The Field Report – The Top Six Decks in Standard

As we’ve learned over time, there are things that crowdsourcing is just incredibly good at. In an inversion of Tommy Lee Jones’s lines comparing “a person” and “people” from Men in Black, it turns out that there are many areas where “people” are way smarter than “a person.” You may have heard about the recent example of gamers solving a longstanding protein structural puzzle via the online game Foldit.

Foldit leverages the subtle differences in approach between individuals – the article calls it “intuition,” but that really makes it sound more magical than it is. Maybe Bob in Ohio is better at seeing how surfaces can interlock, but Sue in Montana has superior skills in imagining the rotation of objects in three dimensions. Individually, Bob is likely to get stuck at the rotation step, and Sue is going to have issues with interlock, but if we get a little bit of effort from each of them, we come up with a resolved protein structure.

Similarly, if you ask enough people about a new metagame, you can get some pretty good results. The last time I asked you all to predict the coming metagame, you did pretty well, pegging the top six decks right out of the gates. But that was just post-ban in an otherwise static Standard…what about post-rotation?

We’ll see. A whole bunch of you responded, and here’s what you came up with.

The six best decks

As before, we asked people to list what they thought were the “best decks” in the new Scars-M12-Innistrad Standard. I’m going to review them here, counting down from number six on the list.

Honorable Mention – Puresteel

This time, like last time, the survey asked both “What’s the best deck?” and “Which decks will be played the most?” Unlike last time, there was significant overlap between the answers to both questions – they only differed by whether one archetype made the top six list or not.

Puresteel was our winner there, being tied for fifth/sixth place for “most played” but coming in just after the marker in seventh place on the “best” list. Puresteel decks certainly seem like obvious contenders for the new Standard, since essentially the entire core engine of the deck remains untouched.

As a special bonus, you can also now generate a sort of Puresteel/Humans hybrid deck, sticking in [card]Parish Champion[/card] or other cards that like to see humans on the battlefield (notably, both [card]Puresteel Paladin[/card]s and [card]Mirran Crusader[/card]s are humans).

Josh Silvestri has already discussed one possible take on Puresteel:

Puresteel (by Josh Silvestri)

[deck]4 Inkmoth Nexus
19 Plains
2 Mox Opal
2 Etched Champion
4 Mirran Crusader
4 Mentor of the Meek
4 Puresteel Paladin
4 Dispatch
4 Flayer Husk
4 Mortarpod
1 Swiftfoot Boots
1 Butcher’s Cleaver
1 Sword of Body and Mind
3 Sword of War and Peace
3 Sword of Feast and Famine[/deck]

Note that Puresteel is a distinct archetype from the various CawBlade descendents – the distinction is marked most by the fact that when a Puresteel deck is working properly, you’re going to have active metalcraft. That should pretty much never happen in the HexBlade builds (see below for more on those).

So Puresteel didn’t quite make the cut to “best,” but you all certainly expect to see Puresteel decks running around out there. They probably don’t require any special added hate to beat that you already won’t be packing for those decks that did make the “best” list.

Number 6 – Red!

Coming in at the tail end of the big vote getters, we have the classic mishmash of decks that can all be broadly described as “Red.” Most respondents didn’t specify a lot of detail about the red deck they were referring to, which I think is a pretty accurate reflection about the lack of understanding of exactly what kind of red decks or decks we’re going to see. Certainly, this category embraces everything from hyperspeed, glass-cannon Kuldotha Red builds through slower-moving, more controlling “Big Red” builds.

Here’s an early Red! contender from Magic League:

Red (as piloted by MitchMachine)

[deck]4 Grim Lavamancer
3 Furnace Scamp
4 Stormblood Berserker
3 Hero of Oxid Ridge
3 Chandra’s Phoenix
4 Stromkirk Noble
4 Brimstone Volley
3 Incinerate
3 Arc Trail
4 Shrine of Burning Rage
2 Koth of the Hammer
23 Mountain
1 Sword of War and Peace
3 Manic Vandal
1 Hero of Oxid Ridge
3 Vulshok Refugee
2 Act of Aggression
3 Dismember
1 Koth of the Hammer
1 Arc Trail[/deck]

This seems like a highly plausible take on red for the new Standard. Notably, it’s pretty light on Innistrad cards, featuring just [card]Stromkirk Noble[/card] and [card]Brimstone Volley[/card]. It will be interesting to see if Volley plays out as a viable Constructed card, being a sort of “Morbid Shrapnel Blast.” The Noble is certainly a contender for aggressive decks, as it (1) grows and (2) actually ends up walking right by a fair chunk of the potential blockers in the format.

