Hey there! For those of you who don’t know me, my name is Roman Fusco and I’m a rising competitive player from New York City. Before we delve into my musings on Standard, I’d like to give you a brief background of my short Magic career. Funnily enough I was first introduced to Hipsters of the Coast six years ago in high school by my best friend, Kenny. When I first learned how to play, Hipsters was one of my go-to Magic sites and I loved reading all about Standard FNMs at Twenty Sided Store and the limited pursuits of authors Monique Garraud and Brendan McNamara. In my few years of competitive play I have yet to reach the Pro Tour, but qualifying remains my current goal. I’ve had some success on the Star City Games circuit and have been working to improve my game. After moving to New York to attend NYU I’ve met a ton of amazing Magic players who have helped me grow as a player and more importantly as a person. I hope you’ll join me along on my Magic journey!

Now without further ado let’s jump in, shall we?

Pro Tour Hour of Devastation

Unbeknownst to everyone, Mono Red was top dog at the Pro Tour. With the printing of Earthshaker Khenra and Ramunap Ruins, Mono Red gained new tools to survive in the late-game. The deck is so powerful not only because it can have fast starts with cards like Kari Zev and Ahn-Crop Crasher, but it can close out the game with Hazoret, eternalized Earthshaker Khenras, or flinging some deserts. The deck took the Pro Tour by storm. B/G Constrictor in the hands of Sam Pardee put up a finals finish and Mono Black Zombies also made Top 8, but they were both overshadowed. The Standard metagame shifted—either you beat red or you don’t.

The day after the Pro Tour I messaged Daniel Ward on Facebook looking for his insight on the Mono Red metagame. Dan, famous for his Grand Prix top 8 with R/B Dragons, is one of my favorite deck builders. He’s great at looking at a metagame and brewing up ideas on how to combat the top decks. In Roanoke for the Star City Games Invitational this past June, Dan and I worked on his Bant Delirium ramp deck, a pile that while looks just awful on paper proved to have some success. Dan unfortunately did not put up a good modern result in the Invi but 3-1’d standard. After I scrubbed out of day two with a 5-3 start, I decided to take my chances and sleeve up Bruna and Gisela for the Sunday Standard Classic.

You can check out that deck here.

After crushing every Zombie and Temur Energy player in sight (with one loss to U/W control) I found myself in Top 8. While the deck was tuned to beat the top decks of the format—Zombies, G/B, Temur, U/W Monument—Elder Deep-Fiend drowned my hopes of a first-place finish. Although I didn’t clinch the win, moral of the story is going rogue can give you a huge edge. Dan recognized the premier strategies of the format and meticulously picked cards to combat these strategies. Descend Upon the Sinful for Dread Wanderers and Scrapheap Scroungers, Fumigate for the Longtusk Cubs and Winding Constrictors, Dissenter’s Deliverance for the Heart of Kirans and Oketra’s Monuments of the world. Man did it feel good to be casting Ulamog the Ceaseless Hunger only weeks after his partner in crime Aetherworks Marvel had been ban-hammered.

What I learned from playing the Bant deck was that it’s important to keep an open mind when metagaming for Standard. When attacking with creatures becomes the most popular strategy, you can build a deck to combat those players on certain decks you’re expecting for a specific tournament. Brewing a deck might not lead to the best deck in the format, but it can provide you with a deck that’s specifically good for a given weekend.

Saturday, August 5th

I had driven up with some friends, including Red Mage aficionado Miles Rodriguez to Syracuse for the Star City Modern Open. I had decided to cut Eidolon of the Great revel from my burn deck, prompting other Red Mage aficionado and weekly dinner buddy Mike Flores to call me an “insane person.” After ending Day 1 at an atrocious 5-4 I sat down at dinner, disheartened. Flores had disowned me for not playing Eidolon. While I was prepared for another chance at glory entering the consolation Standard Classic the following day, I had no idea what to play. Miles happily sleeved up Ramunap Red in the hotel room, as he had also missed out on day two, while I sat disgruntled. “Maybe I’ll just build the Bant deck,” I said to myself. I almost reached over for my pile of Primal Druids when I checked the Grand Prix Minneapolis standings after Day 1, and then I saw it.

Daniel Ward: 8-1.

Sat 9:46 PM
Roman Fusco: Can you ship the list?
Roman Fusco: Gotta win the classic tomorrow 🙂

U/W Second Sun by Daniel Ward

Spells (35)
Approach of the Second Sun
Censor
Supreme Will
Glimmer of Genius
Aether Meltdown
Blessed Alliance
Unsummon
Fumigate
Cast Out
Hieroglyphic Illumination
Lands (25)
Irrigated Farmland
Prairie Stream
Blighted Cataract
Island
Plains

Sideboard (15)
Authority of the Consuls
Regal Caracal
Torrential Gearhulk
Negate
Linvala, the Preserver
Hour of Revelation
Descend Upon the Sinful
Summary Dismissal

Was this deck really that good? It looked like just another pile. It took me a bit to think about the deck’s standing in the current metagame. With Mono Red the top deck that meant people would be moving away from decks like R/G Ramp and U/R Control which did not put up great results at the Pro Tour. Same with U/W God-Pharaoh’s Gift. These three decks seem like an atrocious matchup for Second Sun, but if Mono Red is on everyone’s radar that meant people would be either sleeving up Ramunap Ruins or playing decks to beat it. Mono Black Zombies and G/B Constrictor could keep pace and can adapt to beat Red, so if those decks are going to be at the top tables Second Sun would have a great chance at a trophy. I shrugged, managed to get 74/75 cards from my friends in the hotel room, sleeved the deck up with mismatching plains and islands and went to bed.

