STANDARD EVOLUTIONS

On this Thanksgiving week in the United States, we pause to reflect upon the things that make us truly grateful. We express our gratitude for the things, the opportunities, and the people that enrich our lives. And we dissect the Pauper Standard metagame, looking for clues or ideas about strategies with which to rip the format wide open.

In this article, I will give you some Thanksgiving week food for thought about how the metagame has evolved in the past four weeks. I'll publish the wisdom of ChronicHeaves in the form of an interview I conducted with him. And lastly, I'll compile a list of the ten most influential cards in Standard right now.

So go grab a gravy boat and a ladle and sit back as we nibble on some Standard knowledge together.

Oh, and there's a link to Podcast #6 inside.

METAGAME EVOLUTION

Before the first of the Alara Standard events, many noteworthy prognosticators of the Standard format, myself included, made no small secret about our expectations for the success of enemy-colored hybrid decks, particularly UR, WB, and GU. Neither the Overbeing nor the Divinity has yet had his day, though the Dominus -- at least for a time -- seemed to be living up to his name. But he, too, has fallen by the wayside, as bigger, beefier, and more metallic decks start to rise to the top.

We can chart the progress of the metagame very simply by looking at Gatherling's automated metagame reports and paying special attention to the finals matches at each Standard event. I'll save you some time, though, and publish the data here (you just ate a lot of turkey and you're loafing on the sofa with your laptop; the rest of the family rightly thinks you're a nerd):


MPDC 4.01: Hybrid Deck Wins vs. Esperized! [Aggro-Control]

SPDC 7.01: Faerie Control vs. Kithkin

MPDC 4.02: Red Deck Wins vs. Blightning Burn

SPDC 7.02: Dominus Deck Wins vs. Paradise Lost [Aggro]

MPDC 4.03: Esper Control vs. DDW

SPDC 7.03: Esper Control vs. Shield of Valeron [Aggro-Control]

MPDC 4.04: Rogue Control vs. RDW/DDW

SPDC 7.04: Rogues vs. RDW


This is actually quite illustrative. When you consider how often RDW has made it to the finals table, you can see that Dominus is still a big threat (even if he is hiding in sideboards nowadays...) In fact, at only two of these eight finals tables was red not represented on either side.

What does that mean? It means that you better gain some life, son. You better make your opponent start topdecking a lot sooner than he was planning on. You better put up huge, unburnable walls that keep goblin hordes from swarming you (and take out the Intimidator Initiate, while you're at it... on second thought, the defense plan doesn't seem so good here.) If you weren't running 4 copies of Recumbent Bliss, now's as good a time as any to get them in there. Same goes with Bog-Strider Ash, who can be pretty nasty against goblin-heavy red decks. Black has an instant-speed graveyard hoser that gains you a considerable three life. It's pretty much useless against RDW, but it could come in against Esper decks, too...

And of course, if you're in red, you would ideally want a way to get your guys out from under the Recumbent Bliss since it hugely impedes your main win strategy. Of course, if you're fast enough out of the gate, and use your cards efficiently enough, you may be able to win in spite of the aura, since it's nowhere near as swingy as Aven Riftwatcher or Blind Hunter or Faith's Fetters. Black has an option called Bone Splinters, but that would require you to commit to a second color.

Also, I'm disappointed (but not surprised) to see a lack of Burntree at the finals tables. We've yet to settle on an "established" build, and that's not necessarily a bad thing. We need to adapt to the metagame. However, I think that some of the more recent changes to the core build I proposed in the official thread are taking us off-course. The deck was originally metagamed against Faeries in Block, and also had an extremely good game against RDW. (Back then I had Hurly-Burly maindeck.) One of the few significant problems in the wider format is the card Terror, which is seeing mind-bogglingly little play (partly because of the Esper explosion of Week 3, I'm sure). In a format without Terror, Burntree looks really good against the decks that are seeing heavy play. One word of caution, though: don't sacrifice the ability to play both an aggro and a control game. If you remove the aggro elements from the deck (such as Safehold Elite), you're crippling us in control matchups, which are certainly out there.

The other deck I would encourage Standard Paupers to test is jaknife's MBuC deck. It's quick, consistent, builds tremendous card advantage, has reach and metagame tools, and fills a hole in the metagame (namely, black). This deck will definitely be strong in a world dominated by Burntree, so maybe if Burntree is the next big thing, MBuC will be the next next big thing.


INTERVIEW WITH CHRONICHEAVES

One of PDC's most controversial personalities is back and already put up his first gold medal performance on Thursday with a modification of 3soteric's WU Rogue Control list. This is the third straight week with nearly identical lists making 1st on both Monday and Thursday, so I was curious to pick the brain of the "Johnny-Come-Lately" and find out if, indeed, he chose to run it simply because it had won on Monday. There's no doubt that winning 1st place is a huge publicity boost for your decklist, but there's a little more to it than that...

Polyjak: Why did you decide to play the WU Rogues list that won on Monday?
ChronicHeaves: I had been working on building around Deft Duelist since the first Standard event with Shards on here. Having been a proponent in tuning/developing the suspend-driven UW Blinkdrifter archetype in the old Standard, I was drawn to trying to make a similar aggro-control strategy with what seemed to me like a very strong card in the Duelist. I missed the interaction with Latchkey Faerie, so when I saw 3soteric's build, I immediately starting testing and tuning his list, which was admittedly pretty on-key and needed few changes.

