The Top 10 Decks in Standard

Feature Article from Seth Manfield
Seth Manfield
3/9/2018 11:01:00 AM
submit to reddit » Print «

Every so often I like to go over the overall best decks in a format. It has been a while since we have had a Standard format that is as diverse as it is now. There isn't a consensus best deck at the moment, so I am going to be mixing in both tournament results and my own opinions in order to form this list.

10) White-Black Vampires

After the latest round of Standard bannings, there was the hope that tribal decks would be able to find their footing in Standard. While we do see some attempts at tribal decks featuring all of the Ixalan tribes, so far the White-Black Vampires deck has been the strongest performer. This deck aims to go wide with tokens, and includes ways to buff them up.

One important piece to playing this deck is managing your life total. The lifelink Vampires are great against aggressive decks like Mono-Red Aggro, and make it easier to lose life when you have to. Champion of Dusk is a huge payoff for having lots of Vampires in your deck, but it is very risky to play it in a deck that can't recoup the life lost from it. Legion Lieutenant and Radiant Destiny are the ways you can help grow those lifelinkers into more formidable threats.

This color combination also happens to have access to many of the best removal spells in the format. We actually see Cast Out and Ixalan's Binding over Vraska's Contempt. You can only play so many four-mana removal spells, so it becomes necessary to pick and choose. Out of the sideboard cards like Arguel's Blood Fast and Profane Procession provide additional tools for fighting control decks.

9) White-Blue God-Pharoah's Gift

There are a few different God-Pharaoh's Gift variants, ranging from Esper, to Blue-Black to White-Blue. These decks are not incredibly popular but represent an important part of the metagame. This is essentially a combo deck that relies on using its graveyard, and is something that other decks must respect. It also relies on an artifact to win, which is another reason players have cards like Thrashing Brontodon and Abrade. Personally, I like the white-blue version the best, similar to what Pascal Maynard played at Pro Tour Ixalan. This is a list from the latest MOCS event.

Four copies of Sacred Cat does seem like a lot, though the card can get you out of some tight spots, and lifegain creatures have proven themselves to be quite strong right now. Game one remains all about trying to get a copy of God-Pharoah's Gift into play as quickly as possible. After sideboarding against disruptive decks going to counterspells becomes a necessary evil.

8) Mardu Vehicles

Yes, Mardu Vehicles is still in Standard. Heart of Kiran isn't seeing nearly the amount of play that is used to, but this is still the best alternative aggressive deck. The deck no longer runs four Hazoret the Fervent, instead it is diversifying threats at its top end.

This deck is one that players should be used to at this point. Rekindling Phoenix has proven to be good enough that any deck that plays red and is aggressive wants to play it. Angrath, the Flame-Chained on the other hand is not a card that has seen a lot of play, though here it is nice to see it in the mix of sideboard options.

7) Ramp

I am going ahead and lumping all the ramp decks into one category here. There are a bunch of different takes on this strategy, though they are generally based around Hour of Promise. Win conditions can vary from Approach of the Second Sun to Torment of Hailfire. The Abzan colors have a lot of good removal at their disposal, this list was played by none other than Kanister on Magic Online.

Doomfall fits really well in a deck like this because of its versatility. Having a removal spell that is also going to double as a card to disrupt control decks is perfect. Control decks are still rough in game one, though, but this deck can answer any threat aggressive decks bring to the table. Arch of Orazca might be the most important land because it provides inevitability.

6) Red-Green Monsters

All of the top six decks have an argument for potentially being the top Standard deck right now. Red-Green Monsters recently won a Grand Prix, and plays some of the strongest creatures in the format. The power of curving Rhonas the Indomitable into Rekindling Phoenix into Glorybringer is pretty impressive. The reason this deck can consistently get to cast cards like Glorybringer on time is the eight explore creatures, which adds a lot of consistency to its powerful cards.

Red also has access to removal that can deal with The Scarab God in Struggle // Survive, which has been quite impressive. Magma Spray is also nice to have against the smaller eternalize creatures. The other nice part about this deck is that there are actually a bunch of different sideboard options. Atzocan Archer in particular can be really annoying for decks with lots of one-toughness creatures. There is a lot to like about this Monsters deck, and it has been a while since a strategy like this has been viable.

5) Blue-Black Midrange

This is actually the deck I played at the Grand Prix in Memphis. The deck has game against everything in Standard, and gets to play more threats than a Blue-Black Control deck. This creates an edge against control, as your threats also happen to generate card advantage. Cards like Glint-Sleeve Siphoner, Gonti, Lord of Luxury and Arguel's Blood Fast are going to be tough to beat if left unanswered. It isn't clear that this is the best The Scarab God deck, but it is certainly strong.

