The 11 Best Standard Decks

Feature Article from Craig Wescoe
Craig Wescoe
7/28/2017 11:01:00 AM
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By the time you're reading this, Pro Tour Hour of Devastation will already be underway and you'll have access to the data about the exact numbers of the metagame. So the rankings may get adjusted a bit, but the main point of the article is to walk you through the ins and outs of all the top decks in Standard. So if you're looking to gain a deeper understanding of the key decks in the format and how they work, that's the topic at hand today. I've played against every deck in this article multiple times in my Pro Tour testing and have learned a lot from it. So today I'm sharing with you what I've learned about each deck, including how each strategy operates as well as what works and what doesn't work against them.

In order from top to bottom, here are what I take to be the best decks in Standard.

- Mono-Red Aggro
- White-Blue Monument
- Red-Green Eldrazi Ramp
- Temur/x Energy Ramp
- Mardu Vehicles
- Blue-Red/x Control
- Zombies
- Red-Green Pummeler
- Blue-Red Prowess
- Black-Green Constrictor

Honorable Mention: God-Pharaoh's Gift

I have to give a shout-out to the most creative deck in the format. This deck took me by surprise when I first played against it on Magic Online last week. It crushed me and impressed me quite a bit. I since played against it a few more times and things got a bit easier once I knew what's happening but it's still a very formidable strategy.

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The goal of the deck is to get God-Pharaoh's Gift onto the board and start pumping out monsters from the graveyard. It can do this in three different ways. The first is to get six creatures into the graveyard and activate Gate to the Afterlife. The second is to get God-Pharaoh's Gift into the graveyard and target it with Refurbish. The third is to hard-cast the card for seven mana. The deck is a lot more consistent than I would have imagined if looking at it for the first time on paper without seeing it in action.

Cataclysmic Gearhulk and Angel of Invention buy the deck a lot of time while Champion of Wits and Minister of Inquiries fill up the graveyard quickly for Gate to the Afterlife. Gate also helps fuel itself by looting every time a creature dies. And the creatures in the deck are all highly expendable, so there is lots of chump blocking and trading in combat at every opportunity. Mausoleum Wanderer also gives the deck a small amount of interaction with disruptive spells. I've seen some versions run Wharf Infiltrator over Strategic Planning and I like this change since the deck requires a critical mass of creatures for Gate to the Afterlife, especially when self-milling off Minister of Inquiries to set it up. Negate and Abrade are not cards I want to face with this deck, but it packs four copies of Dispel in the sideboard, likely for those cards. A lot of people will write this deck off as a joke, but I would not be at all surprised if it Top 8s the Pro Tour or wins a Grand Prix in the coming months. I can't speak for its positioning in the metagame since I haven't run it through the gauntlet yet, but the deck is internally consistent and definitely a real deck.

#10 Black-Green Constrictor

The biggest addition from Hour of Devastation to this archetype is Dreamstealer. A single pump spell on a Dreamstealer will amount to a huge hit to the opponent's hand. Remember Mind Twist? That's basically what's going on here. We all know what it's like using Verdurous Gearhulk to put counters on Walking Ballista, but now there is an even more threatening target in Dreamstealer. Whatever plan you were sculpting with the cards in your hand can go straight in the garbage because you just got hit by a 5/6 menace creature that made you discard five cards! Let's hope that Cast Out is sitting on top of your library just to give you a chance to climb back into the game.

This deck looks like it suffers from the same problem most decks suffer from though, namely getting hit by fast red creatures. Blocking is not an effective plan against that deck, but unfortunately beyond the four copies of Fatal Push and the two copies of Grasp of Darkness, the only game play the deck is capable of is to block. You can potentially buy yourself some time with Walking Ballista too, but really I expect Aethersphere Harvester and maybe Kallitas, Traitor of Ghet to have to move into the main deck in order to give the deck a better shot at beating the mono-red menace.

#9 Blue-Red Prowess

Mono-Red Aggro is much more creature-centric supplemented by burn spells whereas this deck is burn-centric supplemented by creature spells. Prowess can trigger several times in a turn in this deck and Fevered Visions keeps the cards coming, in addition to doing a one-sided Sulfuric Vortex impression of two points a turn to the opponent. This is a deck that I've played against a lot more on MTGO than I've seen in paper tournaments. I don't know whether this means the deck is poised to take off in paper or whether it means there are just a handful of dedicated izzet prowess pilots who keep trying to make the deck work and it's not quite there yet. Either way, this is not a deck that is on many people's radars. Unfortunately, I don't think this obscurity actually benefits the deck much though since a lot of the answers being played for red (life gain, cheap spells) are also good against this deck. Likewise, people are packing Fragmentize for Oketra's Monument which conveniently kills Fevered Visions. If enough people lean on Abrade instead of Fragmentize, Authority of the Consuls instead of Oketra's Last Mercy, and slower decks instead of aggro, then this deck could end up being the solution to the metagame.

