Not a Snap Decision

November 29, 2016

One last Standard tournament before Theros

Tiago Chan

From Lisbon, Portugal
Creator and model for Snapcaster Mage
1st Magic Invitational 2007
3rd Pro Tour Honolulu 2006
7th Worlds 2006

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One last Standard tournament before Theros
by Tiago Chan

Hello dear readers! This is my first article for MTGMadness and I’m very excited about the opportunity this site gave me to pick up Pro Magic writing again. It was a long time ago since I was writing Magic strategy so I should make a brief presentation of myself.

I’m Tiago Chan, from Lisbon, Portugal. I don’t even remember when I started playing Magic. The local store had many different Boosters on sale and I had no idea which ones were new and which ones were old. I made my DCI card at the Urza’s Saga pre release, and I learned the rules properly with the Sixth Edition changes (the stack). My first Pro Tour was Worlds 2000. I qualified for all Pro Tours between 2005 and 2008 on what would now be called Pro Levels. I skipped 3 or 4 Pro Tours to which I was qualified and quit Magic in 2008 when I moved to China to study/work. Since then I’ve been playing Magic intermittently but intensivly whenever I had the chance. It seems I will be able to play Magic continually for a while. I don´t have any short or long term goals in Magic anymore, altough I do have a dream which is to be on the Portuguese team for the World Magic Cup. Other than that I’m just playing for the fun and there are essentially two ways I have fun in Magic: One, friends. Two, playing and preparing for big tournaments.

Most of the content for my articles comes from my preparation for those tournaments. If a format is not being tournament relevant I will just ignore it for the moment. That makes September an awkward moment to start writing for MTGMadness, since there aren’t many relevant tournaments anymore, almost everyone is just awaiting for the Theros release. Even the M14 Limited PTQ’s are somehow outshined by the soon to come Theros Limited PTQ’s. However I still have one big tournament ahead of me before Theros: the 2000 Euros Invitation-only Standard tournament in Portugal taking place September 14th. In this article I will analyze the Standard metagame preceding the event and my preparation under a very specific set of circumstances. After a somewhat lenghty introduction, let’s talk about Standard.

Before M14: WMCQ’s, PTQ’s, with a diverse field

I arrived in Portugal from China just in time for the third and final WMCQ. Around the time when a new deck called Junk Aristocrats was born. I wanted to play UWR because I enjoy playing with it, but everyone advised me against it since it had bad matchups against pretty much everything so they said. I ended up deciding on Junk Reanimator because it was one of the tier 1 decks, arguibly the most sucessful at the time. The deck was good and I certainly didn’t hate playing with it, but once the tournament was over (I lost in the Top 8 ) I decided to switch to UWR, because I liked playing with it more, I wanted to see if the statements about the deck were true, and there were only FNM’s and local stores tournaments to play. Turns out the deck wasn’t bad, and after infinite store tournaments and games, I got a good feeling of the deck. So much, that when we found out about the PTQ’s in Spain I decided to play my version of UWR control to a 5-2-1 finish.

I thought I was done for Standard before M14, but one Saturday night while having dinner with Team MiMiMi I was informed there would be a PTQ on MTGO the next day. I’m not obsessed into getting back on the Tour, but for PT Dublin specifically there were many of my good Portuguese friends qualified and for that I would’ve loved to qualify for that one. The MiMiMi crew confirmed they had a deck I could borrow, not only did they provided the cards online, but we also discussed a bit, and I was sold on their version of Junk Reanimator with 3 Farseek main deck plus one in the sideboard. Result: I 7-2 that PTQ finishing 9th on breakers, and I liked the deck so much that I borrowed it again for the PTQ next week, playing the exact same 75 cards finishing 7-2 again this time 15th on breakers. In the 18 rounds I played in these 2 PTQ’s I played against 11 different decks, but in the middle of so many viable decks I had found one for the near future, or so I tought, because M14 was soon to arrive.

