My understanding of Standard right now is pretty loose but the format seems driven by the strength of its creatures. Specifically the cheap aggressive creatures are amazing as two power for one mana is extremely easy to come by and the support is pretty good. This means that Standard is based on trying to beat these naturally powerful aggro decks. Fortunately there are a number of excellent midrange creatures that happen to gain life which allow bigger decks to beat the aggressive decks. From there midrange control decks (that often have planeswalkers) look to use card draw and more expensive trump creatures to beat the midrange creature decks.
It seems to me like everyone is very well set up to fight the aggressive decks so the aggressive decks that perform well are the ones that go big enough to compete with midrange decks.
As someone looking to build a new deck that attacks the format well I feel like it's very hard to build an aggressive deck that's better enough than the baseline that it can surprise and overpower or outrace these midrange decks that are so focused on beating smaller decks.
To clarify for anyone unfamiliar with the terms small decks are decks with cheap creatures and cheap spells while big decks are decks that are more expensive. It's a really useful way to talk about a lot of things. Often a question regarding mirror matches is whether it's correct to try to get an advantage in sideboarding by trying to go big or going small. Usually trying to go big is better particularly after sideboarding incidentally because slightly bigger usually beats slightly smaller and dramatically smaller usually beats dramatically bigger. Also sideboarding favors bigger because answers get more specific and effective. These are generalizations of course but I think they're extremely useful shortcuts.
Building a midrange deck is desirable because the cards and interactions are so good and it looks like it should beat the obvious small decks so easily but you have to commit to entering a sea of midrange decks. You'll be fighting fair and on the same terms as everyone else so you'll have to hope your deck is somehow better put together (which is often going to be about being the exact right size) to beat your opponents.
It feels hard to really break this format with a midrange deck even though it looks like the "best deck" in the format is probably midrange.
The prevalence of midrange decks in this format really makes me want to go big as Ari Lax discussed in his recent article. The difficulty is that this is also a popular strategy and as Ari's article demonstrates some people might try to go very big so it's hard to go bigger than all of them.
Fortunately there's another way to "go big"—sort of. Control decks aren't as big as ramp decks but they often function similarly in that they can fall behind very small decks but are well positioned against midrange or midsize decks. Control also tends to do very well against ramp unless the ramp deck has some specific trumps (ways to resolve key spells like Boseiju Who Shelters All Cavern of Souls or Duress). If you can effectively draw cards and use cheaper answers to negate your opponent's expensive threats consistently winning is pretty trivial so decks that can counter ramp's end game tend to be the best decks against them.
This is where the midrange control decks like Bant come from. If you have the sweet midrange creatures that beat the aggressive decks and the counterspells to beat bigger decks you should be fairly well positioned.
Honestly that approach doesn't feel like it should be good to me.
Your deck is fractured—half of your cards are good against aggro and half are good against ramp. You have little to no control over which cards you draw so you'll lose to people when you just draw the wrong cards since your deck doesn't consistently do the same kinds of things.
Also you're playing a lot of expensive sorcery speed spells with all these sweet creatures and planeswalkers but are still trying to play counterspells so you often won't have the mana to cast them when you need to.
A concise version of the setup: Standard supports a huge range of deck sizes across a very smooth spectrum and cards are individually so powerful that they're not particularly reliant on synergy or consistently playing out in a certain way. As a result choosing the correct size seems more important than building to a good strategy or maximizing synergies. The challenge is finding a way to beat decks that aren't naturally positioned to lose to you based on sizing.
If you beat A and lose to B the best way to break a format is to find specific cards that let you beat B.
Another way to beat a format is to find a way to break the general guiding principles of the format.
If I'm right that current Standard is just people playing the best cards at assorted casting costs and you're essentially winning by having the proper curve rather than the proper synergies then it's possible that the format is ready to be exploited by finding a deck that has the proper synergies.
Note that I'm aware of decks like Humans and Zombies that as tribal decks are exploiting synergies but they're basically just the default small decks of the format. Similarly I'm aware of decks that exploit the graveyard in a number of ways but those basically just feel like midrange decks with a particular attempt at a powerful end game that can be answered by graveyard hate. The synergies offer minor perks—they're worth building around but they don't fundamentally change how your deck operates. Basically the decks that are taking advantage of natural synergies are still operating on the same axis as decks that aren't. Almost everyone is putting permanents that contribute to winning into play every turn and using them over time (creatures and planeswalkers).
There aren't serious combo contenders like Eggs Storm or Scapeshift in Standard. Every deck is a "fair" deck. Ari tried to build a deck that interacts differently and does something unfair but it needs so much mana to do it that it basically just feels like a ramp deck which is fundamentally fair. Reanimator can be an unfair deck but when the Reanimation spell costs four or five instead of one or two it ends up playing out more like a specific style of midrange and less like a style of combo.
So we're all playing fair and we're generally winning with permanents rather than spells. That's the baseline as far as I can tell.
What can I do with that?
I look for promising lines—cards strategies and interactions—that I feel are being underplayed.
