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NATIONALS 101 JOAO CHOCA 10/09/2017

Nationals is fast approaching and you may not know what to play in Standard yet. Players have been clamouring for an open format and have been rewarded with a Standard that has multiple defensible choices for a tournament. I will aim to break the format down and help you be prepared for the Constructed part of next week’s tournament. 

Temur Energy (and Temur Black)

Marius Heuser - Grand Prix Turin Top 8 

4 Aether Hub
4 Botanical Sanctum
4 Forest
1 Game Trail
1 Island
1 Lumbering Falls
2 Mountain
3 Sheltered Thicket
2 Spirebluff Canal

4 Bristling Hydra
2 Elder Deep-Fiend
3 Glorybringer
4 Longtusk Cub
1 Rhonas the Indomitable
4 Rogue Refiner
4 Servant of the Conduit
3 Whirler Virtuoso 

2 Abrade
4 Attune with Aether
4 Harnessed Lightning
2 Magma Spray
1 Skysovereign, Consul Flagship 

SIDEBOARD

1 Abrade
1 Chandra, Flamecaller
2 Chandra, Torch of Defiance
2 Confiscation Coup
1 Dispel
4 Negate
2 Radiant Flames
1 Skysovereign, Consul Flagship
1 Tireless Tracker 

Temur Energy is the midrange deck of the format. It has the ability to win very quickly - usually with a Servant-Hydra-Glorybringer curve - and has a number of good mid-game weapons, such as Rhonas or Skysovereign. You will often see Temur splash Black for The Scarab God as well as sideboard Dispossess. The Energy cards - Longtusk Cub, Bristling Hydra and Whirler Virtuoso are the reasons to play this deck and if you sit on the other side, you should be aware that you need to deal with these cards.

Temur is arguably the most flexible deck in the format and it can be tailored to have better matchups against whichever part of the field you want to focus on. It is a good choice against Zombies and GB; it can hold its own against Ramunap Red, Mardu and White Eldrazi; but it struggles against anything that has a higher end game, such as Gift, UR/UW control (because of 5cc wraths mostly) and Ramp.

Temur has a fairly low entry barrier, but you will want to learn how to manage your Energy efficiently, as this often dictates the outcome of games.

Good cards against Temur: Gideon, Ally of Zendikar (if you can protect it from Glorybringer), Archangel Avacyn, Fumigate, Hour of Devastation, The Scarab God, other 5+cc spells

Ramunap Red

John Rolf - Grand Prix Denver Top 8

14 Mountain
4 Ramunap Ruins
2 Scavenger Grounds
4 Sunscorched Desert 

4 Ahn-Crop Crasher
4 Bomat Courier
4 Earthshaker Khenra
3 Hazoret the Fervent
3 Kari Zev, Skyship Raider

4 Soul-Scar Mage
4 Abrade
1 Collective Defiance
3 Incendiary Flow
4 Shock
2 Chandra, Torch of Defiance 

SIDEBOARD

2 Chandra's Defeat
2 Chandra, Torch of Defiance
4 Glorybringer
1 Hazoret the Fervent
1 Hour of Devastation
1 Mountain
1 Sand Strangler
3 Sweltering Suns 

For many years, playing lands, cheap creatures and burn spells has been a successful strategy. Ramunap Red is the latest iteration of Sligh, bringing old staples back - if you played back in the 90s, you’ll recognise Savannah Lions, Raging Goblin, Shock and Volcanic Hammer, all of which feature in this super aggressive deck.

This particular version of Red Deck Wins has better tools than many of its predecessors, notably multiple ways to stop your opponent from blocking, a lot of reach from just the lands and a selection of 4-drops that are powerful and can win games on their own. After the blistering game 1 configuration, Ramunap Red will often slow itself down to bring in powerful cards such as Pia Nalaar, Glorybringer, Reality Smasher and even Sweltering Suns to morph into a mono red control deck when it wants to.

Be wary of Hazoret coming down tapped and attacking, try to stay at a healthy life total (2 Ruins/Hazoret activations and a Flow is 7 damage, so I would consider 8 to be ‘safe’) and remember that Ramunap Red is not well equipped for a long game. Ramunap Red is strong against all the slow decks, such as control or Ramp and is also even to ahead against Mardu and Temur. If you want to beat the red menace, GB or Zombies are strong choices - if you choose to play Zombies, note that you will need to play around Sweltering Suns post-board.

