The World Championship has come and gone, and now there’s only a few days before Nationals. Setting aside how incongruent that sounds, it means that, at last, we have all the information necessary to nail down a Standard metagame. In last week’s article, I went over what I expected to be the four decks players would bring: Temur, Sultai, Red, and UW Approach. Nobody was brave enough to pick Sultai over Temur, and the Censor deck of choice was a much stronger U/B Search for Azcanta deck. The loose rock, paper, scissors situation remains mostly the same, however, with Temur beating Red, Red beating Control and Control beating Temur. Hopefully by this point in your preparation for Nationals, you’ve at least chosen your deck, so it’s time to go into a bit more detail.
I’m going to be perfectly honest with you. Most of my readers are Toronto locals, and Nationals is a tournament in Toronto that I really want to win. I’ve put a lot of effort into my preparation for the event, and a lot of that is wasted if several of my opponents have read a guide I’ve written to my deck. On the other hand, I’m not willing to give you information that I believe to be sub-optimal in an article about preparing for a competitive event. It’s a tough situation that colours a lot of strategy content written before major events. Pros can’t spill the beans about their team’s testing.
The lovely Keith Capstick suggested a solution: talking about gameplay strategy using stock decks with a focus on mulligans, a noted weakness of most Magic players. Today we’ll be going over a bunch of keep or mull decisions and using them to discuss how Standard matchups in the post-Worlds metagame play out. Next week, you’ll get the full primer, obnoxious sideboard guide and all, for my Nationals deck.
Scenario #1: UB (us) on the draw, blind game 1
Normally three lands and four spells featuring a spell to cast on turn two and a removal spell would be a reasonable keep on the draw in a control deck. But I think there are several factors that make this an easy mulligan in this Standard.
First off, we have what GP Toronto top 8 competitor Taimur Rashid calls the Evolving Wilds lottery. In a hand that probably can’t afford to play its tapland on any turn other than the first, you’ll have to guess whether you want a second Swamp for Essence Extraction and Vraska’s Contempt or a second Island for Disallow. This wouldn’t make or break the decision, but it certainly helps.
Let’s look at how this hand pans out against the three popular decks from Worlds: Against Red, if they come out of the gates with an aggressive start, we’re in a lot of trouble. If their hand is mildly reactive or leans on Hazoret, we’re probably fine, but that’s a kind of gamble I wouldn’t be willing to take. This hand is atrocious against Temur, given the way the matchup usually plays out. Their two-drops oddly demand answers or snowball the game highly in their favour, and we absolutely need an Essence Scatter or Disallow to beat a Bristling Hydra. This hand can’t beat any of those things. In the mirror, this composition of lands and Search is quite good.
I wouldn’t keep a hand this slow in the dark, even if it has a bunch of the deck’s best cards in it.
Scenario #2: Temur Black (us) vs Red, on the play, game 3
I’d snap this off in a heartbeat. One of the bigger nuances in Temur’s gameplay that a lot of people don’t pay much attention to is its energy management. It’s easy to play your powerful cards in order, but it’s harder, for instance, to optimize your sequencing to maximize the chance that your Bristling Hydra will come into play with 3 energy already in the pool against Control. This hand might have a lot of lands and no second-turn play in an aggressive matchup, but it’s able to play a Whirling Virtuoso on turn three on the play with an activation already in the pool. This is pretty much the best card against Red, stopping the beatdown in its tracks.
We also have a bunch of cycling lands and a Glorybringer to ensure that there’s a high chance we’re able to make things happen on consecutive turns without making this a speculative keep. Temur has this odd ability to sometimes be in the beatdown role against Red, either when they keep a slow hand on the draw or when they try to stall out the game with Hazoret. It’s important to plan your game to be able to end it before the Hazoret and Ramunap Ruins reach takes you out. I’ve seen people board out Glorybringers. Don’t do that. You have to be able to kill them through an indestructible 5/4.
Scenario #3: Temur, on the play, game 1
Keep. This hand might have to spend its second turn playing back-to-back Attune with Aethers, but the titanic energy advantage that gives cannot be overlooked. We have a guaranteed Rogue Refiner on 3, and we’re likely to have Bristling Hydra follow it up with 9 energy to make sure it out-scales anything our opponents could have played by that point–including a quick Hazoret. Similar hands with Whirler Virtuoso are also much stronger than they look due to the relative scarcity of Walking Ballista and mass removal in the metagame. Thopter tokens are great in the mirror and are a nightmare for U/B to deal with.
Assuming we don’t draw a second land on turn 2, we’re pretty much priced into Attuning for Forest, then Island to try to get Rogue Refiner to draw us any fourth land. Some hands have significantly more interesting Attune decisions, but this one is nice and simple.
Scenario #4: Red, on the play, game 1
This one’s really easy – gotta ship this one in a strategic mulligan. We registered a mono-red aggro deck, so we’re guaranteed to draw perfectly every turn. This means that if there are fewer cards in our opening hand, we’re able to attack with Hazoret on our fourth turn. Don’t be a fish and keep this mediocre seven-card hand. (Note from the Editor: You should always keep this Fournier just has nightmares about Bomat Courier)
Join me – and the rest of the country, I guess – at Nationals this weekend in Toronto! Details can be found at mtgnationals.ca. Stay tuned for next week as I go over my event, my deck, and what the results of the third and final Nationals weekend mean for the Standard metagame.