Rees’ Pieces #14 – Standard Origins

Whats that? Two articles in two weeks?!?! Yup, after a fairly long haiatus I should be writing content regularly again. Last week the My Magic Origins article I posted up was more of a story with no real strategy content, so I’m going to try and focus on that today. A reasonable amount of ‘stuff’ has happened since I last wrote RPTQs, Magic Origins came out, we had a Pro Tour and Hall of Fame Inductions, and as I write the World Championship is in full swing. So then, lets see where we stand at the minute.

Standards a pretty cool place to hang write now. Pro Tour Magic Origins happened and some new decks emerged, but the story is far from over. We’ve now had a bunch more GPs and other big events, and the formats really shaping up. Lets go over the big hitters:

Abzan – Good black green and white cards, still good cards it turns out. In any flavor you want: control, aggro and even rally for all you combo lovers. The new innovations in the aggro and control decks seem to be Hangarback Walker. The card saw a little play opening weekend but since has been cropping up all over the place. The power of the card in control to work as an excellent counter early game to red decks while still being a relevant late game play as you can just dump all your mana into it. In aggro it also has some great synergies with Dromokas Command and Anafenza to the make the card even better. Origins added a couple of key pieces to the rally decks, the most important I feel though is Nantuko Husk which gives you a better win condition in conjunction with Mogis’ Marauder. It also utilizes the new version of Liliana along with Gather the Pack as an extra way to find the creatures you need and fill up your graveyard. Abzan: Still Good.

hangarback walker

GW – While it didn’t really show up in coverage due to his sub-par draft performance Brian Kibler managed to go x-1 in constructed with a Green White Megamorph deck. Its a deck taking advantage of the Deathmist Raptor + Den protector engine, but adding Hidden Dragonslayers along with a few more aggressive creatures like Fleecemane Lion and Warden of the First Tree. This deck is really trying to take advantage of Dromokas command again as its the decks primary removal spell along with Valorous Stance to deal with bigger creatures. In the sideboard we see 4x Hangarback Walker pop up along with another new card Evolutionary Leap (the combo is real) to help fight control decks. Following the PT the deck saw loads of play at Grand Prix San Diego even though only one player made Top 8 with the deck.

UB Control – It turns out that for the past year Blue Back is the deck with the best win percentage on the Pro Tour, quite an amazing statistic. The deck is still alive and kicking after Origins though it wasn’t represented well at the PT this time round. We’ve seen a couple of iterations pop appear most recently with Jace Vryn’s Prodigy. As it turns out Jace is an insanely powerful card seeing play in a number of different decks, here it basically acts as a Snapcaster Mage with upside. The lists vary in terms of number and where they are in the 75 too, with Mono Red being very prevalent at the minute he is a risky card to have main deck. Turning on a searing blood in your opponents hand which would have been dead is often fatal game 1, and this has lead to many people leaving them in the board to bring in games two and three. Another variant we’ve had on both UW and UB control decks is Thopter Spy Network along with Hangarback Walker and Darksteel Citadels plus Artificer’s Epiphany for card advantage. This variant has fallen out of favour recently and really requires you to take up a bunch of slots in your deck, once the engine’s rolling though its pretty powerful.


Devotion – Woo, yay! Yup Devotion is still here and will continue to be a deck until Theros rotates out of standard, at which point we’ll just find another name for it. Not much to see here.

Mono Red –  Its been around the block and twice, but Red decks got some sweet cards in Origins. While Goblin Piledriver has fallen off a cliff and isn’t seeing much play there are a few treasures that went under the radar. The prime example of this is Abbot of Keral Keep. Its a threat that gives you a little card advantage and allows you to go a little late and keep up into the midgame and even gives you a chance of staying in the game late. A 2/1 body isn’t stelar but prowess really turns it into a good threat and has seen him translate elsewhere into decks like Jeskai. Another excellent card for Red is Exquisite Firecraft. It gives you a second 4 damage burn spell, and against the control decks this helps you push damage through their counterspells with it’s Spell Mastery ability.


