I am a scientist by training. I have a PhD in Pathology. You might then rightly expect me to have an analytical mind that loves looking at data. I really enjoy looking at constructed metagames. At the moment, I am all about Standard—I have PTQs and the WMC coming up. With M13 now three weeks in, I want to see what effect the new cards have had on the overall field and, importantly, what is winning.
The Online Metagame
As I don’t have access to all decks that enter a given competition, just what does well, I tend to go to the online Daily Event results for the big picture. The online meta actually looks healthy: there were the expected decks, but then everything from UG Poison, to Mono-Red Worldfire, to Battle of Wits. However, I excluded the outliers and focused on those decks showing up more than five times in one day. With some generous groupings of decks I present to you the following tasty pie (chart).
Delicious data for your enjoyment. The numbers around the edge are the % of the field the deck represents. As my beautiful, multi-colored pie suggests, Delver is still on top. There are however a lot more variants, which I’ll come back too. Next in line is Pod, almost entirely Naya-colored—but almost every combination is represented, though mostly without success.
Next comes Zombies, which are available in three flavors: vanilla, blueberry, or strawberry. Personally, I like strawberry, as I think it’s the most aggressive and tuned build available. The other big players in the field are RG Aggro, Wolf Run, Esper Midrange and Mono-Black Control.
When you consider that the pre-M13 SCG Invitational contained almost 50% UW Delver lists, we’ve clearly arrived at a healthier place.
Getting Back to the Real World
This analysis gives me a good idea of what people want to, or think they should play, but I like to look at what is actually succeeding in major tournaments. There have been three SCG events since M13, and combining the Top 16 lists using the same divisions used above, you get this:
Taking the results from three tournaments across three weeks has its drawbacks. Differences in metagame from week to week will account for different levels of success, but interestingly, many ratios remain the same. Delver leads Naya, though RG Aggro and Zombies switched places. Oddly, “other” takes the biggest piece of success pie, but there is very little duplication in there—two Naya Aggro and two Mono-Green Aggro are the most notable.
A Closer Look at the Major Seven
There are seven central players in our metagame pie: Delver, Pod, Zombies, RG Aggro, Wolf Run, Esper Midrange and Mono-Black Control. Have these decks benefited from M13, and what’s happening beneath these broad titles?
Our first subject is Delver. He is notorious for eating too much of the Standard metagame and transforming into a hideous beast. Seriously, we should call the decks Aberration and not Delver, given that it’s really more about his dark side.
But I digress. There are now four, yes four, Delver variants menacing the population online. UW still leads the pack, and remains unchanged from pre-M13. The biggest variation between builds is the choice between Geist of Saint Traft and Blade Splicer. Personally, I think Splicer is better value and blocks Geist really well but, Geist does get the job done fast on an empty board.
I find the sudden explosion in Delver decks reminiscent of Jund. Everyone ran nearly identical lists for a while, then, as it weakened, it split like light hitting a prism as people searched for the new, best version—which never appeared. Jund was still a strong deck, but it lost its dominance. Maybe (read: hopefully) we are seeing this for Delver.
UW Delver by Jaberwocki
Delver Spirits still appears online. This version debuted in PT Honolulu, but has gained nothing from M13 or AVR. In fact, Restoration Angel weakened its power in the metagame. So many people ran the 3/4 that, by chance, is very good at blocking 3/3 Spirit tokens and lords. As such, I don’t believe this version is where you should be in Standard, but much like I did with Dungrove Elder, don’t forget that it exists. It may rise again if the meta is right.
Delver Spirits by Yoyamime
There are two completely new aberrations appearing thanks to M13: RUG and “Mono-Blue”.
RUG makes use of possibly my favorite card in M13—Quirion Dryad. I know it’s a reprint, but I didn’t see it first time around. A slightly odd card to build around, as you really want to splash it in a non-green deck for maximum effect, but you also really need to land it turn 2 to start taking advantage of its unique ability.
RUG Delver lists appeared in the meta before. I think it was pre-AVR, and hence no Restoration Angel, and it was essentially Delver with Huntmaster of the Fells instead of Geist of Saint Traft. After AVR it was clear that UW was the way to go, but Quirion Dryad may have convinced people to try out their Mountains and Forests once again. And who can blame them? I know I’m bored of seeing and playing UW Delver.
Whilst I love the Dryad, it has a major problem: Vapor Snag. Vapor Snag can undo all your hard work, so I’m not convinced that RUG Delver can beat UW Delver in a fair fight. Vapor Snag is less punishing if aimed at a Blade Splicer token.
