This past weekend, we did not have a major Standard tournament to give us results to sift through. Instead, we had a SCG Classic that showed more of the same, with 4-Color Copycat taking down a top 8 with 5 different variations of B/G Constrictor. Previously, I’ve talked a lot about how this Standard format resembles rock, paper, scissors, in that (generally) B/G Constrictor beats Mardu Vehicles which beats Copycat which beats B/G Constrictor. The good news for anyone wanting to play Standard is that none of these matchups are greater than 60/40 or so in any direction, so any of these decks are viable choices for every Standard tournament.
However, it’s only a matter of time before a deck breaks this paradigm and Standard is broken wide open. For a deck to really do this, it’ll need to be strong against at least 2 of these 3 archetypes. So in this article I’ll be looking at the strengths and weaknesses of each of these archetypes, and eventually will arrive at a list that I think could find itself putting up good results at the plethora of Standard Grand Prix in the next month or so.
Strengths: Sorcery-speed removal, decks that struggle against planeswalkers.
Weaknesses: Reusable removal, falling behind.
If we want our deck to be good against Mardu Vehicles, we’ll need instant-speed removal and a good way of dealing with Gideon, Ally of Zendikar. As we learned at GP Pittsburgh, Gideon and Chandra, Torch of Defiance are both excellent against B/G Constrictor, despite the matchup being better for the snake side, so being able to deal with Mardu’s gameplan pre- and post-sideboard will be critical. Mardu struggles when it falls behind, but we’ve learned over the past few weeks that that doesn’t happen easily, and the better strategy against them is trying to interact reactively in the early-to-mid turns of the game.
Additionally, Walking Ballista and other forms of reusable kill spells are excellent against Vehicles, as 1-for-1 removal spells will only take you so far in this matchup. Once you have that in place, putting them under pressure immediately is critical to closing the game out before their burst damage has a chance of ending the game in their favor.
Playing a large suite of removal spells that can deal with multiple threats and a good way of turning the game around quickly is the best way to combat Mardu Vehicles.
Strengths: Small creatures, no interaction.
Weaknesses: No creatures, big creatures, board wipes.
If we learned anything from GP Pittsburgh, we learned that board wipes are really, really good against B/G Constrictor. B/G is a very synergy-based deck that needs multiple creatures out to operate optimally. So, Fumigate ends up being a fantastic answer to the on-board synergy that the deck provides, as well as delaying it several turns as it needs to rebuild its board presence.
Additionally, the Walking Ballista synergies that B/G Constrictor relies on are pretty ineffectual when the opponent has either no creatures or large creatures like Torrential Gearhulk. If you plan on beating B/G Constrictor with small creatures and no interaction, you’re in for a rude awakening. Actually, come to think of it, Rude Awakening would actually be pretty good burst damage for most decks in this matchup.
Playing decks that don’t rely on small creatures gaining value gives you a good leg up in the B/G matchup. Unconditional board wipes (read: Fumigate) are also excellent against this deck.
Strengths: No interaction, slow gameplans.
Weaknesses: Better card advantage, aggression, heavy disruption.
Many pros identified Copycat and Mardu Vehicles as the two best decks going into Pro Tour Aether Revolt. However, if you kept an eye on the tournament, you would know that Mardu Vehicles put 6 copies in the top 8, while Copycat put 0. The reason this happened is that Mardu Vehicles was very favored against Copycat, and pros decided that if other teams came to the same conclusion, they didn’t want to be on the wrong side of the matchup. Like combo decks throughout Magic’s history, a combination of aggression and disruption is what undoes Copycat.
However, both versions of Copycat (Jeskai and 4-Color) boast good a good matchup against B/G Constrictor, because they are able to dominate on both axes that matter in the matchup: card advantage and long-term threats. While it may dominate on mana advantage and board presence in the early game, B/G Constrictor tends to struggle later on if it’s not able to put enough damage on the board to kill quickly. In the long run, the card advantage that both versions of Copycat present are much better than B/G Constrictor, and the short-term and long-term threat of the combo itself gives Copycat the much better overall game plan in the matchup.
Beating Copycat requires disruption, as well as either a superior card advantage engine or a good amount of aggression.
How to Beat Them
Here’s the list I’m advocating for ahead of the Standard Grand Prix in the upcoming months.
Jeskai Control by Jonah Gaynor
4 Torrential Gearhulk
Non-Creature Spells (30)
2 Jace, Unraveler of Secrets
1 Nahiri, the Harbinger
4 Glimmer of Genius
4 Harnessed Lightning
1 Horribly Awry
1 Scatter to the Winds
1 Void Shatter
2 Quarantine Field
2 Stasis Snare
2 Dynavolt Tower
Before jumping into matchups, let’s talk about some of the card choices in here.
