I can't believe #SCGINVI starts tomorrow! When I decided to move out West I knew I wouldn't be able to squeeze in the time needed to head back to Roanoke to play, but I never thought it would hurt this much not to be there. Oh well, I guess I can just keep preparing for the Mythic Championship in Las Vegas, and drop some knowledge on y'all who are actually going to be in Roanoke this weekend while I'm doing so. Today I'm giving away all my current decklists for each archetype, and ranking them in order of most likely I'd play them.*
* Please don't switch off a deck you've extensively tested. The games in Standard are difficult to navigate, making it much better to play a deck you know than pick up a deck you're unfamiliar with. I don't mind if my work helps you tune the deck you're already playing, but please don't make any radical decisions the night before such an important tournament.
Before we get into the decks themselves, we should discuss the metagame, as it's been in flux for quite some time. Much of metagaming involves noticing the trends of what decks are seeing more play as well as those that are getting less love. That's why it's so important to fully understand the trends that have occurred over the past month to make a more educated decision on what's likely to be the best positioned. Obviously there are other factors to take into account, but this is always where I start.
The format started with Mono-Red Aggro, Esper Control, and Simic Nexus. The only deck to continue to stay alive since then has been Mono-Red Aggro, but the deck's slowly losing ground as the rest of the metagame becomes better-turned. Since the first week we've seen nongreen Superfriends decks come into favor, only to be replaced by green-based Superfriends decks focusing on Command the Dreadhorde. This is mostly due to how midrange functions in Standard, as an "arms race" occurs as the midrange decks try to one-up each other.
Once that settled down we saw Sultai and Four-Color Dreadhorde reign supreme, but the metagame quickly adapted to that with strategies that either go way over the top or underneath it. Decks like Simic Mass Manipulation, Gruul, Izzet Phoenix, and Mono-Red Aggro all got a second wind as strategies that could compete with the slow-but-powerful Command the Dreadhorde deck.
While this was all happening, Esper Midrange started to prove that it had legs against all of these unique metagame stages. It's not really surprising this is the case, as Esper Midrange has so many potential cards to play that it's a highly adaptable strategy, especially in a world where its sideboard is filled with amazing cards while all the other decks seem to have very rigid practices in sideboarded games.
A basic explanation for this format is that it revolves around micro card advantage exchanges where almost every deck is trying to "1.3-for-one" their opponent over and over again. This is done with the many effects that gain tempo, raw card advantage, or protect planeswalkers to generate the value. Only a couple of decks operate outside of this trend, Gruul and Azorius Aggro, which makes both of them "metagame" decks in my opinion. Since I don't think things are perfectly lined up for either of them anymore, I suspect they will both have a worse weekend than the other strategies.
So what are the decks that I'd be looking to play?
#1: Four-Color Dreadhorde
Well, I usually lean towards power, and there's nothing more powerful than Command the Dreadhorde. The only reason to not play this deck is if it has a target on its back, and right now I don't know how big it is thanks to the fear everyone has for Gruul and Izzet Phoenix. Here's my current build of the deck.
- 1 Sorin, Vengeful Bloodlord
- 4 Tamiyo, Collector of Tales
- 1 Teferi, Hero of Dominaria
- 4 Teferi, Time Raveler
- 3 Vraska, Golgari Queen
After playing enough with this deck I've come to like running a wide variety of one-ofs, since the deck sees so many cards and has many ways to get them back from the graveyard. Tamiyo, Collector of Tales just works best with more options, but at the same time I want my important cards to have the highest likelihood of getting hit when I need them. That's why I want to play four copies of whatever removal spell I think is best, and right now it's Cast Down. There is an argument for wanting Assassin's Trophy in the maindeck, but I just haven't liked it in this deck yet. I could totally be wrong, though.
#2: Sultai Dreadhorde
In the same vein as Four-Color Dreadhorde is Sultai Dreadhorde. It's another deck that I think is great right now, and one of my top choices going into the weekend. There's also a very good chance I play it in this week's Fandom Legends event. It's just playing some of the best cards in Standard, which is hard to argue with.
- 2 Hostage Taker
- 4 Hydroid Krasis
- 4 Jadelight Ranger
- 4 Llanowar Elves
- 4 Merfolk Branchwalker
- 4 Wildgrowth Walker
#3: Esper Midrange
The next deck I'm most likely to play is Esper Midrange. It doesn't have the best Game 1 win percentage, but makes up for that weakness by being great after sideboard against almost every matchup. I mean, that's what you get when you play a deck with Teferi, Hero of Dominaria and a bunch of great two-mana interactive spells.