Interestingly, while RUG Delver is the second most popular Delver archetype online, it has not appeared in a single SCG Top 16 list. Are these RUG lists getting lucky over the shorter tournaments, but don’t have the staying power to place at a large swiss event, or is no one playing it in actual events yet? I seriously don’t know the answer, but I’d love to hear it.
RUG Delver by Emperok
While RUG is not featuring in SCG events, “Mono-Blue” Delver is. In fact, more so than online. Most of the lists aren’t actually mono, as Moorland Haunt is still worth splashing and the white gives you more flexibility in the board, but Restoration Angel and Blade Splicer are no longer in this version. Instead the deck uses two new cards from M13: Augur of Bolas as a stalling device plus card draw (about 75% of the time); and Talrand, Sky Summoner as the big trump card. If Talrand sticks, it’s huge against the more conventional Delver lists. But it is a four-cost creature, which against opposing Leaks and Snags I’m slightly cautious about heralding as the next big thing.
“Mono-Blue” Delver by carlosale123
That finishes the Delver lineup. It sure is getting messy.
Next up is Pod. More specifically, Naya—and while I love all versions of Pod, Naya is easily the most successful at the moment.
I ran this deck at my PTQ this weekend. It’s the first time I tried the deck, having recently favored mono-green, and I was impressed. I can’t draw [card bonfire of the damned]Bonfires[/card] or Pods, but even so, the deck did not disappoint. Lots of interactions, value, and power. Everything you want from a creature-based deck.
This version of the deck is less aggressive than some. It makes use of Elvish Visionary from M13 over Strangleroot Geist, and returns to [card elesh norn, grand cenobite]Elesh Norn[/card] at the top end.
Elvish Visionary is much easier to cast than the Geist was, which in a deck with four copies of Gavony Township and Cavern of Souls could be a little awkward at times. Visionary is less aggressive, but is still great to Pod through, and really helps to smooth draws.
The other card Naya Pod adopted from M13 is, unsurprisingly, Thragtusk—the poster child of M13. The value that Pod lists can get from this card is insane.
As I played it this weekend I have some extra insights to share with you. Geist-Honored Monk was unimpressive, even against its intended target, Delver. With the availability of Thragtusk, which Delver decks also dislike, I feel it’s no longer required in the 75.
With the Geist moving out, there is room for Wolfir Silverheart to move into the main deck. It’s a huge force in the mirror match, which is a significant slice of the metagame. Without a very large Bonfire, many Pod lists cannot handle a menace this big game one. If your opponent has his or her own copy, then atleast you can fight fire with fire.
I was underwhelmed by [card thalia, guardian of thraben]Thalia[/card]. While good against Delver, it is anti-syngeristic with Pod and Bonfire so perhaps three copies main is overkill at the moment. Going down to one or two to make room for another Visionary and a single Strangleroot Geist would make me happy.
Other than that, I think the list is sweet, and good against Delver, so I’d recommend it.
Next up we have shambling remains which actually come together to form one of the most aggressive decks in the format. Doesn’t that strike anyone else as ironic?
In case you were confused by the flavours analogy I went for earlier these are mono-black, blue, and red. Still, I like the idea of blueberry-tasting Zombies.
I honestly can’t really recommend any build other than BR. Falkenrath Aristocrat is a powerful top-end that pushes the last few points of damage through, over the top of 3/3 Golem tokens. Even better, it can kill a surprise Restoration Angel and remain alive (for bonus value it’s often a Gravecrawler who will simply rise again).
The red also gives the deck burn for reach, which the other variants lack. Though, all of them have Blood Artist to achieve this to some extent, which is still amazing in the deck.
Zombies is an easy deck to underestimate and I think that’s because it’s difficult to play. In testing recently, we had a fascinating situation. It took four of us to resolve the correct actions for both the Zombie player and the Naya player. As such, when I play against a Zombies player who knows what they are doing and really understands the deck, I have to be on top of my game to win. Luckily, this isn’t very often, but it does mean the deck is deserving of its place in the meta.
BR Zombies by Denarius
We move down the pecking order now to RG Aggro. Honestly, I thought this deck was dead, but it still crops up in tournaments.
Why did I think it was dead? Because Blade Splicer plus Restoration Angel equals serious blowouts for the deck, and indeed numbers did drop dramatically before the release of M13. So what has changed?
