Feature Article from Adam Yurchick

Standard Is Still Full of Surprises

Adam Yurchick

3/12/2020 11:00:00 AM

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The results of last month's Magic World Championship made Standard look very stable, maybe even stale. The best players in the world battling in the highest-stakes Magic tournament ever played did not produce any surprises, broken new decks, nor any big innovations. The field was defined by the safest and most established decks in Standard, with Azorius Control ending up on top over a Top 4 of Mono-Red Aggro and Jeskai Fires.

The following weekend brought Dreamhack Anaheim, another small but highly competitive field, and unexpectedly it was defined by the winners from Worlds: Azorius Control, Mono-Red Aggro and Jeskai Fires. But a predictable metagame is an exploitable metagame, and Aaron Gertler shocked the tournament and the entire Standard world by slicing through the competition with his Temur Adventure deck, which has proven to be a big favorite against Azorius and Mono-Red.

In the days after Anaheim, Temur Adventures received massive hype on social media, and it was backed up by results on Magic Online. By the next weekend's Mythic Point Challenge on MTG Arena it was the most successful deck in the field, earning numerous players the ten wins they needed to advance to the Mythic Championship, including Brian Braun-Duin, who has retold his experience with the deck.

But of course Temur Adventures has weaknesses of its own, and the savviest players took advantage by bringing decks like Jund and Rakdos Sacrifice, which have a resistance to removal and a superior ability to grind over a long game. In the days since, these decks have risen to prominence, quelling the rise of Temur Adventures and completely locking it out of the Top 8 of last weekend's Grand Prix Lyon, which featured two Rakdos Sacrifice decks.

Art of Mayhem Devil

These sacrifice decks were in turn preyed on by decks like Bant Ramp, which put two copies in the Top 8, and by Temur Reclamation, which made it to the finals. These decks go over the top of Sacrifice's small-ball action. They pay for their high power with stretched three-color shock-land-rich manabases, and in turn have unfavorable matchups against Mono-Red Aggro. This put Mono-Red in a perfect position, and it ultimately took the first-place trophy and put another copy in the Top 8. With just a single Azorius Control deck in day two, there was little to contain the fast and consistent Mono-Red from bullying the more specialized decks that filled the winners' metagame.

In the days since MagicFest Lyon, the MTGO metagame has seen a rise in Jeskai Fires, which is strong against Mono-Red and the Rakdos Sacrifice decks. I wouldn't be surprised if the metagame now comes full circle back to Azorius Control, which demonstrated at Worlds it bests both Jeskai Fires and Mono-Red. It also has good tools for battling against three-color blue decks, which include the Sultai Midrange deck that rounded out the Lyon Top 8. Things are complicated by Temur Adventures, which is still sure to be popular despite its poor showing last weekend. It all adds up to what looks like a balanced and healthy metagame, where anything is fair game to win this weekend at MagicFest Detroit and any other events before the release of Ikoria: Lair of Behemoths shakes things up next month.

One takeaway from this diverse and moving metagame is that Standard still leaves much to be explored. There must be some opportunity for other strategies to break their own way into the metagame, and the latest Magic Online results shows some players are doing that with all sorts of innovative decklists.

Grixis Sacrifice

One very promising new deck is Grixis Sacrifice, which expands on the Rakdos Sacrifice strategy with some powerful blue additions.

Lazav, the Multifarious

Blue's biggest payoff is Lazav, the Multifarious, and it's best with Kroxa, Titan of Death's Hunger, which has risen to become a staple of the Rakdos strategy and was in both Lyon Top 8 lists. Copying Kroxa for just two mana (which with a lucky surveil could happen as early as turn three) gives this deck an almost combo-like reanimator feel, and it definitely increases the power level.

Blue also adds Emry, Lurker of the Loch, which is great for finding Kroxa and fueling its escape. Emry goes further by being an excellent enabler for the Cauldron Familiar / Witch's Oven engine, which it digs for with its cast trigger and helps to set up with its activated ability. It gains some added utility with the addition of some nice artifact one-ofs: Gingerbrute, Shadowspear, and even Embercleave, which is sure to surprise opponents!

Atris, Oracle of Half-Truths

Atris, Oracle of Half Truths adds another graveyard enabler, and an excellent raw card advantage ability that Rakdos lacks. The card is incredible in Limited and sees some Pioneer play in Sultai Delirium, and is a great example of a Standard card that's still unexplored and underplayed relative to how good it is.

A singleton Lochmere Serpent adds another nice graveyard payoff as a sort of pseudo-escape card, and it helps bolster the late game by giving the deck a real haymaker.

This deck moved beyond multiple League 5-0 finishes in the hands of multiple players to now a successful 4-1 run in the competitive Preliminary events by its biggest proponent “gasotamu”. They have been putting up results for weeks and are responsible for the innovations and one-ofs in this most recent list, and I'll be looking eagerly for their next one.

