Man, it's a good time to be playing Magic.
There are large tournaments all over the country that you can play in every single weekend, and even some during the week (I'm looking at you, New York). Despite all of the complaints, they really are hearing our feedback on MTGO and working towards trying to make the product better than it currently is. And all of the formats are fabulous right now.
Vintage is being shaken up by new cards printed in Khans of Tarkir. You know, Vintage. Black Lotus, Ancestral Recall, fast mana. That format where Brainstorm and Ponder are restricted? We're seeing Treasure Cruise and Dig Through Time make a name for themselves, which is really awesome. But Vintage isn't the only place we're seeing this.
Treasure Cruise is also making its mark on Legacy too! Mental Misstep (before it got banned), Deathrite Shaman, Abrupt Decay, Snapcaster Mage, and True-Name Nemesis are cards in recent history that have changed the landscape of Legacy, and it really feels like Treasure Cruise is poised to do the same. The big difference is that Cruise is a draw spell which tends to affect the format in different ways than the previously mentioned cards. I'm excited to see where the format goes because while U/R Delver definitely looks like it's the best deck in Legacy right now, I have a feeling we are miles from exploring the design space that Treasure Cruise and Dig Through Time provide.
Modern is seeing some flux with Treasure Cruise and Dig Through Time as well, as U/R Delver is easily ported there from Legacy, but there's also a Jeskai Ascendancy combo that people are either claiming that the sky is falling or that it's completely fine. I think that it's good and a pretty consistent combo deck, but more data will be needed to determine if it needs to be banned or not. Treasure Cruise, on the other hand, seems very Ancestral Visions-esque to me, and I wouldn't be surprised to see it gone. To be fair, I haven't played any Modern at all since Khans of Tarkir was printed, but just from watching games and seeing decklists, if Treasure Cruise were to be banned in the next batch, I wouldn't be very surprised.
Standard feels like it is wide open. Abzan and Jeskai were the big winners at Pro Tour Khans of Tarkir, but even then they were widely different in their builds. There are quite a few different archetypes that are viable, with all of them having different builds that attack the metagame in different ways, which to me seems awesome and is something that we had been lacking for almost the entirety of RTR/THS Standard. To be fair, we technically did have different builds of Mono-Black Devotion. Some splashed Green; some played Nightveil Specter or Lifebane Zombie, or both; and some didn't play any Temples, but for the most part, the last Standard format was pretty solved.
With so many different archetypes and the variations between them, it can be a little daunting to try and gather all of the information and figure out where you want to be in attacking your expected metagame, so let's take a little bit and see if we can consolidate them all.
To make it organized, we can list them out as Clans, two-color combinations, and mono-colored decks.
Mono-Red Aggro/Boss Sligh
As you can see, there are lot of different archetypes, but what's even more interesting is that there are variations within the different decks. This is where all the deck building and metagaming will pay off. Figuring out where everyone else is going to be will help you figure out the best place for you to be.
In the Jeskai clan, the majority of the decks are agro-based with Mantis Rider leading the charge. After that, there's always a heavy dose of burn with cards like Lightning Strike, Magma Jet, Jeskai Charm, and Stoke the Flames.
The main flexibility on builds comes with the rest of the creature suite that you choose, how many copies of Dig Through Time you play, and if you have cards like Anger of the Gods and/or Banishing Light.
Seeker of the Way, Goblin Rabblemaster, Hushwing Gryff, Sarkhan, the Dragonspeaker, Stormbreath Dragon, and Brimaz, King of Oreskos round out the possible creature selection. Let's take a look at a couple lists that have done well recently.
Kind of along the same lines that Shaun McLaren played to a second place finish at Pro Tour Khans of Tarkir, Andrew Johnson is playing Anger of the Gods in his maindeck to have some game against cards like Hordeling Outburst, which has shown its effectiveness against this type of strategy.
Cards that put multiple threats into play or generate advantage through two-for-ones are very good at pressuring and straining the resources of the Jeskai decks. It may seem a little weird to have Goblin Rabblemaster and Anger of the Gods in the same deck, but being able to switch roles effectively is one of the strengths of the Jeskai Way.
