A lot happened at Mythic Championship (Cleveland, #1, other hashtags) and Autumn Burchett took it down with Mono-Blue Tempo. If you haven’t taken the time to go watch some of the Top 8 matches and especially the finals I highly recommend doing so if you want to get better with Mono-Blue. Or if you just want to watch some really solid Magic being played by all involved. Looking down on the format as a whole, we can gather some juicy tidbits from the overall Standard results.
Sultai was, and still is, overrated. It depends on hitting multiple key cards after playing an interactive early game. In the hands of top players with practice and good sideboards it may be a respectable choice, but for most of the field you probably could have picked any other deck and done just as well. Wildgrowth Explorer is bad after turn 2 and against half the top decks, but it’s hard to justify cutting the card that gives you free wins against aggressive decks.
This is why we still have not decided on an optimal core for the deck. Players are still trying to make up for the fact that Sultai has nearly no “I win” draws like Simic Nexus and Mono-Blue Aggro, and has to chain multiple high impact spells together (Krasis, Vivien, Carnage Tyrant, etc.) to beat good builds of other midrange and control strategies. They don’t crush even the decks they should be dominating. Nominally, Sultai was a good 53% choice, and yet if you looked at how it performed on the whole it ended up 48.6%* over 600+ matches. Narrow that down to the better players in the field and it only drops.
As the most played deck in the tournament, it simply underperformed in a field full of strong, prepared players. It won’t be hated on nearly as badly in the future, and I don’t expect the deck to suddenly disappear (even if Sultai was legitimately bad, these types of decks hang around long past their expiration date), but it needs a step forward or an unprepared metagame. If players like Ari Lax, Andrea Mengucci, or Allen Wu are sitting against you, then you’ll be in trouble. If it’s a random Mythic player jamming Sultai on Arena, bring ’em on.
Meanwhile, Mono-Blue was properly rated going in and is being given top billing as the winning deck, but many players aren’t quite clear on what actually matters both for and against the deck. The other big takeaway from the above data breakdown from Cleveland is that nearly all of Mono-Blue’s “bad matchups” were overblown, aside from White Weenie. It also loses a substantial number of games when the opponents are better prepared.
As for the mirror, you should watch Autumn’s mirror match against Reid.
In general there are three types of keepable hands for the deck in the mirror:
- 1-drop into Curious Obsession
- 2-3, 2-3 early plays, and a Tempest Djinn
- 1-drops and Trickster into Essence Capture/Wizard’s Retort/Chart a Course*
*Chart a Course is only playable on the play in my experience. Otherwise it wastes too much mana and must be saved for later when attacks aren’t guaranteed.
Of the remaining types of keepable hands, Entrancing Melody can also make a huge difference. This is doubly true if you have one or two in the deck for game 1 in the mirror as it answers both hands with free win cards—at least when you’re on the play—and can force them to commit.
The third type of hand is both the most versatile, and the weakest. On the draw, holding up countermagic early is rough if the opponent is on Curious Obsession or multiple 1-drops plus counters, as they can dictate the pace of game and punish you for tapping out for Djinn or Melody.
On the flip-side, Djinn is also the most important card in the matchup from a racing perspective and it isn’t one that can be easily dealt with. If you land a Tempest Djinn and don’t crash it into a Merfolk Trickster multiblock, they have no real outs to it. In game 1, the player with an active Djinn is going to win more often, and in my experience can consistently race a Curious Herald and friends unless they draw 2 Tricksters.
While Tempest Djinn and Curious Obsession produce a lot of free wins, both require you to play in a very linear fashion in the mirror, which can be exploited. Many players do not respect the art of doing nothing on a given turn and simply love to jam expensive spells into countermagic. This makes bluffing a 1-mana piece of interaction a bit less effective, but it also means that holding up 2 mana for a hard counter is often totally reasonable. With the clock being slow until the late-game or a resolved Tempest Djinn hits the battlefield, this gives you a lot of time to maneuver, and hitting land drops can actually matter a lot.
In most matchups, I really never want to see more than four lands unless I have Obsession going, in which case I probably will have stuff to do even while drawing lands and spells 1:1. In the mirror, I like having more lands than my opponent unless they turn-2 Obsession, simply because so much of the dance is seizing an opportunity to jam your opponent up with two spells. You do not want to be in a position where you have to tap out each turn to make moves if you can help it because so much of the Mono-Blue deck punishes that type of play.
As for other matchups, Mono-Blue Aggro helped keep Simic Nexus in check. Not only that, but Nexus didn’t look good against any aggro deck in the field. Both types of white aggro, ones with Negate and ones without, dominated the head-to-head matchup and red was already favored. Meanwhile, the Nexus deck absolutely devoured Sultai and performed reasonably against Esper Control.
These versions of the Nexus deck are very good at leveraging mana and cards, which means that if blue disruption isn’t backed by an actual clock it’s capable of getting overwhelmed in a resource battle. On the flip side, cards like Growth Spiral, Wilderness Reclamation, and Root Snare are some of the only cards that really matter against aggro decks. Even slower aggro decks like Gruul Midrange can put Simic players in a bind by leveraging Cindervines and Legion Warboss.
Simic Nexus is basically a metagame shift away from being the best deck in the format, but there’s no reason to think that shift is ever going to come until new cards come out. This means that it’ll remain a polarized deck with a lot of awful post-board games that needs to get lucky goldfishing against a third of the format.
Finally, let’s touch on the also-rans:
Mono-Red is better positioned than it was, but that’s not saying much. Red is never going to be better than tier 2 in this metagame and doesn’t dominate Mono-Blue. Chainwhirler isn’t some magical key to beating the deck and as it has to move aggression around to have a chance against other decks it gives blue better trades. Surge Mare as a commonly seen 3-4-of now also helps.
Esper Control is what Sultai actually wants to be—a middle-of-the-road Rock deck. It has an overall solid record that doesn’t stand out but is on the right side of the W/L column. What’s better for players looking to take it to an Open or GP is that it shares the blue deck trait of rewarding mastery of the deck over less prepared opponents.
Azorius Aggro continues to be possibly the best deck in the format, held back by popularity and a mediocre Sultai matchup. If we see a major decline in Sultai play and the rest of the format shows up expecting the same old stuff, it wouldn’t surprise me at all to see the deck dominate a weekend.
So that’s where we’re at! I got to play some Standard at MagicFest LA this past weekend and had a good time in the format. Nobody seemed to be playing it grudgingly, so I think we can put this one in the books. Judging only by balance and archetype diversity, this Standard is the best of the past decade. Mono-Red didn’t rule the format despite getting two very strong additions, Wilderness Reclamation and Nexus of Fate didn’t destroy the format (RIP BO1), and both of the best card advantage engines—Teferi, Hero of Dominaria and Hydroid Krasis—have been kept in check.
Hopefully we see this continue into War of the Spark!