How To Beat Standard's Top Three Strategies

Feature Article from Craig Wescoe
Craig Wescoe
11/3/2017 11:00:00 AM
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Energy decks and Hazoret decks together comprise two-thirds of the metagame right now. The remainder of the decks are mostly control with a smattering of God-Pharaoh's Gift decks and a small percentage of outlier decks. Today I'm going to talk about these decks and various ways to beat each of them.

Beating Energy

The energy decks come in three primary forms: Temur Energy, Sultai Energy and Four-Color Energy. There is also a small percentage of Electrostatic Pummeler decks, but they comprise a much smaller portion of the metagame than the three midrange variants of energy.

There are several ways to beat this midrange energy strategy. The only real “hoser” card is Solemnity, and that is only really effective when played early before they get their plan going. And it's too narrow to play main deck and won't fit into some strategies if it negatively impacts your game plan as well. For instance, a deck trying to produce its own energy or put counters on creatures can't afford to play this card. Aside from Solemnity, there are a few general strategies for beating the energy decks.

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One of the most effective strategies I've found is to go in the air. Their only way of fighting fliers is with Whirler Virtuoso or Glorybringer, so there is a real opportunity to attack the deck in the air. Cards like Heart of Kiran can be particularly problematic for them to deal, especially when backed by any kind of disruption such as Doomfall or Duress to preemptively strip away their Harnessed Lightning or Confiscation Coup.

Another way to beat this strategy is to line up all your threats and answers with theirs. For instance, deathtouch creatures such Ghonti, Lord of Luxury and Gifted Aetherborn line up well against Bristling Hydra and Longtusk Cub. Having cards like Fatal Push to answer a potential runaway Longtusk Cub or an early Servant of the Conduit can go a long way toward cutting off a large percentage of their “free win” games. Efficient answers to Glorybringer are also necessary. Chandra's Defeat is one of the best answers, but of course that is only a sideboard card. Sorcery speed answers come at the cost of getting hit once by the Dragon, but if the answer is Confiscation Coup, it is still especially potent, especially due to their weakness to fliers.

Another strategy that is effective against them is the sweep the board. Cards like Fumigate and Bontu's Last Reckoning are especially effective ways to clean up all their Rogue Refiners and such while also dealing with their creatures that might otherwise be hard to remove such as Bristling Hydra. They don't really have any good answers to a board sweeper other than a singleton main deck copy of Commit // Memory and a handful of sideboard Negates. As long as you can play around those answers, you'll generally be able to put them at a significant disadvantage. Just be sure to leave yourself an answer to Glorybringer after your board wipe as that is typically the card that gets sandbagged against Wraths effects.

As long as you have answers to an early Longtusk Cub and answers to Glorybringer and Bristling Hydra, the rest of the threats in the deck are pretty medium. They don't have a lot of interactive cards outside of Harnessed Lightning and Glorybringer, so unless your plan is to win through ground combat, they won't have a lot of ways to stop you from doing what you want to do. Be careful not to leave yourself open to getting wrecked by your own cards via The Scarab God or Hostage Taker against the Sultai version. Cards like Vraska's Contempt, Ixalan's Binding, or Cast Out are great because they handle Glorybringer vs Temur or Hostage Take and The Scarab God vs Sultai. Keep the versatility of your answers in mind.

Beating Hazoret the Fervent

Hazoret the Fervent is the defining card of a third of the decks in the format: Ramunap Red, Mardu Vehicles, and Black-Red Aggro. All three of these strategies aim to empty their hand quickly and apply as much pressure as possible before Hazoret comes down to do Hazoret stuff. Each of these three strategies tend to have the same weaknesses. If you have answers to fast creuatres and answers to Hazoret, you've essentially covered all your bases.

Answering Hazoret is not always as easy as it sounds, however, since there are few cards in the format that do this effectively. White has most of these cards; Ixalan's Binding, Cast Out, Desert's Hold, Thopter Arrest, and Gideon's Intervention are all effective ways to combat Hazoret. The problem is that these cards cost three and four mana, which really puts a constraint on deck building since four mana and five mana is really the spot on the curve to play the most powerful cards in the format. Outside of white, there are still a few good answers. Black has Vraska's Contempt as the best answer while also gaining life, which helps against any Hazoret strategy. Cards like Harsh Scrutiny and Doomfall can also sometimes deal with Hazoret, though unreliably. If you are playing black and not also white, you really need to have Vraska's Contempt in your deck. And you need to draw it to answer their Hazoret. Blue has Essence Scatter and other spells that counter it, and Confiscation Coup and Commit // Memory to deal with it once it is on the table. Chump blocking each turn can be effective if you are a heavy tokens strategy that won't get burnt out by the activated ability or run over by the rest of the threats in the deck. Green and red don't really have effective answers aside from making a blocker that is large enough to Withstand a 5/4 and even then it has to survive a burn spell or Unlicensed Disintegration. All this really limits your options to Carnage Tyrant or your own copy of Hazoret.

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In addition to having a specific gameplan against Hazoret, you also need a game plan against the small creatures that accompany him. Fatal Push and Abrade are great answers because they stop basically any threat including vehicles. Instant-speed answers tend to be better than sorcery speed because you have to answer haste creatures and vehicles that are only crewed when attacking. Magma Spray is effective as are cheap board sweepers such as “pirateclasm” Fire Cannonade and Walking Ballista. Hour of Devastation is a uniquely well-positioned card right now given that it is the only Wrath effect that can take out Hazoret or The Scarab God while in most cases also taking out the rest of the board. Aside from having answers to Hazoret and a board of cheap creatures, you have to also make sure you don't get burnt out since each of these strategies run burn spells as a way of providing reach.

