Standard is in a great place right now. Every time we think we have it figured out, new ideas pop up that require us to change cards to stay on top of the metagame. Every deck is customizable with options to fight other decks. Standard is a revolving door and it’s not going to stop turning anytime soon. One week, white aggro is dominant, the next it’s out the door, only to see the light of day again once the metagame isn’t as prepared.
As I said last week, I spent the majority of my Standard testing time for Pro Tour Guilds of Ravnica learning bits and pieces of everything. In the process I learned just that—bits and pieces of the Standard format. The only deck I really knew inside and out was Golgari.
This week, I want to share with you some cards and decks I found interesting in testing.
Big Red: AKA Brunch
I actually played a lot against this deck in testing, because Ben Weitz put a lot of work into the deck and was constantly iterating on it. It became apparent that he was dead set on playing this deck, and even had a deep run this past weekend with the deck in Milwaukee. This deck had a lot of cards that really impressed me. Other cards were role players.
About the name: Sam Black was trying to teach me about some game where you name something after something that rhymes with something that has something to do with something. Yes, it’s just as confusing as it sounds and this is exactly how I understood our conversation that literally took twenty minutes. I called it Big Red, which is a cinnamon flavored chewing gum, which then got referenced to Cinnamon Toast Crunch, which rhymes with Brunch, sort of, so of course the deck was named Brunch.
The name only stuck because then we could joke about the people playing it being available for brunch on Saturday if they didn’t make Day 2. In reality, Ben did quite well, finishing 7-3 with the deck. Sam Pardee didn’t fare as well, and they were the only two who chose to play the deck. In retrospect, I think it was a reasonable call, though the deck seemed particularly weak to Jeskai Control, a deck we thought would have more metagame share before the Pro Tour, and from here on out certainly will.
Let’s talk about some of the cards that impressed me in this deck:
When I first started playing against Ben, the stand-out card for me in his deck was Treasure Map. I constantly felt like I was fighting a mana battle with Ben as he had strong, proactive plays like Siege-Gang Commander, and was also racing to Banefire me out. His deck was very good at using mana, and also needed a way to generate some extra cards. Treasure Map “ramped” Ben to both playing Siege-Gang and using it the same turn, and Banefire was big enough to close out the game. After sideboarding he also had Fight with Fire, another way to sink mana. Treasure Map also helped find the right removal at the right time to drag the game along, playing right into his cheese-you-out-with-Banefire plan.
After watching this card in action, I’m not surprised in the least that Adrian Sullivan took down GP Milwaukee with four copies in his Jeskai deck. Treasure Map is likely a staple in Standard moving forward, and one I think we’ll see more of in midrange and control matchups. It not only generates card selection, it generates either a mana advantage or card advantage later in the game. The card kind of does it all given enough time.
Dire Fleet Daredevil
Dire Fleet Daredevil caught a lot of buzz during the release of the relatively weak Rivals of Ixalan. Unfortunately, it didn’t see a ton of play in a format dominated by Goblin Chainwhirler. Dire Fleet Daredevil played impressive roles in grindy matchups, like against Golgari, often flashing back an opponent’s Find // Finality, rebuying cards like Siege-Gang Commander and more Dire Fleet Daredevils, or as a 2/1 first strike body against white aggro, blocking almost all of their early plays, and at times stabilizing the ground all by itself until the Chainwhirler shows up.
After playing a few sets with Ben, the first thing I did was swap the main deck Tocatli Honor Guards from Brad Nelson’s Grand Prix New Jersey Boros Angels deck list for his sideboard copies of Dire Fleet Daredevils, as they were impressive enough for me to want to try elsewhere. The card allows your red deck to do things unique to other colors, which is surprisingly powerful.
I expect to see Dire Fleet Daredevil in more red-based creature decks going forward. While it’s obviously not a card a deck like Jeskai Control or Izzet Drakes wants, aggressive Boros decks can use it if they want to a have a 2-drop that scales well into the game.
Siege-Gang Commander makes this deck tick. The card proved how powerful it was as a top-end card in this deck, and it played especially well against White Aggro. It led me to try Siege-Gang Commander in the sideboard of Izzet Drakes. This deck was effective against those decks as it could play a Goblin Chainwhirler on 3, Rekindling Phoenix on 4, into a Siege-Gang Commander on 5, and take over from there. This led me to wonder if I could replicate this kind of curve in Izzet Drakes, with a Fiery Cannonade on 3, Crackling Drake on 4, and a Siege-Gang on 5. While white aggro decks seemingly fell immediately out of favor because of the target on its back after the Pro Tour, if the deck picks up again, this is definitely a strategy I’ll look at if I plan to play Izzet Drakes. As is, Siege-Gang Commander really shines against decks with a lot of spot removal and decks trying to swarm the ground with small creatures.