Standard with M14: Impact and GP Warsaw

When M14 arrived, the card everyone was talking about was Scavenging Ooze, a card that is played in Legacy but was never available in Standard. The graveyard removal ability could threaten the Junk Reanimator deck but I was still confidant the deck could remain strong. I played some more tournaments with the deck, and while Scavenging Ooze was annoying but beatable, having to fight both Scavenging Ooze and Lifebane Zombie was too much.

The Top 3 cards that most changed Standard were in my opinion and in this order:

1- Burning Earth

This card alone forced all the Triple Color control decks like UWR, Bant Control, Esper and Jund to adapt. Some of these decks disappeared, others added sideboard cards to fight it (like Golgari Charm which already had seen play, or more specific ones like Wear/Tear) but it became a sub game of the aggro deck, having the Burning Earth or not, and the control deck dealing with it or not. Later, most of these decks simply had to cut a color to add more basic lands.

2- Lifebane Zombie

It deals with 2 of the most important creatures of the format Thragtusk and Restoration Angel before the opponent can cast them. Most of the control and mid range decks relied heavily on one of these creatures, if not both like Junk Reanimator. Not only that, but having 3 power on an intimidate creature gave some decks another excelent clock to fight the mid range and control ones even if it misses exiling a creature.

3- Scavenging Ooze

While the graveyard removal ability hoses some strategies, the lifegain ability is useful against others. What really makes this card maindeck material is it’s growing ability, which can easily make the Ooze overcome a Tarmogoyf in size.

There was still another factor that changed the shape of Standard and led us to where we are now: The World Championship decks. That small field helped establish UWR and Jund as the top tier 1 decks, and the birth of the Red/Green Kibler deck.

Preparing for the tournament

Each tournament is a different tournament, and as such, each one should have a different and specific preparation and playtesting. Even for 2 distinct Pro Tours preparations are done differently because there are a lot of outside elements that can make an influence. In order to decide what kind of preparation I could have for the 2000 Euros tournament I had to analyze the tournament structure and my current situation, priorities and expectations.

The tournament is exclusive to qualified players only, swiss rounds and then cut to Top 8. There are around 120 players qualified, roughly half of them with a round 1 bye. Which should translate in a seven rounds 6-1 cut to Top 8, or 8 rounds with 6-1-1 cut.

The prize payout is 1000 Euros for the first place, 500 for second place, and 250 euros for the semifinalists. The remaining prizes are boosters. 1 Box for the 4 players who lost the quarter finals, 15 boosters for the top 16, and 9 boosters for Top 32. Knowing the mind set of Magic players, the Top 8 usually just splits 250 Euros and half a box for each, something that I’m against as I feel the biggest tournament of the country should have a winner. I asked myself: “What do I want for this tournament?” and “What are the means I have or can get to achieve it”. With these answers you should decide your preparation according to your available means and expectations.

No matter how you look at it, the goal to aim is the Top 8, unlike a PTQ which only rewards the winner. But this is also one of the social magic events of the year, when North and South Magic players meet. I will have the chance to meet and hang out with friends I can only see 2 or 3 times in a year. This means I will be happy to Top 8 and I expect to be in contention for it until the later rounds, but I won’t be too upset if the tournament goes wrong.

Then I looked at my current situation. During September I had to leave my hometown in Lisbon where I have most of my friends and 4 or 5 large card stores where I could play tournaments or in non tournament days find games going on. I had to be in South Portugal to help my parents with their business and at the same time meet suppliers related to my work. There is a Magic club in my parent’s town with some very capable Magic players, unfortunately none of them qualified because there were no qualifiers in the Southern district of Portugal, so none of them had a special interest in testing Standard.

Looking at my expectations and the current situation I was in, I decided to prepare alone, by playing a Daily event on Magic Online whenever I had the time, to ocasionally battle with other qualified players Online also by looking who was online in my buddies list, and to play the Friday Night Magic and Tuesday Night Magic tournaments at the Magic club. And given the circumstances I was happy with this plan. Take for example, the Old Nationals tournament, if I was in the exact same circumstances I would be willing to have a more rigid preparation, to organize things better, playtest more hours and contact more people. That’s why I said there are never two playtests the same, the tournaments are different, your circumstances are different, and your goals are different.

