This week, I want to cover what I learned about the post-ban Standard format. I ended up skipping Grand Prix Vegas due to some unforeseen circumstances, and as a result I had a lot of time to play Magic Online. Since post-ban Standard had no clear, dominant deck, I figured I could get an early idea of where the format is headed. Here are some of my thoughts after 11 Leagues.
General Format Thoughts
Lessons I’ve Learned
- Zombies, Mardu, Temur Energy, and G/B Energy are the go-to decks.
- Mardu took a hidden hit from the ban.
- Early removal is strong again: Fatal Push, Harnessed Lightning, Grasp of Darkness, and Cut // Ribbons kill nearly everything on turn 2.
- Gideon, Ally of Zendikar has quickly been surpassed in numbers and impact by Chandra, Torch of Defiance.
- The majority of decks are centered around having a strong turn 2 and a strong turn 5. Decks that can consistently break out of that setup excel.
One thing to note is that while Mardu is still very good, it is soft to go-wide strategies. Currently, Zombies and the new W/W deck both go wide effectively and can be difficult to beat even with Fumigate. Temur Energy can also work around your aggression well and clear out your best creatures via Glorybringer and Harnessed Lightning. As the Temur lists tighten up, the window through which you can force through damage gets smaller and smaller.
Normally, this would be when you unleash the planeswalker sideboard plan and make them go home and rethink their life decisions. Unfortunately, that isn’t really true on this go-around—the shift toward mass removal arguably makes you worse against Zombies because of how resilient the deck is. Temur loads up on Negate and you can’t touch Skysovereign, which is the most obnoxious card they have in their deck against your board plan.
I found myself wanting to jam some Painful Truths and a few Chandra, and ignore the rest. Staying aggressive with the ability to refill against extra removal usually accomplishes just as much as the entire Fumigate package. In fact, the only place where it feels like a game changer is against G/B Delirium/Energy where they can’t effectively play around Fumigate and where your Toolcraft Exemplar and Veteran Motorist are frequently worthless.
Speaking of bad 1-drops, Standard has a weird tempo. On one hand, the decks that get really powerful 1-drops are almost default playable because you gain a big tempo edge on decks that don’t have them. On the flip side, there are so few of these drops that you can still afford to take turn 1 off for a tapped land or Attune with Aether, and not feel bad about it most of the time. Turn 2 is when you really get punished for not interacting with your opponent.
Here’s a short list of cards that can snowball a game out of your reach on turn 2:
Then there are plenty of 2-drops that can aggressively pressure you, but aren’t quite as scary as the above—your Scrapheap Scroungers and the like. Leaving a mana dork alive to pump out a turn-3 Chandra and turn-4 Glorybringer is game-losing, full stop. Maybe you happen to have answers that line up perfectly, but odds are that you’ll still be trading 1-for-1 at the very best and not developing at all. Longtusk Cub effectively asks you if you can kill or block before turn 3. If not, it isn’t uncommon to see Cub become a 5/5 or bigger and define the rest of the game. At that point, if you aren’t a Fatal Push deck, you’ve probably lost.
This is why Cut // Ribbons has been creeping back into the fold—you really want to be able to kill these scary 2-drops on the draw. You also want cards that aren’t dead later in the game, especially if you plan on pairing your secondary removal spell with Fatal Push or Magma Spray. Push still holds value reasonably well, but you only get 4 and it still can’t touch a Glorybringer. Meanwhile, Cut takes down most creatures for only 2 mana, and in a deck like Temur without a good, big removal spell, Cut is the best you’ve got.
4 also happens to be the magic number for toughness in this format, as in everything with 4 toughness or less dies a heck of a lot easier than 5 toughness. Why? Cut, Chandra -3, Glorybringer, Grasp of Darkness, Walking Ballista, Dark Salvation, Harnessed Lightning, and so on. Even the scalable removal spells start to hit limits if you want to play them on turn 4 or 5 to try to kill something like a Verdurous Gearhulk, Aethersphere Harvester, or a Winding Constrictor with a pair of +1/+1 counters on it from Rishkar.
Even in blocking situations, things aren’t as clear-cut because of Blossoming Defense. The same goes for getting your creature cleaned up “for free” because of a second main phase Skysovereign or Walking Ballista. Having reliable ways to take care of creatures the turn after they hit the table is just far less risky than all your alternatives.
What I’ve Been Playing
My League records (Magic Online Leagues are 5 Swiss rounds, 3-2 or better is prize. F denotes Friendly League—the rest are Competitive)
0-3, 4-1 (F), 3-2
Temur Energy was one of the harder decks for me to get used to playing with because I wasn’t sure when to go aggressive vs. hold up countermagic and it cost me a bunch of winnable games. The same was true of determining when to bring in Radiant Flames—once I got more aggressive with setting up my board clears, I started winning more against Mardu and Zombies. It also gives you a backdoor out against Abzan or B/W Tokens with Procession, which can otherwise make a board that’s near impossible to fight through.
I will say that having so many dual-role cards is a big selling point for this deck and I can see why it has flooded Magic Online (besides the low cost). Cards like Rogue Refiner and Glorybringer are often good on offense or defense and your sideboard options can cover everything in the format. My main contribution to the deck was to add Cut // Ribbons as an additional way to deal with opposing 2-drops and occasionally backdoor a win via aftermath. If I ever decide to add a few more lands to the deck, I can easily see stretching to 4 colors and playing Painful Truths.
4-1 (F), 4-1
This deck was a lot easier to battle with than the one above. I started off with the Jund Gods deck Patrick Dickmann played at PT Amonkhet and eventually moved off the Gods, which freed me from a number of restrictions. My second realization was that, more often than not, I wanted a cheaper removal spell alongside Fatal Push, so I swapped out nearly all the Disintegrations for Cuts. The fact that you get the most out of the back half as any deck can, in this format, helps justify that swap.
My most recent build added Painful Truths as a way to keep the pressure on against opposing midrange decks and recover from trading early. Post-board, it allows you to go up to the full 12 spot removal spells (and possibly Radiant Flames) and not just run out of gas with all these 1-for-1 trades.
3-2, 4-1, 3-2
Not much to say here—I was less impressed with Mardu than I expected to be. I blame the ubiquity of Fatal Push and the fact that artifact hate hasn’t really decreased. By no means is Mardu Vehicles bad, but it is straightforward and easy to counter if you’ve put any time into your deck. Plus, the amount of Glory being brought to the table makes Gideon significantly worse than he once was. You could play more Archangel Avacyn to help defend and have more game against Zombies, but I’ve seen few people attempt that tack.
It doesn’t help that everyone online has learned to trade early and often with Toolcraft Exemplar or Scrapheap Scrounger. Maybe I’m just unlucky, but the amount of free damage I’ve gotten to sneak in over the past week has been the lowest since the deck has existed. Still, the deck is good at pressuring people, and Toolcraft Exemplar into an artifact is the the largest source of free wins in the format.
The #1 point of contention about my current build is the decrease in the number of Unlicensed Disintegration. Just to be clear, I did have the full set for the first couple of Leagues, and I know the 5-0 lists have them. But I frequently wanted a cheaper removal spell in many of the games I lost, and killing Glorybringer at instant speed only happens when you’re way ahead. Part of it can also be the amount of B/G and Temur Energy I run into—2 matchups where Disintegration is worse than Cut.
Now that we’ve had a full week of results to look over, we should have a much clearer idea of just how good some of these decks are when they don’t have to compete with the juggernaut that was Aetherworks Marvel.