddenly the blue player is completely powerless to stop Tooth and Nail from resolving. While I don’t think Boseiju is broken or a mistake I do think it is a better idea to not let land tutors find non basic lands. As far as I can think of I can’t think of a single land tutor that lets you find non basic lands that didn’t see tournament play. Crop Rotation was even restricted because it let you find broken non basic lands (cough Tolarian Academy cough Library of Alexandria cough). Cards like Living Wish and Weathered Wayfarer also saw play when they were legal to find Dust Bowl / Wasteland or a couple of Cloudposts.

Mono Red Decks:

There are actually 3 different decks in this category and I’ll go over each individually. Overall though this was the second most common deck in the top 8 at US Regionals and with good reason. These decks are good against Tooth. Just beating the best deck in the format alone is enough of a reason for a deck to at least be tier 2. Red also has access to the possible best creature in the format, Arc-Slogger and plenty of other powerful cards like Pulse of the Forge, Shrapnel Blast, Slith Firewalker and Genju of the Spires.

Red Deck Wins:

If it is possible for this type of deck to be built in a format then it probably will. A lot of people just love this type of fast aggressive red aggro deck. Really all it needs to succeed it some decent weenies and cheap burn. Both are available right now. A common list would look something like this:

Probably the scariest thing this deck can do is turn 1 Slith Firewalker. This is something that pretty much any deck hates to see and can often be game over against a slower deck as by the time you have a blocker out the Slith is too big to deal with. Play just involves swinging with men and burning things, whether blockers or going to the dome. Vulshok Sorcerer is good in the mirror, against WW, and against all the fast aggro green decks. Considering how many decks are running cards like Kodama’s Reach and Sakura-Tribe Elder it is no wonder Zo-Zu The Punisher is good. This type of deck is also noticeable by its very low mana curve and lack of Arc-Slogger. This is also the most common type of red deck to make the top 8.

Ponza:

This deck is quite similar to Red Deck Wins except it is much more focused on land destruction. While other red decks might run Molten Rain, Ponza tries to squeeze in as much land destruction as possible. Generally 4 Molten Rain, 4 Stone Rain, and some number of Demolish. Sowing Salt is also occasionally found in the main deck but not as much as it used to be. Also unlike the other two deck types this one isn’t tier 1 and possibly isn’t even tier 2 anymore. It has great game against Tooth in game 1 but if they have the fatty sideboard that Terry Soh invented they lose that advantage after boarding. The deck doesn’t really have any other favorable tier 1 matchups. Many people believe this to just be a bad deck right now. I tend to agree. An example would be something like this:

These decks varied a lot in many ways. Some had Chrome Mox and Seething Song and others did not. Some ran only Stone Rain and Molten Rain and others ran more land destruction. The creature base didn’t change too much from deck to deck though. The versions that ran Chrome Mox and / or Seething Song were a bit more like big red decks than land destruction decks but not enough to deserve their own deck name. I think the more big red versions are better but the downside to that version is that even though with Chrome Mox and Seething Song you can get a turn two Arc-Slogger the deck also has 30 mana sources and with 50% of the deck being mana you tend to have problems drawing business spells later on.

Flores Red:

This deck debuted in a Mike Flores article back in May. It hasn’t changed much since then. In fact I used the original maindeck for the list here and just pasted in a more current sideboard. The deck is based on Kuroda Masashiro’s winning deck from Pro Tour Kobe last year (beating out the first Tooth deck making its debut).

The deck runs only 8 creatures and half of those are really just there as mana acceleration and chump blockers. Generally the game is won either by Arc-Slogger or a couple of large burn spells. Rather than go for small spells like Shock this deck grabs the big stuff. With 11 spells that do 4+ damage this deck is quite capable of randomly burning out opponents (which Flores refers to as Reach). One of the strongest arguments for this deck is that it is much more consistent than the other types of red decks. Ponza is actually a terrible deck unless you get a good draw and Red Deck Wins can fizzle out pretty easily. This deck also is one of the decks that can best abuse Sensei’s Divining Top. This deck has 15 cards that can get rid of dead cards from the top of the deck. Also just as useful if you don’t need the Top anymore you can just use it to feed Shrapnel Blast. A bonus tip: If you put the card drawing ability of the Top on the stack and respond by sacking the Top to Shrapnel Blast still draw a card and don’t have a stupid Top clogging the top of your deck. Opinions of this deck differ wildly. Some claim it to be the best deck in the format. Others claim it to be a total pile of crap. Having a bit of experience playing with it I’m a bit closer to the former but wouldn’t go as far as to say it is the best deck. It is definitely tier 1 though.

Mono Green Aggro:

There are also multiple mono green aggro decks (AKA not Tooth). The first group are almost just good stuff decks with a big pile of broken/powerful green cards. The second eschews all disruption and seeks to be more like the stompy decks of old. Just pure aggression.

Beacon Green:

This is by far the more common of the two aggro green decks. This is also often called medium green as it doesn’t rely on Beacon of Creation as much as older versions that also used Blasting Station and Fecundity for a kind of pinging combo (the original version also used Skullclamp).

There are dozens of ways these decks vary. They can run any combination of equipment or even none at all and Blanchwood Armor. They can splash any color both maindeck and sideboard by adding one basic land. Some don’t splash at all. As far as creatures go something that is quite common is Stampeding Serow and creatures with comes into play abilities like Viridian Shaman, Eternal Witness, and Wood Elves. Those versions usually run no equipment and Blanchwood Armor.

Joshie Green:

This deck was created by Jamie Wakefield and his friend (whom the deck is named after). It pretty much destroys anything with Forests in it but auto looses to black and mono blue. Mono blue is a near dead archetype and black isn’t very common at the moment and this deck crushes Tooth, Beacon Green, and has a great matchup against mono red as well. It just looses to the crappy rouge decks. This is fine on the Pro Tour where less people go rouge but in a more casual tournament environment like Friday Night Magic or States and Regionals running this deck is likely not a good idea. Due to this it is more likely a Tier 2-3 deck than tier 1 but is still a perfectly fine metagame deck.

8 maindeck creatures with forestwalk can pick up a piece of equipment or Blanchwood Armor and make any green mage cry. Red decks also have a very hard time burning out a creature wearing Blanchwood Armor or a Sword as long as you remember to only enchant it when they are tapped out. On the play this deck can kill a Tooth player on turn 4 (AKA before he can cast Tooth and Nail). I think Plow Under instead of Creeping Mold would have been better though. It sets them back two turns rather than just one.

Conclusion:

Next week I’ll cover the tier 2-3 decks and mention a couple weird rouge decks that don’t really work but are cool anyway.

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