Last weekend, several National Championships were held around the world. I competed at Dutch Nationals myself, joining 272 other competitors for 12 rounds of Swiss. The field of players was strong, the event featured both Standard and Draft, and there were enough rounds to balance out variance. It really had the feel of a special event. I love having Nationals back, and the event brought out a deserving champion and finalist.

Champion Daan Pruijt and finalist Tijmen Blankevoort.

Daan and Tijmen are excellent and well-liked players with previous PT and WMC experience, so replies of “sick team!” were abound. If the current Pro Point standings hold, they will be joined at the World Magic Cup by Thomas Hendriks, who has a sizable lead going into the last Pro Tour of the season.

My own tournament was not as spectacular, as I lost the last round playing for Top 8 and my deck was a relatively stock Mono-Red Chainwhirler build. But the Top 8 featured several interesting deck choices. Since Nationals was among the first set of premier Standard events since the release of Core Set 2019, we saw a good amount of innovation and can definitely draw some useful lessons from the choices of the Top 8 players.

The Top 8 players of Dutch Nationals: Nick Bresser, Daan Pruijt, Jasper Otte, Tijmen Blankevoort, Teun Verstraten, Thomas Hendriks, Rob Thoen, and Bas Melis (left to right).

Mono-Blue Storm is the Real Deal

Paradoxical Storm

Daan Pruijt, 1st place at Dutch Nationals

Between the Swiss and the Top 8, Daan Pruijt went 8-0-1 with his version of Mono-Blue Storm. This combo deck exploits a critical mass of cheap artifacts with Paradoxical Outcome and Inspiring Statuary, and the win condition is Aetherflux Reservoir. If you start the turn with Aetherflux Reservoir on the battlefield and cast N spells one-by-one, then you’ll gain N(N+1)/2 life, which can already become lethal for N=8.

The printing of Sai, Master Thopterist in Core Set 2019 did a lot for the deck. Sai empowers Inspiring Statuary, survives Lightning Strike, turns on Mox Amber, and buys time. Daan felt the card was so good for the deck that he preferred drawing too many than too few, so he went with four copies. After the event, he told me that he was happy with that choice. According to him, the interaction with Mox Amber is extremely important for combo turns because Mox Amber is the only card that adds blue mana, and he would actually consider complementing the four Sai with the forth Mox.

Although Daan often shows up with innovative decks, he didn’t build it all by himself. He followed discussions between other Storm players, including “Storm in all formats” streamer Marc Tobiasch, in the chat of Gabriel Nassif’s stream, and they inspired him to play the deck.

Perhaps the best part of the deck is the sideboard. Karn, Scion of Urza in particular adds a whole new angle to the deck, especially when you can cast him for free with Baral’s Expertise. I watched Daan devastate a Steel Leaf Stompy player with this “combo.” It not only reset his opponent’s board, but it also ensured that his opponent had no creatures remaining to pressure Karn on the next attack. Backed up with Exclusion Mage and Sai, Master Thopterist, a pair of 7/7 Construct tokens won the match shortly after, with no need for Aetherflux Reservoir.

Exclusion Mage, by the way, is a card that I haven’t seen in the sideboard of Storm decks before, but Daan really liked it as a way to buy time against Steel Leaf Champion. He mentioned that he would actually consider a third in his sideboard over an Aether Meltdown.

If you were wondering about Daan’s weird sideboard split of one Navigator’s Compass and one Fountain of Renewal: it’s because he couldn’t find a second Navigator’s Compass: “I opened seven Dominaria boosters to find one, but couldn’t get there. Almost cost me round 1!” Given that Navigator’s Compass is much better in a deck with Paradoxical Outcome, be sure to pack the right 1-mana artifact if you pick up the deck.

It’s nice to have a thoughtful combo deck in Standard, and I think this is the real deal. I was impressed every time I saw Daan play. That said, it’s not an easy deck to simply pick up and play, and there are plenty of weird tricks to keep in mind. For example, if you have Inspiring Statuary, you sometimes want to Unwind your own spell to gain access to extra blue mana. Sideboarding is also not easy, as you have to vary based on who is on the play. For example, Daan told me that he sometimes boards out Metallic Rebuke on the draw but keeps them on the play. And did you know that if you respond to an Aetherflux Reservoir trigger by playing another spell, the life gain trigger will count that spell as well? The list goes on, but the deck is sweet.

Steel Leaf Stompy also Gained a Lot

Steel Leaf Stompy

Thomas Hendriks, Top 8 at Dutch Nationals

Steel Leaf Stompy

Nick Bresser, Top 8 at Dutch Nationals

Steel Leaf Stompy was already a contender before Core Set 2019, and the new set brought three important additions. Many players told me that they viewed “Mono-Green” as the deck to beat this weekend, and after the dust settled there were two Steel Leaf Stompy players in the Top 8. Even though both lost in the quarterfinals, it’s still a sign of strength.

The first possible addition from Core Set 2019 is Thorn Lieutenant. It’s a reasonable 2-drop that blocks well, provides value when targeted by Earthshaker Khenra or Lightning Strike, and guards against mana flood. Nick Bresser played 3 copies.

