Core Set 2020 has set Standard in turmoil and changed the format to its core. The top ranks of Grand Prix Denver looked nothing like what we’ve grown to know and to expect over the past 10 months. For example, not a single Esper deck finished inside the Top 16, no Mono-Red, and no Gruul. The world was shook, but it wasn’t Nissa who did the shaking. This former favorite didn’t find a place in the Top 16 either.
Instead, the Top 8 and the next eight featured 12 decks that didn’t exist before M20, and another two that got major upgrades from the set. So the headlines from the event were spicy enough, but it’s always worthwhile to extend one’s attention past the big attention grabbers. Here’s a breakdown of all decks whose pilots went better than 9-6.
There are a couple of interesting things here. For one thing, while Scapeshift dominated at the highest echelons, the deck only claimed 10% of the ranks 17–65. Both Vampires and Feather, on the other hand, stayed within a one-deck margin of error of maintaining their share perfectly across all of the above tiers.
One Nexus player in second place and one Simic Flash player in 13th place looked promising. But the next 52 ranks included just one additional of either, which gives quite a different impression. In contrast, the previously published results made it easy to underestimate Jeskai Superfriends. The deck had not been on many people’s radar going into the tournament, and one might think of its Top 8 finish as a fluke. In truth though, three Jeskai players placed in the Top 65, which is an astonishing accomplishment for a deck that barely figured into the metagame.
Finally, some decks that were missing from the Top 16 did play a part in the Top 65. Esper Hero, Elementals, Mono-Blue and Mono-Red, Ramp, Dinosaurs, and White Weenie even made a sizeable contribution. One Esper deck without Hero and one Gruul build without Dinosaurs made an appearance too, as did singletons of Steel Leaf Stompy and White-Blue Skies.
A Deep Dive Down Denver’s Deck Database
And Then a Hero Comes Along…
Esper Hero definitely demonstrated the strength to carry on as a relevant metagame factor. Four players finished on 10-5 and one on 10-4-1. All five decks had a number of traits in common, and the top-ranked version took one trait in particular to the extreme.
Anthony Huynh, 36th Place (10-4-1)
4 Drowned Catacomb 4 Glacial Fortress 4 Godless Shrine 4 Hallowed Fountain 4 Isolated Chapel 1 Swamp (339) 1 Temple of Silence 4 Watery Grave 3 Elite Guardmage 4 Hero of Precinct One 3 Hostage Taker 2 Narset, Parter of Veils 4 Teferi, Hero of Dominaria 4 Teferi, Time Raveler 2 Bolas's Citadel 2 Despark 3 Oath of Kaya 4 Thought Erasure 3 Tyrant's Scorn Sideboard 2 Deputy of Detention 1 Despark 2 Dovin's Veto 2 Duress 2 Enter the God-Eternals 2 Kaya's Wrath 2 Noxious Grasp 2 The Elderspell
At least four of the five decks shared all of the following: three Elite Guardmage, four Hero of Precinct One, three Hostage Taker, two Narset, eight Teferi, four Thought Erasure, three Oath of Kaya, three Tyrant’s Scorn, and two Despark.
All five main decks also contained at least one copy of Bolas’s Citadel. The most successful player ran two, while the second and third-most successful had put a single Command the Dreadhorde into this slot. Either way, it clearly proved strong to have some means of converting all the extra life into extra cards.
M20 didn’t do much for Esper. Aside from up two Temple of Silence in main decks, the set’s influence was limited to Noxious Grasp in sideboards.
The Elements Song
The opposite was true for the latest entry into Magic‘s canon of relevant tribes. This archetype was all about M20. One player ended up at 33 points, three more at 30. The basic building blocks of their decks—mostly Leafkin Druid, Omnath, Cavalier of Thorns, Nissa, and Risen Reef—were similar.
Alex Edingfield, 33rd Place, (11-4)
4 Breeding Pool 3 Forest (347) 4 Hinterland Harbor 2 Island (335) 2 Rootbound Crag 4 Steam Vents 4 Stomping Ground 2 Temple of Epiphany 1 Temple of Mystery 4 Cavalier of Thorns 3 Hydroid Krasis 2 Incubation Druid 4 Leafkin Druid 4 Llanowar Elves 4 Omnath, Locus of the Roil 4 Risen Reef 3 Nissa, Who Shakes the World 2 Tamiyo, Collector of Tales 2 Lava Coil 2 Mass Manipulation Sideboard 3 Aether Gust 2 Chandra, Awakened Inferno 3 Fry 3 Negate 1 Shifting Ceratops 3 Veil of Summer
Saxon Sounakhen, 44th Place, (10-5)
4 Breeding Pool 3 Hinterland Harbor 3 Mountain (343) 4 Rootbound Crag 4 Steam Vents 4 Stomping Ground 2 Temple of Mystery 3 Cavalier of Thorns 4 Creeping Trailblazer 3 Hydroid Krasis 4 Leafkin Druid 1 Living Twister 4 Omnath, Locus of the Roil 4 Risen Reef 2 Chandra, Acolyte of Flame 1 Chandra, Awakened Inferno 2 Nissa, Who Shakes the World 4 Lightning Strike 3 Shock Sideboard 3 Aether Gust 2 Disdainful Stroke 4 Fry 2 Ripjaw Raptor 2 Thrashing Brontodon 2 Veil of Summer
It remains unclear which version, if any, is superior. Each put two players into the Top 65. A quick look at the next Elemental decks in line didn’t reveal any trend either, but I didn’t go all the way down the rabbit hole to determine whether it’s correct to take the red or the blue pill.
