With the Pro Tour just days away and the first Standard format in years that has held up to months of heavy play, we're at a really interesting moment in Magic's history.
Is this a turning point?
An unusual outlier?
A watershed moment?
First, Mono-Red ran the tables. Then, Selesyna got a chance to shine and diversity among blue decks was the highest it had been in some time. From there, Golgari took the top spot, while Izzet Phoenix was raising some eyebrows. From there, Jeskai surged in popularity, given how well it can be suited for combating Golgari. Izzet Phoenix decks have become better and better tuned, and all manner of Experimental Frenzy decks put a different kind of pressure on the format. While the Golgari decks had increased their focus on cards like Carnage Tyrant, now they have a new adversary to deal with...
Ajani, Adversary of Tyrants speaks to a new breed of Selesnya, packed with tons of individually powerful cards, rather than relying on token-making and anthems. Ajani, alongside Vivian Reid, provides diverse angles of attack to help offset the exposure to Deafening Clarion and Cleansing Nova.
- 3 Adanto Vanguard
- 3 Knight of Grace
- 4 Resplendent Angel
- 3 Thorn Lieutenant
- 4 Tocatli Honor Guard
- 3 Lyra Dawnbringer
- 3 Shalai, Voice of Plenty
The package of Resplendent Angel, Shalai Voice of Plenty, and Lyra Dawnbringer give the deck many of the same tools Boros Angels have had for outmuscling the other aggro decks. Finally, this diverse and powerful mix of twos both synergize well with Ajani and allow the Selesnya deck to get started early, without needing to rely on Llanowar Elves.
While this strategy is a little bit of a wildcard going into the event, I'm kind of in the camp that it's a slightly worse Boros Angels and would still consider Brad's list the jumping off point for the evolution of the archetype. There's a lot to like here, but I think the ability to utilize Deafening Clarion is just too good of a thing to miss out on.
The cat is out of the bag on this one, but it's still not trivial to play around. Teferi about to ultimate is not a given, even with permission to protect it. Settle the Wreckage is much worse than it otherwise would be. Control decks need to actually get it over with, because if things stretch, this one is a killer. You can't even Expansion it to steal the win since it costs six or more most of the time.
One of the game's absolute all-time greatest players and deckbuilders, Hall of Famer Gabriel Nassif, is back in the spotlight yet again. As always, he's got style for days and reached the finals of GP Lille with a really tempo oriented take on Mono-Blue.
- 20 Island
Curious Obsession is such a snowballing advantage, when played on a Mist-Cloaked Herald or Siren Stormtamer, and the combination of Dive Down and Spell Pierce gives him a great deal of ability to protect his turn 2 investment, right out the gate.
While this strategy was super sweet for the weekend, I suspect it's not going to be a major player at the Pro Tour. To begin with, the secret is out, but even beyond that, the Pro Tour is likely to have a much stronger W/X Angel presence than the European GP had (as evidenced from the US GP). Finally, Nassif's loss in the finals to Mono-Red only surprises me in that Nassif is so lucky and so good, I would expect him to upset disadvantageous matchups by default.
If fast red aggro does gain in popularity (which I think it will, at least a little), the obvious answer for Mono-Blue is an increased utilization of Diamond Mare.
D) Diamond Mare
When you're playing a deck with a playset of Dive Downs and you're trying to get edge against a deck full of Viashino Pyromancers, Diamond Mare is exactly what you're looking for. It's got a great body for the matchup, it's fast, the lifegain is uncommonly good for mono-blue. It's hard, because this strategy really needs sideboard cards for a lot of matchups, but the more you can find room for, the more you'll be able to turn this matchup in your favor.
E) Enigma Drake
While Cracking Drake is going to be all over the place, regardless of underlying strategy, Enigma Drake is a surefire sign that they mean it. Along with its partner in crime, Arclight Phoenix, the Izzet Phoenix deck has continued to put up good numbers on either side of the ocean, and this is definitely one of the decks I think most needs to be retested, reconsidered, after all the changes people make to their decks to combat Golgari, Jeskai, and Angels.
