These next two weekends are vital for thousands of players around the globe, as this season's Regional Pro Tour Qualifiers are right around the corner. Standard's the name of the game for this go-around. The format's been evolving ever so slightly, but for the most part, it's much the same as it's been for a while. During these times, it becomes crucial to track the pulse of the format, as even the tiniest of changes could be the difference between watching your favorite professional players do battle in Atlanta at Pro Tour Guilds of Ravnica or beating them yourself. I know just how important qualifying is to many of you, so I've put together a comprehensive guide for your big event.
I'd like to take a moment before we get into things to express how much I've grown to love this Standard format. Sure, it's felt stale due to the same decks dominating the format, but at the same time the metagame is extremely healthy. Just take a look at the list of decks that have been doing well the past few weeks!
- Mono-Red Flame of Keld
- Mostly-Red Aggro (splashing Scrapheap Scrounger)
- R/B Aggro
- G/B Constrictor
- Mono-Green Aggro (Splashing either black or blue)
- B/U Midrange
- Grixis Midrange
- Esper Control
- U/W Control
- Bant Nexus
- U/W Gift
Keep in mind this isn't just a list of every deck in the format. This is every deck that's succeeded since Pro Tour 25th Anniversary! All the boxes are checked – we have aggressive, midrange, combo, and control decks that are viable choices, so there's really not much to complain about. Most matchups are exceptionally close, and while the games themselves might be one-sided at times, there aren't many landslide matchups. All in all, the only thing worth complaining about is that very little can be done to dethrone Goblin Chainwhirler or Teferi, Hero of Dominaria.
- 4 Bomat Courier
- 4 Scrapheap Scrounger
- 2 Glorybringer
- 4 Goblin Chainwhirler
- 2 Rekindling Phoenix
- 2 Soul-Scar Mage
- 2 Hazoret the Fervent
- 2 Kari Zev, Skyship Raider
- 2 Pia Nalaar
R/B Aggro is the safe choice and most likely the best choice. Logan Nettles won Grand Prix Los Angeles last weekend with a rather stock maindeck, but his sideboard looked as if one of two things happened: he either threw it together last minute with more than the suggested amount of theory, or he worked for a very long time to come to these conclusions.
For anyone who knows Logan, it's clearly the latter.
Known online as Jaberwocki, Logan currently has eighteen Standard trophies in this Standard cycle already. To the best of my knowledge, every one of them has come from playing R/B Aggro. So yeah, he's tested the deck. I spoke with Logan a little for a chance to take a glimpse at his genius myself. I say "genius" because his sideboard reminded me of what may be the most perfect deck I've ever seen.
On the eleventh hour of Theros Standard, pinkbom69 won a Magic Online PTQ with this 75. That Standard format was one that really allowed people to take advantage of mastering certain archetypes. Right when I saw this build of Abzan Aggro, I knew there was genius at work. There was just this eloquence to the decklist that was so undeniable that I had to throw it into a Daily Event and take it for a spin.
Once I got some games in, I realized exactly why I liked the deck so much. It just didn't have anything in excess or any cute cards. It was 75 effective cards that sideboard efficiently. It didn't have Pharika's Cure or Duress because those cards just weren't needed. I called it Boiled-Down Abzan because all the fat had been removed, leaving only the most powerful pieces remaining.
Logan's decklist reminded of this. He's not doing anything in excess, nor is he lowering the overall power level or consistency of his deck. He's just playing what he has deemed necessary. The Swamp in his sideboard is something I imagine many of us have contemplated but have never been willing to pull the trigger on (I know I have!). When asked about it, Logan told me it was for the matchups where Duress is needed.
Goblin Chainwhirler consistency has always been an issue for players trying to splash black, and it seemed like the hivemind had found the best manabase possible. The one issue is when you draw Duress without black sources, and it becomes catastrophic when you draw multiple black cards without a Swamp. Upping the consistency of black mana is a great move, but what about Chainwhirler consistency?
