With the Mythic Championship being Modern, the Standard metagame didn’t evolve as it usually does. While the Pro Tour normally sets the standard for how the metagame progresses, this time it was slow, unclear, and uncertain. That may sound like a bad thing, but I love it. It magnifies the feeling of testing weird ideas on your own, slowly treading through the metagame to find your footing. I wasn’t really sure what would show up at the first “real event”—the SCG Circuit. Sure, we’d see some Nexus of Fate, Red Deck Wins, Sultai, and Esper decks—the usual suspects. But how? How would they be configured, and what else would show up?
A whole lot. There were tons of sweet decks, and the ones that did well clearly understood what the metagame would look like (Nexus of Fate decks). Nexus of Fate truly gained something great in Tamiyo, Collector of Scrolls, a jack-of-all-trades for the archetype. With her, you barely have to play a reasonable win-con. A simple Callous Dismissal may be enough. She finds your combo pieces and regrows important spells in the matchup. In testing, I won against multiple aggressive decks by rebuying a Root Snare with 6 mana, fogged for the turn, untapped, and won.
Tony Norton at SCG Columbus
6 Forest 6 Island 3 Memorial to Genius 4 Hinterland Harbor 2 Blast Zone 4 Breeding Pool 4 Growth Spiral 4 Chemister's Insight 1 Callous Dismissal 2 Blink of an Eye 4 Wilderness Reclamation 3 Tamiyo, Collector of Tales 1 Sinister Sabotage 3 Search for Azcanta/Azcanta, the Sunken Ruin 4 Root Snare 4 Nexus of Fate - Foil - Buy-a-Box Promo 1 Narset, Parter of Veils 4 Opt Sideboard 3 Negate 1 Narset's Reversal 2 Murmuring Mystic 2 Kraul Harpooner 2 Crushing Canopy 2 Biogenic Ooze 3 Arboreal Grazer
Together with Blast Zone, Tamiyo put Nexus Reclamation on a new power level and it showed online, as it was spreading like a plague as a tier 1 deck of the metagame and great at preying on brews. This deck is definitely the bad guy. But there are remedies for this kind of plague and it clearly showed in the Top 8 of SCG Columbus, with no Nexus Reclamation decks present.
The Natural Medicine
First off, there are the decks that are naturally good against Nexus due to their game plan. Well, the deck in the Top 8 was Red Deck Wins.
Red Deck Wins
Will Pulliam, SCG Columbus
20 Mountain 4 Goblin Chainwhirler 4 Ghitu Lavarunner 4 Fanatical Firebrand 4 Viashino Pyromancer 4 Runaway Steam-Kin 4 Chandra, Fire Artisan 2 Wizard's Lightning 2 Skewer the Critics 4 Shock 4 Lightning Strike 4 Light Up the Stage Sideboard 2 Tibalt, Rakish Instigator 3 Risk Factor 2 Rekindling Phoenix 2 Legion Warboss 4 Lava Coil 2 Dire Fleet Daredevil
RDW doesn’t play any specific cards to beat Nexus, but simply doesn’t care about their game plan and goes under them. And it works. Wonderfully, actually. Nothing much has changed in RDW except for two new role-players. The biggest is Chandra, Fire Artisan.
Chandra, Fire Artisan might not have been given a lot of love early, mostly because people couldn’t help but compare it to Chandra, Torch of Defiance. Sure, she isn’t better in a vacuum than her previous iteration, but who cares about how good things are in a vacuum anyway? In Magic, it’s all in the context. With the context being trying to burn your opponent out, Chandra, Fire Artisan will rarely disappoint thanks to her triggered ability.
“Whenever one or more loyalty counters are removed from Chandra, Fire Artisan, she deals that much damage to target opponent or planeswalker.”
Going up to 5 loyalty immediately is the real deal. If your opponent deals with her in natural ways and doesn’t have access to cards like Vraska’s Contempt, she deals at least 5 damage to your opponent. That’s a Lava Axe for 4 mana, which is not a great deal. But when that 4 mana also involves drawing two cards a turn for a few turns and that turns into a YouTube-clip-level Experimental Frenzy turn when ultimating, then you’re talking.
Chandra also isn’t an enchantment, toward which the metagame has grown increasingly hostile. There’s Mortify, Vivien Reid, Knight of Autumn, and more. They’ve become a rather natural inclusion, since there are great targets in most matchups, whether it’s Search for Azcanta or Wilderness Reclamation. Planeswalkers are more at risk of getting pressured by creatures, but with Chandra’s triggered ability, you don’t really care. It’s great, because that gives you functional life while dealing damage to them, making it easier for you to find time to burn your opponent out. If you have some board presence yourself, it will take even more than 5 power’s worth of creatures to try to bring her down. Think of it as a large Lightning Helix your opponent kills in combat.
The second, smaller role-player is Tibalt, Rakish Instigator. There’s tons of incidental life gain in Standard and none of it interacts well with Tibalt, except for Vraska’s Contempt. Suddenly, you don’t have to play around Absorb in the same way and you can attack right through a Lyra Dawnbringer. I’m not sure how great it is versus Sultai, as Wildgrowth Walker becoming large is part of the problem, but not having them gain that life from both Wildgrowth Walker and Hydroid Krasis sure is nice and there hasn’t really been anything like it in Standard for a while.
The Targeted Vaccine
Next we have Esper Control, which is here to stay. At first, I thought Esper would have a rougher time in a metagame with tons of new planeswalkers, but the deck got a few really good tools on its own. Esper beats down on Nexus Reclamation, especially post-board when it doesn’t have any dead cards. It does this with some really powerful weapons in Narset, Parter of Veils, Teferi, Time Raveler, and Thief of Sanity.
