The 2014 TCGplayer.com MaxPoint Championship drew out a diverse Standard metagame with thirteen unique archetypes played by the top 32 finishers. Today I'll give a run-down of all thirteen archetypes and their tournament results, what makes them tick, and explain the reasons for their successes.
As the MaxPoint tournament progressed through its second day, Mardu Midrange snowballed to the top of the standings and put three copies into the top 8. Two Mardu Midrange decks met in the finals before Andrew Baeckstrom ultimately won the event. Mardu Midrange also put Melissa DeTora into the top 16 and Jason Adams into the top 32.
Mardu Midrange appears to boast a strong Abzan Midrange matchup, and these decks reached the top of the MaxPoint Championship by defeating the swath of Abzan Midrange decks on all three days of the event.
When Brad Nelson and Valentin Mackl debuted the current Mardu Midrange deck at Grand Prix Los Angeles it boasted a 69% win record against Abzan Midrange, though with an admittedly small sample size of 13 matches. I compiled data from the MaxPoint Championship, using the top 32 decklists and each round result to learn that on day 2, the 5 Mardu Midrange decks in the top 32 collectively posted a 5-0 record against the Abzan Midrange decks that finished in the top 32. To get a deeper look I also cross-checked the day 1 matchups of each of the five Mardu Midrange players with the rest of the top 32 players, but the only hit I found was that Abzan Midrange in the hands of Josh McClain lost to Mardu Midrange in the final round of day 1. That's only a 6-match sample, but this 100% win-rate for Mardu Midrange against Abzan Midrange is something to take note of.
Mardu Midrange also went 2-0 against the Abzan Reanimator deck in the top 32, and 1-0 against Abzan Aggro. Based on the MaxPoint data, Mardu is a clear counter against the Abzan wedge.
Abzan Midrange decks composed right around 1/3 of the top 32 decks. A glance at the top 32 decklists reveals a glut of six Abzan Midrange decks in the bottom 10 of the top 32, two in the top 16, and two into the top 8, one which fell to Mardu Midrange in the quarterfinals. Mardu Midrange preyed on Abzan Midrange; Mardu Midrange was lifted to the top in part by plentiful Abzan Midrange opponents, while Abzan Midrange was kept towards the bottom of the top 32 and the bottom of the top 8 elimination bracket in large part by Mardu Midrange.
Abzan Midrange was held down by Mardu Midrange, but with Mardu Midrange composing such a small part of the metagame compared to Abzan Midrange, Abzan Midrange still found plenty of winnable matchups and achieved considerable success in the event. Abzan Midrange composed around a third of the top 32 decks but just a quarter of the top 8, so in some sense it underperformed. Some of its success comes from the fact that Abzan Midrange decks beat up on themselves for much of the tournament. Abzan Midrange is a very solid and fundamentally sound deck that. It's the classic Jund-style deck, a "50/50" deck that boasts few extremely favorable matchups but none it can considerably more than moderately unfavorable. It lives and dies based on its particular construction and the strength of its pilots. Josh McClain and Raymond Perez are two of the biggest names in the top 8 and did so well perhaps in spite of their decks' handicaps, not because of a metagame strength.
Abzan and Jund-style decks in general draw from a large card pool of quality card options and must adapt to the metagame. It has clearly met its match in Mardu Midrange, but it has plenty of tools at its disposal and can more than likely re-position itself in the matchup to find an acceptable win percentage. Bile Blight in particular strikes me as an important tool against Hordeling Outburst and the generally aggressive strategy of Mardu Midrange, so it's a card Abzan Midrange will likely want to incorporate into the maindeck. Murderous Cut is impressive for its ability to deal with creatures like Butcher of the Horde and even Stormbreath Dragon, and as a potential 1-mana play it's a way to fight the tempo Mardu Midrange gains with its one-mana Chained to the Rocks. An option against Chained to the Rocks itself is Reclamation Sage, which Removes it or any other enchantment-based creature removal like Banishing Light and Suspension Field. Mardu Midrange may go the controlling route after sideboard with sweepers like End Hostilities and card advantage like Read the Bones and Chandra, Pyromaster. Planeswalkers like Liliana Vess and Nissa, Worldwaker will prove strong against this plan, and having Read the Bones of ones own will be valuable. Abzan Midrange may want to go even further over the top of planeswalkers with cards like Garruk, Apex Predator, Hornet Queen, or even Abhorrent Overlord.