Goblin Chainwhirler is without a doubt the worst card in the deck after sideboarding in matchups where you want Duress. It's fine to keep in, of course, but the damage has already been done, as the opponent no longer has anything to get blown out by the damage dealt by it. Therefore, you really don't always need to curve into a Turn 3 Chainwhirler as much as you do pre-sideboard. Additionally, there are a few matchups like Bant Nexus and Mono-Blue Paradoxical Outcome where you just go up to 26 lands anyway, since there are enough cards to sideboard out.
I also like that he doesn't have a ton of expensive cards in his sideboard. Hazoret the Fervent is the best card in the mirrors, but not when you dilute your deck with so many other expensive cards, a mistake I made at the last Pro Tour. Glorybringer is also the best card against decks like Mono-Green Aggro, but it's not the card you want in your opening hand. Too much of a good thing often times results in failure in Magic, which is why Logan opted to stand pat with two copies. Instead, he played six one-mana removal spells in his sideboard, which I couldn't agree with more.
I know it seems like a cop-out to just suggest playing the deck that won last weekend. I could go on and on about how I've personally liked having a Sorcerous Spyglass for Teferi, Hero of Dominaria or how a second Doomfall helps against The Scarab God, but one thing I do know is that Logan is someone I trust and it speaks volumes that his list reminded me of the best decklist I've ever seen.
There's only one reason why I wouldn't want to register Logan's 75…
This is the last list I've played to back-to-back 5-0 results on Magic Online before moving over to Modern. Seth Manfield needs my help winning Player of the Year and I was honored when he accepted me as a teammate for Grand Prix Detroit, so the least I can do is actually learn how to play my deck. The only reason I stopped playing it is because I didn't know how to make it any better.
I'm under the impression that B/U Midrange is the deck to play this weekend if you know how to do so, as B/U Midrange isn't the type of deck I can suggest playing if you've never done so before. There's a polarizing effect in this format regarding resource development. The red decks try to develop as little as possible, as it's crucial to just get cards onto the battlefield, freeing up their hand for Hazoret the Fervent. On the other side of the spectrum are Teferi, Hero of Dominaria decks, decks that develop all game long.
The Scarab God occupies the middle space almost exclusively, which means decisions made in the mid-game have trickling effects on the entire game, decisions like when to cast Champion of Wits, when to cast The Scarab God, and even how you sequence your instants and main-phase spells. B/U Midrange has so many judgment calls that it does not surprise me to see both Ben Friedman and Corey Burkhart doing well with the deck in some of the most recent Grand Prix, because both play extremely challenging decks in Modern filled with similar judgment calls.
I consider B/U Midrange to be the best deck to play when you expect to play against Goblin Chainwhirler and Teferi, Hero of Dominaria exclusively. I'm not the biggest fan of the deck's Mono-Green Aggro, Mono-Blue Paradoxical Outcome, or G/B Constrictor matchups. Luckily, all these decks are simply just a step behind the other choices. G/B Constrictor is a frustrating deck, as it's actually pretty decent against everything but R/B Aggro. Most metagames have "that deck," and history has proven that it's almost never correct to play it. Sure, there's that one person who finishes well with it, which gives you that glimmer of hope you want, but you're not seeing the dozens of people who also played it dropping halfway through the event.
There's just one thing I won't forgive Ben or Corey for: playing fewer than eight Swamps. I never trust anyone who doesn't have an 8-4 split on basics in this deck. Think Fatal Push on Turn 1, Glint-Sleeve Siphoner plus Aether Hub on Turn 2, Vraska's Contempt or Arguel's Blood Fast activations on turn four. You can play a real game of Magic with this deck without blue mana for a few turns, but the same cannot be said about missing the appropriate amount of black mana needed for any hand.
And don't you even start with that Essence Scatter argument. I don't want to hear it!
The single Glimmer of Genius in the sideboard is the most peculiar choice that needs explaining, as there's a plethora of cards stronger than it for specific matchups. For example, a second Liliana, Death's Majesty would do wonders in the mirror; it's not only a strong card, but Essence Scatter and Jace's Defeat make up most of the mirror's counterspells and neither can interact with the powerful planeswalker. Search for Azcanta is a stronger card against Bant Nexus because it's scary to tap out into open mana at the end of their turn.
