The New Standard Metagame

Feature Article from Jon Corpora
Jon Corpora
1/17/2018 11:01:00 AM
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Monday's bans—Attune with Aether, Rogue Refiner, Ramunap Ruins, and Rampaging Ferocidon—bring the total body count up to nine cards banned since Kaladesh's release. For a point of reference—since all the Affinity bannings in 2004 through 2016, only two cards were banned: Jace, the Mind Sculptor and Stoneforge Mystic.

Now that Standard looks fresh and compelling for the first time in what feels like an eternity, the upcoming Pro Tour—Pro Tour Rivals of Ixalan—is Modern. This is a bit awkward for a couple reasons. The first: the pressure something like a Pro Tour puts on Modern, a highly combustible format to begin with, is destined to culminate with a balanced format breaking asunder. Secondly, Standard's wide open! Energy's been present in Standard since Kaladesh was released, and the promise of Monday's bans is that Energy won't be around to Bog Down the other decks. Whether that promise stays true or not remains to be seen; Standard's been so universally maligned for so long that even the prospect of it potentially being playable feels adequate.

This is my sketch of what the Standard metagame looks like going into week one. Let's dive in.

Heart of Kiran and Unlicensed Disintegration have been two of the best cards in Standard since they were printed, and for a long time, they enjoyed a ton of success in competitive play. In time, though, things began to break poorly. Abrade essentially killed everything in the deck. Gideon, Ally of Zendikar and Thraben Inspector rotated out of Standard. Fatal Push started to see more and more play.

The deck was far from dead, though.

In his first Pro Tour Top 8, Samuel Ihlenfeldt squared off against Mike Sigrist's Four-Color Energy deck. The games were tight, and relative newcomer Ihlenfeldt held his own with Mardu Vehicles, eventually winning the match. To understand how Mardu Vehicles works post-Attune, the above match and Ihlenfeldt's semifinal against Seth Manfield are required viewing. Spoiler Alert: Heart of Kiran is really good against a field that's not expecting it.

Approach of the Second Sun is best-known as a deck with an excellent game one against the field, but once decks get to sideboard against it, the deck gives up a lot of ground. That said, a wide-open field is perfect for a deck like this. Would I play it? Probably not. Good game ones across the board are the most compelling thing about this deck, and that's not really enough for me. But I'd definitely prepare for it, even if it means packing some sideboard Negates and maybe a Lost Legacy or two.

Three Foul Orchard! That manabase is rough without Attune with Aether. The rest of the deck looks incredible, though—black/green is a smart place to start. Winding Constrictor is one of Standard's most enticing build-arounds, and this build takes advantage of two of the strongest cards Rivals of Ixalan has to offer: Ravenous Chupacabra and Jadelight Ranger.

This deck is an archetypical midrange deck: A couple parts creatures with exceptional rate, a couple parts removal, and a couple parts utility beaters. It's a deck that can grind an advantage out of almost any board and can win games in a myriad of ways.

It's nice that Merfolk went 5-0, but ultimately, I think it's going to match up poorly against the rest of Standard. To be clear: the Merfolk deck is a trap. 33 creatures and a playset of Unsummons? This deck doesn't have the velocity to beat any midrange or control decks, and if removal takes out, say, their Merfolk Mistbinder, then this deck's going to have a tough time racing an aggressive deck. I'd go so far as to say you don't even really need to prepare for it—as long as you're playing a real deck, you will be fine against Merfolk.

This deck looks sweet. I never expected a God-Pharaoh's Gift deck to cut Angel of Invention, especially not for Combat Celebrant, but boy does it seem obvious now that I'm looking at the deck. God-Pharaoh's Gift feels a lot like Mardu Vehicles in that if no one's running Abrades it gets much better. My only issue with God-Pharaoh's Gift decks is that they're pretty tough to sideboard with. Most times, you're trimming parts of your combo in order to fit sideboard cards, making your deck less explosive in the process. So your options narrow down to two choices: sideboard and make your already-clunky deck clunkier, or don't sideboard! I'm not planning on sleeving up God-Pharaoh's Gifts anytime soon, but the decks should be on your radar and you should have plans to beat them.

Even though the deck lost Ramunap Ruins and Rampaging Ferocidon, Rivals of Ixalan adds three important cards to the mono-red deck: Fanatical Firebrand, Path of Mettle, and Relentless Raptor. Alright, so the deck isn't quite mono-red anymore, but the small white splash adds some much-need depth. Path of Mettle is trivial to transform, and once you transform it, the land you get is straight-up ridiculous. This deck is straightforward, and while it's nowhere near as good as Ramunap Red was, it's still got plenty of potential. I would be happy to run this.

I saved this deck for last because it's great and I love it. Conley Woods built the deck and has been streaming with it for a few months, and I gotta say, it does a lot of what I want to do in a wide-open format. It goes over the top of everything, it can win in one shot out of nowhere, it can grind out any deck with Hidden Stockpile, and I firmly believe that it was the best Fumigate deck in Standard before the bans. It's only gotten better.

A brief rundown of the deck's gameplan: play Hidden Stockpile and/or Treasure Map in the early game, using Treasure Map to filter your draws and Hidden Stockpile to accumulate Servos via Evolving Wilds and Renegade Map. Tezzeret the Schemer triggers revolt with Etherium Cells or can kill a creature in a pinch, but the real reason to play this deck is to transform a Treasure Map on your opponent's end-step and subsequently win via a 4/6 Marionette Master. By the time you cast Marionette Master you should have plenty of Treasures, Etherium Cells, and Servos to sacrifice in order to deal a quick 20 damage. Let me tell you, actually doing it feels even better than it sounds.

Aether Meltdown takes the play of Woods' trio of Doomfalls. I liked Doomfall quite a bit, but Aether Meltdown is a concession to Heart of Kiran and Scrapheap Scrounger—this deck has a real issue with those two cards.

That's my quick-capsule review of Standard, but new decks are going to be released all the time. If you think I missed anything super obvious, let me know in the comments. But be nice. I'm sensitive.

Jon Corpora
(pronounced Ca-pora)
@feb31st




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