How to Attack Standard

Feature Article from Seth Manfield
Seth Manfield
7/19/2017 11:01:00 AM
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We are still very early in the game for the latest iteration of Standard – one notably missing Aetherworks Marvel. Many times, going into the Pro Tour directly following the release of the Pro Tour there is a clear best deck, or best two or three decks. Think Bant Company, Jeskai Copy Cat, and so on. The lack of that makes this Standard format is very exciting, as there are many viable strategies heading into the Pro Tour.

Looking at the cards that have impacted the format in Hour of Devastation, and how they have changed the format, the most significant so far have been removal spells like Abrade and Hour of Devastation, as well as big spells like Nicol Bolas, God-Pharaoh. Better removal typically has a way of slowing down the format, and favoring control. It should be no surprise how well Control decks have done early on, with Michael Hamilton taking down the Open with a Four Color list.

I was expecting two and three-color control decks, but Michael has gone one step further. There are enough good dual lands to put together a three-color mana base, though you do inevitably sacrifice a bit of consistency, and then the fourth color can be easily splashed. Having access to cycle lands is very valuable, as that is yet another way the control deck can start getting ahead on cards later on. There also really isn't much black here at all; the deck is primarily Jeskai with that splash for Nicol Bolas, God-Pharoah. The Aether Hubs, which you want regardless provide an easy way to get black mana, and the deck doesn't need many black sources because the card you are splashing costs seven mana.

The idea that control deck prosper as a result of more removal is supported when looking at this list. Being able to diversify your spells has real value, as it makes playing around a single card very difficult for the opponent. Michael has gone for Fumigate over Hour of Devastation, which is an intriguing choice. He does have Cast Out as a removal option for planeswalkers, but I still think that Hour of Devastation should be somewhere in the list. Supreme Will stands out as a flexible counter, and it seems that is a card blue control decks will universally want to be playing.

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This is a base Jeskai Control deck, and it is not the only deck incorporating Nicol Bolas, God-Pharaoh. The idea of splashing the powerful planeswalker is a popular one, as Aether Hub makes the idea easy. We are now seeing Blue-Red Control decks which can also simply jam a copy of the powerful planeswalker into the deck, something I expect to become very popular.

As I have touched on before, the slots for expensive spells in these sorts of decks are hotly contested, so I wouldn't expect there to ever be more than one Bolas main deck when a deck also has a playset of Torrential Gearhulks in it. This sort of Blue-Red Control deck is still what I believe is the most popular control deck in the format, though clearly there are many other directions control can go. When looking at this list w see Hour of Devastation standouts, including the namesake card itself which provides an easy answer to Gideon, Ally of Zendikar.

I have been keeping a close eye on the progression of Mardu Vehicles since many thought it would be the default top deck in Standard, but it hasn't been putting up big results. I believe a large reason for that is the removal in Hour of Devastation specifically being well-situated at dealing with cards like Heart of Kiran and Gideon, Ally of Zendikar. So, with a deck like Mardu Vehicles on the decline, the format is becoming more card advantage-oriented, something that also hurts Zombies as players include more sweepers.

Attacking Control

What is the best way to attack the control decks? White-Blue Monument was likely the overall best-performing deck of the weekend, and a large part of the reason is its ability to contend with the slower decks and play a grindy game. Jonathan Rosum ended up finishing as the runner-up in the Open with the deck.

These midrange creature decks are what you want against control. Oketra's Monument itself is great if you can get it into play and it doesn't get destroyed by Abrade. Cloudblazer and Thraben Inspector have built-in card advantage, which is what this deck wants against the slower matchups, while Selfless Spirit provides protection against sweepers. Of course, blue also has access to counters, and being able to stop a Torrential Gearhulk with Metallic Rebuke can be a huge turning point in the game. White-Blue Monument can get run over by the fastest decks, like Mardu Vehicles, but that may not be a huge worry right now.

White-Blue Monument is the deck many players are defaulting to right now. This isn't because the format is broken or anything, but the deck is pretty straightforward, and similar to the White-Blue Flash decks we have seen in the past. The copies of Dusk // Dawn may seem out of place, but the card is pretty important. Having a sweeper is necessary against the Black-Green Energy and Zombie decks but you also can't afford to play a dead card against control. Dusk // Dawn is both a late-game value option and a way to main deck a sweeper in a deck full of creatures. All of the creatures have power two or less, which make both halves of Dusk // Dawn at their best.

