Grand Prix Shizuoka – Mind over Meta (part 1)

There is no rest for the weary.

Grand Prix Kyoto was less than a month ago but here I am, preparing for another Grand Prix here in Japan. Truthfully, I couldn’t be happier. In August I traveled down south to Kitakyushu for standard, in November I played team sealed in Kyoto, and now come December 20th I’ll be up in Shizuoka playing standard one more time. I’ll be doing my best to gauge the standard metagame through Grand Prix trials, contacts in Tokyo, as well as collecting information posted on HappyMTG and other online sources. It’s going to be a herculean effort to put it all together, but it will all be for naught if you don’t know how to play against certain decks and make the right choices. In this week’s article. I’m going to cover the various standard archtypes, their key cards, strengths, and their weaknesses. While I’m not an expert on using the decks, I am an expert on playing them. I also have quite a few friends that are going to GP Shizuoka and I will be using them to prepare for the event.

First off is what I believe will be the top 8 decks to beat at the Grand Prix

  1. Mono blue Devotion
  2. Mono black devotion
  3. GR Devotion
  4. Esper control
  5. mono red aggro
  6. BW devotion
  7. Junk midrange (GBW)
  8. UW control

If you’re a newcomer to standard or somebody that doesn’t have that much time to play and learn the ins and outs of all these decks, then I’ll do my best to break down each deck into their simplest forms. Each deck has a distinct strategy, key cards, combos, and win conditions. In this article, I’m going to give you a crash course on each deck so that you can be somewhat prepared when you face one of them. We have a lot ahead of us, so let’s get started.

Mono Blue Devotion

Mono blue devotion can be a bit misleading. Not only does it have quite a few hybrid cards such as Nightveil Specter and Frostburn Weird, but some players splash in another color as well for tricks in the sideboard. In its simplest form, mono blue devotion (or MUD) is a tempo deck that goes over the top of their opponents and tries to hit a critical mass of blue symbols so that the creatures become unblockable with a Thassa, God of the Sea and a Nykthos, Shrine to Nyx in play.

Key Cards

Jace, Architect of Thought

Jace, Architect of Thought

  • Nightveil Specter
  • Thassa, God of the Sea
  • Cyclonic Rift
  • Jace, Architect of Thought
  • Master of Waves

MUD will usually start off with flying creatures as their one drop, and on turn 2 they’ll play a Tidebinder Mage or Frostburn Weird. They’ll then play a Specter or Thassa on the next turn and from their on out you’ll be in trouble. The’ll have a mass of blue symbols and will be able to easily cast a Bident of Thassa, Jace, or anything else they want after turn 5. With the majority of their early creatures being flyers, Bident of Thassa will cause you a lot of pain. They’ll soon have a lot of card advantage over you, and whatever you play on the board will easily be wiped from an overloaded Cyclonic Rift on turn 6 or after. Master of Waves is especially hard to kill if it lands in play. You can pretty much expect to die the following turn.

Deactivating their devotion is key in this game. Your targets should be Nightveil Specter, Jace, Architect of Thought, and Master of Waves in that order. The Bident can also be a pain in the butt. If you want to survive against this deck, you’ll need to have some kind of way to deal with these cards in your main board. Burn spells are good, artifact/enchantment destruction, and a non red removal spell for the Master. Supreme Verdict would hurt this deck, but black would also match up well against it too I think.

Mono Black Devotion

The next deck you should be wary of is black devotion. This deck is packed full of removal spells, and not just for creatures either. It can handle planeswalkers pretty easily as well, and their creatures are nothing to scoff at. It’s strategy is to kill anything that hits the battlefield, gain card advantage through Underworld Connections, and then slam their opponent with heavy hitting creatures like Desecration Demon.

Key Cards

Underworld Connections

Underworld Connections

  • Underworld Connections
  • Desecration Demon
  • Hero’s Downfall
  • Thoughtseize
  • Gray Merchant of Asphodel

Mono black will start off by using Thoughtseize to check your hand and to remove the biggest threat against it. This could work out in an aggro deck’s advantage, but against others it could be crushing. Turn 2 could either be a Pack Rat or just leave empty mana on the board for removal so that the player is safe to cast an Underworld Connections on turn 3. Connections is a must for this deck. It lets the deck keep up with the card advantage or control decks, while also refilling your hand with removal spells so that you only take 1 damage instead of 5. Hero’s Downfall is the best removal in standard right now, and I think you know why. Elspeth, Domri, Garruk, Jace, Ajani . . . nobody is safe from the Downfall. Black’s removal is just downright scary.

Desecration Demon will dominate the air for black players along with Nightveil Specter from the previous turn. All of these cards lead up to a huge drain of life on turn 5 or later courtesy of the Gray Merchant. If all this wasn’t bad enough, Mono black will also use Whip of Erebos and bring any creature you kill back from the dead with haste and give creatures life link. If you don’t finish them fast, you’ll be in trouble. To beat mono black, I’d recommend fast decks like white weenie or mono red that continuously beat down their opponent. If you can’t supply a new creature or two each turn, their removal will turn the tide in their favor. Aggressive play is a must. BW midrange with Blood Baron of Vizkopa is also a viable deck against this strategy.

