Magic the Gathering Standard Analysis: Magic in the Metroplex
StarCityGames Open: Dallas (SCGDFW) was the sixth SCG tournament since Return to Ravnica joined the Magic the Gathering Standard metagame. I’ve once again analyzed the top 16 decks of this tournament and have some data, analysis, observations, and interesting facts to share. I’ll also talk about changes and trends in cards played in the top 16, so if you are interested in reviewing my analyses from prior tournaments check out SCGSTL and SCGNOLA.
First, let’s breakdown the most played archetypes in the top 16:
- 2 UWR Tempo
- 2 UW Flash (Tempo)
- 2 GW Humans
Once again we saw a large variety of decks. Adam Prosak’s eighth-place UW Tempo deck from SCG St. Louis is back and has been dubbed UW Flash, because almost all of the non-land cards can be played at instant speed. The deck finished first at SCGDFW and is very similar to UWR Tempo. The main differences are the lack of red and moving Geist of Saint Traft from the maindeck to the sideboard in favor of Augur of Bolas. If your plan is to counter or otherwise render your opponent’s plays irrelevant, the cheaper Augur can swing a Runechanter’s Pike just as well as Geist, is tougher in combat, and can help find you a card when it enters the battlefield. The bottom line is that, whether we are talking UW or UWR, tempo decks leveraging counter spells and a low average mana cost (around 1.3 per spell) are finding continued success at the SCG Open series.
Non-blue midrange strategies found success as well with BGR Jund, BWG Junk, and GWR Naya representatives in the top 16 along with one four-color Reanimator list. There are also some aggressive decks to note, and Dallas saw a Zombies deck return to the top 16 for the first time since SCGPROV back on October 13. There were three aggressive Human decks: two Selesnya (GW), and one Azorius (UW) as well as a non-human-themed GW Aggro deck.
The ninth-place Esper Planeswalkers list by Joe Bass skips creature cards altogether in favor of nine planeswalkers and four copies of Lingering Souls. Other control decks in the top 16 were UWG Bant Control and UW Control, which played six and eight planeswalkers, respectively.
Pulling back from individual decks and looking at the top 16 overall, we see some balance in the metagame. Check out these graphs showing the strategies deployed and colors used in the top tables at Dallas:
A couple of weeks ago in New Orleans we saw a top 16 completely dominated by Thragtusk and midrange strategies, with eleven decks total. Dallas highlighted a much more balanced metagame, with aggro, tempo, midrange, and control all finding success.
I separate tempo from midrange decks here (where on SCG’s decklist page they do not) because the play strategy and mana requirements are much different between the UW Flash and UWR decks. Even if you lump these together we still have half of the top 16 playing non-midrange strategies.
As for color use, white was dominant in Dallas, appearing in 14 of the top 16 decks. Both blue and green continued their popularity finding a home in half of the decks. The biggest color combinations were those of the Azorius Senate (UW) and Selesnya Conclave (WG).
With the top 16 decks, strategies, and colors in mind, let’s take a look at the cards that went into these 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.
Here are the most played creatures, segmented by main and sideboard. The second graph shows the average number of copies played in the main and sideboard.
Restoration Angel (29) held steady as the most played creature, appearing in eight of the top 16 decks. The angel tied with the spirit, Geist of Saint Traft (29), which also appeared in eight decks. Where Restoration Angel was exclusively main-decked, Geist was split evenly between the maindeck and sideboard, continuing a migration from two weeks ago in SCGNOLA where he was almost exclusively played in the maindeck. As mentioned earlier, the reason is that Augur of Bolas (8) has replaced Geist of Saint Traft in the maindeck of UW Tempo decks.
Dallassaw the further decline of Thragtusk (20) in the top 16 from 44 at SCGINDY, to 36 at SCGNOLA, to 28 at SCGSTL, and now 20 at SCGDFW. Thragtusk appeared in five decks, down from eight at SCGSTL. The drop in Thragtusk correlates to a rise in counterspells like Dissipate (17), Syncopate (14), and Essence Scatter (8) in the top 16 decks over the same period of time.Indianapolissaw a total of 24 copies of these spells in the top 16; they peaked at 48 atSt. Louis, and have remained high with 39 inDallas.
