Kevin Jones foresees BFZ cards from SCG Indy

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Greetings, fellow Mantis Riders! I’m writing this on a Tuesday and the results for the inaugural standard events with Battle for Zendikar (order some here) are in the books. I’m nothing if not arrogant so on Friday I decided to write down five predictions I had for this past weekends SCG Indianapolis open and the new standard format. Today I pulled out my list so we can explore how I did and the implications of what we learned Saturday and Sunday. So let’s hop to it!

Prediction number 1:
75% (6 of the 8) of the top 8 decks will be known archetypes from the previous format (red, Abzan, Jeskai, Esper, etc).

Verdict: I was basically right! Here’s the top 8 decks
2 Black Jeskai
2 Esper Dragons
1 Five color Bring to Light
1 Atarka Red
1 Green White Megamorph
1 Abzan Control

Five of the eight decks are actually the new versions of old decks from the previous format. Two decks are an old archetype splashing a 4th color, made possible by the awesome mana in this new format. One deck, Gerry Thompson’s 5 color bring to light, is completely new. I expected that the three color decks would incorporate splashes. The fourth color allows for a fetch/dual manabase and makes the mana better than three color tri-land pain land mana bases. Jeskai incorporating Butcher of the Horde and Crackling Doom is a pretty intuitive leap for people to make. GW Megamorph is the deck Michael Majors piloted to second place in the open. GW Aggro was a deck in the previous format, albeit an underplayed one. It usually played four copies of Collected Company and Mastery of the Unseen for lifegain and inevitability. This deck is fairly similar but it naturally wanted to include Hangarback Walker and thus elected to eschew Collected Company and the restrictive applications it has on deck building. I completely agree with this decision since I think Hangarback Walker is great in this deck and Gideon, Ally of Zendikar is a better payoff at four mana than Company anyway. I also would shy away from Company because it’s slow against Atarka Red and bad against counterspells and I think Silumgar’s Scorn and Atarka’s Command are two of the pillars of the new format. So that’s an example of very effective and efficient forecasting of the metagame. Some readers will astutely pick up on the fact that the four drop Collected Company is replaced with another four drop in Gideon, Ally of Zendikar. The difference is that Gideon attacks from another angle, actually multiple other angles. It’s a planeswalker that poses a difficult to kill threat, a steady stream of tokens when at parity, and lastly, an immediate and unkillable Glorious Anthem. The last mode is the one least often used in the Jeskai builds I’ve been playing Gideon in. However, it’s arguably the most potent mode in Majors’ GW deck. Your wingmates dodge Languish, your [/card]Den Protector[/card]s become harder to block, and you can deploy additional Hangarback Walkers to the field for the low cost of free99! Now that’s some value if I do say so myself. Now, despite the impressive deckbuilding and theorycrafting evident in Michael’s deck and his process, I have several predictions left to assess. One prediction came true so far, on to the next one!

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Prediction number 2: Over ten copies of Gideon, Ally of Zendikar in the top 8 of SCG Indy.

Verdict: I was right again! 11 copies cracked the top 8. 4 in Brad Caroenter’s Abzan Control deck, 4 in Majors’ GW deck, and 3 in Adam Varner’s Jeskai Black deck (ohhh yeahhh Jeskai). I thought that players would hesitate to play 4 copies since the card is fairly hard to kill for a 4 mana Planeswalker. But evidently, the fact that you can immediately cash in your active Gideon for an emblem before casting a redundant copy means it is one of the few walkers that isn’t bad in multiples. Gideon is very powerful and will help define the format for the foreseeable future, likely his whole tenure in standard. I expected four decks with three copies, maybe one with two, leaving us at around 11-12 copies. We got 11 copies from 3 decks (4,4,3) which is similar to what I expected to have happen. 2 for 2 on predictions, if I was as good at softball as I am at guessing obscure facts about formats I might have some non magic related hardware on the mantle. But alas, moving on.

Prediction number 3: 0 Eldrazi ramp decks in the top 8 of scg Indy.

Verdict: Right again! He’s on fire! I couldn’t write that without hearing it in the announcer voice from NBA Hangtime, the classic N64 game from the late 90s. But anyway, this prediction was one of the safest ones. I was almost positive ramp would either underperform, be virtually unplayed, or both. Everyone was accustomed to ramp decks being creature based like the devotion decks from the previous format. I think the new ramp decks are likely built around Nissa’s Pilgrimage and Hedron Archive. They seek to ramp aggressively and land Ulamog, the Ceaseless Hunger or Ugin, the Spirit Dragon as quickly as possible. In a format likely to be defined by Valorous Stance, Abzan Charm, and Crackling Doom the payoff isn’t quite high enough on the other expensive creatures. Though Oblivion Sower is really sweet I’m not sure he can carry an archetype that some believe is intentionally under supported with only one set legal from the block so far. It’s better for everyone if the format shakes up and evolves as the new set releases this winter. So consequently, making the Eldrazi deck good in the first set isn’t as valuable a quantity with regards to the format as making it good upon release of the second set is. It forces everyone to reevaluate all the cards again in a different subjective context. Which will change all the other other cards’ values because they were best against strategies that falter in the face of effective and powerful ramp decks. Just an example but it can happen pretty easily and I think wizards is absolutely intentional about the order in which certain cards are released. Some real life context is last winter, Ugin, the Spirit Dragon’s release in Fate Reforged added a powerful weapon for control decks and ramp decks. I also don’t think Whip of Erebos and Jeskai Ascendancy/Hordeling Outburst would’ve faced off in top four of worlds if Ugin was legal at the time. Ugin ended up being one of the most unbeatable cards for Jeskai tokens as well as Whip decks. But, those decks were great, that match was great, and I, for one, an glad we get to explore every stage of a format’s development. And on to the next prediction!

