It didn't take long for Hydroid Krasis to go from scourge of Standard to the easiest prey. The majority of the SCG Tour®'s best players shifted to Esper Control after Sultai Midrange proved to be the breakout deck of #SCGINDY. With Esper Control largely having the target on its head now, how are players going to react next week?
Both decks have incredible long games, so the answer is to either go over the top or go under them. The short version is play Mono-Blue Aggro. A solid Sultai matchup also makes the deck look incredibly good, even if only for a weekend or two. Even though he chickened out of playing it, Tom Ross wrote a great article singing Mono-Blue's praises last week.
You could make the case for Izzet Drakes instead of Mono-Blue Aggro, but it's not good enough against Esper, Sultai, or aggro decks to get my vote. If my deck of choice is going to be flimsy and inflexible, I'd rather play something with polarizing matchups instead of flipping coins.
- 20 Island
I'm taking a lot of inspiration from Ted Felicetti's list here. Sideboard Treasure Maps give you a draw engine against spell-based decks, which, when combined with your counterwall, makes it very hard for you to lose. The Surge Mares and Entrancing Melodies allow you to become a control deck after sideboard against Mono-Red and Azorius Aggro. Entrancing Melody is busted against everything right now that isn't Esper Control.
Four-Color Gates is the other deck that dominates Esper Control. There are some folk that have been having a tough time with Gates against Esper because of their hand disruption and removal that exiles Gate Colossus, but there are many ways to fix that. You could play something like Rhythm of the Wild and deploy multiple threats in the same turn or you could be evil and play Nexus of Fate.
I'm coming around on the idea that Nexus of Fate is what you're supposed to be doing with Gates, but that's also just a bad version of any of the other Nexus of Fate decks. If I'm entering no clipping mode, I'd rather have Root Snares and the like rather than Gates Ablaze.
This deck has been performing far better than I ever would have expected, so I imagine it'll remain a sleeper choice for many people, especially as the format shifts to be more about midrange and control.
Conveniently, both Mono-Blue Aggro and Four-Color Gates are weak to aggressive decks, so that will be the next step. The wrench in the plan is that Dallas is notoriously an aggressive hotbed. Mono-Red Aggro tends to be well-represented, but even things like Gruul and white-based aggro decks aren't out of the question. For that reason, I'd recommend against playing Mono-Blue Aggro at #SCGDFW specifically, but it could be a strong choice for any PTQs.
It's weird though. Standard is currently pulling away from the traditional aggro decks. Mono-Red has a difficult time against Esper with all its Lightning Bolts and the white aggro decks need the blue splash to interact with Esper Control and Nexus of Fate. Both of those trends bode well for Mono-Blue Aggro.
You could also do worse than playing one of the best decks.
Both Andrew Jessup's deck choice and his specific build are, as expected, both very reasoned. Many of the SCG Tour®'s top players chose Esper Control last weekend, and for good reason. You have solid game against everything, including against Mono-Red Aggro.
One of the things I like about Esper Control is that you can play a ton of removal to ensure you don't die to Azorius, Mono-Red, and Mono-Blue and then gas up with Teferi or Precognitive Perception. The fact that Perception allows you to see so many cards means you can go from nothing to a full hand almost immediately.
Chemister's Insight is nice and everything, but it's more of a card that slowly creates an advantage, but Esper typically wants that quick reload. Obviously playing both has upsides and you don't necessarily want to load up too much on either, but playing without two Perceptions strikes me as a mistake. The threats in Standard don't outright win the game quickly, but they do snowball.
The more burst card drawing you're able to play, the more spot removal you can typically afford to play too since you'll almost always be able to slow the game down. In mirror matches, being able to filter through your dead cards also helps unless the game comes down to trading specific resources with each other. For example, Esper has very few win conditions, so Game 1 of the true mirror probably comes down to whose deck has the most business spells. After sideboard, all that changes when both players bring in more threats and counterspells.
Basically, more burst card drawing allows you to play more removal spells, at least in this specific instance. Play Precognitive Perception!
In the sideboard, we're starting to see Hostage Taker crop up as an answer to the various Hydroid Krasis decks in the format. With Thief of Sanity, you have a potent duo that Sultai needs to be prepared for.
Chromium, the Mutable is largely nonsense, even if Jonathan Rosum's rationale for the card is to clock the Nexus of Fate decks. You do need a real win condition, and Karn, Scion of Urza mostly solves a lot of the same problems and is a reasonable draw engine. The Eldest Reborn is also fine but doesn't solve the issue against Nexus decks.
