"Tech is to be distilled in basements and stored in sun-proof bottles and traded for diamonds, missiles, and real estate. Tech is to be guarded for months, and then unleashed upon scores of hapless players in a scourge like a biochemical bomb." - Aaron Forsythe, 2001
To quote wiki.mtgsalvation.com, tech is:
"...an individual's innovation to a deck or archetype using a card or strategy that is not commonly seen, or that is used in a different manner than that which is common in the current metagame. Tech often appears in large tournament events and serves to throw other strategies Off Balance by changing some part of how a deck usually works. Tech is generally researched in secret by an individual or a team prior to a large tournament in order to keep competitors from knowing what tricks will be put into a competing deck."
Tech even has its own card, Super Secret Tech.
In the modern age of Magic, "tech" is not like it used to be. Magic now exists in the information age realized, and any whisper of tech is spread throughout the entire community in days, if not hours. The advent of Magic Online means much Magic data is continuously collected and analyzed, creating a world where yesterday's tech is today's status quo. There are also high-stakes live tournaments every weekend, often multiples across the globe, so players have a lot less incentive to actually keep anything secret if they do stumble upon something special, better to apply it while an opportunity exists.
Tech does still exist in Standard, one just needs to dig deep. Tech is nothing more than positioning, and it means adapting a strategy and playing underutilized cards to get an edge against specific opponents in the metagame. Those opportunities exist in any metagame, and this past weekend I was impressed by the innovation some players brought to their tournaments, proving tech is alive and well.
Last weekend featured all kinds of high-stakes action, including two TCGplayer.com MaxPoint Diamond $5,000 Open events, the SCG Invitational, Standard Grand Prix Beijing, and the Magic Online Champion Series Championship. That's a lot of prize money on the line, so players gave it their all on the battlefield.
The hottest piece of tech from this past weekend was found in none other than Monoblack Devotion. Any deck sitting as the king of a format must combat all sorts of challengers looking to ascend the hill. The Standard metagame has shifted around the presence of Monoblack, including the rise of the nearly creatureless Boros Burn deck, which plays well against the removal-heavy attrition strategies of black devotion decks and Azorius control.
Boros Burn has started to see a huge surge in popularity in the States, and it put three copies into the Top 8 in Beijing. It has become a must-beat deck, and a deck anyone must be prepared for if they are playing Standard competitively. Yuuya Watanabe and Shuhei Nakamura both reached the Top 8 of the GP with their Monoblack Devotion decks, and they did it by besting Boros Burn throughout the weekend.
Staff of the Death Magus...
The piece of tech here is not actually a black card, but a forgotten artifact from the core set. Cards like Staff of the Death Magus have been around forever, but to most they are the hallmark of a junk card, useless lifegain for the inexperienced or strictly casual players. In the past Dragon's Claw has been a competitive niche sideboard card, but generally for nothing more than the burn mirror. Yuuya and Shuuhei made a similar play by turning to Staff of the Death Magus, the lifegain from which acts as raw card advantage against a straight burn strategy.
It's not hard to see why Monoblack Devotion can support Staff of the Death Magus, nor why the card is so effective. Monoblack Devotion is filled with nearly nothing but Swamps and black spells, so in practice Staff of the Death Magus will generate two life a turn through the midgame, one for each land drop and one for each spell. Staff of the Death Magus generates enough life to sustain Underworld Connections, which is hugely powerful in the matchup but plays directly into the opposing strategy. The burn deck does not play much in the way of creatures, so Monoblack can afford to spend time casting a card with no immediate impact. As the game goes on, it provides Monoblack with enough incremental advantage to squelch the burn deck.
Staff of the Death Magus is restricted to black devotion decks, but there is an entire cycle of five available to any other devotion decks in the format that are looking to combat burn. Based on how the metagame looks, I don't think any of the other devotion decks need the help against burn, but Staff of the Flame Magus could be a good option for a red deck with many Mountains looking for an edge against burn, perhaps in the mirror.
Also exciting is Tablet of the Guilds, which is friendlier to gold strategies than the cycle of staves. This card would fit right into the sideboard of Azorius-based control decks like Esper and it's something I recommend to any control players struggling with burn locally.
For burn decks looking to combat this new wave of lifegain, if concerned not with speed but with raw power, I would turn to a forgotten M14 gem, Pyromancer's Gauntlet.
It was a big weekend for Black Devotion, which with such a stable manabase is ripe for the splashing and therefore ripe for tech. We have seen a lot of splashes throughout the months since Theros release, starting with Golgari, which developed into Orzhov, and most recently Rakdos. Rakdos has been favored for Rakdos's Return, which punishes control decks leaning on planeswalkers, Sire of Insanity for punishing Sphinx's Revelation decks, and Slaughter Games for punishing Sphinx's Revelation itself. The winner of the multi-format Magic Online Championship chose exactly that deck for Standard for his small-field tournament, and it carried him to victory:
For Monoblack Devotion the splash into Dimir has mostly been limited to just a Watery Grave or two supporting a Notion Thief or two in the sideboard, but at the Magic Online Championship this past weekend Tamas Glied finished 4-0 in the Standard portion with his full Dimir build, featuring Ashiok, the Nightmare Weaver.
First of note is the manabase, which in addition to the free blue scry land Temple of Deceit, plays a full set of Watery Grave along with a ninth source, a basic Island. This Island would cast a Nightveil Specter, but Tamas cut them completely in favor of Lifebane Zombie, echoing the change Yuuya and Shuuhei made in Beijing. This Island is important for giving the deck the critical mass of blue mana it needs to reliably cast its spells.
