Grand Prix New Jersey is in the books, and it really was the "can't miss Magic event of the Year." For most, it was a weekend filled playing Magic with friends and watching some of the best players in the world duke it out to see who got to leave with the trophy. For me, however, it was a little more special. Not only did I finish in 19th place (the exact same finish I had in Richmond), but I got to watch two of my best friends and hotel partners be the last two standing. Both qualified for the Pro Tour due to this amazing accomplishment, and I was smiling ear-to-ear watching Tom Ross and Brian Braun-Duin close out the tournament together. Never before in my life did I think the best possible outcome from an event would not involve me winning the trophy. This was truly a tournament I'm glad I didn't miss.
Just because New Jersey was amazing doesn't mean I get to pump the brakes though. I have three more Open Series weekends followed by an Invitational to get myself qualified for the StarCityGames Players' Championship. Then and only then can I take some much needed rest and relaxation back home visiting for Christmas. Legacy was fun, but it is time to dive back into Standard!
It is always easier to look at a format objectively when you take some time away from it. For me, that was testing for Grand Prix New Jersey. I got a whole week to process how Standard was shaping up, and it gave me some time to fully digest what the "do"s and "don't"s of the format are. Today we are going back to one of my favorite article formulas where I simply break down what I think the top ten decks are in Standard. Since this format is roughly ten decks, the first five will be in order of what I think the best choices are, and the last five will be decks I don't think are correctly positioned for the current metagame.
Will you agree with my assumptions? Let's find out as we dive into another dosage of "Magic Candy!"
1. Mardu Midrange
I know exactly what you're thinking. "Brad is picking Mardu Midrange as the best deck because he built it, and he is being completely biased during this process." If you fall in that camp, you couldn't be more wrong. I honestly thought the deck sucked after I top 8ed Grand Prix Los Angeles with it. I didn't even know if I wanted to do a video with the deck for content the next week, because deep down I wasn't happy with the list. There were just far too many holes in the core strategy against Abzan Midrange to feel good about the deck, and I hate not being able to crush the best deck!
However, I quickly saw a trend pop up as I worked on other decks: I kept losing to my own deck! Whatever I was playing got destroyed by players that recognized Mardu Midrange as a good deck. My win percentage against the deck was well under 50%. I just didn't understand it. I couldn't beat it!
Results started pouring in, and Mardu Midrange kept overperforming. "I've created a monster," I said to myself over and over as I just couldn't get passed it whenever I got paired up against it. Nomad Outposts started to appear in my nightmares! I decided to give the deck another chance.
I found that the reason this deck was performing so well was that it was never in a bad matchup for the duration of the entire match. If the deck had a tough game 1, it didn't after sideboard and vice versa. It also has a lot of play to it and never felt like it simply got destroyed. The cheap removal kept the deck malleable when on the draw, allowing me to never feel out of the game simply for losing the die roll. This is by far the best deck I have ever built with such little time working on it. Sure it is an update of the R/W Aggro deck I played at the Pro Tour, but never in my wildest dreams did I think I would top 8 Grand Prix LA with it as well as watch it become the centerpiece of the format.
2. U/W Heroic
Tom Ross did it again. His U/W Heroic deck is off the charts powerful and attacks the metagame in a unique way that leaves many of the decks unable to put up a fight. The only issue for this deck is how bad of a matchup it has against Mardu Midrange and other Goblin Rabblemaster-related archetypes. Removal spells backed up by Goblin Rabblemaster backed up by more removal spells is exactly how this deck crumbles.
U/W Heroic is the perfect deck choice for anyone who lives in a very green-based metagame. This is the deck for any metagame that doesn't have a Brad Nelson fan in sight. I wish there was a way to make this archetype stronger against Chained to the Rocks, but there just isn't a way currently. Cheap removal hurts this deck's early turns, which makes it very difficult for it to get any traction to deploy threats underneath opposing mythics.
I highly suggest playing his deck but also reading the words of Tom on said deck. That last sentence kind of invalidates my decklist now that I think about it. Well, here it is anyway!
- 4 Battlewise Hoplite
- 4 Favored Hoplite
- 3 Heliod's Pilgrim
- 4 Hero of Iroas
- 3 Seeker of the Way
- 2 Eidolon of Countless Battles
3. Abzan Midrange
That's right! Abzan Midrange still sits on top of the metagame. This deck may not be as oppressive as Mono-Black Devotion was last year, but it still keeps everything else in check. It is the one deck that you have to be most prepared for when entering a tournament, and yet it will still have a decent chance at ending your tournament life.
Abzan Midrange is one of the strongest choices for Standard, but that does not mean you are forced into playing it by any stretch. One of the key weaknesses of this deck is its inherent flaw of falling behind in the early stages of the game. With so much removal and small bodied early creatures, Siege Rhino is one of the only lines of defense until Elspeth, Sun's Champion gets onto the battlefield. Good thing rhinos run in packs, and this deck becomes very difficult to beat in the early game when they do.
Abzan Midrange preys on stumbles. Whether it is in the early stages of the game or drawing too many lands when all the dust has settled, this deck can take advantage of the situation and capitalize with a sea of free card advantage. Once the deck pulls away, it is almost impossible to catch back up.
This is the perfect deck to play if you haven't had enough time to prepare for any future event.
4. U/B Control
Next up on my list is our own Adrian Sullivan's take on U/B Control. His list exploits the fact that both Mardu and Abzan Midrange are both taking over the format the same way Tom Ross does but adding his own personal strengths to the mix.
This may not be the easiest deck to master, but once you do, it is well worth it. The deck just has the ability to prey on any midrange strategy, with the only downside being the inability to see the lines to easily execute the strategy. You will see a significant improvement in your ability to play the deck the longer you do.