So there are no fundamental surprises I’d expect here – fast, aggressive creatures, burn, and [card koth of the hammer]Koth[/card]. If you knew how to prepare for Red decks before, you probably still do now.

Number 5 – Solar Flare

The original Solar Flare deck was a control deck with a smattering of reanimation that propelled our illustrious editor in chief to a U.S. National team membership in 2006:

Solar Flare (as piloted by Luis-Scott Vargas)

[deck]2 Azorius Chancery
2 Caves of Koilos
1 Eiganjo Castle
3 Godless Shrine
1 Island
1 Mikokoro, Center of the Sea
1 Minamo, School at Water’s Edge
1 Miren, the Moaning Well
1 Orzhov Basilica
3 Plains
1 Shizo, Death’s Storehouse
2 Swamp
1 Tendo Ice Bridge
1 Underground River
2 Watery Grave
3 Angel of Despair
3 Court Hussar
1 Ink-Eyes, Servant of Oni
2 Kokusho, the Evening Star
1 Meloku the Clouded Mirror
2 Yosei, the Morning Star
4 Azorius Signet
4 Compulsive Research
2 Dimir Signet
3 Mortify
2 Persecute
4 Remand
4 Wrath of God
2 Zombify
3 Castigate
3 Condemn
2 Cranial Extraction
3 Descendant of Kiyomaro
3 Last Gasp
1 Persecute[/deck]

In compiling the survey results this time around, I batched answers that included “Reanimator,” “Esper Control,” and “Solar Flare” into this overall Solar Flare category.

The logic here is that all of the reanimator decks we’ve seen discussed and proposed so far are basically in the vein of Solar Flare – control decks that leverage reanimation but do not strictly live or die on the back of it.

For example, the [card]Forbidden Alchemy[/card] deck I proposed in this week’s In Development fits nicely into the Solar Flare categorization:

Alchemy Control

[deck]1 Elixir of Immortality
1 Nihil Spellbomb
1 Traveler’s Amulet
3 Doom Blade
4 Mana Leak
3 Snapcaster Mage
4 Think Twice
2 Dissipate
4 Forbidden Alchemy
2 Trinket Mage
3 Day of Judgment
4 Unburial Rites
2 Consecrated Sphinx
1 Sunblast Angel
4 Plains
3 Island
2 Swamp
4 Seachrome Coast
4 Glacial Fortress
2 Darkslick Shores
4 Isolated Chapel
2 Drowned Catacomb
3 Timely Reinforcements
1 Dissipate
3 Oblivion Ring
1 Trinket Mage
2 Memoricide
2 Curse of Death’s Hold
1 Consecrated Sphinx
1 Sunblast Angel
1 Wurmcoil Engine[/deck]

The essential character of this category is that the decks are three-color concoctions touching White, Blue, and Black. They are highly likely to include [card]Liliana of the Veil[/card] (unlike my proposed list), and they will have some fatties to bring back from the graveyard via [card]Unburial Rites[/card], as well as [card]Forbidden Alchemy[/card] and other options to get them there in the first place.

The take-home here is that you should be prepared not just to deal with your opponent’s graveyard, but potentially to deal with it through their wall of countermagic and disruption. A core value of the Solar Flare approach is that your opponent isn’t just dealing with a glass-cannon reanimator combo deck. Instead, they have to deal with a control deck that also gets bonus card advantage piled on top of its card advantage.

One final note – a late-stage variation on the Solar Flare deck the first time around was Solar Pox, which wedded the Flare idea with [card]Smallpox[/card].

Smallpox is in the format. That is all.

Number 4 – HexBlade

HexBlade is the nom de guerre I’ve assigned to the family of decks that has coalesced in the wake of all those [card]Squadron Hawk[/card]s leaving the format. They are mostly U/W, although there is a U/B subset, and they feature a mix of aggressive, often Hexproof and unblockable, creatures, and their eponymous Swords.

I learned from the survey that some of you are just straight-up afraid of this archetype. I think that can mostly be ascribed to aftershocks from the dominance its predecessors had over the format, as the new blade-bearing decks probably play out significantly differently.