Famous Blue Raincoat
Three of the top four Mono-Blue Tempo lists were basically the same, featuring full playsets of Merfolk Trickster, Siren Stormtamer, Spectral Sailor, Tempest Djinn, Curious Obsession, Dive Down, and Opt. They also shared three copies of both Wizard’s Retort and Spell Pierce, two copies of both Pteramander and Lookout’s Dispersal, as well as one Unsummon and 20 Island. Yes, this adds up to 59 cards.
The actual top finisher did things a little differently…
Andrew Blackwood, 20th Place (11-4)
4 Drowned Catacomb 12 Island (335) 4 Watery Grave 4 Brineborn Cutthroat 4 Merfolk Trickster 2 Pteramander 4 Siren Stormtamer 4 Spectral Sailor 4 Curious Obsession 2 Dive Down 2 Essence Capture 4 Lookout's Dispersal 1 Negate 2 Spell Pierce 1 Unsummon 2 Wizard's Retort 4 Opt Sideboard 2 Aether Gust 3 Cerulean Drake 2 Entrancing Melody 1 Essence Capture 3 Negate 4 Noxious Grasp
One could argue that this list should not fall under the label Mono-Blue Tempo. But at least the main deck is mono-blue. The main differences are four additional Pirates in Brineborn Cutthroat replacing Tempest Djinn and the logical uptick in Lookout’s Dispersal that follows. More importantly, unlike other decks with Brineborn Cutthroat, this one follows Mono-Blue’s tempo script. As Martin Jůza pointed out, Simic Flash “is not a tempo/aggro deck. You can play a tempo game, but it’s not your main goal.”
A focus on tempo ultimately proved more successful at Grand Prix Denver. Simic Flash had been touted as one of the hottest decks going into the weekend, but it failed to live up to the hype. Flash’s success story ended with one record each of 12-3, 10-5, 9-6, and 8-6-drop. Mono-Blue Tempo had a much better tournament, with three players at 11-4 and another at 10-5.
The Unforgettable Fire
Mono-Red Aggro, on the other hand, didn’t have a great weekend. Sheer numbers ensured a sizeable presence among the Top 65 anyway. In spite of its absence from the Top 16, it would be a mistake to forget about fire when you prepare for your next Standard tournament.
Ari Zax, 26th Place (11-4)
19 Mountain 4 Fanatical Firebrand 4 Ghitu Lavarunner 4 Goblin Chainwhirler 4 Runaway Steam-Kin 4 Viashino Pyromancer 3 Experimental Frenzy 4 Light Up the Stage 4 Lightning Strike 4 Shock 2 Skewer the Critics 4 Wizard's Lightning Sideboard 2 Chandra, Fire Artisan 1 Experimental Frenzy 1 Fry 3 Lava Coil 3 Legion Warboss 1 Mountain (343) 2 Risk Factor 2 Tibalt, Rakish Instigator
The most successful main decks all looked virtually unchanged by M20. One player with Chandra’s Spitfire and Ember Hauler went 9-6, but sticking more closely to the traditional creature configuration yielded better results. However, the three mono-red sideboards that went 10-5 contained a total of three Leyline of Combustion, eight Fry, and five Chandra, Acolyte of Flame.
Some people just want to make the world shake, to ramp as quickly as possible into Nissa and to move on to larger stuff from there. Version with white finished on records of 10-5 and 9-4-1, while the following exact main deck put one player at 11-5 and another at 10-5.
Donald Leigh, 24th Place (11-4)
4 Breeding Pool 9 Forest (347) 4 Hinterland Harbor 6 Island (335) 2 Temple of Mystery 4 Hydroid Krasis 2 Incubation Druid 4 Leafkin Druid 4 Llanowar Elves 4 Paradise Druid 4 Risen Reef 4 Voracious Hydra 4 Nissa, Who Shakes the World 2 Entrancing Melody 3 Mass Manipulation Sideboard 3 Cerulean Drake 2 Disdainful Stroke 2 Entrancing Melody 3 Negate 3 Shifting Ceratops 2 Thrashing Brontodon
Running 39 mana sources always bears the risk of drawing all fuel but no gas tank to fill. Thankfully, a reef has risen to the occasion and helps out with a few extra cards nowadays. M20 also added another Hydra to the mix, which scales just as well with quickly changing mana output as Hydroid Krasis.
