The State of Standard
- Christian Seibold
Dominaria dropped and immediately warped the Standard landscape around it. For the first time in a while, a set managed to shift the chokehold Kaladesh had on the meta. But how has it changed Standard and what decks should people be looking out for in this new landscape. Christian has the answers below!
Magic players are very happy about the Dominaria limited format, but the new set also provided many good standard cards. Goblin Chainwhirler, Karn, Scion of Urza, Teferi, Hero of Dominaria and many other cards have made their mark on the Standard format. A couple of weeks ago, R/B Aggro dominated the field, but B/G Constrictor and W/U Control were also successful decks. Right now, there are also some other viable strategies and with the upcoming Pro Tour, we might see some completely new decks. Today, I want to talk about the current state of Standard. What are the strongest cards? What decks are currently the best and what decks might we see in the future?
The Top Three Standard Decks
Right now, the metagame is defined by specific cards and not by larger strategies. Goblin Chainwhirler, Heart of Kiran, Karn, Teferi, and more have such a huge impact on Standard that decks are often enough if they are simply built around those cards. In my opinion, while there are many other viable strategies, there are currently three decks to beat: B/G Constrictor, R/B Aggro and W/U Control. These decks all met with great success at GP Birmingham, MKM Series Hamburg and MTGO Standard Leagues and you need to have a good reason not play one of these decks if you want to win a tournament. It is very notable that there was not a single other deck in the top 8 of MKM Series Hamburg and GP Birmingham!
B/G Constrictor has been a role player in standard since Kaladesh because of its headliner Winding Constrictor's power, synergy, and consistency. Before the release of Dominaria, Snake decks tended to splash blue, because of Hadana's Climb // Winged Temple of Orazca and counter magic in the sideboard. Dominaria basically delivered three important cards for this deck. Adventurous Impulse and Woodland Cemetery helped the deck a lot in terms of consistency and Llanowar Elves made the deck faster. Currently most people play the "normal" decklist, which plays the regular +1+1 Counter synergy cards together with some copies of Ravenous Chupacabra to get rid of good creatures like Lyra Dawnbringer and Thrashing Brontodon to destroy annoying enchantments like Seal Away or Cast Out. But, there is also another B/G decklist, which focuses more on synergy by playing many Constructs together with Metallic Mimic. I would say the first list is safer, because you have more answers, but the second one can definitely be pretty powerful. When it comes to green decks, there is, of course, the Mono Green (and sometimes G/B) Stompy deck, which basically does the same thing as B/G Constrictor: Getting many powerful creatures in play as early as possible. B/G Constrictor has always been a deck which had a better matchup against aggro than against control, but could also fight control decks with cards like Lifecrafter's Bestiary, Discard spells and Planeswalkers postboard. Still, if you want to beat this deck I think W/U is the best deck right now, even though W/U is not very far ahead here.
I refuse to call this deck R/B Vehicles, because it just plays Heart of Kiran. R/B Aggro was the big star at the first standard GP with Dominaria, where six versions of the deck reached the Top 8. It is interesting that R/B Aggro actually did not get many cards from Dominaria. The cards it did get, however, are crucial. A playset of Goblin Chainwhirler is huge for the deck and Karna also dis wonders for the deck. I think the reason why this deck is performing so well is that it is the best home for two of the most powerful cards in standard: Goblin Chainwhirler and Heart of Kiran. The Goblin is actually so strong that it pushes other strategies like tokens out of the format and it forces people to have second thoughts whenever they want to put a creature with 1 toughness into their deck. It regularly gets rid of Llanowar Elves or Teferi's (after they used their -3 ability), can crew Heart of Kiran and has a decent body by itself. The reason why the Vehicle is so good right now is also the development of the metagame. Right now you cannot find many copies of Fatal Pushes, but you can find many Seal Aways. Also the Vehicle works great against other cards like Cast Down and Fumigate and is easier to crew thanks to the new Karn, which has whopping five starting loyalty. The best thing about R/B Aggro is that it is attacking from so many different angles. You got planeswalkers, Vehicles, cheap aggressive creatures and big Flyers. That is the reason why this deck is just hard to beat and why R/B Aggro will stay a major role player in standard at least for the next few months.
