18 Oct 2013

The dawn of a new standard

Heliod's new torch sparked many complaints from the neighbours
The darkness of Innistrad has been cleansed from Standard and Theros has ushered in a new dawn for Magic players.  

Looking at the results of Pro Tour Theros, mid-range and aggro have performed the best - with Red and Blue devotion decks, Red/Green and Black/White mid-range making it to the top eight. One Esper Control deck also featured but was overwhelmed by a Blue Devotion deck.
Also putting in strong performances were Green/White aggro decks - using Fleecemane Lion, Advent of the Wurm and Boon Satyr - Junk mid-range - with Reaper of the Wilds - and a Red/Black control deck that played a lot of removal spells and only seven creatures in the form of Desecration Demon and Stormbreath Dragon.
What's interesting is the lack of Heroic cards, in the top eight and the field in general, with players instead opting for Devotion and Monstrosity effects. Also all of the Gods but Heliod featured in the final eight.  

Who would have thought that mono-blue aggro would win the tournament.
The deck has ridden the crest of the wave into the top eight thanks to a combination of signature cards Master of Waves, Thassa, God of the Sea and her powerful Bident.
The deck starts with Cloudfin Raptor into Tidebinder Mage and Frostburn Weird - another surprise card - then opens the floodgates with a combination of the blue god and the wave master.
Thassa was the first God to be spoiled and was instantly met with cries that she was overpowered. Being a 5/5 for three mana is pretty sweet and she bestows two nice abilities to your board. The ability to Scry 1 before your draw step is powerful; helping a player filter the cards they need and utilise that turn. The ability to make creatures unblockable for two mana is also a huge benefit and being indestructible means Thassa can sit back and provide these gifts largely at will.
And the amount of Blue mana symbols in the deck can quickly turn the God of the Sea into a 5/5 monster that can make itself unblockable making for a very quick clock.
Master of Waves was a card that received little love when it was first spoiled. A 2/1 with protection from Red for four mana that creates 1/0 tokens? Sure they get +1 +1 but they all dissolve if the master dies.     
However, this card has been making waves at the Pro Tour. Creating an army of 2/1s and drawing cards off the Bident if any crash in on your opponents shores.
But the main card for me is Bident of Thassa. Aggro decks have always suffered from blow-out syndrome. Playing all their threats rapidly without a way to replenish their hand after a wrath effect or to push through a stalemate. The Bident navigates the team through the back currents, converting damage into cards to keep the pressure on. 

Making a splash in Standard
Converting dents in a life
total into more threats

Red/Green continued its prominent role at the Standard tables with a range of mid-range decks. Although most of these decks utilised the same cards - Stormbreath Dragon, Polukranos, World Eater etc - the standout for me were the 'Colossal' Reg/Green decks that generate a ton of mana in the early turns, all thanks to Nykthos, Shrine to Nyx.

Enshrined in Ramp decks everywhere
This deck can really go to town. Turn one Elvish Mystic into turn two Burning Tree Emissary and Sylvan Caryatid or Voyaging Satyr. On turn three you play the legendary land and can cast Polukranos, a 5/5 fatty that can smash in next turn, or Xenagos the Reveler. If you cast the Satyr planeswalker things start to get interesting if you plus one, adding three Red or Green mana to the pool. Two of said mana can activate Nykthos, which adds five mana - plus the one floating - meaning Garruk, Caller of Beasts, Stormbreath Dragon or any other large play can enter the battlefield - on turn three. The ability to untap the legendary land with Voyaging Satyr just adds insult to the masses of mana created.
Of course, this is if all goes to plan and the combo is easily broken, but it's still a fun deck that can produce some quick and quirky plays that can overwhelm an unprepared opponent. 

As for myself, being a dedicated control player I'm going to see what revelations I can unveil with Esper Control. I recently tested a version of this deck against my friend's Bant tempo deck, based on Bant Flash variants that appeared just before rotation. Admittedly both lists were thrown together without much planning - and we'd proxied most cards - but the main thing is we had fun while theorising Theros standard.
My list consisted of:


Hallowed Fountain x 3, Watery Grave x 4, Godless Shrine x 3, Temple of Deceit x 3, Temple of Silence x 3 and three of the basic lands that make up Esper colours. 


Sin Collector x 1
Obzedat, Ghost Council x 2
Aetherling x 1

Other Spells

Thoughtseize x 2
Doom Blade x 2
Detention Sphere x 1
Dissolve x 3
Hero's Downfall x 3
Read the Bones x 2
Sphinx's Revelation x 2
Thassa, God of the Sea x 2
Supreme Verdict x 2
Far/Away x 2
Merciless Eviction x 1
Ashiok, Nightmare Weaver x2
Jace, Architect of Thought x 3
Elspeth, Sun's Champion x 2

The mana base worked out well. Providing the colours I needed when I needed them. The scry lands were particularly effective at helping to find an answer or put an unwanted land on the bottom of the library. Coming in to play tapped can be problematic and sometimes requires a bit of thought on when to play them. Some opening hands need a bit of sculpting and so you can afford to Scry early but with other openers you can afford to wait and see what you draw. 
There are only four creatures in the deck and this may have to be altered. My opponent must have been pretty pious indeed as the lone Sin Collector never made an impact as it was countered before it hit the field. And in most games I was able to remove his threats with Thoughtseize.
Obzedat  remained a strong contender helping gain back two precious life a turn and speed up the clock by draining an opponent for the same amount. Smacking sideways for five just accelerates this process.  
I never cast Aetherling despite having it in my hand on numerous occasions. However, I feel it's occupying - and blinking out of - a valid spot in the list. The double blue helps to 'turn on' Thassa and the ability to blink Aetherling off the field prevents her from being targeted by spells that affect creatures.
Thassa is a little slow to mobilise in this deck compared with the Monoblue aggro builds. The God of the Sea bides her time but provides a handy ability for control by allowing you to filter cards before your draw step. Thassa can also make the Orzhov oligarchs unblockable to apply further pressure.
In terms of Planeswalkers Jace remained solid with his semi Fact or Fiction ability but against 5/5 wurm tokens and 4/2 flashy Satyrs the + 1 seemed a bit silly.
I didn't cast Ashiok often but on one instance, after modifying the Bant Deck to include Fleecemane Lion, he threatened to steal the bewigged cat and create a nightmare kitty for my opponent to deal with. There's been a lot of debate about whether to play Ashiok - I'd definitely side him out against Aggro - but I'll keep weaving him into play to test his effectiveness. 

A ray of hope for control?
There's no doubt about the power of Elspeth, Sun's Champion. Once she hit the field my opponent either conceded or let out a sigh of disgust. The sun does shine out of Elspeth's arsenal of abilities. The +1 serves as defence and offence, creating three soldiers while ticking up to an ultimate that grants them a power boost and evasion. The - 3 never saw use but in the right match-up being able to smite the monstrous is a game changer. Of course, Elspeth is shut down by Detention Sphere, Heroes Downfall and Pithing Needle but I'd still play the champion of the sun regardless.

I'm aiming to play the deck at tomorrow's Game Day and will post my updated thoughts provided they aren't seized by time constraints.  

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