So rather than “Simic Steal” you might as well call the above a Hydra deck or an Elemental deck. I prefer Ramp, although it is tempting to name it for its dominant creature type: nearly every fourth card in the deck, including lands, is a Druid.
Walk the Dinosaur
Various Dinosaurs roamed the tournament hall, but Rotting Regisaur reigned supreme. The top finisher, the two Dinosaur players on 30 points, and the one Dinosaur player on 27 all used the following version.
Trevor Andersen, 32nd Place (11-4)
1 Blood Crypt 4 Dragonskull Summit 4 Forest (347) 4 Overgrown Tomb 4 Rootbound Crag 4 Stomping Ground 4 Unclaimed Territory 3 Ghalta, Primal Hunger 4 Marauding Raptor 4 Otepec Huntmaster 4 Regisaur Alpha 4 Ripjaw Raptor 4 Rotting Regisaur 4 Shifting Ceratops 1 Thrashing Brontodon 3 Collision/Colossus 4 Commune with Dinosaurs Sideboard 1 Collision/Colossus 3 Duress 3 Flame Sweep 3 Fry 3 Thrashing Brontodon 2 Veil of Summer
Their main decks differed by a maximum of four nonlands and Rotting Regisaur was not among them. Two-color Dinosaur decks weren’t successful and the most successful Gruul deck stowed its handful of Dinos away in the sideboard.
Steven Steinmark, 64th Place (9-4-1)
9 Forest (347) 7 Mountain (343) 4 Rootbound Crag 4 Stomping Ground 4 Growth-Chamber Guardian 4 Gruul Spellbreaker 4 Llanowar Elves 4 Paradise Druid 4 Rekindling Phoenix 3 Skarrgan Hellkite 3 Domri, Anarch of Bolas 2 Nissa, Who Shakes the World 3 Vivien, Arkbow Ranger 3 Lightning Strike 2 Shock Sideboard 1 Carnage Tyrant 3 Fry 4 Lava Coil 3 Shifting Ceratops 3 Veil of Summer 1 Lightning Strike
All the Leaves Are Brown and the Sky is Gray…
The best version of Steel Leaf Stompy took a darker turn as well. This deck picked up Rotting Regisaur too and now stands alone as the single strategy with an ability to cast Ghalta on turn three.
Lee Marino, 39th Place (10-5)
12 Forest (347) 4 Overgrown Tomb 3 Temple of Malady 4 Woodland Cemetery 4 Barkhide Troll 4 Ghalta, Primal Hunger 4 Growth-Chamber Guardian 2 Kraul Harpooner 4 Llanowar Elves 4 Nullhide Ferox 4 Pelt Collector 4 Rotting Regisaur 4 Steel Leaf Champion 3 Vivien, Arkbow Ranger Sideboard 2 Assassin's Trophy 1 Cavalier of Thorns 4 Duress 1 God-Eternal Rhonas 3 Shifting Ceratops 1 Thrashing Brontodon 3 Veil of Summer
Potentially putting 20 power onto the battlefield by turn three is big news. In other news, there’s the addition of Barkhide Troll and Vivien, Arkbow Ranger. Arguably more important may be Temple of Malady, which gives the deck 11 good plays for the first turn and allows access, in addition to the Regisaur, to valuable sideboard tools.
Rounding out the rundown of new technology is a deck that employs 28 cards from M20 between main and side. The skies are the limit, and they’re really white and blue.
Jason Tams, 19th Place (11-4)
4 Glacial Fortress 4 Hallowed Fountain 6 Island (335) 7 Plains (331) 3 Empyrean Eagle 4 Faerie Miscreant 4 Healer's Hawk 4 Rustwing Falcon 4 Sephara, Sky's Blade 4 Spectral Sailor 2 Tomik, Distinguished Advokist 2 Warkite Marauder 2 Teferi, Time Raveler 4 Depose/Deploy 3 Favorable Winds 1 Rally of Wings 2 Winged Words Sideboard 2 Aether Gust 1 Ajani, Adversary of Tyrants 1 Baffling End 3 Cerulean Drake 2 Devout Decree 2 Hanged Executioner 2 Mu Yanling, Sky Dancer 2 Teferi, Time Raveler
You can find all 65 of the Top 65 lists on this Google sheet. You will also be able to find the event’s full metagame breakdown as well as every archetype’s win rate in my next article.