The time has come! The ultimate SCG Tour 2018 event and the wrap up for
Season 2 is this Friday with SCG CON Winter. There’s going to be a ton to
do for Magic players of all kinds, but if you’ve clicked on my article
today, it’s more than likely that you’ve qualified for the SCG Invitational
and are looking for tips on how to best prepare to try to win that $20,000
first place prize and your face on a token!
Split format Constructed events are essentially unique to just SCG Tour
Invitationals, so participating in them is an experience that qualified
players get to compete in only twice a year. Having to essentially double
the amount of time and preparation that goes into the event can be
daunting, but I’m here with the best advice I have to offer for being prepared
for the Standard half of the sixteen-round slugfest this weekend.
1. Understanding how your deck operates against the other top
decks in Standard is very valuable.
For the first time in a very long time, Standard’s top tier is
shared by a reasonable number of high power strategies that are all equally
capable of taking down a tournament. This is especially remarkable given
that this is a format fresh off the heels of a rotation that took away four
other sets and only added one.
Since this is the case, a very good strategy for preparing for this event
would be to pick one of the best performing decks in the format, construct
and practice matchup and sideboarding plans against the other best
performing decks, and save yourself the mental energy of figuring things
out on the fly during the event. This very much ties into my next tip:
2. The Invitational Metagame will be more similar to the winner’s
metagame than normal.
At a normal SCG Tour event, especially in the early rounds, it’s more
likely that you will encounter some of the tier 1.5-tier 2 decks that exist
in the format along with the top brass. This is almost always not the case
in Invitationals. One lesson I’ve learned from the Invitationals I’ve
participated in is that the decks people choose to play almost exclusively
consist of tier 1 strategies, especially in Standard. I played three Rakdos
Aggro mirrors in the four rounds of Standard I played in the Season 1
invitational this year (I did not make it to Day Two), and I played seven
Temur and/or Sultai energy decks at the Invitational that took place one
year ago. For such a high stakes tournament, most people choose to leave
their pet decks at home in favor of the decks with the highest chance of
winning them the tournament. This tournament will be no different.
Acknowledging this helps you hone in on exactly what you should be
So, what does the winner’s metagame right now consist of?
3. The Winner’s Metagame in Standard is: Golgari Midrange, Izzet
Drakes, Jeskai Control, and Boros Aggro.
These four decks should be in your sights as your prepare for this event.
These are the decks that since the beginning of the format have proven
themselves as the most consistent and powerful decks to be playing in
Standard. If you want the best shot of performing well in the Standard
portion of the Invitational, these are the decks that should be on your
short list of options.
Let’s recap what each deck does, along with some strengths and weaknesses
- 4 Llanowar Elves
- 2 Druid of the Cowl
- 3 Carnage Tyrant
- 3 Wildgrowth Walker
- 4 Merfolk Branchwalker
- 4 Jadelight Ranger
- 3 Ravenous Chupacabra
- 1 Midnight Reaper
While there are multiple tier 1strategies in Standard at the moment,
Golgari Midrange is far and away the most popular deck in the format. The
deck is, above all else, consistent at doing what it does; while there are
other decks in the format that are maybe slightly faster, more powerful,
Golgari offers the same gameplan every game: out-valuing the opponent
until they can no longer compete with Golgari’s top end of Planeswalkers
and Carnage Tyrants.
Creatures utilizing the explore mechanic, like Merfolk Branchwalker
and Jadelight Ranger, help you consistently hit your land drops and
help filter out bad draws.
The aforementioned explore creatures work in tandem with Wildgrowth
Walker to give aggressive strategies an absolute headache.
The deck is highly customizable; so many powerful options are at
Golgari’s disposal that the deck quite frankly can’t fit them all.
If it wants to, it can outgrind any deck in the format. Between
Vivien Reid, Vraska, Relic Seeker, Midnight Reaper, The Eldest
Reborn, etc., the deck is a two-for-one-generating machine.
As a midrange deck, it is susceptible to decks that can go “over
the top” of it.
The deck can occasionally spend its time “spinning its wheels.”
There will be some games you will spend simply casting medium-sized
green creatures while your opponent powers up a Crackling Drake and
kills you in two turns.
As an addendum to the previous point, the deck is soft to fliers if
not immediately answered.
Much of Golgari’s removal spells, while efficient and usually
generating value, are sorcery speed–think Ravenous Chupacabra, The
Eldest Reborn, Plaguecrafter, and Vivien Reid’s -3 ability. This
can be problematic against decks that utilize Dive Down as a one- mana protection spell to protect their creatures.
Golgari Midrange is the most consistent choice across the board. While the
deck isn’t the most flashy and can sometimes fall short to what the other
decks’ best draws can do, it trades a slightly lower ceiling in power
level for a much higher floor.