Good cards against Ramunap Red: cheap removal, cheap blockers, Sweltering Suns/Radiant Flames, 2-for-1 blockers (Pia Nalaar, Regal Caracal, etc), Confiscation Coup (for Hazoret), Kalitas, Traitor to Ghet

Mardu Vehicles

Leon van der Linden - Grand Prix Turin Finalist

4 Aether Hub
2 Canyon Slough
4 Concealed Courtyard
4 Inspiring Vantage
2 Mountain
3 Plains
2 Shambling Vent
4 Spire of Industry 

3 Archangel Avacyn
2 Pia Nalaar
4 Scrapheap Scrounger
4 Thraben Inspector
4 Toolcraft Exemplar
3 Walking Ballista 

3 Fatal Push
4 Unlicensed Disintegration
3 Aethersphere Harvester
2 Gideon, Ally of Zendikar
3 Heart of Kiran 

SIDEBOARD

2 Abrade
2 Chandra, Torch of Defiance
1 Declaration in Stone
1 Dispossess
3 Doomfall
2 Gideon, Ally of Zendikar
1 Heart of Kiran
1 Painful Truths
2 Skysovereign, Consul Flagship 

The king is back. Many thought that Amonkhet had finally dethroned the best deck of the previous season, but this old favourite came back with a roar. Mardu’s power hinged on how well positioned Unlicensed Disintegration is and lives off its artifact synergies. The deck is capable of some truly blistering starts with Toolcraft Exemplar into Heart of Kiran, but the red removal suite is powerful at containing Mardu - Magma Spray and Incendiary Flow are powerful tools to keep Scrapheap Scrounger from going the distance, and Abrade is versatile against most threats that Mardu presents.

Mardu has a good matchup against Temur, mostly off the back of Gideon, Ally of Zendikar (yes, he is still legal!), as well as the control decks (again due to the powerful planeswalker). Mardu, however, struggles to beat Zombies if it doesn’t have Skysovereign in play and can often be run over by the sheer speed of Ramunap Red. Ramp is a close race where Mardu usually tries to land a Gideon before protecting itself from Ulamog, the Ceaseless Hunger via discard spells.

If you play against this deck, you will want to play around both Unlicensed Disintegration and Archangel Avacyn, as those are the cards most likely to blow you out if you don’t plan for them.

Good cards against Mardu: Abrade, Release the Gremlins, Skysovereign, Consul Flagship, Archangel Avacyn (note that planeswalkers aren’t very good against Mardu as the deck has many ways of pressuring them efficiently)

Editor’s Note: At the weekend versions without black cropped up which eschews the black removal spells for more creatures like Depala and Veteran Motorist, which can be crushing in the mirror and makes the mana base much smoother!

Zombies

Dario Parazzoli - Grand Prix Turin Top 8

4 Ifnir Deadlands
2 Scavenger Grounds
18 Swamp
1 Westvale Abbey 

4 Cryptbreaker
4 Diregraf Colossus
4 Dread Wanderer
4 Lord of the Accursed
4 Metallic Mimic
4 Relentless Dead 

4 Dark Salvation
3 Grasp of Darkness
4 Liliana's Mastery 

SIDEBOARD

2 Doomfall
1 Grasp of Darkness
2 Kalitas, Traitor of Ghet
2 Liliana's Defeat
3 Scrapheap Scrounger
4 Transgress the Mind
1 Triskaidekaphobia 

Zombies is the ‘other’ aggro deck in the format and it brings a new angle to the table. The Zombies deck excels at beating up midrange decks without good sweepers or exile effects and is also strong against other aggro decks. However, it has a poor matchup against Temur (due to Temur’s cheap removal and sweepers), Gift (no real answer to the actual Gift or to 6/6 lifelink fliers) and an extremely poor matchup against Ramp (it cannot pressure them enough when they run 4-8 wrath effects maindeck).

The power in the deck comes from Liliana’s Mastery, Dark Salvation and Relentless Dead, giving the deck a powerful mid-game to go alongside the cheap creatures. Cryptbreaker also fuels the transition from early to mid-game by providing a steady flow of cards. In order to beat Zombies, you need a plan to beat these cards (usually through sweepers).

