The format for the upcoming World Magic Cup and the RPTQs in June 2018 will be Team Unified Standard Constructed. In this format, any team of three players has to build three Standard-legal decks. But with the exception of basic lands, no two decks on a team can contain the same card. For example, if one player’s deck contains a single Abrade, then no other player on that team may use Abrade in their deck.
This restriction leads to an interesting deck construction puzzle that revolves around minimizing overlap. Today, I’ll analyze how the World Magic Cup competitors could go about this, and I’ll explain how the metagame may look different from an individual Standard event.
Let’s start by going over the top Standard archetypes to see what we have to work with. I selected 13 archetypes, based on popularity and performance in recent high-level events, and I assigned them to three different categories.
Category 1: Energy Decks
The energy mechanic is one of the most powerful in Standard right now. There are various takes on it:
- Temur Energy, such as the list that Brian Braun-Duin piloted to a 8-2 record at Pro Tour Ixalan, or variations with a minor black splash for The Scarab God and Vraska.
- Sultai Energy, such as Seth Manfield’s Pro Tour Ixalan winning list.
- 4-Color Energy (i.e., the list with Glint-Sleeve Siphoner, Gonti, and Fatal Push instead of Longtusk Cub, Bristling Hydra, and Chandra) such as the list that Kenji Tsumura piloted to a 7-3 record at Pro Tour Ixalan.
- G/U Pummeler, such as the list that Patrick Dickmann piloted to a 7-3 record at Pro Tour Ixalan.
All of these Energy decks run Attune with Aether, Aether Hub, Botanical Sanctum, and Rogue Refiner. Most have Longtusk Cub, and/or Servant of the Conduit. Some contain Whirler Virtuoso, Bristling Hydra, and Harnessed Lightning. But the green-blue core is shared by all Energy decks, which means that you can only include one complete Energy deck in your line-up.
Category 2: Hazoret Decks
Hazoret the Fervent is one of the strongest threats in Standard for any low-curve red aggressive deck. There are several ways to build around Hazoret:
- Ramunap Red, such as John Rolf’s list from the Top 4 of Pro Tour Ixalan.
- Mardu Vehicles, such as Samuel Ihlenfeldt’s list from the Top 4 of Pro Tour Ixalan.
- B/R Aggro, such as the list that Kazuki Yada piloted to a 6-3-1 record at Pro Tour Ixalan.
Besides the indestructable God, all three decks use Rampaging Ferocidon. There is also a lot of overlap in Bomat Courier, Scrapheap Scrounger, Pia Nalaar, Aethersphere Harvester, and Lightning Strike. I am fairly confident that you want no more than 1 Hazoret deck in your lineup.
Category 3: Other Decks
This final category comprises non-red aggro decks and various combo/control decks:
- G/W Aggro, such as the list that Eduardo Vieira piloted to a 7-3 record at Pro Tour Ixalan.
- Mono-Black Aggro, such as ArcaCrema’s 8-0 list from the recent Standard MOCS.
- W/U Approach, such as John Holliday’s 12-3 list from Grand Prix Atlanta.
- W/U God-Pharaoh’s Gift, such as Pascal Maynard’s 2nd place list from Pro Tour Ixalan.
- U/B Control, such as the list that Robin Dolar piloted to a 6-4 record at Pro Tour Ixalan.
- Abzan Tokens, such as silenttrigger’s 7-2 list from the recent online Standard PTQ.
There are other decks that are competitively viable, but I have to draw the line somewhere to keep the analysis manageable. Mono-White Vampires, for instance, didn’t put up any results in last weekend’s Standard Grand Prix, so I left it out.
And I wanted to limit myself to 1 Approach of the Second Sun, 1 God-Pharaoh’s Gift deck, and 1 Hidden Stockpile deck. I recognize that there are different ways to build around these cards, but I picked one specific color combination for each (the most popular one, based on the Day 2 metagame breakdown of Grand Prix Shanghai and on the Standard metagame percentages on MTGGoldfish on Monday, November 13th) to keep the complexity down.
Overlap and Restrictions
As you might expect after seeing these three categories, I will propose a configuration of one Energy deck, one Hazoret deck, and one “other” deck. This way, you get to play with the best cards in Standard, and I expect that many World Magic Cup teams will pick decks in this fashion.
But you can’t just take an arbitrary deck from each of the three categories and call it a day—there are cross-category overlaps that you have to take into account. Let’s go over the most important ones.
These cards are important for most red energy decks and Hazoret decks:
- Abrade is played in Temur Energy, 4-color Energy, Ramunap Red, Mardu Vehicles, and B/R Aggro.
- Chandra, Torch of Defiance is played in Temur Energy, Ramunap Red, and Mardu Vehicles.
