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Double Infinity

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The letter T!his past weekend set yet another huge record breaker for Magic: The Gathering. In Charlotte, NC, we had not only the biggest North American Grand Prix of all time, not just the biggest Grand Prix,... but the biggest Magic event ever. Grand Prix Charlotte—some might say the Grandest Prix—was... Not Constructed.

Luckily—and this is truly amazing—at the same time that the largest Magic event of all time was raging, a pretty significant Standard Grand Prix was going on in Quebec City, up north. The Top 8 there was pretty exciting... and also pretty surprising.

Grand Prix Quebec City; or, "Boros Reckoner was so last week."


Naya Blitz

Nico Christiansen's Naya Blitz
Standard – Winner, Grand Prix Quebec City


Nico Christiansen played a blisteringly fast Naya beatdown deck that mixed up many new cards with some substantial surprises.

On the one hand, we have tons and tons of new quick drops—Boros Elite and Experiment One on one; Burning-Tree Emissary (and virtual new card Flinthoof Boar) on two; Frontline Medic on three; and even a solo Ghor-Clan Rampager on four... Naya Blitz is here-a-Gatecrash, there-a-Gatecrash... everywhere-a-Gatecrash!


But the strange thing?

Over and over we see new Boros cards... a white one-drop into eventual Frontline Medic.

We see fast green beats that stretch from a displaced Simic (Experiment One as a redundancy on Champion of the Parish) to Flinthoof Boar (a virtual Gruul spell)...

But where is Boros Reckoner?


Apparently, the dominant new card of Pro Tour Gatecrash is just so last week.

Other big surprise? Giant Growth!

This deck is built for speed, and Giant Growth helps out two ways. It can pull a creature past a red point-removal card and, of course, it can just rip 3 from a defender's desperate life total... in a pinch you can get both at the same time! If there is one thing players at home should take note of it is that if you have the choice... burn the Naya Blitz player on your own turn, or maybe at the end of his or her turn; otherwise, you risk a Giant Growth smackdown.

Ditto, potentially, on Boros Charm.

Naya Beatdown


Wenzel Krautmann also posted an impressive finish with a similar Naya deck featuring mostly creatures and a couple of Searing Spears. Krautmann's deck is substantially different, though. Wenzel played Avacyn's Pilgrim as a one-drop, as well as twenty-three lands. This allowed him to go bigger on drops—the traditional four-drop pairing of Huntmaster of the Fells and Restoration Angel. Overall, it's a more synergistic, potentially higher-powered look at a Naya attack, rather than going for purely quick beatdown.


Among his "extra" three lands were two copies of Gavony Township. Obviously, this deck was built to go longer, turn its 1/1 creatures into legitimate threats over time; although, of course, it can get a similarly quick start. Nobody is going to easily walk away from Champion of the Parish into Burning-Tree Emissary + Mayor of Avabruck: 4 on two? Thanks for the Cavern of Souls on Humans.


Human Reanimator

Tzu Ching Kuo's Human Reanimator
Standard – Top 8, Grand Prix Quebec City


You know how, the first time you saw The Aristocrats play out, you expected something spectacular to happen? Not that The Aristocrats is bad or anything—in addition to a Grand Prix Top 8 we will discuss in a bit, it produced the best possible result for a deck designer (it won the Pro Tour it was built for). Just... you expect some kind of crazy infinite combo, having been primed by previous Cartel Aristocrat-driven Human Reanimator decks.

World Magic Cup standout Tzu Ching Kuo did not disappoint with this one. Totally different Gatecrash sacrifice outlet, maybe, but even more spectacular than even the previous Human Reanimator decks (which could produce infinite life and Wolves).

Here's the combo...

Set up a position where you can somehow get Angel of Glory's Rise onto the battlefield in concert with Burning-Tree Emissary, Fiend Hunter, and Undercity Informer. You can, in theory, chain out the Emissary and Informer, cast the Angel later, and then cover the Angel up with a Fiend Hunter by hand... but that's not really what we are talking about.


The dream draw with this deck more involves dumping all the relevant tools into the graveyard using Faithless Looting, Mulch, and Grisly Salvage.

You then use Unburial Rites to get back Angel of Glory's Rise, which then returns the trio (at least). When Burning-Tree Emissary comes into play, it produces two mana, and Fiend Hunter's job is to make the Angel disappear.

Now you use the two mana to sacrifice first the Burning-Tree Emissary, then the Fiend Hunter, to the Undercity Informer. For sake of simplicity, the Undercity Informer is pointing at the opponent's library.