Westvale Abbey aside, Zombies have no way to deal damage outside of what you see on the board, so going to 1 life if you know you can play a sweeper the turn after is fairly safe. Zombies struggles against anything they can’t easily Grasp or swarm around as well as cards that go way over the top of it.

Good cards against Zombies: Skysovereign, Consul Flagship, planeswalkers, The Scarab God, all sweepers, exile effects

UW Approach

Andrea Conzogni - Grand Prix Turin Top 8

3 Irrigated Farmland
8 Island
8 Plains
2 Port Town
3 Prairie Stream
2 Westvale Abbey 

4 Approach of the Second Sun
4 Blessed Alliance
4 Censor
4 Fumigate
4 Glimmer of Genius
3 Hieroglyphic Illumination
3 Immolating Glare
1 Summary Dismissal

4 Supreme Will
4 Cast Out

SIDEBOARD

3 Authority of the Consuls
2 Descend upon the Sinful
2 Dispel
2 Negate
4 Regal Caracal
1 Sphinx of the Final Word
1 Summary Dismissal 

UW Approach is your bread and butter control deck. It features a heavy land count, removal, sweepers and card draw. Approach of the Second Sun has given the deck a win condition that buys time against the aggro decks, can win immediately (or over two turns) and is hard to interact with. UW Approach is good against creature decks, but struggles against decks with few creatures. From my experience, it also struggles against Jeskai Gift.

There’s not much to add here - the faster your draw is, the more likely you are to beat UW. Unlike traditional UW control, this deck is actually okay against Ramunap Red due to the large number of both lifegain and exile effects to deal with Hazoret. As usual, the deck struggles against a resolved planeswalker or other noncreature permanents (such as God-Pharaoh’s Gift),

If you want to target this deck, you want powerful spells rather than powerful creatures and you want to load up on cheap countermagic to disrupt their expensive sorcery speed spells. A quick note on the Gift matchup - my experience has been that they take a lot of damage from your small creatures and can’t tap out in the face of an impending Gift. They have few ways to exile Champion of Wits (as they need to save Cast Out for the 7cc artifact), meaning you can often get to eternalize with countermagic backup and win the game this way. It will be a grind, but I think Gift is favoured.

Good cards against UW: Dispel, Negate, planeswalkers, win conditions that don’t require attacking

UB Control

Robin Dolar - Grand Prix Turin Winner

3 Choked Estuary
4 Fetid Pools
6 Island
4 Sunken Hollow
9 Swamp 

3 The Scarab God
3 Torrential Gearhulk

4 Censor
3 Disallow
3 Essence Scatter
4 Fatal Push
2 Flaying Tendrils
4 Glimmer of Genius
4 Grasp of Darkness
1 Negate
3 Supreme Will 

SIDEBOARD

1 Dispel
3 Gifted Aetherborn
3 Kalitas, Traitor of Ghet
2 Liliana, the Last Hope
2 Negate
2 Summary Dismissal
2 To the Slaughter 

This is a far more ‘traditional’ control deck, with more cheap removal and fewer sweepers. UB control wants games to last long and so it preys on decks such as Temur or UW Approach. The Scarab God gives it a powerful way to dominate the mid-game and swiftly enter the late-game, whilst Torrential Gearhulk is still the same powerful card it has been, allowing you to get an easy 2-for-1 on unsuspecting opponents (or via recasting a Glimmer of Genius)

This deck is extremely poor against Ramunap Red and (again) struggles against resolved planeswalkers, but it handily defeats anything that tries to flourish in the mid/late-game. It has enough countermagic to beat Ramp and Approach; enough removal to beat GB or Temur and enough, well, everything, to beat Jeskai Gift.

