It's almost time for the best time of the year! We're only a measly nine days away from SCGCON Winter!
A weekend of Magic the way Richard Garfield actually intended.
It doesn't really matter what you're into - as long as it involves Magic there's going to be something for you to do. For me, the weekend centers solely around the Season Two Invitational, a tournament worth thousands of dollars that consists of both the Modern and Standard format. I love this tournament and put my all into trying to get back to the Sunday stage on the SCG Tour®.
While the SCG Tour® usually focuses most on the Modern format, I, on the other hand, spend most of my time working on Standard. That's why today I'm going to do my best to get everyone caught up with what to expect out of the Standard, as the format's been evolving rather quickly. This article's going to help anyone planning on attending SCG CON or an RPTQ in the near future.
Maybe I shouldn't be giving away all my information leading up to the Season Two Invitational, but I just can't help myself! Alright, let's get started!
There are four major archetypes in Standard you must be focused on:
- Golgari Midrange
- Jeskai Control
- Izzet Drakes
- Boros Aggro
Of course there are other decks out there and we'll touch on them later, but they aren't nearly as important as these four. These decks will take up a large portion of any metagame, but figuring out exactly what the lists will entail is a little tricky. There are multiple different ways to build all four of these decks, but slowly the consensus lists are being formed - especially after you look at the Magic Online MOCS Monthly results from this past weekend.
Let's start off with Golgari Midrange.
- 2 Carnage Tyrant
- 4 Jadelight Ranger
- 4 Llanowar Elves
- 4 Merfolk Branchwalker
- 2 Midnight Reaper
- 3 Ravenous Chupacabra
- 2 Seekers' Squire
- 4 Wildgrowth Walker
Golgari decks struggled a little at Pro Tour Guilds of Ravnica but have had wonderful results ever since. It seemed like the reason for this was the adoption of Matt Nass' Doom Whisperer builds, but that really wasn't the story being told from the MOCS Monthly results. Of the eight Golgari Midrange decks from the top 32, seven played two or more copies of Carnage Tyrant in the maindeck. This went against last week's running theory that Golgari Midrange needed to play Doom Whisperer in high numbers to combat the other decks in the metagame.
So, what happened?
This is the first indication that it's vital to keep up with the quickly shifting metagame this season. For starters, Jeskai Control numbers have skyrocketed ever since the Pro Tour. Golgari Midrange doesn't have a great Jeskai Control matchup, but one of the easiest ways to make it less miserable is to throw as many Carnage Tyrants at them as you can and hope it works. It's especially easy if you don't remove all your removal, as many Jeskai Control decks now lean on more threats like Crackling Drake to help fight off Carnage Tyrant.
The other nod to playing more Carnage Tyrants again is that Pascal Vieren's version of Izzet Drakes has been getting more and more love. Pascal not only took the deck to a thirteenth-place finish at Grand Prix Lille two weeks before the Pro Tour, but at the big event itself, he finished Constructed with a perfect 10-0 record. Since then, it's seemed like half the Izzet Drake pilots have put down Enigma Drake. With less fear of dying in the air to Maximize Velocity, many Golgari Midrange pilots have been leaning harder on Carnage Tyrant in the matchup to get the job done.
So even though it seemed like the best course of action was to lower the number of Carnage Tyrants from the maindeck of Golgari Midrange, things seem to be tipping back in the other direction. I'd play and expect more Carnage Tyrants and less Doom Whisperers soon.
Another trend that's becoming more commonplace is higher numbers of Midnight Reaper. Morticiansunion was the best performing Golgari Midrange pilot in the MOCS Monthly this weekend, and he played a total of four copies of the card between maindeck and sideboard. Down the list, it seemed like very few Golgari pilots opted not to play this three-drop. This also seems like a reaction to the mirror, Jeskai Control, and more controlling versions of Jeskai Drakes.
The first question to ask when seeing Golgari Midrange decks go down on spot removal and up on cards like Carnage Tyrant and Midnight Reaper is "how will they get punished"? Theoretically Izzet Drake decks could go back to playing cards like Dive Down and Maximize Velocity, but those cards are better suited for builds that max out on both Enigma and Crackling Drake. Goblin Electromancer has become a centerpiece in the strategy and for good reason - the card's just very good! Going back to builds with those one-mana spells would also hurt the deck's chances against Jeskai Control, which isn't something it wants to be doing. As long as Golgari has enough cheap answers for Goblin Electromancer and Crackling Drake, the matchup should still be favorable.