The Burning-Tree Emissary goes to the graveyard, followed by the Fiend Hunter... and when the Fiend Hunter leaves the battlefield, the Angel reappears, returning the Burning-Tree Emissary and Fiend Hunter back to the battlefield (again giving you two mana and again disappearing the Angel). You can grind the opponent with the Undercity Informer repeatedly this way, with the Burning-Tree Emissary giving you exactly enough mana to activate the Informer twice, looping these two pivotal Humans.

If you are rich (say you have an extra Burning-Tree Emissary and Huntmaster of the Fells access) you can gain lots of life and make lots of Wolves, but the real goal here is to just grind out the opponent's library. There are numerous advantages here over the previous build that "just" made Wolves and gained life. You don't need to get to your next attack to win, you can go completely over even an opposing "infinite life" combo (whether Humans Reanimator or RWU Lucky Charms Control). Also, you can jazz your own graveyard with Undercity Informer, taking advantage of either just a bigger graveyard for more Angel of Glory's Rise action or to gain access to tools like Purify the Grave.


Jund Zombies

Felipe Tapia Becerra's Jund Zombies
Standard – Top 8, Grand Prix Quebec City


A few weeks ago, it was the most laudable of three-drops. Great in Zombies; great in other Zombies; so good it was included as a difficult Bloodbraid Elf "target" in Modern Jund lists.

And then...?

Boros Reckoner!

Well, what seems like an off week for the Minotaur Wizard, combined with some Zombies wizardry by players like Becerra, have returned Geralf's Messenger to prominence—here in a Jund Zombies list.

Being Jund instead of Rakdos, Becerra got to take advantage of more great cards; he could start on Deathrite Shaman and activate all abilities. In addition to Geralf's Messenger, he got to take advantage of the mighty Dreg Mangler on three. And, of course, on two, yet another massively powerful Zombie in Lotleth Troll: the deck can put together a hellacious offense, draw on the resilience of not only Gravecrawler and Geralf's Messenger but the removal-resistance of Lotleth Troll (regeneration), Dreg Mangler (re-buy), and the four-drop bomb Falkenrath Aristocrat.


Punch and staying power.

Becerra's spell base is designed, nigh explicitly, to be able to handle a Boros Reckoner. Brimstone Volley might make for a painful exchange, but at least all main-deck spells can take out the beatdown-hating Minotaur Wizard (although Tragic Slip, perhaps tragically, takes a little setup via combat or Falkenrath Aristocrat).

The Aristocrats


Speaking of Falkenrath Aristocrat, Thomas Holzinger re-bought the success of the Pro Tour winner at the follow-up Grand Prix.

The Aristocrats is a tough deck to put into a simple box. It is essentially a Humans beatdown deck that can start on Champion of the Parish and then buff immediately—if surprisingly—with Knight of Infamy, then buff and pair with Silverblade Paladin.


But in addition to a straightforward Humans beatdown strategy, The Aristocrats plays off of multiple synergies based on sacrificing its own creatures. Cartel Aristocrat, going long, can ensure damage by forcing through an unblocked 2/2. Falkenrath Aristocrat is near the top of its always lofty game here. Haste, resilience to Wrath of God,... even some extra buffing (and fuel) via Doomed Traveler!


All that self-sacrifice lets you set up a powerhouse long game via Skirsdag High Priest, plus massive extra value from Zealous Conscripts. The old "steal your beast thing, smash you with it, then throw it into the graveyard instead of giving it back" trick... might I suggest Thragtusk?

Jund Midrange Variants

Speaking of Thragtusk, nearly half the Grand Prix Quebec City Top 8 was composed of Jund Midrange decks. Both the styles of Jund Midrange from the Top 8 of Pro Tour Gatecrash were represented.

Any version of Jund Midrange is going to run a combination of the best black, red, and green cards in the format, combining flexible removal, great threats, and blowouts... all set up with Farseek. Jund Midrange decks will typically play at least two copies of Rakdos's Return main deck to punish permission-poor control decks, and can turn even a lowly Arbor Elf into a murderer via an endgame Kessig Wolf Run.


Maxime Cantin's Jund Midrange
Standard – Top 8, Grand Prix Quebec City


This style of Jund Midrange features more offensive utility creatures main, notably Vampire Nighthawk. Cantin used all four copies of Mizzium Mortars main, the so-called Searing Spear/Mutilate split card.




Both Wilson Wong and Reid Duke utilized the same style of Jund Midrange deck that Duke's teammate Owen Turtenwald piloted to the Top 8 of Pro Tour Gatecrash. Unique elements include Arbor Elf and Bonfire of the Damned (although both Wong and Duke also played Mizzium Mortars main). In addition, Wong played one Staff of Nin main, a manifold breaker and favorite.

All the Jund Midrange decks from the Top 8 of Grand Prix Quebec City played a mix of Garruk, Primal Hunter and Liliana of the Veil as progressive, long-game tools.