From the same tournament, we saw a little more traditional and aggressive build, similar to what Kevin Jones used to win the Open Series in New Jersey post-Khans of Tarkir. Seeker of the Way and no Anger of the Gods are the highlights here. We also have Steam Augury to help fuel Dig Through Time. I like Steam Augury quite a bit in this type of deck, since everything is extremely redundant, you can almost always assure you're getting a sweet pile.
The newest type of build is one that we see here from Dave Shiels in Worcester:
A full four copies of Seeker of the Way and a Stormbreath Dragon, but there are also copies of Disdainful Strokes in the main as a concession to just how good Siege Rhino is against this deck. Lifegain and a huge clock that's not very easily taken care of can really put a damper on your gameplan when playing Jeskai.
There's also the Jeskai Ascendancy combo deck. Although there was a copy in the Top 8 of Pro Tour Khans of Tarkir, it's starting to fall off a bit because of the random nature of the deck.
Mana accelerants, Jeskai Ascendancy, Retraction Helix, with Dragon Mantle and/or a zero mana artifact and you're off to the races. The problem lies in sideboard hate, not drawing the right pieces, and the fact that your combo is so convoluted that there isn't much sideboard space.
Abzan won the Pro Tour, and there were two other copies that made the Top 8, but every single one of them was different. One was focused on two-drops and early pressure, while the other two were focused on Courser of Kruphix advantage and winning longer games with planeswalkers and Wingmate Roc.
Which is the best? Who knows! They are all advantaged and disadvantaged in different spots so I think it may just come down to playing to your strengths.
I think it's safe to say that most of the time when someone leads on Sandsteppe Citadel, this is what you can expect. Ari's winning list from Honolulu has become the default deck for people to gravitate to when choosing the Abzan Houses. When you think of "going big" this is what should be on your mind: powerful planeswalkers that generate an advantage immediately, along with disruption, removal, and solid threats.
Abzan Charm even draws cards when you need it to. What else could you want?
- 4 Fleecemane Lion
- 2 Heir of the Wilds
- 4 Rakshasa Deathdealer
- 4 Siege Rhino
- 4 Herald of Torment
- 3 Anafenza, the Foremost
Mike Sigrist Top 8'd the Pro Tour with an innovative Abzan Aggro deck that focuses on efficient and robust two-drops that have utility later in the game. I really like this deck, and as such, chose to play it in a Premier IQ that I Top 8'd a few weekends back. While I feel like we are a little behind against the Ari Lax-style decks, I feel a bit better against the hyper-aggressive decks since we have early creatures to road-block them. Not having Courser of Kruphix can be rough sometimes, but we get to make big work out of Sorin's +1.
Here we see kind of a hybrid between the planeswalker-heavy build and a Roc-heavy build. Eschewing the Elvish Mystics that Ari ran, this build focuses more on lategame staying power, something that we can find Patrick Chapin usually championing.
The final Abzan deck that is getting some love recently is a constellation build.
- 4 Elvish Mystic
- 4 Courser of Kruphix
- 4 Doomwake Giant
- 4 Eidolon of Blossoms
- 4 Nyx-Fleece Ram
- 2 Pharika, God of Affliction
This one is a bit more "all-in" with Nyx-Fleece Ram and Kruphix's Insight, but once it actually gets going, it's pretty tough to stop. I have seen some builds with See the Unwritten and Siege Rhino that play kind of like a hybrid Devotion-style deck, which seems pretty sweet. Getting two constellation creatures off a ferocious See the Unwritten was exactly what Reid Duke identified as a powerhouse and chose to run at the Pro Tour.
As we can see, the Abzan Houses are all about value. Be it planeswalkers that leave behind creatures or tokens or draw you a card; creatures that filter lands off the top of your deck or drain for three, or just good ole' Broodmate Dragon type effects with Wingmate Roc.
Mardu is the clan whose success seems a bit scattered. They are an aggressive bunch, but it seems that the popular decks are much midrangeier than Zurgo would like to see.
Brad Nelson took this bad boy to the Top 8 of Grand Prix Los Angeles recently, and it seems to be catching on. Using cards like Seeker of the Way to bolster your life and Hordeling Outburst to outpace removal and gum up the ground seems like an effective strategy against the Jeskai decks, but Butcher of the Horde is really the card that puts this archetype in a good spot right now.
Being a large flyer is tough for the Green Devotion decks to handle, and the potential lifelink and haste make it pretty effective at racing the Jeskai decks. Add in some Wingmate Rocs for additional value and some huge tempo plays with Chained to the Rocks and Crackling Doom and you've got a deck.
