If you tuned into the Magic World Championship last weekend looking for exciting and innovative Standard decks, you were likely very disappointed. While it was great to see the world's best battle on Magic's biggest stage, and even better to see the great William Jensen take down the trophy in dominating fashion, the Standard metagame breakdown left something to be desired:
9 Ramunap Red
9 Temur / Four-Color Energy
4 U/B Control
1 Grixis Control
1 Treasure Red
While the emergence of U/B Control in the hands of some of the game's top players was exciting, it was nothing more than a third-party candidate in a two-party system. The story of the event was told almost entirely through the lens of Attune with Aether and Ramunap Ruins, with the two decks combining for an astounding 75% of the field.
Even more disheartening was the fact that the two "outlier" decks were just mild variations of Ramunap Red and U/B Control. Donald Smith added Wily Goblin and Captain Lannery Storm to his Ramunap Red deck in an attempt to go bigger with maindeck Glorybringers to subpar results, while Shota Yasooka just threw together a pile of Grixis control cards that nobody else could hope to win with because he's Shota Yasooka.
Frankly, I find this metagame breakdown somewhat surprising. While my experience in "small field, huge prize" tournaments has been limited to the three SCG Tour® Players' Championships I played in, what I've learned from those is that metagaming for the field can be an excellent high risk/high reward strategy that can give you a huge edge. When you know everyone in the event is going to be an excellent player and you know what they like to play, you can try to solve the puzzle with something that gives you a distinct edge.
It worked for me when I won in 2015 with my G/R Eldrazi Ramp deck (beating up on Jeskai Black and Abzan midrange decks), and it worked for Joe Lossett when he won in 2016 with his Temur Pummeler deck (beating up on Aetherworks Marvel decks). While you do run the risk of bringing the "wrong" deck or just hitting the wrong matchups, having a significant matchup advantage against the big decks you expect can give you a huge edge in a tough field. I'd much rather have a floor of "crashing and burning" with a ceiling of "crushing the event" than just choosing something "safe."
Alas, the players at the Magic World Championship did not agree, and this is the Standard we are currently living in.
So is that it?
The best in the world put all their efforts to break Standard and try to win $100,000 and this is what we end up with?
Is this really what Standard is?
Not So Fast
While most of the Magic world's eyes were on the 24 players at the Magic World Championship, it was certainly not the only Magic being played at the time. Magic Online is constantly humming, and with each passing event, the hive mind is evolving and adapting at an incredible rate. All the talk from the World Championship is about The Scarab God, Attune with Aether, and Hazoret the Fervent, but perhaps the true answer to the format was simply hidden in the stockpile.
If you knew you were going to play in a tournament where 75% of the field was Temur Energy or Ramunap Red, going wide with a limitless engine is a fantastic idea.
Temur Energy and other midrange decks without sweepers have always struggled against decks that can go wide because their good removal and singular threats just don't line up well. It was a big reason why Zombies was so good against Mardu Vehicles and Temur Energy last season, and a big reason why these new Hidden Stockpile / Anointed Procession decks are doing well now on Magic Online. Because the metagame is so insular, the Temur Energy decks aren't even sideboarding any sweepers at all!
Going wide with a bunch of tokens is also phenomenal against Ramunap Red as well, as evidenced by how effective Whirler Virtuoso is against the deck. When you presenting a bunch of low-value 1/1 creatures, cards like Shock and Abrade look comically bad, and the can't-block duo of Earthshaker Khenra and Ahn-Crop Crasher become extremely ineffective. Chump blockers also largely invalidate Hazoret the Fervent in a way that few cards can. Toss in some lifegain with a card like Anointer Priest and you've got a stellar matchup.
With a distinct lack of sweepers in the format and an almost complete lack of enchantment removal, it seems likely that a Hidden Stockpile / Anointed Procession deck would have had a field day at the World Championship.
You want further evidence?
There were twelve copies of each card in the Magic Online PTQ Top 8 that ran concurrent with the Top 4 of the World Championship.
While all three lists we are going to look at feature different colors and different cards, they all have the same core in common:
All of these cards come together to form an engine of ultimate inevitability.
