I’ve learned a lot over the past month. I’ll be making it my goal to impart as much of that knowledge as possible, as quickly as possible. Today’s article will cover Standard, but if you’re a fan of older formats, check out for my State of Legacy installation before Grand Prix Richmond.
We played circles around Dominaria Standard in preparing for the team trios Pro Tour in Minneapolis, Minnesota. We played extensively with combo (Paradoxical Outcome), control, ramp, and every version of red and green creature decks that you could imagine. At the end of it all, we reached the conclusion that we had suspected from the start:
Red-Black is the best, most well-rounded, and most resilient deck available in Standard.
This is what our team (with Owen Turtenwald in the Standard seat) registered for the event.
R/B has been around for a while, and there probably aren’t too many surprises here. This deck puts the opponent to the test of being prepared for fast draws—Bomat Courier into Scrapheap Scrounger—while also needing to stay strong in the long game. In addition to having some of the most punishing threats, red also has the best removal in the format. In particular, Goblin Chainwhirler, Glorybringer, and Chandra, Torch of Defiance all play double-duty in being able to kill a creature and leave behind a potent threat in the process.
The most appealing thing about R/B is its ability to adjust after sideboarding with Duresses and a wide range of removal spells. It can play anything on the spectrum from fast aggro to defensively-slanted midrange, which makes things very difficult on the opponent.
It wasn’t what I would call an exciting deck choice, since it had been around for a while and wouldn’t catch anyone off-guard. Still, short of having the Bant Turbofog deck that did well at the Pro Tour, there’s not really anything that I wish we’d played instead. To this day, I haven’t found a deck that can claim to be a big favorite over a well-prepared R/B opponent.
Speaking of Turbo Fog, the only obvious change to make to the above deck list is to add two Insult // Injury to the sideboard.
If you’re not familiar with Bant Turbo Fog, the basic idea is to ramp into Teferi, Hero of Dominaria, and use Haze of Pollen and Root Snare to protect both him and you. Fogs are a much more reliable form of defense than spot removal, since one Fog can neutralize any number of attackers, whereas you have to draw an equal number of spot removal spells as your opponent draws creatures if you want your planeswalkers to be safe.
The end-game of the Fog deck is to use Nexus of Fate alongside planeswalkers and Search for Azcanta to take an indefinite number of turns, and it usually only takes a couple before a Teferi emblem can put the game out of reach for the opponent.
Turbo Fog was a great choice for the Pro Tour, where people were unprepared, and where it could beat up on green and red creature decks. It looked sweet, so I put it together and brought it to Grand Prix Orlando. Here’s the list I used.
While I did make Day 2, I wound up with an unexciting finish. People were simply prepared. Matchups that used to be favorable became pretty dicey once Insult // Injury, Spell Pierce, and Sorcerous Spyglass started showing up in sideboards.
You still get some free wins against white and green creature decks, so at worst, we can keep Turbo Fog under our hats as a metagame call for a later time. But for now, I think it needs to evolve to be a little bit less like a combo deck and a little more like a control deck, so that it’s more difficult to hate out.
From the above list, I would start with:
My old friends Matt Costa and Dave Shiels also have a more ramp-heavy version with Hour of Promise they’re pretty excited about. Realistically, however, I wouldn’t recommend Turbo Fog in the current environment.
I switched gears for Grand Prix Providence, and decided to copy a U/B Control deck from my teammate, Andrew Cuneo. Andrew is a genius deck builder, and I also got the benefit of a four-hour car ride to pick his brain about sideboarding, strategy, tactics for control mirrors, and any other questions that I had.
Playing control is a nice way of sidestepping the creature-mirror arms race. What I mean by that is, the more people gear their decks for Chainwhirler mirrors—cutting Bomat Courier and Chandra for Rekindling Phoenix and Magma Spray—the better control is going to be. I didn’t want to play R/B, because I’d be faced with the choice of either being an underdog in mirror matches, or cutting those sleek efficient threats that made me like the deck in the first place. Control sounded like a much more appealing option.
But why straight U/B instead of U/W or Esper? It’s true that Teferi, Hero of Dominaria is one of the best cards in Standard—you won’t hear any argument against that from me.
But I think that Vraska’s Contempt is a crucial card for answering planeswalkers, building life-gain into the deck, and facilitating powerful Torrential Gearhulks. Once you’re in black for Vraska’s Contempt, I don’t like the idea of mucking up the mana for another 5-drop option when it’s important to keep the mana curve low, and when Gearhulk and The Scarab God are great top-end options anyway.
I like U/B Control quite a bit and think it’s advantaged against other control decks and—with the printing of Infernal Reckoning—slightly advantaged against R/B.
The real problem comes against the faster red decks, where Disallow and Vraska’s Contempt simply don’t allow you to keep pace. The only changes I would make to the above deck list would be to fit in a couple of more cards against Wizard Red. Even then, it wouldn’t be a matchup I would be excited to play.
Wizard Red, by the way, is the real deal. I think it was slow to catch on because a lot of players—myself included—have a prejudice against decks like it. We think we’re too clever to play a burn deck, or we worry that it will fold to having a weak draw or the opponent drawing their sideboard cards.
Sometimes these things are true, but when the red cards are as good as they are right now, it’s folly to pretend that burn isn’t a valid strategy. Hazoret the Fervent and even Bomat Courier can dominate games all on their own. And you get to play with Lightning Bolt for crying out loud!
So I’ve now featured two very-different red decks, and raved about both of them. The difference is that Wizard Red is single-minded and one-dimensional—it’s great at doing one particular job. On the other hand, R/B is well-balanced and difficult to hate out. Wizard Red is harder to beat in a normal game of Magic, but it’s also more vulnerable to sideboard cards. So the only question left is, are people going to start bringing out the big guns?
I think that Wizard Red is going to start presenting a Dredge-like dilemma in this Standard format. In older formats, if you want to have a good matchup against Dredge, you typically have to devote four-to-six sideboard slots to cards that are extremely narrow, and only get used when you’re paired against Dredge. In Standard, you’ll have to decide if you want to pay the “Wizard Red tax.” Do you want to devote one-third of your sideboard to this one niche matchup? Or do you want to accept that you’re dead in the water when they win the die roll and have a good draw?
One final caution. If you do decide to put these cards in your sideboard, be very careful not to oversideboard against R/B, or any other creature deck that’s not Wizard Red. It might be reasonable to bring in one or two Moment of Cravings against R/B, but remember that they have staying power and will crush you in a long game if you overvalue cheap removal. Contraband Kingpin is good against Bomat Courier and Scrapheap Scrounger, but it’s abysmal in the face of Chandra and Glorybringer.
Even cards that may have been good in game 1 are not always good after sideboarding, since most aggro decks will slow down and go bigger for games 2 and 3.
Those are my rough thoughts on the format. R/B remains the deck to beat, and the safest choice if you’re looking to pick something up for a Standard tournament. But Wizard Red is excellent as well, and control has some real appeal if that’s your thing. Steel Leaf Champion decks, Turbo Fog, and Paradoxical Outcome are tier 2 strategies that can be good metagame calls, but aren’t necessarily my top recommendations.
I hope this helps you for the last few weeks of Dominaria Standard. Keep an eye out for upcoming content where I focus on Legacy and Modern before we all begin to look ahead towards Guilds of Ravnica.