Last week, I talked about keys to this Rivals of Ixalan Standard format. My first point was that the best two cards were The Scarab God and Glorybringer and nothing else was close. This remained true through all of my testing, but I quickly discovered that The Scarab God decks struggled to put other relevant cards in their deck, while Chandra, Torch of Defiance and Rekindling Phoenix were very good.
So with that in mind, a group of Team Massdrop and friends of the teams set about making the best red midrange deck we could. We did a darn good job.
This deck is stunningly simple, yet it feels so smart. It reminds me of when Josh Utter-Leyton kept tearing up events by adding a color to Deathrite Shaman decks. This kind of deckbuilding leveling was always something that escaped me in the past, and it really felt good to just hit it right for once.
It started off with me testing the Matt Tumavitch G/R Aggro deck with eternalize creatures. Brennan Decandio is smart, and when he says a deck is good, I'm willing to listen. I did well with it, but the eternalize creatures routinely felt low-impact and Struggle // Survive just didn't cut it. I did beat The Scarab God when I played against it, but it was just one missed land drop or a second thing I needed to exile away from everything spiraling out of control. I did not defeat Hazoret the Fervent, and I wasn't sure it was possible.
We needed to add exiling removal to the deck. I set about trying to figure out G/R splashing answers while Alex looked at dropping green for a Treasure R/W deck. My first pass was Jund with Vraska, Relic Seeker and Hour of Glory. Looking at the deck after making the obvious list, I was struck by how awkward Blooming Marsh plus Magma Spray was.
Then Ethan Gaieski took over building a Naya deck and came back with this. By "this," I mean literally 71 of the final 75, with the changes being minor swaps like Ixalan's Binding in the sideboard, Cast Out in the main deck. I promptly 5-0, 10-0'ed a League with only these minor updates, accidentally discovering that the Magic Online decklist publication check occurs between 10:43am and 11am Eastern Time and having to out my wonderful alternate account name Tgomi77.* Seriously, the exchange of "What is the latest Naya list? // It's the same" happened daily.
*- Okay, I don't really mind. What's the point in making an obscure poop joke reference if you can't share it with the world? This screen name brought to you by the Team East-West Bowl "Poop Chat" literally talking about poop... probably a bit too often.
Like I said, once you see it all, the pieces feel obvious. Inspiring Vantage carries Magma Spray. Thopter Arrest lets you play more exile removal without a four-drop jam, and both it and Cast Out cover nonsense bases like Huatli, Radiant Champion or just good old Chandra, Torch of Defiance. Your cards are all unbeatable mythics and rares, so your opponent's stuff often just folds to them. The random nonsense people show up with is covered by your really flexible removal. It is just all good cards, all day.
Some card-by-card specifics:
How quickly people forget Turn 3 Chandra is seriously messed up. You also rarely run out of Servant of the Conduit energy because the explore creatures mean you rarely stall on lands. If you do, you probably cast Chandra and Glorybringer a turn ahead and win.
Most of the reason to play Naya over Treasure R/W is that green hits land drops. My two- and three-drops exist solely to let me cast my unbeatable four- and five-drops.
There was this idea with G/R that explore plus eternalize gave you good value, but then you have to draw your eternalize cards sometimes. What if you got bonus value in the cases where you only have a 2/1 instead of a 4/3? Moving to Naya lets/forces you to you play extra cycling lands, which are exactly what you want to find with Jadelight Ranger in late-game scenarios when you hit a land.
Jadelight Ranger is one of the more frequently sideboarded-out cards in the deck. Three is just a weird spot when you need to be defending against aggro that easily goes around or through a single body, or when Esper Gift wants to chump block or Walking Ballista it with explore on the stack. It is a great tool in longer games, but sometimes you need to be more efficient or powerful in all your plays.
The deck started with four Abrade and three Magma Spray, but late in the process we realized we were wrong and flipped this. The decision is obvious in the current metagame but not always correct, so it deserves a bit of chatter.
