This weekend is our big show:

The TCGplayer $50,000 MaxPoint Championship!

The event is Standard. Don't worry...we've got you covered gearing up for the big event.

A possible barometer for the still-evolving Standard format occurred in Kobe, Japan just a couple of weekends ago. Somewhat overshadowed by the Modern Grand Prix in Pittsburgh, PA (and then, you know, the Thanksgiving holiday following), the Kobe event showcased a returning champion with a consistent deck, some new surprises...and a very special, quite different, new option in second place.

Here's how the Top 8 fleshed out:

Atarka Red = *
Esper Variants = 1111
B/W Warriors = 1
Abzan Aggro = 1
U/G Ramp = 1


Atarka Red

2005 Japanese National Champion Takuma Morofuji won Grand Prix Kobe with a fairly stock Atarka Red deck:

DECKID=1254516

This deck is cut from the same cloth as the one Brian DeMars used to kick off Battle for Zendikar Standard right before Pro Tour Milwaukee. The strategy is generally straightforward: it's a red aggro deck. You play cheap creatures, use some burn cards (here Wild Slash and Fiery Impulse) to get those creatures through, and seek to win before the opponent builds too many advantages.

The wrinkle, of course, is in the incorporation of Temur Battle Rage and Become Immense. The combination of these two combat instants allows the current Atarka Red to combo-kill the opponent as quickly as the third turn.

To wit:

Turn 1, Bloodstained Mire for Mountain, Monastery Swiftspear, attack. (19)
Turn 2, Bloodstained Mire for Mountain, Dragon Fodder, attack with Monastery Swiftspear. (17)
Turn 3, Windswept Heath for Cinder Glade...you now have four cards in your graveyard (Bloodstained Mire, Bloodstained Mire, Dragon Fodder, and Windswept Heath); when you play Temur Battle Rage on your Monastery Swiftspear [making her a 2/3 double strike] you will have five cards in your graveyard. At this point you can discount Become Immense down to a single G, giving you more than enough to attack for lethal!

(There are many ways to get to a turn three kill, but life is easier with a lot of fetch lands).

While this incarnation of Atarka Red plays "only" 13 creatures, Dragon Fodder and Hordeling Outburst act as creatures -- more than one creature each, actually -- whose cardboard goes to the graveyard rather than sticking around on the battlefield like a Snapping Gnarlid or Den Protector might. This is helpful for the Atarka Red game plan because any cards that go to the graveyard (as in our above example) can help discount Become Immense, accelerating a potential combo kill.

If you plan to win in Standard, Atarka Red is one of the decks you have to understand and respect; it's not that it is the hands-down best deck, but it is fast -- possibly the fastest deck -- and an established pillar of the format. Other trends in other decks will come, go, fluctuate, move up, down, or sideways (like whether Hangarback Walker is considered a bomb or a bust), but Atarka Red has been a consistent performer tournament in and tournament out.

Also, who doesn't respect a turn three kill?


B/W Warriors

DECKID=1254521

This deck is the darling of the tournament, largely because we haven't seen a performer of its like at a high level... um... ever.

The deck is named "Warriors" because almost all the creatures have The Warrior creature type; however The Warrior synergies are not overwhelming. Blood-Chin Rager makes it difficult for the opponent to block Warriors; and Chief of the Edge is like a mini Crusade on legs for most of the creatures in this deck.

However a lot of the cards here can stand on their own.

Kytheon, Hero of Akros, for example, is a card that has been screaming to bust out since it debuted in Magic Origins. Jace, Vryn's Prodigy is maybe the best creature in Standard; Nissa, Vastwood Seer is a Top 10 card in Standard; both Liliana and Chandra have seen top level play...and Kytheon is the one that only costs one mana!

Obviously there is some consideration made to Kytheon's legendary status (plus potential conflicts with Gideon, Ally of Zendikar) as there are only two copies, versus four copies of the inferior Mardu Woe-Reaper...but even Mardu Woe-Reaper has some relevant Warriors-text and can assist in a race.

Mardu Strike Leader gives this deck some much appreciated card advantage, and the Dash ability helps to evade sorcery speed removal and sweepers (even as the accumulation of 2/1 Warrior Tokens challenge the opponent to sweep).

The removal is quite inventive here. Joe Soh uses quite a bit of "Banishing Light" in his Silkwraps and Stasis Snares which do double duty in setting up Wasteland Strangler. The beauty of this synergy is that if Joe uses Stasis Snare to Remove a creature from play, he can use that creature as processing fuel for his Wasteland Strangler the next turn...while negating the downside of his own Stasis Snare; now if the opponent has a Dromoka's Command, removing the Stasis Snare from the battlefield will be irrelevant! (The aforementioned Mardu Woe-Reaper can also help fuel Wasteland Strangler.)

Joe plays four copies of Flooded Strand and four copies of Polluted Delta in his B/W deck. Flooded Strand can find black mana in the form of Sunken Hollow and Polluted Delta can find white mana in the form of Prairie Stream, so these fetch lands are quite functional as mana fixing. What is doubly nice for Joe is that his blue splash is essentially "free" and allows him to splash Disdainful Stroke and Negate in his sideboard, seemingly out of nowhere. At the very least these cards make for serviceable sweeper defense for a deck that basically lays out man after man.


U/G Ramp

DECKID=1254446

Pavel Matousek's U/G Ramp deck is a completely new angle on some spectacular Magic: The Gathering cards.

We've seen straight green ramp; we've seen the red splash; but the marriage of green and blue here is both inventive and over-the-top powerful!

