The newest Magic core set, M14, has made its initial impact on Standard. The set has been legal for a few weeks now, and that has been plenty of time for players to adapt and start utilizing the newest cards. The impact has been far and wide across the metagame. M14 has provided new cards to top archetypes, spawned new archetypes, and given a breathe of new life to older archetypes. Some of the best and most powerful M14 cards are right at home in Standard. This past weekend there was a lot of Magic played, including some high-profile Standard events. Nothing is more exciting than huge events in a fresh format, and I continue to believe that there is no better proving ground for a Magic deck. The decks that rise to the top are proven winners, and therefore these decks are worth studying for fun and profit. These decklists provide a great picture of where Standard was coming from, what Standard is currently, and where Standard is going moving forward. Standard will not rotate for another couple of months, so this M14 Standard has plenty of life to it and plenty of room to evolve.
To start off the action, there was a Standard Grand Prix held in Calgary, Canada. The champion after it all was Alexander Hayne, who adds another trophy to his mantle. His win was with American Midrange, an archetype that has seen a recent resurgence in popularity and success in this new M14 metagame. The metagame has turned away from one warped around Junk Rites to one warped around small token and creature decks and their foil, Jund. The removal laden American Midrange deck is quite potent against the small creatures that flood the format, while the countermagic and powerful flash interactions are tough for Jund to deal with.
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While Hayne did not utilize any maindeck M14 cards beyond a lone Mutavault, he has a lot to thank the set for. The set helped usher in the metagame change that pushed former king, Junk Rites, to the sidelines. M14 star Scavenging Ooze has been a major player in this shift. Scavenging Ooze is quite powerful against most opponents, making it a great maindeck card, but something that makes the graveyard aspect of Junk Rites a real liability. Junk Rites decks proved to be tough for the UWR deck, which struggled with the endless threats and card advantage. With Junk Rites cleared away, the metagame conditions are perfect for Sphinx's Revelation to shine.
Ratchet Bomb in Hayne's sideboard is the big innovation from M14. It provides a cheap, clean, and powerful answer to the card advantage creatures and tokens that give the deck fits. Cards like Voice of Resurgence and Lingering Souls are swiftly answered by Ratchet Bomb. It is useful against rush aggro decks like Naya Blitz and Zombies as well, making Ratchet Bomb a useful catch-all in a metagame filled with creature decks of all varieties. It also seems particularly useful against the elf ramp deck that has been gaining popularity, a deck I will share later in this article. In a world where the major threats are so cheap, Ratchet Bomb will shine.
Also championing American Midrange this past weekend were none other than Gerry Thompson and Dave Shiels. Both of these players piloted the deck into the Top 8 of the StarCityGames Invitational. They both fell by the semifinals, but their pair of Top 8 finishes adds to the body of evidence that American Midrange is a new top-dog in the M14 Standard metagame.
Maindeck Ratchet Bomb in Gerry's deck is not surprising, and seeing such a knowledgeable Standard player use the card make me believe that it very well should be in the American Midrange main deck in this metagame. It is even great against Jund, where it does a lot of work. In addition to killing Beast and Wolf tokens, it can even kill a flipped Huntmaster of the Fells, which has a converted cost of zero. It also serves as a proactive answer to Liliana of the Veil and Garruk, Primal Hunter, the two Jund planeswalkers that typically give the American Midrange deck problems.
Another card worth looking at is Essence Scatter. The card has always been great, but Cavern of Souls has been such an ever-present part of the Standard metagame that players have rightfully shied away from counterspells, the narrow Essence Scatter in particular. Things have seemed to change, and with Cavern of Souls being played in fewer and fewer numbers, Essence Scatter is incredible. Standard players are sometimes quick to forget how effective Counterspells can be, and Gerry has reminded them. I would play Essence Scatter in the future until people adapt and move back to Cavern of Souls. Once that card rotates along with Innistrad block this fall, all bets are off.
One archetype I must share is Golgari Control. I've seen this deck lurking about a little bit in my local Standard scene, along with seeing the occasional online list, but have not seen anything conclusive. A pair of Top 8s in two different tournaments this weekend speak of great potential.
Jeff Hoogland at the SCG Invitational and Trent Douglas in Calgary both made the Top 8 of their respective events with Golgari Control. This deck eschews the red of the traditional Jund builds in favor of a consistent Golgari manabase.
Both players roughly agree on their creatures, both featuring the M14 Scavenging Ooze and Lifebane Zombie. This pair of creatures pair as hateful creatures and incredible threats against the metagame. The card advantage aspect of Lifebane Zombie extends far, and it does a lot of work against decks including Junk Rites, Junk Aristocrats, Jund, Elf Ramp, and even Restoration Angel from American Midrange. The 3/1 evasive body is surprisingly fast clock, and paired with Scavenging Ooze makes this deck much more midrange than the traditional Jund control deck. Thragtusk plays a starring role in the deck as it does in every deck that plays it. This deck pushes Thragtusk further with Disciple of Bolas, a pretty suitable Sphinx's Revelation proxy for this deck.
Desecration Demon is a surprising card, but it is quite large and powerful for the cost, and is capable of ending a game quite quickly. It is the sort of threat that many decks are simply unprepared to deal with effectively, and it dodges most targeted removal in the format.
The players also agree on a package of planeswalkers, three Liliana of the Veil and a singleton Vraska, the Unseen. Liliana of the Veil is a completely proven entity and makes a lot of sense in this heavy black deck, so I would be more surprised if it wasn't in this deck. I haven't much experience with Vraska, the Unseen, but it is obviously quite powerful, and it would seem the perfect fit in this Golgari deck that is well-equipped to protect it.
