I put aside brewing to see what the Magic Online ecosystem would come up with since Guilds of Ravnica released last Thursday. It has been about five days since then, and thus far we’ve seen the usual post-rotation openness with a few decks standing out from the rest of the field. There’s no point in declaring whether this Standard will be good or bad—it’s too early to say. Though I did notice one thing. This Standard format on Magic Online is inexpensive, with very few decks at more than $150 dollars, and many under $100.
In fact, the first deck for the showcase only cost me 5 tix to put together, and that was after its massive spike from 3!
As a carryover from the previous format this deck has lost very little. The core of cheap evasion creatures, Curious Obsession, and countermagic is still solid. After running into this a couple of times in the queues, a couple of Reddit posts popped up describing the current version of the deck in more detail. I gave it a whirl through a couple of Leagues, and while I wasn’t impressed with its matchup against common aggro decks, it did demolish anything that stumbled and the variety of midrange brews with no answers to a lot of countermagic.
My build is a bit different from the norm for a few reasons, the mirror was becoming a bigger issue (hello Warkite Marauder), and I was tired of losing to decks that just played creatures on their first three turns when you’re on the draw. Sleep was one of the only effective ways to race, and eventually I decided to main deck it to have a chance game 1 instead of rolling my eyes every time I was greeted by a turn-1 Pelt Collector. It turns out that it doesn’t matter if you draw four extra cards and counter most of their threats if the first two creatures they play can just kill you. It doesn’t help that the advent of Kraul Harpooner absolutely hoses you in many cases.
Despite these shortcomings, the deck does a good job of powering out creatures early and keeping the game locked down. Against many decks it feels like the best game 1 deck in the format, especially when you’re on the play. It helps that many players are choosing versatile or more impactful expensive removal over cheap answers. The difference between Baffling End and Conclave Tribunal against this deck or Assassin’s Trophy over Vraska’s Contempt is huge. 1-mana removal makes an even bigger difference, as the 2-mana spells can be stopped easily via Pierce or Dive Down.
As a final note to anyone playing the deck—four Essence Scatters feel like a must. It’s often a better counterspell than Wizard’s Retort and on the draw is vastly superior against creature-heavy decks.
Sigh. I was really hoping that we were done with Goblin Chainwhirler for a bit—just a month, even! Unfortunately for anyone tired of the red deck, it looks like we’re in for one more season of it, though at least you can block now. It turns out that Runaway Steam-Kin is as good as the initial spoiler articles deemed it, and of all things Risk Factor is a legitimate card! Yes, I’m here to say that a punisher card may finally be good enough to consistently see play in Standard.
Between the lack of life gain and the remaining burn spells in red, eating 4 to turn off Risk Factor only to see it again in a turn or two puts you in a major bind. Not having much experience with this type of decision may also be making a significant impact on how well it plays, but jump-start feels like a big enough boost to keep it in the deck long-term.
Other builds still run The Flame of Keld, so watch out for that moving forward. Some add a few more Wizards or jam the full playset of Wizard’s Lightning anyway. The burn suite should scare you more than the creatures, which aren’t all that aggressive besides Steam-Kin. Oh sure, you’ll get run over if you don’t generate some board presence, but considering the last format, where blocking was borderline impossible against the good draws, this is a big shift.
If you want to beat this style of deck, life gain is once again relevant. Look at the creatures in the deck! Even if your opponent draws three off Risk Factor, Mountain, Ghitu Lavarunner, and Shock aren’t getting there if you have board control. Even ripping a solid grip like Firebrand, Steam-Kin, and Goblin Chainwhirler won’t be enough to break through the average G/B, G/W, or Stompy board. Just forget about it altogether if your opponent has a Lyra on the table. This particular build I stole from Nathan Steuer (who was the Competitive League’s trophy leader at the time) and many builds don’t have Rekindling Phoenix, which means their entire ground force ends at a 4/4.
Still, Goblin Chainwhirler will keep on affecting what is and isn’t playable in the format if the red deck takes off, and it certainly looks strong enough (at least for the first few weeks) to do so!
Despite Goblin Chainwhirler, I was most impressed by the Selesnya decks. There are four different versions, all of which are noticeably different from one another, but all of them tend to share two key components.
If Flower // Flourish surprises you, you just haven’t been paying attention. Attune with Aether was banned not long ago, and Lay of the Land effects with upside have been consistently finding homes in Standard decks. Being able to trim your mana, fix your colors with so many gold cards, and run an Overrun-style finisher for free is way above the asking price.
There are plenty of ways to build the deck above right now. Some have Shanna, others will have Song of Freyalise, and so on. For my money, I prefer going solidly midrange with some life gain to make sure you get through the mid-game. When decks start packing the appropriate number of sweepers to punish you, then I’ll start swapping numbers around and get cards like Saproling Migration and Venerated Loxodon out of the deck.
But many of your matches will likely be against creature decks for the first two weeks, and this deck excels at taking what looks like a winning board, knocking it to the ground, strutting over it, and doing your best impression of a pigeon. The number of games I’ve won or lost all have depended on a sequence along the lines of: 1-2 creatures on board, end step convoke + 5 mana, March of the Multitudes, untap, play Flourish, crash in for alpha, and gain 15+ life if you don’t kill them.
Trostani Discordant is probably my least favorite card in the main deck, but almost a necessary evil. Not only can it make your board scary but it provides yet another avenue of life gain to stabilize against red and stompy decks and sets up Venerated Loxodon exceptionally well. If your opponent isn’t threatening lethal, it isn’t an outrageous line to see Trostani and Loxodon dropped on the same turn, setting up a massive army for the next. But were I to shave cards to make room for other options, I’d start there.
I prefer Baffling End in the current climate, at least in matchups where you don’t risk getting it nuked by cards like Knight of Autumn. Taking out a creature with Curious Obsession or Runaway Steam-Kin before it can really get going is a wonderful feeling. The rest of the sideboard is standard fare for midrange and control matchups, effectively shifting what type of threats you bring out. Notably, Divine Visitation brings that same power to the table. If it ever sticks, it makes every token generator a potentially lethal threat. Against board control or heavy sweeper style decks it makes perfect sense to have a slow option that strains these resources to the breaking point.
Finally, we get to the first really spicy archetype people are going to be working on for a while.
Golgari Izoni Midrange
If you want an interesting take on the traditional Golgari midrange pile, then here you go. Not only does it have an amazing amount of value from all the ETB effects on these creatures, Gruesome Menagerie itself reminds me of Collected Company or Rally the Ancestors in terms of a huge board/value spike off a single spell. Izoni also reminds me of Ishkanah in that for certain matches decks simply cannot beat the swarm it generates, let alone if you play multiple.
If you want to see some VODs of the deck in action, I recommend r/spikes moderator and brewer Yoman5’s twitch for very in-depth posts on the deck. Rather than give a full recap, give it a look through. There are a lot of ways to build this deck and I’m sure that we’ll be seeing plenty of variations on it moving forward.
As always, you generally want to be doing something powerful, something consistent, or something that requires specific answers to stop in week 1. Preferably all three! All the decks listed do that and there are plenty of others that also fall under some of those criteria. I prefer these because all of them either minimize mana issues or have ways to alleviate them via their mechanics.