Caleb Durward reached the top 4 playing a Gruul Monsters deck reminiscent of the deck playing to a GP: LA victory by Dennis Scheid.
This deck leans on its ramp creature suite to enable a curve of individually powerful creatures and planeswalkers. Caleb departed from Scheid's built by incorporating a playset of Chord of Calling, which allowed him to trim down on cards like Hornet Queen, Polukranos, World Eater, and Stormbreath Dragon to eliminate unnecessary redundancy in relatively expensive cards but still maintain access to a powerful top end. It also adds additional utility with Reclamation Sage.
Durward included a full playset of four Hornet Nest, a clear metagame call against ground-based attackers, but it's also a combo piece when paired with his three copies of Setessan Tactics, which allows Hornet Nest to fight into the largest opposing creature and generate many tokens. This exact combo was used against my Herald of Torment-bestowed Siege Rhino in game 3 against Emerson Spartz's Green Devotion deck to lock me out of the game on day 1 of the event. Durward also included a single Crater's Claws, which, beyond being an extra win-condition and source of reach, also combines well with Hornet Nest.
Gruul Midrange is proactive and built to go over the top of any opponent, but it lacks much interaction. It has a lot of redundancy in its mana acceleration and in its threat package, so it's resistant to disruption.
A Temur Midrange deck in the style that Brian Kibler debuted at GP: LA also reached top 4 of the MaxPoint.
Compared to Gruul Monsters, this Temur deck is more aggressive and with a lower curve defined by Savage Knuckleblade and full sets of both Ashcloud Phoenix and Stormbreath Dragon. A full set of Crater's Claws give it game-ending reach as a follow-up to early aggression and a powerful tool against midrange decks that lean heavily on creature removal and are slow to close out the game. Crater's Claws is also important as a way to clear out planeswalkers like Elspeth, Sun's Champion and opposing Sarkhan, the Dragonspeaker.
This Temur list has a particularly focused and effective sideboard. A full set of Anger of the Gods and a pair of Magma Spray stops aggressive decks in their tracks. Counterspells Negate and Disdainful Stroke are powerful tools against midrange and control decks. Destructive Revelry is a strong option against a variety of opponents, and beyond destroying cards like Banishing Light or the omnipresent Courser of Kruphix, it's an out to niche cards like Whip of Erebos or Dictate of Erebos. A pair of Hornet Queen will go over the top of midrange opponents, including the mirror.
Jeskai Ascendancy Combo
Beyond the 3 Mardu Midrange decks, two Abzan Midrange decks, and the two GRx based decks, the final top 8 deck was Jeskai Ascendancy combo.
After the Pro Tour, a reddit thread compiled data and showed that Jeskai Ascendancy was poorly positioned in the metagame relative to other options. This top 8 finish may say otherwise, so I was interested in seeing just how this deck fared against the field.
R7 2-0 Abzan Reanimator
R8 2-0 RW Tokens (Wescoe)
R9 2-0 Abzan Midrange (Perez)
R10 2-1 UB
R11 2-1 Mardu Midrange (Lingelbach)
R12 2-1 Abzan Midrange
R13 0-2 Mardu Midrange (Weller-Gordon)
Quarterfinals: 1-2 Mardu Midrange (Lingelbach)
It's hard to draw much from that other than Jeskai Ascendancy was clearly a strong choice for Mark-Antony Byrd. The list doesn't appear to have any major innovations from the lists seen at PT: KTK, and I can assume the deck performed based on its pilot's skill and lucky day. It's certainly still a real deck in the metagame and not something to completely forget about, and it will be interesting to see how the deck performs going forward. If the metagame ignores the deck then perhaps the deck will have opportunity to shine, as it did at the MaxPoint. The deck could also evolve with further tuning to become a more reliable and efficient machine, but that might not happen until Fate Reforged is released this winter.
