The State of Standard

Feature Article from Seth Manfield
Seth Manfield
11/3/2017 11:00:00 AM
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I am writing this the day before I am going to be playing in one of the most unique Pro Tours I have ever played in. This is not like a Pro Tour where the format is brand new—it's a format with a number of well-established decks and archetypes. Having been playing Standard for the past few weeks, including at the World Championship, I know the format inside and out.

Most players who play at the Pro Tour will be familiar with a lot of the top decks. This is where predicting the metagame comes into play. It becomes very important to accurately guess what other players will be playing in order to pick your deck, and tune it well. Many of the decks are similar to each other, so it becomes about trying to get small edges.

Energy is Broken

I am testing with a team that loves Energy decks, and honestly, it makes sense. There are so many different directions you can go with the Attune with Aether, Rogue Refiner, and Aether Hub shell. In fact, Genesis is playing three different variations of Energy, which shouldn't be too surprising. Temur Energy won the World Championships in the hands of William Jensen, and has been quite dominant since then. The energy strategies are essentially the midrange decks of the format.

There are three ways to attack midrange: go under it with aggression, play a full-on control strategy, or try to find a broken combo that the midrange deck has trouble interacting with. These are all viable directions to go, but the Energy decks have the ability to beat any of these strategies, depending on how you want to focus the energy list.

The most classic Energy deck, that can combat every strategy pretty well is straight three-color Temur Energy. This deck is known to have the best matchup against Ramunap Red of all the energy variants. In addition, it is strong against most of the other aggressive strategies, like Mardu Vehicles or Black-Red Aggro. Traditionally control decks will be a bad matchup game one, but after sideboarding the deck gets plenty of additional tools.

Control is on the Downswing

I would be surprised to see control do well at the Pro Tour, unless it is a control deck in the hands of a master like Shota Yasooka. Control has major problems against the aggressive decks, and is only okay against Temur Energy. I found myself trying to ignore control as the Energy player, and still finding the matchups to be decent from the energy side, with cards like Negate or Duress being important role-players.

If you are willing to ignore control, then it makes sense to play an energy deck that can beat the aggressive decks. This means all roads lead to just playing the best deck in the format right?

Over the past few months Temur Energy has shown through results how great a deck it is. However, there is one major problem with playing straight Temur Energy.

The Energy Decks are Cannibalizing Themselves

Playing Temur would be a great choice for the Pro Tour, until you start to take into account its matchups against other energy decks. Other energy decks are now adding more colors and trying to go slightly bigger than the straight Temur Energy deck. Cards like The Scarab God and Vraska, Relic Seeker are showing up pretty frequently in energy decks now. These are cards that have the potential to be trumps, but by adding more colors to your deck and making it slower, the aggressive matchups can get significantly worse.

Logan "Jaberwocki" Nettles is one of the biggest trend-setters in the online metagame, which is actually very important for indicating what may show up at the Pro Tour. He was able to go undefeated in a league with a unique build of Four Color Energy:

The mana isn't great, but he is able to play all the cards he wants that aren't white. As soon as this list became well-known a few days ago, it constantly popped up on Magic Online. A card like Gonti, Lord of Luxury can be a way to create a large amount of card advantage, and allow you to have more gas than an opposing energy deck. We see Temur Energy staples like Glorybringer and Longtusk Cub completely absent here in an attempt to be more controlling and win with a card like The Scarab God.

Four-Color Energy is an example of a way to go to extreme lengths to beat a more traditional energy midrange deck, but the question becomes whether the sacrifices being made in other matchups is worth it. This isn't an easy question to answer, unless you can predict exactly how popular straight three-color Temur Energy will be compared to the four-color versions. Longtusk Cub may not be the highest impact two-drop in the energy decks anymore.

