Standard is Finally Fixed

Feature Article from Adam Yurchick
Adam Yurchick
2/15/2018 11:00:00 AM
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If last weekend's Magic Online Championship event – which invites top online players who earned invitations in qualifiers and high-level Pro Players Club players – is any indication, then the recent Standard bannings were a massive success. Mono-Red ended up winning, but there were a full eight different archetypes in the Top 8. For more than a year, Standard has been plagued by a couple top decks overperforming and completely warping the metagame, but things have finally seemed to improve to the point where there are a wealth of viable options, the hallmark of a healthy format.

Looking a bit deeper into the data of the metagame from online and paper premier events, the top deck is Mono-Red Aggro, with just a 15% share the winner's metagame, half of the 30% share that Temur Energy held until the bannings of Attune with Aether and Rogue Refiner. It's more fair to add in add in the 5% share of the metagame held by Black-Red Aggro, which is essentially the Red deck splashing black, bringing to the number to around 20%, still a much more reasonable number compared to the 30% of Temur, and in line with the more reasonable shares held by previous top Standard decks like Abzan Aggro and Mono-Black Devotion.

The bans have cleared a lot of space in the metagame, and there has been even more room opened up given that the second-largest metagame share is now the 10% that Grixis Energy holds. Online databases actually combine Grixis Control with Grixis Energy, and seeing as these are two different decks, the real number is more like 8%. The top two decks now hold around 28% share of the metagame, as opposed to around 40% of the top two decks before the bans. This share of the metagame has been filled by various control decks, like the aforementioned Grixis Control, which combined with the 2.5% of White-Blue Approach, 2.5% of Bant Approach, 2.5% of Blue-Black Control and a couple percent of non-Blue control decks like Black-Red Control and Jund Control means control overall fills this remaining 12% of the top 40% of the field. There is now an entire third facet of the metagame that can exist within the share previously held by two.

Three different style of decks holding the share of the metagame previously held by two might not seem like a huge change, but it brings the metagame closer to a classic rock-paper-scissors cycle that allows for actual decisions in the deck-selection process. This is as opposed to the previous metagame where Ramunap Red was favored against everything but Temur, which kept it in check, so playing anything else besides these two was arguably a mathematical mistake.

The diversity of the new metagame goes deeper to the fourth biggest macro-archetype, Black-Green Constrictor, which holds less than 6% share. Then comes the 5% held by Blue-Black Midrange, followed by Esper God-Pharaoh's Gift and Red-Green Monsters, each holding just over 4% of the metagame. With the banning of Rampaging Ferocidon, White-Black Tokens has returned with nearly a 4% share, followed by Mardu Vehicles with a 3% share. Add all the decks together, and that's nine different archetypes that make up just under 70% of the field, leaving over 30% for others. It would be one thing if the tail end of the metagame was more of a novelty than truly viable, but the eight different decks in the Top 8 of the MOCS tell a different story.

Today I'll review these, as well as the two additional unique archetypes that cracked the Top 16. I'll also explore the alternate variants of these decks that could be found in the Top 32 finishers.


Mono-Red went on to win the MOCS, but the next highest finishing copy was 22nd place, with two more in the Top 32, meaning the deck was hardly dominant. The deck is very similar to before the bannings, but it has incorporated some of the best new cards from Rivals of Ixalan.

Fanatical Firebrand was used as a one-of in the top Red decks and some lists can be seen playing additional copies, so it has earned its place in the archetype, where it functions as a haste threat that doubles as efficient removal.

Another piece of tech is Rekindling Phoenix, which is typically being used in the sideboard to help the deck go bigger in the face of removal, but had also made its way into some main decks. Dire Fleet Daredevil has also found a place in some lists, both main deck and sideboard, where it offers a reasonable body with value attached.

 Fanatical Firebrand
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Mono-Red is setting pace in the format, and seems to be the “best” deck, but it certainly doesn't appear to be as dominant as it was with Ramunap Ruins and Rampaging Ferocidon.

Black-Red Aggro

A subset of Red aggro is the version that splashes black, like this list that finished in the top 16 of the MOCS.