Nahiri is a slightly odd 1-of, but it does some impressive work in this deck. The ability to filter draws every turn is very relevant in the more grindy matchups and immediately killing any tapped creatures (or Aethersphere Harvester) helps massively against the aggressive decks. The ultimate isn’t incredible in this deck, but fetching a Torrential Gearhulk can frequently be the difference between winning and losing a game. Oh, and it returns the Gearhulk to your hand for a second use, which is fantastic.
Each of these counters does something different, and there will be situations where you’re very glad to have one over the other, and having access to each of them in different situations won’t hurt. On the draw and your opponent plays turn 2 Servant of the Conduit into turn 3 Felidar Guardian? Aren’t you glad you have that Horribly Awry in your hand. Scatter to the Winds and Void Shatter are functionally the same 95% of the time, but the small portion of the time that you animate your land to kill your opponent or exile a Scrapheap Scrounger will feel good.
This card continues to impress me, and against decks where you’ll need a lot of removal and reusable damage-dealers (Vehicles), you’ll be happy that you have a Dynavolt Tower in play. It can deal with a Gideon, Ally of Zendikar or Heart of Kiran when paired with Shock, and it quickly runs away with games when you have an empty board with counters in hand.
Why I Like This Deck Against the Field
Of the three pillars of this Standard format, Vehicles is probably the worst matchup. Their combination of pressure and sticky threats like Gideon, Ally of Zendikar makes it hard to both use our removal on their creatures and vehicles and hold up counters for their sticky threats. However, Dynavolt Tower helps massively in this regard, as it allows us to hold up counters for Gideon and activate Tower for a free removal spell, allowing us to negate the mana strain they put on us.
Additionally, multiple copies of Stasis Snare help against Gideon, Ally of Zendikar and Heart of Kiran, two cards that our board wipes can’t deal with. The inclusion of Aether Meltdown in the sideboard is a concession to the nature of this matchup. Meltdown is pretty excellent in this matchup. It can deal with any creature that they present, and adds energy for our Dynavolt Tower and Harnessed Lightning. The third copy of Dynavolt Tower and the 3 copies of Fragmentize in the sideboard also come in in this matchup as additional effective removal spells.
Vs. B/G Constrictor
This matchup is excellent. Their creature-based synergy is a joke against our board wipes and removal spells. And usually one Glimmer of Genius into Torrential Gearhulk is enough card advantage to completely bury them. They also have a very hard time dealing with our planeswalkers and most of their freshly-played creatures will die to a Dynavolt Tower.
The way they win this matchup is burst damage with Verdurous Gearhulk or sticky sideboard threats like Ob Nixilis Reignited. However, the times when those cards will get the job done against us is few and far between. They’ll also board in Transgress the Mind, but that card isn’t really a bother for us. Unlike the Copycat Control decks, we have a lot of redundancy in our opening hands, and hand disruption usually functions as a straight 1-for-1, which we’re fairly happy doing in this matchup.
B/G Constrictor is likely to be the most popular of the three pillars for the next few weeks. It was dominant at Grand Prix Pittsburgh and put 5 copies into the top 8 of the SCG Classic in Baltimore this weekend. Our positive matchup against B/G Constrictor is one of the big draws to this deck.
Vs. Copycat – 4-Color
Copycat is essentially two different archetypes at this point, so I’ll talk about them as different decks. First, let’s do 4-Color, the deck that won the SCG Classic in Baltimore this past weekend.
Our matchup here is fairly good, but can be problematic depending on the version they’re playing. Assuming they’re playing the winning list from this past weekend, early threats like Rogue Refiner and Whirler Virtuoso are good against us because they effectively replace themselves immediately. Using removal spells early on these creatures is important, as we want to maximize the efficiency of our copies of Fumigate.
Saheeli Rai and any other planeswalkers they have can be problematic, but holding up counters is not a bad strategy at all. Torrential Gearhulk is an important way to pressure their planeswalkers and their life total, so don’t be afraid to play them as soon as you can. Negate is very important in this matchup, as keeping up interaction after a Fumigate protects you from the Copycat combo.
Vs. Copycat – Jeskai Control
This is effectively a mirror-match, but they play sorcery-speed threats which play right into our hands. The Copycat combo really isn’t a problem, and their game plan of threatening the combo makes them the aggressor, which generally isn’t the favored position in control matchups. Hitting land drops, drawing cards, and playing relevant spells is the name of the game in this matchup, and we certainly have more of the latter. The copies of Dispel and Blighted Cataract, as well as the additional copies of Negate put in work in this matchup. Don’t be afraid of countering their copies of Glimmer of Genius or Torrential Gearhulk instead of the combo itself.
All in all, I don’t think this Jeskai Control deck is the dominant answer to all strategies in the format, but I think it’s excellently-positioned for the next few weeks and months, as the three pillars of Standard seem to be standing strong.
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