The state of Standard

Right after the World Championship there were 3 decks that stood out a little above the others: UWR, Jund and RG Kibler. Because of the afore mentioned cards Burning Earth, Scavenging Ooze and Lifebane Zombie, the UWR and Jund evolved into UW and BG.

RG Kibler

At the moment I believe RG Kibler to be the best deck of the format. The deck is extremely eficient, both fast and with lots of power. But what I think that makes this deck above all others in the format is what I call the “José Mourinho effect”. If you watch a typical Mourinho soccer team play (don’t count the last year of Real Madrid that was an atypical one) all the pieces are in the correct position and the team movement is geometrical. Also, all the players play at the best of their capabilities. I don’t remember a player whose performance was better in a non Mourinho team. That’s what RG Kibler is. There is not much room for changes because everything is in place, and there is not a single card in the deck which could perform better in another archtype, the deck all ties together and really maximizes the effectiveness of each card. If i treated this tournament as purely business, I would be very tempted to play RG Kibler. I’m not really an aggro player at heart but I’ve won PTQ’s playing with UG Madness, Affinity, Goblins and Naya Zoo. While winning is important, enjoying playing Magic also is, and there are very few things in Magic worse than being stuck for a long tournament with a deck you don’t like to play, and if the tournament goes wrong you’ll always regret why you didn’t picked the deck you liked.

BG Mutilate

This is an already existing archtype, so it can’t really be considered an evolution of Jund. I played a little with the old version and I felt the deck was awful. It was reborn and rose in popularity, it can´t be considered Jund, but it’s clearly an upgrade of the old version. This is the most played deck on Magic Online all thanks to a combination of those three M14 cards: Burning Earth made some Jund decks changed to this one with more basics, and Scavenging Ooze and Lifebane Zombie actually made the deck good. Personally there are two strategies I hate in Magic: Ramp decks and Rock style decks (BG creatures/removal/discard), followed closely by White Weenies. Still I built this deck and played some tournaments with it, the main difference I have from the stock lists is the inclusion of 4 Duress main deck. I feel they help balance the matchup versus UW decks a little, but also against Jund since you can discard their Rakdos’s Return or Garruk, Primal Hunter the turn you feel you are about to get hit. Even against RG Kibler I like having a Duress in my opening hand to discard their Domri Rade, one of the most important cards in the matchup, and there is still Mizzium Mortars in their deck to raise the spell count and justify having the Duress main deck. I started with 4 because I wanted to draw them often in playtest and I liked them so I didn’t change the number. Other changes that might be controversial is the lack of the fourth Thragtusk because I wanted to avoid having too many Green cards, at some point when I had 4 Thragtusk I was playing 0 Scavenging Ooze. Unlike RG Kibler this deck is highly customizable, so this might not be the exact list I play in the tournament.


12 Swamp
4 Overgrown Tomb
4 Woodland Cemetery
2 Golgari Guildgate
3 Mutavault


4 Desecration Demon
2 Disciple of Bolas
3 Thragtusk
3 Lifebane Zombie
2 Scavenging Ooze


4 Duress
3 Liliana of the Veil
3 Mutilate
2 Tragic Slip
2 Putrefy
2 Abrupt Decay
1 Ultimate Price
1 Doom Blade
2 Sign in Blood
1 Vraska the Unseen


1 Liliana of the Veil
1 Mutilate
4 Vampire Nighthawk
2 Demonic Rising
2 Golgari Charm
2 Underworld Connections
2 Devour Flesh
1 Thragtusk


UW Control

I tested this deck far less than BG Mutilate. At some point I was set on BG, but I wasn’t too happy with the matchup vs RG Kibler (the Duress were surprisingly good). Actually changing to UW didn’t help at all, and there’s a reason why RG Kibler is the best deck of the format, nothing that I throw at it seems to stop it. I do have some experience playing Sphinx’s Revelation decks. The current UW versions seems to be clear downgrade from the UWR I played in GP Warsaw