Beating the Control Decks

Besides energy decks and Hazoret decks, the remaining third of the metagame mostly consists of control decks, most notably White-Blue Approach, Abzan Tokens and blue-black decks.

The Approach of the Second Sun decks revolve around resolving their namesake card twice to win the game that way. The rest of the deck is designed to basically stay alive long enough to accomplish this plan. It's essentially a White-Blue Control deck that just so happens to win with a card that gains seven life in the process. Oddly enough, the strategy is more popular than it otherwise should be based on its appeal to both control players and combo players since it feels like you are resolving your combo when you win with that card.

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Given that the deck is primarily focused on answering the opponent's threats rather than presenting its own threats, the most effectively way to combat the deck is to line up your threats in a way that is problematic for their removal spells. This is, of course, easier said than done since they have ways to exile all attacking creatures ( Settle the Wreckage), destroy all creatures ( Fumigate), exile target permanent ( Cast Out), or even simply counter target spell.

Threats such as Kitesail Freebooter are especially effective because they let you know what to expect while also pressuring the opponent. I also like Duress and Doomfall because they can take the answer out of their hand that is especially good against whatever your draw looks like while also giving you a heads-up on what cards you need to play around for the next few turns. Black also has Lost Legacy, which is an excellent way to take out their win condition. Some versions run alternate win conditions to play around this card such as Regal Caracal, so as long as you don't leave yourself completely vulnerable to a Cat lord, this card can be very effective. You can also name Fumigate or Settle the Wreckage when the board state dictates that they must have that card to survive.

Just as discard spells work great against them, so do counters like Negate, Spell Pierce, Commit // Memory, and any other way to stop that they are doing. If you have early pressure, stopping their Fumigate is often game over. Later in the game stopping their first or second copy of Approach of the Second Sun can also be effective. Since the card costs seven mana, it's hard for them to hold up mana for counter backup for your counter or to pay for Spell Pierce unless you give them infinite time. Watch out for the play of Settle the Wreckage on their own Regal Caracal and company to ramp themselves. Kill the threats pre-combat to avoid this situation if it comes up.

Outside of blue and black forms of disruption, you can also play around their sweepers by not overcommitting. For instance, don't attack with all five of your creatures into Settle the Wreckage or don't play out that fourth creature into Fumigate. The problem is that as the game goes on, you don't want to die to back-to-back Approaches on turns seven and eight, so you want to have enough pressure on the board to win through the initial seven life before they get a change to untap and cast the second copy for the win. This is a dance that is often a losing proposition unless you have cards that are resilient to their sweepers. For instance, the Gods and vehicles survive Fumigate, so those are especially good ways to keep enough pressure on the board to play around double Approach without overcommitting into Fumigate. You can also strategically attack with all non-vehicle, non-God creatures into their Settle the Wreckage so that you still have the Fumigate-resistant threats on the battlefield for later. Gideon's Intervention can buy you time (but can be Cast Out) and Hope of Ghirapur can buy you that one final turn you need.

Blue-black decks tend to be more midrange than control now, but they operate along the same general concept of killing and countering all the opponent's threats and then drawing cards to get ahead. A lot of the same cards that are good against white-blue are also good against blue-black. The primary difference is that you must play around spot removal rather than the Wrath of God variants white decks have, although some of the blue-black decks run Bontu's Last Reckoning.

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I classify Abzan Tokens as a control deck because that's basically what it is. It relies heavily on Fumigate and then taking over the game post-Wrath. Instead of card draw it utilizes the scry effect, which essentially accomplishes the same feat of finding its key cards and the right answers to the board state you present them with. In addition to counters and discard being great against Tokens just as they are against the other control decks, enchantment kill is effective against Tokens. So cards like Demystify, Fragmentize, Slice in Twain, and Appetite for the Unnatural are good against them. Ixalan's Binding and Cast Out can be good carry-over cards that are effective at stopping Anointed Procession while being good answers to Hazoret, The Scarab God, and Glorybringer in other matchups. Just don't lean too heavily on them because they have their own Cast Outs and Vraskas to blow up your enchantments to unlock their card.

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The one deck that doesn't conveniently fit into one of these three categories is the Esper God-Pharaoh's Gift deck. It comprises about five percent of the metagame and attacks the metagame in a slightly different way than any of the other decks. It therefore requires some unique answers. Fortunately, a lot of those unique answers are also effective against several of the other strategies in the metagame.

Graveyard hate such as Scavenging Grounds is very effective at stopping Gate to the Afterlife or a resolved The Scarab God. Also cards like Cast Out and Ixalan's Binding can do the trick. Abrade is risky since it stops Gate/Gift but can also be taken preemptively with Kitesail Freebooter if they run that (and I do expect most versions to run that card). I like Magma Spray and other cards that exile their creatures since they rely pretty heavily on filling up their graveyard. Exiling their threat instead of helping them out by putting it into the graveyard (and also triggering Gate to the Afterlife to put another creature in the graveyard in the process) is a good way to answer their threats. It also kills almost everything outside of Hostage Taker, including Angel of Invention with her ability on the stack. Sure, they get a pair of Servos out of the deal, but it's worth it for a single mana to exile that card.

So there you have it. That is how you beat every deck in Standard. Make adjustments to your deck of choice accordingly and know your game plan going into each match. This will give you the best chance to win. Hopefully my strategy will work out this weekend at the Pro Tour!

Craig Wescoe
@Brimaz4Life




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