Standard is starting to pick up steam with the new PPTQ season on the horizon. Since this Standard format’s beginning, there have been frequent changes, with new powerful decks emerging every few weeks.
Since returning from Worlds, I have continued to develop the UW Heroic list that I played at that event (developed primarily with Andrejs Prost and Jason Chung). I have been really enjoying the deck as it is extremely rewarding (and challenging!) to play which makes for exciting Magic—I have not had this much fun in Standard for a long time (Boros Burn got a bit repetitive very quickly).
There are three tier 1 decks: Jeskai Ascendancy Tokens, Abzan Midrange and Sidisi Whip. While there are other viable archetypes, these are the decks that you will need to come prepared to beat at upcoming events.
This week I will go through the deck’s matchups against the big three archetypes in the format, including how to sideboard with it, how to strategically approach each match, and an explanation of some recent changes I have made to my list.
Let us begin with my updated list:
UW Heroic – Top 4 of GPT Auckland by James Fazzolari
The list is not that different from what others have arrived at through their own methods—there are only really two styles of UW Heroic (Heliod’s Pilgrim with a tutor package vs. the more all-in Fabled Hero version) and once you pick your camp the rest of the main deck largely builds itself. My own list developed from the one I ran at Worlds, some testing with friends, and some feedback from the r/Spikes community.
I have opted for an Eidolon of Countless Battles over the fourth Heliod’s Pilgrim after finding that Heliod’s Pilgrims are typically either too slow in multiples or they can fail to offer enough immediate impact to the game state. Heliod’s Pilgrim is very good at helping you grind through removal, increase a temporary advantage in initiative, or exploit a timing window, but the immediacy and size of the Eidolon has proved itself for me again and again. Notably, bestowing the Eidolon onto a Seeker of the Way gives you access to an enormous amount of life gain.
With my own metagame shifting toward Jeskai Ascendancy Tokens (replacing Abzan Midrange), I came to the same conclusion as others and replaced the previous Singing Bell Strike (great against decks relying on a single threat or blocker) with a second Stratus Walk, which is both an easy way to push damage through against tokens and a great target for Heliod’s Pilgrim when you will not be able to immediately trigger an Ordeal of Thassa.
Finally, compared to the “standard” versions of the list, I have opted for a 14th blue source, in the form of a second Mana Confluence. While it might seem minor, you do feel the difference over a large enough sample size and the cost of life is far outweighed by the benefits of curving out (as in any game where you cast your spells on time, the saved tempo will ultimately save you more life).
Turning to the sideboard, beyond the now automatic inclusions like the Lagonna-Band Trailblazers (for decks with damage-based removal) and the extra copies of Stubborn Denial (for spell-based decks) there are a few novel cards worth discussing. Brimaz, King of Oreskos was suggested to me as a way to battle against the Jeskai Ascendancy Tokens deck—he provides a highly resilient standalone threat, while his own tokens trade off with your opponents, stabilizing you against the more explosive Ascendancy turns. I have also found Brimaz to be very strong against any other deck relying on red removal to keep you off of the board, and surprisingly good against the new Abzan Aggro deck too.
Mortal Obstinacy is a tutorable Erase-like effect, which adds a little bit of utility to your Heliod’s Pilgrims. Dig Through Time was first innovated by Jason Chung at Worlds to replace the Treasure Cruises in previous iterations of the list. The deck will frequently hit board states where you are looking for a specific card to convert a temporary advantage into a win and Dig is leagues better than Treasure Cruise in that situation. That you are able to cast a Dig at instant speed (using left over mana) can be very relevant, as can casting it in response to an opposing spell (or fetchland activation). The double-blue cost does strain the mana somewhat, but I have found the effect to be easily worth it, especially as you are boarding it in for matches that are prone to going slightly longer.
Let’s turn to the Tier 1 matchups now:
Jeskai Ascendancy Tokens (Unfavorable)
This archetype is definitely en vogue and was nearly half of the field over the weekend. Over a few events I have had the opportunity to get more of a feel for how the games play out—while individual games tend to be one-sided (both decks can tempo the other out with very explosive turns), the matchup is overall close to even—I was able to go 4-0 against in one event. Winning the die roll or breaking serve from the draw is very important.