While there are decks like Boros Aggro and Mono-Red Aggro out there, there doesn't seem to be enough of a reason not to be playing these cards, especially since Golgari Midrange and Jeskai Control should be the two most popular decks until the next giant shift in the metagame. While it's still probably not correct to go overboard, slightly shifting a Golgari maindeck to be better equipped in these two matchups makes a lot of sense, which is why I think the archetype moving forward will be at its most predictable. A small subset of the Golgari pilots will choose to play Druid of the Cowl and Karn, Scion of Urza in small numbers, but that's about it.
Let's move onto Jeskai Control:
There are two major builds of Jeskai Control right now. _VFS_ played the more normalized version to a 7-1 finish in the MOCS Monthly, while qtaro used Adrian Sullivan's unique take on the archetype to the same finish. From the data available, it seems like Jeskai Control pilots are split down the middle between the two variants, but my opinion is that Adrian's take is slightly better until the metagame shifts to attack it.
Treasure Map is a great Magic card, one that makes a lot of sense to be playing right now. Outside of the hyper aggressive matchups, the card can just take over games, but more importantly, it can supply a deck with ample mana to deploy Niv-Mizzet, Parun. These new versions of Jeskai Control play four copies of the powerful Dragon which is single-handedly flipping the Izzet Drake matchup into being a favorable one. Playing this many copies of Niv-Mizzet does come at a slight cost against Golgari Midrange and Boros Aggro, but not enough to really change the matchup on those matchups anyway.
We may see more and more people moving towards Adrian's build, as it's both fun and effective, especially in the other Izzet/Jeskai matchups! The only issue with this is that this build of the deck is more exploitable than the more normalized variants.
Reclamation Sage is becoming a stronger choice in the current metagame. While I liked Thrashing Brontodon's body earlier in the format, I'm starting to come around the idea of using the more efficient creature moving forward, especially now that it's predictable that Jeskai Control could have Treasure Map, Boros Aggro and Mono-Red Aggro will bring in Experimental Frenzy, and that it still beats up on cards like History of Benalia and Baffling End. The Dino's body is nice, but being able to proactively play it is quickly losing its appeal.
One of the reasons why we don't see Sorcerous Spyglass that often is that Jeskai Control has more ways to win the game and draw cards besides Teferi, Hero of Dominaria. It's also not the type of card you'd want to have more than just one of given that Jeskai only normally plays Teferi to name with it. It just seemed that the best way to approach Teferi matchups was to fight on a different axis. Now that the deck leans on more activated abilities to generate an advantage, it's most likely correct for this card to see more play soon.
Next up is Izzet Drakes:
Like I said earlier, Izzet Drakes is currently split into two camps - one that plays Enigma Drake and one that doesn't. The builds of these decks are almost identical though outside of this one decision, and while I don't think this should change much of how you approach this matchup, it's worth keeping in mind as you're more likely to see cards like Dive Down when you do run up against versions with Enigma Drake. You'll also see less copies of cards like Entrancing Melody, but it's important for you to do your homework on the differences yourself.
Izzet Drakes is the last big deck in the metagame. There were seven copies of Izzet Drakes in the MOCS Monthly top 32, and the strategy has shown up in big numbers dating all the way back to Grand Prix New Jersey. The only thing this deck hasn't done is put up impressive numbers.
Now don't get me wrong - Izzet Drakes is a fine deck, but after a long session of working on it myself, I strongly believe this deck is just a worse choice than both Jeskai and Golgari. Boros Aggro is also likely a stronger choice, but I can't say that for sure as I have limited experience with the little white creatures.
I know you're thinking I'm biased against this strategy, but four days ago I, in fact, expected this deck to be the best deck choice. I wanted to win with it and wanted to select it as my deck of choice for the Season Two Invitational. That said, my results weren't even bad with it. In fact, they were pretty good! The problem was that I wasn't playing against the matchups I needed to prepare against. Once I played some targeted matchups against talented Golgari and Jeskai pilots, my confidence wavered on the strategy as a whole.