Good cards against UB: Skysovereign, Consul Flagship (they cannot actually kill this card outside of double Grasp or To the Slaughter + another removal spell), Scrapheap Scrounger, cheap threats, Dispel (to protect your threats)

Ramp

Federico Del Basso - Grand Prix Turin Top 32 

1 Scavenger Grounds
1 Sanctum of Ugin
1 Sea Gate Wreckage
4 Hashep Oasis
3 Shefet Dunes
2 Plains
4 Forest
4 Scattered Groves
2 Shrine of the Forsaken Gods
3 Fortified Village 

1 Oblivion Sower
3 Walking Ballista
3 World Breaker
4 Thraben Inspector
2 Ulamog, the Ceaseless Hunger 

2 Spring // Mind
4 Fumigate
2 Descend upon the Sinful
4 Hour of Promise
3 Weirding Wood
4 Gift of Paradise
2 Cast Out
1 Quarantine Field 

SIDEBOARD

2 Oblivion Sower
3 Regal Caracal
1 Felidar Sovereign
1 Linvala, the Preserver
3 Tireless Tracker
3 Authority of the Consuls
2 Lost Legacy 

Ramp has traditionally been a Green and Red midrange deck, but the current version prefers the white sweepers and removal over their red counterparts. This particular list doesn’t run any, but GW Ramp often runs anywhere between 2 and 4 Approach of the Second Sun as alternate ways to victory. The plan for this deck is simple - have more mana available to you than you should, then cast powerful threats that are hard to interact with ahead of the curve.

Ramp struggles against anything that can pressure it before it gets set up or something with plenty of answers to what it tries to achieve - as such, avoid Ramp if you expect Ramunap Red or UB Control as those matchups are both fairly poor. However, Ramp also has very few 50/50 matchups. Except for Mardu, most other matchups are significantly in Ramp’s favour. For example, Zombies is a huge underdog to a deck packing so many sweepers, Temur can’t effectively pressure Ramp as Fumigate actually deals with Bristling Hydra, Mono White Eldrazi needs to find Thought-Knot Seers to disrupt Ramp or it too falls to the 10 mana Eldrazi (rather fittingly flavour-wise) and Gift cannot beat waves of sweepers into a devastating Eldrazi taking out the 7 mana namesake.

In order to have a chance against GW Ramp, you need to present threats that don’t get dealt with by Fumigate or Descend upon the Sinful. Vehicles and planeswalkers are both strong here, as they allow you to maintain pressure even through sweepers.

Good cards against GW Ramp: Thought-Knot Seer, discard, Lost Legacy (to take out Ulamog or Approach), fast aggression, Heart of Kiran, planeswalkers, Selfless Spirit

Jeskai Gift

Simon Nielsen - Grand Prix Turin Top 8

4 Aether Hub
3 Inspiring Vantage
4 Ipnu Rivulet
4 Island
3 Mountain
4 Spirebluff Canal 

4 Angel of Invention
4 Champion of Wits
3 Glint-Nest Crane
3 Hollow One
4 Insolent Neonate
4 Minister of Inquiries
3 Trophy Mage
4 Walking Ballista 

3 Cathartic Reunion
4 Gate to the Afterlife
2 God-Pharaoh's Gift

SIDEBOARD

1 Abrade
2 Cataclysmic Gearhulk
1 Chandra's Defeat
2 Chandra, Torch of Defiance
2 Dispel
3 Glorybringer
1 Kefnet's Last Word
3 Negate 

Perhaps the only true combo deck in the current Standard format, Jeskai Gift is a fairly linear deck that aims to make increasingly larger Angels of Invention until the game is over. The plan is simple - get six creatures in the graveyard so you can activate Gate to the Afterlife, get a God-Pharaoh’s Gift onto the battlefield, then reanimate Angel of Invention and Champion of Wits. The closest analogue to this deck is Modern Dredge, where you aim to win by creating a snowball of advantage from using your graveyard as a resource.

Jeskai Gift is another deck in the ‘middle’ of the format, which aims to beat the other midrange decks, whilst having game against the aggro decks. However, it is not very good against control and is almost hopeless against Ramp. Jeskai Gift doesn’t like to see Abrade or Scavenger Grounds, but both those cards are beatable by careful planning (although either card is capable of completely shutting down some draws).

If you play against this deck, be wary of letting them untap with a Gate to the Afterlife in play - both Insolent Neonate and Walking Ballista are very good (and cheap) at getting six creatures in the graveyard, starting from as low as 0.