You can find the deck in the official event coverage:

Click Here

Search for Frederico Bastos in the Top 16 decklists, remove 1 Assemble the Legion, add the fourth Snapcaster Mage, and that’s my favourite Standard deck. I designed that version for a metagame of UWR, Jund and RG Kibler, but no matter what it’s always tough vs RG Kibler. It’s good against Jund tough. I finished GP Warsaw 3-2-2, Won against Jund, Jund, BWR, Drew against Aristocrats act 2 and BUG control, and lost to Jund and RG Kibler, a very mediocre performance, and altough Frederico Bastos Top 16′d he couldn’t complain more about the deck. The deck was also highly criticized on some Portuguese Magic streams, so I stopped playing little Alchemist and turned to a more stock version of UW. The following decklist was given to me by my friend Andrea Fonseca from Team MiMiMi and it’s the one I’ve been using on Magic Online lately.


4 Hallowed Fountain
8 Island
7 Plains
1 Cavern of Souls
4 Glacial Fortress
2 Moorland Haunt


3 Augur of Bolas
3 Restoration Angel
1 Snapcaster Mage
2 Aetherling


3 Detention Sphere
4 Supreme Verdict
4 Think Twice
4 Azorius Charm
2 Syncopate
1 Celestial Flare
3 Sphinx’s Revelation
2 Essence Scatter
2 Dissipate


2 Celestial Flare
1 Cavern of Souls
2 Negate
2 Blind Obedience
2 Planar Cleansing
3 Terminus
2 Dispel
1 Jace, Memory Adept


The core of true UW control decks is still here: Supreme Verdict, Think Twice and Sphinx’s Revelation. It gains a manabase more resilient to Burning Earth, but I think I was color screwed more times with this deck than with UWR. I can’t understand playing Restoration Angel in a world of Lifebane Zombies, and I don´t know if the creatures are better than the Red burn at dealing with opposing creatures and planeswalkers. Regardless, this deck is putting numbers on Magic Online while my UWR is not, and I’m not going to fight the World and assume they are all wrong, at least not for this tournament under the current circumstances.

I am certain to play one of these two decks. I also think Mono Red to be a very good metagame choice, but I don’t feel like playing Mono Red so I didn’t even build the deck. I have a funny story with Mono Red decks, in January before going back to China for a few months I was planning to play GP Beijing and the GP Trials feeding it in China, which are almost always Standard. I couldn’t borrow an entire deck for several months, so I bought the cheapest deck at that time, a Mono red. Well, then the GP Trials were scheduled, I checked the dates, but the day before all of them I always decided not to go because I looked at my recently bought Mono-Red and I didn’t want to play with it, so I bought an entire deck and didn’t played a single game with it. But for the record, Mono Red is also good.

I’ll have some more games in the days before the tournament to help me choose between BG Mutilate and UW Control. The metagame I expect is the following:

RG Kibler
BG Mutilate
Bant Auras
Mono Red
Naya Mid Range

Despite all that I wrote about Standard metagame and its evolution and Magic Online trends, in real life card tournaments are different, the shift is much slower. I expect some of the qualified players to not having tested that much, instead relying on the same archtypes they played to qualify, and for some players acquiring the cards is expensive so they mostly stick to one deck or two per season. With so many available decks, it’s really dificult to prepare against everything, so I focused on the trends, and anyway playing against Mono Red or Bant Auras is kind of intuitive.

I’ll write a paragraph on my next article about how the tournament went and which deck I played. Hopefully the next formats I’ll be playing with Theros and it will be more useful to the readers. I also hope that even if you’re not going to be playing this format anymore you found my approach to testing and chain of decisions interesting enough. Thinking of it, the only players still interested in Standard are probably the 100 or so other qualified players for the 2000 Euros tournament, so kind of awkward situation to provide you with my decklist and open what I think about the format.

Thank you for reading, see you next time!

Tiago Chan

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