Hidden Stockpile and Legion's Landing both provide an endless stream of creature tokens, which go on to fuel all of the aspects of the deck. They provide early defense, battlefield control, and eventually the path to victory. Once you add Anointed Procession into the mix, things start to exponentially get out of hand; Hidden Stockpile is now doing more than just break even by itself, and breaking up the individual pieces becomes the only way to stem the tide – removal, whether targeted or mass, is completely ineffective because the waves of token production never stop.
Perhaps the most important piece of the puzzle is Anointer Priest. One of the best ways to beat a battlefield control deck like this is to finish them off before they can fully get their engine online. The way that Temur Energy or Ramunap Red is going to do this is by being as aggressive as possible early and then using the reach of Glorybringer; Chandra, Torch of Defiance; or burn spells to close the game out before it's too late. Anointer Priest keeps the life flowing for a very low cost, giving you the time you need to set up.
SilentTrigger's version of the deck is the most straightforward, which took him all the way to the finals of the PTQ (where he was beaten by all-around great guy Jonathan Sukenik, congrats bud!). This version of the deck looks like it is tailor-made to crush both Temur Energy and Ramunap Red, and if it had been played at the World Championship, I would not have been surprised at all to see it go coast to coast and hoist the trophy.
Using all of the best black and white removal, from Fatal Push all the way to Fumigate, SilentTrigger's deck is going to do an excellent job of stifling any early aggression from creatures. In a lot of ways, SilentTrigger's huge amount of removal spells is both a microcosm for the current state of the format as well as a testament as to why this deck was so successful. There are a ton of "must-kill" creatures in the format, which means that decks must have a lot of removal spells to be successful. By building a deck with all the best removal that is also immune to its opponent's removal, SilentTrigger was able to follow the rule while also circumventing it.
Cards like Renegade Map and Sacred Cat aren't the best, which goes to show that this is definitely version 1.0 of this deck. As the format adapts, it will need to too – just beating Temur Energy and Ramunap Red won't be enough.
Featuring the same core at SilentTrigger's deck but a vastly different supporting cast, Hogpog_98's Esper version of the deck is built to be much more interested in the late-game.
The Scarab God has been quite the force in Standard, taking the title of the format's ultimate end-game. In a deck already intending to play long games with Hidden Stockpile and Anointer Priest, The Scarab God gives this deck an ultra-high-power finisher that also has nice synergy with the deck. While making twice as many 4/4 Zombie tokens with Anointed Procession is likely overkill, having The Scarab God as a backup plan when you can't get your full setup online is a nice Plan B.
While Hogpog_98's deck does provide an amazing amount of late game power, it doesn't do as good of a job getting there as SilentTrigger's does.
The third Top 8 entry for Hidden Stockpile was PaleMongoose's version of the deck, and it is perhaps the most interesting.
PaleMongoose's version of the deck is on the opposite end of the spectrum from SilentTrigger's. Whereas SilentTrigger's deck is a very straightforward take on the deck with lots of removal and an eye for beating Temur Energy and Ramunap Red, PaleMongoose is much more interested in beating control decks and going big. Jace, Cunning Castaway is an amazing early threat against control while being adorable in conjunction with Anointed Procession.
Crested Sunmare may look somewhat silly, but it's an intriguing threat in Standard. A five-toughness, five-mana creature is able to dodge many of the format's major removal spells, and being able to cast it on Turn 4 off an Adanto, the First Fort that was flipped by an attack made by a lifelinking creature is quite powerful. Turn 4 is early enough in the game that many decks will be tapped out for their play, and two 5/5s and the threat of more to come is quite the battlefield presence.
So Who's Right?
These answers will only come with time. These Hidden Stockpile / Anointed Procession decks will have to figure out not only how to adapt to the format as it was seen at the World Championship, but also to the format where the mirror is an issue too.
Approach of the Second Sun, which has fallen out of favor after the World Championship, may also see a resurgence; Approach of the Second Sun doesn't care how many Horse or Servo tokens you have on the battlefield or what sort of Voltron combination of cards you've assembled. It only cares if you can interact with a seven-mana sorcery. None of the three decks we've looked at today has much of a chance at beating the card Approach of the Second Sun in Game 1 as currently built.
I know the metagame results of the World Championship can feel disheartening, but there's a whole lot of room in this Standard format to still explore. Hidden Stockpile is just the next step.