Good cards against Jeskai Gift: Abrade, Scavenger Grounds, Dispossess, Longtusk Cub (due to a lack of removal), Archangel Avacyn, Confiscation Coup (on the Gift)

Mono-White Eldrazi

Corey Baumeister - Grand Prix Washington DC Top 8

3 Aether Hub
11 Plains
3 Scavenger Grounds
4 Shefet Dunes
4 Spawning Bed 

4 Archangel Avacyn
3 Eldrazi Displacer
4 Matter Reshaper
3 Selfless Spirit
4 Thought-Knot Seer
4 Thraben Inspector
4 Walking Ballista 

1 Declaration in Stone
2 Spatial Contortion
2 Warping Wail
1 Cast Out
3 Stasis Snare 

SIDEBOARD

1 Cast Out
2 Linvala, the Preserver
1 Scavenger Grounds
2 Skysovereign, Consul Flagship
3 Solemnity
1 Spatial Contortion
3 Sunscourge Champion
2 Warping Wail 

Mono-White Eldrazi has been around for a while, but the recent GP in Washington was the effective ‘breakthrough’. The deck is a midrange deck at its finest, with a reasonable curve and reactive cards against most of the format. Mono-White Eldrazi has very few great or terrible matchups and instead is 50/50 against most things in the format.

Due to the clunky nature of the deck, it doesn’t want to see Ramunap Red on the other side; nor does it want to see a dedicated control deck capable of killing its threats one by one. However, neither of these matchups is worse than 45%, making Mono-White Eldrazi a fairly ‘safe’ choice for a Standard event. If you draw a reasonable combination of lands and spells that are good in the matchup, you’ll do well; otherwise, you won’t.

Mono-White Eldrazi doesn’t have any card selection or card advantage, so playing a fair removal game is your best bet against it (do note they have both Archangel Avacyn and Selfless Spirit to disrupt those plans).

Good cards against Mono-White Eldrazi: Go wide cards (Liliana’s Mastery, Nissa, Voice of Zendikar, etc), powerful enter-the-battlefield creatures that Displacer struggles against (Regal Caracal), Grasp of Darkness, Bristling Hydra

Green-Black Energy

Bolun Zhang - Grand Prix Washington DC Top 8

4 Aether Hub
4 Blooming Marsh
4 Forest
2 Hashep Oasis
3 Hissing Quagmire
3 Swamp 

3 Bristling Hydra
2 Catacomb Sifter
4 Glint-Sleeve Siphoner
4 Longtusk Cub
2 Verdurous Gearhulk
4 Walking Ballista
4 Winding Constrictor 

4 Attune with Aether
2 Blossoming Defense
4 Fatal Push
2 Grasp of Darkness
2 Aethersphere Harvester
3 Nissa, Voice of Zendikar

SIDEBOARD

3 Dispossess
1 Doomfall
3 Dreamstealer
1 Grasp of Darkness
2 Ob Nixilis Reignited
1 Skysovereign, Consul Flagship
1 Tireless Tracker
3 Transgress the Mind 

Last (and probably least), we have GB Winding Constrictor. GB boasts two good matchups - Ramunap Red and Mardu but many extremely poor ones such as UB Control, Ramp, and Temur to name a few. It has an even matchup against Gift, but is otherwise a fairly poor choice for a Standard tournament.

The one thing GB has going for it is that it is good at punishing bad draws and has few nonfunctional draws itself. Attune with Aether and Servant of the Conduit means the deck gets away with being very land light, whereas Verdurous Gearhulk and Walking Ballista give it a reasonable way to use up spare mana mid-game. The deck struggles against spot removal breaking up the Winding Constrictor synergies, but will often get free wins off of an unchecked Snake. So whilst there aren’t many matchups GB actively wants, there are many awkward draws GB can prey on.

Good cards against GB: Fatal Push/Abrade, Fumigate, planeswalkers (especially Gideon), Confiscation Coup

Final thoughts

In summary, this format is wide open and all of aggro, midrange, control and combo are viable. In a sense, Standard right now feels a little like Modern in that deck familiarity and a strong list enable you to (at least) have a chance against many of the top decks and you just hope to dodge the few decks that are bad matchups.

About Joao Choca:

Joao started playing competitive Magic in England in 2007 and has been a Grand Prix grinder since then. Joao has retained Bronze status since induction and has been rewarded for his consistent results with a win in Grand Prix Turin 2018. He enjoys thinking outside the box and is one of the more creative team members when it comes to fresh ideas. His approach is one of gradual improvement and he is constantly looking for flaws to fix in his game. His aim is to achieve Silver and stay on the Pro Tour circuit.