Tamas has splashed three Ashiok, Nightmare Weaver, which gives his deck a new angle of attack. The planeswalker is quite threatening in creature matchups, including in the mirror, where it is likely to generate card advantage and tempo by stealing opposing creatures. Against Azorius-based control decks, it will quickly exhaust their library as an alternate win condition that will beat even Elixir of Immortality. As a planeswalker it can be difficult to remove, and it further stretches opposing catch-all cards like Thoughtseize, Hero's Downfall, and Detention Sphere.
The sideboard contains more blue cards, including a full set of Notion Thief in addition to the last copy of Ashiok, Nightmare Weaver. Once the deck has fully embraced blue mana, Notion Thief comes freely. Notion Thief is specifically a hate card for Sphinx's Revelation; casting one in response to the spell is likely to win the game outright, while having one in play is insurance against future Sphinx's Revelation. Notion Thief is also a very functional flash creature, which as a 3/1 hits hard against the nearly blockerless Azorius and Esper control decks. It's also removal for Jace, Architect of Thought after its controller uses the -2 ability against an ostensibly safe board. Adding a set of Notion Thief also makes sense as part of a sound strategy, because battling against control decks comes down to overwhelming their answers with threats, and Notion Thief is yet another must-answer threat to add to the long list of hard-hitting black cards.
Tech is often best served from the sideboard, which brings me to the next deck:
Fiendslayer Paladin stands out as one of the strongest cards in the format against the Boros Burn deck. The lifelink creatures serves as a continuous source of lifegain that helps outpace burn decks, much in the same way that Staff of the Death Magus serves the Monoblack Devotion deck. Just like the artifact, Fiendslayer Paladin also dodges removal by being immune to all the targeted burn spells the Boros deck plays.
As a first striker, Fiendslayer Paladin also serves as a blocker that will Stave Off two small attackers, potentially more. This gives Fiendslayer Paladin broader applications than just against Burn hate, such as a multi-purpose red zone creature against monored and monoblack aggressive creature decks.
Fiendslayer Paladin seems excellent in more decks than just white aggro, so I would expect to see more of it in the future as long as Boros Burn maintains some popularity. Fiendslayer Paladin used to see some play in the sideboard of Esper control, and that deck is liable to adopt it going forward. In the appropriate metagame, Fiendslayer Paladin seems like a perfectly reasonable maindeck card, much like Lifebane Zombie has been seeing increasingly more maindeck play during the past few weeks.
This past weekend was a successful one for Pain Seer, which has just made its highest-profile finish to date in the 2nd place Orzhov Aggro deck from the SCG Invitational:
Pain Seer plays well in an aggressive shell, where it plays the part of just another bear, but it comes with the huge upside of potentially functioning like Dark Confidant. Much like Precinct Captain or Brimaz, King of Oreskos, Pain Seer must be dealt with immediately or will bury the opponent. Ideally an opponent will have no answer to a turn-two Pain Seer, but the Pain Seer could also provide card advantage in the mid-game after the opponent has already expended their removal on earlier creatures.
This deck supports Pain Seer with a set of Thoughtseize, which provides this Standard deck with an opening sought after by Modern and even Legacy decks, as well as a set of removal spells. Spear of Heliod can potentially get Pain Seer through another bear that is on defense. Pain Seer also plays well with Imposing Sovereign, which can proactively deal with opposing blockers before they get in the way of Pain Seer attacking. As a human, Pain Seer curves perfectly into Xathrid Necromancer
Pain Seer in Orzhov Aggro is tech in the sense that it was an underappreciated, off-the-radar card, but in reality it reinvigorated an old, forgotten archetype, and it gave its controller a real edge on an unprepared format. Pain Seer was certainly tech last weekend for Jessy, and I think this decklist is just the beginning for Pain Seer in Standard.
Another big win for Pain Seer last weekend was in a deck built around abusing it, from GP Beijing:
This deck combines some of the most powerful heroic creatures in the format, Agent of the Fates and Artisan of Forms, along with a suite of targeted spells including Triton Tactics and Hidden Stirrings, both of which target two creatures each.
The core engine of the deck is based around Pain Seer, which the deck can protect through combat in a variety of ways. Pain Seer becomes degenerate when combined with Springleaf Drum, which turns on all sorts of tricks and allows the deck to draw multiple cards in a turn.
Agent of Fates and Artisan of Forms are both excellent at dealing with opposing creatures, while Pain Seer is the card-advantage engine. Tormented Hero provides an aggressive threat that combines with the spell suite to create value through heroic. The perfect pairing for this all-creature suite is Xathrid Necromancer, which provides a bit of power to the strategy.
Nivmagus Elemental joins the party as another potential degenerate card with Hidden Stirrings, and this deck is built to protect any investment by leaning on cards like Mizzium Skins and Boon of Erebos.
The most exciting card here is Retraction Helix, which can be used repeatedly on the same turn to Devastate the opposing board. This card gives the deck more of a combo-feel and a legitimately powerful plan that can go over the top of any permanent-based strategy.
The deck reminds me of Auras decks: inherently a bit gimmicky and inconsistent but with the upside of tremendous power against the right metagame. A more apt comparison might be Infect, which similarly relies on fragile creatures and a slew of instants that buff them. Unlike Infect, this deck does a serviceable job of fighting fair, so it might be the real deal. This is the sort of deck that needs to be experienced to be believed, and the sort of deck that will only improve as more minds try to abuse it further.
As for the future, the top decks of Standard still seem to be Black Devotion and Esper control, but there is a whole slew of challengers nipping at the heels. Boros Burn has established itself as the real deal, while Blue Devotion and Jund Midrange are still putting up strong results. Others are employing new technology in an attempt to beat the metagame. What's next?