Standard Decks Waiting to Break Out

Feature Article from Seth Manfield
Seth Manfield
10/20/2017 11:02:00 AM
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How many decks are in the Standard format right now? We know about Temur Energy and other energy variants; Ramunap Red and Blue-Black Control are major players as well.

But what about other decks? How deep does the format go? I believe some will claim that there really are only four or five viable strategies right now. According to results from big tournaments, that is pretty accurate. However, there are other decks out there, and they definitely have plenty of potential.

I'm going to be honest, I'm preparing for the Pro Tour right now, and I don't want to play a tier one deck like Ramunap Red or Temur Energy if I can avoid it. I would rather come with a deck that is going to catch opponents off guard. The trick is finding the right deck. I'm going to take a look at a few different decks, some of which could likely use a bit of tuning.

Let's start with a Mono-White Monument deck that made some noise at the recent Classic.

Just a few months ago White-Blue Monument was one of the top decks in Standard. Many of the creatures that were in the deck rotated, but Oketra's Monument remains. Players are starting to play less Abrades, and I've cut them from my Temur Energy main deck completely. This could be the time to bring back Oketra's Monument, as the card remains very popular. There is more than one way to go about making tokens in Standard.

I am not advocating for playing this exact list. We could play another color, as Cloudblazer remains a powerful payoff in blue, or there could be more Vampire synergy by adding black. To me, the idea of having a consistent creature base featuring Vampires backed up by Mavrein Fein, Dusk Apostle is one of the big incentives to play this deck. Legion Conquistador essentially serves the role of Squadron Hawk, and that is a creature that saw plenty of play during its time in Standard. Legion Conquistador may seem a bit underwhelming, but it does mean you have lots of gas to play once a Oketra's Monument makes its way onto the battlefield.

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The key to a good Oketra's Monument deck is having early plays and a way to gas back up later on so you can continue to trigger Monument. I would like to see another payoff card make its way into the deck, as an army of Grizzly Bears may not be enough to get the job done. The deck can definitely go wide, but it needs more punch. One option would be to add additional copies of Angel of Invention, as the card does work quite nicely as a way to have a threat that makes all your creatures bigger. Angel of Invention can also be returned to your hand with a Dusk // Dawn, and that's definitely important.

There is another five-drop that's worth considering: Crested Sunmare. This deck has a lot of incidental life gain, and I believe Crested Sunmare is one of the most underrated cards at the moment. Once you start to churn out Horses, the game can end quite quickly. There are plenty of cards cuttable to make room for some additional beef, and the nice thing about going mono-white is that the mana base is quite consistent, which makes Shefet Dunes an easy inclusion.

This Mono-White Monument deck is going to be able to consistently flood the board with small creatures. Legion's Landing can be flipped very easily, and Aviary Mechanic provides a way to return the Legion's Landing to your hand and go for some additional value. At face value the deck appears to be full of underpowered creatures, but there is plenty of synergy which counts for a lot. My advice is to continue to play around with these Monument shells because there is something here – it's just a matter of getting to the right configuration.

The next strategy I want to take a look at is Black-Red Aggro. Over the past week or two I have seen a number of different black-red decks find success. Clearly there is something to the color pair, as Dragonskull Summit can be put to good use. One option is to play a Vehicles list and ignore white in order to have better mana. You really are only losing Toolcraft Exemplar, and in some cases Veteran Motorist, which may be a sacrifice worth making.

This deck is very much a combination of Mardu Vehicles and Ramunap Red. The creatures here don't crew Heart of Kiran that easily on their own, which is why there are only two Heart of Kiran, since Aethersphere Harvester is much easier to crew. Ruin Raider is a card that has been quite impressive as a way to make sure you always have gas in hand, and will be amazing against any deck that isn't constantly pressuring your life total.

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When we look at the burn spells and some of the early creatures, this looks very similar to Ramunap Red. Shock and Lightning Strike certainly are strong cards, but I would like to see the full playset of Unlicensed Disintegration here. For me, one of the biggest incentives to play the Vehicles is that you can run Unlicensed Disintegration. Earthshaker Khenra is a solid creature, and we see that the threats in Ramunap Red are strong enough to be played in decks that aren't mono-colored.

