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Forensic Magic: Judgment in Standard
It's early in the month of July, and that means two things: firstly, that we're all probably looking forward to using our Judgment cards in Standard for once, and secondly that we are looking for the results of the Amateur Nationals at Origins for a few 'hints' of what was good at the first trial-by-combat event of the new format. Unfortunately, we're going to be wondering about that for a while yet, since at the time of publication there was no update on The Sideboard Online (since it wasn't covered this year) or Professional Events Services' website (they aren't expected to be this fast anyway). Which means that we've got theory on our side, but not results. Theory is definitely a good thing, but we really need results to see how the latest iteration on graveyard-consciousness strategy is going to affect Standard.
A lot of people claim that we shouldn't care about Standard right now. You're probably not playing at Worlds (though for the Premium audience, this is less true than for the Internet community at large) and if you were, it's not so very likely that you'd want to hear strategy advice from a low-ranking player like myself. Fortunately, the World Championships are not, in fact, all that the new Standard is good for. Yes, there's always Friday Night Magic, which is worth promoting: myself, I run a Standard FNM event every week at Forbidden Planet in New York City... and it's good to keep the grass-roots players interested in the game. But last I heard, it was also true that some portion of the qualification season for Pro Tour: Houston was going to be Standard, as OBC is going to be sat on until Worlds has passed. So mock away, oh ye of little faith, and see if Type Two with Judgment is truly as irrelevant as you think it is.
The more we play with Judgment in Constructed, the more we realize how important it is to use the graveyard in the new strategies. Quiet Speculation gave us the most obvious taste of what it was going to be like when July came around, as it fills the graveyard with wonderful toys, but the cycle of Incarnations are functionally a set of difficult-to-handle uncounterable spells, serving as enchantments that can't be destroyed by conventional means. There's another uncounterable spell, one that I'd underestimated at first, but Nantuko Monastery is a veritable beatstick once it's active. But that's only about a third of the story here: the focus on filling your graveyard, using it as a tool, or getting a benefit out of putting something there. The next big thing to note is the Wishes, three out of five of which are pretty crack-nasty, and the last chunk of the pie would be individual cards that merit talking about on their own.
With a month's worth of looking at new beatdown designs and aggro-tempo tricks like Quiet Roar, it started to look pretty obvious to me that Quiet Speculation and Glory were going to be serious pains for the prior metagame... and then there's Sylvan Safekeeper, a meddlesome little wizard riding his spider-friends to victory. The worst part about a month working on Quiet Speculation is the time it gives you for Jarrod Bright to start making sense: while I can't say I know particularly much about him, I have also seen too many decks starting with "4x Tireless Tribe" to follow the Brainburst Premium 'party line' and go all for solidarity. Humorists everywhere like to poke fun at Jarrod and describe 'JBS', or 'Jarrod Bright Syndrome'... but give a man enough time to think and he's eventually going to reach sound conclusions, which is my opinion on Jarrod's Quiet Roar design. Most of the right elements are there, and he does a relatively good job of squeaking the last few hard cuts to get to 60 when the deck really, really tries to stay somewhere closer to 72 cards than you really want in the deck. And if the popular opinion goes to say that Quiet Roar is going to be the best use of Judgment's most powerful card, it's time to recognize popular opinion first.
It's hard to justify not playing Counterspell, and while it's hard to cut into the powerful nature of Quiet Speculation for getting you out of different problem scenarios, it's harder still to play everything you want to in this deck. Descended from OBC Liquid Tempo decks and the Deep Dog deck from various National Championships, there are five or six cards that you still want to squeeze into the deck, of which Counterspell is only the first. Werebear, Nimble Mongoose, Upheaval, Call of the Herd, AEther Burst... there's even arguments for Mystic Enforcer, though those are effectively silenced by Wonder + Roar of the Wurm. This is the Roar deck tuned to beat other Green decks, and to present a strong game face against Psychatog decks or similar dedicated control decks. It's not the Roar deck I would go out and play tomorrow... that deck would only be sideboarding Wonder, and would not have Ray of Revelation in the main, to fit in 4x Counterspell.
However, in the long run this has the best chance of being the correct main-deck configuration, as countermagic is less important in the mirror match, and can be easily fudged against other aggressive decks. The mirror match is all about being the best there is at what you do, which means getting both Wonder and Sylvan Safekeeper going to prevent your opponent's deck from winning with those same cards. If any counter were to be important in the mirror, I'd name Envelop as the likely candidate, though both Gainsay and Disrupt are about as good as you can want most of the rest of the time. Envelop stops Roar tokens, Speculation itself, and Upheaval out of the sideboard, all for the cost of one mana. Against decks unlike itself it stops Duress, Chainer's Edict, Firebolt, Volcanic Hammer, Battle Screech, Probe, Living Wish, Burning Wish, and just about every spell from conventional Black-centered control decks. Pretty good for one mana.