Izzet Drake's major strength is that the strategy is very consistent and sometimes exceptionally explosive. It will almost always do its thing every game, but when Arclight Phoenixes are in the top 15 cards it will do its thing even better and attack for an extra 3-6 damage per turn. The format has had time to catch up to the deck's plans however, and now the strategy struggles in games where it does not draw enough early Arclight Phoenixes. I could be wildly wrong--part of me hopes I am since I truly hate it when I say a non-control deck that's popular is bad--but I just don't think I am.
The deck will continue to be a part of the metagame despite my opinion and most likely will put at least one pilot into the top 8 of the Season Two Invitational because It's still a good deck. I just believe Golgari and Jeskai will have even better results, which is why I'd lean towards playing one of those two strategies.
And then there's Boros Aggro…
Boros Aggro is not a deck I'd want to sleeve up. During weeks where I don't have enough time to prepare for events, I'd normally ignore the deck and accept being wrong if it was the best choice. This deck has proven itself to me, and now I have to test it this week to fully prepare for the Season Two Invitational.
I'd love to know how many people are still playing these weenie strategies, though. For example, Boros Aggro only put three players into the top 32 of the MOCS Monthly, but that doesn't let me know how much of the metagame this deck took up. It was the second most popular deck at the Pro Tour, which could maybe indicate it being extremely popular, but at the same time that's only speculation.
Speculating on the past does little help though. What's important is knowing what's going to happen at the Season Two Invitational next weekend. If history has shown us anything, the SCG Tour® is always packed full of white aggressive decks whenever they're playable. I'd expect things won't change this time around and believe Boros Aggro will be heavily played next weekend. So much so that it's possible it will be the second most played deck and the Season Two Invitational Standard metagame will look very similar to the one at Pro Tour Guilds of Ravnica.
This prediction doesn't even have to come from a creatures-of-habit mentality. Boros Aggro is a great choice when Golgari, Jeskai, and Izzet are all distracted with themselves. This entire article up until this point has been about how Golgari is playing more Carnage Tyrants and how Treasure Map makes a lot of sense in Jeskai Control. Boros Aggro seems like it will be in a similar position as it was at the Pro Tour, but the deck didn't do anything busted at the event itself. Sure, it was six of the top 8 decks but as a whole the strategy was just as medium as everything else.
Lastly, it appears we have a new challenger:
- 4 Dire Fleet Daredevil
- 4 Goblin Chainwhirler
- 1 Goblin Cratermaker
- 3 Legion Warboss
- 4 Rekindling Phoenix
- 4 Siege-Gang Commander
It feels like Mono-Red Aggro has fallen off the face of the planet. In fact, the deck's not really done much since the first week of the format, but there's plenty of reasons to speculate on why this has been the case. It's a mono-colored deck which causes card quality issues in permanent-based matchups. Golgari decks have almost uniformly chosen to play four copies of Wildgrowth Walker, and other decks play upwards of four copies of Lava Coil, making it difficult to lean on Rekindling Phoenix. The deck doesn't have a great matchup against any of the big three decks in the metagame, and the strategy as a whole is pulled into too many directions to try to compete with the other decks.
One man, however, has found success within the mono-colored strategy by doing things his own way. Ben Weitz has been playing the deck posted above ever since the Pro Tour and I must say - I never thought I'd see the day where a Mono-Red deck existed in this format without Runaway Steam-Kin, but here we are.
Ben's build of Mono-Red is packing a high density of powerful cards that may or may not be good universally. You know what? I can get behind this since other aspects of the deck should be powerful enough to compete against the other decks. For example, Banefire might not always be the best card against a non-control deck, but it still will act as inefficient removal in longer games. The deck's also designed to go long which makes this not the biggest issue. Without Banefire in the maindeck, though, this deck might not be able to beat Jeskai Control, but with it the matchup may swing to being good! The same can be said for Dire Fleet Daredevil against Izzet Drakes, Siege-Gang Commander against Boros Aggro and Golgari Midrange, and Goblin Cratermaker versus uh...Emrakul, the Promised End.
All-in-all this deck is a must try if you're interested in playing Goblin Chainwhirler. I can't say for certain if this deck's good or not, but I know I'll have that answer before the week's over. If you're serious about doing well in the next couple weeks in Standard, you'd best figure out that answer too.
Sadly, by next week this article could already have become obsolete, but the best we can do is try to understand each microshift in the metagame. Things are moving fast, and the best way to predict what's next is to understand what got us to where we currently are. I'll be back again before the Season Two Invitational, but for now, just get out there and obtain as much information as you can about this ever-evolving Standard format!