One of Brad's biggest tech upgrades to Boros was the adoption of four maindeck Lava Coils, which really does damage to the Izzet archetype. How is Izzet supposed to respond?
Lava Coil killing every one of our threats efficiently is something to take notice of. Is it possible that Enigma Drake is the wrong threat? With Vivien Reid on the rise, too, it might be time to look at other options. For instance, would it be crazy to play Niv-Mizzet instead? Go a little bigger again? It kind of pushes us away from the one-cost cantrips, but that's okay, I think.
Find//Finality is far from controversial, and in my mind, it combined with the explore creatures basically represents the Golgari deck. Most players say Golgari was the best deck for at least a couple weeks. Some say it still is. It's not without tougher matchups however, and I think it's interesting to see not a single Golgari deck in the top 8 of GP New Jersey (while multiple made top 8 of GP Lille). What was different in the American metagame?
The top 8 of New Jersey was four W/X creature decks (split between Boros and Selesyna) and four Jeskai/Izzet decks. By contrast, the final four of Lille featured two Golgari decks being beaten by a Mono-Red Aggro and a Mono-Blue Aggro deck. Small sample sizes are funny things, but it's interesting. Digging a little deeper, the US Grand Prix featured plenty more white decks throughout the top 32, while that style was much less popular in Europe, replaced instead with lots of Golgari and Izzet decks.
That Jeskai is reasonably well-suited to fighting Golgari isn't breaking news, but if the white decks represent a killer new threat to them too, the archetype's days as the defining deck may be numbered.
I'm just glad that cooler heads prevailed and that Goblin Chainwhirler didn't get banned or anything like that. It's funny to see it as a card in question, but how many people are really playing The Chainwhirler, anyway?
- 4 Fanatical Firebrand
- 4 Ghitu Lavarunner
- 4 Goblin Chainwhirler
- 2 Rekindling Phoenix
- 4 Runaway Steam-Kin
- 4 Viashino Pyromancer
- 22 Mountain
Busson's list is streamlined, pure. Just play the good card and keep it low to the ground. His four maindeck Experimental Frenzy seem great in the metagame, though I am suspicious of how well this strategy would fare in the US.
The white creature decks just seem a little bigger with lots of little things lining up positive for them and the use of Experimental Frenzy doesn't seem fast enough for how hard the white decks hit.
As for Goblin Chainwhirler itself, I mean, the card is obviously awesome, but I wonder about the lack of Llanowar Elves in the format. Is it possible that people responded to the early presence of Chainwhirlers, and now that there are so few, it's time to go back?
Me? I kind of want more Chainwhirlers. It's just such a good way to overcome stat disparities against creatures slightly bigger than yours (as these white creatures tend to be). Besides, if Knight of Grace is on the rise, sign me up for the Chainwhirler train...
History of Benalia has had a wild ride in Standard, rising to the top, then falling into obscurity, multiple times. Now, it's rising again, as a key roleplayer in basically all these white creature decks, even the non-Angel builds.
- 4 Adanto Vanguard
- 3 Benalish Marshal
- 3 Hunted Witness
- 3 Venerated Loxodon
- 2 Emmara, Soul of the Accord
- 1 Shalai, Voice of Plenty
- 1 Trostani Discordant
As I said, I kind of feel like Goblin Chainwhirler should be on the rise, making me less eager to get into March of the Multitudes. Besides, I just can't get into this deck when I expect the field to be nearly a quarter Deafening Clarion.
What a funny card to be so underrated.
Don't get me wrong, people play it, of course; I just think more people should play it and more copies of it.
Just hitting Teferi at all is an extremely big game, not to mention exiling Niv-Mizzet, Parun without letting them draw a card. Part of the power, however, comes from the ability for Ixalan's Binding to help smooth out sideboard games. Just so great, in context.
There are so many relatively "big" plans in Standard, and one of the risks you face is that even when your gameplan is firing on all cylinders, if your opponent hits you from an awkward angle, it can all start to unravel. For instance, even if you're up five cards from an Expansion//Explosion, if your opponent drops The Immortal Sun, now what are you going to do?
