The First Sign of a Standard Metagame, and How to Respond

Finally we have a new Standard format, without Kaladesh and Amonkhet block. I won’t miss Kaladesh and its astronomical power level in particular. I’ve also grown tired of crewing my Heart of Kiran, sticking a card under Bomat Courier, and remembering my Aether Hub trigger. Lastly, with so many cards being banned, a new format is going to be a breath of fresh air.

So let’s start with the format’s current front-runner and deck to beat. What else?

Mono-Red Aggro

Woohoo! Great! A new format and we finally don’t have to face… wait… is that Goblin Chainwhirler again? Yep. He’s still here to continue being unreasonably efficient for 3 mana. Not only that—chainyboi got a new partner in crime, which might be the front-runner for Guilds of Ravnica’s best card: Runaway Steam-Kin.

Runaway Steam-Kin brings red aggro back to its former glory almost by its lonesome, in spite of losing so many cards from the rotation. As for how easy it is to quickly make it a 4/4 in a low-to-the-ground mono-red deck, Steam-Kin is well above the curve.

It can generate mana into some absurd turns to play multiple spells a turn to then regain all of its counters. But the best part of its second ability is how it lets you sideboard. Casting a kicked Fight with Fire, a 5-drop like Siege-Gang Commander when you don’t have enough lands, or a huge Banefire are all amazing things you can do with Steam-Kin. We might even see the design of red decks change, with fewer lands, or more expensive cards like Demanding Dragon fed by the additional mana from Steam-Kin.

The final big addition for red is Experimental Frenzy, which is basically Future Sight for red decks with cheap cards, except it has a much less steep mana cost. It doesn’t take many turns for Experimental Frenzy to take over, and the way you usually do it is to keep it in play to cast tons of stuff. If that isn’t enough, you sacrifice it to play your immense hand that has been locked up with Experimental Frenzy in play. This card is a lot better than Vance’s Blasting Cannons and its predecessors.

Red decks have a few more ways to be built. For example, a straight 2-colored Boros deck, or why not a Goblins variant?

Boros Goblins

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Playing a Goblins variant with Volley Veteran as your big payoff gets a lot better with new cards like Goblin Cratermaker and especially Legion Warboss. Legion Warboss might even be better in an actual Goblins deck than its grandfather Goblin Rabblemaster. But what might not seem like one of the major improvements is Sacred Foundry. Sacred Foundry lets the Goblin deck splash for Radiant Destiny, which not only pushes the synergy, but more importantly protects the large number of creatures in the deck with 1 toughness from an opposing Goblin Chainwhirler. As much synergy as the deck has, this version still runs a number of Runaway Steam-Kins, which speaks to its power level.

Goblins seems like a better place to go if the metagame shifts to more noninteractive creature decks like Mono-Green Stompy that let you go off with your synergy. Volley Veteran in particular. Goblins can also be a better choice against controlling decks with life gain, as the synergy and many of the Goblins serve as interaction on their own, which gives the deck a lot more threats and better late game with the higher density of good topdecks.

Boros Aggro

jakedurshimer

While this version isn’t base red, I like a lot of what’s going on here. Aurelia, Exemplar of Justice, Boros Challenger, Tajic, Legion’s Edge, and Swiftblade Vindicator are all quite powerful and suggest that Boros could be a strong Constructed choice, but they are not the main reason to be white. The main reason to be white is History of Benalia, an extremely powerful card that’s been overshadowed in previous formats. History of Benalia wasn’t as played before because those decks tended to lose ground versus many of the red cards that rotated out and didn’t synergize well with Heart of Kiran. Now it’s back for some major beatings.

Integrity // Intervention is a nice card for an aggressive metagame. The pump side of the card plays nicely with double strike for Swiftblade Vindicator, lets you get ahead and double spell earlier, and plays well with getting your History of Benalia Knight tokens through.

But while all of these cards are powerful and great, my favorite by far is a card that kind of does it all: Cavalry Drillmaster. First of all, it makes it so that it will be easier to get through larger green creatures, among others. Second, it works proactively as a pseudo-Viashino Pyromancer versus decks without creatures, which is fine on its own. Although, what’s really sweet about it is how nicely it works with mentor creatures. Being able to get two creatures through instead of one represents a lot more damage than a measly 2 to the face. And by the way, it’s a Knight for History of Benalia, in case you wondered.

Green Steel Stompy

Green Stompy hasn’t changed much since the rotation. I’d say that it has gotten slightly more consistent with Pelt Collector as another 1-drop beside Llanowar Elves. Before, whether you had Llanowar Elves in your opener was like night and day for the deck and this hopefully mitigates that. Nullhide Ferox is a fantastic card and helps you fight removal-heavy black decks with Vraska’s Contempt and others in the void that Blossoming Defense left. While black removal was the best way to deal with the deck before, cheaper red removal or white removal in sweepers and Seal Away might be the way to go now, especially with the deck losing Fatal Push.

Instead of splashing for Duress and Assassin’s Trophy, you can also go for the white splash.

Selesnya Stompy

Joao_Andrade

The white splash gives you a bit more power in Emmara, Soul of the Accord, Venerated Loxodon, and some consistency from Flower // Flourish. Venerated Loxodon is fantastic and might be the best white card in the set together with Conclave Tribunal. It’s a lot of power and toughness for its mana cost, and its low color requirement alongside convoke makes it easy to sneak into your curve. Flower // Flourish somewhat reminds me of Traverse the Ulvenwald in the way it makes your deck a lot more consistent with finding the right mana early and turning into a powerful spell later in the game. Not a terrible card to be compared to, if you ask me!

If I had to choose, I’d most likely go with the white version, since there are a lot of proactive creature decks right now, so Duress becomes less important of a sideboard card. Speaking of which, new formats usually start out with aggressive proactive decks doing especially well in the early stages of the metagame, since it punishes everyone trying out new ideas that aren’t tuned enough. So how do we get it to the next stage? How do we combat these proactive creature decks?

U/W/R Control

Jeskai Control has always been effective against a creature-heavy metagame. The combination of cheap red removal, white sweepers, and life gain, with card draw from blue, is a great blend to deal with proactive creature decks. Teferi, Hero of Dominaria, the hero we have but don’t deserve, isn’t going anywhere until he rotates. The weird thing about him is that without Hallowed Fountain coming in the next set, straight U/W Control doesn’t have that much better of a mana base, or maybe it doesn’t even have a better mana base at all. Sadly, however, without Hallowed Fountain, it’s hard to play something like Sinister Sabotage and, we’ll have to be content with Ionize for now.

There are a lot of numbers in this deck that have to be tested more and tuned. Justice Strike can be extremely powerful in the right metagame, but I’ll cry if I have it while getting run over by Thrashing Brontodon. Chemister’s Insight is another interesting one. It’s not as powerful as Glimmer of Genius or as flexible as Hieroglyphic Illumination, but it grinds better. If you draw one, you don’t really need more copies since you can jump-start the first one. Should we even play 3? Or is it enough with 2? That’s where I would start!

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