Reading Twitter last week, I saw the repeated notion that Standard was over, Temur Aetherworks was declared the winner, and that everybody should pack up and go home. Let’s hope for an Aetherworks Marvel ban or emergency change to make Pithing Needle legal. I think we have a few more options than that.
There are 3 valid approaches to the format:
- Play Marvel
- Play a deck that beats Marvel when they don’t turn-4 Ulamog you
- Play a deck that stops Marvel from ever resolving
The decks that fall under #1 are obvious. The best example of #2 is Shaun McLaren’s GP Montreal deck—G/B Delirium, which on paper shouldn’t be good in the current format. But it’s very good at beating Marvel’s attempt at playing fair and attacks a resolved Marvel with 4 Dissenter’s Deliverance, reducing the attempts at a 2nd spin. This means that when the Marvel player hits the wrong end of variance, there’s a decent shot they never get another chance to implement their unfair plan.
Grim Flayer is an odd duck. I understand why he’s here, but I want to jam a more aggressive card. Traverse the Ulvenwald is in the same boat—it’s an amazing card that the current metagame gives you very few turns to setup. Besides the extra cost of this deck, I imagine that’s why Magic Online has a heavier focus on the energy builds with Longtusk Cub and Greenbelt Rampager. Plus Glint-Sleeve Siphoner, which is one of the best 2-drops you can play against Marvel and U/R Control decks.
Other decks that do this would be normal Mardu Vehicles, R/G Energy, and Zombies of both flavors. They can’t beat a turn-4 Ulamog outside of some very weird circumstances, so they don’t even try. Most of the time, you want to clock them early so the Marvel player is forced to exile your creatures, and then you chip shot them with a flyer or swarm around Ulamog.
As for #3, that’s the option that’s been steadily growing in popularity and best illustrated by U/R Control. It has very few good matchups in the format and only really exists because it lines up well against Marvel. Of course, that isn’t the only deck trying to stop Marvel on the stack—I’ve seen a resurgence of old-style U/W Flash decks along with U/W/x Vehicles, stripping out cards like Pia Nalaar and Unlicensed Disintegration for Metallic Rebuke and Spell Queller.
Let’s take a look at the new wave of U/W/x Aggro-Control decks.
This deck comes courtesy of Donald Smith, current Gold level pro and Mardu aficionado. The Jeskai (or 4c technically) build is an evolution of the Esper Vehicles deck Pascal Maynard talked about last week. The core remains the same—backing up aggressive starts with countermagic is good. Playing Toolcraft Exemplar, artifact 2-drop, and Rebuke brings back good memories of Delver decks.
Considering that Marvel is the top deck right now, one of the big draws toward the deck is how strong your normal draws are against them. Turn-1 Toolcraft Exemplar, turn-2 Heart of Kiran, turn-3 Scrapheap Scrounger/Veteran Motorist, and then holding up countermagic is game over. They frequently can’t afford to respect your countermagic, play into it, and you get a free win. The games that are actually difficult are when they stall for time and see Harnessed Lightning early, forcing a slower game where you have to tap out to keep the pressure on.
Marvel players don’t have a lot of plays that line up well with what you want to be doing. You retain the cheap threats, and they can’t effectively deal with Gideon, Ally of Zendikar outside of Ulamog. Even when you get dragged into a longer game, you can win via flyers and the resource advantage Gideon gives you. Veteran Motorist shines by increasing your clock via Vehicle beatdown and helping dig to countermagic.
Post-board you also have Nahiri, the Harbinger as a way to deal with Marvel and make sure you don’t flood out. Most of the games I’ve lost with the Jeskai Vehicles deck have been those where I flood out on lands, Heart, and creatures past their prime. Nahiri does a lot to alleviate this, and I’ve rarely lost when I’ve had her going for more than a turn.
As for changes to the current list, the main thing I want to try is Fatal Push in the sideboard, since G/B Energy and Temur Energy have been getting steadily more popular online. Magma Spray is currently utilized for the lack of strain on the mana, but Fatal Push better retains value after turns 3-4. I’ve also considered running a Thalia or Pia Nalaar in the sideboard to adjust to the attrition sideboard plan. Normally you’re taking out Toolcraft Exemplar and Spell Queller against creature-heavy decks and this leaves you low on creatures to crew your Vehicles with.
Skysovereign, Consul Flagship also may be better off as a 2nd Archangel Avacyn due to how many decks bring in artifact destruction. I liked Skyship vs. Zombies and R/G because of the immediate impact, but the number of cards that kill Archangel Avacyn are at an all-time low.
On the Play
On the Draw
Creature Decks – Attrition Plan
Alternately: Creature Decks – Attrition Plan (On the Play)
This is an alternate plan I’ve been messing with, you can force people to overextend to stop you from attacking early and then Fumigate to clean up. Scrapheap Scrounger and Veteran Motorist aren’t a big deal to throw away and Spell Queller is still obnoxious. The 2nd Archangel Avacyn would be better specifically for this type of hybrid plan.
Aggro Plan – On the Play
Most aggro decks are really bad at blocking, so leaving in all your aggressive creatures and backing it with more planeswalkers and removal is reasonable. I wouldn’t want to do this in the actual Mardu mirror, but against Zombies or R/G it’s actually quite good as a surprise option. This configuration is largely one I use in game 3 or against decks consisting of X/2 creatures.
Vehicles decks aren’t the only ones adapting though—I’ve seen the R/G Energy decks produce a Temur variant that’s quite streamlined compared to the Pro Tour build. It ditches cards like Elder-Deep Fiend for all around strong creatures backed by Negate, Harnessed Lightning, and even Confiscation Coup. Here’s an example from a 5-0 in a Magic Online League.
What may have been holding these types of decks back is the ongoing notion that you can play a deck with a mediocre Marvel matchup and get lucky. Sorry, the deck is too popular now—you’ll need quite the lucky streak to make it through any 9+ round tournament without battling Marvel at least 3-4 times and at a GP that number could be as high as 9-10.
While Marvel might create unwanted play patterns, there have been a number of adaptations in the past two weeks that make me believe the format isn’t quite a solved entity. In fact, the games I’ve played make me think people just didn’t want to try anything new after the Pro Tour. Obviously, Temur Aetherworks could improve once again and obsolete these new strategies, but for now there are at least 3-4 decks with reasonable Marvel matchups. Hopefully, we once again see the Magic Online results replicated in the real world, rather than another weekend of all Marvel finals.