I have been playing more than my fair share of Magic Online as of late. While I had originally taken a break from Magic, Dominaria Standard felt fresh enough that I quickly got back into the swing of it. As a result, I was invited onto an RPTQ team, and now I have a good reason to keep jamming games. While I don’t have the quantity of some grinders, I’ve crossed the 100 mark and have nearly 50 matches with a single deck. That’s a feat I can’t remember accomplishing for a long time for Standard.
Over those matches, I compiled a few notes:
B/G Is Rising While Vehicles and Red Trend Downward
You can look at the most recent MOCS or 5-0 deck list dumps for some confirmation of this. Since we can’t see it all, it’s easy to assume that Vehicles is still crushing it and just not showing up because of the multiples rule. But in terms of play, I’ve gone from being locked into playing 2-3 copies of either Red, R/B, or W/B Aggro per League to lower. In the last 45 matchups I’ve played, I’ve come across 12 copies of those decks. Considering a few weeks ago I was averaging around 2.5 Red/X aggro decks per League, this is notable for me.
This may be traced to the G/B decks slowing down and becoming more midrange. They add more removal, and their sideboarding plans turn them into borderline control decks. Between Duress, Doomfall, Vraska’s Contempt, Arguel’s Blood Fast, and even Vraska, Relic Seeker, there are just plenty of ways to get ground out. Sorcerous Spyglass is another card that’s starting to see an uptick across the board as a useful way to shut off Teferi and other obnoxious planeswalkers in these durdle mirrors.
R/B may have been the assumed answer to this style of deck with strong threats and removal, but post-board they just don’t line up as well as the B/G decks do. They also miss the “I Win” button of an unanswered turn-2 Winding Constrictor. That’s actually one of the biggest issues with combo decks in the format. Why bother jumping through hoops and running 3s (power-wise) in your deck when you run a 2-mana enabler with decent stats and a bunch of 6 and 7s instead?
U/W Control Is as Popular Online as in Real Life
The absolute horror show that is clicking through Teferi’s triggers every single turn hasn’t stopped a large contingent of players from picking the deck up. After GP Birmingham, I’ve noticed a decrease Torrential Gearhulk and instead I’m seeing Karn, Approach of the Second Sun, and even just extra Gideons as back-up win conditions. The main win condition of the deck is still to turn the corner with Teferi and run away with the game from there, but the time and annoyance factor have definitely contributed.
If you’re expecting people to bail on this deck due to the skill requirements, forget about it. It turns out that Teferi is a messed up card and the margins for error are larger than they are for U/B Control.
Esper is the Least Agreed-Upon Good Deck
Besides U/W Control, Esper Control is solid and has the mana to function. What it lacks is the cohesion of U/W decks. They feel more like a mish-mash of good cards thrown together than cards working toward a specific plan. The main upside is better planeswalker interaction and the power of The Scarab God in midrange matchups. Figure out what you want to do with your deck and build around that—don’t just throw in random numbers of cards.
Personally, I think The Scarab God and Teferi, Hero of Dominaria, and defending them, is the way to go, but perhaps you disagree. Your deck shouldn’t be jamming BB, WW, UU costs like candy if you expect your mana to function properly. Field of Ruin does not fit in your “really wants to cast Settle the Wreckage on turn 4 off 14 sources” deck. The more cheap interaction to offset tapped lands and avoid double costs, the better.
Alternatively, sideboard or don’t even bother with The Scarab God and focus on Teferi like U/W. Teferi is the best card you’re getting out of this type of pairing for the U/B deck. Now that everyone is playing around Seal Away and Settle, there’s less of a need to lean on the white removal suite in the first place. If you’d rather start with a base-white build, you may want to consider a more midrange build since the black cards support that very well.
A Lot of the Offbeat Decks Are Synergy Decks
If you aren’t sure what your opponent is doing, I’ve found the majority of the time that they’re setting up some sort of combo, whether it’s Baral to enable Karn’s Temporal Sundering, Scrap Trawler for infinite Walking Ballista, or Naban, Dean of Iteration to go deep on Champion of Wits, Merfolk Trickster, and other Wizards. If you’re on the receiving end of this, your goal is to figure out the plan as soon as possible and disrupt it. Don’t even try to play around everything. I’ve tried against the U and U/W Flash-style decks, and it usually isn’t worth it. They gain more from your indecision than the occasional blowout.
What this also means for you is that these decks will often fall apart if you can target their key pieces. You want to aim for the cost reduction or recursion engines and not the threats, typically. Usually, you have time to deal with them or get into a race, whereas if the engine cards stay intact they grind you out of resources. Combos in this format don’t one-shot you—they tend to generate more resources than you can hope to deal with.
Finally, a quick spotlight on two decks I think are well suited for the current metagame and haven’t seen a lot of screen time:
This Gift deck has a very reasonable plan B with all of the explore creatures and Verdurous Gearhulk representing actual threats. All of the creatures in U/R Gift feel mopey, which makes it difficult to play a fair game of Magic without the Warkite Marauder – Walking Ballista combo clearing the way. Multani, Yavimaya’s Avatar is also a cool 5th Gift target that can potentially one-shot people in the midgame and be dredged back normally for long, grindy matchups.
This U/B Midrange is just sleek. It doesn’t mess around with a lot of randomness, it has a bunch of solid value cards, and a good spread of removal. Most importantly, it has the full playset of Push and Contempt, along with main-deck discard via Kitesail Freebooter and Doomfall. While Siphoner isn’t exactly at the apex of its strength right now, Arguel’s Blood Fast is a good swap-in for those matchups where you can’t rely on it. The only thing I miss here is Gifted Aetherborn, which means that we have a minimal amount of life gain. It does lessen the pressure on the mana base though instead of relying on hitting BB by turn 2.
Does anything stand out to you in the Magic Online Leagues? Is it more or less representative of your normal metagame? Let me know in the comments.