Magic the Gathering Standard Analysis: Big Easy Style
StarCityGames Open New Orleans (SCGNOLA) wrapped up October 27, which means we have a new top 16 list of decks to provide insight into the Magic: the Gathering Standard metagame. I’ve analyzed these decks and have some data, analysis, and observations to share about the tournament and shifting sands of the metagame. If you are interested and have not done so, please see my article on last week’s tournament for reference: SCGINDY.
Here are the most common deck archetypes in the top 16 at SCGNOLA:
- 4 UWR Midrange
- 3 Jund Midrange
- 2 Naya Midrange
- 2 GW/Bant Humans
Midrange strategies once again dominated the top 16 in New Orleans with a total of eleven decks in a variety of color combinations. Seven of those decks played green and, therefore, came with the requisite four Thragtusks (36). The BRG Jund decks went with the tried and true combination of playing Huntmaster of the Fells (20) and Olivia Voldaren (11) alongside their Thragtusks, while the WRG Naya decks swapped out black for white to add Restoration Angel (27) and either Angel of Serenity (7) or Entreat the Angels (10) to the mix. The UWR Midrange decks stuck with the trifecta of Restoration Angel (27), Thundermaw Hellkite (13), and Geist of Saint Traft (24), supported by serious counter-magic to make the top 16.
Three aggressive decks cracked the top 16 but once again none of them were Zombies. We have a Red Deck Wins sighting along with a couple of Humans decks.
Now let’s take a look at the cards that made up the top 16 decks. Unless otherwise noted, the number of copies of a card played in the top 16 of the tournament will be listed in parentheses after the card name.
The most played creatures, broken down by maindeck and sideboard, are as follows:
Thragtusk (36) remained the big bad wolf of the standard format in New Orleans and was played in nine of the top 16 decks. The only decks playing green that did not run four Thragtusk were Humans decks. This is actually the biggest decrease of creatures played between SCGINDY and SCGNOLA which is not necessarily indicative of a reduction in popularity or effectiveness of the card.
This shows that other strategies were able to cut into the Thragtusk stranglehold on the Standard metagame from a week ago. The biggest success here was UWR Midrange decks that combined powerful creatures with effective counter-magic. Increases to other top creatures like Snapcaster Mage (17), Geist of Saint Traft (24), and Thundermaw Hellkite (13) point to the success of these decks.
The arrival of Silverblade Paladin (12) and increase of Avacyn’s Pilgrim (19) point to the rise of the humans as the top tribe of the tournament. Both Humansdecks played four of the Pilgrim to accelerate out threats and four Paladins to give those threats double strike.
Check out the rest of the biggest increases and decreases in creatures played between SCGINDY and SCGNOLA:
Borderland Ranger (12) showed up in three decks in the Big Easy, four copies appearing in each WRG Naya Midrange deck and the WBG Junk Midrange deck. The Naya decks are only able to run one shockland, Temple Garden (32), until the release of Gatecrash, when Sacred Foundry and Stomping Ground will arrive in Standard, so the Ranger provides some useful mana fixing in the meantime.
Angel of Serenity (7) play was cut in half between Indianapolis and New Orleans. One fewer Reanimator deck made the top 16, and the WUG Bant decks went in other directions. The Bant Midrange deck opted for smaller creatures like Precinct Captain (4) and Silverblade Paladin (12), and the Bant Control deck went for the Jace, Architect of Thought, (8) and Entreat the Angels (10) plan.
Here is where these top creatures were played, on average, between maindeck and sideboard:
Six of the top 16 decks played Geist of Saint Traft (24), each making use of a full four copies. Five decks played all four in the maindeck, and one played all four in the sideboard. At SCGINDY we saw an even split of eight copies in the main (average of 4) and eight in the sideboard (2.7 per), so this is a pretty big shift to the maindeck even though the average number of copies in the main remained four.
With Zombies decks falling away, we also saw a migration of Centaur Healer (20) back to the sideboard. Overall, the number of copies played rose by one, but at SCGINDY 3.2 copies were played maindeck and 1.5 sideboard.