The chief swordwielders in modern HexBlade decks include [card]Geist of Saint Traft[/card], [card]Inkmoth Nexus[/card], and [card]Invisible Stalker[/card]…as well as a series of Moorland Haunt tokens, which give the HexBlade pilot extra value from their creatures – it’s basically a form of limited flashback for each one.

HexBlade decks that I’ve encountered so far also tend to play three or the full four [card]Snapcaster Mage[/card]s, although that’s far from the rule, as this build shows:

HexBlade (as piloted by p_dadi24)

[deck]4 Glacial Fortress
4 Seachrome Coast
3 Inkmoth Nexus
4 Island
2 Gavony Township
4 Shimmering Grotto
5 Plains
2 Phantasmal Image
3 Fiend Hunter
2 Geist of Saint Traft
3 Sun Titan
4 Blade Splicer
2 Hero of Bladehold
3 Oblivion Ring
2 Sword of Feast and Famine
4 Mana Leak
4 Ponder
3 Gideon Jura
2 Timely Reinforcements
1 Sword of Feast and Famine
2 Timely Reinforcements
3 Celestial Purge
3 Naturalize
3 Day of Judgment
3 Negate[/deck]

These decks play out slightly differently from the CawBlade decks of recent post-M12 Standard. Although they lose most of their card advantage engines with the departure of [card]Squadron Hawk[/card] and Jace, they gain the ability to connect explosively with the opponent, especially in those builds that run three or four copies of the dearly departed Mr. Traft.

I suspect it’s the pressure from cards like the Geist and Invisible Stalker that has induced so many of you to rate [card]Day of Judgment[/card] as an important card for the new Standard. Similarly, their likely prevalence in the format means that [card]Tumble Magnet[/card] has suddenly lost a lot of value as a key card in staving of Sword attacks.

Number 3 – U/B Control

Quite a few of you think that U/B Control is going to be a big deal in the coming weeks. I’m not sure I agree with that – I suspect Solar Flare will eat a lot of U/B Control’s lunch, both due to the ability to flashback [card]Unburial Rites[/card] and the general efficiency of [card]Day of Judgment[/card] over pretty much any sweeper option U/B Control has to offer.

That said, the deck did receive a host of flashback cards that it can use quite efficiently, so it may still have game.

No U/B Control decks have done well in any of the “pregame” arenas I checked, so I’ll instead include one you’ve likely already seen from Patrick Chapin, as he’s going to have a better handle on this kind of archetype than most:

U/B Control (by Patrick Chapin)

[deck]1 Grave Titan
1 Elixir of Immortality
9 Island
7 Swamp
1 Despise
2 Dismember
1 Karn Liberated
4 Snapcaster Mage
3 Curse of Death’s Hold
4 Forbidden Alchemy
1 Tribute to Hunger
2 Nephalia Drownyard
4 Drowned Catacomb
2 Doom Blade
3 Dissipate
2 Consecrated Sphinx
4 Darkslick Shores
1 Volition Reins
4 Mana Leak
4 Think Twice
2 Sorin’s Thirst
1 Life’s Finale
2 Torpor Orb
2 Surgical Extraction
2 Flashfreeze
2 Witchbane Orb
1 Bloodline Keeper
2 Negate
1 Wurmcoil Engine
1 Memoricide[/deck]

By and large, these U/B Control decks seem likely to play out like traditional draw-go control. Draw cards, counter spells, eventually tap out for something large and clean house. Probably the biggest “card to watch” in there is [card]Curse of Death’s Hold[/card], which offers the possibility of eventually locking out token-based aggro decks altogether – and, notably, making you Nexus-proof.

One fascinating take-home from the popularity of U/B Control and Solar Flare is that the draw of black is very, very strong right now – strong enough that the U/W Control did not make the top six list at all. After all, even if [card]Day of Judgment[/card] is good, who doesn’t want to flashback [card]Forbidden Alchemy[/card] in their control deck?

Number 2 – Tempered Steel

No shocker here.

The belief is that designs that did well in block will certainly do well in post-rotation Standard. It can’t have hurt that Tempered Steel seemed to be on an upswing before the rotation – although that version has lost at least one key card in [card]Steel Overseer[/card].

