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The Standard Metagame and Tier List

Today we’ll be covering the current FRF Standard metagame. Fate Reforged has been one of the most impactful small sets in recent memory, and it has contributed to a very exciting and dynamic Standard format. Unlike the previous Standard format where you could pick one of the top three decks (Black Devotion, Blue Devotion, and UW/x Control) and stick with it, this format has been one of constant flux. As a metagamer, I have personally loved this as I think picking the right deck each week is of huge importance.

Methodology

For this analysis, I am defining “top-finishing deck” as finishing in the top 5% of tournaments with 129+ players (8 rounds or more). This methodology means that we are looking at a winner’s metagame, not necessarily a complete metagame. In general, I look at the deck and ask if the general philosophy is to play a controlling game or an aggressive game and then place it in its appropriate category. There are decks that are more “midrange” in scope and can play both aggro and control roles, but I decided to stick to aggro, control, and combo categorizations to keep things simple. The percentages are the number of top decks in the archetype divided by the total number of top-finishing decks.

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Here are the top-performing decks since the release of Fate Reforged:

1. RW Aggro (16.9%)
2. Abzan Aggro (14.6%)
3. Abzan Control* (10.3%)
4. GR Aggro (6.6%)
5. UB Control (5.6%)
6. Jeskai Tempo (5.2%)
7. Jeskai Tokens (4.7%)
8. Sultai Control (4.2%)

*Abzan Midrange with MD End Hostilities and no Sylvan Caryatids.

These 8 decks each have at least a 4% share of the winner’s metagame. In total, they make up 68% of the winner’s metagame. There is one notable absence from this list: I think it’s pretty clear from the results of this past weekend that GR Devotion with Whisperwood Elemental is a top-tier deck, but it just hasn’t had the time to take over yet.

Now, on to the top decks and my thoughts on each.

Tier 1

RW Aggro (16.9%)

RW Aggro was secretly one of the top decks before the release of Fate Reforged, and I know of at least three people who won PTQs in the very last weeks of Khans Standard with RW Aggro. The deck is brutally efficient. Chained to the Rocks is the most efficient removal spell in Standard, and only the configuration of the Khans fetchlands has stopped its adaptation in more decks. Decks like Jeskai will play Flooded Strand, and there simply isn’t a way to fit enough Mountains into the deck for Chained to the Rocks to be a viable option. It will be very interesting to see if the Zendikar fetches arrive in Dragons of Tarkir.

RW Aggro also sports a great curve of Seeker of the Way, Goblin Rabblemaster, and Stormbreath Dragon. There are versions that trade Stormbreath Dragon for something like Monastery Mentor, but the card is simply so good at killing the opponent that I think Dragon is the right call. Out of the commonly maindecked removal spells, Stoke the Flames and Hero’s Downfall are the only ones that kill it. Finally, Outpost Siege is an excellent card versus the control decks that RW Aggro struggles against. Dragons or Khans are both viable options, and the fact that the card isn’t dead in multiples makes it more appealing than Chandra, Pyromaster.

I would consider RW Aggro to be favored against most Abzan decks, unfavored against the hard control decks, and about even versus the rest of the field. This is mainly due to the fact that a lot of the metagame has adjusted with cards like Erase, Abzan Advantage, and Drown in Sorrow as efficient answers to RW. All of that being said, RW has the best nut draw out of any aggro deck in the format, and Goblin Rabblemaster always demands an immediate answer.

Abzan Aggro (14.6%)

This deck was the known top deck pre-rotation, and it has only fallen to the #2 slot due to an unfavorable matchup against RW Aggro. Abzan Aggro also has an excellent nut draw, with its main issue being the terrible mana base. The deck wants all of its mana colors early and late, and it also doesn’t love the enters-the-battlefield-tapped lands as its most unbeatable draws involve curving out. Ultimately, Abzan Aggro is a deck with very high power level but a relatively high degree of inconsistency.

Overall, the metagame has mostly adjusted to Abzan Aggro, with other decks like Abzan Control playing maindeck wraths and a rise in UB Control. It is definitely still a strong choice going forward, as it has access to Thoughtseize which can neuter any opponents who were counting on any single sideboard card to win. I would say that Abzan Aggro is favored against Jeskai decks and slightly unfavored against the control decks of the format.

Abzan Control (10.3%)

Most of the Abzan Midrange decks of old have been replaced with Abzan Control lists that play a creature suite of Courser of Kruphix, Siege Rhino, and Tasigur, the Golden Banana Man. This allows the deck to maindeck End Hostilities and have a good reset button against decks like Abzan Aggro and RW Aggro. The deck also plays Read the Bones and Abzan Charm to give it game against the hard control decks, and overall it is a very solid choice.

I would say that it probably has the closest matchups out of any deck in the format, and doesn’t have any intrinsic free wins. But it has an excellent sideboard and tools like Drown in Sorrow and Ugin, the Spirit Dragon to beat any decks trying to go under or over it. I would recommend the deck to anybody confident in their own playskill as well as deckbuilding skill, as having the right 75 for a tournament with a deck like this definitely gives you a great shot at success.

GR Devotion (3.3%)

While GR Devotion only holds a small metagame share, I am going to go out on a limb and place it in Tier 1, based on its results at SCG Houston, GP Seville, and SCG Regionals Orlando. The inclusion of Whisperwood Elemental has mitigated one of its major weaknesses: wraths. Furthermore, an active Whisperwood Elemental even gives GR Devotion a chance to beat Ugin, the Spirit Dragon as all of the manifests are colorless.

