Today I present the two Standard decks I’d battle with in week 1. Both are more simple and straightforward than the Dark Jeskai deck I recommended last rotation. In this format, the best strategy is to identify the broad strokes of the format and make choices that line up best against them. People are going to disagree on the specifics and I suspect that some of these shells will see drastically different details in their construction.
For example, there are about 30 different reasonable choices to make for the Orzhov Control deck below. While I run Wasteland Strangler, you could easily take that a step further with Hedron Crawler and Eldrazi Displacer.
The cards themselves are generally all good enough that without knowing the real metagame, it’s difficult to give feedback on many of these decks. So with that in mind, here’s my take on the best week 1 choices.
A Few Notes on Card Choices
Declaration in Stone is the best removal spell in the format. While it helps aggro more than a control shell like this, it’s strong enough that you can ignore the Clue. Speaking of Clues, I’d like to provide one as to why I have the full playset even in a slower deck. Everything in my testing indicates that you don’t lose the game on turn 5 in this format, but you need to make a play every turn to avoid being run over.
While maybe not as obviously tempo-oriented as other Standard formats, it’s easy to get punished for taking a turn off to sacrifice a Clue, or holding up a counterspell or removal spell. Even using a turn to buy something back and set up your next turn can be quite costly depending on what the opponent does. This is why Avacyn is so scary—it could be that the opponent bricked, they’re waiting to respond appropriately based on your play, or they could be waiting to ambush you.
When this doesn’t come into play and it’s obvious the opponent is durdling for a turn, sacrificing a Clue and throwing out a 2-drop on turn 5 or 6, then suddenly it’s an opportunity to break serve and throw a haymaker. If they deal with it—fine. You still have the initiative to fire off another one on the following turn. Clues are only particularly relevant after this phase of the game. And once you reach it, one Clue isn’t a big deal compared to the tax break you got on your removal spell in the first place.
Hangarback Walker is a reasonable choice and if I didn’t have such great planeswalker removal in the deck, I’d jam them main deck. As it stands, it gets knocked out of the way by all the commonly played white removal and doesn’t block Eldrazi very well. It can still grow into a major annoyance against the Den Protector/Deathmist decks. Otherwise, it’s a tad too slow for me, and since I have Wasteland Strangler to make up for skipping a turn-2 creature or removal play, it isn’t a big loss.
I poo-pooed Anguished Unmaking a bit in some of my early posts in the format, but the idea that some people may be packing Evolutionary Leap decks for week 1 worries me enough to hedge. Since Transgress whiffs on Leap or Cryptolith Rite, I wanted some way to interact in game 1. Post-board you have good old Felidar Cub and Duress, but in the meantime, I wanted a card that wasn’t a complete embarrassment. If you’re not sold on the threat of Leap decks, then I would recommend playing a pair of Silkwrap instead and saving them for the board if you don’t want to run Cub.
Against everything else in the format, your cards match up well—you have a bunch of powerful threats, you have discard for information in game 1, and great sideboard options. What’s there to dislike?
This build has gone through some tweaks as my other test decks got better. I also realized how quickly the 1-drops were outclassed when you didn’t have Thalia’s Lieutenant and another pump effect. While you still need some for curve purposes, Savannah Lions just doesn’t hold up that well anymore. Thraben Inspector’s extra point of toughness actually comes in handy after being pumped and this is one of the few decks low enough to the ground where you can sacrifice Clue tokens without falling miles behind.
Tireless Tracker is unassuming, but I was sold after seeing it snag a couple of free draws against our Orzhov and Esper decks. Again, in a normal deck you don’t typically have a free turn to just chain Clues. Here you can usually sacrifice a Clue and still play a 2-drop on turn 4 if you lack Archangel of Tithes. It also makes pumping Tireless Tracker twice (the golden number for safely attacking) pretty easy with any sort of decent draw.
Avacyn is usually great in this deck, but isn’t so much better than Sigarda that you want to risk her trigger going off. Giving the opponent an opportunity to sweep your board with your own card is pretty miserable. Sigarda also forces the opponent to deal with it as soon as possible or you’ll raise a new army after just a turn or two. Additionally, they don’t know if you’ll run the Angels together, which can make optimal combat decisions difficult.
Finally, I’d like to again point out how good your removal options are here. Declaration and Silkwrap are great, and Stasis Snare is an easy upgrade if you want to hedge against bigger creatures. All of them exile, which makes the mirrors against slower Hangarback Walker and Deathmist Raptor decks hilarious.
If you dislike the 1-drops and don’t mind dropping Thalia’s Lieutenant, this was the best midrange Collected Company build I had.
It was a little too clunky and I never figured out whether I should bite the bullet and dump the Deathmist package for the full set of Thalia’s Lieutenant and some Hanweir Militia Captain action. All I know is that Declaration in Stone is amazing and Always Watching with Hangarback Walker is pretty fun. Here’s the WU take on the deck, which is decidedly more midrange.
Decks That Didn’t Pan Out
Speaking of decks that didn’t feel good during testing, playing with GR Ramp was sheer misery. It’s at least passable against Humans when you have Kozilek’s Return, but I was not happy at all with how it played out against Eldrazi. It doesn’t help that Declaration in Stone is a 2-mana answer to any of your relevant ramp threats or that it’s easy to get locked by Thought-Knot Seer and Eldrazi Displacer. I’m sure some version of the Ramp deck is still playable, but I’ve found that you spin your wheels too much if you play the Traverse/Ruin setup.
I have yet to see the appeal of Red Eldrazi over other colors. Blue has Drowner of Hope, which is still quite the beastly card in any midrange mirror. White has Eldrazi Displacer and Declaration, both of which do so much work. Every time I play one of those and go back to red, I stare at Roast or Warping Wail and am disappointed in my choice. Chandra is a great card, but not to the point where it’s worth taking a downgrade elsewhere.
Cryptolith Rite/Evolutionary Leap decks—I have yet to figure out a build that doesn’t completely pack it in against a deck that can apply pressure and remove one of its enchantments. Even slower strategies like Orzhov or WG Company decks have a long time to kill the opponent if they can just keep Rite or Zendikar Resurgent in check. With that said, it definitely feels more like a refinement issue rather than a conceptual one. I’d be surprised if there wasn’t a solid Rite deck by the time the Pro Tour rolls around.
Whatever you play this weekend, the most popular decks floating around the internet seem to primarily be Human tribal, Mono-Red Eldrazi, BW and GWx Midrange decks, so I recommend being prepared for those. Otherwise, try to have the best mana base you can and if even half your sideboard is still good in 2 weeks, then you did a great job putting it together. Best of luck!