This Standard format is awesome. It's incredibly diverse, and it changes from week to week. There are a lot of great strategies and powerful cards, but all of them have foils... if you know what to expect, you should consistently be able to beat it. Knowing what to expect can be a challenge because the format is so open, but today I thought I'd share what I know about how to beat each deck, to help make sure that everyone is able to capitalize on their metagame predictions as well as possible. Without further ado, here's how to beat everything I can think of:
- 2 Hornet Queen
- 1 Reclamation Sage
- 4 Satyr Wayfinder
- 1 Soul of Innistrad
- 4 Sylvan Caryatid
- 4 Courser of Kruphix
- 2 Doomwake Giant
- 4 Sidisi, Brood Tyrant
- 2 Pharika, God of Affliction
Sultai won both the StarCityGames Players' Championship and the World Championships. This makes the deck look very dominant, but I think it paints a skewed picture, as both of those tournaments were small mixed-format events. The deck is good, but it's just one of many decks, not a boogeyman.
Sultai preys on other midrange strategies, which is a good place to be in this format, hence its success. But it's entirely possible to go over it or go under it. A dedicated blue control deck should generally be able to exhaust all of Sultai's resources, despite Whip of Erebos and Soul of Innistrad, though those cards can cause problems. Perilous Vault is of particular importance here, as exiling is a big deal, as is being able to answer a Whip of Erebos.
Going under Sultai can be accomplished in a variety of ways. W/U Heroic can protect a large evasive threat, particularly because Sultai's removal tends to be fairly expensive, so Gods Willing is well-positioned. Additionally, early pressure backed by a lot of burn is very effective, especially in something like the traditional Jeskai Aggro decks with Mantis Rider, which we haven't seen much of lately.
Abzan Aggro is another great way to go under Sultai. Anafenza, the Foremost is an effective hate card that plays very well with their overall strategy. Rakshasa Deathdealer and Fleecemane Lion can both eventually punch their way through a Hornet Queen, and Back to Nature kills Whip of Erebos, Courser of Kruphix, and whatever Constellation elements they have.
Finally, Jeskai Ascendancy combo goes both under it and over it in a way, essentially ignoring Sultai's gameplan entirely while having plenty of time to set up and go off.
Anger of the Gods is another card that really shines against Sultai. Exiling Sidisi, Brood Tyrant and all the zombies, Hornet Queen and all the insects, plus some of their other creatures can leave their board looking pretty unimpressive, and it's a good way to take a controlling position with a red deck against them.
Pharika, God of Affliction is best in Sultai, but is worth noting as one of the highest-impact cards at fighting their strategy as well.
This is a well-rounded deck that has a lot of versatile cards and tries to stay ahead at all points in the game, but it is fundamentally a deck full of individually-powerful cards with very few sources of card advantage.
Thoughtseize and versatile removal mean you can't rely heavily on a single card, you need a lot of redundancy. I believe the best approach to beating them is to play good early removal to avoid falling behind, and more high-impact cards to get ahead after you've traded resources. Slightly bigger Abzan decks with planeswalkers and a lot of removal, or the R/W Tokens deck I've been playing, are well-positioned here. Sultai is doing the right thing by trying to go just a little bigger, but the cards just don't line up that well because the specific choices in Abzan Aggro are really made with Sultai in mind.
Cards that match up well here include Wingmate Roc, Glare of Heresy, Dark Betrayal, Sarkhan, the Dragonspeaker, and Soul of Theros, but really, it's much more about having the right gameplan than having specific hate cards. If you're looking to address the matchup with sideboard cards, I'd try to stick to cheap and versatile removal, and if you already have a lot of that, consider card draw.
- 4 Battlewise Hoplite
- 4 Favored Hoplite
- 3 Heliod's Pilgrim
- 4 Hero of Iroas
- 3 Seeker of the Way
- 1 Eidolon of Countless Battles
An aggro deck with a lot of card advantage, this deck is less fragile than it looks on the surface. It's hard to go under this with small creatures because of their lifegain, but I've found that having medium-to-large creatures that can turn the corner after stopping their early assault can be great. They're not positioned to interact with opposing creatures well, so something like a large flier (Wingmate Roc and Stormbreath Dragon are especially ideal) can put them in a really hard spot.
The most important thing is still to have cheap ways to interact. Any removal spell is often better than none, but instant speed, cheap, exiling, and not caring about toughness are each separately useful characteristic, and a good mix of removal is best.
Crackling Doom is probably the best of the best, since it's an instant that ignores Gods Willing, but Glare of Heresy, Chained to the Rocks, Magma Spray, Ulcerate, Bile Blight, Lightning Strike, Stormbreath Dragon, End Hostilities, and (presumably, though I've never actually been in a position to use it) Voyage's End are all great. The Pharika Award for best sideboard card in the mirror goes to Wavecrash Triton.
Mardu and R/W are likely the best decks against W/U Heroic as both have access to around as many removal spells as W/U has creatures and good creatures to end the game.