I don’t have very much experience with the archetype, but I believe it should be favored against the other aggro/midrange decks and unfavored against Jeskai Aggro, UW Heroic, and hard control. Whisperwood Elemental and Nissa, Worldwaker do help against control, while Arbor Colossus helps against Mantis Rider, so I think Devotion definitely has a game plan against its weaker matchups while being favored across the board against many of the aggro decks. What I found particularly amusing was Tannon Grace’s inclusion of Briber’s Purse to beat UW Heroic. Gotta get there somehow, I guess.

Tier 2

GR Aggro (6.6%)

The other GR deck that has been slipping under the radar, GR Aggro has also been a strong choice for the past few months. The deck comes out blazingly fast with a possible curve of Elvish Mystic into turn 2 Goblin Rabblemaster, and keeps the opponent on the back foot with cards like Fanatic of Xenagos. Yet another one of the “nut draw” aggro decks, I would say this one is even more all-in on the “get ‘em dead” plan. While playing Elvish Mystic increases the speed and gives it an edge against other aggro/midrange decks, it definitely makes the deck softer to cards like Drown in Sorrow.

On the other hand, it is probably half a turn faster than the other aggro decks and very consistent as well. In many ways, I think of GR aggro as the most aggressive option and it has traditionally been favored against control decks because they play from the back foot. I know GR Devotion is definitely a bad matchup, but as to other bad matchups, it’s much harder for me to say and I would be interested in hearing back in the comments if you have experience with the deck.

UB Control (5.6%)

Crux of Fate definitely drew a lot of hype before it was released, and I think it will further prove itself in short order. UB Control ended up winning GP Seville, and I definitely think of it as a top contender going forward. You may have noticed that in all of my previous discussions of decks, control came up as one deck they did not want to face. Overall, control has a great game 1 versus most of the aggro decks because it simply doesn’t have any dead cards. Backed up with two different ways to wrath the board (Crux of Fate and Perilous Vault) as well as incidental life gain from Radiant Fountain and Dismal Backwater, UB Control is a very scary deck to face.

The deck’s major weakness is that it is a control deck at heart, and will lose if it either stumbles on mana or simply doesn’t have the right answer at a given time. Both of these things are relatively unlikely to happen and a lot of this will come down to deck design as the control player needs to decide which answers and threats to pack each week.

Jeskai Tempo (5.2%)

This deck has mostly fallen off the radar, but it could easily pick back up again if Siege Rhino sees a downtick due to GR Devotion. This is one of the few aggro decks that is favored against control, mainly because it can back its cheap threats up with burn and countermagic to close out games. I would consider Jeskai Tempo to be a deck to beat the level 1 best decks, and I might recommend it for a GP or an Open, but probably not for something like a PPTQ just yet. Siege Rhino is just too much of a beating, and it’s not a consistent strategy to rely on cards like Disdainful Stroke when your opponent is packing Thoughtseize.

On the other hand, Martin Juza did make Top 8 of Seville with a Jeskai Tempo deck packing Stormbreath Dragons. Abzan definitely has trouble dealing with the Dragon, so it’s possible that the matchup is a bit closer than I thought.

Jeskai Tokens (4.7%)

Tokens has been a fine choice, but definitely lost a lot of its surprise value following Watanabe’s finish at the World Championships. Most decks play cards like Drown in Sorrow, Arc Lightning, or even Scouring Sands now, so Hordeling Outburst is not quite the threat it once was. Furthermore, people are playing plenty of enchantment hate (sometimes even maindeck Reclamation Sage or Abzan Advantage), so it’s not clear relying on a powerful enchantment is where you want to be.

Furthermore, the aggressive Standard decks have gotten very good at punishing their opponents for playing a 3-mana do-nothing on the turn it comes into play. The advantage of playing Tokens is that it is decently good at surviving the early game, and you also have a very strong midgame if you can keep your Ascendancy active. All-in-all though, I would probably avoid Tokens unless something makes Drown in Sorrow less popular.

Sultai Control (4.2%)

Also known as the GFabs special, Sultai Control is a very similar deck to UB Control, but relies on Satyr Wayfinder to bridge the gap to the midgame as well as fuel delve spells like Dig Through Time and Murderous Cut. It also gets to play Kiora, the Crashing Wave which is an excellent card against decks like Abzan. Garruk, Apex Predator is also an interesting inclusion and the ability to swat other planeswalkers makes it a mirror-breaker against other slower decks. Overall though, the philosophy of the deck is very similar to UB Control and it has very similar matchups.

I would probably prefer Sultai Control to UB Control as Sultai Charm is an extremely versatile card right now, the Disenchant mode is particularly relevant. Sultai Control also has a better sideboard than UB Control, though I don’t know if I can stop wincing at seeing cards like Feed the Clan or Rakshasa’s Secret in there.

Looking Ahead

As I mentioned before, I think metagaming is more important in this Standard format than in the previous RTR-block Standard. I’m definitely no expert on the format, but I think having a plan against what you perceive to be the top-tier decks, as well as against any holes your own deck has, will be important. Here is a rough chart that I made for match-up analysis, with educated guesses on the match-ups that I am unsure of.

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A couple big caveats: a lot of these are educated guesses, and some of these matchups might be very close. What you have in your sideboard will make a huge difference against decks like RDW and UW Heroic, as well as making the correct plays. I think a large degree of skill in Standard lies in actually playing out the matches, and if you don’t think you are making any mistakes, I would suggest playtesting with a friend with someone watching you because I’ve found this format to be as challenging to play out as Legacy.

As always, let me know what you thought in the comments below.

Bob

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