"Grandest" SCG Tournament

Not to be outdone by Quebec City, Grand Prix Charlotte put out a Sunday tournament that rivaled the size and difficulty of a Grand Prix itself. Given the epic enrollment of Grand Prix Charlotte, tournament organizers StarCityGames wanted to give something back. They had already scheduled a tournament for Sunday, but they not only doubled the prize payout... but gave away free entrances to everyone who was eliminated in the first pre-draft round of Day Two!

The tournament, whose winner would also get a free flight and hotel room for the upcoming Grand Prix Miami, gave us even more looks to the viable decks of Standard after Pro Tour Gatecrash.


Jund Midrange

Owen Turtenwald's Jund
Standard – Top 8, SCG Sunday Tournament, Charlotte, NC


Just closing the loop on the Jund Midrange decks, Owen himself finished second in the tournament... playing essentially his performing deck from the Pro Tour. Again, the differentiating cards in this deck are Arbor Elf as an incremental accelerator and Bonfire of the Damned as a blowout.


Thragtusk, Olivia Voldaren, the Planeswalkers, and—of course—Rakdos's Return are all potential game-winners, but they are played in most versions of Jund Midrange.

Reanimator

Michael Segal's Reanimator
Standard – Top 8, SCG Sunday Tournament, Charlotte, NC


Straight Junk Reanimator seems like an important look back at the pre-Gatecrash version of the Standard format. Unlike many of the decks we have looked at—Naya Blitz, The Aristocrats, &c.—this deck is not rich with Gatecrash cards (although it does play some copies of Obzedat, Ghost Council in the sideboard).

The deck simply plays a great game against aggro, combining both a powerful combo element with some of the best "fair" tools in Standard.

On the one side, Reanimator can just be a good creature deck, a la Selesnya Ramp. You can start on Arbor Elf or Avacyn's Pilgrim and find your way to the Achievement Unlocked of Thragtusk + Restoration Angel. Restoration Angel is great not just with Thragtusk but Centaur Healer, Borderland Ranger, and Acidic Slime.


Then again, you can go nutso with Mulch and Grisly Salvage, put a bunch of tools into the graveyard, and start grinding out discounted—and repeating—Thragtusks. Or you can start on your one-drop accelerators... and then suddenly make them huge (and lethal in one turn) with a single Craterhoof Behemoth thanks to Unburial Rites.

One underrated feature of this style of Reanimator deck is the ability to grind out a very long game against Drownyard decks via Angel of Serenity and Cavern of Souls. Over time, you can get an Angel in the graveyard (not hard against a Drownyard deck) and either play an uncounterable Angel of Serenity or use Unburial Rites to hide the next Angel (and hopefully some other tools) under the one on the battlefield. In this manner, the opponent is forced to deal with each Angel... while giving you the next Angel to potentially set up further and further snowballs of card advantage.


Because Angels can kill many times faster than Drownyards (and because the opponent will often be in a position where he or she has to find an answer for each Angel) this can prove a successful strategy, especially when you can net two more creatures (ideally, removal-resistant Thragtusks) with each Angel loop.

Esper Control


Esper Control decks exist—like many common color combinations—along a continuum. Bigford played a permanents-heavy version with both little and big creatures, with primarily Planeswalkers to kill.

Like many Esper decks, he played just the two Dissipates for main-deck permission.

Surprising and/or interesting features include:

  • Only two copies of Sphinx's Revelation and three copies of Nephalia Drownyard main (many Esper decks play four and four).
  • A return of Lingering Souls! After months of languishing in the zero-to-two range, the cross-format all-star returns in Bigford's deck as a four-of.
  • No copies of Planar Cleansing... likely an accommodation to Bigford's own Planeswalker-defined strategy to win.

This deck packs an Elixir of Immortality in the sideboard, not just as a foil to opposing Drownyards but as a way to recycle his own Sphinx's Revelations. And although there are just two of those, he played a variety of card-drawing spells, including Think Twice, Azorius Charm, and Forbidden Alchemy (although none of them as a four-of).

Brad Sheppard's Esper Control
Standard – Top 8, SCG Sunday tournament, Charlotte, NC


Sheppard's Esper deck was more of a WU Flash deck, with a black splash for Devour Flesh, Tribute to Hunger, and Ultimate Price—rather than a red splash for Searing Spearet al.


Here we see all four copies of Sphinx's Revelation and Psychic Spiral as a potential kill spell—a kind of Elixir of Immortality that can be accessed with a Snapcaster Mage—and foil to opposing Drownyards or even Reanimator grinding combos.