Sultai Energy

We are seeing more and more black based energy decks, which means Glint-Sleeve Siphoner can be used as a card advantage engine. Drawing an additional card each turn definitely has a way of allowing you to accumulate a huge advantage over the opponent. One shell you can play Glint-Sleeve Siphoner in is Four-Color Energy, but it also fits even better into Sultai Energy. Sultai Energy kicked off this Standard format with a win when Andrew Jessup one an Open with it:

The deck fell a little bit out of favor because of some of its vulnerabilities to cards like Glorybringer and Chandra, Torch of Defiance from the three-color Temur deck. These are cards that can be a huge pain for the Sultai Energy deck, as it relies on key creatures like Hostage Taker and Winding Constructor to stay in play. Blossoming Defense is very important as a way to protect your creature on a critical turn from an opposing removal spell.

Within the past couple weeks the Sultai Energy deck has started to pick up in popularity again. This is a deck that wants to be explosive by having super high impact two drops. The plan is to present more threats than the opponent can possible deal with. Overall, while I'm not in love with the matchup against straight Temur Energy, Sultai Energy is quite strong against most of the other energy deck, and even against some builds of straight Temur Energy.

Right now, I like where Sultai Energy is positioned in the metagame, and this has led me to choose the deck for the Pro Tour. Most of the decks in Standard have a pretty similar power level to one another. Sultai Energy is just another energy deck, but it has the tools to outmaneuver its opponents, and is the most explosive of all the energy decks, outside of Red-Green Pummeler. The more players start to move away from the Glorybringer-based versions of energy, the better the Sultai colors look.

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Sultai Energy gains its explosiveness from Winding Constrictor. This is really the only major deck playing Winding Constrictor in the format, but in this deck the card is nuts. The two-drops have a way of snowballing to the point that the opponent will be put into some really difficult spots if they don't have a draw featuring lots of spot removal. Oftentimes the opponent will burn their only removal spell on your first creature, and then there won't be removal by the time you get down a Hostage Taker.

This isn't like Temur Energy where you can transition into a control deck. Sultai Energy needs to try to get ahead early on, in order to win most games. Walking Ballista is a nice way to ensure that you do have plenty to do with your mana on later turns. Walking Ballista is a card that should probably be played more than it currently is in Standard. The manabase in the Sultai Energy deck isn't great, but the upside is you aren't relying heavily on expensive cards to win the game.

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I have discussed God-Pharaoh's Gift before as a way to potentially trump the energy decks, going over the top by getting a God-Pharaoh's Gift onto the battlefield. I tried a number of different God-Pharaoh's Gift lists for the Pro Tour. Personally, I don't like the versions that rely on Gate to the Afterlife. There are a number of removal spells in the format that exile opposing creatures, and that makes getting six creatures into the graveyard even more difficult.

The problem is that the version with Gate to the Afterlife lacks explosiveness, and a good player can often find a way to prevent Gate to the Afterlife from being activated early. This leads me to the versions of God-Pharaoh's Gift that I actually do like. These decks rely on Refurbish, whether in a white-blue base or an Esper base. Refurbish is a way to get God-Pharaoh's Gift into play much earlier in the game. The issue is that you don't always have a way to get a God-Pharaoh's Gift into the graveyard before turn four.

I think the Refurbish versions of God-Pharaoh's Gift are definitely appealing, and I would have played one if I didn't expect energy players to show up with cards like Deathgorge Scavenger. There are ways to disrupt graveyards that are out there, and are a huge pain to play against from the side of God-Pharaoh's Gift.

Predictions

Overall, I'm not sure exactly what will show up at the Pro Tour, though I can certainly make a prediction. There are so many different energy-based decks that I wouldn't be surprised if they combined to make up half the field. The most popular aggressive deck will be Ramunap Red, as the deck is still very strong, even in a world full of energy. Ramunap Red is also a deck that players who haven't prepared as much are likely to pick up because it is easy to pilot and you don't need to worry about energy mirrors.

There is always some control at Pro Tours, but I don't expect to see a ton of it. There usually are a couple of brews that some of the bigger testing teams come up with. We will see if that is in fact the case, given that we know the format quite well at this point. Personally, I have found that most decks in the format have a tendency to get mana-screwed and mulligan quite a lot, so there are definitely some consistency issue with all the decks.

Thanks for reading,
Seth Manfield




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