UR Ensoul – The best performing deck on Day 1 at Pro Tour Origins was a Blue Red deck with a heavy artifact theme and Ensoul Artifact. A few different teams came to slightly different versions of the deck but all of them tended to feature the same cards. One of the new Origins cards that featured heavily was Whirler Rogue. I’m sure many people just dismissed this as an excellent limited card and nothing more but it’s shown up here. A 4 mana 2/2 that brings with it two flying thopters is decent, and helps build up a flying airforce but the ability to tap two artifacts to give a creature unblockable is awesome. Wether it’s an Ensouled Darksteel Citadel you’re pushing through or a Rogue with a Ghostfire blade the cards been really good.

Dragons – A few different versions of this archetype have shown themselves throughout Kahns Block standard, and there are three that still see a fair amount of play. Esper dragons, the control deck we saw during Dragons, Mardu which emerged a little later, and most recently Black Red. The decks are pretty similar in the way they work. You have Dragons like Ojutai or Thunderbreak Regent or Stormbreath Dragon, plus Dragons Matter Cards like Silumgar’s Scorn or Draconic Roar or Foul Tongue Renewal, and then a generic list of good cards in the colour combination you’ve chosen. Occasionally even all five colours.

There are plenty of other decks in standard worth taking a look at but I haven’t the time here. Notably Jeskai has seen some play, a Blue Red Sphinx’ Tutelage deck which Michael Majors won a Grand Prix with, Turbo Fog, Mono White Devotion, along with variants of archetypes I’ve already mentioned among the ones to look out for.

While we’ve yet to see loads of Modern play with the new set yet, we’ve had an Open and Worlds so theres a few tid bits to look at. Im not going to go into as much detail as I did with standard, but we’ll have a look.  The SCG Open in Charlotte did an excellent job at showing off a few cards from Origins, and some new strategies. Firstly the deck I immediately thought that sounds awesome I really want to play this was Michael Majors’ Grixis Control deck. It looks lime a fairly standard Grixis list until you see the creatures he’s working with. Two Tasigurs, 4 Snapcasters and a full FOUR Jace Vryn’s Progidgy. We knew the card was powerful, even though it was one of the planeswalkers the least hyped going into release. While there is a plethora of cards Jace dies to, you have Kolaghans Command to buy him back. Card seems really sweet here, even if I managed to go 0-1-2 with the deck when I tried it out.


I’d also like to highlight the UW control deck that made top 8, which was fairly non standard. It played a late game package of Emeria the Sky Ruin, along with Sun Titans, Court Hussars, Lone Missionaries and Wall of Omens. This deck looks super fun to play and super boring to play against. You have all these cheap creatures like Missionaries and Wall of Omens to help get you through to late game, and then you get to take over with Sun Titans and Emeria. Slow and durdly, just the way I like my magic.


Another awesome innovation we’ve seen is Ghirapur Aether Grid, firstly in the Lantern control deck Ali Antrazi played in the … Open where he had a top 16 finish. Lantern control is typically a very slow deck that really struggles to kill your opponent in anything close to a timely fashion, and can also randomly lose games to a Noble Hierarch attacking through Ensnaring Bridge. This helps solve both of those problems giving you an extra way to kill your opponent and dealing with any problematic creature threat. It has also popped up recently out of the Affinity sideboard at the World Championship in the hands of Sam Black as a counter to cards like lingering souls. It lets you deal with almost any troublesome creature as long as you have a decent number of artifacts in play. It’s also immune to stony silence which helps a lot against some of the white decks, and gives you some reach or an alternate win condition.