The increase in counters has led to the appearance of Loxodon Smiter (15) on the most-played creatures list for the first time. We see a corresponding decrease of Centaur Healer (11) from seventeen inSt. Louisto eleven.
White-based Human decks remained a big factor keeping Silverblade Paladin (16), Thalia, Guardian of Thraben (15), and Champion of the Parish (12) on the list. Sublime Archangel (12) joined the human cause in the UW Humans deck and one of the GW Humans decks. These aggressive and powerful white creatures don’t limit themselves to human based decks, however; Paladin, Angel, and Thalia join Wolfir Silverheart (4) and Loxodon Smiter (15) in this GW Aggro deck by Chris Jabr that plays seven mana-dorks to ramp out truly frightening beaters at each point of its mana curve.
Let’s turn now to answers. How did the top 16 manage opposing threats? This section is separated into cards that remove threats from the battlefield and proactive answers that keep threats from reaching the battlefield in the first place (counters and discard primarily).
Here are the most played removal spells of the tournament:
If you compare these graphs to the ones from my article on SCGSTL you’ll see that removal in the Standard metagame has reached equilibrium; not much has changed since last week. We see Searing Spear (15) back among the most-played cards, but that is because more red decks made the top 16, not because it became more valuable. Spear is likely to remain a staple red removal card, at least until Gatecrash. It appeared in five of the six decks playing red. Pillar of Flame (11) continued its drop from 29 copies at SCGNOLA to 14 at SCGSTL as the Zombie scare recedes.
There was an increase in Terminus (12) due to decks like Esper Planeswalkers and Max Madrigal’s seventh place UW Control deck playing a full four copies alongside their planewalkers to battle creature-heavy aggro and midrange opponents.
Now let’s look at the most played proactive answers:
The eight decks that played blue in the Dallas top 16 played 58 counters for an average of 7.25 per deck. This is slightly higher than the average for the eleven blue-based decks at SCGSTL (7.0 per deck).
Cavern of Souls (13) saw about the same number of copies played this week as last and appeared in five decks. Two of the Humans decks each played four copies; Jund Midrange played two maindeck; Naya Midrange played one each in the main and side; and Bant Control played one in the main.
The midrange decks face constraints as they are forced to add more Caverns to fight through counters. They are all three-color decks that want to cast non-creature spells of different and sometimes multiple colors. Farseek (11) helps but is not always enough. These decks also play other utility lands like Kessig Wolf Run (3) and Alchemist’s Refuge (1), which makes it hard to add more lands that don’t help with mana fixing. Jund faces an additional problem with a variety of creature types: human, beast, and vampire. The Naya Midrange deck does have seven angels and eight humans but has only one Shockland at its disposal until Gatecrash.
For these reasons, I’m still bullish on including creature counters in your deck to battle Thragtusk (20) and midrange decks.
Dispel (3) is an attractive sideboard option as counter magic grows in popularity. It counters other counterspells for one mana, which is particularly appealing against a Rewind (5) or more expensive Syncopate (14). Other instants seeing significant play are Searing Spear (15) and Azorius Charm (25), making Dispel a strong sideboard card against UWR decks.
Oh the humanity! Human creatures are all over the place in the Standard metagame. Four Human decks made the top 16 at SCGSTL and three did again this week at SCGDFW. Humans are taking key roles in other aggressive decks, like the GW Aggro deck mentioned earlier, and Huntmaster of the Fells (8), Snapcaster Mage (20), and Avacyn’s Pilgrim (20) are staples in other popular decks. With so many humans in the mainstream, let’s talk about cards that are good both for and against them.
Bonds of Faith (0) is worth considering in a Humans sideboard. Much like a Charm, it is multipurpose and both functions are useful, making for a versatile inclusion. It can be used as Pacifism, which is useful in a deck such as GW Humans with few creature control options. You can keep a Thragtusk (20) penned up and out of the way while your creatures get into the red zone. Restoration Angel (29) makes this plan much worse, however. If you don’t need the removal, use Bonds of Faith to make a soul-bonded Silverblade Paladin (16) a 4/4 double striker or to suit up a Thalia, Guardian of Thraben, (15) as a 4/3 first strike.
