An Over The Top Standard Season

Standard may not just be passable; it may be great! The decks just keep going up the mana curve, and Patrick Chapin wants to take a deep dive into the God-Pharaohs and Elder Dinos!

Without a Pro Tour to set the pace for the Rivals of Ixalan
Standard format, the metagame is a little bit of a wild west.

With the banning of the Ramunap Ruins and Rampaging Ferocidon, it was not
unreasonable to expect Mono-Red to take a hit. Nevertheless, the first few
weeks of the new Standard seemed to suggest that banning the 4th best and
11th best card in the best deck wasn’t enough to stop it.

Could the sky be falling?


The metagame has since adjusted, and while Hazoret continues to be a
defining force, the format appears to have a pretty good variety of stuff
going on.

And it’s sweet.

Some of the decks people are winning with are well beyond cool–they’re
deep, deep into completely sweet territory.

You know it’s a good sign when someone in the top 8 has Nicol Bolas,
God-Pharaoh. It’s an even better sign when they don’t run The Scarab God,
and Nicol Bolas isn’t even the top of their curve(!)

See, now this is how you know Ali Aintrazi is not messing around.

Obviously, Zacama completely dominates the game once it hits, killing
creatures, artifacts, enchantments, and any possibility of racing.

But how can his curve go up so high?

Ali piloted an innovative Five-Color B/G Ramp deck of his own design,
relying on Gift of Paradise and Hour of Promise to do most of the ramping.
Not wanting to waste precious land slots with white or blue mana, Cascading
Cataracts lets Ali hit five birds with one stone.

Now, on the surface, it might appear that the ramp cards are the reason to
go that high, but that still doesn’t speak to why go to nine when there are
such powerful sevens and eights available.

The real answer is this bad boy right here:

Mastermind’s Acquisition is definitely slow, but its versatility is
unparalleled. The ability to Diabolic Tutor out of your sideboard, as well
as your maindeck, is just such a radically new concept and the implications
to deckbuilding are not completely clear. Here, Ali was able to take
advantage of extremely powerful endgame cards, like Zacama and Nicol Bolas,
without the same risk of drawing them early.

If you’re going to maindeck one of your ultra hardcore monsters, making it
a six-drop sounds alright to me.

Tetzimoc also doubles as a “sweeper,” which this list desperately needs.
I’m actually kind of surprised to see nothing else in the 75, save a
sideboard Yahenni’s Expertise (which can obviously be retrieved with
Mastermind’s Acquisition).

Instead, Aintrazi’s list relies on an extensive assortment of black removal
spells, aspiring to keep pace on a one-for-one basis.

That’s a lot of lifegain, not to mention the Gifts of Paradise from
earlier. On top of that, Fatal Push, Doomfall, and Never is a pretty
obscene amount of removal. He’s even got Thaumatic Compass when it

Okay, look, I enjoy a good Compass as much as the next person, and I’ve got
a lot of appetite for durdling. Seriously though, are we really
playing Thaumatic Compass in a deck with three Swamps and one Forest? We
might actually run out of land before we can even transform it, and that’s
to say nothing of only finding two colors.

Okay, okay, maybe it’s a good enough answer to Hazoret to be worth it. I’m
suspicious, though.

I am not at all sure how Aintrazi arrived at the mix he did with this brew,
but the lone Arguel’s Blood Fast does offer a pretty great added dimension
when Masterminded up. It can go a long way for keeping up with blue decks,
and there’s no shortage of incidental lifegain to help fuel it.

If you told me there were two planeswalkers in a Five-Color G/B ramp deck,
there’s no way Vraska wouldn’t be one of them. She’s an excellent
Mastermind target, the easiest colors, and one of the better walkers in
Standard. As for the other, I think Angrath is actually a really smart
second option. Having a different cost than Vraska makes the Masterminds
better (since we’ve got a great proactive option to get on turn 4 for play
on turn 5). The discard ability is another powerful anti-control plan
(helping make up for the overabundance of spot removal). The stealing
ability gives this list a surprising amount of damage capability out of

You know, for a G/B ramp deck, Aintrazi sure managed to fit a lot of sweet,
sweet card advantage in here. Arch of Orazca is particularly awesome with
Hour of Promise. Not only can you search up a card draw engine, but if/when
you make two Zombies, you should be in a pretty good spot to have the
city’s blessing next turn.

