Whether you like it or not, we’ll be saying our bittersweet goodbyes to our friends Jace, the Mind Sculptor and Stoneforge Mystic. With them goes the most dominant and obvious deck choice. As fun as the deck may have been to pilot, these bannings needed to happen in order to keep our game healthy. Our natural instinct is to turn back to the old king of the format, Valakut. Before Caw-Blade took control, there were two heavyweight decks around: Valakut and U/B Control. It’s easy to look at these two decks and see that Valakut hasn’t lost anything. Blue/black, on the other hand, lost an insanely powerful card advantage engine. This is going to help Valakut re-establish itself as a powerhouse, even stronger than before, defining the format. There are ways you can attack it though, so it’s time to dust off your Spreading Seas and fight back against the new public enemy number one.
To stay competitive in this meta you have to have a proactive strategy to either beat Valakut outright or to race it. This leaves a few viable archetypes that we’ll be seeing around. Sporting a few Mountains itself, Mono Red is a very strong option. Personally, I dislike a heavy creature base as I think it’s asking to be dealt with by board sweepers. Mono Red should play a few core guys like Goblin Guide, Ember Hauler and Spikeshot Elder. The addition of Shrine of Burning Rage means red is just dangerously good if it falls back on a pile of burn. Most of the burn available today is so efficient cost-wise that countering it is, for the most part, a useless strategy. Red is fast enough to beat Valakut and should be able to handle all of the control decks in the format if played correctly. The scariest thing about Mono Red is that it only gets better with the printing of M12. The return of Incinerate and Grim Lavamancer, combined with the powerhouses they already have in Lightning Bolt and Koth of the Hammer, this deck will be very strong come nationals. Another thing you can’t ignore about red is that its nut draws literally cannot be beat by any deck.
Another speedy phenomenon that will be a large part of the meta is Vampires. These decks seem to have it all for an aggro deck. It has unbeatably fast starts and threatens to burn you out for the last of the damage regardless if you managed to clear the board on turn four. It’s known to feature one of my favourite cards for a deck plastered with low drops: Dark Tutelage. Tutelage usually enables you to recover post Wrath very strongly. Bloodghast also gets around wrath effects very well. Finally, if it wasn’t enough for this deck to have all of these powerful interactions, it still has the Viscera Seer – Bloodghast – Kalastria Highborn combo that can put opponents in a hopeless position, draining out the rest of their life totals in just a few turns.
The other deck people are instinctively thinking will be a powerhouse in the format is Exarch Twin. I initially thought this deck would be the front runner to dominate the format but I’m dubious regarding its consistency. Though its package of counterspells and other answers seems like a great combo, its vulnerability to common sideboard choices like Spellskite and Nature’s Claim make me question its ability to close out game two and three. Some of the awkward draws that I got testing this deck made me uncomfortable with running this at a major tournament without a lot of testing and tweaking. I may not have been testing the optimal list and I will test other lists in the future but this deck is not the one I would choose to play. M12 guarantees that this deck will probably stay around for a bit with the same power level. Though it does gain Ponder, so does Pyromancer Ascension and if that deck gets better than this one then this will probably go downhill in the meta.
Speaking of Pyromancer Ascension, that deck is a house. I was not fully aware of its insane power until this past weekend at the Montréal CMT. Seeing how powerful the combo had become post Jace and Stoneforge was very impressive. As I walked around the tables during my byes I saw many Ascensions on board with 2 counters on it and a fist filled with cards. You feel infinitely behind when they start playing draw spells with this online. This is a deck you need to have a game plan against and options in the sideboard to beat. This is another deck that welcomes the addition of Ponder. It’s kind of terrifying to think of this deck with two amazing one drop card draw spells.
With these decks forming the cornerstone of our emerging meta-game, I’d like to point out a couple of ways to combat them. Depending on your play style, you might want to sleeve up Mono Red or Valakut since they are very powerful decks. On the other hand, you may prefer the super controlling Pyromancer and Exarch Twin decks. The thing that all of these decks have in common is that you can sideboard against them very well and they can and will be directly attacked. The deck that I feel attacks this meta the best is the following U/W control deck that I built:
UW Control by Andy Peters
This deck has serious game against every deck in the format. It’s a control deck that doesn’t just lose to Red and Vampires. I can’t emphasize enough the strength of Calcite Snapper in this setup.
Against the aggro decks, he serves as an almost unbeatable blocker that they can’t easily get rid of. Against control decks, he is a 4/1 beater that is almost un-killable. In all my testing against U/B, Snapper just bashed for 4 every turn because those decks don’t have the efficient blockers that U/W does. They use their removal and hand disruption as their defensive weapon. Calcite Snapper can get hit by most of the discard spells, but they usually underestimate it in game one and leave it in your hand. Plansewalkers are very hard to deal with right now until M12 heralds the return Oblivion Ring, which gives other decks a way to fight back. However, its addition to my deck may be just what it needs to put it over the top. A catch-all card that combos well with Venser is a welcome addition.
This deck’s sideboard is pretty sweet. It has something to deal with everything. Generally, if you’re a control deck you just can’t beat fast aggro but post-board you have a very good match-up. Mental Misstep gives you great game against Vampires and Mono Red on the draw. In the past it’s been difficult to recover from a turn one Lacerator or Guide but Mental Misstep gives us a way to fight back. Another great tool at our disposal is Leyline of Sanctity. This saves you from being burned out by either deck and you neutralize Kalastria Highborn’s activated ability. Leyline also serves double duty against Valakut.Spellskite seems to come in against everything because it’s just a great, versatile card. Divine Offering is a card I’m skeptical about in the sideboard due to Caw-Blade being dead and I’m unsure as to how often it will be relevant but if people keep playing KYT’s or Brad Nelson’s Grand Architect lists, it could still be good. Celestial Purge is a pretty obvious all-star out of the board. It’s good against Mono Red, Vampires and it shuts down both major combo decks in the format right now.
The sideboard may seem to ignore Valakut a little but this deck has such a great Valakut matchup that you don’t need much to fall back on. With all of the tools in your arsenal in the main board against Valakut, like Spreading Seas and all of the counter magic, the match-up is generally favourable. Overall, there are a few cards that could change in this list, both main and side, but I consider this deck to be extremely well balanced for the current meta and I’m happy with its consistency.
This is still a fresh meta and its going to change in the coming weeks but I really am enjoying all of the decks that are around. This is a great example of a very healthy meta-game, with four or more decks that you can consider tier one. There are a couple of cards that could change in my blue white list. I’m looking forward to hearing feedback on what you think about the current meta and I’d love to hear about what other people think the best decks are and why.