I'd keep an eye out for this one, since it seems like the archetype that is easily forgotten and able to punish people for it.
Temur is being headlined by the Monsters. Polukranos, World Eater and Stormbreath Dragon alongside other aggressive creatures like Savage Knuckleblade and Heir of the Wilds is something you can expect when you see the Temur-colored lands.
Championed by players like Brian Kibler and Jeff Hoogland, here is what you can expect:
- 3 Ashcloud Phoenix
- 4 Elvish Mystic
- 4 Heir of the Wilds
- 4 Rattleclaw Mystic
- 4 Savage Knuckleblade
- 4 Boon Satyr
- 3 Polukranos, World Eater
The big difference with Kibler's Temur deck is that he decides to only play a couple copies of Stormbreath Dragons in the sideboard and leans on the raw power of Ashcloud Phoenix in the maindeck. I've been pretty high on the Phoenix for a while now, so I'm definitely happy to see this happening.
Crater's Claws is seeing more and more play and continues to prove itself. In this particular deck, being able to play a Savage Knuckleblade and kill a two-toughness creature in the same turn for only four mana is a pretty huge tempo play.
- 4 Elvish Mystic
- 4 Goblin Rabblemaster
- 4 Savage Knuckleblade
- 4 Stormbreath Dragon
- 4 Sylvan Caryatid
- 3 Courser of Kruphix
- 4 Polukranos, World Eater
Jeff Hoogland's build is very close to Kibler's, but here we see Stormbreath Dragon and no Ashcloud Phoenix. He's also got Goblin Rabblemaster and no Heir of the Wilds. I'm not sure which build I like more, but I definitely want to get some games in with both and get a feel for them.
If you put your opponent on Temur, you have to be expecting Polukranos and Savage Knuckleblade in addition to Crater's Claws and Temur Charm. From there, they could have anything from Goblin Rabblemaster to Stormbreath Dragon to Heir of the Wilds to Ashcloud Phoenix.
Man, it seems like it's going to be pretty tough to plan for everything!
The Sultai decks are headlined by the use of Whip of Erebos. Using the old Standard G/B Dredge engine cards of Commune with the Gods and Satyr Wayfinder, you can fill our graveyard and take advantage of Whip of Erebos. Adding Sidisi, Brood Tyrant to the mix only increases the power level:
- 4 Elvish Mystic
- 3 Heir of the Wilds
- 4 Nemesis of Mortals
- 1 Reclamation Sage
- 4 Satyr Wayfinder
- 3 Courser of Kruphix
- 3 Nighthowler
- 2 Nyx Weaver
- 4 Sidisi, Brood Tyrant
- 1 Nylea, God of the Hunt
Here's an example that fell just short of a Top 8 in Minneapolis last weekend. One of the things that I really liked about this deck is that it's probably the best Murderous Cut deck. I'm not too high on Heir of the Wilds, but Nemesis of Mortals and Nighthowler get real big real quick and can put games out of reach--especially when you have a Whip of Erebos going.
I really like the use of Arbor Colossus and Doomwake Giant in the sideboard here. Both of these creatures can be backbreaking against the right deck, especially Doomwake Giant. You really need ways to break through Hornet Queen when you are playing a green midrange strategy, and the Giant does just that.
Last, but not least, we have Esper. As a Shard rather than a Clan, Esper has deep roots in Magic, and even though it didn't get too much love from Khans of Tarkir, we are still seeing the deck pop up here and there.
As a throwback to the Sphinx's Revelation-fueled Esper decks of yesteryear, Gregory Orange placed ninth at Pro Tour Khans of Tarkir with this deck. After identifying that Dig Through Time was the best blue card, he build his control shell on the back of that. With End Hostilities being five mana, a lot of people thought that it was going to be too slow. Nyx-Fleece Ram is the answer for that, providing the life and extra time needed to fire off our expensive sweeper and get into the lategame where the powerful draw spells and planeswalkers will take over.
It certainly looks like there are a lot of decks that are viable, and these are only the three-color ones. There are still a lot of two-color and mono-color combinations that are seeing some amount of success that we all have to be aware of.
Make sure you join me next week where I will break down the rest of the Standard format. Maybe something will debut this weekend in Oakland that will blow us all out of the water!