Justice Strike and Seal Away make for an interesting decision for Jeskai decks, while Justice Strike and Lava Coil each have important roles in Boros right now. Seal Away is better against Adanto Vanguard and Shalai, while Justice Strike is better against Legion Warboss and Assassin's Trophy, and Lava Coil is better against Izzet cards in general.
One of the key reasons this format is succeeding so much is that which specific answers you play really does matter, but it's also not hopeless, when you've got the less good ones. WotC has actually been doing a really good job of that in the last several sets, and now, with Kaladesh block out of the way, all that work is really paying off.
It's not just the removal either. I love that Boros Angels and Boros Mentor can have some overlap, but both have meaningfully different feels and decisions that go along with them.
- 4 Adanto Vanguard
- 1 Bounty Agent
- 1 Dire Fleet Daredevil
- 3 Legion Warboss
- 4 Militia Bugler
- 2 Rekindling Phoenix
- 1 Siege-Gang Commander
- 3 Swiftblade Vindicator
- 1 Tocatli Honor Guard
- 3 Aurelia, Exemplar of Justice
- 2 Tajic, Legion's Edge
Personally, I still just prefer Brad's style of Angels to Mentor, as I would want the Tocatli Honor Guards maindeck, which takes you away from the Bugler, which...
Is there really no deck in the format that wants Karn, Scion of Urza? I mean, maybe Experimental Frenzy, Niv-Mizzet, Expansion//Explosion, Teferi, and the like mean there are just too many ways to go bigger, but I kind of suspect Karn might actually just be a good sideboard card for aggro decks wanting to go a little more midrange than their opponents (particularly non-red ones, as Frenzy does a lot of the same thing).
Lich's Mastery is such a powerful engine, but it really does ask so much of you, while costing more than Teferi and having a lot of the power be inefficiently distributed in a win-more kind of way.
If Lich's Mastery is going to break through to the mainstream, it's probably going to require a revolutionary new build.
A wild Ali Aintrazi appears...
Somehow, Ali Aintrazi always builds the same deck in every new format, without ever using any of the same cards. Is five-color combo ramp supposed to actually be an archetype we should be building in every new format?
I appreciate that this list doesn't go overboard on lifegain, just letting Lich's Mastery draw a meaningful amount of cards--rather than trying to break it-- while also getting a massive virtual health boost from getting to use your graveyard for extra "life points".
This seems kind of fancy to me, but maybe it's good? Obviously, if you can drop a Lich's Mastery before the end of the turn, you never have to pay the piper.
I don't know what's going on here. This list seems so slow. Don't get me wrong: I'd love to play twelve slow card draw engines, but how in the world are we getting away with this? Also, zero spot removal that costs less than four and zero permission makes me extremely suspicious. I don't love the white removal in this format anyway, and I just don't get how this deck survives against fast aggression. I bet it's nice against Jeskai or Golgari, though, or anyone trying to out-card advantage you.
I actually really like this here. I think this card is pretty underrated in the first place, and it's only because of how much black is the only color not serving as a major archetype's backbone, that we don't see more of it.
That's a lot of M-cards in a row… Saving the letter for something?
Look, it's a small point, but a meaningful one. I think Meandering River is a little underrated. These Jeskai decks with Niv-Mizzet somewhere in the 75 so often either play just twelve white sources, despite Cleansing Nova or Settle the Wreckage, or they play several Plains, making Crackling Drake and Niv-Mizzet a lot more dicey.
While Meandering River doesn't untap Sulfur Falls, Clifftop Retreat, or Glacial Fortress, neither would Field of Ruin, and similarly, it's not unreasonable at all to play one. If you like the white sweepers or Lyra Dawnbringer or whatever, fine. I just think basic Plains is so brutal with Niv-Mizzet...
I think it can be easy, sometimes, to assume that all these various finishers are in the same league, since they aspire, at times, to have similar jobs.
I don't think Teferi is on even-footing with Ral, Izzet Viceroy, Doom Whisperer, Lyra Dawnbringer, or whatever. Likewise, I don't think Niv-Mizzet is actually on par with all of the other 6+ victory conditions, like The Immortal Sun, Dream Eater, Vraska, Relic Seeker, or Chromium, the Mutable.