First, there are way more Earthshaker Khenras and Scrapheap Scroungers than Gifted Aetherborn and Hostage Takers. That means you only want to bias towards Abrade if you care more about God-Pharaoh's Gift and Heart of Kiran than Mono-Red. I prefer to live in the factual world.
Second, despite the mana being pretty buttery smooth, sometimes you have a tapped land on Turn 2. Magma Spray lets you make plays then or just double spell on Turn 3 to set up Chandra.
Here's the exact science of two-two-sideboard two, also known as "I just played it this way from the start and it works."
Ixalan's Binding is better when games go longer and Glorybringer doesn't just dunk on some Abrades. Cast Out is way better against Mono-Red Aggro, as it covers haste creatures and plays key roles in setting up planeswalkers against black midrange. A common pattern is taking a hit from a pair of two-power creatures and then letting Cast Out cover The Scarab God if it needs to or just using it to clear a threat and the planeswalker minus to clear the other.
The original reason I preferred Cast Out Game 1 was cycling, but I maybe did that once in testing. Everyone has something to cover and you have so many threats that matter that running out is rare.
Let me tell you a story about the forgotten planeswalker of the Standard format. Ajani Unyielding does the "plus for card advantage, minus to kill a creature" thing that has regularly been good enough in various Ob Nixilis-, Chandra-, or kinda-Jace-shaped objects. It just happens that exiling stuff is the best way to kill things right now and that the card advantage mode just draws your best cards and a lot of them. Finding your Cast Out-style removal is just the way Ajani surely seals games once it gets going.
Technically he has an ultimate, but I'm not actually sure he really does. Usually, if you approach an Ajani ultimate, you have drawn too many cards for them to ever win anyway.
I also want to point out that one of the more powerful uses of Chandra, Torch of Defiance is making two red mana and casting some stupid six-drop early, which Ajani Unyielding gladly shows up for. I even had a game at the Grand Prix where I cast Chandra into Ajani in the same turn and my opponent realized everything was horrible and they were going to lose.
A lot of comments about this list were that running eight solid white sources seems like too few, but it is honestly fine. Between explore and Servant of the Conduit, your deck plays like it has way more. On the other hand, every time you draw multiple copies of Inspiring Vantage, you have a lot of ways it can get awkward. Your three-drop costs double green, which isn't possible if you want two untapped W/R lands before then. You don't want to topdeck a tapped land on Turn 5 for Glorybringer. You don't want to have zero basics for your Rootbound Crags. An extra Mountain just makes sense.
This List, This Weekend
At the Grand Prix I played against eight or nine different decks, depending on how you count. I went 2-2 against Mono-Red variants, splitting matches against both stock Mono-Red Aggro and the R/B Aggro deck that recently rose up from Magic Online. My other loss was to the G/R Monsters deck that won the tournament, and I also defeated Grixis Midrange, U/B Midrange, U/B Control, Vampires, Mono-Black Aggro, Jund Midrange, and Treasure Red. Here was my sideboard plan against each of them and then some.
Red Variants (Mono-Red, B/R)
These matchups are close, but it's hard to be too favored against the deck that can just curve and Hazoret you.
There are two phases to the game against Mono-Red: "don't die" and "kill them." Your goal is to sideboard into all threats that are good at starting off as "don't die" and rapidly turn into "kill them." Planeswalkers don't do that, and Jadelight Ranger usually just gets sent packing by Abrade or Ahn-Crop Crasher. Not that these cards are bad Game 1; they are just potentially bad where other cards are less potentially bad.
Dire Fleet Daredevil is a bit weird. To make it good, you have to force their hand on using removal on a Servant of the Conduit or similar card, but that's not that hard to accomplish. If you only wanted one copy in your deck, that would be okay.