This is the configuration I have found best suited to the matchup. You really want to have every chance of going 1-drop into Ordeal on the play, or of at least sticking a body on the draw. Hero of Iroas is preferred to Battlewise Hoplite because discounting your Auras lets you keep up protection more easily (and get to ferocious for Stubborn Denial), which is relevant against a deck with so many efficient answers.
I have tried to configure the deck so that you are as resilient as possible to post-board Magma Spray and Anger of the Gods. If your opponent is instead on the End Hostilities plan, you can consider some Ajani’s Presence instead. We’re running fewer creatures (but they are more resilient), with the idea of making their red removal as weak as possible against us and providing a quick clock. Glare of Heresy is an issue, so try to preserve your Gods Willings.
This matchup is all about spell efficiency and sequencing—small decisions with scry, bluffing and reading your opponent. Gaining a sense of when you are far enough ahead to play around potential holdings, or when you are behind and need to take the higher risk plays is important.
Brimaz has been the key card in my recent stellar results in the matchup. You can protect him quite well and they are actually quite light on ways to remove him. That Brimaz can attack and defend simultaneously, while providing a stable body to equip Ordeals to cannot be underestimated. Brimaz is also a card that functions well independent of support, which is great in the games that go long.
Abzan Midrange (Favorable)
Before sideboard, Abzan can have a really tough time with UW Heroic. Their removal is slow, costing entirely three or more, which plays into our cheap answers. It is straightforward to exploit this inefficiency to build a monster, protect it and then put them away. Their deck is designed to block well on the ground, then remove evasive threats with their removal. However, your creatures typically will be larger than theirs, which makes playing defensively difficult. Unlike the Abzan Aggro deck, which can apply enough life total pressure back to actually race, the reactive and controlling nature of the Abzan Midrange deck positions them very poorly for game one.
After sideboard, their plan is to lower their curve as much as possible and to wear you down with1-for-1 trades. They also tend to bring in sweepers like Drown in Sorrow (medium annoying) or End Hostilities (actually annoying), so Ajani’s Presence is quite strong. With this in mind, our plan is to avoid unnecessary 2-for-1s (like Aqueous Form) and not play into their sweepers (so no Seekers) while still focusing on the protect-one-threat-at-a-time strategy.
Sidisi Whip (Favorable)
The other major Caryatid and Courser deck in the format. Sidisi Whip leans very heavily on Murderous Cut for removal, so you will want to be always aware of how cheaply they can cast it. While Sidisi and her Zombies can provide a steady stream of pressure, they can be blocked or attacked through much more easily than a Siege Rhino. This archetype is even slower to get going than Abzan Midrange and with less removal. However, there is always the looming threat of a Whip of Erebos coming down and enabling substantial life gain, so you need to play with that possibility in mind. Because they are relatively light on removal and reliant on the Whip to stabilize, remember that you can use protection effects to prevent life gain, which might allow you to close out games unexpectedly.
Seeker again is the easy cut as our strategy is to make one large evasive threat and kill them before they can gain an insurmountable life total. Because Seeker will not get large quickly, it plays into their Bile Blights from the sideboard and would only distract us from our primary strategy if we spend precious mana playing it as a secondary threat (that can be chumped by their utility creatures or blocked by Courser of Kruphix). The sideboard cards provide efficient disruption against their expensive cards.
UW Heroic is well positioned against the current best decks of the format, while being consistent and proactive enough to have good chances against the other decks (except Mardu Midrange, but no strategy is without flaw). You will win a lot of game ones simply through their answers lining up so poorly against your threats. Like other tempo strategies, UW Heroic’s matchups mostly improve after sideboard, through a combination of efficient answers and enough filtering to find them.
Good luck to everyone at the PPTQs ahead. I am looking forward to many tense, action-packed and exciting games of Magic (or turn 1 Favored Hoplite, turn 2 Ordeal of Thassa is fine too—whatever).
Who said there are no assurances in life? I assure you, this is going to hurt!