The sideboards are full of the typical Jund-style fair, including card advantage and a bunch of removal and specific hate cards. Curse of Death's Hold stands out to me as a strong choice for the sideboard. A pair of Primeval Bounty in Trent's sideboard is pretty exciting as a haymaker, while Hoogland turned to the powerful Deadbridge Chant. It is hard to say whether or not this is better or worse than Jund, but I'd start by figuring out how it is different. It lacks the cheap removal of Pillar of Flame, and the bomb of Bonfire of the Damned, but the deck operates in much the same way as Jund. A powerful choice moving forward, or at least something to take notice of.
Speaking of Jund, it was another big winner this weekend. It took the trophy outright at the Invitational, and put two people into the top of Calgary.
The winning list was the typical Jund deck post M14, complete with Scavenging Ooze. In Jund it serves as something of a Tarmogoyf creature. It can quickly reach a large size, allowing it to stonewall attackers or fight through opposing blockers. The high removal count, plus a high creature count of its own, allows Jund to utilize Scavenging Ooze and further punish opposing decks. It is exactly what the deck needed, a cheap card that interacts with the opponent. In Calgary, Finalist Stephane Gerard pushed the envelope even further.
A set of Lifebane Zombie, which replace the typical Farseek, give Jund yet an additional early way to interact with the opponent. As a 3/1 evasive creature, this card gives the Jund a critical mass of creatures, and allows it to destroy the opponent much more quickly. It makes the deck closer to aggro-rock and the traditional Bloodbraid Elf Jund deck. Lifebane Zombie is also a way to discard opposing threats and a potential source of card advantage. Snagging something like a Thragtusk is a proactive way to deal with otherwise problem cards. Gerard claimed a 4-1 record in the mirror match on the weekend, and I can't help but wonder how much of that success was on the back of Lifebane Zombie. The lack of Farseek is troubling, but overall the change may make the deck a more consistent, aggressive package.
Also present in the Top 8s this weekend were some of the usual Standard fare. Bant Auras reaching the elimination rounds of each event help prove that the deck is still a real Standard player.
Bant Auras was not left out of the celebration that is M14. Gladecover Scout makes the deck more consistent and even faster than before. I played FNM this past weekend, and it was a dominant force in the local metagame as well.
Even Junk Aristocrats and Junk Rites itself made the Top 8 of the invitational, so any rumors of their demise have been erroneous.
The most exciting of these decks is the monored build by Adam Laforest. This deck is a very different animal compared to the Stromkirk Noble and Lightning Mauler fueled decks that have been the face of Monored in Standard; this deck is much closer to a Big Red style midrange deck. Rather than rely on the cheapest, fastest, more aggressive red cards, this deck turns to the most powerful. Twenty five land is the best place to start, and the high number ensures plenty of mana to hit the top end of Thundermaw Hellkite. A playset of Mutavault gives the deck a lot of play and ability to force through damage at opportune times, and they can act as a form of card advantage by giving value to lands. Mutavault is potent in the early game, where it can slip in for two on a clear board, and they serve to finish off an opponent after the red deck has established control in the late game.
Chandra's Phoenix was M14's gift to this monored deck. Chandra's Phoenix operates as a consistent source of evasive damage, as well as a source of card advantage. Chandra's Phoenix is difficult, if not impossible, for most opponents to deal with, and gives this Big Red deck even more power and inevitability. Jund does have Scavenging Ooze, and Pillar of Flame helps stem the bleeding, but the card is still quite good when used properly.
Bonfire of Damned is the biggest telltale that this is a different breed of red deck. The deck seeks to control opposing creatures with removal more than it seeks to burn them out, although the burn serves that purpose in the end game. Bonfire of the Damned is always incredible when miracled, but it also serves as a fine sweeper when cast from the hand. Bonfire of the Damned gives this deck a high power level that need not be enjoyed solely by Jund.
The most exciting card in this entire deck I saved for last, but it almost seems like the rest of the deck was built around it. A full four-card, maindeck playset of Burning Earth is potent against nearly every opponent in the metagame. Since this deck plays no nonbasics beyond Mutavault, it is free to tap mana at will, never feeling the pain of Burning Earth. Opponents will be forced into a painful mana hell, and will quickly run out of the life necessary to cast spells. The high burn count and aggressive creatures of the red deck only make the problem worse for the opponent. The card typically destroys decks like Jund and American Midrange, but Burning Earth is capable of shutting out nearly any opponent. Even the aggressive decks in the format turn to greedy manabases supported by nonbasics, so they too are prey to Burning Earth. This deck proves that the enchantment is much more than Manabarbs.
The last deck I would like to share was piloted by Huey Jensen to the finals of a SCG Open at the Invitational. This is the finest example of an Elf Ramp in Standard I've seen thus far.
A full four Kalonian Hydra and Wolfir Silverheart are as hilarious as they are scary. This deck is headlined by a playset of Garruk, Caller of Beasts, along with the full amount of mana acceleration creatures to support it. The turn towards a white splash for Gavony Township makes a lot of sense, and is relatively free given the mana, but a full playset of Gavony Township speaks to how powerful it really is. A rush of ramp creatures paired with Gavony Township is a plan in itself, and a great way to win a game.
Standard seems to be more diverse than before. M14 has brought about new archetypes and revivals in old ones. There is an archetype for everybody, and these archetypes are fully customizable. The next couple months of Standard are set to be filled with fun Magic, while M14 will continue to provide exciting cards for the coming year. I am still waiting for Young Pyromancer to take down a Standard trophy. What M14 cards will rise to the top next week?
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