Speaking of Nephalia Drownyard, the black splash allowed Sheppard to touch for that as a potential way to win. This version can take advantage of the tempo plays and creature-based card advantage of flash while using cards like Planar Cleansing without exposing premium permanents of its own.

Rakdos Aggro

Alex Stockton's BR Aggro
Standard – Top 8, SCG Sunday tournament, Charlotte, NC


Prior to Gatecrash, both Rakdos (black-centered with Zombies) and Rakdos-Red (red-based) were among the premier decks of any sort in Standard. Rakdos in particular racked up a ton of Grand Prix success, with Rakdos Red appearing a bit later but winning at a substantial scale as well.

Rakdos and Rakdos-Red have fallen off a bit due to the rise in popularity of Boros and Gruul decks (and especially Boros Reckoner, which had become the format's premier three-drop). Here, Stockton brings back the black-red.

As you can see, Stockton's curve is a bit higher than the Boros- and Gruul-based beatdown decks. Although he has some one-drops, his Rakdos deck is heavier on three and way heavier on five than we have seen in some of the more recent beatdown decks. While this can give Rakdos staying power, it also limits the consistency with which the deck can get the jump on an opponent.


Wolf Run Bant

Carl Versteeg's Wolf Run Bant
Standard – Top 8, SCG Sunday tournament, Charlotte, NC


The primary differentiation between Versteeg's update and Melissa DeTora's Pro Tour Top 8 deck is the inclusion of main-deck Geist of Saint Traft for a more offensive outlook.

Otherwise, the deck is built on the Bant Ramp + Control model. This deck combines quality creatures and control elements with lots of "X." It can draw up (and gain a ton of life) with Sphinx's Revelation or close out the game with Kessig Wolf Run.


Dark Naya


Dark Naya is a midrange deck in a world where the Naya decks have gotten quite a bit faster. Many of the cards sit in the three-to-six-mana range, and the deck has an excess of flexible removal rather than the pure beatdown that won Grand Prix Quebec City.

The "Dark" part in the Dark Naya name comes from the black splash. McMurry ran not just the two-mana point-removal spells from black but Rakdos's Return as an echo of Jund Midrange, plus Slaughter Games as an anti-Sphinx's Revelation measure in the sideboard (also a hoser for Angel of Glory's Rise and various format flagships).


Naya


We started this review on Naya Blitz... and are finishing on a much-different Naya.

Jensen's deck is a midrange value deck that plays quality cards—and blowouts—all along the curve. It starts on Avacyn's Pilgrim but can potentially hit Boros Reckoner on the second turn. Huntmaster of the Fells and Thragtusk both combine beautifully with Restoration Angel.

...and then there are the bombs.

The deck can blow out an opponent with multiple different Miracles, go over the top with Thundermaw Hellkite, or go really over the top with Aurelia, the Warleader.


While midrange decks lack the pure offense of Naya Blitz, a deck like Jensen's has a lot of play from cards like Farseek, that allow it to touch the library, or progressive card-advantage from Garruk Relentless. At the same time, it can be pretty quick, getting the jump on the opponent with Avacyn's Pilgrim and/or Farseek acceleration. Because a single Thragtusk—and certainly a Thragtusk plus a Restoration Angel—can completely take over the game... Let's just say there is a reason that people love these kinds of progressive creature decks. They're not just powerful, but fun!

Which Naya Style is Better?

That is not something that can be answered objectively, across all tournaments, with any certainty. You can choose one style—blitz or midrange—locally, by looking around the room. Are players set up to withstand an early onslaught? Do they have lots of cheap spot removal and Boros Reckoners to slow you down? If so, Naya Midrange might be the more effective choice for you. With many routes to card advantage and midgame powerhouse plays, Naya Midrange can allow you to compete through the long middle turns before the game closes.

But if not? If they are just trying to race or lack fast interaction? Naya Blitz might be the better choice. It is not just fast, not just unlikely to get flooded, but quite likely to have aggressive drops on turns one and two (plus just enough in the Giant Growth and Searing Spear departments to finish out games before the opponent can get some footing).

Standard is wide open.

Powerhouses like Boros Reckoner are good... but haven't painted the format totally Boros quite yet. There are multiple infinite combos in the format... but lots of other things you can reasonably execute on. You can choose the removal—like the successful Jund decks—that eliminate gold creatures economically, or play decks (like Esper or Esper Flash) that can shrug and execute normally against an opponent who has gained infinite life. Beatdown, control, and combo decks are all viable, and even just looking at a single three-color combination, there are numerous ways to put together a reasonable set of sixty or seventy-five.

Naya Midrange or Naya Blitz?

Jund Zombies or Farseek-into-Rakdos's Return?

Infinite Wolves or infinite grind?

Standard is wide open!

The real question? What are you going to rock tomorrow night at FNM?


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