Quite the week we've had in Magic! On top of a new set, we've just had four cards banned from Standard! In general, though I believe this was a positive change to Standard. The format is now fresh again with a ton of new options, thanks to Rivals of Ixalan. This means there's a ton of room to brew and almost everything is viable. However, some of us are preparing for #SCGDAL this weekend, and I assume many teams' top priority are to make sure they bring a good Standard deck.
I'll be teaming up with my friends and Lotus Box teammates Zan Syed and Korey McDuffie. I'm excited to say I'll be in the Legacy seat, Korey will be playing Modern, and Zan has the challenging task of tackling Standard. With us having close to no Standard data to go by, a lot of us will be taking a stab in the dark. Many people will just be bringing their pet deck from the previous season and maybe adding a new card or two. Some people will bring completely new brews to fill with Rivals of Ixalan cards. Historically, proactive strategies are the best performing decks on release weekend. This leads me to our teams' current top deck of choice and a personal favorite of mine: Mardu Vehicles.
- 4 Bomat Courier
- 4 Scrapheap Scrounger
- 4 Toolcraft Exemplar
- 4 Veteran Motorist
- 3 Hazoret the Fervent
- 2 Pia Nalaar
Mardu is a deck that is near and dear to my heart. Despite only having a brief love affair with the deck over the summer, it managed to carry me to Pro Tour Hour of Devastation in Kyoto. I'm thrilled to be revisiting the deck after playing Energy since September. I always thought the deck looked like a worse Mono-Red deck this past season, but that is no longer the case! In fact, I just watched Brennan DeCandio get his face kicked in by Zan on stream with Mardu, playing for the trophy!
Since the previous rotation, Mardu Vehicles has taken a bit more of an aggressive stance with the additions of Bomat Courier and Hazoret the Fervent. This was a boon on the archetype last season because it was hard to push through the threats of Temur Energy. With Energy gone and Mono-Red weakened significantly, I would expect this deck to be the premier aggro deck and one of the best decks to come out of this weekend.
First off, it's proactive, which we know is a good recipe for success week one. Second, it's resilient unlike some of the other aggro decks. Fumigate has been the bane of the green-based midrange decks in Standard for quite some time despite having powerful creatures with packed in card advantage. Temur and Sultai Energy, as an example, were strategies that have struggled with Fumigate significantly, especially in game 1s. Mardu Vehicles has a lot more staying power and resilience to sweepers because of Scrapheap Scrounger, Hazoret, and Heart of Kiran. Lastly, my absolute favorite part about the deck is its ability to adapt and switch roles. I'm the type of player who's always looking for my deck to be as flexible as possible so I can adapt to all kinds of situations. Mardu Vehicles' ability to turn into a midrange-control type deck gives you a lot of room to keep people guessing. My favorite games with this deck are the ones where you play a planeswalker or two and a sweeper while your opponent rots with Fatal Pushes and Naturalizes in hand.
Speaking of which, Angrath, the Flame-Chained is a new addition that has been an absolute house. Versus control it's essentially an expensive Liliana of the Veil that also pressures their life total while also being a great way swing a game in a midrange fight. Here's hoping that our read on Mardu Vehicles is correct. Hopefully it helps carry us to victory this weekend!
The second deck that has caught my eye is Grixis Midrange.
- 2 Torrential Gearhulk
- 4 Glint-Sleeve Siphoner
- 3 Glorybringer
- 2 Ravenous Chupacabra
- 4 Whirler Virtuoso
- 2 The Scarab God
This list is basically just Brennan DeCandio's most recent list. I only mildly tweaked the sideboard as I find it inconceivable why anyone would want to put Dreamstealer in their deck. I added some Glimmer of Genius in the sideboard as it plays well with the deck's play patterns, especially post-sideboard. On top of that, it's just a good card to cast with your Torrential Gearhulks which basically only have removal to flashback. To be honest, I just want them main deck, but I'm not confident what to cut right now.
The deck looks like it has the tools to compete with just about everything. You have good creatures, the best removal in the format, sources of card advantage, and the best top end you can get in Standard. This deck will likely be very solid against the creature decks of the format - Mardu Vehicles, B/G Constrictor, and various flavors of Merfolk - but will likely struggle with the decks going over the top of it, like U/W Approach and God-Pharaoh's Gift, especially pre-sideboard. Grixis Midrange is pretty much a dumbed down Temur Energy deck, but that isn't a bad thing because that means you'll have game against everyone. I'd expect this to be a relatively popular choice in Dallas, as it's an easy transition for people who were playing Energy decks in the past. It's also just the classic Jund-style midrange deck so many players (including myself) gravitate towards.
The next deck up that's at the top of my list is B/G Constrictor.
- 4 Verdurous Gearhulk
- 4 Walking Ballista
- 4 Glint-Sleeve Siphoner
- 4 Jadelight Ranger
- 3 Merfolk Branchwalker
- 4 Ravenous Chupacabra
- 4 Winding Constrictor
- 2 Rishkar, Peema Renegade
There are a ton of different ways to build this archetype. In fact, fellow SCG writers Ross Merriam and Jadine Klomparens wrote full in-depth articles all about B/G Constrictor and its different iterations (Ross' is here and Jadine's is here ). This list however is one that 5-0'd in the hands of Nathan Steuer. For those of you who don't know, Nathan is a young kid who has been grinding tournaments lately and shows a lot of promise. To no surprise, his list looks clean and well thought out.
