This Standard format has been more fluid than we anticipated. Every weekend since release has been dominated by one deck, and the Standard hand-wringing begins anew. Except that every major tournament has been dominated by a different deck, which is a big difference from previous "bad" Standard formats. For a quick recap of what's happened:
- In week 1 we had the initial iterations of the B/G Aggro/Midrange Snek deck.
- In response to this, Saheeli combo of multiple types succeeded in absolutely dominating fashion.
- Then at Pro Tour Aether Revolt, Mardu Vehicles put up one of the strongest performances in PT history.
- Finally, GP Pittsburgh brings back a massive influx of B/G (of multiple varieties) to combat Mardu, and we see a Top 8 with Saheeli, B/G, and Mardu.
Right now we have a trifecta of top decks and a handful of fringe meta calls that may spring up from time to time. It reminds me of Return to Ravnica/Theros where 3 decks would succeed at every tournament, and every so often another deck would pop up and do well for a weekend. Depending on how much variety you demand from your format, either this is a solid Standard metagame with fluidity week to week, or you feel the format has already reached its stagnation point.
The matchups roughly look like:
G/B (Big) < Copycat < Mardu < G/B (Little)
U/R Emerge and 4c Aetherworks are the outliers, with high power levels and the largest chance of making an immediate impact.
So you have a couple of options moving forward:
- Practice with one of the tier 1 decks and play well.
- Guess which deck is going to be dominant and jump on the counterplay tier 1 deck.
- Play B/G (which has the least polarized matches) and sacrifice a few percentage points to win mirrors.
- Play an off-meta choice that lines up well against two of the three.
If you choose #4, then I think the best 2 options available to you are U/R Emerge and Sultai Control. Both of these decks, at least in theory, have good matchups against at least two of the tier 1 strategies. The primary deficiency here is that both of these decks tend to lose to themselves more often than the other top decks. They sacrifice some amount of consistency to enable more powerful plans.
For example, U/R Emerge demolishes most of the G/B decks with any decent draw. They can't beat Fevered Visions, and their answer to Stitchwing and Amalgam recursion is a hardy shrug. Kozilek's Return also deals enough damage to nuke their entire side of the board and nothing in their deck kills Elder Deep-Fiend. Only the low-to-the-ground energy decks can consistently push enough damage to really make it close. On the flip side, you can lose the match by simply casting your red draw spells and never seeing an Amalgam.
Meanwhile, Sultai Control decks of various flavors have done well locally at our PPTQs and I've been impressed by how strong Traverse the Ulvenwald is in a build where you have access to the blue and black Gearhulks. The main issue I've run into is that they lack the robust draw to get past the 1-for-1 trade stage of the game. It was the same issue with U/R Control, but is somewhat magnified here when you draw early game cards you literally cannot cast. Still, it gives you some of the most versatile answers in Standard and the Gearhulk-Traverse engine.
Okay, but what if you don't want to go off the beaten path, and instead want to engage with one of the established tier 1 decks? While B/G isn't my cup of tea, there's no denying just how consistently well it has done week in and week out. As long as you tweak the deck to your particular play style and don't open yourself up in any big way to the mirror (moving Fatal Push to the board for example), then you always have a fair shot.
Gonti, Lord of Luxury is starting to become the common play in the main deck on Magic Online. Meanwhile, looking at the Pittsburgh Top 8, only Hunter Cochran had it in his main deck. Scroll down a few places though and then you start to see a lot more of it, such as in Brad Nelson and Ben Rubin's takes on the deck. If you want to stick with a strong ground game, then it makes sense to shelve Gonti. But if you want to stick around longer, then I'd be a lot more interested in Gonti for trading purposes and the blowout of hitting a key Fatal Push or Gearhulk out of the opponent's deck.
Ben Rubin, 11th place at GP Pittsburgh
Brad Nelson, 12th place at GP Pittsburgh
I highlight these 2 decks because it shows you just how far we are from any consensus on how to build G/B. Reddit user Chaos2718 put together a spreadsheet of the Top 8 B/G list card choices, and you see how different everything is.
Finally, I wanted to post my current iteration of Mardu Vehicles.
My build isn't particularly different from the current crop. I run 3 Fatal Push main because it's good against B/G and in the mirror, and I'd rather not bother with Shock. I wouldn't even hate running the 4th in the main deck, but instead I've decided to slow the deck down slightly and add better game-1 threats for these midrange matches. Gisela demands an answer or an equally obnoxious threat on the other side of the table, or she simply dominates the battlefield. Skysovereign, Consul Flagship is a card in the same vein—when my Vehicle mirrors involve Gideon, and I go over the top with a Flagship, they typically aren't recovering.
You'll notice a dearth of artifacts in the sideboard and my continued reliance on Metallic Rebuke when I'm on the play against Saheeli and midrange decks. I started cutting many of my artifacts for the post-board games, especially on the draw, because of how badly Release the Gremlins trump the Vehicles mirror. No longer a fun-of, instead everyone packs at least 2 and some bring in even more. Adding additional cards like Aethersphere Harvester and Skyship used to make some sense as they were among the best mirror threats, but now they simply open you up to a one-sided Wrath.
Last season, Goblin Dark-Dwellers was my card of choice for B/R and Mardu mirrors, since you always had a removal spell and it was difficult to justify a double-block if you held open mana. The same concept applies now, as we saw in the round 15 Vehicles mirror at GP Pittsburgh. It can look like one player is getting run over, but there are enough recovery mechanisms that games can end in long standoffs with neither player being able to achieve a decisive attacking advantage.
With few real burn spells in the deck, playing the equivalent of draw-go isn't nearly as dangerous as it's been in past aggro mirrors. So cards like Dark-Dwellers and Skyship value increase in value as dangerous attackers who take out an opposing threat without costing a card. Even if they eat a Disintegration, you don't lose any value. My plan in the mirror is to maximize my chances of getting into those positions and winning with superior grindy threats and converting extra cards into a superior attacking advantage. The singleton Painful Truths is another example of that strategy at work—I'm testing Truths because a draw-3 in a neutral position is often game over.
Whatever build you decide on, try to keep a clear goal your mirror strategy, because the better players will always have one for these matches. Other builds will have different optimal strategies and key cards, especially for B/G, so accomplishing that much will put you in a good position when you inevitably play the mirror.