Jeskai Tokens is a versatile aggro deck that has a lot of power to shift gears, but it relies pretty heavily on Jeskai Ascendancy for a lot of its power in Game One though it can certainly win games without it. This is also the best Treasure Cruise deck in the format, which allows it to take full advantage of (at least) one of the most broken cards in Standard.
My experience against Jeskai Tokens comes from playing with R/W Tokens, where I believe I have a very good matchup - Chandra, Pyromaster is great at keeping their tokens off the board and keeping up with their card advantage. Glare of Heresy stops their Jeskai Ascendancy, and Wingmate Roc goes over the rest of their deck. Heliod's Pilgrim has been great at making their tokens less effective on their own, so I think incidental blockers that aren't weak to their burn spells are also very helpful though I don't know what else is in that category. Trading tokens with them has also been very good, as they're more reliant on their tokens for other synergies.
Attrition strategies are horribly positioned here, as they don't have great targets for removal and they actually have a lot of card draw. Bile Blight, Drown in Sorrow, and Anger of the Gods can be good here but most other removal is quite bad, though you still need to be sure you don't lose to Goblin Rabblemaster. I guess this makes Magma Jet and Magma Spray pretty good, and Lightning Strike is fine.
Doomwake Giant is pretty good, but Disdainful Stroke can be problematic if you're relying on it. I think I'd prefer to be Abzan Aggro side of this matchup - its creatures are just a little bigger than tokens, it has Thoughtseize and Bile Blight to break apart synergies, and it's looking to end the game quickly rather than trying to grind them out. I think “proactive small midrange” is where I want to be in general against Jeskai Tokens.
- 2 Ashcloud Phoenix
- 4 Goblin Rabblemaster
- 4 Seeker of the Way
- 3 Stormbreath Dragon
- 2 Brimaz, King of Oreskos
Like Abzan Aggro, this is a deck full of efficient creatures and removal with very little card advantage. Dedicated control strategies punish the deck for each removal spell it draws while being able to easily answer its powerful creatures. Aggressive decks are horrible here, as Mardu's creatures do well in combat with other creatures and their removal is extremely efficient. This is a nightmare matchup for all kinds of Heroic decks.
Hornet Queen, Dig Through Time, and Treasure Cruise are likely the best trump cards. Mardu generally has to spend a card on every individual insect, which is never a winning strategy against Hornet Queen.
I see Mardu as a metagame call that chooses to beat every aggro deck and lose to every Hornet Queen deck. If you're playing W/U Heroic, you can't realistically sideboard to have an advantageous matchup against them - the best you can do is probably bring in a lot of Treasure Cruises and hope they don't draw Stormbreath Dragon. Maybe you even use a blue card like Wavecrash Triton to try to answer Stormbreath Dragon.
If you're playing Hornet Queen, their best hope is to try to catch it with a Hushwing Gryff. If you can wait until you have eight mana so that you can Murderous Cut a Hushwing Gryff that they cast in response to your Hornet Queen, keep that play in mind.
This deck has very few threats. They're powerful, but there just aren't very many of them. It has a lot of answers, but very few ways to kill multiple creatures at the same time in the first game.
It's more-or-less impossible for this deck to get under a counterspell, and I think Disdainful Stroke is likely the best card in the format against it. This is another slow midrange deck that would be unplayable if blue control decks in this format were just a little better. As-is, those are still bad matchups but they don't come up very often.
This deck against Sultai is a huge grind, but one that I believe Sultai is generally going to come out on top of due to the strength of counterspells and their access to better card advantage if they want it. I think this deck is like a more well-rounded version of Mardu - in general, it's harder to go under it than it is to go over it, and it can struggle against the Hornet Queens and Wingmate Rocs of the world, but planeswalkers and card draw offer it a more reasonable plan against slower opposing strategies so it'll have more balance matchups across-the-board.
Cards that answer this deck's few threats, like Glare of Heresy and Hero's Downfall, are good - but only if they're part of an effective gameplan. Wingmate Roc, Hornet Queen, Whip of Erebos, and every counterspell are the other cards I'd really want here.
It's very hard to go over Dig Through Time, Elspeth, Sun's Champion, and Pearl Lake Ancient, especially in a deck with a lot of counterspells. This deck will always be the control deck in every matchup. That means opposing decks are likely to do their best by can trying to go under it. The more effectively they can do that, the better it will be for them.
Jeskai Tokens seems amazingly well-positioned here. Jeskai can get threats under counterspells and those threats make U/W's removal very bad. End Hostilities answers the tokens, but it also gives the Jeskai deck a window to resolve Jeskai Ascendancy or Treasure Cruise, either of which can make it very hard for U/W Control to actually establish inevitability.
U/B Control is likely the best deck against U/W Control as Thoughtseize and Ashiok, Nightmare Weaver basically break the matchup in U/B's favor. Banishing Light can answer Ashiok, but sets you up for a Perilous Vault that will both answer your Elspeth, Sun's Champion and get Ashiok back.