- Glorybringer is played in the sideboard of Temur Energy and Ramunap Red.
- Chandra’s Defeat is played in the sideboard of Temur Energy, 4-color Energy, and Ramunap Red.
In my mind, this leads to the restriction that you shouldn’t put Temur Energy and Ramunap Red on the same team. If it were just one overlapping card that you had to assign to a single deck, then you could probably make it work. But when it’s Abrade, Chandra, Glorybringer, and Chandra’s Defeat that you have to split up, you’re sacrificing too much.
Combining Temur Energy and Mardu Vehicles or B/R Aggro is more reasonable because Glorybringer and Chandra don’t see regular play in Mardu Vehicles or B/R Aggro for mana base reasons. It is possible to assign all of the red cards to Temur and to have Mardu Vehicles or B/R Aggro rely on Fatal Push and Unlicensed Disintegration for removal. This is not ideal, as the black removal cannot destroy God-Pharaoh’s Gift in the same way Abrade can, but you still end up with reasonable decks overall.
These cards are played in every single black deck (at least, from the pool of decks I considered). Fatal Push is usually a 3-of or 4-of in the main deck, and Duress is often a 3-of of 4-of in the sideboard. There are no other cards in Standard that can match the brutal efficiency of Fatal Push or Duress.
Besides these 1-mana spells, there are other black cards that are important pieces of multiple archetypes. Glint-Sleeve Siphoner and Vraska’s Contempt are usually played in Sultai Energy, 4-color Energy, B/R Aggro, and in the sideboard of Blue-Black Control. The Scarab God is included in every deck that can cast it: Sultai Energy, 4-color Energy, and U/B Control. Concealed Courtyard is used by both Mardu Vehicles and Abzan Tokens. And you surely can’t put B/R Aggro and Mono-Black Aggro together because both decks want Dread Wanderer, Night Market Lookout, and Scrapheap Scrounger.
The mana base is the foundation of any deck, and Aether Hub is one of the most important lands in Standard. Every Energy deck wants 4 copies, but Mardu Vehicles and B/R Aggro also like to have access to it.
For Mardu Vehicles, it’s not an essential 4-of. It’s just a useful fixer—Aether Hub adds untapped red and white sources so that you can more reliably cast Inventor’s Apprentice or Toolcraft Exemplar on turn 1 while retaining enough black sources in your deck. Yet, by going up to 24 lands and making some adjustments/sacrifices in the mana base, you can probably make things work without Aether Hub.
For B/R Aggro, Aether Hub is more important. Compared to Mardu Vehicles, they have Glint-Sleeve Siphoner and more Aethersphere Harvester, so they are more reliant on Aether Hub’s energy. I already prefer Ramunap Red and Mardu Vehicles over B/R Aggro in an individual Standard tournament, but if you don’t even have Aether Hub (given that the land is more valuable for your Attune with Aether deck) then I think you should just avoid B/R Aggro.
Negate is one of the best sideboard cards in Standard. Temur Energy may have trouble with white combo/control decks in game 1, but things tend to change when they gain the ability to counter Fumigate, Approach of the Second Sun, and so on after sideboard. Put simply, every blue deck wants Negate in their sideboard.
Yet, there are alternatives, most notably Spell Pierce. The cheaper spell is sometimes even better than Negate, especially when backed by quick aggression. I don’t think it is a huge deal for Longtusk Cub decks to run Spell Pierce instead of Negate in their sideboards, so I can live with two blue decks on the same team.
Many decks run 2-3 Aethersphere Harvester: Ramunap Red, Mardu Vehicles, Black-Red Aggro, Green-White Aggro, Mono-Black Aggro, and Sultai Pummeler. It’s still a nice card to have against Ramunap Red in particular, but it’s not quite an essential part of any of these decks (especially if you can’t play Aether Hub in Mardu Vehicles or B/R Aggro).
Heart of Kiran is an important part of both Mono-Black Aggro and Mardu Vehicles—you really shouldn’t put both decks on the same team.
Blossoming Defense is a good combat trick that helps protect a threat that you sank a lot of resources into. For instance, a big Longtusk Cub or creature that was boosted by Appeal // Authority. If you want to run G/W Aggro when another team member is on Sultai Energy or Sultai Pummeler, then one of the two players has to play without Blossoming Defense, and that will weaken their deck to the point where I’m not sure it’s a good idea.
What is a Good Configuration That Minimizes Overlap?
Taking into account everything we’ve figured out so far, I believe the following configurations will be the “best” ones:
G/U Pummeler + a Hazoret deck (Ramunap Red or Mardu Vehicles) + a blue deck (W/U Approach or W/U Gift or U/B Control) – If you replace Negate with Spell Pierce in G/U Pummeler and don’t mind cutting Aethersphere Harvester from either G/U Pummeler or the Hazoret deck, then no major overlap concerns stand in your way.
