Three Exciting Standard Decks
While thirteen of the Top 32 Standard decks at GP Pittsburgh included the mighty Goblin Chainwhirler, there’s still innovation to be found. Multiple decks only few people had on their radar made a splash this weekend including an old fan favorite.
Standard didn’t have a great season. When players signed up for Grand Prix Birmingham in May, R/B decks were the talk of the weekend: Karn, Scion of Urza and Chandra, Torch of Defiance crewing Heart of Kiran backed up by efficient removal made up a majority of the strategies played there and even took down the tournament. While over the course of the Pro Tour and multiple other Standard events, Karns and Chandras have been replaced by other four drops that are less of a liability against hasty attackers, most of the deck (and the Format) stayed the same. That’s why I wanted to take the time to highlight some of the more interesting decks played to great success in the Grand Prix this weekend.
#1: White-Blue Walkers
White-Blue Walkers by Tyler Hill
|2Arch of Orazca||4Walking Ballista||2Settle the Wreckage|
|1Field of Ruin||1Fumigate|
|4Glacial Fortress||1Authority of the Consuls|
|4Irrigated Farmland||4Cast Out|
|1Island||4History of Benalia|
|3Zhalfirin Void||4Seal Away|
|3Gideon of the Trials|
|4Karn, Scion of Urza|
|4Teferi, Hero of Dominaria|
|3Heart of Kiran|
|1Authority of the Consuls||1Essence Scatter||1Forsake the Worldly|
|3Knight of Grace||1Lyra Dawnbringer||2Negate|
|3Treasure Map / Treasure Cove|
Tyler Hill piloted this list to an ever so close finish of 12-2-1, finishing 9th needing an additional 1% in tie-breakers to top8.
In the past few months, we saw some Blue-White decks having good runs in tournaments, most of them being heavy control decks, utilizing the power of Teferi, Hero of Dominaria to the maximum by keeping up counterspells on the opponent’s turn. This deck less so: With 11 Planeswalkers, a playset of each History of Benalia and Walking Ballista, it aims to tap out on its main phase as often as possible. As a result, Fumigate is weaker than in the traditional control version but Settle the Wreckage still carries the same punch to it, getting rid of all your opponent’s attackers while keeping your own board intact.
Tapping out on your own turn makes counterspells a lot weaker, which is the obvious reason this deck doesn’t utilize them in the maindeck and only brings them in against Control out of the board. Instead, it takes on the fair fight and removes opposing threats with enchantments like Seal Away or Cast Out even going as far as including a single Ixalan’s Binding in the 75, a card that hasn’t seen too much play yet, due to it being sorcery speed.
So how can this hold up against the red madness? A card that those decks struggle a lot to answer is History of Benalia. The tokens having two toughness makes them resilient to the 3/3 first striker’s ETB trigger, so red mages usually have to spend two spells taking out the Knights. As additional early game, we also have Walking Ballista, famous for trading with Bomat Courier or Earthshaker Khenra.
Once we get into the midgame, Red brings the big guns: Hazoret, the Fervent and Rekindling Phoenix are very potent threats, but luckily both require an answer that exiles them, which we have access to by playing white: 11 answers in the main deck makes it so any Phoenix shouldn’t stick around for very long.
So, while the fight against red still won’t be easy, this deck has all the tools to go up against it and come out ahead!
#2 Abzan Sagas
Abzan Sagas by Bolun Zhang
|4Concealed Courtyard||2Knight of Grace||4Baffling End|
|1Evolving Wilds||2Knight of Malice||4History of Benalia|
|1Forest||1Walking Ballista||3Ixalan's Binding|
|4Isolated Chapel||4The Eldest Reborn|
|4Scattered Groves||4Fatal Push|
|2Sunpetal Grove||3Vraska's Contempt|
|5Swamp||3Karn, Scion of Urza|
|2Woodland Cemetery||2Vraska, Relic Seeker|
|1Ravenous Chupacabra||4Ruin Raider|
This deck, also from GP Pittsburgh, shares a lot of core concepts with the previously discussed Blue-White list. History of Benalia and Karn are two of the Value engines and Vraska, Relic Seeker feels like a Green-Black Teferi. For the early game, the pair of Knight of Malice and Knight of Grace are holding the ground with Fatal Push and Walking Ballista to back them up.