Specific cards I'd want against U/W Control include Stormbreath Dragon, Negate, Stubborn Denial, Thoughtseize, Fleecemane Lion, Glare of Heresy, Monastery Swiftspear, Ashiok, Nightmare Weaver, Xenagos, the Reveler, and Genesis Hydra.
- 3 Ashcloud Phoenix
- 4 Elvish Mystic
- 4 Fanatic of Xenagos
- 4 Goblin Rabblemaster
- 4 Heir of the Wilds
- 4 Stormbreath Dragon
- 4 Boon Satyr
- 1 Polukranos, World Eater
This is the more aggressive side of the “creatures and removal” decks.
This strikes me as another strategy that's great against U/W Control. The low curve gets under counterspells, haste, flash, and protection from white are all at their best here, and the burn spells end the game when U/W taps out for a big spell. This deck also doesn't mess around with any cards that are dead against control, and most of its threats are particularly well-positioned. Planeswalkers and Destructive Revelry out of the sideboard should really seal the deal.
As for beating this deck, I'd want to take advantage of the fact that Hornet Queen is naturally very good against Stormbreath Dragon decks, but it's important not to get run over. The more Hero's Downfalls and Murderous Cuts you have the better, and Siege Rhino also matches up very well against this deck.
I think Mardu has enough removal that it should be a small favorite, and that Abzan Aggro would also be a close matchup. I think bigger Abzan and Sultai decks with Hornet Queen would do very well here.
As for specific cards, I think black removal, Hornet Queen, and Seige Rhino are as good as it gets. This is another matchup that doesn't feel like it's about specific hate cards as much as it's about generally being well-positioned.
- 3 Heliod's Pilgrim
- 1 Monastery Swiftspear
- 4 Seeker of the Way
- 4 Wingmate Roc
- 3 Eidolon of Countless Battles
Strategically, it's hard to do better than just putting those cards in your deck and hoping to draw them, but control strategies can also be effective by blanking Chained to the Rocks.
Key threats that aren't creatures, white, or enchantments are also important, to dodge Chained to the Rocks, Glare of Heresy, and Erase. Planeswalkers like Nissa, Worldwaker and Liliana Vess can be particularly strong as long as you can reliably answer the few fliers in the deck. Peak Eruption is particularly devastating because of its ability to incidentally destroy Chained to the Rocks.
This deck is very similar to U/W Control except that it's better against Stormbreath Dragon but worse against Ashcloud Phoenix, and cards like Reclamation Sage are often very important against it since it relies on untapping with its Perilous Vault intact. The lack of End Hostilities changes the way that you can play out games against this deck, as unless they have nine mana they have to tell you a turn before that they plan to Wrath you.
- 22 Mountain
Cheap removal (especially Drown in Sorrow) is great here. Large cheap blockers like Fleecemane Lion, Anafenza the Foremost, Siege Rhino, and Courser of Kruphix are good, as are Doomwake Giant and Sorin, Solemn Visitor. Satyr Wayfinder can be great, but is a little worse against the specific list I linked to, as this one doesn't play Firedrinker Satyr.
It's important to note that the deck you're playing against in Game Two will often look very different than the deck you're playing against in Game One, as this deck can side in additional lands and planeswalkers to punish people who overcommit to being able to kill small creatures. Drown in Sorrow gets a lot worse, and the best cards are things like Siege Rhino and Wingmate Roc.
- 4 Elvish Mystic
- 2 Hornet Queen
- 4 Satyr Wayfinder
- 4 Siege Rhino
- 2 Soul of Theros
- 2 Sylvan Caryatid
- 4 Wingmate Roc
- 4 Courser of Kruphix
This deck is like Sultai Reanimator decks, except that it has Siege Rhino and Soul of Theros instead of Sidisi, Brood Tyrant and Soul of Innistrad. It also gains Wingmate Roc but has no access to counters or Ashiok, Nightmare Weaver.
It's slower than other Abzan decks to try to go over the top of them, but I think it might go too far in that direction against Abzan Aggro, especially because Anafenza, the Foremost fights its plan for free while attacking for four (or more) a turn.
Wingmate Roc and Hornet Queen make the deck relatively good against opposing Planeswalkers and Soul of Theros trumps Hornet Queen battles, but it's relying on Soul of Theros because it doesn't have Doomwake Giant maindeck. The curve and threat density on this deck are both very high, so I'd want to try to go under it, but it's important to do it in a way that doesn't care about the deck's good blockers. This means you need to have big creatures and removal, like Abzan Aggro, or you need to have evasion that doesn't care about nonflying blockers, like U/W Heroic. Combo and dedicated control are likely also pretty good here.
Most of the cards that are good against Sultai are good against this, and Glare of Heresy's also good. This deck has less card draw and is more dependent on the board, so End Hostilities is also far better here than it is against Sultai, and it's likely going to pull a lot of weight here.
And there you have it, as much as I can think of about how to beat a dozen of the top decks in Standard in time for Grand Prix Denver and the end of this Standard season before we get to mix things up with Fate Reforged. It's amazing that we're already about to add another set and the format just never really felt solved. We don't often get to see a Standard format this complex and enjoyable!