Let’s turn now to how the top 16 managed opposing threats. We will look at both removal and proactive spells that keep threats from reaching the battlefield (counters and discard primarily). First, here are the top removal cards played followed by the average number played maindeck and sideboard:
Pillar of Flame (29) is still tops on the list but is down significantly from SCGINDY, which makes sense given the failure of Zombies decks to make the top 16 at that tournament. It’s still good against Huntmaster of the Fells (20), Avacyn’s Pilgrim (19), and the newly emergent Borderland Ranger (12) and Silverblade Paladin (12). There is also a lack of cheap and efficient burn in this Standard metagame, so I would not expect it to fall too far out of favor. It has made a significant shift to the sideboard, going from an average of 2 copies at SCGINDY to 3.5 at SCGNOLA, and this trend will likely continue.
Searing Spear (25) has seen a big increase in play and is a fixture in the maindeck of the UWR Midrange decks. For two mana and at instant speed the spear destroys all of the creatures that had four or more copies played in the top 16 with the exception of Restoration Angel (27), Geist of Saint Traft (24), Thundermaw Hellkite (13), Angel of Serenity (7), and Sigarda, Host of Herons, (6). That’s a pretty good use of maindeck slots for a deck able to counter the cards it misses.
Selesnya Charm (14) also saw an increase in play in SCGNOLA and appeared in a GW Humans deck as well as Junk, Naya, and Bant Midrange decks. All three modes of the card are of use in these decks. Selesnya Charm is a great answer to the hasty and evasive Thundermaw Hellkite (13).
Now for the most played proactive answers and the maindeck sideboard averages:
There is a clear increase in counter-magic, with Dissipate (18), Syncopate (14), and Essence Scatter (8) all seeing more play. These cards are played primarily in the maindeck of UWR Midrange and are very good against Thragtusk (36), Restoration Angel (27), Geist of Saint Traft (24), and Huntmaster of the Fells (20).
Slaughter Games (8) was played in the sideboard of the Reanimator deck as well as those of a couple Jund Midrange decks in the top 16. The card has been mentioned as an answer to Thragtusk (36), miracles such as Entreat the Angels (10), and sweepers like Terminus (4) and Supreme Verdict (13). Appetite for Brains (7) is probably a better answer to most of these cards; it’s cheaper and hits what your opponent is actually holding, as opposed to something they might never draw. I agree with Jay Lansdaal in his last article about Slaughter Games being better against combo decks.
Now let’s take a look at the biggest increases and decreases in answers at SCGNOLA:
Most of the increases on the list are instant speed removal like Searing Spear (25) and the Charms, as well as counter-magic. Bonfire of the Damned (14) is also on the uptick. Bonfire is the sweeper of choice in two Naya Midrange and two Jund Midrange decks playing the mana accelerants Avacyn’s Pilgrim (19) and Farseek (24). It is a reasonable option to address Geist of Saint Traft (24), which is becoming increasingly important.
New Orleans saw big drops in Pillar of Flame (29), Terminus (4), and Mizzium Mortars (2) as a result of Zombies being shut out the week before. The drop in Sever the Bloodline is indicative of two fewer Jund Midrange decks making the top 16. The same can be said of Duress (4).
Planeswalkers saw big drops across the board. UWR control decks continued the trend toward midrange, reducing the number of Tamiyo, the Moon Sage, (4) and Jace, Architect of Thought, (8) played. Liliana of the Veil (0) saw no play in New Orleans. Some Jund decks replaced her with Vraska the Unseen (5), though that could reverse as those decks look for more ways to handle Geist of Saint Traft (24).
The Standard metagame seems to be evolving into a battleground between decks that play Thragtusk (36) and decks that play Geist of Saint Traft (24). At SCGNOLA, nine of the top 16 decks played Thragtusk (Jund Midrange, Naya Midrange, Bant Midrange, Reanimator), and six played Geist of Saint Traft (UWR Midrange, Bant Control, Humans).