Prediction number 4: Monastery Mentor and Sarkhan, the Dragonspeaker will both show up in a top 8 deck from the open.

Verdict: Wrong!!! Well, you can’t be perfect I guess. I thought both of these cards stood to gain a ton of stock from the rotation. Sarkhan is a Stormbreath Dragon a lot of the time that can be a removal spell in a pinch. A five drop threat that is immune to Ojutai’s Command and Valorous Stance as well as most damage based removal is very well positioned in the theoretical new metagame. One of the Jeskai decks topped out at Dragonlord Ojutai and the other didn’t go past four mana besides Dig. So maybe everyone anticipated a room full of Crackling Doom and Abzan Charm. But even then you’re not much better off with Ojutai and could even theoretically fare worse. Sarkhan is also very good against Gideon as well. Kills it immediately when you’re on the play. I still think this one is well positioned, be ready for it to show up again. As for Monastery Mentor, the card gained a ton from the rotation of several top tier two mana removal spells. Also, the format seems to be defined by larger powerful creatures (Rhinos, Anafenza, and Dragons) several of which are multicolored. Which means even though Ultimate Price didn’t rotate yet it’s inclusion into main decks is a slight liability. You could see a copy or two of Ultimate Price in lists but all it takes is one unchecked turn with a live Mentor to mount a scarily large advantage. It’s less likely your opponents will have price early if they even have it at all. So I feel like this card will rarely instantly die as it has in the past. It technically dies to Wild Slash and Fiery Impulse but it’s fairly easy to save your own copy of the same type of card for a prowess trigger in a pinch. The reason this card is constantly underplayed is there’s a fairly low floor for the card if you can’t guarantee to have a stream of spells. It’s just a 2/2 which won’t cut it. For these reasons you can’t just slot it into any white deck. There needs to be some attempt at synergy. Jeskai would be a great fit for both of these cards and while scouring lists I found Michael Bernat’s 21st place black Jeskai list from the Indy open that included two copies of Monastery Mentor and one copy of Sarkhan, the Dragonspeaker. Hats off to you for the finish, Michael. If only you could’ve cracked the top 8 and made me look like a true seer. One more prediction to go!

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Prediction number 5: Thunderbreak Regent will be overplayed and underperform.

Verdict: half and half on this one. If you’re asking how someone can be both right and wrong I’ll explain. My actual guess about the format was that the Draconic Roar/Thunderbreak deck that has been good in the past is just very poorly positioned. Whether it’s Mardu, Jeskai, or RB it still feels like roar doesn’t actually kill many creatures that matter that don’t already die to Wild Slash or Ultimate Price (Mantis Rider too powerful). The incremental damage from roar and regent triggers should be good when everyone is taking additional damage from their mana. And it is, but Thunderbreak just lines up poorly against the best current removal, especially crackling doom. It’s just too easy to build the dragons decks which is why I thought they would be overplayed. It’s also too likely that your dragon will die to a spell way cheaper than the amount of mana you invested in it. That’s why I think they’ll underperform. Ojutai and Silumgar, the Drifting Death are the only exceptions. Their hexproof allows you to minimize the chances of losing a 5/6 mana investment to a 2/3 mana spell. Now, the way in which I was proven wrong is interesting. The winning Atarka red list played Hangarback Walker and Thunderbreak Regent in the sideboard. He would board in Hangarback and Regent to combat sweepers like Radiant Flames and to have a reasonable amount if threats that can win the game on their own. I’m a huge fan of sideboard plans like this. Invalidating your opponents’ best cards is the goal of sideboarding in general. So I was wrong because the card won the tournament but there was exactly one Regent/Roar deck in top 32. The 31st place Jeskai Dragons deck. Let’s call it a push. 3.5/5 isn’t too bad.

That’s all I’ve got this week. If you enjoyed this one you’re in luck because I’ll be writing a weekly article about constructed. Usually standard but I might throw an eternal format in there from time to time. I’ve started a podcast of sorts where I ramble to myself while driving. You might ultimately be able to find that here, provided it isn’t rife with abject vulgarity and weirdness. Thanks for hanging out, see everyone next week! If you need anything for upcoming tournaments, use coupon code KEVINJONES for 5% off your order here.

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