M13 has contributed Thundermaw Hellkite, which is an excellent creature for an aggressive deck. It will be even stronger if Lingering Souls once again becomes a feature in Standard. It also got Rancor, which hardly requires a degree in rocket science to add into a deck like RG Aggro.
However, M13 also gave us Thragtusk, which is like anthrax for aggro decks. Five life is huge, and yet the numbers of RG decks are creeping upwards. There have actually been more RG decks in SCG Top 16s since M13 than Naya Pod lists.
I suspect that some of this upswing is caused by the adoption of Mono-Blue Delver instead of UW, which removes some of the problem of Splicers and Angels from the room, but the rest I must leave to your imagination.
Interestingly, the PTQ in England this weekend had a lot of control-style decks with lots of sweepers in the Top 8. This leads me to predict an increase in this style of deck for next week.
As a result, I have been considering a red/green deck myself, possibly making use of Flinthoof Boar to go super heavy on the haste creatures. It makes for a good recovery after a Day of Judgment or similar effect. However, I just don’t see it beating Naya or UW Delver, and those decks will definitely still be there. Finding the right deck is so hard!
RG Aggro by jakers1016
There are three more decks in our line up, and as it’s getting late and it is my birthday today, I want to whisk through them super fast.
I especially don’t want to waste time on Wolf Run. You know this list by heart. Most of the lists are traditional RG builds and yes, they have added Farseek from M13. Rather than giving you a boring list, I found a blue version that made Top 8 of an online Premier event this Saturday. It powers out Frost Titan, who has been sadly absent from Standard for a good while now, and uses the over-anticipated and now somewhat neglected miracle Temporal Mastery.
I still think Wolf Run is a bad choice in a meta filled with tempo decks wielding Mana Leak, but there will always be someone playing Ramp.
Wolf Run Blue by Sepirath05
Esper Midrange and Mono-Black
The last decks to look at are the control options in the format: Esper Midrange and Mono-Black. Esper Midrange was once described as Delverless Delver, and while it isn’t traditional control, it will take the control role in most matches.
I’m not sure of the attraction of Mono-Black over Esper. Esper still has the sweepers that black provides, with a much better ability to form a board state with Angels and Blade Splicer plus extra value from Snapcaster Mage.
These decks are becoming more successful and popular, so don’t neglect them in your testing.
Mono-Black by HereticD2000
Esper Midrange by DoctorPenick
Something to End With
That’s pretty much the low down on the major decks in Standard. However, there are a few tasty treats I want to finish with. It always takes a while for any new decks to infiltrate the meta. I have been on the look out for any potential candidates, and two decks caught my eye.
First up is Elves. People have been talking about Elves over the last few weeks, what with Llanowar Elves and Arbor Elf in the format simultaneously. With Visionary to draw cards and [card elvish archdruid]Archdruid[/card] to make truck loads of mana, someone was bound to find something worth doing.
Elf Wave by Kurt Crane
Apparently that something was adding white to use Restoration Angel and Village Bell-Ringer to make even more mana, and then cast Genesis Wave, or simply Green Sun’s Zenith for a Craterhoof Behemoth. This deck is the closest thing to combo in Standard, and you are going to need a way to beat it after it came in second at the SCG Open this weekend.
Sadly, this means Mono-Green is no longer the deck I would recommend, as I it cannot interrupt this game plan—which will just result in you being slaughtered. On the other hand, those control decks I mentioned with lots of sweepers should do just fine.
As I mentioned earlier, the UK PTQ this weekend had a multitude of control-style decks. Can you guess the M13 card that made these appear from the woodwork? It’s everyone’s favorite goat-making artifact: Trading Post. It has teamed up in the UK with Tezzeret to make this:
UB Tezzert Post by Jack Mitchell-Burns
I like the inclusion of Post into a Tezzeret-style list which wants to play and sacrifice lots of artifacts. Trading Post does, well, basically everything, including become a 5/5. With so many artifacts, Tezzeret’s ultimate provides a pretty good win condition. I have not tried this list myself, so I will resist commenting too much, but I’m excited to try it out.
As decks like this come to prevalence Ground Seal is going to become a must in the sideboard of all green decks, and this may even be enough to stop their progression in the metagame entirely. I would recommend Ground Seal even if you don’t expect any Trading Post lists, as it proved remarkably powerful against Delver this weekend for the Mono-Green decks.
Now if you’ll excuse me, I have to go out for dinner! Say hi @onionpixie and I’ll see you next week.