The Tournament

Sunday morning I showed up for round one ready to battle with a deck I’d never played. Needless to say, Ramunap Red crushed me in two quick games. Now I was really down in the dumps. I sulked in my chair with 40 minutes on the clock timer to go. It was over. I had thrown in the towel. Flores had disowned me, I was going to let down Dan, and my pursuit of grinding precious Star City Open points to qualify for the December Invitational was in ruin.

I asked Miles who had just come off a round one mirror win to battle me in some pre and post-sideboard games. He crushed me within minutes. Round two pairings were up. My opponent leads with two Jeskai lands. Great. Jeskai Control. A bad matchup! Glimmer of Genius was cast back and forth. Blessed Alliances flew in the face of Torrential Gearhulks, and while Disallow cleared the path for one turn, Fumigate cleaned up the board. The first Second Sun was met with a counter spell. The Second Second Sun however, resolved. With my opponent choked on mana game two, Second Sun miraculously resolved. I couldn’t believe it. I don’t know how lucky I had to get to win that match but all I knew was that my tournament wasn’t over. Teetering on the edge of defeat I jumped back into the ring.

The next four rounds went exactly as planned. Four Mono-Black Zombies opponents were met with Fumigates, Descend Upon the Sinful, Aether Meltdowns, and Blessed Alliances before Second Sun sealed their fate. Authority of the Consuls with Linvala back-up against Mono Red in the final round locked up my Top 8 slot as first seed and I couldn’t have been happier.

Some highlights included:

Miles Rodriguez and another friend, Matt Tumavitch also joined me in Top 8. All of us had been testing partners at the Invitational with Dan and had nicknamed ourselves team “Socks and Flops” for our matching attire of the ugliest flip flops we could find and socks. Miles, the Red Mage that he is, had been crushing other red players all day long, while Matt had taken a different approach and was playing Mono Black Eldrazi, similar to the list that made 9th at Minneapolis. I was paired against SCG Grinder Emma Handy in the Quarters. I knew Emma was on Zombies and I was ready to give it my all. Although we played two games of Magic I thought I played exceptionally well (and so did Emma) I got crushed and was knocked out. Unlike my other Zombies matches during the day I sadly did not see a single wrath and died one turn away from casting a Second Sun. I extended the hand, chatted with Emma about our favorite anime, and packed it up. Miles defeated Matt in the quarters but fell to a different Zombies player in the semis. Although we didn’t clinch the win we had both locked up invitations to Roanoke for December.

Conclusion and Moving Forward

Although Ramunap Red was the best deck coming out of the Pro Tour people were ready for it the following weekend. Looking at the Top 8 from Grand Prix Minneapolis only one Red deck made it there with every other deck including the color black in it. Three B/G Constrictor decks along with two Mardu decks and a B/R Control deck also made it, but Mono Black Zombies clinched the first prize. Similarly the Syracuse Top 8 consisted of four Mono Black Zombies, my Second Sun deck, a Naya Humans deck, and two Ramunap Red, with one taking first. Don’t get me wrong, Ramunap Red is an incredibly powerful deck, but it’s not unbeatable.

People are taking other approaches to combat red, whether it be going under with Winding Constrictor or Gifted Aetherborns, or going over with Approach of the Second Sun. Second Sun was an incredibly great choice for this weekend. All of its cards, while great against red, are also good against the other top two performing decks from the Pro Tour, Mono Black Zombies and G/B Constrictor. If I had played against U/R Control every round of the Classic, my tournament report would probably be a different story. Since Red and Zombies were everywhere, I was able to game against those decks and put up a solid finish. In my mind there are two different approaches you can have to Standard and both those philosophies are emulated by both Miles Rodriguez and Dan Ward.

Miles Rodriguez Philosophy: Be the best at a given strategy. For Miles, this is being the best Red Mage possible, and his success in the Classic stemmed from him knowing Mono Red better than his opponents, especially in the mirror matches.

Dan Ward Philosophy: Look at what the top decks of the format are for a given tournament. Create a deck that’s gunned to beat the top deck and the decks that are gunning for that top deck.

These two philosophies are why I would never play Zombies in a competitive tournament. I’m nowhere close to the best Zombies player in the room and will fall to those who can pilot the deck better than I can. I have to have a different edge instead, and as shown by my last two successes with Dan’s Bant deck and Second Sun, the Dan Ward school of thought seems to be working for me.

Standard has always been a format that’s constantly changing with various decks fighting for dominance. They’re each like spikes on a wheel. One week Mono Red might be on top. Another week Control might be on top. The next week, Midrange is on top, and on and on the wheel spins, crushing the other decks beneath it. As I prepare for the upcoming RPTQ I know my edge won’t be in picking Mono Red or Zombies in hopes of stopping the wheel. Because I want to break the wheel.

Roman Fusco (Twitter: @Roman_Fusco) is a current film student and aspiring Magic pro living in New York City. His preferred format is Standard with the occasional Modern. His current favorite Standard card is Descend Upon the Sinful while his favorite Modern card is Deflecting Palm. 

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