Having a tiny bit of an energy subtheme with cards like Glint-Sleeve Siphoner and Aethersphere Harvester is a great way to make your Winding Constrictors more impactful. B/G Constrictor is a deck that has always been lurking underneath the top tier of Standard since the release of Kaladesh. Whether it's been broken combos like Aetherworks Marvel or Felidar Guardian, or just the powerful energy threats, B/G has always been kept in check. Historically the deck has been able to prey on smaller aggro decks, such as Mono-Red or Mardu Vehicles, but like the other green midrange decks of the format, the deck struggles to beat decks like U/W Approach and God-Pharaoh's Gift.
I think B/G Constrictor will have a decent representation this weekend partially because it is so easily ported over from last format. I expect it to put up some results, but by no means take the event by storm. B/G Constrictor has been medium in the past, and while I do think it has gotten better I don't think it'll be the format's premier deck by any means.
The next deck on my list is Esper Approach. The 75 I'm providing to you is based mostly off katoriarich123's recent Magic Online list, which he has two 5-0s posted with, with the addition of some new cards.
Even though I've been pushing for aggressive decks week one, this doesn't mean control should be forgotten. Approach has proved itself as a sustainable archetype in Standard. While being reactive can be a dangerous thing to employ in such an open field, at least any Approach deck gives you some easy "oops I win" draws with its namesake card.
Esper Approach was already in the market for some more cheap removal, something the straight U/W variants have struggled with. In fact, if I we're going straight two colors, I'd seriously consider up to three or four copies of Baffling End. Because of the instant speed and the ability to Torrential Gearhulk it back, Fatal Push gets the nod as our removal spell of choice in the Esper build. However, I do believe Baffling End to be a great addition to Standard since it kills basically every early game threat and there isn't a ton of enchantment removal.
I also think that since Standard has been on such a heavy decline recently, you'll be able to catch a lot of people off guard with the creature-heavy sideboard plan. Alex Lloyd, as an example, proved this to be a route to success when he won GP Atlanta a few months ago.
The last deck on my Standard short list is…
- 4 Bristling Hydra
- 4 Glorybringer
- 4 Jadelight Ranger
- 4 Longtusk Cub
- 4 Servant of the Conduit
- 4 Whirler Virtuoso
I know it might come to some surprise that I'm posting this, and I'm sure most of you we're hoping that this archetype was dead and to never see Longtusk Cub rear its ugly head again. But I do think Temur Energy is alive and well, and honestly, looks quite good. The deck lost some consistency and card advantage due to the bans, but Jadelight Ranger is a nice substitute for Rogue Refiner as a new value three-drop and might keep the deck alive all by itself. Though Attune with Aether isn't replaceable, Temur Energy still looks like it has all the tools to beat everything and in my opinion, will still be one of the format's top decks.
Those are my top choices for Standard this weekend for SCG Dallas, and I'm close to certain our team will end up on one of these decks. My honorable mentions to this list would be Esper God-Pharaoh's Gift, and potentially, U/G Merfolk, as its already posted some 5-0s on Magic Online. However, it wouldn't surprise me if a handful of other new archetypes rose to the top. Finally, I'd like to leave you with my top 3 choices in each format for SCG Dallas.
I already went fully in depth on why I like each of these archetypes. They all are similar because they are all proactive while also being flexible with their gameplans. On top of that, they are also proven strategies that have seen successful in Standard's past. I don't think you'll regret playing any of these three decks.
U/R Gifts Storm
Grixis Death's Shadow
Ari Lax wrote a great piece earlier this week highlighting the strength of Affinity in team events, and I agree with him. The reason why the deck is better in team events is because the games you get hated out on, you can still rely on your teammates to win the match. Also, there are certainly going to be a good percentage of games where you just roll peoples' faces in. U/R Gifts Storm is second on my list, as I think it's just the format's best deck in a vacuum. The deck has proven itself to be fast, consistent, and resilient, and if you have a strong Storm pilot in your team's arsenal, I'd highly advise they play it. Last is my pet deck in Grixis Death's Shadow. While some might argue this is the format's best deck, I think it requires a pretty high ceiling to play. The deck is extremely punishing and there is not a lot of wiggle room, but if you have a strong Grixis Death's Shadow player on your squad, like myself, it's perhaps the best deck you can have in your Modern seat.
Sneak and Show
While Legacy has sort of become an arms race of "Who can Deathrite Shaman better?" I still think there are plenty of good options. Grixis Delver will almost certainly be my weapon of choice as I'm quite accustomed to it, and I believe it to be the best deck, but Lands has continued over and over to prove itself as a strong competitor and typically shows up in high numbers at these team SCG events. A lot of the top teams will have strong Legacy players like Jody Keith and Kevin King who have been playing the archetype for years. The last deck on the list is an old favorite in Sneak and Show. The reason why I like Sneak and Show right now is it has good matchups versus both Lands and Four-Color Leovold, two of the format's most popular decks. It has also proven time and time again that it has the tools to play a close match with Delver of Secrets strategies. This would be the deck I'd select if I were a combo player.
Hopefully this article was insightful and helps narrow down your deck selections for the upcoming team events. I'm quite optimistic about Standard's development and look forward to putting more focus on a fresh format.