8 Red-Green Pummeler

Nothing was really gained from Hour of Devastation for this archetype but for some reason it has been taking off in popularity. Maybe it has something to do with the banning of Aetherworks Marvel? The Temur/x energy ramp decks are more midrange energy whereas this one is more all-in combo energy. The goal is to deal 20 with Electrostatic Pummeler and it is surprisingly pretty easy for this deck to do that. It plays the most efficient pump spells in the format (Invigorating Rampage, Larger Than Life and Blossoming Defense) and also has lots of energy producers to be able to activate the Pummeler's ability multiple times after targeting it with a pump spell. Blossoming Defense can also protect it from removal while Fling can make it such that it doesn't have to deal the full 20 in combat. Bristling Hydra, Voltaic Brawler and Longtusk Cub are basically the backup plans. My favorite part about this deck is how high the number can go when everything comes together. It's not that uncommon to deal 56 or 112 damage in a single Electrostatic Pummeler attack!

#7 Zombies

This deck really only gained Ifnir Deadlands from Hour of Devastation, but it's the returning champion from Pro Tour Amonkhet and is still a force to be reckoned with. Its creatures are fairly resilient, but I suspect that it will struggle a lot with Mono-Red Aggro. Red decks have efficient removal spells and pressure the opponent's life total hard. Both of these axes of attack are hard for Zombies to Overcome since they want to play a slower game and also to use their life total as a resource to draw cards off Cryptbreaker.

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The Cryptbreaker is unlikely to even live long enough to make that part of the game plan relevant, though. Against decks that try to play a slower game, I like Zombies. Their removal spells are cheap and efficient and can gain card advantage through Dark Salvation. Maybe a version running four Fatal Pushes and four Grasps of Darkness can compete against the Ahn-Crop Crashers and Earthshaker Khenras of the world? Maybe main deck Kalitas, Tratior of Ghet is the answer? I'm not sure, but if someone more committed to Swamps sets their mind to it, I don't doubt that the red matchup can be solved.

#6 Blue-Red/x Control

It's pretty easy to splash Nicol Bolas, God-Pharaoh in this deck, so I expect most versions to do that. It's essentially the same Blue-Red Control deck that existed prior to the new set. It gained a few new tools though, most notably Abrade, Supreme Will, and Hour of Devastation. Supreme Will enables the deck to find its key sweepers or Torrential Gearhulks faster and more reliably while also acting as countermagic against matchups where you want additional counters. Abrade gives the deck a convenient main deck answer to Oketra's Monument and Heart of Kiran as well as opposing Torrential Gearhulks. With the amount of card access in the deck in addition to four copies of Torrential Gearhulk, the two copies of Abrade feel more like four copies. On paper this deck looks like it matches up well against any deck, but in practice it can find itself stuck with a hand of card draw spells and not enough time to deploy them all. Or the reverse can happen, being flooded with removal spells but none of which answers the particular threat the opponent has. For instance, no amount of Magma Sprays, Abrades, or Harnessed Lightning will answer an Ulamog, the Ceaseless Hunger. It does have the advantage of making the opponent's removal spells largely irrelevant in game one and then has the ability to side into creatures for the next games, causing the opponent to have to play a bit of a guessing game as to how to sideboard against it.

#5 Mardu Vehicles

Mardu Vehicles was the top dog six months ago, but not anymore. It has trouble handling decks that go underneath it, which is not a great place to be given the rise of Mono-Red. It's still a powerful strategy though and it has the tools to adapt, at least somewhat. Its aggressive draws can hit very hard, curving out with Toolcraft Exemplar into Heart of Kiran or Scrapheap Scrounger and following it up with removal spells such as Fatal Push or Unlicensed Disintegration. It also has reach with Gideon, Ally of Zendikar and Archangel Avacyn. It's hard to sideboard against this deck because you never know whether they'll leave in their artifact-heavy aggro plan or side out all their artifacts and aggressive cards in favor of a controlling package that wins with planeswalkers. In addition to red being a tough matchup, the printing of Abrade also hurt this deck since it kills Heart of Kiran or Toolcraft Exemplar. If the red matchup can get solved, I can see this deck once again taking center stage. Otherwise I see it getting outclassed by the decks listed above it.

