Notes from the Battlefield: Standard at MKMS Frankfurt 2018

The story of Standard at the MKM Series Frankfurt 2018 wasn't just all energy all the way. Especially now, after the banning, it's worthwhile to look at all the other decks that did well in the tournament before turning our attention to where Rivals of Ixalan might take us from here!

Temur Energy only accounted for 22% of the field, but it did place first, second, and third at our 127-player Standard main event. Chris Castro-Rappl, an American currently teaching at the University of Tübingen in Germany, became champion, although he himself immediately commented, "I don't feel like I earned this."

In fact, the secret star of the tournament was 15-year-old Melvin Schmidt who piloted his deck with expert precision past all opposition. He even defeated the current German national champion in the semifinals and then took the first game in the final. However, one risky but reasonable keep, one double mulligan, and entirely too many missed land drops later, Schmidt's run came to an unfortunate end.

In theory, lessons could be learned from looking at the finalists' decks. Alas, this was the last hurrah for this particular Standard environment. Just eight days later, Wizards of the Coast took action and banned Attune with Aether, Rogue Refiner, Rampaging Ferocidon, and Ramunap Ruins from the format. The latter two demanded an explanation and it was given: While curtailing the power of energy was obviously called for, Wizards was afraid that Mono-Red might benefit too much. After all, Temur Energy was the only strategy which regularly beat Mono-Red so far.

One can, however, still gain valuable insight by looking at the tournament's results. The Top 8 in Frankfurt featured four decks which weren't directly impacted by the bannings — an unusually high number during those dark days before the bans. Let's check them out, see what they will gain from Rivals of Ixalan, and speculate about their place in future Standard.

Thoralf Severin's White-Blue Approach

This was the third time for Thoralf "Toffel" Severin to make the Top 8 at the Standard main event in just as many trips to the MKM Series. As usual, he picked a deck which he felt could beat the "deck to beat." Approach of the Second Sun had long been touted as one of the few strategies with a favorable matchup against energy, even if not by a large margin. But the deck was never a one-trick pony, and it won't go away simply because of low energy levels. Moving forward, it will also have a better matchup against red aggro, its sideboarded Regal Caracal no longer suffering under Rampaging Ferocidon.

Moreover, people already put Azor, the Lawbringer's hat into the ring, although this inclusion remains dubious. The deck isn't creatureless without reason after all, and the Sphinx provides a target for a lot of things which don't even care about its second ability — Essence Scatter, Cast Out, Hostage Taker, Vraska, Relic Seeker, Ixalan's Binding, Noxious Gearhulk, maybe Ravenous Chupacabra or Tetzimoc, Primal Death

Philipp Krüger's White-Blue Cycling

Drake Haven Abandoned Sarcophagus

Standard's other creatureless white-blue control deck uses Drake Haven and Abandoned Sarcophagus to benefit from upwards of 24 cards with cycling. Rivals of Ixalan doesn't add anything here; the same arguments against Azor, the Lawbringer still apply.

On the other hand, the new set may lead aggressive decks to become more about board presence than about life total reduction. Incidentally, the departure of Temur Energy encourages such development as well. Energy incentivized decks to go faster and to close games with direct damage. Now there's a job opening for the tribal strategies which come out of Rivals of Ixalan. This could prove a boon to White-Blue Cycling because, unlike Approach of the Second Sun, Drake Haven can interact with opposing creatures.

Bugra Cal Alp's Mardu Vehicles

Mardu Vehicles has been around for like, ever. This particular version doesn't offer new tricks, and neither does Rivals of Ixalan. What should be noted, however, is that with Ramunap Ruins, one of the best reasons to keep your aggressive deck mono-colored has left the format.

Mardu could become a legitimate alternative to Mono-Red once again, if no other factors were at play. However, the real question is how Mardu Vehicles, or traditional Mono-Red for that matter, will fare in a world with strong Merfolk, Pirate, and/or Vampire decks. Indeed, there's not a lot of hope for Mardu Vehicles to return to its former glory, and elements of the old Mono-Red will likely just merge with Pirates.

Philipp Krieger's Green-White Aggro

Sacred Cat

Finally, German national champion Philipp Krieger reached his second Top 8 of the weekend after making the quarterfinals in Limited the day before. The deck he used, Green-White Aggro, had been a minor sensation in Standard a while back, but had never really caught on.

Krieger nevertheless assured me that it was criminally underrated, possibly because of all the weird-looking cards in it. One must admit: weird is a generous description when it comes to beating down with cards like Sacred Cat, Merfolk Branchwalker, Adanto Vanguard, and Oketra the True. What makes the deck tick is the combination of double strike, mainly Adorned Pouncer, with various pump effects. There's Resilient Khenra, there's Blossoming Defense offering additional protection, and there's Hashep Oasis for later. In particular, there's Appeal // Authority, both halves of which can combine for a proper turn four kill!

Green-White Aggro is notable as well because, finally, here is a deck which could pick up a bunch of cards from Rivals of Ixalan. Below, I'll quote a list proposed by World Magic Cup champion Simon Nielsen. Granted, Nielsen specifically tried to fit as many new tools into the deck as possible. Even so, Skymarcher Aspirant, Jadelight Ranger, Baffling End, and Huatli, Radiant Champion is an impressive list. With three copies each of Hashep Oasis and Shefet Dunes, one could also try out Paladin of Atonement.

Simon Nielsen's Green-White Aggro with Rivals of Ixalan

For more about Standard at the MKM Series Frankfurt 2018, be sure to check out our coverage!

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