This list however has completely given up on playing during the opponent’s turn: between Baffling End, Thopter Arrest and Ixalan’s Binding, there is no Cast Out or Seal Away to be seen, giving up on Cycling and Flash but instead reaping the rewards of the cheaper Thopter Arrest and Ixalan’s Binding binding cards in your opponent’s hand.
To round things out, The Eldest Reborn is a very strong card if you live long enough to see the Saga unfold. Your small removal doesn’t only keep you alive, it also makes it so your opponent will often not have a choice on what creature to sacrifice, ideally you can hit their Hazoret or Teferi.
Once again, we see how important it is to exile opposing creatures instead of only putting them into the graveyard. Baffling End prevents opposing Earthshaker Khenras from being eternalized later on, Vraska’s Contempt and all the other white Enchantments answer Rekindling Phoenix and Hazoret. Unfortunately, this makes your reanimation mode on The Eldest Reborn a bit weaker but between them sacrificing a creature earlier, Fatal Push and Vraska, there will be some juicy target to get onto your side of the battlefield.
Overall, I love the idea of dropping Settle the Wreckage and Cast Out to move more into a theme of playing a good creature/planeswalker/saga when you don’t have to answer an immediate threat. The Eldest Reborn is one of the strongest answers you can tap out for currently and it is just enough payoff to do so every turn.
#3 Blue-White Gift
Blue-White Gift by Yuuki Ichikawa
|11Field of Ruin||4Angel of Invention||2Cast Out|
|4Glacial Fortress||4Champion of Wits||2Search for Azcanta / Azcanta, the Sunken Ruin|
|2Ipnu Rivulet||4Minister of Inquiries||4God-Pharaoh's Gift|
|4Irrigated Farmland||2Sunscourge Champion||4Chart a Course|
|2Authority of the Consuls||2Fairgrounds Warden||1Fumigate|
|2Jace's Defeat||2Lyra Dawnbringer||3Negate|
|1Search for Azcanta / Azcanta, the Sunken Ruin||2Teferi, Hero of Dominaria|
Let’s move on to the most exciting deck of the weekend. God-Pharaoh’s Gift has placed two high profile players into the top8 at GP Pittsburgh and GP Singapore.
Jack Kiefer played a decklist that could’ve been straight out of 2017 into the semifinals and only lost to an Abrade off a one-card Bomat Courier, while Yuuki Ichikawa won the Trophie at GP Singapore with a Sideboard that enables him to become somewhat of a White-Blue Control deck postboard bringing in Teferi and up to five counterspells against other slow decks.
Unlike other decks that utilize Gate to the Afterlife, this Blue-White version only gets a Gift into play before turn seven by using Refurbish, hitting with a 6/6 Angel of Invention as early as turn four! To get the big haymakers into the yard, Champion of Wits and Minister of Inquiries are used across all Gift decks, the Blue-White decks also play Strategic Planning and Chart a Course to achieve a huge Graveyard.
While Abrade is a big problem when going for an all-in turn four God-Pharaoh’s Gift, you can actually stem the bleeding with Sunscourge Champion and Walking Ballista, since curving into an Angel of Invention oftentimes is too much for a red deck to overcome, since Servo Tokens chump Hazoret very nicely and as soon as you reach the lategame with an active Gift in play, you should be golden.
Many players, myself included, had written GPG off as a deck that loses to red because of the aggression paired with Abrade but Kiefer and Ichikawa proved all of them wrong, piloting very similar 60 cards to great finishes. If you have a Standard event coming up and want to create some 4/4 Zombie Tokens with haste, I can only recommend playing this masterpiece (as opposed to all the other decks creating 4/4 Zombie Tokens with Haste).
So, while Red decks are currently still the driving force behind Standard, forcing players to answer specific threats, the knowledge of what’s coming gives players the ability to adjust their strategies for exactly that, shown best by the removal suite of our first two decklists today. These decks performing well in the field of mono Red give me hope that you don’t have to play 3/3 First Strike creatures to do well in this current iteration of Standard.
Have you got more spicy Standard brews that might currently be overlooked? Or do you stick with the red guns? Either way, I wish you the best of luck on your journey into Standard!
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