Finishing in ninth place was Monored Aggro:
This is a Boss Sligh deck that combines all the cheapest red creatures, including the Heroic Akroan Crusader and prowess Monastery Swiftspear with enabler spells like Dragon's Mantle, Hammerhand, Titan's Strength, and a Coordinated Assault. It also plays a burn suite including Lightning Strike and Stoke the Flames. This version forgoes the powerful but flimsy Goblin Rabblemaster for the reliable Hordeling Outburst, which combines well with the singleton Hall of Triumph.
I like the sideboard option of a full set of Searing Blood, which is narrow but extremely powerful when applicable. It's surely an important tool in the mirror but goes on to have value against a variety of opponents. Phyrexian Revoker is a great tool for combatting planeswalkers and even Sylvan Caryatid.
Craig Wescoe reached the top 16 playing a Red and White Aggro deck:
This deck plays some efficient, powerful creatures and a suite of efficient disruption, combined with a dash of synergy. I expect Craig will have something to say about his deck in his article this Friday, so stay tuned for that!
I played Abzan Aggro at the event, but losses to Abzan Midrange and Green Devotion kept me from day 2. Abzan Aggro did find a little success by finishing as high as tenth place in the hands of James Allen:
I think Abzan Aggro is poorly positioned in a field full of Abzan Midrange and Mardu Midrange but lacking in Jeskai. I found the deck to have a strong Jeskai matchup, but for the most part the tournament was simply devoid of this archetype and thus good matchups. I'd avoid this deck until the metagame shifts into something more favorable. Going forward I'll be interested in more streamlined, two-color aggressive decks with faster and more stable manabases, such as Craig's Boros deck or the BW aggro deck that Brad Nelson' used to finish tenth at the SCG Open in Minneapolis and Martin Juza to a 22nd place at GP: Stockholm:
Abzan comes in many flavors, and in addition to midrange and aggro is the reanimator version, which Justin Shortino played to a top 32 finish:
This deck is not as consistent as the straight midrange version, but it plays a more powerful gamep lan because of its potential graveyard synergies. When it assembles the necessary pieces, it is able to go over the top of opponents. This sort of strategy would seem strong in a world without the aggressive and disruptive Jeskai deck but full of relatively slow decks like Abzan Midrange.
UB Control is still fighting, and it did well against the Abzan Midrange-filled MaxPoint Championship. Three copies made the top 32, including this 13th-place list by Dan Zeiter:
Mike Belfatto reached the top 16 with an Abzan Constellation build:
This deck plays a similar game to Abzan Midrange but includes some synergy and card advantage with an enchantment package based around Eidolon of Blossoms and Doomwake Giant. Courser of Kruphix is already an enchantment, and the addition of Banishing Light completes the package.
Three copies of Gb Devotion made the top 32, with the highest finish posted by Susan Zell:
This is a single-minded deck looking to go over the top of opponents and abuse Nykthos, Shrine to Nyx in particular.
The final archetype to reach the top 32 was the Naya Midrange deck:
This deck combines the Green core of mana acceleration and Courser of Kruphix with part Gruul Monsters, part superfriends-style planeswalker package based around Elspeth, Sun's Champion. Red and white provide more removal than is typically available to Monogreen Devotion or Gruul Monsters deck by including Banishing Light.
Standard is far from solved, in fact, it's just beginning. This is the most diverse and open Standard metagame in memory, and five weeks in it's barely any clearer than it was the first weekend. I'll be keeping my eye on new Standard results as they come in, with an eye towards the future.
What's your Standard deck? Where is the metagame headed? Have any stories from the MaxPoint Championship? Have a question? Leave a comment!
Follow me @ www.twitter.com/adamyurchick