The main reason Glimmer of Genius is here is for the red matchups. I hate keeping Glint-Sleeve Siphoner or Hostage Taker in my deck after sideboarding against R/B Aggro. I have a rule: don't play high-variance cards against a consistently powerful strategy, especially when the payoff isn't that great. Instead I pad my deck with excess removal and lean on Champion of Wits, Arguel's Blood Fast, and The Scarab God to win the late-game. Glimmer of Genius gives me the exact number of effects I want that pull me ahead after the initial removal spells cleared the battlefield.
One thing I'm still not sold on is a second Jace's Defeat over a Negate, but seeing Ben Friedman do it was reassuring. I'm also not sold on Moment of Craving in the sideboard, but there's a resurgence of Mono-Red Flame of Keld that makes me want to respect it. That said, I hate having sideboard cards that only come in against one matchup, but I didn't claim my decklist was perfect!
If you want to lean even harder on that matchup, I'd replace an Infernal Reckoning with a second Essence Extraction, but only do so if you have precise information and not just a read on the situation. Infernal Reckoning is amazing against R/B Aggro, while Essence Extraction is only fine.
- 4 Bomat Courier
- 2 Ahn-Crop Crasher
- 4 Earthshaker Khenra
- 4 Ghitu Lavarunner
- 4 Goblin Chainwhirler
- 4 Soul-Scar Mage
- 4 Viashino Pyromancer
- 19 Mountain
For personal reasons, of course, anyone who is happy to play this deck should do so. I'm just not about exploiting formats with underpowered strategies. Every once in a while, though, it's just the best thing you can be doing. While this deck is good, I'm not confident it's powerful enough to have two good weekends back-to-back. Last weekend, people highly valued Infernal Reckoning as an anti-red sideboard card. This was the perfect storm for Mono-Red Flame of Keld to sneak into the metagame, as it wasn't being respected at all, especially since the matchup Infernal Reckoning was meant for was a good one!
The problem is this deck can be exploited. Players may respect it by playing cards like Yahenni's Expertise, Moment of Craving, or more copies of Essence Extraction. I don't know if people will, though, so I can't argue against playing the deck, especially since it's the only deck I can say with certainty has a good R/B Aggro matchup besides B/U Midrange.
I haven't played with Bant Nexus yet. I'm ashamed just saying that, as I pride myself on trying every deck in a metagame before making any decisions, and somehow this is the only deck that hasn't received any of my attention. I just don't want to invest the time needed to play it unless it's by far the best deck in the format. I've heard claims that it just might be that good, but the results seen in recent events don't mirror the hyperbole. Eric Froehlich doing well with it is no reason for alarm, as I'm never convinced the cards had much to do with his success. If the deck were actually that good, we would have seen more than just EFro finding their way into Top 8s.
I also beat it online a lot, so I wasn't too eager to give it a try.
If I were to play a deck showcasing Teferi, Hero of Dominaria, it would be Esper Control, because it's strong against both R/B Aggro and other Teferi decks. It's slightly worse against R/B Aggro than Bant Nexus is, but it's stronger in the spots it needs to be. I really think if B/U Midrange shows up in higher numbers this weekend, which I believe should happen, Bant Nexus seems like a much worse choice than it did around the last Pro Tour. The same can be said for U/W Control, which seemed to have a great weekend thanks to all the red decks showing up and wasting valuable slots on Insult // Injury.
I'm struggling to find a good list of Esper Control, though, which may be an argument against the deck. It's good, don't get me wrong, but I always feel like I just can't get the decklist right. It was easy to lean on doing what Guillaume Wafo-Tapa did a couple of weeks ago, but things are changing too quickly to use his outdated knowledge as a crutch. If I had to suggest a list, it would be this one, but don't hold me accountable:
I with you the best this weekend with whatever you choose to play. The past week of social media arguments cast a dark shadow over what it means to play this game at a professional level, but don't let that discourage you. I still get butterflies before every Pro Tour, and no matter how much I buy into the negativity at times, I need to remember that fact.
There's nothing like the Pro Tour experience.