Every Standard Deck And Why You Shouldn’t Play Any Of Them

Ari Lax pays grudging tribute to a Standard metagame that wound up interesting (but not too interesting!) with a range of curiously flawed decks.

It’s hard these days to pick a deck in Standard. Everything is so optimized by now that it feels like everything can be both the best and worst choice. I think regardless of your choice the games are going to be interesting and skill intensive, so that decision parameter is out the window too.

So let’s use everyone’s favorite metrics: feelings, marginal justifications, and hyperbole about the best and worst parts of each deck as Kaladesh sails into the sunset.

R/B Aggro

Why You Should Play It:

R/B Aggro is just the best deck. All your cards are great. Your curve is really good for being a Jundy “all good cards” deck. I really just don’t know what else to tell you. If you want to do something besides play the best cards and beat people, be my guest and don’t forget to sign the slip before leaving the table.

Also, my list is sick and you should play it. If you want a sideboard guide, just go through Sam Black’s article with Karn, Scion of Urza from a few weeks ago and Owen Turtenwald’s plans from around the same time and a few weeks before then and that should be more than good enough.

Warning: Do not register Angrath, Minotaur Pirate on accident. Angrath is a Minotaur and a Pirate, but he is not the Minotaur Pirate. That’s his goofy cousin no one associates with.

Why You Shouldn’t Play It:

The biggest issue with R/B Aggro is that it can’t easily kill Teferi, Hero of Dominaria. Basically every matchup you can describe as “dicey” involves that card and some way to make attacking it difficult.

You can use Sorcerous Spyglass as an answer, but I think all the decks that rely on Teferi have started planning for it. Bant Nexus has Manglehorn and Dissenter’s Deliverance that are just good against your Bomat Couriers regardless, and U/W Control sometimes just has Torrential Gearhulk instead and you look like an idiot for spending a card on Spyglass. This is why I just play three copies of Doomfall. That, and Doomfall is great against The Scarab God, green creatures, Rekindling Phoenix, literally everything after sideboarding, and so on.

Insult // Injury has similar issues due to Settle the Wreckage. It’s like people can change cards in their decks to react to the metagame.

I don’t actually think R/B Aggro is that bad against Teferi decks, but it does suck to lose to them. They just play their best card, and then you die sometimes. Also, you have to play mirrors. Gross, unless you are me and literally win every mirror match via the powerful sorcery of winning die rolls and drawing better.

Mono-Red Aggro

Why You Should Play It:

It’s one of the least midrangey decks in the format. Unlike everything else, you can do things that aren’t “hit your fourth land drop and tap out.”

Why You Shouldn’t Play It:

Have you read these cards?

Holy crap they are bad. Have you ever drawn Ghitu Lavarunner on Turn 5? Gross. Have you ever drawn six lands with this deck? You die. The reason this section isn’t titled “Mono-Red The Flame of Keld” is I think The Flame of Keld is an actively bad Magic card.

I think the Scrounger Red deck might be good if you expect to want the extra Hazoret the Fervent and Soul-Scar Mage for mirrors, but if you play Ghitu Lavarunner, you need to be ready for some supreme disappointment off the top of your deck.

Green Aggro

Why You Should Play It:

Everyone just started building the green decks right.

Step one was that enough people stopped playing Mono-Green Aggro. You can now cut the garbage fire that is Ghalta, Primal Hunger. The easiest way to lose with Mono-Green Aggro was always losing your normal threats and drawing Ghalta without a bridge to it. 12/12 is unbeatable in mirrors, but unplayable against Teferi, Hero of Dominaria and, as mentioned, half a liability against removal.

If you haven’t played the new Vine MareVerdurous Gearhulk lists, give them a spin. Andrew Baekstrom’s Commit // Memory in G/U is a nice touch. Plus, Andrew Jessup isn’t wrong often. Beating him in a mirror match of anything may be the highlight of my Magic career over the last two years.

Why You Shouldn’t Play It:

Dead. Try again. Maybe Negate helps enough you can steal one match, but if you expect multiple U/W Control opponents, try again.

You also can’t really kill anything and your opponent probably can. If you aren’t willing to just accept your fate if your opponent has removal and threats in the right sequence, don’t play the “Oops, All Threats” deck.

Please don’t play G/B Constrictor. It’s like the Mono-Green Aggro decks, but none of its non-Gearhulk cards do anything on their own. You win mirrors against the “literally can’t kill anything” decks, but you must cut a three-mana 5/4 from your deck. I don’t know about you, but Steel Leaf Champion is 60% of the reason I play green decks in this format and Llanowar Elves casting a relevant three-drop is the other 40%. Winding Constrictor matches 0% of those conditions.

B/U Midrange

Why You Should Play It:

Have you been introduced to the teachings of The Scarab God? Not a scarab god, The Scarab God. That card is messed up.

You also have a bunch of quietly situational great cards. Honestly, calling Arguel’s Blood Fast situational might even be provably false, as the “sacrifice The Scarab God” mode of the transformed Temple of Aclazotz is busted against R/B Aggro.

