U/R Control and Mardu Walkers in Standard

Hey everyone!

SCG: Cincinnati is this weekend and I’ve been thinking a lot about Standard. I want to do well and the winner’s metagame will be revitalized thanks to Hour of Devastation.

Hour of Devastation is a small set with a few key players in new Standard:

Hour of Devastation is a great sweeper that will affect what decks are able to consistently stay at the top of the metagame. Mardu Vehicles had a favorable control matchup because they had many angles of attack. Gideon, Ally of Zendikar was easy to counter for {U}{R} Control, but if one resolved he could run away with the game.

U/R Control

{U}{R} Control was a flawed archetype in old Standard, but I believe Hour of Devastation makes it a compelling choice for SCG: Cincinnati:

Hour of Devastation
Many articles have sung the praises of Abrade and I won’t disagree; the card is great. It kills big threats like Gearhulk as well as Vehicles. Harnessed Lightning is still a great removal spell and I think the fourth copy is better in this deck. Glorybringer dodges Abrade so I expect an uptick in other threats with four toughness.

Hour of Devastation helps with the biggest weakness of {U}{R}: opponents jamming threats on the “Glimmer turn.” I was able to beat {U}{R}with any deck I played because I didn’t cast spells into their counter on turn three and waited until turn four instead. It was actually that easy. Hour of Devastation allows me to draw 2 cards at the end of turn four and I can clean up the board on turn five.

The bimodal spell cycle helps {U}{R} even more with Supreme Will. I was able to dodge a counter by passing turn three, but now Impulse can be cast. This is a key spell to get into the graveyard because it can counter a spell or draw a good card with Torrential Gearhulk on turn six.

The curve of the deck increased thanks to Hour of Devastation. I now play four 6-drops and three 5-drops so I’m more mana-hungry. Hieroglyphic Illumination is actually better than Glimmer of Genius thanks to the flexibility to cycle. If I cast a draw spell on turn four I’m indifferent to drawing lands or spells. Cycling in the early turns means I get it into the graveyard without taking a turn off to cast it before the turn six Gearhulk, too.

Supreme Will
It’s hard to build a deck that utilizes Hour of Devastation because it kills just about everything. {U}{R} is one of the few decks that already played nothing that died to the sweeper. This will make playing around it a challenge. The best course of action is to Negate it or hold a powerful threat in hand for after it’s cast.

I get some sweet cards in the sideboard with the new set, too. Crook of Condemnation will help with any annoying Delirium/Emerge strategies that are sure to make a resurgence. Champion of Wits is sure to boost some of the tier 2 strategies that utilize the graveyard. There are so many ways to build these decks so it helps to have a catch-all hate card.

I’m taking the anti-graveyard theme another level by swapping Disallow with Void Shatter. I personally disliked Disallow from the get-go and rarely saw it used as a Stifle. Since Void Shatter is colorless it also gets around Jace’s Defeat!

The drawback to playing control in an open field is not knowing what threats you may face. For this reason I’m splitting the counters in the sideboard. Jace’s Defeat counters Torrential Gearhulk and most players will opt for Disallow over Void Shatter. Dispel is cheap and good in the mirror. Remember that Harnessed Lightning and Magma Spray are the cuts against control so you need cheap spells to swap them in the sideboard. Negate is good against midrange decks that are sure to see play.

Chandra's Defeat
Solemnity will weaken Glimmer of Genius, Harnessed Lightning, and Aether Hub. I don’t think this is a good enough reason to board it against {U}{R}, but it will happen. If this pops up, Thing in the Ice is a good foil. It will transform the next time you cast an instant or sorcery. I play it in the board because the opponent will have less removal in their deck after board and the 0/4 body can stop chip-shot attacks.

Glorybringer used to be in the sideboard for the same reason, but it’s weaker thanks to Hour of Devastation occupying a similar slot. Other midrange options include Kefnet’s Last Word because it steals annoying enchantments like Fevered Visions.

Chandra’s Defeat is primarily used against Temur Energy decks that are sure to be powerful. It kills Chandra, Torch of Defiance and Glorybringer for a single mana! This is the strongest of the defeat cycle for the current Standard.

Notice how many different cards are in this sideboard; this is because there are so many bimodal cards in the maindeck. Supreme Will and Abrade are versatile so they get boarded out infrequently. The major hole to address in {U}{R}’s sideboard is against control where both Magma Spray and Hour of Devastation are weak. This means I need at least 6 good anti-control cards in my board: Negate, Dispel, Jace’s Defeat, Dragonmaster Outcast, and Thing in the Ice. Harnessed Lightning is fine after board because it kills Torrential Gearhulk, Thing in the Ice, Dragonmaster Outcast, and Wandering Fumarole, but likely don’t need four.