Against R/B, I am less of a fan of Sweltering Suns and Chandra's Defeat because they have Scrapheap Scrounger instead of Kari Zev, Skyship Raider, but Dire Fleet Daredevil as a 2/1 first striker is just better. Leave in some extra Abrades and call it a day.
Similarly, against Mardu Vehicles, you want all your Abrades and not a lot of Sweltering Suns. Jadelight Ranger also gets better, as they can never block, you just want to start the "kill you" plan early, and Dire Fleet Daredevil is pretty bad. Basically, the sideboarding there is "planeswalkers out, Carnage Tyrant and Ixalan's Binding in."
When in doubt, remember the best plan is usually unleashing the giant, implacable death lizard. Nothing attacks into Carnage Tyrant and your opponent dies really quickly to it. Remember the cute trick that if you Glorybringer exert on their Hazoret the Fervent and it blocks Carnage Tyrant, the four damage hanging out on their indestructible creature means you trample to their face for the full amount.
This goes to show how, despite looking a lot like another deck, sideboarding drastically shifts in this format as things change.
Mono-Black Aggro doesn't have haste creatures to pressure your life total or planeswalkers. If you stabilize, you are largely stable until your opponent has been vanquished. They have Vehicles that need to die. They have Harsh Scrutiny for large creatures and way more one-drops that need to be answered because they attack for multiple points of damage.
Just play every game with the goal of killing their stuff from Turn 1 through "Turn whenever they die to Glorybringer." Chandra, Torch of Defiance is great. Ajani Unyielding would be great if it were easily castable.
There is an argument for mixing up which low-end creatures you remove a bit more, but it's not the most relevant. Just remember you can't rely on Servant of the Conduit because they need Fatal Push to make Bone Picker a card. Also remember that Magma Spray doesn't turn on Bone Picker and that Abrading their creatures in their combat step or their Vehicles once they have crewed has a very obvious bad outcome.
Red Midrange Variants (G/R, Treasure Red, other three-color Monster decks)
There's a lot of little stuff going on. The gist is there is a lot of dancing around, aiming not to lose a bunch of ground to a Chandra or Glorybringer deal-four while also aiming to not run your Chandra or Glorybringer out in a spot where it doesn't get to do that. Rekindling Phoenix is a good threat that lets you position well in both of these fights. Usually whoever draws the best threats should win, but it is always in an interesting way.
No one kills the giant implacable death lizard ever. Carnage Tyrant wins the game almost every time it happens, as I sadly encountered in my last game of the event. Ajani is an unfortunate casualty here, as you can't have that many six-drops.
Chandra's Defeat is the best answer to Glorybringer and Chandra, Torch of Defiance, but it can line up wrong at times. I like bringing in an extra copy on the draw to minimize the odds of Turn 4 Chandra, Torch of Defiance just doing the thing, usually over a Thopter Arrest, but it varies based on my mood.
Magma Spray is much better than Abrade against Rekindling Phoenix, as it does the same thing for a mana less. It also handles G/R's eternalize threats. The only reason to Abrade is if you see large amounts of Aethersphere Harvester or if you want a fifth way to kill an early Glint-Sleeve Siphoner.
If their big exile removal is Vraska's Contempt, like Grixis or Jund, you want Dire Fleet Daredevil over some mix of other low-drops. If it isn't, odds are Daredevil is going to awkwardly wait for a target and then not kill their Chandra or Glorybringer or Rekindling Phoenix.
The Scarab God Midrange (U/B and Sultai)
If they are the Brad Nelson variant with a bunch of Torrential Gearhulk, you want Abrade over Magma Spray. A 1-1 split might even be right, but generally the 2/3 deathtouchers of Gonti, Lord of Luxury and Gifted Aetherborn just die to some fire lady or Dragon breathing on them. Magma Spray stops the back half of Champion of Wits and teams up to cover The Scarab God, hence the default to those. On the draw, I want another red removal spell over one Thopter Arrest to take down Glint-Sleeve Siphoner on the spot.