Scrapheap Scrounger provides a very aggressive threat that is resistant to removal spells, and Unlicensed Disintegration provides a powerful removal spell with burn attached, the perfect card for a red deck. Some lists additionally use Cut // Ribbons for a similar effect. The splash also adds Ifnir Deadlands, which gives the deck some way to recoup the value lost with the banning of Ramunap Ruins. Black also expands the sideboard, where it provides access to disruption like Duress and Angrath, the Flame-Chained, and this list even uses Heartless Pillage as a source of card advantage. Some lists can be seen Hour of Glory to win the war over Hazoret the Fervent in the mirror.

Blue-Black Midrange

Finishing in second place in the MOCS, and quickly rising in the ranks of Standard, was Blue-Black midrange, but the MOCS list is technically Sultai due to its splash of Vraska, Relic Seeker.

The Blue-Black Midrange archetype is centered around making the most of The Scarab God, supporting it with plenty of utility and value-generating creatures, like the new Ravenous Chupacabra. A surprisingly effective card in the deck is Liliana, Death's Majesty, which can Reanimate any of these creatures for an additional round of value, or churn out a stream of 2/2 tokens like Vraska, Relic Seeker.

 The Scarab God
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This list, and the one played to a 5-0 in a league by Yuuya Watanabe, goes further by actually including Vraska, Relic Seeker, because the mana is made trivial by adding Blooming Marsh and Botanical Sanctum on top of the deck's Aether Hub. It adds a huge dose of power against other midrange decks, and gives the deck an answer to artifacts out of Mardu Vehicles and enchantments out of White-Black Tokens.

Grixis Energy

Finishing third place in the MOCS, and the current number two deck in the metagame, is Grixis Energy, which is the successor to Temur Energy with its Whirler Virtuoso and Glorybringer.

The Grixis Energy archetype comes in various incarnations, but the most successful version as of late is a red-heavy build that puts to use a set of Rekindling Phoenix as its primary threat. Another piece of tech that is catching on is Dusk Legion Zealot, which gives the deck an additional two-drop on top of Glint-Sleeve Siphoner, and it generates a small dose of card advantage and a creature to attack or block with, and provides a great target for The Scarab God to eternalize.

Mardu Vehicles

Mardu Vehicles currently holds a relatively small part of the metgame with only 3% share, but it had an outsized performance in the MOCS, where it finished in the Top 4 and in 10th place.

The Mardu Vehicles archetype is much as it has been since the rotation of Gideon, Ally of Zendikar, which it has replaced with Hazoret the Fervent as its haymaker of choice. A key element of Mardu Vehicles is its sideboard plan to become a bigger and more controlling deck, which it used last season to much success. A new addition to this plan is Angrath, the Flame-Chained, which can quickly put control out of the game if it resolves and wreck midrange decks with its Threaten ability, especially when it doubles as removal spell against creatures like Jadelight Ranger.

White-Blue Approach

Control forms an important third pillar of the metagame, and while blue-black based versions got off to an early lead, White-Blue Approach has come back with a vengeance, including its Top 8 finish in the MOCS.

The deck is much as it was before the bannings, but no longer suffers from inability to interact with Ramunap Red and from Rampaging Ferocidon shutting off the life gain of its namesake win condition. One piece of new tech that it does use is Nezahal, the Primal Tide, which gives it a threat against the Blue-Black Control decks that otherwise give it problems, and that they will have essentially no ways to interact with.

Bant Approach

A subset of White-Blue Approach, and actually holding the same share in the winner's metagame, is Bant Approach, like this list that finished in the Top 32 of the MOCS.

The addition of green to the deck adds acceleration, which helps the deck fire off Approach of the Second Sun earlier, and in turn allows for the second copy to win the game ahead of schedule. What's excellent about the acceleration it includes is that it generates card advantage perfect for a control deck, with Spring // Mind being cast from the graveyard for raw card draw, and Hour of Promise generating a two-for-one that also comes with tokens. It can also find Arch of Orazca to generate more cards. Gift of Paradise is a potent mana-fixer, and it even comes with its own sort of advantage by gaining life.

Red-White Approach

A third style of Approach, and definitely the craziest list in the Top 32 of the MOCS, is this Red-White list, which uses Chandra, Torch of Defiance to accelerate into Approach of the Second Sun, and Sunbird's Invocation to potentially find a second copy of Approach of the Second Sun from the first and win immediately.

