Standard Fare - Beating the Standard Metagame [Chris Stomberg - Invoker, Level 32]
Have you been crushed by powerful cards like Liliana, the Last Hope, Languish, Ishkanah, Grafwidow, and Brisela, Voice of Nightmares lately? How about destructive combos such as your opponent casting Elder Deep-Fiend with a Kozilek’s Return in the graveyard for free from their earlier Grapple with the Past? To top it all off, answering all of these high-powered, high converted mana cost cards couldn't be more difficult with the various Collected Company decks still hanging around and putting on the early game pressure with an absurd amount of value due to their impressive suite of 3 CMC (converted mana cost) or less creatures. Although the Standard metagame may be in a very healthy place right now due to the abundant variety of successful decks, this same variety that contributes to the health of the format makes it difficult for a player to answer the various strategies others are employing in their decks. Is it even possible to build a deck that contains all the answers to such a diverse field of opponents?
While I may not have the answer to this question just yet, the best way to come at an overarching quandary such as this is to break it down piece by piece. In other words, ask questions that are not so general! For example, by what mechanical means in the game can you answer the Kozilek’s Return and Elder Deep-Fiend combo? In order for this play to work out for your opponent, what are the conditions that must be met? How can I disrupt these conditions before my opponent is able to enact the combo? What specific Standard-legal cards allow me the tools I need? And finally, once you have your list of cards that effectively answer the problems other decks in the metagame present, the last question you want to ask yourself is how can I put together a deck with its own singular strategy that includes all the cards, or answers, I've found from the previous questions?
Let’s go into more detail. For the sake of this process actually working for my readers as it does for me, let’s run through the use of these questions with attention to the deck, or a variant of it, that won Pro Tour Eldritch Moon: Black White (BW) Control. First of all, what's the means by which this deck wins the game? As the control portion of the deck’s title suggests, this deck wins by answering all relevant threats its opponent puts into play while slowly generating card advantage through the use of powerful high CMC cards that can trade 2 for 1 with its opponent's, one example being Languish. Another important thing to note about most control decks is the use of cards that allow them to dig deeper into their library to find the relevant answers they need, in this case the prime suspect being Read the Bones. While these cards we've examined further the gameplan of the BW control deck and are very important to recognize as key elements of the deck, they still don't supply the answer to our original question: What's the means by which this deck wins the game?
The simplest answer is through combat damage. However, to get more specific, the primary means by which the deck ends the game in victory is through the use of either a planeswalker's ultimate ability with Liliana, the Last Hope, Ob Nixilis Reignited, and Sorin, Grim Nemesis all being possible outs here, or sticking a large and powerful creature with evasion, such as Archangel Avacyn, Gisela, the Broken Blade, Bruna, the Fading Light, or even Linvala, the Preserver. It's also important to note that the evasion this deck uses in order to get in its damage is strictly flying-related. Now that we have deciphered the means by which the deck wins the game, the next question is: How do we stop it?
When it comes to BW Control, as well as mostly any control deck that forfeits the use of blue mana, the best and most efficient answers in my opinion are also some players' most hated mechanic in the game: Counterspells. While generating card advantage by digging into one’s library can be extremely helpful by finding the specific combination of cards one needs to close out the game, card advantage is irrelevant if your win condition can't be enabled. This is exactly what Counterspells do. Even the threat of a Counterspell will often force your opponent to play a different game than they would like as they're forced to cast not necessarily relevant cards in hopes that you spend your Counterspell on something other than their win condition. But, most importantly, a well-placed Counterspell will deny your opponent the answer they needed at the moment it was crucial by simply negating the effects of that answer, forcing your opponent into a position where they can only hope to draw another card with similar effects. With all this being said, the fact of the meta remains that blue isn't in the greatest position right now outside of multicolored cards that see play in Bant Company such as Spell Queller and Reflector Mage. This is why BW Control is able to thrive at the moment.
So let’s say you’re not gung ho about playing a color in a bad position, according to popular opinion, or Counterspells in general. That’s okay! Remember, we're playing Magic here, and there are often many ways to solve a problem in this game. If the powerful cards of BW Control are assuredly coming into play, how can we make their effects irrelevant and/or answer them more efficiently than what our opponent paid for said effects? Another great tool against most control decks is hand destruction, which thankfully we see in abundance in the Standard metagame currently. Cards like Duress and Transgress the Mind, honorable mention to Pick the Brain, work in the same manner Counterspells do as far as how they affect the BW Control player. However, the important distinction is in the fact that these are proactive spells as opposed to reactive spells. By this, I mean these cards allow you to efficiently trade one for one with a card in your opponent’s hand before they bring it into play, while Counterspells instead immediately answer the use of said spells. Their are benefits and pitfalls to the difference between these two mechanics; however, one of the cutest benefits of hand destruction is the accompanied knowledge of what answers and threats your opponent holds in hand. Especially against control, this knowledge can be a deciding factor as it informs you of the best order to initiate your own game plan.
While I have already mentioned a couple of answers to the BW Control quandary, let’s dig just a little bit deeper. What other cards allow us to efficiently trade with our opponents win conditions or disrupt the enaction of their game plan? Considering the suite of planeswalkers BW brings to the table, what means other than combat damage efficiently answers these threats? One card to consider is Silumgar’s Command, which although comes at a high CMC of 5 as well as being UB multicolored, allows for a slick 2-for-1 which can even answer two planeswalkers at once if need be. Ruinous Path as well as To the Slaughter, for you Delirium fans out there, are also efficiently-costed answers to planeswalker threats. Lastly, with BW’s big finishing flying angels in mind, it’s good to remember that you can always fight fire with fire. Slamming big flying angels or even dragons such as Thunderbreak Regent or Dragonlord Ojutai (thanks Dragons of Tarkir!) not only trade one for one with most other flyers employed in the BW deck, but also supply a threat of evasive damage that can take out unprepared planeswalkers in a single strike. Lastly, with all these creatures flying about, a niche card to remember is Clip Wings, which I have witnessed firsthand absolutely devastate a control player’s board when used at the right moment. Other sacrifice effects such as Oath of Liliana are also prone to generating value against BW Control decks, as they trade playing many creature threats for just a few big ones.
Well, with all that being said, that’s just about it for me today folks! In my next article I'll be looking at a specific decklist that supplies the answers to the current Standard metagame while also enacting its own unique and powerful game plan that will make its opponents recoil in fear! Or at least, that’s the plan. Please feel free to leave your own comments or suggestions about this article as well as a link to any decklist you feel may be sufficient for me to talk about in my next article. Thanks so much for reading guys and gals, I just wanted to say lastly that my name is Chris Stomberg and I've been playing Magic competitively for about eighteen months now. Although I still consider myself a novice at the game, I do feel as though I've learned enough to provide some valuable insights on certain concepts. Have a great rest of your day, and don’t let the diversity of the Standard metagame get your brewing hopes down!