G/r Devotion

This deck is mostly green, but it has enough red in there to cast Domri Rade and Xenagos the Reveler. This deck is almost as scary as GR aggro from last season’s standard. It has the ability to create huge threats as soon as turn 4, and maybe even win the game by that turn. You’ll find monstrous beasts in here, and quite a few ways to get card advantage over their opponents.

Key Cards

Burning-Tree Emissary

Burning-Tree Emissary

  • Burning Tree Emissary
  • Polukranos, World Eater
  • Garruk, Caller of Beasts
  • Domri Rade
  • Nykthos, Shrine to Nyx

This deck is capable of unheard of ramping. It will play a mana creature turn 1, possibly put out a Domri Rade on turn 2, and try to achieve massive amounts of devotion through multiple casts of BTE. On a decent hand, you’ll be looking at a 4th turn Polukranos, with the ability to make it a 9/9 the following turn. Domri Rade will use fight to remove any threats it can while getting incremental card advantage, and Garruk, Caller of Beasts can hit on turn 4 and pretty much end the game. Once he is on the battlefield, Garruk will put down tons of creatures and barring a board wipe from a Supreme Verdict or other spell, you’ll be overrun the following turn.

Board wipes such as Verdict are good cards to play against this type of deck, but mono black also has a favorable matchup against it because it can remove just about any problem card the turn it comes into play before your opponent gets any benefit out of it. Mono red devotion is also a decent match up. It can hit devotion rather quickly as well and with a Mizzium Mortars it can wipe out all those devotion symbols. Boros Reckoner is also a good board stall against GR devotion until they get a Nylea, God of the Hunt and trample over you. Playing aggressively early on against this deck and forcing them to block with their mana creatures will also work well in your favor. Mono white weenies and mono red have a chance of beating it if they get an aggressive hand.

Esper Control

Esper, or black, white, and blue control, is the control deck of choice this standard season. This is mostly due to the lack of Azorius, Izzet, and Selesnya scry lands which would make UWR and Bant more playable. The esper control archetype has been around longer than any of the other top 4 decks, and because of that you’re going to run into a lot more experienced players using it. Esper wants to win the game by making you exhaust all your cards, destroying all of your creatures with a board wipe,  and then ending it with an unblockable creature like Aetherling or by overwhelming an opponent with tokens from Elspeth, Sun’s Champion.

Key Cards

Supreme Verdict

Supreme Verdict

  • Supreme Verdict
  • Sphinx’s Revelation
  • Jace, Architect of Thought
  • Elspeth, Sun’s Champion
  • Aetherling

This deck won’t be winning any races, but it will be frustrating players left and right. Esper players usually start out by scrying the first few turns, countering early spells with Dissolve or returning aggressive creatures to the top of a player’s library with Azorius Charm. This is all to set up a turn 4 Supreme Verdict that will wipe a board clean of creatures and set up their long game. To a devotion based player, this is their worst cast scenario. Without creatures on the board, they can’t activate their gods and can’t put any pressure on their opponent. After the Verdict, Esper will play Jace and proceed to dig to their win conditions, which are Aetherling and Elspeth. They will stall the board, casting verdict again if they have it, use Detention Spheres on threats they perceive, and then cast Sphinx’s Revelation to wipe away any loss of life they had that turn. Revelation is their bread and butter. If they don’t draw multiples of it, you might stand a chance, but usually after their second one they are so ahead on cards that they can deal with any creature you play with a counterspell or removal. Once Aetherling hits the board, it’s a countdown clock of 3 turns or less. If you can race it or negate that loss of life with life gain you might be able to win, but otherwise you’re out of luck.

There are a few ways to beat Esper though. Fast decks that can deal a lot of damage are definitely one of its weaknesses. Mono red aggro, white weenie, and even Selesnya aggro are good choices, however it will take a lot of discipline to keep the right hands for victory. You definitely want to attack quickly and with enough power that your opponent is forced to use a Verdict on turn 4. You don’t want to over extend and put all your forces on the table though. Keep just enough pressure on them to be a threat, but not to exhaust your resources. It’s also great to have sideboard cards that can stop planeswalkers or protect you from a board wipe. Decks that are resilient to Verdict, such as GB or Junk midrange that have regenerating creatures and Whip of Erebos are also good.

More to Come 

This is it for the first part of this article. If I had put it all into one article, it would have been massive, so I’ll leave the last 4 decks, a metagame update, and what I plan on using at the Grand Prix for next time. You can expect to read it after the weekend Grand Prix trial here in Nagoya. If anybody has other comments or suggestions about the decks I talked about today, please reply down below. It would appreciate any advice before the Grand Prix that would improve my win percentage! Thanks for reading.