Sweet to Mastermind for when facing Approach of the Second Sun.


Err, what?

Okay, so assuming this is really just Conqueror’s Galleon, I guess it sort
of makes the 2/2 Zombies into bigger threats?

I mean, sure, going long, it lets you go way, way over the top of
people, but we’re talking about a sideboard that already features Nicol
Bolas, God-Pharaoh and Zacama, Primal Calamity. How much more over the top
do we need to go?

Okay, I’m still trying to wrap my head around not playing a copy of The
Scarab God. This card is just so ridiculous, and we’ve got so much mana to
fuel it.

While Aintrazi’s list was, without a doubt, the sweetest deck of the
tournament (at least by my usual Nicol Bolas-centric metrics), it was
another weekend for The Scarab God, this time, in the hands of Todd

Todd’s take on U/B Control is sort of retro in that it returns to a zero
Ravenous Chupacabra count instead following the same inspiration as
Aintrazi and packing an unusual amount of black spot removal. Again, Moment
of Craving is used alongside Fatal Push and Vraska’s Contempt, with Censor,
of all cards, the cut to make room.

I’m such a big fan of this, at least for this weekend. I think the U/B deck
just really, desperately needs a little tempo, and Censor isn’t actually at
its best right now. The fast decks go under it too quickly, and the slow
decks can play around it too easily. The opportunity cost is so low, it’s
hard for Censor to ever be that wrong, but I think the tempo boost
against red was well crafted and an important part of Todd’s winning

What a difference a few months makes, where Glimmer of Genius as the
four-of is somehow the unusual configuration. It’s so hard for me to
imagine not wanting more Illuminations than one, however, regardless of the
Glimmer count.

Eh. I guess it’s the best one here, but it does sort of feel like we’re
missing out here by not really getting anything out of the city’s blessing

The latest in a long line of unkillable victory conditions, Nezahal is sort
of a Pearl Lake Ancient/Sphinx of the Final Word hybrid with a weird
card-advantage-y ability rolled in. I’m generally a fan, but wouldn’t want
more than one.

Yes, keep ’em coming! If Standard is moving to a place of random Treasure
Maps and Thaumatic Compasses just floating around, that is really exciting
news (although, I sure like Treasure Map more than Thaumatic Compass, but

See, now I’m really feeling McCurdy’s top 8 list from a week earlier that
also made great use of Mastermind’s Acquisition. Four Treasure Maps and a Thaumatic Compass, plus no respect for the apparent
gentleman’s agreement to not play Approach of the Second Sun.

Three Arch of Orzaca…?

Okay, I don’t know how to explain that.

I guess the opportunity cost is just low because his colors are just so

Into it.

Ooh, you fancy…

Sure. If we’re just sticking to two colors, we do need something
to go over the top.

My body is ready.

Profane Procession is, to be frank, obscene.

Seriously, like half the decks in the format can’t realistically win if you
get this going.

If I were playing in a tournament this weekend…

…I would be playing Jace, the Mind Sculptor.

However, if I were playing Standard, I would be looking to play Profane
Procession. This is a messed up Magic card.

This past weekend saw another W/B deck at the top, obviously packing a
couple Profane Processions. However, Paul Green’s list had a very different
tenor than McCurdy’s.

A fairly standard W/B Tokens list, built around Hidden Stockpile, Paul’s
list ironically cuts green, running without the Vraskas many lists play.

Okay, look. I respect Baffling End, I really do. And obviously, I am into
Ixalan’s Binding. What I don’t understand, is how it could be right to play
zero Cast Outs in a deck like this. The opportunity cost is just so low and the flexibility so high. It’s not like we’re
great against Hazoret or anything.