I’ll finish up with a quick meta break down from the Magic World Championships. The tournament is twenty four of the best players from all over the world, and they had to play Modern Masters 2015 draft, Modern, Magic Origins Draft and finally Standard for the swiss followed by a Standard Top 8. Here is the breakdown for what everyone played:

Modern – 6 Affinity, 4 Living End, 3 Boggles, 2 BW Tokens, 1 Abzan, 1 UR Pyromancer, 1 UR Twin, 1 Grixis Twin, 1 Jund, 1 Merfolk, 1 Temur Twin, 1 UW control, 1 RW Burn

Standard – 7 Jeskai, 5 Abzan Control, 5 Esper Dragons, 3 Hangarback Walker, 2 Atarka Red, 1 RG Dragons, 1 White Devotion

You can see there’s a bunch of different decks played, but also where some of the teams settled on some of the same decks. Its worth noting that this style of tournament isn’t a great representation of the overall meta as it stands at the minute, as the nature of this competition changes the way people choose their decks.

And once again that’s it for today, like I said I’ll hopefully be back writing articles much more often so look forward to a Battle for Zendikar flavored spoiler coming soooon.


Thanks for reading as always, Alastair.




Rees’ Pieces #13 – My Magic Origins

Hi everyone! I’m still Alastair, but it’s been a (long) while since I’ve  written anything or posted an article but today I’m going to start at the beginning. This article will be me talking about my Magic Origins. Prepare for a long winded account of how I got to where I am today as a Magic Player, along with plenty of rambling and drivel along the way. And so our story begins…

The first time I ever heard about Magic: the Gathering was back around 1999/2000. I’d started collecting Pokemon cards and one of my neighbours mentioned that they had played this other card game called Magic while they were in high school and that they had a collection in storage. Sad to say, I never got a chance to see the collection (probably worth a pretty penny now) and didn’t end up diving into Magic for nearly a decade. To give some context, I was born in 1993 in Birmingham, UK and in 1998 my parents brother and I moved to  Stillwater, Oklahoma, USA.


As I said I ended up getting into a couple of different card games over in the states. Primarily Pokemon and Yugioh but that was more collecting than playing. The card game that really got me into playing with the cards was the Lord of the Rings Trading Card Game which came out along with the films and it was also my first real experience going to a shop to play games. In our town there was one dedicated wargame store: Ivory and Steel. They did all kinds of Warhammer type stuff along with the Lord of the Rings Strategy Battle Game, which is what got me into Wargaming. But they also ran game nights for a few different card games, and so it was that I went down there every now again to play games of the Lord of the Rings TCG.


Skipping ahead a little we see me moving back to the UK in 2003 and settling down in the Loughborough area of the Midlands. Coming back across the pond I’d managed to pick up a second wargame: Warhammer 40k and there happened to be a local Games Workshop near me, something I wouldn’t have dreamed of in Stillwater. At this point I had just turned 10 and was going into Year 6 of primary school, and a bit too young to really go into the store and play games ad take part in events.

GW Loughborough


At school though, there were plenty of people who collected Pokemon and Yugioh (the Lord of the Rings TCG never caught on over here), along with some ridiculous things called football stickers which I’ll never understand. This led me to dig out the cards I already had and eventually start playing Yugioh as a game as I moved up to years 7 and 8 of school. Here though our card game journey ends temporarily. I’d gotten to the kind of age where card games weren’t that cool anymore and had fallen out of fashion with my peers. This also coincided with me being able to start going into the local GW to play, and get heavier into the Wargame side of things. And so, my cards were left abandoned for a few years while I fought on the battlefields of the 41st Millennium.



A few years later though a new Game shop opened up in town, Wargames Inc. And along with 40k and some other wargames they also sold and provided player space for Yugioh. As it turns out a bunch of my wargaming friends also played Yugioh from time to time and I started to slowly get back into it. First digging out all my old cards and trying to scrape together a deck to battle, and then later looking for cool and awesome cards I could pick up on the internet. I soon found out that I’m quite competitive and do like to win games, so I started looking at Youtube for deck techs and the like and trying to brew sweet decks to play with.