Counterspells seem pretty good to me. Cavern of Souls "exists in the format" in that it's legal but only the tribal decks that are using it as an additional dual land really play it much. There are just so many different creature types in most decks. In addition fewer spells cost colorless mana costing multiple colors instead so Cavern of Souls often functions as an Ancient Ziggurat.
There's also the cycle of uncounterable spells but that's not really that big of a problem.
The difficulty is the drive to play all these great sorcery speed two for one creatures (and planeswalkers) that get in the way of your counterspells. One of the weaknesses of Jace Architect of Thought compared to Jace the Mind Sculptor is that it doesn't have Spell Pierce to back it up the turn you play it (though Dispel exists).
I think the U/W/R decks that exist like Alex Park's deck below do a reasonable job of trying to play counterspells in a shell that can support them but I wonder if it's going a little far in terms of just slotting new cards into an old shell.
I basically like where this deck is at. It has cheap answers cheap or instant threats and counters. The main thing I want that it doesn't have is card draw. This deck plays 24 lands and four Azorius Charms. Azorius Charm is a sweet card but it ultimately increases your opponent's spell density compared to yours since it's a one for one that puts a creature on top of their deck. Similarly Unsummon will usually put you down a card. If you can take advantage of these cards as tempo plays and kill them with a Geist or Dragon you can win before that catches up with you. I really like the use of Thundermaw Hellkite in this deck but this is fundamentally a tempo deck not a control deck.
I want my counterspell deck to be the biggest deck; that's not what tempo decks are trying to do. By playing a tempo deck you're just putting yourself somewhere on the size paradigm.
My solution is Goblin Electromancer and card draw. I don't know that it's a good solution but I've been extremely impressed with Goblin Electromancer as a card in Modern Storm and in Draft. Thinking about it it seems like a card that should be very good. It's particularly good with card draw spells since you end up saving more than one mana per turn off of him and end up with plenty to do with that mana.
Getting the right mix of cheap answers card draw counters and some way to win is tricky.
I know that I want Pillar of Flame Syncopate Desperate Ravings (playing Desperate Ravings always scares me not because of the random discard but because the cost is so high for the incremental gain while not impacting the board but the card is just insane with Goblin Electromancer) another card draw spell (Divination or Thoughtflare with outside consideration for Amass the Components which seems definitely wrong because it's such an expensive sorcery) and Goblin Electromancer but I'm not as sure beyond that.
I want to play white or black because I'm concerned about finishers in U/R but it's possible that I'm just supposed to play Thundermaw Hellkite.
Restoration Angel plays very well with countermagic which makes it an appealing threat and I also like that white has a lot of good removal options.
Black feels like it might be the better color if I'm looking to go big and be a solid control deck. I'd want it mostly for end game options like Nicol Bolas Planeswalker Rakdos's Return and Diabolic Revelations.
Maybe I'm thinking something like:
The low curve on this deck scares me a little. I worry that my cards are too low impact. Also I'm afraid of not having life gain which is part of why I put Tribute to Hunger in the sideboard. Frostburn Weird is there because I didn't really like the options for removal spells that I had and it might actually be a good blocker.
White could address a lot of those concerns:
I like the curve a little more and the sideboard more as well.
Disciple of Bolas is underplayed. I think it's an awesome card as I've mentioned before. Thragtusk is the best card to play it with and I like having Grisly Salvage to set it up which is what led me to the Dredge deck in my recent video. I need a slightly better end game and less early game than that deck had. I'm looking to build something more like other Jund decks:
- 4 Deathrite Shaman
- 3 Disciple of Bolas
- 4 Dreg Mangler
- 3 Gatecreeper Vine
- 4 Huntmaster of the Fells
- 4 Thragtusk
- 2 Jarad, Golgari Lich Lord
- 1 Olivia Voldaren
This is a very midrange deck. It's doing the same thing as everyone else—I'm just hoping to go over them with Disciple of Bolas. That might be enough to put me over most midrange decks but it doesn't put me over the Angel decks which is what I'm looking to fix with the sideboard.
I'm not sure if this is better than replacing red with white:
- 2 Angel of Serenity
- 4 Centaur Healer
- 4 Deathrite Shaman
- 3 Disciple of Bolas
- 4 Gatecreeper Vine
- 4 Restoration Angel
- 4 Thragtusk
- 1 Jarad, Golgari Lich Lord
Again I think there's a good chance the white deck's better. Those Angels are just so good and Centaur Healer is probably better than Dreg Mangler even when you're sometimes putting it straight into the graveyard with Grisly Salvage.
It's possible to play all four colors. I really do like Huntmaster of the Fells here but I'm not sure it's worth stretching the mana.
It may not be good but I like the look of that last deck. It's not as focused as other Reanimator decks but it can still play that game. In exchange it gets to function as a very good fair deck.
I'm particularly excited about combining the one-mana discard spells with the card drawing power of Disciple of Bolas.
That's where I intend to start in Standard. I'm sure the decks are very rough but I hope at least the broad analysis was helpful. A lot of the underlying principles can provide solid insight into how I think about formats even if it doesn't turn out to be entirely accurate for this Standard format.
Thanks for reading
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