Temur Flash

Another known strategy that could benefit from adding a color is Simic Flash, which re-emerged in Lyon in the form of Temur Flash.

Samuel Estratti won the first Modern Pro Tour, Philadelphia in 2011 with his Splinter Twin deck. It's easy to imagine how his skill with that flash-based strategy transfered over to the Temur Flash deck he piloted to the finals of the Players Tour Qualifier on Friday before MagicFest Lyon, where he then played the deck to a day-two money finish. He was joined in both the PTQ Top 8 and day two by a friend piloting the same deck, which all together made for one impressive weekend for the breakout deck.

Simic Flash was a top deck in Standard just a few months ago, but with the metagame moving and the release of Theros Beyond Death, it fell to become a complete non-factor. It's clear the deck needed some sort of innovation if it was to compete, but it has also benefited from the metagame shifting toward clunky three-color midrange decks, which it exploits well with its disruptive countermagic and efficient threats.

Bonecrusher Giant

The addition of red adds Bonecrusher Giant, which provides invaluable removal for a deck that doesn't otherwise have a good answer to something like Edgewall Innkeeper. Bonecrusher Giant is simply one of the best cards in Standard, and stretching mana to play it is a good bet, as evidenced by Temur Adventures.

Red also gives access to Ionize, which is a nice upgrade over Sinister Sabotage for an aggressive deck. It aligns directly with the deck's plan of disrupting the opponent while nickel-and-diming them out of the game with creatures.

Red opens up the sideboard for additional removal, with a set of Scorching Dragonfire giving it an efficient removal spell against aggressive decks like Red Aggro, which it attacks further with a pair of Redcap Melee.

Uro, Titan of Nature's Wrath

The sideboard of the deck also contains a surprise with three Uro, Titan of Nature's Wrath. It's not a tool Simic Flash had access to during its heyday, but it's a smart addition now that it's on the table. Uro's card advantage potential gives Temur Flash the ability to shift away from its primary tempo plan toward a more grinding long-game focus, and it will be a nightmare for opponents without any permanent solutions. The deck even has countermagic to protect Uro from opponents who do have answers like Banishing Light, so it can really run away with the game whenever it gets going.

Orzhov Auras

Ken Yukuhiro and his Sram, Senior Edificer Auras deck was the big story from the Pioneer Players Tour Nagoya, where he was a match away from winning the entire event. It never became very popular, but it's still lurking as a competitive Pioneer deck. Now one enterprising player has argued it could be a factor in Standard too, by playing a convincing imitation to 17th place in last weekend's Standard Challenge on MTGO.

The loss of Sram, Senior Edificer in the shift to Standard cuts the most central and powerful element of the deck, but it retains many of the same key cards it relies on in Pioneer.

Hateful Eidolon

Without the card advantage of Sram fueling it, the Standard version leans instead on Hateful Eidolon and its synergy with removal spell auras, which it doesn't use in Pioneer. These removal auras also give Aphemia, the Cacophony more value in the Standard version, where it's a must-kill threat capable of taking over a game. These card advantage engines combined with a suite of removal Auras allow the deck to play a more defensive role while grinding out the opponent.

Helping the cause is Tymaret Calls the Dead, which after producing card advantage will go to the graveyard on its own to be eaten by Aphemia and/or to trigger Starfield Mystic, which the deck uses as an additional threat. Pious Wayfarer helps round out the deck as another threat. I'm curious about Pioneer's Alseid of Life's Bounty in that slot for protecting the deck's card advantage engines, even if it's not as useful here for protecting an enchanted creature.

There's clearly more development and tuning to be done here, but it's a pretty solid run for a brand new deck, and with some refinement it could be a competitive option.

Heartfire Red

Sometimes the best innovations are not brand new decks but subtle changes to an existing one, like a new style of Mono-Red Aggro deck built to support Heartfire.


As a raw burn spell Heartfire is very powerful relative to other options, both as removal and for killing opponents, but it's especially useful right now because of how well it plays against Temur Adventures. Sacrificing the target of an Adventure spell counters it and cuts off access to the creature half, which will be a game-changing blow anytime it occurs. That makes Heartfire a great tool for red decks in this metagame, but it does require some support in the form of expendable creatures like Grim Initiate and Footlight Fiend, which create value when they are sacrificed.

Claim the Firstborn

This deck goes even further by supporting Heartfire with a playset of Claim the Firstborn, which turns the sacrifice cost into a benefit, creating an incredibly powerful interaction that will devastate any opponent it connects against. On its own, Claim the Firstborn is still a potentially strong card in the deck, functionally acting like a burn spell against any deck with cheap creatures by helping to get in extra damage—potentially a lot of damage, if it's clearing a blocker in the way of other creatures.

This deck made it to the Top 8 of the Standard Challenge last weekend, so it looks like more than just a gimmick. Heartfire could be a real new direction for red decks.