Izzet Drakes’ rise to glory came first in the hands of Pascal Vieren, who
had fantastic finishes in both GP Lille and Pro Tour Guilds of Ravnica. Vieren’s take on the deck was a tuned version
that eschewed cards like Enigma Drake, Crash Through, and Warlord’s Fury in
favor of a much sleeker build, which utilizes Goblin Electromancer and tons
of draw spells to churn through the deck and power out multiple Arclight
Phoenixes in one turn. Owen Turtenwald and many others have been
championing the deck as one of if not the best deck in Standard.
This deck possesses some of the most powerful starts in the format so much
that many decks simply cannot keep up with it. Goblin Electromancer’s
power is no less apparent in Standard than it is in Modern, as the
cost reduction ability on the card makes casting three or more
spells in a turn trivial, and it helps your bury your opponent in both
cards and an army of 3/2s.
The deck possesses a swath of threats that all attack at different
angles, making the deck difficult to hate out. Murmuring Mystic
allows you to go wide with your spells and keep the lower to the
ground aggro decks in check. Ral, Izzet Viceroy gives the deck the
ability to go long against the control and midrange decks in the
format. Niv-Mizzet, Parun is just a threat that must be answered
immediately and usually generates a staggering amount of card
advantage, even in the event that it dies immediately.
Due to the large amount of draw spells the deck utilizes, you see
well over 30 cards in a game of reasonable length, meaning it’s
easy to rely on a given gameplan from game to game.
While Izzet Drakes does a great job of getting ahead and staying
ahead, the deck struggles to play from behind. Goblin Electromancer
is fairly fragile, and savvy opponents will know to kill the Goblin
on sight, especially if they’ve ever been on the receiving end of a
turn-3 spell chain that returned multiple Arclight Phoenixes.
Without the mana reduction engine, it makes it difficult to catch
up at times.
If Arclight Phoenix feels like hanging out in the bottom half of
your library instead of the top half, the deck’s power level
While this weakness is technically avoidable, the deck ends up
drawing a good amount of air sometimes, and failing to properly
time your draw spells can lead to awkward draws and boardstates
that quickly become difficult to crawl out of.
Izzet Drakes is an R&D masterpiece that is both incredibly fun to play
and very powerful. The deck is a little less straightforward than some of
its competitors in the format, and has a reasonable learning curve if you
want to get the most mileage out of the deck, but the juice is well worth
Jeskai has felt like the silent killer of this Standard format.
Overshadowed by all of the talk of Golgari Midrange and Izzet Drakes,
Jeskai Control has been the winning deck of two of this Standard format’s
Grand Prix, with both lists utilizing very different core gameplans. Eli
Kassis took down Grand Prix New Jersey with a build utilizing Azor’s
Gateway to cast enormous, game-ending Expansion//Explosions, while Adrian
Sullivan used Treasure Map to help cast Niv-Mizzet, Parun ahead of
schedule. The crossover between the two decks is Teferi, Hero of Dominaria
and Deafening Clarion, and lists frequently max out at four copies due to
how well they are positioned in the metagame.
Most of the current builds of Jeskai, like Adrian Sullivan’s Grand
Prix-winning list, utilize Niv-Mizzet as its win condition.
Gerry Thompson did a good job of explaining why this is a good
The combination of Niv Mizzet, along with Teferi, gives you the best
end game in the format. As long as you don’t stumble, it quickly
becomes easy to bury your opponent in cards. Curving Teferi into
Niv-Mizzet is backbreaking.
Deafening Clarion is one of the best cards in the deck because it
lines up so well against the rest of the format. It not only sweeps
up most of the creatures the top tier decks are playing but the
ability to give something like Crackling Drake or Niv-Mizzet, Parun
lifelink to crawl back from a low life total is incredible.
Mana, mana, mana. Jeskai Control is essentially the only
three-color deck in the format, and some of the color requirements
are quite heavy. It isn’t infrequent that one of your first six
land drops is one of the few basic Plains that the deck plays,
which makes casting Niv-Mizzet on time an issue.
Some creatures exist in the format that prey on what Jeskai does
best. Adanto Vanguard can be very difficult to deal with, as well
as History of Benalia, as they can quickly overwhelm Deafening
Clarion and require more unique answers (like Seal Away) to deal
The power level of Niv-Mizzet, Parun, at this stage, is very well
known. Well prepared opponents have a slew of answers to cleanly
deal with the creature and can usually add additional copies to
their deck, such as:
This makes it important moving forward to not completely lean on Niv-Mizzet
alone to win games, and it gives the deck a target of sorts placed on its head
in that regard.
Jeskai’s strong performance comes from the fact the deck has an incredibly
powerful suite of tools at its disposal to tackle any metagame it wants to.
Combined with the fact that it gets to play a high amount of copies of the
best creature in Standard, it makes for a powerful option that gives you
lots of opportunities to outplay your opponents, draw lots of cards, and
win longer, drawn out games.
The Boros Aggro decks in this Standard format, much like many of the other
top decks, have come in all shapes and sizes. At Pro Tour Guilds of Ravnica, we saw a variety of different builds, such as
LSV’s version designed to win the mirror with Ajani’s Pridemate and builds
like the version above that leaned on Heroic Reinforcements to end games
with an enormous battlefield of “anthem-ed” creatures. Regardless of the
builds, the core of the deck and its power comes from cards like Legion’s
Landing, Venerated Loxodon, and History of Benalia–all cards that do a ton
of heavy lifting on their own to help you win games.