Tempered Steel certainly does win the award for “deck least likely to play even a single card from Innistrad.” Check out this recent take on it:

Tempered Steel (as piloted by bosty)

[deck]4 Origin Spellbomb
4 Dispatch
4 Glint Hawk Idol
2 Mox Opal
4 Tempered Steel
4 Hero of Bladehold
3 Blade Splicer
1 Vault Skirge
4 Signal Pest
4 Memnite
4 Porcelain Legionnaire
1 Contested War Zone
4 Inkmoth Nexus
17 Plains
2 Phyrexian Revoker
2 Etched Champion
3 Leonin Relic-Warder
4 Celestial Purge
4 Shrine of Loyal Legions[/deck]

This update on the archetype has taken a hit from Scars Block Constructed and bolstered the machines with [card]Hero of Bladehold[/card]. This helps keep the deck not just explosive but also a little bit more durable, since it can reload with a single card.

Tempered Steel does face bonus hate in Innistrad with the dual additions of [card]Stony Silence[/card] and [card]Ancient Grudge[/card]. Perhaps ironically, the loss of [card]Steel Overseer[/card] has made the deck more resilient against Silence, since instead of losing one of its pseudo-Crusades, the deck now only loses the ability to activate its sideboarded Shrines, [card]Glint Hawk Idol[/card]s, and [card]Origin Spellbomb[/card]s. Note that Nexus isn’t an artifact when you go to activate it, so it gets to blithely ignore [card]Stony Silence[/card] and swing in for poison anyway.

In my testing and evaluation so far, the real danger cards for contemporary Tempered Steel seem to be its namesake (naturally) and those tiny little [card]Signal Pest[/card]s. Just one active [card]Signal Pest[/card] can mean from 2-4 bonus points of damage per turn, which can end games awfully quickly.

Number 1 – Birthing Pod

As the most powerful engine to survive the Standard rotation, Birthing Pod is not really a surprise for the number one spot.

Notice that I’m not calling it “the most powerful engine in Standard.” I have a strong suspicion that [card]Forbidden Alchemy[/card] will earn that label in short order. However, [card]Birthing Pod[/card] has the advantage of being a known quantity, which means that many people already have nearly Standard-legal decks together, and they at least believe they have a good feel for how the deck should operate.

On the other hand, Birthing Pod is a midrange deck that mixes certain proactive plans (such as mana denial) with a “silver bullet” strategy. As a consequence, if you don’t have a good handle on the metagame, you may come loaded with the wrong silver bullets.

Bant Pod (Josh Silvestri)

[deck]4 Birds of Paradise
4 Avacyn’s Pilgrim
2 Viridian Emissary
1 Leonin Relic-Warder
1 Phantasmal Image
4 Mentor of the Meek
4 Blade Splicer
1 Mirran Crusader
1 Fiend Hunter
1 Sylvok Replica
1 Phyrexian Metamorph
1 Solemn Simulacrum
2 Hero of Bladehold
2 Acidic Slime
1 Geist-Honored Monk
1 Archon of Justice
1 Sun Titan
4 Birthing Pod
1 Island
5 Plains
8 Forest
2 Gavony Township
4 Razorverge Thicket
4 Sunpetal Grove[/deck]

Bant is the most common Birthing Pod configuration but far from the only one. The most common alternatives to W/U/G include R/U/G and B/U/G. Although in the past we’ve seen people toy with Pod decks without the blue, so far the consensus among all of you seems to be that both green and blue are critical elements.

With the departure of Splinter Twin, most Pod decks operate on the same core game plan. Cast early creatures, resolve a Pod, work up your value chain until you stop at a six- or seven-drop, with both [card elesh norn, grand cenobite]Elesh Norn[/card] and [card sheoldred, whispering one]Sheoldred[/card] being popular as the Pod end boss.

Given the consensus popularity of Birthing Pod, players would be well advised to have some kind of effective hate, whether that’s artifact removal such as [card]Divine Offering[/card] or something more proactively disruptive such as [card]Stony Silence[/card], [card]Torpor Orb[/card], and [card]Phyrexian Revoker[/card]. The natural corollary is that Pod players should be expecting to hit exactly this brand of hate and should either have cards to deal with it or a build that works even if your Pods aren’t active.

Bringing it together

This is only the second time we’ve run this experiment of crowdsourcing the metagame. On the one hand, we might expect you all to get it right yet again – after all, we’re asking a sample of the player base to predict what the player base would do. That’s pretty classic survey territory, and we are essentially asking you what you’re going to do. On the other hand, all it takes is one innovation this weekend to completely drive the metagame away from what everyone expects.

We’ll see in two weeks. In the meantime, your collective best guess is probably a good starting point for building for decks for the coming weekend as we enjoy the introduction of Innistrad into competitive Standard play.

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