I can see Siege-Gang finding a home at some point in Standard, especially when we get more guilds to brew with.
Arch of Orazca
Arch of Orazca played especially well in this deck with Treasure Map and Siege-Gang Commander. It really helped pull ahead in close games, and allowed the deck to not only find gas, but hit important land drops to get Banefire into lethal range.
Sam Black played a deck based on the idea of this Big Red deck at GP Milwaukee that added white cards, Pirate’s Pillage, and main-deck Karns. This whole shell of Treasures, Karns, and Arch of Orazca sounds like a great spot for Karn, as it’s especially potent when you can make large Constructs, which is why I think Karn, Scion of Urza has been underperforming lately.
While not from this deck specifically, it seemed to make sense to most of us that Shivan Fire was better than Shock in decks that weren’t trying to close fast. Shivan Fire was an additional out to various Drakes, and could even take down a Wildgrowth Walker later in the game. I think it’s likely correct play Shivan Fire in some of these decks like Jeskai Control that run a single copy of Shock, though I know that Shock can be relevant in Game 1 in the Teferi mirrors. Shivan Fire could end up being more important to take down a Crackling Drake, or even to kill an opposing Niv-Mizzet when you both have one in play.
Here’s a few more cards I learned, thought, or talked about in testing.
Okay, this one was kind of an accident. Sam Pardee started talking about “Wand” and Paulo had a two-minute conversation with him asking questions about “Wand” and discussing how he thought it could be good in certain spots. The conversation was confusing from my perspective as Paulo made some weird points, but the conversation carried on. Eventually they realized they were talking about different Wands.
It turns out Sam Pardee was discussing Chaos Wand, a card he thought would be excellent against Golgari, and any deck that had all the same types of spells, effectively allowing you to hit a removal spell every turn. Golgari could struggle with it in certain spots if they didn’t have one of their 23 planeswalkers that could kill it, but Sam insisted people try it in the sideboard of Big Red a.k.a. Brunch until the third time they hit a Golden Demise or Duress that did nothing. It’s kind of like spinning an Aetherworks Marvel, except you never hit Ulamog or anything very good at all really.
Paulo, on the other hand, was talking about Transmogrifying Wand. This Wand can actually be effective against a deck like Adrian Sullivan’s Jeskai that leans heavily on Niv-Mizzet, Parun. It can be cast after Niv-Mizzet without the opponent drawing a card, turn Niv-Mizzet into an Ox, and be ready to go later for a follow-up copy, or on the following turn if the Jeskai player had a Dive Down and you were able to survive the next turn. While the card is very narrow, and likely not good enough, it certainly was worth discussing.
Ajani, Adversary of Tyrants
While playing Team ChannelFireball’s White Aggro deck against Golgari, I found Ajani, Adversary of Tyrants to be surprisingly more effective than Experimental Frenzy. My sample was small, but in it I liked Ajani better. Experimental Frenzy required the opponent to not have an answer like a Vivien Reid or Vraska, Relic Seeker, as you often needed a turn or two with it to take over the game.
Ajani, Adversary of Tyrants worked much better with your game plan of adding to the board every turn and going big from there. In fact, I was a big advocate for cutting Tocatli Honor Guard from our White Aggro deck, a card most Golgari players said they feared out of our deck, because it didn’t work well with our Experimental Frenzy plan. We’d play a Tocatli Honor Guard into their Wildgrowth Walker and still not be able to attack on the ground. The ground would stall, we’d deploy a Frenzy, and they had plenty of breathing room to play a Vivien Reid, kill our Frenzy, and leave us without much left. Or, they’d simply kill the Honor Guard on a later turn and then their Wildgrowth Walkers would still grow. Baffling End proved better as it could get rid of the Wildgrowth Walker forever.
When I have Ajani, Adversary of Tyrant in my deck, I’m much higher on Tocatli Honor Guard, as it can not only bring it back if they kill it early, but it gives me a way to break the ground stall.
Experimental Frenzy was so powerful in other matchups, and it would outright win the game against Golgari often enough that we decided to play Experimental Frenzy over Ajani, Adversary of Tyrants, as we didn’t want too many 4-drops in our deck against any one matchup, and wanted to draw Experimental Frenzy as often as possible when we wanted it.
