Well, Standard has flipped dramatically over the past few weeks. On one hand, Red has started to fall off online and Grixis Energy has come back after looking like the worst of the U/B/x decks. On the other hand, U/B Control has proven itself to be one of the best decks in the format and both G/R Monsters and G/W Aggro turned out to be the real deal. What boggles the mind, though, is that this may not even be the end of the evolution of this Standard format.
Right now, we have a wide open metagame, and Magic Online has moved away from its most popular decks. I’d be surprised if anything in the competitive Leagues has more than a 15% metagame share. Just because Mono-Red got worse doesn’t mean the deck is dead. After no-showing the Top 8 at Memphis, it put four in the Top 8 of the Classic last weekend. Meanwhile, R/G Monsters is one of the slowest gainers despite a really impressive showing from the GP weekend.
So if you were to prepare for a Standard tournament, the list of reasonable decks you could run into looks something like:
- U/B Midrange
- U/B Control
- Grixis Energy
- Mono-Red Aggro
- G/R Monsters
- G/W Tokens
- Sultai Constrictor
- Abzan/W/B Tokens
And that isn’t even taking into account all the niche decks like W/U Auras, W/U Approach, B/W Vampires, and so on that can still win a PPTQ or Top 8 a Classic on any given weekend. The best decks all share certain cores: U/B Midrange/Control are based around Vraska’s Contempt and The Scarab God, along with a lot of 1-for-1s and bits of incidental card advantage. G/R, G/W, and Naya all use explore creatures as a base and then pair it with going wide or going in the air.
Still, there’s a bit of refinement and interesting developments being made in these archetypes despite being rather established. Here’s one of the best examples from Lightdar, who won the Magic Online PTQ.
By throwing out Adanto Vanguard and any semblance of planeswalkers, Lighdar found room for a full complement of Vehicles. What’s even more surprising is that Heart of Kiran is nowhere to be found, and this deck instead leans on Harvester and Skysovereign as its flyers of choice. Not only does this provide a nice wall against red decks and another way to interact with planeswalkers, it gives the deck something to do if it gets brickwalled on the ground. Skysovereign is also ridiculous from everything I’ve seen, taking down most of the creatures in the format while providing a reasonable clock.
The one thing Appeal // Authority was really missing was some sort of evasion creature. Seven flyers help fill that gap rather nicely and don’t uproot your entire curve like Carnage Tyrant would. The G/W decks are getting better and better at spreading out their threats and making it hard to run them out of resources.
Speaking of Carnage Tyrant though, I did play against an interesting hybrid the other day in one of my League runs. I didn’t get to see the whole list, but I got enough of a feel for it to recreate it.
Obviously, the sideboard is the sketchiest part and probably a little more “good stuff” than it should be, but I got the core intact. Hour of Promise is one of the most powerful cards in the format nobody is playing and it does two things a bigger G/W decks wants: It generates more tokens and it nabs Shefet Dunes to make a wide board instantly lethal. It hedges against U/B decks game 1 by immediately going way over the top with main-deck Carnage Tyrant.
Walking Ballista was one of the cards that surprised me, but in general Ballista is seeing more play lately due to how many targets it has on x=1 or x=2. When it’s relevant across the board* instead of a handful of matchups it doesn’t take nearly as much convincing to slide a few into the main deck. Throwing in that Hour of Promise can easily get you to larger Ballistas/double-pump scenarios and it makes sense.
*Kills Glint-Sleeve Siphoner, Thopters, almost everything in G/W or Red, and can be obnoxious to deal with for U/B in general.
Meanwhile, decks going wide are at one of their strongest points right now, so even W/B Vampires looks like it may have a fresh chance. Here’s a sample deck list from musasabi.
This deck could be a worse version of G/W Tokens, but having a more impactful sideboard could pique your interest. Here’s the deal: Cards like Fumigate and Settle the Wreckage have completely fallen by the wayside. Sweepers in general are at an all-time low. Cards like Fatal Push and Vraska’s Contempt don’t exactly hold up against cards like Dusk Legion Zealot and Call to the Feast. You essentially give up better cards by picking B/W for even more cards that go-wide.
So if you anticipate your local tournaments will be filled with U/B players and decks soft to life gain, this type of strategy works wonders. What it lacks in power can be made up for in synergy and positioning. What you don’t want is to run into the other go-wide decks in the format, Sultai Constrictor (you can’t beat their plan A or B), or decks that can race by jamming Phoenix into Glorybringer. While that creates a narrow window to succeed, it does exist, which is more than I can say back in the beginning of February!
So that’s Standard in a nutshell. Without many major Standard tournaments before Dominaria hits shelves, I don’t think we’ll see too much of a shakeup in the format in the remaining month. But from how rocky that final set of bannings looked I don’t think it’s unfair to say that this is the healthiest and most varied Standard has looked in a long time. Now, is it fun? That’s up to personal taste and I think the play patterns are a bit too samey (giant overstatted threat versus spot removal isn’t the best over a hundred games) but I like it a hell of a lot more than playing against Mono Temur Energy or Marvel.
Hopefully this is the beginning of a new era for Standard formats and not just a temporary reprieve from the same old same old. With Modern continuing to boast unparalleled popularity and varied game play, it’s hard for any format to compete, but Dominaria looks quite strong at a glance, so we’ll see if that boosts Standard play.