Dark Magician

All this while, there were two boxes of Magic: the Gathering cards on the shelf in Wargames Inc just gathering dust. I’d ended up picking up a few other card games casually: VS System, UFS, and a bit of Pokemon again but I always looked at the Magic stuff and remembered about my old Neighbours collection. And so one day a friend and I decided to try it out, Wargames only had a couple of fat pack type boxes so I ended up going to a local comic book store to pick up a couple of intro decks. We played a bit and learned how the game worked, and eventually got to the point when we were building reasonable decks and a local Magic community started building.

the combo

As with Yugioh eventually I hit the internet in search for awesome cards and deck building inspiration. I was still on a Paper Round budget at this point though and couldn’t afford any of the big expensive cards and only ended up with those if I opened well out of boosters. This did though, lead me to see the Magic Pro Tour and start looking at the game from a competitive stand point. I was like: that sounds awesome I’d love to do that one day. Unfortunately Wargames didn’t run Friday Night Magic or anything like that, and I couldn’t really travel to go to other towns easily so I contented myself with going back through old coverage, watching Pros play and started reading/watching their strategy articles and videos.


Sadly like all good things Wargames Inc eventually closed down. This left me without a good place to play Wargames which I still dabbled in a bit but I’d mostly converted into a Card Gamer at this point. I mentioned earlier that there was a Comic book store in Loughborough that I bought my first Intro Packs off of, they’d recently moved at this point and now had more space for actual gaming so I was lucky enough to still have a place to play Magic but again they didn’t really run events or FNMs. A little while later though a few friends and I decided to knuckle down and actually pay some ‘competitive’ magic.


This was just at the start of Innistrad pretty much, and just after the retirement of Zendikar block from standard with the memory of Caw-Blade still shadowing over. The deck I chose to build at first was Tempered Steel, a very linear Artifact beat down strategy revolving around cheap artifact creatures getting buffed up to smash face. On the opposite end of the spectrum my friend Arron decided to put together Solar Flare, a control deck with a reanimation package using Unburial Rites to bring back fatties like Grave Titan and Wurmcoil Engine. And so one day we heard that a store in Leicester (about 7 miles from where I lived at the time) was running Prereleases, and other magic events. So my first real ‘Tournament’ was the Dark Ascension prerelease at Tabletop Tyrant where I now work.

Tempered SteelImage (2)

It was a great experience and everyone was really nice and friendly even  though I went somewhere along the lines of 2-4, and this led Arron and I to start coming to their Friday Night Magics. Very quickly, I’d moved on from Tempered Steel and had picked up the pieces to play ‘Hippo-blade’ a Red White Control deck heavily relying on an artifact package and the recursion of Artifacts with Razor Hippogriff. As it turned out this was a great choice for the meta at the time because there were a bunch of people playing UW Humans, and with my Whipflares and Day of Judgments that match up was very biased in my favour. So went 2-1 at my first FNM and then managed to 3-0 the next two and I was feeling really happy with myself.

Over the summer I ended up playing a lot with the Leicester crew and just after the release of M13 someone said something about going to a PTQ. What’s one of those? I asked, and was told about Pro Tour Qualifiers and the way in which you qualified for the Pro Tour. I’d watched a bunch of coverage and kept up with it, but had no idea how to actually get there and qualify to play. So I went along with the others, all also attending their first PTQ with one exception to a Pro Tour Qualifier for Pro Tour Return to Ravnica in Reading. I’d done a bit of testing and felt like I had a reasonable grasp on the format, not that you’d notice with my deck choice. I ended up on a Mono Blue Delver deck playing Grand Architects and Invisible stalkers along with a couple of a few Runechanters pikes. The deck was sweet, but not good and I ended up going 4-4 with it. But that was my first taste of ‘actual’ competetive Magic: the Gathering.



Since then I’ve been playing pretty much non-stop, hitting up a PTQ every now and again and attending the UK Grand Prix whenever we get them having moderate success depending on how you look at it highlighted with a Day 2 finish at Grand Prix Manchester 2014, a PTQ top 16 in Theros/Kahns standard last december and recently under the new system a Regional PTQ Top 16. A long ways off of doing anything real in the competitive world. However I’ve managed to pick up a job in the Card Game/Wargame Industry buying/selling/trading/event hosting and have made loads of amazing friends and awesome people along the way.

So hah, Yay Magic!

Alastair Rees