This is a really messed up Magic card and should be a defining influence in the format even more than it already is.
There seems to be a little bit of a question as to whether to play Opt in Jeskai or not. Personally, I like it, as I don't believe in twelve white sources straight up. If you don't have a white source in your opener (on the play), casting Opt gives you better than a 40% chance of finding one immediately, and your chances of playing Clarion on turn 3 (with no white in your opener) go from 40.5% to 65.4%.
With no immediately obvious home, Profane Procession seems largely forgotten. Despite Ixalan's Binding and Conclave Tribunal as options in the format, I could easily imagine there being a niche for this card in any slower deck that can play it. It just seems like it would be back-breaking against these Angel decks, for instance.
Umm, well, I guess you can copy Crackling Drakes, and that's kind of something...
Don't get me wrong: I like the look of Revitalize in the abstract. There's plenty of places I'd be happy to play it. What I'm not into, however, is playing a playset of cheap cantrips in a deck with just eleven or twelve white to play it.
Star of Extinction is obviously uber-slow, but the ability to clean up all the random cantrip creatures, the Carnage Tyrants, and the Planeswalkers, all at the same time, is still useful enough to warrant some space. Besides, it doesn't even cost double white!
Tocatli Honor Guard has soared in popularity in the past couple of weeks, largely in response to Golgari and its overwhelming quantity of enters the battlefield triggers. Ravenous Chupacabra, Golgari Findbroker, countless explore creatures, and so on.
While I think we're going to see some changes to Golgari to help respond, I would still be very interested in building around maindeck Honor Guards if I were playing a white base. That it has utility against Crackling Drake, Goblin Chainwhirler, Viashino Pyromancer, and more is enough to push it across the line for me.
- 4 Adanto Vanguard
- 4 Rekindling Phoenix
- 4 Resplendent Angel
- 4 Tocatli Honor Guard
- 3 Aurelia, Exemplar of Justice
- 3 Lyra Dawnbringer
My favorite of the white creature decks, I thought this deck was really good for last week and I think it's going to climb even more. The US has already become overridden with variants, and I think it's going to force serious evolution of the international scene (as we're already seeing on MTGO).
U) Unmoored Ego
Unmoored Ego doesn't really have that much purpose or anything, but I do think some of these Teferi decks still get a little too bold on minimalist victory conditions.
V) Venerated Loxoon
While I don't love tokens as a strategy right now, I'm at least a little intrigued by the idea of using Venerated Loxodon in a more "good creatures" style of Selesnya. After all, the card is just so good, what if we didn't actually play anything fancy?
For now, however, we've got lists like Zac Turgeon's, which looks well-tuned but is still not where I want to be in this Deafening Clarion format:
- 4 Thorn Lieutenant
- 4 Venerated Loxodon
- 3 Emmara, Soul of the Accord
- 2 Shalai, Voice of Plenty
- 3 Trostani Discordant
In a format looking to respond to Seal Away, Justice Strike, and Lava Coil, I can't help but wonder if some dark horse challenger is going to emerge, packing Vraska's Contempts and Walk the Planks, maybe winning with Karn, Scion of Urza and Doom Whisperer.
Alternatively, I could also imagine a surprise appearance from Zombies and/or Vampires...
It really just seems like there hasn't been enough black and that there may be an opportunity to exploit a metagame that has been taking for granted the lack of black cards.
Expansion//Explosion still seems like such an important part of the format, and while I think you can't just wait around forever, it's this card that makes me more bearish on Golgari than it seems most folks are.
Yawgmoth's Vile Offering still has the same problem it always has had, which is that it's a much harder to use than The Eldest Reborn. That said, isn't The Eldest Reborn pretty close to the top of the "most underplayed cards in the format" list?
When black makes its comeback, I bet it's this card fueling it. And yeah, I know Golgari has it, sure. I just want to know where the Dimir decks at, yo?
In a metagame full of people looking to go over the top, is it really so crazy to think Zacama could make an appearance? Coming down and blowing up The Immortal Sun or Azor's Gateway a turn away from transforming could be brutally demoralizing, and Niv-Mizzet wouldn't even get to draw a card...