Well, weeks ago in the spoiler season I called it: Seal Away and Teferi will have a huge impact in standard. W/U Control is the best control deck right now in Standard. Teferi turned out to be even better than I thought, because it is actually a win condition by itself. You do not need to play clunky Approach of the Second Suns anymore, because you can just take control over the game with Teferi and eventually deck your opponent while making sure you cannot get decked yourself thanks to Teferi's -3 ability, which lets you bounce itself on top of your library. Syncopate and Blink of an Eye also made blue control decks better, even though they usually only get a few slots. Most decklists are playing a playset of History of Benalia in the sideboard, which is a great 2 for 1 card against Aggro but also can be pretty effective in the mirror, too. U/B Control was the best control deck before Dominaria, but people are stepping away from non-Teferi control decks. You do see see some Jeskai or Esper decklists, because every control player needs them some Teferi. W/U Control usually has a very good game one against everything, because opposing removal spells are just dead cards. Postboard is another story however, as people are ready to fight control with discard, couter magic and card advantage and then games become much more difficult for W/U Control. I could see this deck improving with an Esper or Jeskai shell, but I am convinced that the best control deck in the format will play Teferi.
While writing this, I discovered a nice decklist from a Standard MTGO League:
Mono Black Control by Zachery695
|4Cabal Stronghold||4Dread Shade||3Never // Return|
|21Swamp||4Gifted Aetherborn||2Torment of Hailfire|
|1Gonti, Lord of Luxury||4Fatal Push|
|2Ravenous Chupacabra||4Vraska's Contempt|
|4Walking Ballista||4Karn, Scion of Urza|
|2Liliana, Death's Majesty|
|1Treasure Map / Treasure Cove|
|1Arguel's Blood Fast / Temple of Aclazotz||1Bontu's Last Reckoning||1Dispossess|
|3Doomfall||4Duress||1Gonti, Lord of Luxury|
|1Lost Legacy||1Sentinel Totem||1Treasure Map / Treasure Cove|
Mono-Black existed before Dominaria, but it was closer to a tier three deck than something that could compete with the best of the best. With the addition of Cabal Stronghold, Dread Shade and Karn, Scion of Urza, however, Mono-Black Control could actually be a real deck. With so many removal spells, you've got a pretty good game plan against other decks relying on creatures to win. You've even got seven main deck answers to planeswalkers. After killing their important threats, you can close out a game with lots of mana (thanks to Cabal Stronghold) and start casting big Walking Ballistas, swinging with big Dread Shades or you can just win with a huge Torment of Hailfire. Your game one against control decks is not ideal, because you've got too many dead cards, but with so many discard spells in the sideboard, postboard games get a lot better. I am excited to see if this deck actually becomes a tier one deck, at least it is a very interesting deck for team unified standard.
God-Pharaoh's Gift decks
There are many options for building a Gifts deck: The classic W/U Gifts deck, which tries to bring back Gifts with Refurbish, Mono Red Gifts, which has beatdown and uses Gate to the Afterlife to finish the game with Gifts and then there is a new, more controlish Simic version, which plays cards like Jadelight Ranger, Merfolk Branwalker, Champion of Wits, and Minister of Inquires to fill your graveyard with creatures and can finish a game quickly with a revived Cultivator of Blades. All of them share the same problem: Abrade. The flexible red removal spell is one of the most played cards in standard and basically every red deck is playing at least three copies in the maindeck. The rise of Heart of Kiran hurt God Pharaoh's Gift decks because people want to have answers for artifacts. Gifts decks have always faced punishment from other strong artifact decks and the high-demand for artifact hate, but then people moved their Abrades to the sideboard and eventually Grixis decks tended to even play 0 Abrades main deck and only had 1-2 in the sideboard. This saw an uptick in gifts decks and it's likely that the strength of the deck will end up being determined by the strength of other artifacts in the format.
Originally, I wanted to come up with a great decklist which could beat all of the top decks, but unfortunately the best decks are just too strong, and Standard is too balanced. My initial attempt was to build a creatureless Bant deck playing Gifts of Paradise and Hour of Promise for Green, since having a bunch of Mana is nice in a control deck. Teferi would work well with Gifts of Paradise and with Hour of Promise you could play 4 Ipnu Rivulet to win the control mirror. In the end the deck looked just like a worse version of W/U, but I might be wrong. It seems like we have to wait and see if the best players in the world can come up with something new at the upcoming Pro Tour. I think most pros will choose to pilot well-tuned versions of the top three decks and I can see Esper being stronger than W/U.
Thanks for reading
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