Standard Innovations You Need to See

Feature Article from Adam Yurchick
Adam Yurchick
2/22/2018 11:01:00 AM
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The Standard bannings have brought immense diversity to Standard, so last week I identified the top-performing decks in the metagame, including the eight different decks that made up the Top 8 of the MOCS. Today I'll dig deeper by exploring below the surface of the metagame to the huge number of different decks that make up the rest of the field. This has been made easier by changes to Magic Online's decklist publishing guidelines; the online team is now revealing an uncapped number of 5-0 decklists compared to showing only five decklists a day, with the stipulation that they now only publish decklists with 20 distinct cards from others, as opposed to ten before. The result is there are now around twice as many decklists available, and they are more unique than ever, which has created a goldmine of good ideas.

Big Red

Starting simple, the most popular deck in Standard is Mono-Red Aggro, but a variation that has been catching on is a bigger build that moves away from pure aggro to a more midrange gameplan.

Moving to a midrange plan allows the red deck to make the most out of its powerful cards higher up the curve, Glorybringer, Rekindling Phoenix, and Chandra, Torch of Defiance, while playing around the cheap removal and blockers that opponent's typically use to combat the small aggressive creatures they expect from Mono-Red Aggro.

Big White/Red

One of the more interesting decklists from this week, which is notable because it was played by long-time pro Alex “FREEROLLIN” Majlaton, who just finished 9-1 in constructed at the last Pro Tour, is a Big Red deck that splashes into white.

Exile effects like Vraska's Contempt are among the best removal in Standard because they deal with the format's most important creatures, Hazoret the Fervent, Rekindling Phoenix, and The Scarab God, so splashing into white gives the red deck cards that deal with these problem permanents: Cast Away, Ixalan's Binding, and Thopter Arrest.

Black/Green Mastermind's Acquisition

The coolest new deck to gain a foothold in the metagame over the past couple of weeks is a nearly Mono-Black control deck based around Mastermind's Acquisition, which uses the card to unlock a toolbox of one-ofs in a way that hasn't been seen since the Dark Petition / Seasons Past deck broke out at Pro Tour Shadows over Innistrad, and is reminiscent of the Diabolic Tutor-centric Mono-Black Control decks that were popular when Odyssey was in Standard 15 years ago.

The deck splashes green for Hour of Promise, which provides mana ramp that allows it to go over the opponent, and provides access to utility lands like Arch of Orazca that gives it value into the late game. The deck is full of Deserts to enable the Zombie Tokens it creates, like Ifnir Deadlands to help it control creatures, and plenty of cycling deserts to allow a high land count that is resistant to flooding. Green also provides Vraska, Relic Seeker, which is among the most powerful cards in the format and a card that many other decks have been seen splashing to include.

The deck is loaded with much of the best creature removal in the format, so it's made to beat creature decks like Mono-Red, but it's equipped to beat control with discard like Duress and Doomfall, and card advantage engines like Arguel's Blood Fast. Control decks also must be careful to not let Mastermind's Acquisition resolve, or they will find themselves facing down a Carnage Tyrant, which is one of the many powerful green one-ofs the deck has access to in the sideboard.

Abzan

A new variant of the Mastermind's Acquisition deck splashes into white, which gives it access to additional options and further increases the power level.

I've already mentioned Ixalan's Binding as one of the best tools for controlling the most problematic permanents in the metagame, but this deck goes even further with Profane Procession, which can not only remove multiple creatures but will eventually outright steal them to be played by its controller, so it's also a win condition. It's one of the most powerful cards in the metagame for a deck that can buy the time to get it operational, and this deck has the tools to do just that. This deck even includes another way to deal with creatures like Gods with Grind // Dust, which is also a great way to take down small creatures and will be devastating play against a red deck that curves Bomat Courier into Earthshaker Khenra.

One card I'd like to see this deck add is Ajani Unyielding, which is yet another way to exile multiple troublesome creatures, but is also a proactive play that will take over a game.

Naya Monsters

A deck that does splash for the power and utility of Ajani Unyielding, along with other white exile effects, is this Naya Monsters deck.

The deck uses these white exile effects to shore up the biggest weakness of the R/G Monsters deck, which is otherwise forced to resort to Struggle // Survive to deal with The Scarab God and Rekindling Phoenix and simply lacks a good answer to Hazoret the Fervent besides blocking. To help fix the stretched mana requirements, the deck includes Servant of Conduit, which seems like a strong card for the monsters strategy anyways.

White/Green Aggro

Another Standard trend to be aware of is a rise in white/green creature decks, the most successful version of which uses Servo Exhibition and Sram's Exhibition to add a token subtheme.

The idea behind the White-Green deck is to play the best value-added creatures in the colors, whether it's Explore creatures providing cards or Eternalize creatures giving value from the graveyard, which means its creatures are robust in combat and against removal, both of which also apply to Adanto Vanguard. Tokens also play very well against removal, and they help to make the most of Shefet Dunes and Appeal // Authority, which the deck uses for extra damage and to push through blockers.