This is Dire Fleet Daredevil's best matchup. Not only do they have Vraska's Contempt, which is the best card against their own deck, but you just get to cash it in as Mulldrifter on Chart a Course. Remember that they can Torrential Gearhulk their own spell in response to the Daredevil trigger, which doesn't end well for you. Sometimes your 2/1 eating a spell in your graveyard is just going to have to happen.
It might look weird to leave in the red removal, but these decks tend to have Consign // Oblivion, which gets really awkward for your non-instant enchantments. It is better to Abrade a Torrential Gearhulk and spend a deal-four and a Magma Spray on The Scarab God. Plus, sometimes they have Glint-Sleeve Siphoner.
This deck is getting a lot of hype. I don't get it. Glorybringer is literally better than their entire hand most games. Throw red mythics at them and watch them die.
This is also very similar to the sideboard plan against W/B Tokens, where you just want Naturalize and no Magma Spray. Throw mythics at them, enjoy watching all their blockers die to Sweltering Suns before they take seven angry Dinosaur damage, and don't lose to Settle the Wreckage for no reason.
- Your red stuff and Abrades crush Winding Constrictor decks. Handle these similar to Mono-Black Aggro, where you kill all their stuff and planeswalker them, but Magma Spray is less good and they can Walking Ballista down Rekindling Phoenix on occasion.
- The midrangy God-Pharaoh's Gift decks are also really bad against red stuff and Abrade. Don't spend time on Naturalize; know that they are going to play The Scarab God. The W/U ones you just kind of throw cards at them and see if you win fast enough or get far enough ahead to leave up Abrade.
- Approach is apparently not a good matchup, or at least the all-countermagic lists aren't. It also isn't a good deck. Just throw red things at them, cut the removal that can't hit Search for Azcanta and Cast Out, and hope it works.
- Don't sideboard out Abrade against the Azor's Gateway / Hour of Promise deck. Don't lean on Ixalan's Binding effects, as you will lose them to Vraska, Relic Seeker or whatever similar wishable card they have eventually.
G/R Midrange is just going to be good in Standard. The red cards are dumb, and the green cards just glue them all together. But Naya isn't necessarily the end-game, especially as you have to fight against more people who start Naturalizing your removal in inconvenient ways.
- 3 Scrapheap Scrounger
- 3 Walking Ballista
- 1 Carnage Tyrant
- 4 Glint-Sleeve Siphoner
- 3 Glorybringer
- 4 Jadelight Ranger
- 4 Servant of the Conduit
The Jund list I played against, piloted by Craig Rocco, managed to go full three-color using Aether Hub and Glint-Sleeve Siphoner to support Vraska's Contempt; Chandra, Torch of Defiance; and Jadelight Ranger all together. You must work a lot with the deck to figure out exactly what is right, but it seems like there is a reward waiting there.
Within the Naya world, I think that a split of Carnage Tyrant and Ajani Unyielding in the maindeck is reasonable, given how often Carnage Tyrant is your best sideboard card. It is definitely better in more answer-heavy sideboarded games, but a 7/6 trampling mythic is just always good at smashing faces.
Another option is moving back towards Struggle // Survive as a sideboard card. Sometimes you need to clear a bunch of eternalized Khenras, but really the goal is to sideboard into configurations that blank Naturalize effects but still exile stuff, even if the enchantments are better in Game 1. I would start looking at cutting into the Dire Fleet Daredevil and Ixalan's Binding numbers to support this. Struggle // Survive also helps cover weird spots where Field of Ruin gets you, as playing a Plains with Jadelight Ranger and Magma Spray is not happening.
Overall, I see no reason to stop playing Naya or similar midrange decks in the near future. Seriously, just try it. There's something special about the mix of consistency, absurd cards, and killing them that calls back to Jund and other great Standard decks in the past. You aren't quite Temur Energy, but you sure are getting close.