The second addition is Vine Mare. Both players had four Vine Mare in their 75, and Thomas Hendriks even put all four in his main deck. To ramp into them, Thomas opted for Servant of the Conduit over Thorn Lieutenant.

I was very impressed when I saw the Horse in action this weekend. Hexproof on a big body matters a ton and can single-handedly win the game against removal-heavy draws. I watched one game where Thomas’s opponent kept a creature-light hand with Cut // Ribbons, Chandra, Torch of Defiance, and Unlicensed Disintegration, and a turn-3 Vine Mare was basically game over.

Even more importantly, Vine Mare ensures that you can keep a creature on the battlefield for Rhonas the Indomitable and Ghalta, Primal Hunger. With so many cards that heavily rely on having enough power on the battlefield, ensuring that your 5-power creature will stick around is huge. Given that, I like Thomas’s list going forward.

The “can’t be blocked by black creatures” clause is mostly flavor text, but it’s important to realize that tokens created by The Scarab God or God-Pharaoh’s Gift are black. An eternalized Earthshaker Khenra won’t be blocking either.

The final Core Set 2019 addition for this deck is Vivien Reid. She’s a solid sideboard option against control decks, providing card advantage turn after turn. Based on the creature count in Thomas’ main deck, you’re about 95% to hit a creature with her +1 ability. And there are plenty of targets for her -3 ability, including Cast Out, Nicol Bolas, the Ravager, and God-Pharaoh’s Gift.

R/B Chainwhirler is Still Around

R/B Chainwhirler

Tijmen Blankevoort, 2nd place at Dutch Nationals

You don’t have to reinvent the wheel to succeed. R/B Chainwhirler is still one of the best archetypes in Standard, and Tijmen trusted the well-tuned list  Owen Turtenwald played at U.S. Nationals a few weeks ago.

While he didn’t add any new Core Set 2019 cards, he did make a few tweaks for the metagame. As he told me, he expected to face Steel Leaf Champion and Nicol Bolas, the Ravager, so he replaced two Lightning Strike and one Hazoret the Fervent from Owen’s main deck with two Cut // Ribbons and one Rekindling Phoenix. These small tweaks can matter a lot, and they worked out well for him.

Standard Seems Diverse

In the early weeks of Dominaria Standard, it seemed like Goblin Chainwhirler decks were dominant, with no good way to beat them. But the format has adapted, and judging from the Top 8 of Dutch Nationals there is still a diversity of good options.

W/U Gift

Teun Verstraten, 3rd place at Dutch Nationals

Despite the printing of Stitcher’s Supplier, Teun stuck with W/U Gift, and he beat me in a close match in the last round to make Top 8. As he told me after the event, he was happy with the list but would love to add two Walking Ballista to be able to beat Glint-Sleeve Siphoners, which are otherwise a beating.

B/G Constrictor

Jasper Otte, 4th place at Dutch Nationals

Jasper Otte’s G/B Constrictor build runs Servant of the Conduit instead of Llanowar Elves, which is almost surely a concession to the presence of Goblin Chainwhirler. I personally wouldn’t go this far unless over 50% of the field is playing the triple-red card, but it worked out well enough for Jasper.

R/B Chainwhirler

Rob Thoen, Top 8 at Dutch Nationals

Rob brought back Karn, Scion of Urza, a card that had fallen out of favor in R/B Chainwhirler builds. To support the planeswalker, his list had Walking Ballista as well.

A noteworthy card in his sideboard is Moment of Craving, which seems well-positioned when hyper-aggressive red decks with Viashino Pyromancer and The Flame of Keld are on the rise.

Esper Control

Bas Melis, Top 8 at Dutch Nationals

My teammate Bas has been playing Esper Control for quite a while, and I have complete faith in his card choices. His build was geared toward a creature-heavy metagame, with more Essence Scatter, Forsake the Worldly, and Cast Down and with fewer Syncopate and Glimmer of Genius than most builds.

The most unique card in his sideboard is Deadeye Tracker. As he explained to me, it’s like an Arguel’s Blood Fast that can attack, protect Teferi from The Eldest Reborn, and randomly hose God-Pharaoh’s Gift. Given that his deck already had enough Teferis and Gearhulks for the late game, he preferred an early threat over Chromium, the Mutable.

Nicol Bolas was Notably Absent

There were zero copies of Nicol Bolas, the Ravager in the Top 8 of Dutch Nationals, and I didn’t see many copies of the Dragon near the top tables of the tournament during the Swiss either.

Even though it’s a powerful card, I don’t see a large benefit to “splashing” Nicol Bolas, the Ravager in Goblin Chainwhirler decks, as you already have an excellent selection of single-color 4-drops in red. And I agree with Bas Melis’ evaluation that a base blue-black control deck is better off splashing Teferi than splashing Nicol Bolas.

The only home for Nicol Bolas that makes sense to me is a 3-color midrange shell. A good list can be found among the Top 8 deck lists of Austrian Nationals, where the Top 2 players were Marc Mühlböck (Steel Leaf Stompy) and Immanuel Gerschenson (Grixis Midrange).

Grixis Midrange

Immanuel Gerschenson, 2nd place at Austrian Nationals

The new Standard is fresh, exciting, and filled with plenty of possibilities. If you played or watched Nationals yourself last weekend, what was your favorite Standard innovation?