Standard is the Gold Standard. When Standard is fun, people are engaged and play a lot of Magic. Welcome back Standard! We missed you!
At present, the format revolves around the Golgari vs. Jeskai matchup. The Richmond Open featured 4 Jeskai and 3 Golgari decks in the Top 8. Clearly, these are the emergent decks to beat. Let’s take a look at the most popular versions.
The Golgari Decks (Aggro and Midrange)
Slytherin to the Red Zone.
The aggressive version is identifiable by the inclusion of Winding Constrictor and is more focused on beating down. B/G Aggro had a strong showing in Richmond and put 3 copies into the Top 8. Here is the list I’ve been working on.
The deck has a decent amount of grind for an aggro deck and has the potential to become even more so after sideboard.
B/G Delirium Midrange
“She Talks to Angels,” except with Zombies.
Delirium Midrange is less about curving out and more about grinding an opponent into submission with pressure and card advantage.
The midrange version is more reactive in nature but still perfectly capable of running the opponent over with threats.
In general, I would say that the midrange version is significantly better against Jeskai but worse in the mirror against B/G Aggro. There is certainly a rock, scissors, paper element even among the B/G and Jeskai decks.
The Jeskai Decks (Combo Control and Pure Control)
There are basically two different types of Jeskai—those with the Copy Cat combo and those without.
Jeskai (With the combo)
“A googolplex is the number 10googol, or equivalently, 10(10100). Written out in ordinary decimal notation, it is 1 followed by 10100 zeroes, that is, a 1 followed by a googol of zeroes.. That is how many Cats I choose to create.”
The combo is powerful not only because it can end the game out of nowhere but also because players have to respect it from turn 6 onward.
Dylan Donegan, 1st place at SCG Open Richmond
All Jeskai decks are control decks based around removal, permission, card draw, and Torrential Gearhulk.
Remember that the combo is available to these decks, but that they don’t need to combo to win. Blue Gearhulk is a hell of a card.
Jeskai (Without the combo)
Some versions of Jeskai forego playing the combo and stick to a straight-up, hard-line control format. It can also be awkward that it is difficult to tell whether or not a deck has the combo when you are playing against it. The pure control versions benefit greatly from opponents playing around a combo that isn’t even in their deck.
Luke Feeney, 3rd place at SCG Open Richmond
No matter the versions of Golgari or Jeskai, B/G is always the aggressor. The beatdown deck will posture as the control, answer early threats, and hope to push onto the later turns.
The Copy Cat version has the unique ability to end the game out of nowhere via the combo, which complicates matters by making tapping out an unacceptable risk from turn 6 onward.
The combo wins the game on the spot if unanswered, but luckily it is easy to interact with. Representing a single removal spell makes “going for it” risky business.
Aether Revolt brought fans of the Golgari an excellent new tool for fighting against the combo:
Let casual players fawn over planeswalkers. The walkers I like all have XX casting costs.
Ballista is a flexible threat but it also serves as a hate card against the combo since they cannot go off while it remains in play.
Golgari Aggro’s Game Plan
Game 1 favors Jeskai. They have the tools and a combo that makes tapping out dangerous.
Deploying and maintaining pressure is the key. As a rule, you should not keep hands that don’t curve out with an aggro deck but this is particularly important against Jeskai.
The instant-speed card draw, removal, and threats make Jeskai very efficient at playing from ahead. But if you have an efficient clock, you force them to produce the correct answers to your threats on curve. If they can’t, they lose.
Speaking of answers…
Sometimes you can and sometimes you can’t play around board sweepers. The trick is knowing when you can afford to take precautions. Here are a couple of things to think about:
Can you interact with the combo? If you can, then it behooves you to play around a wrath. If you can’t interact, then you should consider extending into a potential sweeper. The issue is that when you put a combo deck’s back up against a wall they will have to go for it. You can only bluff removal for so long before you simply need to try and end the game.
Can you beat a Gearhulk? If you take a turn off from playing threats to soften the blow of a potential wrath, you need to be sure that the tempo you give up doesn’t leave you unable to defeat a blue Gearhulk.
The key is to identify not only the things they could have but which ones you can actually beat, and play accordingly.
Golgari Midrange Plan
Golgari Delirium has a stronger game 1 because it is better equipped to interact with Jeskai.
Raindrops on Roses, Transgressing and To the Slaughtering Felidar Guardian Kittens… These are a few of my favorite things.
These cards are valuable because they interact with both Gearhulk and the combo.
“I want to get an alter done with Hedonismbot… wouldn’t that be ‘delightfully absurd?'”
The card always overperforms, which is typically a sign of an underrated card. Gonti’s ETB trigger is better than simply drawing a card as you always get the best of 4 cards. Did you ever wish G/B could play Torrential Gearhulk? Well, here is your chance…
The deathtouch body is also particularly useful. It trades with Gearhulk, Bristling Hydra, and other beefy creatures in combat while generating card advantage.
The key to game 1 is that you actually have the tools to go toe-to-toe with Jeskai when it comes to card advantage. As long as you don’t tap out and randomly die to the combo you should be in good shape.
How I Sideboard Against Jeskai
Sideboarding is the most important decision you make during a match and making smart choices is important.
First, consider whether or not they have the combo. Interactive cards, such as Grasp of Darkness, have a lot of value against the combo but little value otherwise. Also, keep in mind that lists with the combo will often sideboard out some of their combo in order to be less reliant on it. They might have additional threats such as Dragonmaster Outcast or Linvala, the Preserver.
A lost legacy is a losing legacy…
Let me tell you why I don’t play cards like Lost Legacy. Cards that only disrupt the combo and have little utility are a risky proposition because Jeskai Combo decks obviously anticipate that these cards exist and preemptively diversify their plan of attack. Lost Legacy also suffers from the fatal flaw of not being able to take Torrential Gearhulk, which is literally the best card in the Jeskai decks.
The number one thing to anticipate from Jeskai after sideboard is they will have more sweepers. The games become much more about who can outlast the other than beating down or simply comboing off. Golgari has more answers to the combo and better threats and Jeskai has more answers to creatures. Anybody got a Snickers? Because we might be here for a while…
B/G Aggro Versus Jeskai Sideboard Plan
Jeskai is favored in game 1 but after sideboarding it tends to favor Golgari.
The general idea is to become better at slogging through removal while also maximizing interaction with Gearhulk and the combo.
My plan is to present one threat at a time and force them to answer it while also covering my bases with removal. Nobody said it would be easy but I feel comfortable on the B/G side post-board.
B/G Midrange is favored in game 1 and only improves after sideboard.
Much of the Delirium deck is dedicated to answering aggressive decks like B/G Aggro and Vehicles. After sideboard you are able to sub out anti-aggressive cards for leaner, more efficient threats.
“Say what you want about Zombies but they’ve got heart. Well, it’s some guy’s heart and I’m pretty sure they are eating it…”
Relentless Dead is as effective as it is unstoppable against Jeskai Control. In a slow matchup that is about attrition, the Dead are perfect because they simply don’t ever go away. It is cute that they require multiple blockers and that they can chump block a Gearhulk forever. It’s like these Zombies were designed to be totally… Relentless.
Liliana the Last Hope can also mill over and rebuy the Dead which is a nice synergy.
Golgari versus Jeskai is the classic midrange versus control matchup. Control tends to have the upper hand, but there are percentage points to be gained in the trenches. The key is to maintain pressure, grind card advantage, and stay protected from the combo. It is a tall order but with a deck as good as Golgari, it is doable.