But just because Quiet Roar has been getting the most hype doesn't mean that Quiet Roar is the best deck. Roar of the Wurm is good to put in your graveyard, but so is Glory, and you'd be surprised how quick and vicious a Green/White aggressive deck can be. This is the deck most likely to spotlight some of the power cards from Judgment, as it gets the other two good Incarnations (Glory and Genesis), one of the three relevant Wishes (Living Wish) and access to the rest of the best cards in Judgment: Anurid Brushopper, Olle Rade himself, and Nantuko Monastery.
My earlier thoughts on Green/White were that I found it hard to imagine not splashing for Flametongue Kavu, but could understand that the closer we got to a Green-based metagame plus creature-light control decks, the more likely it became that G/W could stick it out by itself. Green/White also gets to use one of my favorite pet cards of the last year, Thornscape Apprentice, as its best creature-based removal effect... when this little guy neuters Spiritmonger for the first time, you'll start to like him too. Following the thought of 'Green-White must need a splash color' brought me to thinking that reincarnating Pro Tour Junk in Standard might be the way to go, but as unbelievable as it sounds Green-White really can stick it out by itself.
I find it very hard to believe that one of the best Green decks is literally 24 Lands, 29 creatures, and 4 copies of a spell that gets you a creature plus a smidge of enchantment removal to deal with significant problems like Opposition or Worship. The mana curve is respected, very effectively, while you also have a class of surprisingly hard-to-deal-with permanents... uncounterable enchantments like Genesis and Glory, and uncounterable beatsticks like Nantuko Monastery. You have a very one-sided approach to beating control decks, but they are bound to have a surprisingly hard time keeping up with you... and against decks like yourself, Glory gives you the opportunity to completely shut down their game. Admittedly Wonder can be a bit of a problem, but you are able to present that same problem to your opponent with Glory, and Glory is a good deal better at being usable defensively.
Living Wish presents you with the ability to improve consistency and a Silver Bullet strategy all in one, as it finds your important main-deck cards like Glory and Sylvan Safekeeper, but can also get you an answer to a problem you didn't expect, like Worship or mass-removal effects such as Pernicious Deed. Access to Genesis provides you with the ability to outlast any opponent whose prominent strategy is to outlast you, like traditional Black/Green decks, and even though they can 'remove' Genesis and you only have one copy, Living Wish can find it as many times as you need it to since the only real solution to Genesis is to remove it from the game entirely. The light splash of Red mana supports the often-forgotten but not to be underestimated First Strike ability on your little Wizard friend, Thornscape Apprentice, which while painful is just good enough to be willing to run some slightly-hazardous nonbasic lands for.
This deck, unlike the previous deck, has a very obvious sideboard to dedicate to it. With Quiet Roar I can't say I know yet how the metagame will look, and therefore tuning it to the last few cards remains an impossible task, but this deck is very straightforward both because of the Wish taking up half of its sideboard space, and because the other cards to make up its sideboard are very, very obvious. Compost prevents Black-based decks from succeeding at their plan of preventing you from keeping creatures around, and does so much faster than Genesis could be asked to. Seedtime gives you the added little nudge you need against control, since most of the time all you really want is either a spell they must respond to, or a trick to catch them with their pants down... and that's Seedtime for you. At the worst, if they 'let it go', it replaces itself and gives you full access to your mana again (and the attack phase again), even if no great benefit is had by taking the extra turn. I've been on both ends of Seedtime and know that it's not as dreadful as you want it to be for a Blue mage, but also that it is probably the best tool around and that it deserves respect for that.
The more I look at the format the happier I am with the decision to cut Basking Rootwallas for Wax/Wane, since your one-mana creatures are already better than it, and you don't particularly require the little beater that works well with Madness nearly as much as you do 'an Instant-speed trick' or, better yet, enchantment removal. Likewise the decision between Llanowar Knight and Kavu Titan was a difficult one, since the fatter the Green deck the better it is against itself, but it seems true enough to say that at the moment, for this deck, size doesn't matter when Protection from Green comes so easily. The added protection ability, to harry Psychatog decks early and often, seems like a sufficient bonus when you have to admit that you won't want to kick a Kavu Titan very often against Blue decks.
Another deck I am personally interested in with July's fresh Standard
environment rolling around is the 'dead' Psychatog archetype. I'll be going over it in tomorrow's follow-up article to this one, along with a couple
other decklists to look at.
- Sean McKeown
"I go home, to the coast, it starts to rain, I paddle out on the water, alone.
Taste the salt and taste the pain, I'm not thinking of you again
Summer dies and swells rise, the sun goes down in my eyes...
I see that rolling wave darkly coming to take me... home.
I've never been so alone... and I've never been so alive"
--Third Eye Blind, "Motorcycle Drive-By"
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