Zach Allen, SCG Columbus
1 Swamp 1 Island 4 Watery Grave 4 Glacial Fortress 4 Drowned Catacomb 4 Godless Shrine 4 Isolated Chapel 4 Hallowed Fountain 4 Vraska's Contempt 2 Tyrant's Scorn 4 Thought Erasure 4 Teferi, Hero of Dominaria 2 Search for Azcanta/Azcanta, the Sunken Ruin 2 Narset, Parter of Veils 2 Mortify 2 Moment of Craving 1 Liliana, Dreadhorde General 3 Kaya's Wrath 2 Dovin's Veto 2 Chemister's Insight 4 Absorb Sideboard 1 Ugin, the Ineffable 3 Thief of Sanity 2 Teferi, Time Raveler 1 Oath of Kaya 1 Enter the God-Eternals 3 Duress 1 Despark 2 Cry of the Carnarium 1 Moment of Craving
The planeswalkers themselves don’t let the Nexus player even play their game plan, especially Teferi, Time Raveler. It shuts down Wilderness Reclamation completely outside of getting another Azcanta, the Sunken Ruin activation and shuts down counterspells, which is… well, pretty good in the control mirror. Having access to black and 6-7 discard spells post-sideboard, alongside a horde of game-winning 3-mana cards makes Esper quite favored. Just make sure you’re ready for creatures such as Biogenic Ooze, Hydroid Krasis, and Carnage Tyrant so you don’t get cheesed out. I’d advise you to keep a few Vraska’s Contempt and Mortify, and consider adding The Eldest Reborn if you find room for it, as they are powerful and flexible with other targets against the deck as well.
The Wonder Cure
Lastly, we have Bant Midrange, a deck I’ve been sporting a bit myself as of late after deciding to play something else other than Esper Control. I love playing this deck. It’s a real nightmare for Nexus Reclamation, so if you really wish to beat it, here’s where I’d start.
Harlan Firer, SCG Columbus
3 Forest 2 Glacial Fortress 3 Sunpetal Grove 4 Hallowed Fountain 4 Temple Garden 4 Breeding Pool 4 Hinterland Harbor 4 Hydroid Krasis 4 Frilled Mystic 4 Incubation Druid 4 Growth-Chamber Guardian 2 Deputy of Detention 4 Llanowar Elves 3 God-Eternal Oketra 2 Knight of Autumn 2 Shalai, Voice of Plenty 3 Teferi, Time Raveler 4 Vivien, Champion of the Wilds Sideboard 3 Baffling End 2 Disdainful Stroke 2 Dovin's Veto 2 Lyra Dawnbringer 2 Time Wipe 2 Vivien Reid 1 Deputy of Detention 1 Knight of Autumn
Bant Midrange/flash possesses all the elements that scare Nexus Reclamation players. It does what RDW does—puts pressure on the Nexus player—though not as quickly. Still, it’s definitely enough. Secondly, it plays the type of cards that wreck their game plan, especially talking about Teferi, Time Raveler, playing as many as three copies in the main deck. Playing against this card and not having infinite time to try to find a Blast Zone to blow it up or one of your few Blink of an Eye to then combo off the same turn is rough.
The idea behind the deck is to play cards that make Frilled Mystic as good as possible against slower decks, as well as God-Eternal Oketra against creature decks. Frilled Mystic is fantastic with either pressure or everything in your deck having flash because it becomes harder to play around. This deck has both, and the body is relevant since you’re playing God-Eternal Oketra and Vivien, Champion of the Wilds. But it doesn’t stop there. Bant Midrange takes it to the next level together with its two other partners in crime, Teferi, Time Raveler and Vivien, Champion of the Wilds.
Teferi, Time Raveler’s static ability makes it so your opponent can only play at sorcery speed, which means that it becomes increasingly difficult to play around Frilled Mystic, as you often try to bait it at the end of your opponent’s turn, then untap to play something powerful. Not only does Teferi do that, but Teferi’s bounce ability helps it in two ways. First, it bounces something, and remember, something they can only play again at sorcery speed, so you can counter it with Frilled Mystic. Second, it can bounce Frilled Mystic itself, and since the static ability is in play, they can’t answer this by killing the Mystic in response.
Vivien, Champion of the Wilds, the main reason this deck ticks, is also fantastic with Frilled Mystic. First, it makes it harder to play around with its static ability, similar to Teferi, but here, it means you can’t punish the Bant player for holding up mana by not playing anything with Vivien in play. If that happens, the Bant player can simply add more pressure to the board, as everything has flash. The second reason is kind of simple, which is that Vivien makes it easier to find more Frilled Mystics.
What Should You Play?
There’s still tons to discover in the new metagame. There are still decks that haven’t been discovered and powerful cards that haven’t found a home yet. There are decks that fall outside the scope this time, but I also hear that White Weenie with some help from Teferi, Time Raveler is doing well online, so old, improved archetypes definitely have game. Personally, I’m a big fan of Bant Midrange, or Bant Flash as I like to call it, since it really punishes slower decks. If I can find a way to tune it more against Red Deck Wins without sacrificing too much, I’ll be really happy to continue playing it. Whether it be some Angel package or Jadelight Ranger in the main deck and explore package in the sideboard, I’m not sure. Do you have a suggestion? Either way, I think being proactive is pretty good in an open, powerful metagame full of planeswalkers and combo.
What have you been liking in the format so far, and is there a deck or card you believe to be good that hasn’t been good enough just yet? Do tell!