Adding red removal to what white already provides gives the deck a ton of ways to put a stop to creatures, making the deck perfect for shutting down aggro and midrange decks. It suffers against control, but Chandra, Torch of Defiance and Sunbird's Invocation are capable of overloading the opponent with card advantage if they do resolve. Another tool against control is Azor's Gateway, which the deck includes a playset of to filter through its cards and because it plays spells with a full range of casting costs from one to seven, it's also more than capable of flipping it into a massive mana engine.

White-Black Tokens

The biggest winner from the banning of Rampaging Ferocidon is White-Black Tokens, which seemed set to break into the metagame last fall before the Dinosaur was adopted into red decks and squashed its ascendancy. Now there is nothing holding it back, which explains it reaching the Top 8 of the MOCS and being explored by players including Standard expert Brad Nelson, who could be seen streaming the deck this week.

The biggest piece of technology this time around is Regal Caracal, which can now stonewall aggressive decks. It's also a great source of value against traditional removal like Vraska's Contempt and dodges Fatal Push, so it does work against midrange and control, and of course is supercharged by Anointed Procession.

Red-Green Monsters

A deck entirely made possible by Rivals of Ixalan and the bannings is Red-Green Monsters, which seems to have filled the void left by Temur as a midrange green deck, and makes great use of some of the best new cards.

There were a few versions of the deck floating around in the early days of the format, including those with Heart of Kiran and splashing Scrapheap Scrounger, but the deck has been refined to this more streamlined and aggressive version, which uses Earthshaker Khenra and even Resilient Khenra to add two-drops with late-game value.

 Resilient Khenra
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Rekindling Phoenix and Jadelight Phoenix are arguably the two best cards from the new set, and this deck uses playsets of each to great effect. It has also incorporated Thrashing Brontodon, which is a robust blocker against red decks and a source of utility that is more important than ever given the recent success of Mardu Vehicles and White-Black Tokens, both of which have important targets to destroy.

Black-Green Constrictor

Rounding out the Top 8 and the current top-tier of the metagame is Black-Green Constrictor, which could also be found in 11th and 12th place in the hands of Reid “reiderrabbit” Duke and Paul Rietzl.

Jadelight Ranger has served as a perfect way to reinvigorate the archetype, which was a major player a year ago as a foil to Mardu and other aggressive decks before Four-Color Copy Cat and Aetherworks Marvel pushed it from the metagame. Now it's a strong way to fight against Mono-Red and Mardu, while it has the tools to overpower other midrange decks and get in under control decks.

Grixis Control

Another deck that reached the Top 16 of the MOCS was Grixis Control, being piloted by one of the strongest Standard grinders on MTGO over the past few years.

There's nothing fancy here, just a rock-solid control plan based around Search for Azcanta and Torrential Gearhulk, and a strategy that has had plenty of success in the metagame since the bannings and will continue to do so as it is tuned to the evolving metagame.

Mono-Black Aggro

The final deck to finish in the Top 16 of the MOCS was Mono-Black Aggro.

Mono-Black Aggro is a bit different in construction than Mono-Red, but it lives by the same principles of aggressive creatures backed by removal. What the deck lacks in the late-game reach provided by burn spells and Hazoret the Fervent, it makes up for in resiliency, with both Scrapheap Scrounger and Dread Wanderer. It is also faster than Mono-Red, with 12 one-drop creatures that attack for two damage, with Bone Picker often masquerading as a one-drop and allowing for huge tempo swings.

Glint-Sleeve Siphoner adds card advantage, and Supernatural Stamina is versatile tool that doubles as a pump spell and a Counterspell for creature removal, so the deck has a little bit of everything. The sideboard is also full of disruption, with both Duress and Kitesail Freebooter punishing control decks.

Wizards has announced they will now share twice as many decklists from leagues, great news for anyone who loves pouring over them like I do, and for anyone who is hungry for new tech to try. Wizards had already made up for lost time by beginning with a huge dump of decklists, which helped paint the clear picture of the metagame that I discussed today. It also includes plenty of fun decklists that give an idea of what decks make up the remaining 30% of the field, which I'll explore in-depth next week along with anything else that appears this weekend and in the days that follow.

- Adam


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