It’s fast. Boros Aggro is the premier aggro deck
of the format as it stands. This is in part due to the recent
decline in Goblin Chainwhirler and Mono-Red Aggro lists
falling out of favor. This deck does a good job of burying your
opponents in threats that only a sweeper can realistically handle.
If Niv-Mizzet, Parun is the best creature in Standard, I’d like to
think Adanto Vanguard is not too far behind. This card is an
enormous headache for any deck trying to use damage or destroy-based removal to deal with it, and has the ability to win games
almost completely on its own if left unchecked.
The sideboard or “pivot” plan that the deck has access to is unique
enough to overcome additional sweepers post-board. Ajani, Adversary
of Tyrants, Experimental Frenzy, and Banefire, along with a flipped
Legion’s Landing, go a long way towards rebuilding a boardstate in
the face of Deafening Clarions, Ritual of Soots, and Cleansing
Poor lategame. The deck is full of 2/1s and 1/1s for one mana, and
if your opponent is able to stave off your initial assault, it is
nearly impossible to crawl back into a game where your opponent
resolves Niv-Mizzet and kills every creature you topdeck in the mid
to lategame. This becomes less of a problem postboard, but is still
They utilize a lot of enchantments to solve a lot of their
problems, primarily Conclave Tribunal. Legion’s Landing, Baffling
End, Experimental Frenzy, and History of Benalia create a density
of enchantments high enough that opponents are likely to note it.
For example, Jeskai Control typically brings in Invoke the Divine,
since it can be a blowout to destroy a Conclave Tribunal, exiling
their Niv-Mizzet and eating a creature in combat.
Weakness to sweepers. Outside of Adanto Vanguard, the deck can
struggle recovering. If your first three plays of the game are
three one-drops with the hope of flipping Legion’s Landing on turn
3 and your opponent casts Deafening Clarion, you are left with
only a few cards in hand and end up drastically far behind.
Boros Aggro is the leanest and meanest deck in the format, and its best
draws give little wiggle room for an opponent to stumble. The power level
of a majority of the deck is very, very low but is backed up by some of the
best cards in Standard to help the deck cross the finish line.
4. The Tier 1.5/2 strategies (Mono-Red Aggro, Selesnya Tokens,
Mono-Blue Tempo, and Boros Angels) are still strong enough that you
should also consider them, though slightly less.
The following decks have all been waiting in the wings for their time in
this Standard format, but it is safe to say that, at this point, they
aren’t a big enough part of the winner’s metagame to definitively call them
tier 1. That being said, the decks are all still powerful enough that is it
likely you will encounter them in some number. Be sure to analyze the
following decks and understand what they do best:
- 1 Lyra Dawnbringer
- 2 Shalai, Voice of Plenty
- 4 Thorn Lieutenant
- 3 Emmara, Soul of the Accord
- 3 Trostani Discordant
- 3 Legion's Landing
- 4 History of Benalia
- 3 Song of Freyalise
- 4 Saproling Migration
- 4 Conclave Tribunal
- 4 March of the Multitudes
- 4 Flower
- 2 Rekindling Phoenix
- 4 Fanatical Firebrand
- 4 Ghitu Lavarunner
- 4 Goblin Chainwhirler
- 4 Viashino Pyromancer
- 4 Runaway Steam-Kin
- 22 Mountain
- 20 Island
- 4 Tocatli Honor Guard
- 4 Adanto Vanguard
- 4 Rekindling Phoenix
- 3 Lyra Dawnbringer
- 4 Resplendent Angel
- 3 Aurelia, Exemplar of Justice
5. Have a gameplan against the best creature in Standard: Niv- Mizzet, Parun.
Many of the writers on this website in the last few weeks have spent a good
amount of time talking about how powerful Niv-Mizzet is, and I’ve talked at
length about the card multiple times throughout this article thus far. At
this point, however, I wanted to hammer home the importance of not bringing
a list to the SCG Invitational that is cold to this card. I might be
entering into hot take territory here with this, but Niv-Mizzet reminds me
a lot of another six-mana threat that dominated Standard a few
years back that usually couldn’t be beaten if its controller untapped with it:
Have a plan. Look for answers that aren’t instants and sorceries to deal
with Niv if possible.
Do not come to this tournament without a plan for Niv-Mizzet, Parun.
, I covered the pillars of the Modern format and its current top
contenders to help prepare you for SCG Baltimore.
Lucky for you, Modern’s metagame moves at a glacially slow pace, so
everything in that article still applies. Now that you have a better idea
on how to tackle the Standard metagame for the Invitational, go give that
a look to get a quick refresh.
Sound off on the comments which two decks you plan to register for the
Invitational below. As for me, I’ll probably end up scrambling to pick from
one of four decks in each format the night before the event, like I always
Will you be the next Invitational Champion?