Why You Shouldn’t Play It:

Have you been introduced to the other 57 cards in the B/U decks? Not another 57 cards, the 57 other cards.

They are just bad.

Have you cast Champion of Wits? Are you aware that it costs a piece of magical cardboard to put on the battlefield? And that the best thing to do with one is discard it to another one?


Your deck is basically all blanks, maybe Torrential Gearhulk or Glint-Sleeve Siphoner on a good day, and The Scarab God. Good luck, hope it isn’t exiled. In all fairness, the decks most likely to exile it are pretty bad against Duress and Negate, but it’s still a whammy when you don’t draw your best card.

Oh, and don’t try to play Nicol Bolas, the Ravager as long as Chandra, Torch of Defiance is one of the most important cards in the format. It ends badly. Sorry, Ryan Overturf, Grixis will just have to wait.

Teferi Control

Why You Should Play It:

The only card possibly standalone better than The Scarab God in Standard is Teferi, Hero of Dominaria. The combination of five starting loyalty in a four-damage format, the -3 ability in a format where control needs the answer, and how absurd of a standalone win condition it is makes the decision to put it in your deck pretty easy.

Unlike B/U Midrange, your other cards are actually great. Even if those are all the same cards because you’re playing Esper Control, you just do better things. Torrential Gearhulk is pretty unconditional in your deck with Glimmer of Genius or Disallow in addition to Fatal Push. Search for Azcanta is just a better card than Arguel’s Blood Fast, even if Blood Fast does really cool things.

Why You Shouldn’t Play It:


We have sunk to this? Can we just fast forward to whatever wonderful mana Guilds of Ravnica brings us and forget there was a point a Pro Tour in 2018 was won with multiple “enters the battlefield tapped, no special ability” two-color lands in a two-color deck?

The biggest problem in all these control decks is the land base. Keeping a two-lander in your deck that doesn’t do anything proactive until four or five mana is very similar to flipping a coin and conceding on heads. (Please don’t actually do this. Judges don’t want to fill out paperwork.) Sometimes you just draw all these Isolated Chapels and Drowned Catacombs without a basic land type in sight and it’s the same issue.

If you feel fine keeping five lands and nine converted mana cost of spells, Esper or U/W Control should be right up your alley. If you want to keep some cheap stuff and hope to draw a third and fourth land, choose something with Llanowar Elves or Scrapheap Scrounger.

Bant Nexus

Why You Should Play It:

Fogging people out is kinda awesome. I can’t fault anyone for that, considering my biggest argument for Mono-Red decks was that they were the deck least focused on casting a mythic rare four-drop.

Oh yeah, there’s also that whole “playing the best card in Standard” thing. Sure, it’s a mythic rare five-drop, but it’s cool that you get to Fog them out with it.

Also, despite being a dedicated anti-creature deck, your game against control decks is pretty solid. You just have more threats and more mana, and while you have a bit less countermagic, you have the tactically cheapest and best in Negate.

Why You Shouldn’t Play It:

As Bant Nexus, you don’t really have a Torrential Gearhulk to bail you out against the anti-spell cards. Carnage Tyrant and Lyra Dawnbringer just aren’t the same.

If your opponent just guns for your Teferi, Hero of Dominaria; Search for Azcanta, and generic third barely playable planeswalker, your deck does nothing. Those aren’t the easiest cards to fight over, but I would believe B/U Midrange takes you apart with their Field of Ruins and what not.

Nexus of Fate also isn’t for the weak of heart. It isn’t a big brain puzzle to solve, but you must be willing to give the logistics your all. Play quickly, shuffle quickly, ask the judges for proxies, keep playing quickly, and so on. Also, you must fine tune your mannerisms to get people to scoop. There’s some weird Venn diagram of misery, bitterness, and friendliness that gets people to concede a turn early and not just put you into the draw abyss.

God-Pharaoh’s Gift

Why You Should Play It:

R/B Aggro can’t beat a 6/6 flying creature with lifelink and vigilance. This is yet another thing in the list of “one single effect that outpaces everything in the default best deck.”

Why You Shouldn’t Play It:

I played U/W Gift at Grand Prix Seattle earlier this year and may have lost every single Game 1. The odds of just executing a clean combo kill aren’t great with only four Refurbish and random mills to hit God-Pharaoh’s Gift. You are really just another weirdo midrange deck with a bunch of blank cards dedicated to a combo that goes off one in four games.

The Scarab God is on the upswing. That card just shuts the door on your graveyard creature deck in a way nothing else does.

This might sound like a lot of downside, but things aren’t totally bleak. If you want a sleeper pick, I would take a look at Sultai Gift. It’s a more classic Gate to the Afterlife list, and I got completely dismantled at the RPTQ in the “win more Core Set 2019 packs” bracket by Wildgrowth Walker out of the sideboard of a similar list.

The Rest

There’s a lot of nonsense floating around the Magic Online 5-0 lists these days.

While Standard is interesting now, it isn’t that interesting. I’m here to save you from trying to get too cute.

The best cards in Standard are just too good to not play some of them.

Play them. Please. It’s way less fun to lose to them instead.