I’ll be the first to admit that I was pretty bearish on the Standard format last week. I went into Grand Prix Brussels without high hopes for a format that feels, in many ways, played out and thoroughly explored. Well, I’ve called the waiter over to my table and ordered a piping hot bowl of my own words, which I now have no choice but to eat.
GP Brussels showed us just how much dynamism remains in Standard, and while Goblin Chainwhirler decks still run the show, they are now being meaningfully challenged by decks old and new alike. The Top 8 saw three Esper lists, two Sultai concoctions, and Turbo Fog go up against two different Chainwhirler decks, so it seems like Standard has some surprises left up its sleeve!
The Top 8 had some of the biggest names you’re likely to see. Not only was there Alexander Gordon-Brown, with 20 letters, there was also Nils Gutiérrez von Porat, whose 24-letter name just edged out Panagiotis Papadopoulos on 23. In addition to these big names, there were also some famous Magic players, with the French Hall-of-Famer and control master Guillaume Wafo-Tapa losing an epic quarterfinal to the eventual champion, PT Theros winner Jeremy Dezani.
— Magic Pro Tour (@magicprotour) August 12, 2018
It’s the second Gideon’s Intervention that’ll really get you:
I’m not sure that Autumn Burchett’s attempt to rename the deck will necessarily catch on:
— Autumn Burchett (@AutumnLilyMTG) August 12, 2018
Jeremy Dezani vanquishes Guillaume Wafo-Tapa with a spectacularly huge stack battle:
Frank Karsten live-tweeted every single bit of the action from this hour-long quarterfinal, which only took a single tweet:
(Frank) #GPBrussels quarterfinals update: Game 1 of the Esper Control mirror between the two Pro Tour champions is still going on, but life totals have changed to 22-22. https://t.co/glt0Vc0v0l pic.twitter.com/rRm5tLxS63
— Magic Pro Tour (@magicprotour) August 12, 2018
Giordano Fagiolo snaps off a clutch Insult // Injury to steal the semis against Turbo Fog’s perfect start:
Despite Turbo Fog being the talk of the town, and despite Esper Control putting up huge numbers in the Top 8, undoubtedly the sweetest decks to emerge from the tournament were the two Sultai lists to also make it through to Sunday evening. We’ve seen God-Pharaoh’s Gift strategies in the past, and Nils Gutiérrez on Porat ported it exceptionally well to the Sultai colors.
It was Alexander Gordon-Brown, however, who stole our hearts with his Sultai Midrange list. In the grand tradition of Sultai mages around the world, Gordon-Brown presumably assembled the deck by turning his trade binder upside down and shaking it until enough blue, black, and green cards fell out. Here is this season’s version of Sultai “Cards I Own”!
Sultai Trade Binder
Alexander Gordon-Brown, Top 8 at GP Brussels 2018
A quick look across this deck reveals that, at its core, it’s essentially a green deck with a double-splash for The Scarab God and Hostage Taker. There’s good reason for this—despite the fact that The Scarab God is no longer the undisputed heavyweight champion of the Standard format, it still doesn’t compromise on power level and more or less every creature in this deck synergizes well with its activated ability.
Whether you’re bringing back explore creatures or Hostage Taker, these late-game plays generate enormous value, with Hostage Taker lining up particularly well against red threats like Hazoret and Rekindling Phoenix. Additionally, the Wildgrowth Walkers can be truly bonkers against aggressive strategies, gaining a ton of life as well as putting a respectable blocker in the way of cheap beaters.
Overall, this deck attacks from an altogether new angle and contains some very exciting technology that may influence Standard’s development in the coming weeks. Sultai decks in Brussels challenged the idea that the Standard metagame is solved, and Gordon-Brown’s Top 8 performance demonstrated that these lists have what it takes.
This weekend, there was a significant challenge to the established wisdom that Black-Red Chainwhirler decks are untouchable in today’s Standard format. That’s not to say that the whirly boi is on his way out—far from it—but it at least proves that there is a little more wriggle room than many (myself included) anticipated. While Black-Red remains a force to be reckoned with, its comparatively mediocre results this weekend augur well for the health of the format.
Turbo Fog did a great job in containing aggressive red decks, being more or less custom-built to crush them. The format is beginning to adapt, however, with Insult // Injury seeing plenty of sideboard play. Turbo Fog’s Day 2 conversion rate suggested that it was tremendously well-positioned this weekend, and it could be here to stay. Irrespective of which deck you choose to rumble with in Standard, ensure that you have a plan to beat Turbo Fog.
White-Blue Control was the control deck of choice for Standard mages, relying heavily on enchantment-based removal to keep pace with the format’s aggressive decks. This weekend, Esper reigned supreme, and those decks weren’t white-blue lists with a black splash. Quite the opposite, in fact—they were blue-black decks splashing for Teferi.
Why is this important? Playing base-black instead of base-white means that you necessarily move away from enchantments such as Seal Away and Cast Out, and instead play answers such as Fatal Push and Vraska’s Contempt. This, in turn, allows Torrential Gearhulk to get off the bench and start doing its best work. Throughout the weekend, there was a strong correlation between the number of games won and the number of Vraska’s Contempts cast.
We’ve got a Standard double-header next weekend, with GPs being held in both Providence and Los Angeles. I’ll be back next week to bring you up to speed!