Angelic Overseer (0) is another option for Human sideboards against Jund or Naya Midrange decks that clog up the battlefield or to finish off an opponent in aggressive mirror matches. A 5/3 with flying makes for a good finisher. With a human on board, this angel can’t be targeted by removal or swept away by cards like Supreme Verdict (16). An overloaded Mizzium Mortars (3), a large Bonfire of the Damned (6), or a Terminus (12) would do it; otherwise your opponent has to remove all of your humans first. In full-on Overseer mode this Angel also beats down any Restoration Angel (29) or Thundermaw Hellkite (4) foolish enough to tangle with her in aerial combat.
Tired of humans yet? Human Frailty (0) has you covered. For the low, low price of B you can destroy the human of your choice at instant speed, and then crush its skull if the art is to be believed. This card is an efficient way to break the bond between a Silverblade Paladin (16) and his current BFF or to strike down an Avacyn’s Pilgrim (20) before he can get to ramping. This deserves consideration in the sideboard of any deck playing black that tends to see a lot of white-based aggro decks.
The Return to Ravnica rare dual land cycle, known as “Shocklands,” have made a predictably large impact on the Standard metagame. The combined top 16 decks of all six SCG Opens to date have averaged 6.4 Shocklands. Here are the five Shocklands ranked by copies played in these decks:
- Hallowed Fountain: 156 copies total
- Temple Garden: 147 copies total
- Overgrown Tomb: 129 copies total
- Blood Crypt: 116 copies total
- Steam Vents: 64 copies total
The Shocklands released in Return to Ravnica provide additional context to the “Colors” graph in the first section of this article. Green, white, and blue (Bant) is the only color shard fully supported by Shocklands at present, so it’s really no surprise to see white as the most popular color and Azorius and Selesnya as the most popular pairings.
Last week I reviewed how much play each of the Return to Ravnica mechanics has seen in the combined SCG Open top 16 decks. This week I want to get back to basics and take a look at the core set mechanics that appear in most sets: keywords such as flying, trample, haste, first strike, and hexproof. I looked at the creature cards played in the 96 decks that have made the top 16 of a SCG Open since Return to Ravnica was released. To keep things simple (and fun), I limited it to only creature cards that have the mechanic without an additional cost. Here are the top core mechanics:
- Flying (485 total cards, 20 unique cards): Not surprisingly, Flying tops the list. It appears on the most creature cards of any core mechanic (well over 100 cards in standard) and defines evasion. The most played fliers have been: Restoration Angel (123 total), Angel of Serenity (66 total), and Olivia Voldaren (50 total).
- Flash (222 total cards, 4 unique cards): Flash is an ability that lets you break the basic rules of the game and cast a creature at instant speed. Unsurprisingly, quality creatures with flash see a lot of play. The vast majority of the total cards here have been Restoration Angel (123 total), making her second appearance in this section, and Snapcaster Mage (89 total).
- Haste (167 total cards, 11 unique cards): The ability to shake off summoning sickness and attack with a creature the turn it is played can swing games with a burst of unanticipated damage. The top hasty creatures have been Thundermaw Hellkite (32) and Falkenrath Aristocrat (31).
- Hexproof (147 total cards, 2 unique cards): Hexproof is a very powerful ability that limits the ways an opponent can interact with a creature. Geist of Saint Traft (119 total) and Sigarda, Host of Herons (28 total) are the only hexproof creatures that have seen play.
- First Strike (119 total cards, 4 unique cards): First strike is a relevant ability for and against aggressive decks. Thalia, Guardian of Thraben (53 total), Elite Inquisitor (27 total), and Precinct Captain (22 total) are all two drops that have played an important role in beating back aggressive creatures like Gravecrawler and Geralf’s Messenger.
That wraps up this week’s article on SCGDFW. I will tweet more information and observations about the tournament and metagame this week, so follow me on Twitter if you are interested in that. I’ll be back next Monday to talk about SCG Open Seattle. Thanks for reading!
Nick Vigabool (@MrVigabool)