I was part of a group of strong players who played this at Memphis, and only Corey broke through with a Top 16 finish. I don't love the matchup against Mono-Red Aggro, though it is certainly winnable. Gifted Aetherborn is helpful, unless it immediately dies. Vraska's Contempt can become overtaxed, as it is a card you need to have in order to answer Hazoret the Fervent or Rekindling Phoenix. This deck doesn't do much in the way of countering creatures, so you can't prevent troublesome permanents from making their way onto the battlefield.

4) Blue-Black Control

This is the best true control deck in the format. What I mean by true control deck is a deck full of removal and countermagic and not many win conditions. This deck also operates primarily on the opponent's turn, and this keeps the opponent guessing what answer you have. The deck also plays a bunch of card draw so it is going to generally have more resources than the opponent as the game goes on. The best way to beat this deck is sticking an annoying threat early and then backing it up with pressure for the rest of the game. Eric Froehlich's recent testing led him to playing this, and it paid off.

This is very similar to the deck that was used as an answer to beat Temur Energy in the previous Standard format. It does still have some vulnerabilities, like Carnage Tyrant. The other vulnerability is to super aggressive decks, but Moment of Craving helps a lot to answer Mono-Red Aggro. Contraband Kingpin is also a nice way to have a life gain creature that can be reliably cast on turn two.

3) Sultai Constrictor

This is the best home for Winding Constrictor in the format. Initially players gravitated towards straight Black-Green Constrictor directly after the release of Rivals of Ixalan, but it turns out the blue splash for Hadana's Climb takes the deck to the next level. Hadana's Climb can do some crazy things if there is a Winding Constrictor in play. Then there are a variety of other creatures in the deck that add counters to your creatures, including Jadelight Ranger.

Besides the counter synergies, energy still synergizes nicely with Winding Constrictor as well. Servant of the Conduit doesn't see a ton of play outside of this deck, but here it is great for both ramp and color fixing. After the banning of Attune with Aether and Rogue Refiner, Bristling Hydra was completely written off, yet here it is. Creatures that can gain hexproof have a ton of value in this format full of expensive removal spells.

2) Grixis Energy

Grixis Energy has been doing well consistently, and has been around longer than a deck like Sultai Energy. Since it has put up more results I have it at the number two spot, though there are certainly arguments that can be made for switching the order up. Part of what makes this Standard format so diverse is the amount of different viable decks. This is probably the deck that utilizes The Scarab God the best. Making a copy of Whirler Virtuoso is a very powerful play, one that we have seen before.

This deck has a choice of what threats it makes sense to play. Some lists have actually gone up to four copies of The Scarab God, while here we have a lone copy of Rekindling Phoenix. The number of Chandra, Torch of Defiance is also somewhat flexible, though it's important to note this is not a pure control deck. While that may seem to be the case on the surface, the deck aims to have a ton of difficult-to-answer permanents, similar to more aggressive red strategies. Being able to play both Magma Spray and Vraska's Contempt gives you plenty of ways to exile creatures, which has turned out to be very important in this format. Similar to Blue-Black Midrange, this deck moves away from a countermagic-heavy approach and is just removal and threats.

1) Red Aggro

Even after the banning of Ramunap Ruins and Rampaging Ferocidon, I believe this is still the top deck in the format. Some versions splash black, though most are still only red. Many versions of Mono-Red Aggro have now tried to go slightly bigger, with more top-end creatures like Rekindling Phoenix and Glorybringer. The deck not only puts pressure on early, it is actually capable of winning a longer game. I happen to be very impressed with John Rolf's run playing this deck, and respect his addition of Grasping Dunes:

Grasping Dunes actually gives you a land that can help to answer a Rekindling Phoenix that just went to the graveyard, and that can be a mirror breaker. Fanatical Firebrand has replaced Soul-Scar Mage, and after having played with both I think this is smart. Glint-Sleeve Siphoner is a card even the more controlling decks are playing, and so oftentimes the Fanatical Firebrand can trade off with an opposing creature after getting in an attack or two. The scary thing is that because of the additions from Rivals of Ixalan, I'm not sure that this deck is worse than it was a few months ago.

I didn't get to mention every deck in Standard here. There are actually plenty more. I didn't forget about decks, but I had to choose ten archetypes, and as it turns out right now there are lots of decks to choose from!

Thanks for reading,

Seth Manfield

submit to reddit » Print «