I’m sort of surprised to hear that the Champion is the highest impact card
we could have in this slot.

I’m also interested in how much mileage we’re getting out of the
Duress/Lost Legacy package. I mean, if people play Approach of the Second
Suns in their deck, we’re going to need it badly. However, if whatever
temporary ceasefire holds, I could imagine being interested in looking at a
less disruptive build, like Kazu Negri’s G/W Tokens list, capitalizing on
Merfolk Branchwalker and Jadelight Ranger.

Negri’s list is built to grind, with a lot of two-for-ones despite so many
cheap, fast-ish threats.

Adanto Vanguard and Adorned Pouncer?

Kind of an exotic mix of two-drops, but both are respectable. They are
actually pretty nice to target with Appeal, now that you mention it.

Target your Vanguard and your investment is more secure. Target your
Pouncer and you might Channel + Fireball them all the way out.

While I do appreciate the one in the sideboard, I think I’d consider at
least a couple in the main. This card is really well set up for the format
right now. Lightning Strike, Abrade, Shock, Fatal Push, Moment of Craving,
Ixalan’s Binding. The card just lines up real well against many of the most
popular removal spells in the format.

Speaking of Lightning Strike, Abrade, and Shock

Boblitt’s final four finishing list of Mono-Red Aggro was one of four red
aggro decks in the Top 8 (counting a pair of Mardu Vehicles decks), and
nearly half the Top 16 was red aggro in some form or fashion. His list
isn’t particularly crazy, with the main new innovation being a pair of Dire
Fleet Daredevils in the maindeck (which seems fine since it’s not like any
of the two-drop options are all that good).

I’m just glad we’re taking a break on splashing Path of Mettle with ten or
fewer white sources despite tons of red one-drops and just a single good

Keep getting that money, playa!

For reference, here’s an example of the latest take on Mardu Vehicles. Just
please, please play four Unlicensed Disintegrations if you play a
deck like this. No disrespect intended, I just think that card is so much
better than most, so if we’re going to all the trouble to make it good, we
might as well get paid in full.

Hour of Glory in the sideboard, eh? That’s kind of spicy…

Perhaps the most interesting red aggro deck of the weekend belonged to
Rivera Israel, piloting a U/R Favorable Winds deck with a mana curve only
Saito could love.

Okay, so we’re playing a Fliers deck. I’m into it. Let’s see what we’ve

Okay, good start, even if just a single one-drop means we’re not always
going to be curving out.

I really dig Warkite Marauder, especially in U/R decks, where we can turn
our cheap burn into hard kill. The Marauder is fast, aggressive, and very
efficient. I’m a big fan and expect this card to appear in a lot more decks
to come. This is just such a different dimension than U/R decks usually
get, being so good at killing fatties.

This is kind of a ragtag bunch of three-drop “fliers,” but they are all
good cards and get the job done. I’m just glad to see Nimble Obstructionist
in the sideboard, rounding things out.

The format is not the most kind to Chandra, so I really don’t mind seeing a
playset of Rekindling Phoenix and just two Chandras. Hazoret is just not
right with how expensive our top end stuff is and how much we’re otherwise
staying off the ground for the most part. No reason to make their creatures
into good blockers.

Yes, yes of course we’re curving Siren Stormtamer all the way to
Glorybringer. Why would we not?

We can’t just let people Ixalan’s Binding or Vraska’s Contempt our
Rekindling Phoenix, can we?!

Despite an early rush of Mono-Red Aggro and Grixis Energy, this format is
shaping up pretty awesome. There are a healthy variety of aggressive decks,
midrange, control, ramp, and tokens. Every color is seeing play, and
Approach doesn’t even appear to be ruining the format. Dinosaurs, Merfolk,
Pirates, and Vampires all show up a little, even though the format isn’t
overrun with tribal decks.

I gotta say, if this weekend is any indication, this Standard looks to be
more than just one of the most promising in years. It looks like it might
be legitimately really good.