G/U Pummeler + Ramunap Red + a black deck (Abzan Tokens or Mono-Black Aggro) – Overlap in Aethersphere Harvester remains an issue, but that’s it. The configuration with G/U Pummeler, Ramunap Red, and Mono-Black Aggro may appeal to a team with multiple aggro players.
Temur Energy + Mardu Vehicles + a W/U deck (Approach or Gift) – Once you replace Negate in Temur Energy with Spell Pierce and cut the singleton Essence Scatter/Supreme Will, this yields relatively little overlap: Mardu has to do without Abrade, Chandra, Aether Hub, and Magma Spray, but there should be a way to make that work, and it could be worth it if you believe Temur Energy is the superior energy deck.
Unless we see major Standard innovation in the coming week, I would expect that a majority of WMC teams will pick a configuration from the above list.
What if You Don’t Want to Run an Energy Deck or a Hazoret Deck?
Judging from the results of the Pro Tour and last weekend’s Standard Grand Prix events, I would say that not running an Energy deck would be a mistake, so I’m not going to offer suggestions for that setup. Not running a Hazoret deck, however, is defensable, especially if you don’t have a good aggro player on your team.
In either case, you’ll have to pick two decks from the “other” category, which brings new overlap considerations with it.
What’s more, both G/W Aggro and Abzan Tokens need Legion’s Landing and Shefet Dunes. Further, U/W Approach and U/W God-Pharaoh’s Gift require Glacial Fortress and Irrigated Farmland. Finally, Sacred Cat is included in all white decks except for U/W Approach.
I see a possibility for combining G/W Aggro and U/W Approach if you replace Cast Out with Ixalan’s Binding and Fumigate with Dusk // Dawn in G/W Aggro, but this still doesn’t sound ideal. Let’s just stick to one white deck at maximum.
You don’t want to put two blue decks from the “other” category together because of overlap in Search for Azcanta. Even though it’s not usually a 4-of due to its legendary status, it’s such a powerful card. And even when we disregard Search for Azcanta, both U/B Control and U/W Approach would want Censor, Disallow, Essence Scatter, and Torrential Gearhulk.
With these additional restrictions in mind, you can have one Energy deck and two “other” decks as follows:
Temur Energy + Mono-Black Aggro + a W/U deck (Approach or Gift) – Once you replace Negate in Temur Energy with Spell Pierce and cut the singleton Essence Scatter/Supreme Will, this yields no overlap at all.
G/U Pummeler + Mono-Black Aggro + a W/U deck (Approach or Gift) – If you replace Negate with Spell Pierce in G/U Pummeler and don’t mind cutting Aethersphere Harvester from either G/U Pummeler or Mono-Black Aggro, then no major overlap concerns stand in your way.
Note that all of these configurations still contain an aggro deck, so they don’t quite solve the “What if we don’t have an aggro specialist on our team?” issue. But if you don’t believe in Hazoret, then these are valid options.
Will the Metagame Differ from an Individual Tournament?
Assuming that teams want to present three top-tier competitive decks, I expect that the configurations of Temur Energy + Mardu Vehicles + a W/U deck and Sultai Energy + Ramunap Red + a W/U deck will be the most popular. With that in mind, there are several things that are going to be different from an individual tournament:
- Attune with Aether decks, which have been dominating Standard as of late, cannot be more than 1/3rd of the field in Team Unified Standard. This means that competitors may not have to gear their decks as much against Temur Energy or Sultai Energy as they might have done otherwise.
- Approach of the Second Sun and God-Pharaoh’s Gift decks will probably be more popular than at individual events. If you’re a WMC competitor, then you should test plenty of sideboard games against them to figure out your best plans and sideboard slots. You could even consider putting Negate or Spell Pierce in your main deck.
- Communication is allowed, so during matches you should keep your opponents abreast of any potentially overlapping card that your opponent casts. For instance, when your opponent casts Aethersphere Harvester, let your teammate on Ramunap Red know so that they don’t board in unnecessary Abrades. Likewise, you should let your teammates know when an opponent plays a card like Negate or Abrade because it’ll be useful for them to know that their opponents can’t have it.
I’m looking forward to December 1st, when the World Magic Cup will start in Nice, France. I’ll be there, sifting through all the deck lists as a member of the text coverage staff, bringing you the metagame breakdowns and the best team stories from the event in article form.
For those of you back home rejoicing at the thought of a format where Attune with Aether decks are capped at 1/3rd of the field or simply interested in supporting your compatriots, be sure to tune in for the live video coverage at twitch.tv/magic.