This deck is a very big threat in any metagame filled with Abzan Midrange, Mardu Midrange, and Jeskai Aggro. Not many people agree with me on the last assessment, but I have found tight play to make that matchup very winnable.
5. Sultai Reanimator
Rounding out the five decks I would suggest for this week is MTGO's own _Nukesaku_'s take on Sultai Reanimator. It takes all the strongest elements of the other Sultai Reanimator decks, but it adds Dig Through Time for some consistency. Green midrange decks are in a strange place right now that they have a difficult time breaking through one another. Many of the other color combinations have access to mass removal spells to try to "get" their opponents when they overextend to deal with planeswalkers, but this deck just makes sure the tank is never empty. I love the idea of being able to have the opportunity to have powerful topdecks at any stage of the game, and that is exactly what Dig Through Time allows. It also lets the deck transition from midrange into a control deck and then back to midrange smoothly once the opponent is attrition-ed out.
I'm not sold on the Phenax, God of Deceptions, but I understand how important it is to have some mirror match technology. I just don't think the real life metagame has enough Sultai Reanimator decks floating around for that to be a concern.
- 2 Elvish Mystic
- 3 Hornet Queen
- 4 Satyr Wayfinder
- 4 Sylvan Caryatid
- 3 Courser of Kruphix
- 2 Doomwake Giant
- 4 Sidisi, Brood Tyrant
Now it's time to shake some things up! Let's dive into the five decks I don't think are well-positioned for the next couple weeks and why I think they should be left at home.
1. Jeskai Aggro
This deck comes in so many shapes and sizes making it difficult to show you why I dislike it, so I guess I will just say that the actual archetype has flaws. It is a deck designed to be able to play three different roles: aggro, control, and burn. The only issue is that it is trying to play all of those cards in the same 60 card configuration.
That is just not possible with how powerful and streamlined the other decks are. It was fine when the format was brand new, but this metagame is not the correct conditions for that type of strategy now. Maybe once Temur takes over will we see Jeskai completing the rock-paper-scissors trifecta, but that is not exactly where the metagame currently is. The format is centered around Courser of Kruphix, making it very difficult for this deck to be great.
Is Jeskai Aggro a decent deck? Sure.
Is it the deck you would expect to win a tournament? Of course not.
It is simply an archetype that used tricks to win tournaments, and the rest of us have caught on.
2. G/B Devotion
Devotion-based strategies make the list for many different reasons. This deck is actually capable of doing some very powerful things and is easily on the top of the standings for the ability to brute force its way through an event. The only issue is the deck's inability to beat the sideboards dedicated to them, and the consistency issues they have in the lategames.
Devotion is very much like red aggressive strategies. They run so many early game enablers that the deck can't have a dense enough topdeck in the lategame. This is why so many strategies just pack some copies of Elspeth, Sun's Champion and End Hostilities in their sideboard. The deck just can't beat that strategy very well.
It can get lucky though and has the power level to win a tournament if they didn't have their board swept too many times. I would never be surprised to see Devotion win a tournament, but it is not the basket I want to put my eggs in. "They either have it or they don't" isn't exactly the win percentage I am looking for.
3. Temur Aggro
This is by far the most disappointing deck in the metagame for me. I love the archetype and always seem to come back to it every week, but the mana just can't keep me there. My lands either don't cast all of my spells or enter-the-battlefield-tapped. When I somehow find the perfect combination of mana, I win the game, but it seems like there is a strong correlation to perfect mana draws and wins. I don't like my decks never giving me the chance to win the games on my own.
This is the exact reason why I like Mardu Midrange right now and dislike Temur. One deck has stable mana, while the other doesn't. It doesn't really matter which deck is more powerful when one doesn't get the same chance to function as the other.
4. G/R Monsters
This deck's only problem is that it can't kill anything relevant. Without the ability to kill creatures, it is stuck becoming the beatdown deck which isn't the best place to be right now. It just doesn't have any interaction outside of Sarkhan, the Dragonspeaker and Crater's Claws. Sarkhan is a great removal spell, but I think we all know by now that it acts better as a removal spell that can attack than a creature that can kill things. I would much rather get my opponent down to nothing on the board before sending him in the air for four damage a turn.
The deck did win Grand Prix LA, and ever since then it has been showing up on MTGO, but I just don't see the reason for playing it. Is it because Polukranos, World Eater has one more power than Siege Rhino? I just don't get it.
5. Abzan Reanimator
I had this on my "decks to beat" list for so long until I started to play with it. The biggest flaw for this strategy is that it preys on the weakest players. Good players know how to beat this deck and have come prepared. Yes, it has the ability to grind out the game like no other, but that comes at a pretty big cost. For starters, the deck is even weaker against mass removal since it takes such a long time to present anything worth killing. In the Sultai Reanimator decks, Sidisi, Brood Tyrant creates a board presence immediately which forces many opponents into wasting their Anger of the Gods on the spot since they don't want the graveyard to fill up any more. Abzan Reanimator doesn't have this luxury. They have to get the insect tokens into play as quickly as possible just to watch them wash away from either Drown in Sorrow or Anger the Gods.
The deck is very well-positioned against Abzan Midrange, but what isn't? Almost everyone thinks they have a good Abzan Midrange matchup, yet the deck keeps winning. That is because the deck has removal, card advantage, and Thoughtseize. It might not have any good matchups, but it doesn't have any really bad ones.
If preparing for the Open Series in Richmond has taught me anything, it is to not go too far off the deep end. Play a consistent archetype that has already proven to be a good choice. That way, when I show up with my four color anti-metagame concoction, I will have the best chances of winning the tournament!