Standard Fare

Standard tournament play is back in action after a three-week holiday break. StarCityGames Open: Columbus is the first major Standard tournament of 2013 and the first fresh results since the SCG Invitational in Los Angeles three weeks ago. Let’s jump right into it!

SCG: Columbus – The Results

Here is a quick look at the top sixteen decks of the tournament. I determined the average mana cost of the main decks and prices in dollars and Magic Online tickets by importing each decklist into the Decked Builder app. Dollars are from CoolStuffInc.com, and tickets are from MTGOTraders.com. The graphs display the strategies, colors, and most played archetypes of the Top 16.

Deck Check – The Top 16 Rundown

There was a whole lot of Naya in the Columbus Top 16, including three pure Naya midrange decks in fifth, sixth, and thirteenth places. Travis Ladouceux’s eleventh-place list finds the dark side of the archetype, splashing a bit of black for Rakdos's Return in the main and Slaughter Games in the side. The second-place list is a Naya midrange/Bant control hybrid, and in fourth, we find the more aggressive, very Human side of Naya; check out both decklists below.

B/R Dragon Zombies continued its winning ways in Columbus, claiming two of the Top 16 spots. Jund midrange, a dominant archetype early this season, also had two decks represented. A pair of mono-red aggro lists won their ways into the Top 16, one of which took down the tournament.

Let’s take a look at a couple decklists.

First Place

This deck is very aggressive for the current Standard environment, playing twelve 1-drops and thirteen 2-drops in the main deck. Brumley stayed true to the Red Deck Wins roots and left Thundermaw Hellkite and even Hellrider at home, allowing him to more comfortably play twenty-two lands.

Second Place

Second place went to Andrew Shrout, playing Bant control and Naya midrange . . . kind of. Here’s the deck:

Apparently Shrout arrived at the tournament with two incomplete decks, Bant control and Naya midrange, and due to card-availability issues, he ended up cobbling them together to form this list. He talks about his choices in this video deck tech.

Naya Humans

This list is nearly the same as the one Wienburg piloted to a second-place finish at the SCG Invitational last month. The deck has an aggressive turn-one-two-three line of play with Champion of the Parish, Mayor of Avabruck, and Silverblade Paladin that can get the jump on midrange opponents. Wienburg discusses the list in this video deck tech.

B/G Aggro

This deck hit the mainstream when Brian Kibler piloted it to twenty-fifth place at the SCG Invitational last December. As Kibler explains in this deck tech, he was looking for a deck that matched up well against B/R Dragon Zombies and was somewhat resilient to sweepers such as Supreme Verdict. It plays hard-to-handle creatures such as Predator Ooze, Lotleth Troll, and Strangleroot Geist and uses Ulvenwald Tracker to provide “food for the Ooze”.

This is the first Top 8 finish for this archetype, and Fry played roughly the same main deck as Kibler. B/G aggro is positioned well against many other decks in the metagame due to its aggression and resilience to removal. It is already popular on Magic Online, which has no shortage of mono-red and B/R decks, and it’s relatively cheap to build right now.

Esper Control

Esper Control has had three Top 16 finishes in major tournaments in the last month, including Nicholas Spagnolo’s fifth-place list at the SCG Invitational in Los Angeles. Esper has access to a wide variety of single-target removal and board sweeper options that, along with some hard counters, can keep a skilled pilot in the game long enough either to get a win condition online and take over the game or to find a Sphinx's Revelation. Mike’s win conditions are to mill with Nephalia Drownyard and Jace, Memory Adept, to steal his opponent’s win condition by going ultimate with Jace, Architect of Thought, or to attack with Lingering Souls and Vampire tokens, with the support of emblems care of Sorin, Lord of Innistrad.

Gatecrash will join Standard in a couple weeks and usher in improved mana for an Esper control strategy thanks to Godless Shrine and Watery Grave—as well as new cards to work with. I suspect we’ll be seeing more Esper action in the near future.

Cards of Choice

Let’s take a look at the most played creatures and removal spells in the top sixteen decks of the tournament.

Creature# DecksAvg MainAvg Side
Thragtusk93.9
Avacyn's Pilgrim84.0
Huntmaster of the Fells83.61.0
Restoration Angel83.6
Borderland Ranger82.6
Centaur Healer72.02.0
Loxodon Smiter53.01.0
Vampire Nighthawk42.72.0
Hellrider43.31.0
Zealous Conscripts72.02.0
Angel of Serenity52.41

Thragtusk led the green-based midrange stampede into Columbus. The Beast saw plenty of play, with thirty-five copies in nine of the Top 16 decks.

Borderland Ranger (twenty-one copies) made a big jump in Columbus, appearing in half of the Top 16 decks. His previous high mark was twelve copies in three decks at SCG: New Orleans back in late October. The Ranger is popular in Naya decks that currently only have one Return to Ravnica shock land, Temple Gardens, available. The demand for his services will probably drop once Stomping Ground and Sacred Foundry arrive on the scene with Gatecrash in early February.