Counters like Syncopate (14), Dissipate (18), and Essence Scatter (8) are good against both of these cards. It is not a coincidence that the deck making the most of counters, UWR Midrange, went from having two pilots in the top 16 at SCGINDY to four at SCGNOLA, while Jund Midrange went from five to three. The ability to effectively remove most threats and counter those with enters the battlefield abilities or hexproof gives UWR an advantage in Midrange showdowns. The ability of the deck to effectively manage other threats until it gets its win conditions on the battlefield is a big advantage overall.
One way to combat this advantage is using Cavern of Souls (8). Cavern saw an increase in play from three copies in Indianapolis to eight in New Orleans. The Human decks each ran three copies, and a Naya Midrange deck ran two. As counters increase in play, decks able to effectively use Cavern of Souls will benefit.
One deck already taking advantage of Cavern of Souls is Humans. This Bant Humans deck by Justin Davis finished thirteenth at SCGNOLA. It runs three Cavern of Souls and twenty human creature cards, including Champion of the Parish (8) and Silverblade Paladin (12). Three copies of Thalia, Guardian of Thraben, provide additional help against decks packing counter spells.
Halloween is this week, so it seems fitting to talk about a spooky deck that is also well positioned to take advantage of Cavern of Souls (8) and the rise in counter-magic: Zombies. Zombies shambled right through rotation and began Return to Ravnica Standard as the deck to beat. Opposing players brought the hate: Thragtusk (36), Pillar of Flame (29), Centaur Healer (20), and Terminus (4) all make for a long day for the walking dead. SCGINDY was dominated by midrange decks, and Zombies was shut out, leaving many players lamenting their recent purchase of Gravecrawlers (0), Geralf’s Messengers (0), and Lotleth Trolls (0).
The reduction in Zombies-specific hate and rise in counters at SCGNOLA should help Zombies crawl back into the Standard metagame in the coming weeks. Zombies is well-suited to run Caverns for a couple of reasons: first, it wants to cast creatures, and second, you can play quality zombies all the way up the curve. Swapping in Cavern should not impact your ability to cast non-zombie creatures like Rakdos Cackler (4), and you can name “vampire” for Falkenrath Aristocrat (0) and Blood Artist (0) as needed.
Second, the non-creature spells you play are general pretty cheap and easy to cast. The enchantment-based removal tech, for example, is efficient and effective for this deck. Crippling Blight (0) will keep those Centaur Healers (20) and Thragtusks (36) from getting in the way, and Dead Weight (0) removes Huntmaster of the Fells (20), Deathrite Shaman (14), Silverblade Paladin (12), or Avacyn’s Pilgrim (19) straight away.
There is a bag full of treats for your sideboard that can play some nice tricks on your opponent. Skirsdag High Priest (0) can help make use of your army of 2/2s against battlefield clogging midrange decks. A 5/5 demon token is a quick clock that flies over those ground-pounders and has few rivals in the air. Vile Rebirth (0) is graveyard hate against Reanimator and the mirror match, giving you another 2/2 zombie at instant speed. Vampire Nighthawk (5) is good against any of the Olivia Voldaren (11) and Angel of Serenity (7) flying around.
Part of the problem for aggro decks in a world of midrange dominance is getting damage past the host of creatures and tokens that the midrange decks pile onto the battlefield. Brad Le Boeuf’s solution in his SCGNOLA winning GW Humans deck was a single copy of Odric, Master Tactician (1). Odric survives the popular removal spells of Pillar of Flame (29) and Searing Spear (25), and if he gets to swinging with some friends, he can end the game quick, particularly if Silverblade Paladin (12) or Wolfir Silverheart (3) are bonded to anything. Chris Harris, piloting Mono-Red Aggro, had a similar solution: Pyreheart Wolf (3). The Wolf is susceptible to Pillar but can make it very difficult to block if it survives till the attack phase, especially alongside Hellrider (4).
That wraps up this week’s article on SCGNOLA. I will add more information and observations about the tournament and metagame in the comments of this article and on Twitter over the next few days. Also check back later in the week for my first MTGO metagame report. Thanks for reading!
Nick Vigabool (@MrVigabool)