Did you make any changes, and if so, why?
Due to the prevalence of Esper and DDW, I'd fallen in love with Wickerbough Elder in Standard. With 8x fetchlands to splash green, I tried him out and the mana worked well enough to warrant running him. The deck not only benefited from his utility with so many enchantments and artifacts as key pieces to the metagame puzzle, it turned out the solid sized body also filled a void in the list. Even when he gets sided out against decks like pure RDW, he isn't a liability game one. Besides adding him, I tweaked the counterspell suite. 3soteric was running 4 3cc hard counters, and 2 negates. Broken Ambitions ended up being really great, and it seemed obvious to up it to 4 replacing the narrow Negates. Cutting the 3cc counters entirely was partly due to them underperforming, and partly a nod to lowering the overall mana costs of the deck, having added 4 new 4 drops. Broken Ambitions helps with the splash by giving you additional card selection, and also makes the added 23rd land feel a bit smoother, not only being a solid card when you draw a few too many lands, but also by digging for a green source or getting rid of an extra land off the top.

What makes the deck a good choice in the current metagame?
It seems to have solid matchups against Esper, DDW, and RDW. Burntree I haven't tested vs much, and it was my one loss in the Swiss, but I don't think it's a bad match up either. With half the metagame consisting of midrange decks, and the other half aggressive red strategies, the deck is just positioned well. You can keep up with Esper's card advantage while still having diverse enough cards to deal with DDW and RDW. Deft Duelist is certainly pivotal, and the card is extremely strong against the field. I think being able to pump him to 3/2 and above with Akrasan Squire is also very important, as it lets him get through the abundance of X/3 creatures in the field (Sanctum Gargoyle, Tattermunge Duo, Wickerbough Elder, etc). The deck has great synergy, overwhelming card advantage, and it also gets to run a lot of extremely potent cards (namely the Duelist, Wickerbough, and Mulldrifter).

Would you play the deck again, and if so, what changes would you make?
I certainly will continue playing the deck. I definitely think it is a tier one strategy. The only change I am currently thinking about is adding to the Recumbent Bliss numbers. I think running four is most likely correct, and some may even move into the main if I can find room. One last note is the removal of one Oblivion Ring to the sideboard from 3soteric's list. If you run the deck without Wickerbough Elder, you definitely want all 4 Rings main, but the Elder deals with a lot of the same cards as the Ring, so cutting one and perhaps a second to the board is reasonable since you have Elder's redundancy, and also to try to keep the curve of the deck from moving too high.

I want to give credit to 3soteric for making the Deft Duelist connection with Latchkey Faerie, which along with Pestermite was missing from my attempts at UW before. Both have turned out to be fantastic options, and definitely pushes the deck over the top from average to good.

Thanks, ChronicHeaves!

And a question for the readers -- do you find value in interviews with players like this? Is this a worthwhile exercise? Post a comment below. You could even submit some questions for future interviews -- and I'll try to get them answered, either in an article or in a future podcast.


STANDARD'S 10 MOST IMPORTANT CARDS

This is a list I posted originally in my clan's private forum, but no one really wanted to argue with me about it. So I'll open it up to the entire community. The way I see it, Standard is currently defined by a relatively narrow set of cards. These aren't necessarily the most powerful cards, just the most influential. As you can see, there is certainly room for disagreement, and I'd love to get a discussion started about it. Well, here goes.

In no particular order:

Wickerbough Elder - Between the hybrid auras, white's strong removal auras, and Esper's artifact creatures, this guy is a must-play.

Recumbent Bliss - The best lifegain spell we have. It serves three purposes -- negates an attacker, clears a path for your own attackers, and gains life automatically.

Dragon Fodder - Red's card advantage and a way to fuel Giantbaiting.

Bog-Strider Ash - Great evasion, a big butt, and additional lifegain for midrange and control builds with trees.

Resounding Thunder - Still enchanting people to play Jund, a deck without results. However, maybe this week, with Hurly-Burly maindeck...

Deft Duelist - Defies most commonly played answers to creature threats.

Sanctum Gargoyle - Wicked beats, the new finisher (along with Mulldrifter and Strix) for control decks. Also gets stuff back from the dead.

Tidehollow Strix - Aggressively powered for the cost, with evasion and built-in removal, which can be brought back from the graveyard with the Gargoyle... a must-play in Esper-based decks.

Mulldrifter - Still shows up in every blue deck.

Clout of the Dominus - Just the threat of this card still has the metagame on red (or is it blue-red) alert.


IN CLOSING...

Whew, that's a lot of information! It was educational for me to go through the process of writing it, so I hope reading it will be equally eludicating for you. Please leave a comment below if you are grateful for this free article! I am certainly grateful for the time you spent reading it!

And, if you have any more time on your hands and would like to listen to PDC Podcast #6, which is in my opinion a turning point for all future casts, here's the link:

PDC Podcast Table of Contents.

Thanks for reading, and thanks for listening! Time for more cranberry sauce...


1 Comments

JMason
3:00 PM, 26 November 2008

Yes, interviews are worth it. Once you put someone on the spot they usually come up with something unique and interesting that they otherwise would never have posted, and perhaps had never consciously been aware of themselves. A lot of real magic arcana is buried in peoples unconsciouses.


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