The deck comes together as the perfect home for Hutali, Radiant Champion, which was one of the most hyped cards from Rivals of Ixalan but until now has yet to realize its potential. Going wide with creatures allows it to add a ton of damage to the battlefield, especially on Adorned Pouncer, and its ultimate is fantastic with token-generators.

The deck's aggressive and resilient creatures seem great against control, and white/green decks are historically strong against red decks, so the deck seems well-positioned in a metagame defined by blue/black based control and mono-red, which is what the metagame is shaping up to be, and it comes with the advantage of easily including the exile effects white provides.

White/Black Vampires

Rivals of Ixalan promised to be the savior that tribal decks needed to be competitive, and the bannings were a big step towards making that happen, but so far these decks have failed to break through. So far the closest tribal deck to making the big time is Vampires, which has been putting up its share of 5-0 results in leagues. As with any deck that's still in development, there isn't much consensus on the correct build, but if anything that is a sign there is still room for improvement.

There seem to be two main directions that players are taking Vampires:

The other takes a slightly bigger approach with more card advantage including Call to the Feast, Dusk Legion Zealot, and Elendra, the Dusk Rose, with Yahenni, Undying Partisan as a sacrifice enabler. These cards make the deck more resilient to removal and better at grinding out the opponent.

It remains to be seen which approach is more effective, but both are putting up results, and there is plenty of room to blur the lines between them. I'll be keeping my eyes on the tribe to see what else it can do, especially if it breaks through at a major event like an online Pro Tour Qualifier or a Grand Prix.

White/Blue Oketra's Monument Vampires

An entirely different approach to Vampires is to use them alongside Oketra's Monument, which adds value to each creature of the tribe and really allows it to go wide and grind out the opponent, especially with Legion Conquistador.

It's possible that a black version of the deck with Legion Lieutenant could work, but all of the published 5-0 lists dip into blue for Cloudblazer, which in the past has been the best card to combine with Oketra's Monument. This list is exciting because of its deeper blue splash to support Azor, the Lawbringer as a haymaker, but another version instead plays Angel of Invention, along with Aviary Mechanic for more value.

Hadana's Climb Pummeller

Green Energy decks were killed off by the bannings of Attune with Aether and Rogue Refiner, but some players have successfully resurrected it with the help of a forgotten Energy enabler and a new tool from Rivals of Ixalan.

Sage of Shalia's Claim was never really considered as a Standard-playable cards before the bannings, but now it's one of the best options in terms of a raw Energy producer that comes with some value. It's at home in an aggressive Energy deck where the 2/1 body is relevant and the Energy can enable Greenbelt Rampager, pump Longtusk Cub, and cleanly provide Energy for an extra activation of Electrostatic Pummeler or Bristling Hydra.

The biggest innovation for the deck before the bannings was Cartouche of Knowledge, but a new tool has provided another way to pump creatures and fly them over blockers, Hadana's Climb, which is a perfect addition to this aggressive blue/green archetype, and proves that it's more than just a limited bomb.

White/Blue Auras

The White-Blue Auras deck built around Sram, Senior Edificer drew a lot of heads when it broken out with Jim Davis's SCG finish with the deck right after the bannings, but the deck failed to stay in the metagame in any meaningful way. It's time to start paying attention to the deck, because Ruiner, a local friend of mine, has now earned a whopping 10 5-0 trophies playing the deck, which currently makes him the #2 player on the Competitive Standard League leaderboard.

There are a number of significant innovations that have been made to the deck since it's initial appearance, and it's clear these have brought the deck to the next level of competitiveness.

One innovation is Slippery Scroundrel adding a bonafide Hexproof creature, which history has proven is the most important feature of any competitive Auras deck. Unlocking its full potential requires the city's blessing, which this deck helps achieve with another addition, Sram's Expertise. At its core this deck features an aggressive white plan, and Sram's Expertise helps enable that by going wide. It's fantastic with Shefet Dunes, is an easy way to turn on Legion's Landing, plays very well against opponents looking to beat the deck with one-for-one targeted removal, and provides a one-two punch when it puts into play a Slippery Scoundrel with the city's immediate blessing.

Another feature is Aethersphere Harvester, which is easily enabled by the deck's many small creatures. It acts as a maindeck hoser against Mono-Red, and it helps the deck to win more fair games. The sideboard goes further into this fair plan by adding Gideon of the Trials as a threat against control decks that dodges most removal, and Revolutionary Rebuff as a Counterspell to catch midrange and control decks by surprise.

If you're looking for something new to play in Standard, this might be the deck for you, and it seems it's only a matter of time before the deck breaks out in a larger event.

What's your favorite Standard deck that's doing things different from the rest?

-Adam




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