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White-Blue Monument is capable of executing many different gameplans, as we see Angel of Sanctions out of the sideboard as another dynamic threat, since embalm creatures are tough to permanently answer. The deck is full of sticky, pesky, annoying creatures, which is why it can go long with the slowest of decks.

Going for Broke

There is another archetype though that I believe can be tuned to fight both Control and White-Blue Monument, and it involves going for broke. When a format seems to be slowing down, sometimes playing a deck that looks bad on paper but is super aggressive is the way to go.

This Mono-Red Aggro deck really is a breath of fresh air. Sure, we have been playing with Mono-Black Zombies in Standard, but it has been a while since we have had a good Mono-Red Aggro deck in the format. The deck has an actual direct damage element, coming mainly from the manabase. Unlike a typical red deck, we are not talking about 24 basic Mountains - there are Deserts here instead. Ramunap Ruins can close out the game, and Sunscorched Desert plays a role of another Desert that can be thrown at the opponent's face, as well as dealing some damage when it comes into play itself. All of a sudden we are talking about a land capable of Lava Spiking the opponent, and that provides important reach.

Playing some non-red producing lands is okay, as there are still plenty of red lands so that you consistently have at least one to start the game. This deck wants to be curving out and trying to deal as much early damage as possible before the opponent is able to set up. Soul-Scar Mage and Falkenrath Gorger may not be the best one-drops ever, but you need something to play in that mana slot. There aren't that many non-creature spells for Soul-Scar Mage and there aren't other Vampires to synergize with Falkenrath Gorger, but both can get the job done when you are able to follow them up with more high-impact creatures.

Many of the creatures in the deck do have haste, which has real value when you are trying to figure out how to deal the opponent 20 as quickly as possible. A hit coming out of Hour of Devastation is Earthshaker Khenra, another solid aggressive creature than can stop other cheap creatures from blocking, which does come up. When Earthshaker Khenra gets eternalized, being able to stop a big creature from blocking is nice. This card has utility both early and late, and has been a solid addition.

This deck isn't purely cheap creatures, as there is an Eldrazi theme as well. I will say I'm a bit surprised that Jonathan hasn't included any Aether Hubs to have access to another colorless source for the Eldrazi creatures. Sometimes people forget about cards like Thought-Knot Seer and Reality Smasher being in Standard because of how much more they are played in Modern. With that said, they have been proven to be very powerful if you can cast them, and mono-colored decks can afford to play more colorless sources to do that.

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I doubt we will see this exact list see a ton of play, but maybe updating the mana base with some Aether Hubs and tightening up some of the numbers would be enough to push this strategy to the next level. Just because we haven't seen an aggro deck like this for a while doesn't mean it isn't good enough to compete.

Emerging from the Shadows

We are seeing both new decks as well as old strategies come back to life. Zan Syed put together an impressive showing with his Four-Color Emerge build.

Prized Amalgam is the type of card that is better the slower the format is due to how incredibly difficult it is to deal with, and it synergizes very nicely with emerge creatures like Elder Deep-Fiend. This is a deck we used to see a lot of in the days of Bant Company, and a deck like this couldn't survive in an Aetherworks Marvel oriented format, but now it makes sense it could be good again.

Strategic Planning and Champion of Wits are new additions to this deck, both of which make a lot of sense here. Champion of Wits does pretty much everything the deck could possibly ask for. Looting means you have a good way to put Kozilek's Return and Prized Amalgam in the graveyard, and Strategic Planning similarly also helps fill the graveyard. Champion of Wits both is a good card to sacrifice to Elder Deep-Fiend, and when you are able to eternalize it, it brings back Prized Amalgam as well. This is an example of a deck that really wants to be playing against slower decks, and but can also fall back on Kozilek's Return as a sweeper against aggro.

I'm happy to see the Mono-Red Aggro deck doing well because mostly the midrange and control decks have been performing the best so far. Combo has been virtually non-existent. It is nice to see various Hour of Devastation cards getting to see play, while the power level of the set isn't so high that it creates a deck that is too good compared to the other archetypes. In short, Standard is in a good spot right now.

Thanks for reading,
Seth Manfield




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