We can also play a more straightforward Black-Red Aggro list.

_Megafone_ is a Magic Online grinder, so we know that there is something to this list. This deck has some creatures we aren't used to seeing, most noticeably Night Market Lookout. Dread Wanderer is another card we haven't seen since Zombies rotated, but it still is a good one-drop in any aggressively slanted black deck. The deck has added some powerful threats in black that also work well with the idea of having a very low curve – Glint-Sleeve Siphoner is a card we have been seeing more and more of, and it fits well here.

Glint-Sleeve Siphoner doesn't need a strong energy theme, as it can still draw cards on its own. An early creature that has the potential to provide a continuous stream of card advantage deserves to be respected. We are even seeing Glint-Sleeve Siphoner make its way into the sideboard of Blue-Black Control decks. Here, Aethersphere Harvester provides another way to generate energy and is a threat that will be good in mirrors.

One thing all these decks have in common is Hazoret the Fervent. Hazoret is one of the main incentives to have a low curve, and that isn't going to change even if the cards around it do. Yahenni, Undying Partisan is going to be good against decks with sweepers, though it's definitely a card we don't see a ton of. Overall, it is clear that black can supplement red nicely, and there are lots of options for how to build the deck. We even have to choose between playing only burn spells, or also adding Fatal Push in for removal.

The last deck I want to talk about is Esper Gift. We have seen how powerful the card God-Pharaoh's Gift can be once it enters the battlefield. Brennan Decandio has been tearing it up consistently with this Esper Gift deck, and now others are following suit. Traditionally, God-Pharaoh's Gift decks have boasted a positive Temur Energy matchup, which seems to be what most decks are aiming for these days. The Blue-Red Gift deck may still be fresh in people's minds, but without cards like Insolent Neonate and possibly Cathartic Reunion, we need to turn to other colors. This deck took down the Classic this past weekend.

The deck is able to play a ton of cards that no other deck can, which helps make it unique. Angel of Invention remains the strongest card in the format to target with God-Pharaoh's Gift. In addition, this deck can realistically hardcast an Angel of Invention, unlike some of the other Gift decks we have seen in the past.

The deck is reliant on getting creatures into its graveyard – you need a ton of them there to turn on Gate to the Afterlife. Champion of Wits is an important enabler here as it digs you deeper into your deck while also putting key cards into the graveyard. It's unlikely that the Gift decks could exist without Champion of Wits, and it's the most important creature to draw early. Walking Ballista is another card we have seen here before, and in fact this is now one of the only homes for Walking Ballista in Standard. Many of the decks that Walking Ballista used to be played in have lost popularity or vanished from the format altogether.

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The creatures and their enter-the-battlefield abilities work especially well when you target them with God-Pharaoh's Gift. There are Ixalan hits in Kitesail Freebooter and Seeker's Squire. Seeker's Squire actually has a relevant body, and you want to be milling cards with it into the graveyard. Seeker's Squire shows that explore creatures do have a place in Standard.

Kitesail Freebooter is another card that is quickly proving its worth in the Standard format. Looking at the opponent's hand and potentially take away a card that would prevent you from getting that God-Pharaoh's Gift into play is huge. Kitesail Freebooter is exactly the sort of card this deck wants to be playing. There are also a full playset of Hostage Takers to deal with troublesome permanents the opponent might have. For instance, if you do see a card like The Scarab God on the other side of the battlefield, it becomes necessary to have a way to immediately answer it. If the opponent kills your Hostage Taker you can always take advantage of the effect again by targeting it with God-Pharaoh's Gift.

God-Pharaoh's Gift strategies are growing in popularity due to their ability to fight the Temur Energy menace. This is yet another deck that takes full advantage of Search for Azcanta, a card that is quickly becoming one of the most important cards in the format. There are also other builds of Gift decks built around Refurbish rather than Gate to the Afterlife, and they are worth exploring as well. This is an archetype I am tackling extensively for Pro Tour testing as it's one of the rogue strategies I fully expect to show up at the Pro Tour.

Thanks for reading,

Seth Manfield




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