Everything You Need to Know About Standard

The Innovator isn’t done just because he has a Pro Tour victory! In this leap back into Standard, Chapin analyzes results from #SCGINVI. If you’re #SCGVEGAS-bound, you can’t afford to miss this detailed breakdown!

While the block Pro Tour and the beginning of a Modern PTQ season took the focus off of Standard for the past month, the spotlight is returning to Magic’s
number one format. This weekend was headlined by the SCG Invitational in Columbus and the Open held in the same location. Next week, GP Chicago is the only
North American Standard GP of the format, and SCG Vegas (where I’m stopping by) is sure to be huge.

Heading into Chicago and Vegas, I’d like to take a look at the state of Standard, and the pace set by the Invitational weekend. While the Invitational was
won by Tom “The Boss” Ross, and the Open by Festus Resendez, both with Mono-Red aggro, there is a lot more to the story.

This is a breakdown of the winner’s circle metagame in Columbus, compiling everyone that top 8ed the Invitational, went 7-1 or better in the Standard
portion, or top 16ed the Open, with results weighted by finish. The expected metagame is not so much a snapshot of the round 1 metagame, as it is an
estimation of what you’ll have to beat over the course of the weekend to win a tournament.

Standard Metagame


Expected Metagame

Mono-B Devotion


Mono-Red Aggro


Mono-U Devotion


B/W Midrange


Jund Monsters


U/W/x Control


B/g Devotion


R/w Burn


R/x Devotion


Naya Hexproof


Mono-B Aggro


B/r Devotion


G/W Aggro


This is a lot of decks, a lot of styles of play, but it can also be useful to look at the picture through a different lens. Here’s a breakdown by base
color. As a note, white doesn’t really see play as a primary color at the moment (though occasionally white weenie or base-white Naya are known to show

Metagame by primary color


Expected Metagame









Basically, ever since Pro Tour Theros revealed just how defining Thoughtseize and Hero’s Downfall would prove to be, black midrange decks have been one of
the pillars of Standard. Now that we’re deep into Journey into Nyx Standard it’s pretty obvious that this hasn’t changed, though there is a much bigger
variety of black midrange decks than there used to be. While Mono-B and B/w used to be the only major flavors, Born of the Gods introduced B/r as a major
player and Journey into Nyx has given us B/g. Obviously the printing of the respective temples is the biggest factor, but there are reasons for each type
of black deck today.

Let’s start with the pace-setter, the deck against which all other decks are judged. While not always flashy, the go-to best deck in the format has to be

When tuning a Mono-Black deck, at the moment, there are only a couple of questions to be answered once you have decided to not splash a color.

1. What mix of three-drops do you want? Some play all Lifebane Zombies, as Owen has (better against Jund, B/w, green decks). Some play all Nightveil
Specters (better against the mirror, U/W/x control, and red aggro). Some play a mixture of both, at times playing as many as five three-drops main
(generally at the expense of a two-cost removal spell). What’s right for you is mostly just a function of what metagame you expect. It is important to note
that Lifebane Zombie is advantaged by default, since it saves you sideboard space. If you play the Specters, you’ll want Zombies in the board, but not vice

2. What mix of two-cost removal do you want? Devour Flesh, Bile Blight, Ultimate Price, and Doom Blade are all reasonable options, so deciding which six to
play depends on what you are trying to prepare for. Owen has long held the position that Devour Flesh is just the best one and should be maxed before any
others are used. Outside of its strength against Blood Barons, it gains utility from the sheer volume of creature kill. If you plan to kill everything,
then Devour Flesh can solve every problem. Bile Blight offers value as a sweeper, particularly against Pack Rat and Elspeth tokens. Ultimate Price and Doom
Blade slant the other way, providing more answers to fatties like Stormbreath Dragon. Ultimate Price is currently favored maindeck, since decks with gold
creatures have non-gold ones, whereas black decks usually have only Mutavaults for non-black targets.

3. Do you want any off color temples? The more you play, the better you are against slow decks, the worse against fast. Additionally, playing more temples
makes it easier to get away with 25 land, though I would recommend sticking to 26.

Beyond these three questions, the only other serious considerations are if you want a maindeck Duress, a maindeck Erebos, or possibly cutting Pack Rats. Of
these, only maindeck Duress is appealing to me, at the moment. As for the sideboard, it’s really just a matter of which removal spells you want and which
anti-control/midrange cards you want.

Despite the recent surge in popularity of B/g, white is still the most common color to splash. It’s also the only splash that actually changes the deck in
a major way (downplaying or removing the devotion to black angle). The following list was piloted by Pro Tour Top 8 competitor Ben Friedman, who prior to
the Invitational had pledged to donate 100% of his winnings to the Mariah Pagliocco medical fund, to help support an awesome member of the
Magic community that was left crippled by a car accident while walking home from school a few weeks ago.