#4 Temur/x Energy Ramp

Some of these lists are straight Temur whereas others splash white and/or black. It's not that hard to splash the fourth and fifth colors, so it's really more a question of how big you want to go with your high end. Some go all the way up to Nicol Bolas, God-Pharaoh while others stay lower to the ground and max out at Glorybringer. It pressures the opponent with a curve of creatures that hit hard and the removal spells are efficient (Abrade, Harnessed Lightning, Magma Spray). It can side into Negates and Tireless Trackers or Radiant Flames and more Magma Sprays depending on whether it needs to be the more controlling deck in the matchup or the deck that wins with tempo backed by a few counters. Know which role you are in each matchup to know which direction to go in post-board games. The key question to ask is how good Radiant Flames is in the matchup. If good, side into that and Magma Spray. If bad, side into Negate and Tireless Trackers. It's not a perfect formula, but works in most cases.

#3 Red-Green Eldrazi Ramp

Hour of Promise and the new colored Desert lands are what really allowed this deck to come together. The Deserts (Hashep Oasis and Ramunap Ruins) allow the deck to play as a ramp deck that can also support the colorless Eldrazi creatures such as Thought-Knot Seer, Matter Reshaper, and Reality Smasher. Hour of Promise is basically the new Aetherworks Marvel in that it finds two copies of Shrine of the Forsaken Gods to enable Ulamog, the Ceaseless Hunger to be cast the following turn. The downside is that Ulamog doesn't come down until the following turn, but the upside is that you're not spinning a wheel that often lands on Woodweaver's Puzzleknot instead of Ulamog. The other upside is that Hour of Promise is legal in Standard whereas Aetherworks Marvel is not. The deck also gained Hour of Devastation to compliment Sweltering Suns and Kozilek's Return as its sweepers. It also gained Abrade as an efficient removal spell that can hit cards like Oketra's Monument and Heart of Kiran. Not many people are expecting to face this deck, so I think it is poised to take some unsuspecting players by surprise. It is actually a very good deck. Fighting through counters can be a challenge, though.

#2 White-Blue Monument

This deck looked like it was taking over as the top deck until Mono-Red blazed past it. The centerpiece of this strategy is Oketra's Monument. Once the monument is active, it plays creature after creature at a reduced cost, generating clues via Bygone Bishop, and then sacrificing the clues to draw more creatures to keep the engine running. Selfless Spirit protects the team from about half the sweepers in the format, Cloudblazer acts as a mini card draw spell, and Hanweir Malitia Captain is a large body that produces more tokens and is generally easy to transform once you have monument going. Spell Queller and Metallic Rebuke counter a key card from the opponent or allow you time to tempo the opponent out.

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Dusk // Dawn is the sweeper spell of choice for this deck because it doesn't kill any of their own creatures and it stops all the creatures that would be problematic for the deck since the amount of flying and token production dominates any small creature games. Generally the two ways to combat this strategy are to either (1) take them off monument via Abrade, Fragmentize, Manglehorn, Dissenter's Deliverance, or Negate, or (2) go underneath them, forcing them to block with their creatures prematurely since they really don't function without having a critical mass of creatures on board – usually the number four for Hanweir Militia Captain to transform. By Force is especially potent against them since it can efficiently kill their Monument along with all their clues in one swoop.

#1 Mono-Red

This is definitely the deck to beat in Standard right now. All the mono-red decks play out about the same way, casting some cheap creatures, many of which have haste, and either burning out your creatures or making them unable to block. The deck does a lot of damage quickly and it has a surprising amount of resiliency. Earthshaker Khenra is a fast, on-curve creature that also threatens to be a huge swing if you flood out and get to six mana to eternalize him. Hazoret the Fervent hits hard and also turns every card you draw into at least a shock. Bomat Courier gets in for some early damage before refilling your hand in the midgame. Shock, Incendiary Flow, Abrade, and whatever other burn spells are being played (Magma Spray, Collective Defiance, etc.) are efficient ways to clear out blockers in order to get your creatures through in combat. Between Earthshaker Khenra and Ahn-Crop Crasher, blocking is quite difficult even if your creature is large enough to survive a burn spell. Some versions also run Cartouche of Zeal, with or without Trial of Zeal. Relying on blockers is not a winning game plan against this deck. You must kill their creatures with spells, gain life, or somehow do something more powerful.

End Note

These ten 11 decks don't comprise the entire metagame, but they do comprise most of it. The rankings might not be exact as there is always some amount of speculation and unpredictability in the metagame, especially for a Pro Tour, but I think it paints a pretty accurate picture of the metagame going into the Pro Tour and should give you a healthy amount of insight into what each strategy is doing and what its strengths and weaknesses are. I could potentially see some fringe strategies such as White-Black Tokens, Blue-Red Emerge, or one of the non-Zombie tribal strategies (Cats, Humans, etc.) potentially carving out a spot in the metagame – or maybe someone will come up with something inventive and unforeseen. And depending on how I do at the Pro Tour, who knows, perhaps Mono-White will rise above them all!

- Craig Wescoe




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