Pavel starts with an eight-pack of two mana accelerators:

Leaf Gilder
Rattleclaw Mystic

Rattleclaw Mystic is kind of always a better card than Leaf Gilder but it is particularly better here because this deck actually appreciates blue mana.

In any case the ability to tap two directly into four on turn three helps set up Explosive Vegetation, which pushes the deck already into six or seven mana range; Kiora, Master of the Depths can accomplish much the same thing, and synergizes nicely with creature-based mana acceleration. Nissa's Renewal can be the follow up, or Nissa's Pilgrimage can be the consolation prize if one or the other is missing. In any case, the deck has lots and lots of acceleration to push it past the reasonable level of performance that everyone else is operating on.

Once we are in the 6+ zone, interesting things can start happening.

For instance...

A Time Walk is probably overcosted at six mana, but given the power level of the turns that Pavel's deck can accomplish (huge plays and card advantage) Part the Waterveil is actually a strong payoff (or setup card); that is with or without the awaken possibility.

One of the things I really like about this deck is the inclusion of Dig Through Time. Decks like this can often super-flood...they get everything they want in terms of mana and mana acceleration, and then just have a ton of mana and mana acceleration. Dig Through Time gives Pavel something to do with all his excess mana, and a clear path to winning the game given his resource advantages.

At the 8-10 range (very accomplishable, of course) Pavel really rocks and rolls with Ugin and Ulamog. Your task, when facing this kind of deck, is to beat the opponent before he gets to 8-10 (at least with most decks) as it is unlikely you will be able to match his card power, spell for spell, once he is that far ahead on mana.


Abzan Aggro

DECKID=1254515

Takahira's Abzan is about as vanilla as Abzan decks come. This is a deck that plays largely the accepted-to-be-great cards -- including Hangarback Walker, which has fallen somewhat out of favor of late -- and jams them up and at the opponent. Hangarback Walker gives the deck some resilience, and combines effectively with everything from Dromoka's Command to Anafenza, the Foremost in combat. While it isn't particularly quick, and doesn't hit very hard on its own, Hangarback Walker is still a solid defensive creature...at least as long as the opponent isn't playing Silkwrap.

Nothing much to see here, but Siege Rhino is still Siege Rhino. You know, the second-best creature in Standard.

...what about the best creature in Standard?


Esper Variants

DECKID=1254519

DECKID=1254517

Esper Dragons was one of the most popular decks last spring, largely riding the incredible power of Dragonlord Ojutai. Esper Dragons did not perform overly well early on in Battle for Zendikar Standard, largely because of the popularity of Crackling Doom. Once a tool "only" of Mardu decks, Crackling Doom became a key tool for Jeskai Black early on and erased the protection normally granted by Hexproof.

Now that the format has shifted away from Crackling Doom decks somewhat, Dragonlord Ojutai has regained much of its former Vigor. If you can start hitting with Dragonlord Ojutai, the game basically slides into "easy mode." The fact that you just hit with the Dragonlord tends to imply that you can keep hitting with it, and the Anticipate that comes tacked onto the Dragonlord with every hit can keep you in the driver's seat.

As such, Esper Dragons decks tend to play with a lot of efficient answer cards. Silumgar's Scorn is the most important of these, hyper-synergistic with any Dragons, and great at helping to protect a Dragonlord Ojutai already in play. Scatter to the Winds and Clash of Wills are supplemental permission spells; Hall of Famer Shuuhei Nakamura chose to play Duress main deck, as well.

DECKID=1254520

Shota Takao played a variant with maindeck Monastery Mentor...and lots of them.

This much more aggressive version can start on Seeker of the Way, putting the opponent on a clock, and racing with lifelink.

Takao's version is quite different from the first two Esper Dragons decks, despite playing with Dragonlord Ojutai also. It is not a permission deck, but a very active one. Almost like an Abzan Aggro deck but swapping blue for green. The shift to more active cards -- spells specifically -- allows the deck to rack up advantages in the form of prowess triggers and token creatures. Every Duress and Despise can help the deck go tall or wide, and that potential width can get paid off with even more width via Gideon and Sorin (of which Takao plays five copies). It's pretty sweet to go Monastery Mentor at three, play Gideon or Sorin on four, trigger prowess, and get a guy (which can take advantage of not just prowess triggers long-term, but planeswalker buffs).

A subtle advantage of this version is that the many creatures, and even token creatures, can protect Dragonlord Ojutai from certain Edict effects (e.g. Self-Inflicted Wound or Foul-Tongue Invocation), but not Crackling Doom.

Note Knight of the White Orchid in the sideboard; this deck can side it in when going second for a potential advantage when playing against other midrange decks, e.g. Abzan.

DECKID=1254518

Ookawa played a radical departure from the other Esper decks. This deck doesn't play Jace; and it doesn't play permission. From a manabase and color perspective, this deck is closer to an B/W deck than a real Esper one. What it does is pack tons and tons of card advantage.

Top to bottom Ookawa's deck is packed with self-contained card advantage.

Hangarback Walker is an obvious source of card advantage.

Knight of the White Orchid is a potential two-for-one as well as a potential accelerator.

Wingmate Roc has been one of the premier Mythic threats in Standard for over a year, and has many, many setup men in this deck.

All these Planeswalkers are advantage builders.

Secure the Wastes is maybe the most overt card advantage producer of them.

In the end, "Esper Tokens" is a deck that can attack the format at a slightly different angle while still playing powerful and flexible cards.

So in your preparation for the MaxPoint Championship, these are some of the decks that you should know, be ready for, or play yourself! Study and Grow Strong.

LOVE
MIKE