This week brings the remaining RPTQs for Pro Tour Amonkhet, and we're only one week away from New Jersey. We also just had a major tournament in Grand Prix Utrecht, which was dominated by the traditional trifecta of B/G Constrictor, Mardu, and Saheeli. Of note, the Mardu decks got a lot bigger and Saheeli wasn't well represented. On Magic Online, however, it's a very different story.
There, the B/G Constrictor decks are being pushed out of the metagame by 4c Saheeli and Temur Control decks. Both decks feast on B/G, and the bigger Mardu decks have a better game-2-and-3 plan than the original versions did. Basically, all the best matchups for B/G no longer exist in the online metagame. There's simply no good reason to play it unless you're well-versed in the deck and don't want to learn something new. Otherwise you'll be slogging uphill for every match in your League.
Oath of Chandra helps keep 2/3s in line, and B/G only had a handful of cards to stop Saheeli from combo'ing in the first place. If you aggressively target their creatures and jam Saheeli Rai, they either have to Time Walk themselves for multiple turns to respect the combo or leave themselves open. There are a number of different builds at this point—here's the Eli Kassis version that won the SCG Classic in Indy, and a more traditional build that 5-0'd a League by max_9.
Eli Kassis, 1st place at SCG Classic Indianapolis
max_9, 5-0 in a Competitive League
What's so good about this version of the Saheeli deck? It turns out that GerryT and Matt Nass were on the right track when they took a deck whose entire premise is value and then added the Splinter Twin combo. You win a lot of games when people play scared while you chip in for damage with Thopter beats. In fact, Thopter beats are how I win the majority of games with the deck. A horde of 1/1 flyers backed by planeswalkers is one of the best ways to win in the format because of how few ways players have to interact with a swarm.
I think 4c Saheeli is the future of the format and will overtake B/G in the next few weeks. Unlike Magic Online, the deck is still viable in the real world, but that's largely because of the percentage of the player base that won't change decks easily. This leaves more favorable matchups around to take advantage of compared to the online meta.
But if the real world follows the course set by Magic Online, then the new trifecta in March will be Mardu, 4c Saheeli, and Temur Control with B/G, Jeskai Saheeli, U/R Emerge, and Aetherworks being the best of the tier 2 choices. The kicker is that Saheeli Rai is the best counter play to Saheeli decks because they have so few ways to deal with planeswalkers when they hit play. An active Saheeli also represents the combo, which means that you put the opposing Saheeli player in the same bind as those poor B/G players.
For what it's worth, I never respect the combo in the mirror unless I have a compelling reason. It just isn't worth giving up the free draws or letting them tick up their planeswalkers. If you have two answers and a good play on turn 5, then maybe it's worthwhile. Tireless Tracker also provides a good way to win the fair match, which is traditionally dictated by however many Thopters you create.
Alternatively, play Jeskai Saheeli, which dominates the 4c Saheeli build. Well, don't play it yet—wait for 4c Saheeli to get more popular first. Otherwise, you'll just look silly. Meanwhile, if you want to play something more straightforwardly powerful, then I recommend Robert Vaughn's take on Aetherworks.
You get the traditional dumb Aetherworks-into-Ulamog-I-win combo, and hitting a Fumigate during combat against Vehicles or B/G will buy you multiple turns. The full set of Aether Meltdown gives you room to maneuver against the types of starts that run over the Saheeli builds. Post-board you can lean on Tireless Tracker or Dynavolt Tower to win a grindy game, and people will still at least think about whether you still have the combo in your deck.
When I first saw the PT results, I wasn't too worried that the metagame would end up broken. The new Saheeli decks and the high base power of every Mardu Vehicles deck have made me revise my thoughts. I'm now behind the idea of banning Felidar Guardian or Saheeli Rai right now rather than down the road. The 4c Saheeli decks are one good card away from being the dominant strategy and it wouldn't be close. The fact that it plays 4 colors without any real effort (Attune and Oath are both cards you'd consider anyway) just increases the chance it'll get such a card.
There are two ways this can play out until Amonkhet releases:
- 4c Saheeli decks keep being refined until the meta is Saheeli vs. control.
- B/G gets pushed out, we see an increase in control, and we end up in the "ideal" balance of aggro, midrange, control, and combo.
I don't think the status quo of B/G and Mardu battling it out with Saheeli sitting on the sidelines is realistic.
I don't buy the whole "Twin does not promote fun play patterns" argument—there were multiple mediocre Standard formats in a row without these "unfun" strategies. There's an ebb and flow to these kinds of opinions. Ask people how they felt about having busted late-game drops after just getting through the Titan cycle plus Consecrated Sphinx. Mana Leak is a card that everyone wants now, but I can tell you they sure as hell whined about it when it was one of the defining cards during Delver Standard.
Still, Wizards is big on that type of logic, so let's go with it.
I'd also like Scrapheap Scrounger banned for the simple fact that it makes Mardu too strong against control strategies. There are few good answers to the card, it punishes you for playing any sort of slower noncreature strategy, and invalidates so many reasonable early plays. It doesn't even have a harsh mana cost like Winding Constrictor or Veteran Motorist. This is a quality-of-life ban, one I normally wouldn't advocate, but frankly after you've banned 4 cards in 6 months, nobody is going to bat an eye that you've removed control decks' biggest thorn.
No matter what happens, the metagame is still mutating, and the idea that B/G might go from the pro-player-endorsed best choice to being a medium deck in the course of a month and a half isn't a bad thing.