Without a Pro Tour to set the pace for the Rivals of Ixalan Standard format, the metagame is a little bit of a wild west.
With the banning of the Ramunap Ruins and Rampaging Ferocidon, it was not unreasonable to expect Mono-Red to take a hit. Nevertheless, the first few weeks of the new Standard seemed to suggest that banning the 4th best and 11th best card in the best deck wasn't enough to stop it.
Could the sky be falling?
The metagame has since adjusted, and while Hazoret continues to be a defining force, the format appears to have a pretty good variety of stuff going on.
And it's sweet.
Some of the decks people are winning with are well beyond cool--they're deep, deep into completely sweet territory.
See, now this is how you know Ali Aintrazi is not messing around.
Obviously, Zacama completely dominates the game once it hits, killing creatures, artifacts, enchantments, and any possibility of racing.
But how can his curve go up so high?
Ali piloted an innovative Five-Color B/G Ramp deck of his own design, relying on Gift of Paradise and Hour of Promise to do most of the ramping. Not wanting to waste precious land slots with white or blue mana, Cascading Cataracts lets Ali hit five birds with one stone.
Now, on the surface, it might appear that the ramp cards are the reason to go that high, but that still doesn't speak to why go to nine when there are such powerful sevens and eights available.
The real answer is this bad boy right here:
Mastermind's Acquisition is definitely slow, but its versatility is unparalleled. The ability to Diabolic Tutor out of your sideboard, as well as your maindeck, is just such a radically new concept and the implications to deckbuilding are not completely clear. Here, Ali was able to take advantage of extremely powerful endgame cards, like Zacama and Nicol Bolas, without the same risk of drawing them early.
If you're going to maindeck one of your ultra hardcore monsters, making it a six-drop sounds alright to me.
Tetzimoc also doubles as a "sweeper," which this list desperately needs. I'm actually kind of surprised to see nothing else in the 75, save a sideboard Yahenni's Expertise (which can obviously be retrieved with Mastermind's Acquisition).
Instead, Aintrazi's list relies on an extensive assortment of black removal spells, aspiring to keep pace on a one-for-one basis.
That's a lot of lifegain, not to mention the Gifts of Paradise from earlier. On top of that, Fatal Push, Doomfall, and Never is a pretty obscene amount of removal. He's even got Thaumatic Compass when it transforms!
Okay, look, I enjoy a good Compass as much as the next person, and I've got a lot of appetite for durdling. Seriously though, are we really playing Thaumatic Compass in a deck with three Swamps and one Forest? We might actually run out of land before we can even transform it, and that's to say nothing of only finding two colors.
Okay, okay, maybe it's a good enough answer to Hazoret to be worth it. I'm suspicious, though.
I am not at all sure how Aintrazi arrived at the mix he did with this brew, but the lone Arguel's Blood Fast does offer a pretty great added dimension when Masterminded up. It can go a long way for keeping up with blue decks, and there's no shortage of incidental lifegain to help fuel it.
If you told me there were two planeswalkers in a Five-Color G/B ramp deck, there's no way Vraska wouldn't be one of them. She's an excellent Mastermind target, the easiest colors, and one of the better walkers in Standard. As for the other, I think Angrath is actually a really smart second option. Having a different cost than Vraska makes the Masterminds better (since we've got a great proactive option to get on turn 4 for play on turn 5). The discard ability is another powerful anti-control plan (helping make up for the overabundance of spot removal). The stealing ability gives this list a surprising amount of damage capability out of nowhere.
You know, for a G/B ramp deck, Aintrazi sure managed to fit a lot of sweet, sweet card advantage in here. Arch of Orazca is particularly awesome with Hour of Promise. Not only can you search up a card draw engine, but if/when you make two Zombies, you should be in a pretty good spot to have the city's blessing next turn.
Sweet to Mastermind for when facing Approach of the Second Sun.
Okay, so assuming this is really just Conqueror's Galleon, I guess it sort of makes the 2/2 Zombies into bigger threats?
I mean, sure, going long, it lets you go way, way over the top of people, but we're talking about a sideboard that already features Nicol Bolas, God-Pharaoh and Zacama, Primal Calamity. How much more over the top do we need to go?
Okay, I'm still trying to wrap my head around not playing a copy of The Scarab God. This card is just so ridiculous, and we've got so much mana to fuel it.
While Aintrazi's list was, without a doubt, the sweetest deck of the tournament (at least by my usual Nicol Bolas-centric metrics), it was another weekend for The Scarab God, this time, in the hands of Todd Stevens.
Todd's take on U/B Control is sort of retro in that it returns to a zero Ravenous Chupacabra count instead following the same inspiration as Aintrazi and packing an unusual amount of black spot removal. Again, Moment of Craving is used alongside Fatal Push and Vraska's Contempt, with Censor, of all cards, the cut to make room.
I'm such a big fan of this, at least for this weekend. I think the U/B deck just really, desperately needs a little tempo, and Censor isn't actually at its best right now. The fast decks go under it too quickly, and the slow decks can play around it too easily. The opportunity cost is so low, it's hard for Censor to ever be that wrong, but I think the tempo boost against red was well crafted and an important part of Todd's winning weekend.
What a difference a few months makes, where Glimmer of Genius as the four-of is somehow the unusual configuration. It's so hard for me to imagine not wanting more Illuminations than one, however, regardless of the Glimmer count.
Eh. I guess it's the best one here, but it does sort of feel like we're missing out here by not really getting anything out of the city's blessing ability.
The latest in a long line of unkillable victory conditions, Nezahal is sort of a Pearl Lake Ancient/Sphinx of the Final Word hybrid with a weird card-advantage-y ability rolled in. I'm generally a fan, but wouldn't want more than one.