Removal# DecksAvg MainAvg Side
Pillar of Flame93.52.3
Selesnya Charm82.81.0
Bonfire of the Damned92.81.5
Searing Spear63.21.0
Ultimate Price72.01.7
Garruk Relentless61.61.4
Brimstone Volley33.3
Oblivion Ring61.02.0
Detention Sphere22.51.0
Dreadbore32.01.3
Tragic Slip331.5
Sever the Bloodline311.33

Pillar of Flame tops the list of removal this week, which is no surprise given a very healthy fear of the undead in this metagame, but that fear may be slipping. The number of copies played remains high, but it has dropped, and there is a definite shift to the sideboard compared to the SCG Invitational (twenty-four main and eight side) and SCG: Vegas on December 8 (twenty-nine main and thirteen side), where it was in twelve of the top sixteen decks.

Selesnya Charm is the second-most-played removal spell, reaching a peek for this Standard season of twenty-four copies. It was played in all eight decks with green and white mana. This Charm is among the better ways to manage an opposing Thundermaw Hellkite at instant speed.

The MTG Standard Metagame

The following graphs track the deck archetypes with the most Top 16 finishes at major Standard tournaments. The top graph shows results in the last month, and the bottom shows results since Return to Ravnica rotated into the format in October of 2012.

Aggressive Zombie hordes followed up by hasty aerial attacks from Falkenrath Aristocrat and Thundermaw Hellkite in the midgame have formed a very successful strategy over the last month. Here is B/R Dragon Zombie’s metagame progress through this season:

The deck exploded onto the scene in mid-November and dominated several events. Fifteen of the top sixteen finishes come from two events, SCG: Baltimore and Grand Prix: Nagoya, and B/R Dragon Zombies gobbled up a large piece of the SCG: Vegas and now SCG: Columbus Top 16 pies. It will probably continue to feed on the tournament scene until Gatecrash shakes things up next month.

Naya midrange is a distant second but is picking up steam, and as we have seen, it had a strong showing in Columbus. The release of the remaining shock lands in Gatecrash makes it likely this trend will continue.

Competitive Calendar – Upcoming Events in Standard

Here are the key events for Standard competitive play in the next couple of months.

By the Numbers – Preordering Magic Cards

Ah, spoiler season—isn’t it fun? I always enjoy checking the previews every day and speculating what cards will impact constructed Magic, what decks they might complement or change, and what new decks might emerge as a result of new cards and mechanics introduced. Part of each preview season is the discussion of what cards might be worth preordering. For many, there is a primal need to get one’s hands on and play with the newest cards as soon as possible. Others are eyeing the set to identify the deals and potential steals: the next Bonfire of the Damned to be purchased low and sold high or played without concern of affordability when the card becomes a must-have and four-of in every deck.

Gatecrash previews started over the Christmas holiday and are now in full swing—preorders are available. The prevailing wisdom is that it is foolish to preorder cards. Comments such as “Ninety percent of the cards of a set drop in price right away,” are thrown around, but it’s hard to find concrete data to support this. I’ve always agreed with the prevailers here, but I decided to compile the data and crunch the numbers anyway, and I will deliver you some analysis—and, of course, graphs—related to preorder pricing over the next few weeks.

This week, I’m going to talk about the staples of the competitive metagame. These are the cards you want to preorder, at least in theory. They have seen the most play and have shaped the Standard metagame, so getting in early and cheap on these cards would have been the way to go. I decided to take a look at the rares and mythic rares that have had the most copies played in the one hundred sixty decks that made the Top 16 of any StarCityGames Open tournament since Return to Ravnica rotated into Standard in October of last year. I analyzed these cards in some detail in my “Standard Analysis: Season in Review” article on ManaDeprived.com. I’d encourage you to check it out for a whole bunch of other information on them.

I chose the rares and mythic rares that have had seventy-five or more copies played in those one hundred sixty decks and were not reprints—such as the M10 lands—and came up with thirty-four cards in total. I grabbed the prices for each of these cards at the following points: lowest preorder price (maintained for more than three days), the price at the time of release, the lowest price since release, the highest price since release, and the current price (as of January 6, 2013).

Here are some of my high-level findings:

There were ten cards in total for which the preorder price is the lowest to date. Here is the full list. The dollars listed is the variance between the preorder price and the lowest price the card hit after release—in other words, the next best time to buy.

There is Bonfire of the Damned leading the list at $10 cheaper to preorder than at any other point since its release.

With 68% of these cards, the prices went up by the time the card was released. This is due in part to players correctly identifying the strength of certain cards and making preorders, causing retailers to increase their prices accordingly. There are certainly some lucrative opportunities if you can identify future format-defining cards that are being sold low during preview season and then turn them around at the right time. Here are the biggest variances between preorder price and the highest price reached after release to date in the cards I sampled.

These are the success stories of preordering for value, led, once again, by that fiery miracle of a card.

Let’s move on to the most played cards that were the least lucrative to preorder. It is cheaper to buy 41% of the cards now than it was to preorder them.

Planeswalkers, lands, and removal spells litter this list, but not a creature is to be found. Most of these variances are relatively minor, however, and this graph ignores the value you generated from being able to play the card for the last three months.

Finally, here is the list of cards for which the preorder prices were higher than at any other point to date.

Again, a pair of planeswalkers took the only significant plunge. There are not that many here, but again, these are the cream of the crop. Next week, I’ll dive a bit deeper into preorder pricing and take a look at other cards.

The Close

That does it for my analysis of SCG: Columbus. Join me next week when I will discuss the results of SCG: San Diego, provide metagame updates, delve even deeper into preorder pricing, and share more Magical analysis. Thanks for reading!

Nick Vigabool
@MrVigabool