The best deck in Standard is Mono-Red Aggro, at least in a vacuum. Oddly enough, the Top 8 from Grand Prix Memphis contained zero copies, and it's not like the Top 8 contained a bunch of decks that absolutely smashed it.
What the hell happened?
Two of the best players with red aggro decks, John Rolf and Matt Severa, lost win-and-ins for Top 8. If things went slightly differently, Standard could have a different narrative altogether. Not many top players chose Mono-Red as their deck of choice, instead opting to try and beat it. I have a feeling that if this Standard format had a Grand Prix in Asia, you'd see a bunch of MTG Mint Card players burning people at the top tables.
I suppose "Mono-Red isn't super oppressive" isn't the worst narrative. Mono-Red is still the best deck, but it's beatable.
Last week I mentioned my adventures with Adanto Vanguard. I knew U/B Control was a bad matchup for the majority of those decklists and Moment of Craving had a lot to do with it. At the time, U/B Control didn't seem like it would make up a sizeable portion of the metagame, but by the time our last episode of The GAM Podcast had concluded, my co-host Bryan Gottlieb had convinced me that U/B Control was probably the deck to play for Grand Prix Memphis. Obviously that bodes poorly for Adanto Vanguard itself due to their Moment of Cravings, but the matchup is fixable.
We'll save that for later though. Let's start with the "new" kid.
EFro's decklist, as always, is excellent.
The big departures from the norm, cutting Censor entirely and playing multiple Commit, are both interesting. U/B Control always had trouble dealing with weird permanents like God-Pharaoh's Gift, and some decided to play a Consign to solve that issue. Commit is another answer, albeit a tad clunkier. However, it's a much better answer to cards like Hazoret the Fervent and Rekindling Phoenix, often functioning as additional copies of Vraska's Contempt.
Censor seemed like the backbone of control decks, especially those relying on Search for Azcanta. It gave you an early counterspell or a cycler to help make your land drops. Given that even Mono-Red has a plethora of four-drops and a relatively low land count, I never thought Censor would get the axe. Having a piece of interaction that also cycles when unnecessary seems perfect for a control deck in theory.
It's weird though - You want six win conditions so that you draw them early enough, you want Essence Scatter and Disallow in high numbers, you need spot removal to fight aggression (especially Vraska's Contempt), and then there are very few slots left over. I went with one fewer Search for Azcanta, trying to actually win the game rather than grind people out, and no maindeck out to an enchantment. The Commits give U/B those answers while also giving more answers to Rekindling Phoenix and the like.
After that, there aren't any slots left! Typically I hate the "I don't have any room" argument, since there is always room to be made, but I understand how Censor would get the axe. I still think the lack of Censor reduces the overall consistency of the archetype, but you can't argue with the results of EFro and Heath Vance.
When I played U/B Control at the World Championship, I played Submerged Boneyard while my teammates elected to play Evolving Wilds to transform their Search for Azcantas faster and more reliably. In practice, I rarely had that issue and elected to go with the option that helped me cast Essence Extraction and Disallow consistently.
With Moment of Craving supplanting Essence Extraction, it's odd to see players suddenly revert to Submerged Boneyard. Granted, EFro does have four Field of Ruin, which sort of fulfills the same role, even if it's much slower. Going forward, I would play Evolving Wilds though.
One of the things I was starting to like in U/B Control was Vile Manifestations out of the sideboard as a way to consolidate slots against Mono-Red and control mirrors. Without Censor (and Glimmer of Genius over Hieroglyphic Illumination), that's not really an option anymore.
Carnage Tyrant was already popping up all over the place, and with Bristling Hydra making a finals appearance, it looks like the Bontu's Last Reckoning is here to stay. If you're looking for something more flexible, Vizier of Many Faces is still reasonable.
U/B Control is going to stay a contender, but there are some other options for control lovers.
This list is super interesting. Not only is the red splash for the bare minimum number of cards, but it also features two copies of Arguel's Blood Fast maindeck. The red splash is supposed to help against Mono-Red, but is the opportunity cost worth it?
Granted, Yuta666's manabase is minimalistic in regards to the red splash, but there are still more lands that enter the battlefield tapped than in an average U/B Control deck. Spirebluff Canal and Evolving Wilds are going to be your least favorite lands when you're trying to cast Torrential Gearhulk on Turn 6.
The most fascinating thing about this are the maindeck Arguel's Blood Fast in a field supposedly full of Mono-Red. In reality, it's possible that Arguel's Blood Fast is the answer U/B needed to lock it up in the mid-game. While you might not use the front side of Arguel's Blood Fast all that often, Temple of Aclazotz with even something as simple as a Torrential Gearhulk could give you the breathing room you need. If you combine Temple of Aclazotz with The Scarab God, there's basically no way you're going to lose.