Yes, keep 'em coming! If Standard is moving to a place of random Treasure Maps and Thaumatic Compasses just floating around, that is really exciting news (although, I sure like Treasure Map more than Thaumatic Compass, but whatever).
See, now I'm really feeling McCurdy's top 8 list from a week earlier that also made great use of Mastermind's Acquisition. Four Treasure Maps and a Thaumatic Compass, plus no respect for the apparent gentleman's agreement to not play Approach of the Second Sun.
Three Arch of Orzaca...?
Okay, I don't know how to explain that.
I guess the opportunity cost is just low because his colors are just so good?
Ooh, you fancy...
Sure. If we're just sticking to two colors, we do need something to go over the top.
My body is ready.
Profane Procession is, to be frank, obscene.
Seriously, like half the decks in the format can't realistically win if you get this going.
If I were playing in a tournament this weekend…
...I would be playing Jace, the Mind Sculptor.
However, if I were playing Standard, I would be looking to play Profane Procession. This is a messed up Magic card.
This past weekend saw another W/B deck at the top, obviously packing a couple Profane Processions. However, Paul Green's list had a very different tenor than McCurdy's.
A fairly standard W/B Tokens list, built around Hidden Stockpile, Paul's list ironically cuts green, running without the Vraskas many lists play.
Okay, look. I respect Baffling End, I really do. And obviously, I am into Ixalan's Binding. What I don't understand, is how it could be right to play zero Cast Outs in a deck like this. The opportunity cost is just so low and the flexibility so high. It's not like we're great against Hazoret or anything.
I'm sort of surprised to hear that the Champion is the highest impact card we could have in this slot.
I'm also interested in how much mileage we're getting out of the Duress/Lost Legacy package. I mean, if people play Approach of the Second Suns in their deck, we're going to need it badly. However, if whatever temporary ceasefire holds, I could imagine being interested in looking at a less disruptive build, like Kazu Negri's G/W Tokens list, capitalizing on Merfolk Branchwalker and Jadelight Ranger.
Negri's list is built to grind, with a lot of two-for-ones despite so many cheap, fast-ish threats.
- 4 Adanto Vanguard
- 4 Adorned Pouncer
- 4 Jadelight Ranger
- 4 Merfolk Branchwalker
- 1 Sacred Cat
- 1 Sunscourge Champion
- 1 Oketra the True
Kind of an exotic mix of two-drops, but both are respectable. They are actually pretty nice to target with Appeal, now that you mention it.
While I do appreciate the one in the sideboard, I think I'd consider at least a couple in the main. This card is really well set up for the format right now. Lightning Strike, Abrade, Shock, Fatal Push, Moment of Craving, Ixalan's Binding. The card just lines up real well against many of the most popular removal spells in the format.
- 4 Bomat Courier
- 4 Ahn-Crop Crasher
- 2 Dire Fleet Daredevil
- 4 Earthshaker Khenra
- 4 Soul-Scar Mage
- 4 Hazoret the Fervent
- 3 Kari Zev, Skyship Raider
Boblitt's final four finishing list of Mono-Red Aggro was one of four red aggro decks in the Top 8 (counting a pair of Mardu Vehicles decks), and nearly half the Top 16 was red aggro in some form or fashion. His list isn't particularly crazy, with the main new innovation being a pair of Dire Fleet Daredevils in the maindeck (which seems fine since it's not like any of the two-drop options are all that good).
I'm just glad we're taking a break on splashing Path of Mettle with ten or fewer white sources despite tons of red one-drops and just a single good dual.
Keep getting that money, playa!
For reference, here's an example of the latest take on Mardu Vehicles. Just please, please play four Unlicensed Disintegrations if you play a deck like this. No disrespect intended, I just think that card is so much better than most, so if we're going to all the trouble to make it good, we might as well get paid in full.
- 4 Bomat Courier
- 4 Scrapheap Scrounger
- 1 Walking Ballista
- 4 Toolcraft Exemplar
- 4 Veteran Motorist
- 3 Hazoret the Fervent
- 2 Pia Nalaar
Hour of Glory in the sideboard, eh? That's kind of spicy…
Perhaps the most interesting red aggro deck of the weekend belonged to Rivera Israel, piloting a U/R Favorable Winds deck with a mana curve only Saito could love.
- 4 Glorybringer
- 4 Rekindling Phoenix
- 4 Siren Stormtamer
- 4 Warkite Marauder
- 4 Whirler Virtuoso
- 2 Pia Nalaar
Okay, so we're playing a Fliers deck. I'm into it. Let's see what we've got.
Okay, good start, even if just a single one-drop means we're not always going to be curving out.
I really dig Warkite Marauder, especially in U/R decks, where we can turn our cheap burn into hard kill. The Marauder is fast, aggressive, and very efficient. I'm a big fan and expect this card to appear in a lot more decks to come. This is just such a different dimension than U/R decks usually get, being so good at killing fatties.
This is kind of a ragtag bunch of three-drop "fliers," but they are all good cards and get the job done. I'm just glad to see Nimble Obstructionist in the sideboard, rounding things out.
The format is not the most kind to Chandra, so I really don't mind seeing a playset of Rekindling Phoenix and just two Chandras. Hazoret is just not right with how expensive our top end stuff is and how much we're otherwise staying off the ground for the most part. No reason to make their creatures into good blockers.
Despite an early rush of Mono-Red Aggro and Grixis Energy, this format is shaping up pretty awesome. There are a healthy variety of aggressive decks, midrange, control, ramp, and tokens. Every color is seeing play, and Approach doesn't even appear to be ruining the format. Dinosaurs, Merfolk, Pirates, and Vampires all show up a little, even though the format isn't overrun with tribal decks.
I gotta say, if this weekend is any indication, this Standard looks to be more than just one of the most promising in years. It looks like it might be legitimately really good.