Mardu Walkers

Here’s another sweet deck that’s on my short list to play:

This deck provides another angle of attack using some of the stronger cards from Hour of Devastation. Doomfall is a great removal spell that doesn’t suffer against control and midrange strategies.

I brewed several versions of this deck a few months ago with Rudy Briksza and Brennan DeCandio. This strategy was ultimately abandoned because it was weak against Aetherworks Marvel, but now that doesn’t matter! Early sketches involved Gideon of the Trials; it was a powerful walker, but stretched the mana too thin. Brennan pushed it to Rakdos splashing White and had more success before Marvel started to dominate.

This could be a strong deck because the threats matchup against the current top removal spells: Magma Spray, Abrade, and Hour of Devastation. Nahiri, the Harbinger and Sorin, Grim Nemesis can tick up to 6 loyalty which conveniently survives Hour of Devastation. It’s nice to exile enchantments such as Cast Out with Nahiri since I’m already good at killing creatures and artifacts with Abrade. The enchantment I fear most is Fevered Visions. The game could end quickly after the opponent taps out to cast the visions and I slam Nahiri to exile it.

Chandra also ticks up to 5 loyalty on the first turn, but doesn’t allow you to commit another permanent that gets swept by Hour of Devastation. Once she goes up to 6 I can cast a second threat and Glorybringer is the only one that would die to Hour of Devastation so it’s hard to overextend by design.

Abrade can still kill my Shambling Vent, but there are seven maindeck discard spells to see if the coast is clear. Lay Bare the Heart hasn’t gotten a chance to shine because it missed Aetherworks Marvel and Ishkanah, Grafwidow was also making waves. Now that smaller {B}{G} decks are playing Verdurous Gearhulk, there are much fewer misses to worry about. Lay Bare the Heart takes removal spells to protect Glorybringer and hits almost every creature to take even aggressive opponents off curve.

{U}{R} Control will be popular week one because it got a big boost from Hour of Devastation and has an obvious build with plenty of new and inexpensive cards. Mardu Walkers will play well against {U}{R} because the bimodal spells all kill Torrential Gearhulk. My biggest concern about {U}{R} in the early days is their lack of win conditions. The level 2 metagame will play threats that evade Hour of Devastation because the old decks like Mardu Vehicles, Zombies, and {B}{G} Constrictor would rather not face the mighty sweeper.

I don’t care for Fatal Push in decks like this, but I need another answer to Heart of Kiran. Most of the removal is sorcery-speed which doesn’t line up well. This is taken further with two Release the Gremlins in the board. I feel players are abandoning artifact hate because they have a couple Abrades and that could actually make Mardu Vehicles a good choice in the coming weeks.

Again, my sideboard has many singletons and some graveyard hate. Between Magma Spray, Doomfall, Crook of Condemnation, Kalitas, Traitor of Ghet, Nahiri, Never // Return I can make sure things don’t sit in the graveyard for too long.

There are various sweepers to side in versus swarm decks that are sure to still see play. Remember that articles around a set release focus on all the cool things you can do with the new cards; most players will opt for tried and true strategies, though. This is especially true week one because changing decks week to week can be expensive. I still expect to face {B}{G} Energy, Mardu Vehicles, Zombies, and Temur Energy.

The advantage of playing a deck like this is that it’s better at mid ranging than control. Week one will be filled with Torrential Gearhulks, but there has been less talk about decks like Mardu Walkers.

The last deck that interests me is another Red deck, but this time I’m utilizing the graveyard:

Champion of Wits
This list is very close to what was proposed by Todd Anderson and I think he is on the right track.

This type of strategy will likely wax and wane according to the amount of graveyard hate in sideboards. I don’t have enough experience with this deck, but it’s strong enough if you prefer playing out of the graveyard.

The original list played Hostile Desert, but I just wanted more colored sources for Elder Deep-Fiend and the combo of Fiery Temper plus Tormenting Voice/Cathartic Reunion. I also had plenty of things to do with my mana such as activate Wandering Fumarole, sacrifice Sanctum of Ugin, bring back a stitchwing, or Eternalize Champion of Wits.

Imagine playing this deck against creatures and have the ability to Lightning Axe plus Fiery Temper or use Kozilek’s Return back side? This deck has raw power which makes it a reasonable choice despite the hate. There are many decisions to be made each turn so it will reward dedication.

Elder Deep-Fiend is in a good spot at the moment because it’s easy to kill creatures with toughness five or less. Unlicensed Disintegration is one of the few ways to actually kill the ⅚ at instant speed.

If I decide it’s worth going aggro this weekend I’ll default to Temur Energy. I hope it doesn’t come to that because the new control cards look too strong.

Standard is pretty wide open for a format with so many sets. I have a feeling this weekend will be filled with innovation. Get excited!

Thanks for reading,

Hour of Devastation is now available for preorder at CoolStuffInc.com!