Going into this weekend, the biggest surprise was the amount of combo that showed up to the Pro Tour. The retrospectives and off-the-cuff Tweets about the Pro Tour revealed that this was not the expected metagame at all. In fact, it warped the meta to such a degree that we may have to take the results with a grain of salt when you consider what you’ll see at your local tournament.
Think I’m exaggerating? Three of the 9-1 decks were U/W Flash decks, all of which were well positioned to abuse combo players and could be effectively preboarded against control. Spell Queller may be too slow and risky against aggro, but against Temur Aetherworks it’s one of the best cards around. Of course, while Aetherworks had a rough day, you can’t write it off entirely—Matt Nass took it to a Top 8 finish and it remains a deck that can win the game on turn 4.
This whole Standard is unique in that, for the first time in a long time, we may have a balanced and complete metagame circle. Shota Yasooka won the entire tournament with a control list, and among the top deck, every single strategy had a representative.
- Aggro: W/R to 4c Vehicles, BR Aggro / Zombies, GW Aggro
- Tempo: U/W Flash
- Control: Jeskai and Grixis Control
- Combo: Temur Aetherworks
- Midrange: G/B Delirium
While the format will surely coalesce into something more defined, for now we have the most open and varied Standard format in years. Enjoy it while you can.
So in case you didn’t know, Shota Yasooka is a stone master and arguably the best control player in the world. Yasooka is known for playing off-the-wall brews or out-of-the-metagame decks to strong results, to the point where we have to add disclaimers whenever we talk about his decks. It turns out that only one person can be Shota and everyone else is throwing away value when they pick up his decks.
In this case, though, his Grixis Control list is actually—*gasp*—reasonable to pick up and play. Even a card like Ceremonious Rejection in the main is justifiable in the wake of the Pro Tour instead of only a sick one-time read. You may want to pick your favorite answers and focus on those instead of Shota’s spread of single-card answers. Galvanic Bombardment is obviously good in a world full of aggro and Radiant Flames is one of the only cheap sweepers in the format.
Essence Extraction gives you a way to regain life, while the singleton Transgress seems out of place unless you want an opening spell in a long control game. Ultimately, you have to decide how many counters you want in the main deck and work your way from there. Shota’s relative lack of planeswalkers is also a significant departure from many of the other control decks we’ve seen recently. Though many of the high control finishes only included 0-2 planeswalkers main deck, which reflects on the metagame and how much faster it is, and how hard it is to protect planeswalkers.
As for Carlos Romao, he played a more straightforward list that’s easier to get the hang of. Part of this is because of the consistency in his list and additional sweepers—the rest is due to his 5 value win conditions over just 2. Thing in the Ice requires setup to get a payoff, and is far more vulnerable than either Avacyn or Gearhulk. Being able to side into the “protect Gideon” plan also means you can force the issue instead of just relying on outlasting your opponents every game.
Steve Hatto, along with two other players, had 9-1 finishes in the Constructed portion of the Pro Tour with different takes on U/W Flash. Some went back to Rattlechains and others went with Gisela and Angel support. I picked this build because it’s the most down-to-Earth. It sticks with a plan and maxes out on copies of its best cards. I look at the sideboard and see a complete mess, but the main deck feels refined. No card in the deck is bad or even weak.
For the sideboard, I like the Angel plan. Playing a set of Gisela in the board is a legitimate answer to aggro. Even Bruna isn’t bad if you want to go bigger against G/R Energy or G/B Delirium. The rest should be refocused on useful removal or better countermagic. One Ceremonious Rejection is just not enough for the world we live in, considering how few answers this deck has to opposing Looter Scooters.
This archetype got a boost from the PT metagame being so combo heavy, and it feels like only W/R has the threat density to punish you for this deck choice. I’ve played B/R against similar decks and if they don’t waltz Avacyn or Queller into your removal, the matchup is close because of how small your early threats are. G/R Energy has no threats you care about aside from Bristling Hydra and the combo (which countermagic and Snare/Shot do a reasonable job against).
Moving forward, I wouldn’t mind seeing Thalia take center stage. She’s a more powerful card than Reflector Mage at the moment. The builds Salvatto and Sanchez played are good examples if you want to build the deck a bit bigger and with less emphasis on game-1 countermagic. The full playset of Avacyn also isn’t necessary—her impact has dulled considerably, given how fast the aggro decks are and the Gearhulk’s impact on opposing 5- and 6-drops.
There are too many other decks to go through in just one article, so I’ll leave off with the last deck that really stood out.
Lee Shi Tian
This deck takes the low curve to an extreme, never wanting to go above 3 lands except when you see a Gideon, Ally of Zendikar. The deck runs a 12-12-6 threat base, which is more (and lower to the ground) than practically every other Vehicles deck I’ve seen. And for those wondering, yes, Caravan is a threat. In fact, as a 5/5, it can be very difficult for other creature decks to profitably interact with it. Unlicensed Disintegration is one of the only game-1 answers, and even post-board you only have Fragmentize or Skywhaler’s Shot.
What’s unique is just how much flexibility the fastlands, Aether Hub, and Caravan give the deck in sideboard options. Being able to play the best of both W/R and B/R Vehicles, along with Ceremonious Rejection, is a huge boon. Other cards like Dispel could be good options, or you could just go heavier on certain splash colors if you want to push it. You still have a reasonable number of colored sources for your openers, and hitting WW for Gideon, Ally of Zendikar later isn’t difficult.
So unless you want to max out on removal like the R/B variation, this may just become the default build of W/R Vehicles. Even if you aren’t sold on the Caravan, you can still pull off a splash with just the lands, and taking Disintegration out of the main means you have no cards that are dead game 1 if you can’t draw black. You can’t activate Scrounger, but that’s a small price to pay and doesn’t stop it from dropping on turn 2.
It’ll be interesting to see how the metagame narrows in the wake of the Pro Tour. I imagine we’ll have at least a couple of weeks before it shakes out to any significant extent, so my primary recommendation is to emulate Modern. Either play a strong linear deck or have a deck with open answers that can sideboard into cheap hate spells for post-board play. Just the existence of Ceremonious Rejection and all the decks that can run it could be a major factor in how much Aetherworks we’ll see in the short-term.
Oh, and there’s a turnaround on the Standard rotation policy? Exciting times…