There are two ways to design this deck, and honestly I don't know which one is better. The first way to build the deck involves Thief of Sanity and Hostage Taker, and the other way is Martin Muller's take, which is more controlling with Narset, Parter of Veils in the maindeck and battlefield sweepers in the sideboard.
I don't think all the cards played in every variation are completely fluid, though. You don't want to pair Narset, Parter of Veils with Hostage Taker, for example, because they have differing gameplans. Narset obviously finds you spells, which Hostage Taker is not, but it also doesn't die to the same removal, so you're never overloading it with a three-mana Planeswalker. It's important to either present a ton of must-kill threats, or not worry about presenting any.
That's why you see Basilica Bell-Haunt in the Muller version, as it doesn't get hit by many of the removal spells usually stranded in an opponent's hand. The other version plays Elite Guardmage, as it's less likely to die to removal as they need to use that on other creatures, plus those versions are designed to always have stuff to do with their mana, making it more important to draw cards than make opponents discard them. It all seems rather nebulous, but trust me, these small details are important.
- 1 Liliana, Dreadhorde General
- 3 Narset, Parter of Veils
- 4 Teferi, Hero of Dominaria
- 4 Teferi, Time Raveler
My gut tells me that the more green the expected metagame is, the more I want to play with Thief of Sanity and Hostage Taker, whereas I should play Muller's version if I expect the nongreen decks to be more popular. Now, it's not easy to predict just how much of any deck is going to show up; I just have to use my intuition, which leans more towards Gruul seeing less play than it did last week, or at the very least it doing worse. My call is to play the latter version of the deck, but I won't fault anyone for picking either.
As for which maindeck two-mana answers you should play, I think that also depends on the metagame. If you expect a lot of Command the Dreadhorde, I would try to squeeze one or two Dovin's Veto in there, but go with maindeck Despark in a field of non-Command decks. Again, this is up to you and difficult to know which one is better.
The only thing I will say is you should always play one copy of The Elderspell and Command the Dreadhorde in the maindeck. Sure, they can sometimes be awkward, but when they aren't they're winning you the game. Both are just too powerful to not have access to in Game 1.
#4: Gruul Aggro
Next up is Gruul. While I don't personally like this deck, I can't argue against the performances it's put up in recent weeks. It's also a deck that I know many of you will be playing this weekend, so I need to make sure you don't shoot yourself in the foot.
I'm so glad I got that off my chest. Seriously, those versions of the deck are just bad. It's inconsistent, doesn't go with the rest of the deck's gameplan, and most of the planeswalker decks are now prepared for it anyway. Stick to the version Lotus Box's very own Dylan Donegan popularized.
- 4 Growth-Chamber Guardian
- 4 Gruul Spellbreaker
- 4 Llanowar Elves
- 4 Nullhide Ferox
- 4 Paradise Druid
- 4 Rekindling Phoenix
- 4 Skarrgan Hellkite
This version at least stays true to what the deck is trying to accomplish. Other versions just don't do their thing consistently enough, which is why I said the deck sucks in the first place. At least here we have a coherent gameplan, and the annoying planeswalkers in the format aren't as bad for us, since it's sometimes difficult to stick the landing on a planewalker with so many hexproof creatures.
I still wouldn't play this deck myself, but that's more a me thing than a you thing.
#5: Izzet Phoenix
The last deck on my list of things to play is Izzet Phoenix. I seriously think this deck is great for the expected metagame, but I have no clue how to build, sideboard, or play it. I've been working on that, but it's been a slow process. All I can say is I've been winning a lot with it even though I feel very uncomfortable as a pilot.
It's tough to go wrong with Ross's build, though. It's a deck he likes, has worked on for a long time, and has had modest success with. At least, this is what I am thinking for myself. If you don't like his list, I can't argue about it. I just think the archetype is a great choice right now, and I wish I had mastered it months ago.
I honestly believe the rest of the decks in the metagame are just worse than the ones I've already presented. They aren't as inherently powerful, which makes them metagame calls in my opinion. For example, if Mono-Red Aggro was going to be the most-played deck, it could be defensible to play Jeskai Superfriends. Since it's not, I don't really want to get into planeswalker battles without Command the Dreadhorde or The Elderspell, since I don't think Legion Warboss will get the job done anymore, as it's a known quantity.
Now, you could argue that Mono-Red Aggro is going to be the most-played deck, which could be true, but it's still not as good as people thought it was a few weeks ago. Since that's the case, I just don't expect many players on teams to pick this one up, as it just feels like a week where people would rather beat Mono-Red than play it themselves.
I guess the only way to know is to watch the action unfold starting this Friday on Twitch. Even though I won't be there, I will be on my couch and in chat hanging out with y'all. It should be an awesome time as many players try to lock up their slots in the Players' Championship that's happening at the end of the year.