Similar to Chromium, Basilica Bell-Haunt out of the sideboard for Mono-Red is both narrow and not necessary. You can get percentage points against Mono-Red without having to play something specifically for them. Even Moment of Craving, while somewhat narrow, is arguably stronger against red decks while also giving you percentage in other spots.
We've seen many takes on Sultai Midrange, but I still feel like the archetype is underexplored.
- 4 Growth-Chamber Guardian
- 3 Hydroid Krasis
- 4 Incubation Druid
- 4 Jadelight Ranger
- 4 Llanowar Elves
- 4 Merfolk Branchwalker
- 4 Wildgrowth Walker
- 2 Zegana, Utopian Speaker
I've been playing a similar deck on Magic Arena and noticed the similarities between my version and Matt Nass's, which Martin Juza was streaming Thursday night. My version had a couple Entrancing Melodies maindeck (which I like), but the plan was the same.
Simic was on my to-do list because I didn't think I'd miss Find, Ravenous Chupacabra, Cast Down, and Vraska's Contempt very much since you don't need them for every single matchup, but being three colors is noticeably stronger, even despite the downsides. Even though your mana is smooth and you have a reasonable amount of interaction and card advantage, Simic still falls short. What you really miss is the versatility of the black cards. Not being able to function as a control deck against other midrange can be truly brutal, even if you have Hadana's Climb and Zegana as an edge.
To top it off, Plaguecrafter is too important of a sideboard card at the moment. It decimates the decks trying to protect a threat with Dive Down, snipes Teferi and their Thief of Sanities out of the sideboard, plus it can get rid of Carnage Tyrant or Vivien Reid in the mirror (although usually only when Finality is involved).
Where does Mono-Red fall in all of this?
First of all, against Esper Control you need either repeatable sources of damage or a bunch of card advantage. The "all Lightning Bolts" plan doesn't work through Moment of Craving and Absorb. We need to adapt.
- 22 Mountain
This version is about as anti-Sultai and Esper as I can imagine. Oddly enough, it really looks like last season's Mono-Red Aggro decks. Since we're looking at persistent sources of damage, it doesn't make much sense to stay mono-red. Is this supposed to be the time where Rakdos Aggro actually makes an appearance?
If you want to stay Mono-Red, Legion Warboss is probably where you want to be. It's the hardest hitting red creature in Standard, demands a Kaya's Wrath all by itself, and is the best follow-up to a Kaya's Wrath. You'll need to clear the way against Sultai, but that's the reason Lava Coils are back in the deck.
One of the worst cards in the deck has always been Fanatical Firebrand. Giving it the axe isn't something I'm upset about as it frequently contributed to anemic draws.
Yeah, I have a Nullhide Ferox in my Mono-Red Aggro sideboard. You got a problem with it? Someone needs to teach these Basilica Bell-Haunts a lesson[CEDitor's Note: I seriously thought that was a typo… ]
Gruul has been solid for me, but mostly because it farmed Esper and Mono-Red. Sultai is a different story because no matter what, you're going to have issues with Wildgrowth Walker and Finality.
Judith and Heroic Reinforcements seem good at the moment, even though very few people are playing them. Similarly to Gruul, Mardu ends up taking this smallball approach that will eventually overwhelm Sultai, only to get dominated by Finality. If the deck were a little faster or a little stickier, things would be much easier. It's another reason why I recommend being very aggressive, very disruptive, or go very big at the moment.
Another reasonable performer is white aggro, but the versions with the blue splash aren't where you want to be. Slowing down a little in order to splash Negate off nine blue sources is bound to cost you at some point. I'd look into Mono-White with more one-drops, potentially more fliers, and a lot of Unbreakable Formations.
While discussing the deck this weekend, Tom Ross noted how poor his History of Benalias have been, which also points to the point that being just below Sultai on the midrange spectrum ends up being bad for certain cards, not just certain archetypes. Cutting them altogether isn't out of the question.
The biggest shift was the complete lack of Esper Midrange this weekend. Cut those Bell-Haunts for Seraph of the Scales, consider playing The Immortal Sun instead of Teferi, and you might find success with the archetype. Realistically, you will probably lose to Sultai and Esper Control though.
I don't know if Arena has a cap on the amount of decks you can have saved, but if they do, I'm sure I'll hit it soon. The brewing has basically been nonstop, but this format feels like Teferi, Hydroid Krasis, and the various aggro decks are the most powerful things you can be doing and are already figured out. It's not likely that I'll break the format, but I could break it for a weekend!