Moving forward, I think decks are a little too prepared for Experimental Frenzy. Jeskai has Invoke the Divine, which also hurts your Banefire plan, and Golgari has its various planeswalkers and Thrashing Brontodons. I’d suggest utilizing Ajani, Adversary of Tyrants as the 4-drop of choice. We saw Ajani have success this weekend in the one mono-white aggro deck in the Top 8 played by Jacob Tilk, and I think that should be the norm in these decks moving forward.
Azor’s Gateway was not only a source of card selection for Jeskai Control, but also a way of pressuring the opponent. The threat of Azor’s Gateway flipping was real, and you’d often be able to dig yourself into an Expansion // Explosion. Against slower, grindy midrange decks that couldn’t effectively interact with it, it felt like a one-card combo. In fact, a big part of why Ben Weitz added Goblin Cratermaker to his Big Red deck was as a tool to fight against Azor’s Gateway.
We thought Azor’s Gateway was one of the major reasons to play Jeskai Control. We were surprised to see people move away from it at the Pro Tour, though it made some sense with White Aggro being one of the more popular decks.
Adrian Sullivan’s move from Azor’s Gateway to Treasure Map is perfect. He leaned heavily on Niz-Mizzet as it flips faster, more reliably, and Niz-Mizzet does a lot of the heavy lifting. That said, I could see Azor’s Gateway Jeskai as the next step if Jeskai Control in any form picks up as it’s incredibly potent in mirrors, especially alongside Banefire.
One of the biggest aha! moments from testing was playing red-based decks against Matt Nass on Golgari Midrange. Doom Whisperer was played heavily in early versions of winning Golgari deck lists, and I could never quite figure out why. It lines up poorly in mirrors against cards like Vivien Reid and Vraska, Relic Seeker, and didn’t really generate any value in the face of a single removal spell like Cast Down.
On the other hand, it lined up well against red-based removal like Lava Coil, and blocked Phoenixes and Drakes efficiently. Doom Whisperer also played especially well along with the life gain of Wildgrowth Walker.
Doom Whisperer also gave you the ability to surveil back Blood Operative, a card that was reasonable against Izzet Drakes at both exiling Phoenixes in the graveyard and padding your life total so you didn’t get one-shotted by a hasty Drake.
I was impressed with Doom Whisperer for the Pro Tour metagame, but I think it’s time to put Doom Whisperer down again. Doom Whisperer shines against mono-red, white aggro, and is solid against some Izzet Drakes lists, but is lackluster against Jeskai Control and the mirror. You’ll want to have Doom Whisperer on hand if the metagame rotates back to a spot where aggro decks are especially effective after the midrange decks all cannibalize each other. But for now, Carnage Tyrant is the top end I want in Golgari Midrange, especially with Drakes decks moving away from Maximize Velocity and to more controlling shells with Beacon Bolts.
I was surprised when I saw Matt Nass eventually cut the copy of Plaguecrafter we had in the sideboard forever. We should see more Plaguecrafter moving forward as it’s fine against the Drake decks, and especially effective against all versions of Jeskai Control. I would want to be running two copies in Golgari right now with a likely uptick in Jeskai Control headed our way.
The Eldest Reborn also fits this bill. I’m not a huge fan of The Eldest Reborn in general, but when players are trying to cast Dive Down on Niz-Mizzet and Teferi, Hero of Dominaria out of the same deck, The Eldest Reborn can be quite the trump card. The Eldest Reborn has always seemed to clunky and slow to have a huge impact, but I can actually see playing the card again right now.
Lastly I’d like to leave you with one more fun brew, designed originally by master deck builder Ben Weitz, with some personal tweaks:
While I never got to test this because it was dismissed before I got to take a look, I added some Dive Downs to the deck, which seemed like a good way to protect both Thief of Sanity and Hostage Taker, while also protecting anything you may Quasiduplicate. Vampire Sovereign into Quasiduplicate with jump-start seems pretty sweet. While I doubt the deck is tier 1, it certainly looks like fun and Ben was impressed enough with a similar build early in testing to maybe give it a try.
I’ve had a lot of fun with this Standard format and while I may focus less on it from here on out since I have no events to prepare for, it’s been just as awesome to spectate as it has been to play. All the decks have so many choices and to truly stay on top of this metagame you likely will be changing a handful of cards a week in each to keep up.
With Jeskai and Golgari looking to take on big shares of the metagame moving forward, one deck I have on my eyes on for a potential resurgence is Mono-Blue Tempo as it lines up incredibly well against Jeskai, and very well against Golgari decks skimping on cheap removal and Wildgrowth Walkers, which are changes I expect to see coming out of Golgari with midrange decks taking up more shares of the metagame. Then again, things are changing rapidly, so maybe midrange won’t be as popular as I’m thinking.
Are there any decks you think might make a come back or waiting to pounce on this metagame?