Oddly, there's no four mana card drawer in this decklist either, but that might be something I can get behind. Supreme Will and the enchantments pick up some of the slack, but the deck could generally use a quick "draw two."
Sideboarding for the mirror often involves hammers like Nezehal, the Primal Tide, but that's the wrong approach. Nezehal is going to dominate in fair games, but the vast majority of those games happen pre-board. After sideboard, both players are going to have cheap cards like Glint-Sleeve Siphoner and Arguel's Blood Fast that will mostly invalidate Nezehal.
There's a weird rock / paper / scissors metagame of Ipnu Rivulet, Nezehal, and Arguel's Blood Fast in pre-board control mirrors. If Arguel's Blood Fast proves to actually be good against Mono-Red, that option is far and away the best since it covers you in two spots. Nezehal is too narrow to play, and although Ipnu Rivulet is a reasonable choice, it ultimately won't matter if you have Blood Fast in your deck.
Control is great, but if you want to stick with the best deck, Matt Severa's list is the one I endorse.
- 4 Bomat Courier
- 4 Scrapheap Scrounger
- 3 Ahn-Crop Crasher
- 4 Earthshaker Khenra
- 4 Fanatical Firebrand
- 3 Rekindling Phoenix
- 4 Hazoret the Fervent
- 2 Pia Nalaar
You can't go wrong with this decklist.
Maindeck Pia Nalaar is a move that many players made in a variety of archetypes, basically just because of the existence of Mono-Red Aggro and their army of X/1 creatures. Dual Shot out of the sideboard can also be backbreaking, especially if you have a way to remove the front side of Rekindling Phoenix.
The return of Glorybringer is interesting, since I'm not quite sure what I would actually want it against. It will likely come in for numerous matchups but very few where I think you actually need the help.
I'm still looking for an aggressive deck that can capitalize on Cut, although this version doesn't have enough black sources. With Abrade falling out of favor, at least in maindecks, Cut looks like it could be great. These red decks have some reach, just not nearly as much as they'd like.
R/B Aggro is excellent, but attacking with Adanto Vanguard is still effective. My updated W/U Auras decklist looks like this:
Cast Outs slip into the maindeck as I look for a way to balance having adequate colored mana early while also not flooding out too much in the late game. Making sure you don't have too many lands that enter the battlefield tapped is another issue, and one that Aether Hub might help with, but I haven't gotten a chance to try it yet.
Having access to Cast Out maindeck gives you extra percentage points against U/B Control, even if it doesn't seem like it. It's uncommon for them to have any sort of sweeper maindeck, which means their best way to beat a go-wide strategy is by sticking a threat. As long as you keep clearing the way, eventually they'll succumb to 1/1s.
Another interesting take on white aggro eschews Adanto Vanguard completely.
- 4 Adorned Pouncer
- 4 Glint-Sleeve Siphoner
- 4 Jadelight Ranger
- 4 Merfolk Branchwalker
- 3 Pride Sovereign
- 4 Regal Caracal
This decklist is rad, even if I don't think it's particularly good. Going full Cat is cute, but I don't know how good it actually is. Regal Caracal is fine, but how is Pride Sovereign? I'm guessing not great.
If you were looking for a reason to play Aether Hub in order to have smoother mana, splashing for Glint-Sleeve Siphoner is a nice value add. In W/G, you even get access to eight fastlands. There are other nice tools to pick up in black too.
Fatal Push isn't particularly good, especially when it's on the splash. I get that W/G might want some way to interact with creatures, but Baffling End isn't that bad unless you're specifically trying to get the front side of Rekindling Phoenix out of the way.
I'm totally coming around on Profane Procession as a way to handle a string of big red threats, especially if the rest of your deck is good at beating up the small creatures. It's one of the very few cards in the format that can help you keep pace with their best draws.
The Siphoner splash is nice and Ajani Unyielding is great, but aside from that, I wouldn't be excited to register this.
As for Grixis Energy, I'm going to give it a hard pass. It was one of the decks that succeeded in an underdeveloped Standard format, but that had been trending down as of late. The lists are getting slightly better, and I have a list I kind of like, but it still has issues with it being a clunky three-color deck.
Don't sleep on red aggro decks. The best deck not making the elimination rounds isn't unheard of, but it definitely doesn't happen very often. It's typically not a matter of "if," but "how many?" In this case, the Grand Prix Memphis results will probably lead to red aggro decks performing even worse, as people will perceive them to not be a real threat.
There's no shortage of viable options in Standard, but red aggro is still the best.