Here, we see Obzedat and Elspeth instead of Gray Merchant of Asphodel; with Blood Baron of Vizkopa also a reasonable option, though less popular than it
used to be due to the quantity of Lifebane Zombies and Devour Fleshes. Yes, those kill Obzedat also, but Obzedat has other match-ups where it accels, and
the match-ups where Blood Baron is better, it isn’t much better, since it just dies a fair bit of the time.

Banishing Light, Deicide, and Sin Collector are the most frequent other options for white splashes, with Whip of Erebos also being a tool you gain access
to, since Obzedat gives Whip the power it needs. I like being able to deal with other people’s Underworld Connections, so I slightly prefer B/w to
Mono-Black. That said, B/g is even better at killing Underworld Connections, making it my favorite of the three.

Abrupt Decay gives us lots of maindeck answers to Underworld Connections, while also being more reliable than Banishing Light. It does mean we are more
vulnerable to Erebos, which is a very real cost, but at least Vraska and Primeval Bounty give us more turn-after-turn sources of advantage to fight back

I think Vraska is excellent right now, solving lots of problems and generally being worth at least a two-for-one. Elspeth is a stronger card, but I’d use
whichever you have the mana for. While Josh doesn’t have any maindeck, I would make room for at least one.

Primeval Bounty is a perpetually underrated source of advantage that may be slow, but it adds several valuable dimensions to your game. I definitely like

The only other green card Josh uses is Golgari Charm, a versatile anti-control card that also provides some defense against swarms. Definitely solid,
though I would also consider Scavenging Ooze as a sideboard option (in addition, not in place of). The extra lifegain is great in this burn heavy world.

It’s a little radical, but personally, I just want to shift to B/g to incorporate Courser of Kruphix. The interaction between Underworld Connections and
Courser is just incredible. Connections gives you an extra card a turn, at the cost of a life. Courser gives you an extra 0.42 cards per turn, and 0.6 life
per turn. However, together, they make you draw 1.67 extra cards per turn, while usually completely breaking even on life! This is literally a case of the
whole being more than the sum of the parts. The key is that you can draw for your turn, see if your top card is a land. If it is, play it, then
Connections. If it’s not, use Connections and you get another chance for the top card to be a land.

Besides, Courser is just a beast vs these aggro decks. It blocks a lot, gives us much needed extra life, and fits into our game plan perfectly. I love that
it lets us continue to advance our board even when we are on the Pack Rat plan. The biggest risk of Courser is that it opens us up to Lifebane Zombie, but
it’s really not that bad a situation.

Even with four Lifebane Zombies, they are only on the play 50% of the time. When they are on the play, they are only 49% to draw a Lifebane Zombie by turn
3. When they actually do draw it, you are only 49% to have already drawn a Courser. That means they are only snatching one ⅛ games, and that isn’t even
counting Thoughtseize. Yes, they could Thoughtseize you as well, but if they take your Courser, their Zombie is less effective, whereas if you take their
Zombie, your Courser is going to rock and roll.

The other cost to Courser of Kruphix, of course, is the mana. A cost of 1GG is not trivial, and playing four Golgari Guildgates really adds up. That said,
I do think you can play a fair number of basic Forests. As long as you’re not Nightveil Spectering, you don’t really need to have that much more
black than green.

Sylvan Caryatid is also an option, but I am pretty cool on it. It doesn’t block nearly as much as I’d like and it is a surefire way to end up flooding out
against other black attrition decks. If you are thinking three colors, its value skyrockets, but I am a little hesitant for two-color builds. I do have to
admit, I like getting Desecration Demon and Vraska down a turn earlier…

Reaper of the Wilds is basically a non-starter at the moment, due to Lifebane Zombie. There are too many creatures that outclass it, and it struggles with
Elspeth. Besides, even the black decks full of removal, where you’d think it would shine, have no trouble with it, thanks to Devour Flesh (on top of those
Zombies and the ability to outclass it with Demons and Rats).

I wonder how greedy we can be. What about something along these lines:

This is basically the trying to get the best of both worlds approach, at the cost of a painful and slower manabase. While I like all of these cards, I’m
just not sure we’re getting enough out of these Elspeths and the Banishing Light to be worth what we’re doing to our manabase.

Now, if we were building a different kind of Junk deck, maybe something a bit more aggressive, I could be into it. I’m not at all sure how it matches up to
the format, but I sure would like to try something more like this:

I like the prospect of a much higher creature count. First of all, the general power level of the deck is higher, with all these rare bombs instead of
common removal spells. This much aggression will help us put pressure on people’s life totals, making it harder for them to Connections us. Having tons of
threats, instead of reactive cards, will help against control decks. In theory (fingers crossed) these creatures are beefy enough to actually defend us
against the aggro decks we would want the removal spells against and to make up for the life lost by our manabase.

The risk? A single fatty on our opponent’s side could brick our entire team. Yes, we have Hero’s Downfall, but they are going to be very overworked here.
We even have a maindeck Silence the Believers (which has got to be in the running for most underrated card in Standard). It’s very possible that we just
need to add a Banishing Light or two to the maindeck to help take some pressure off it, trimming whichever creatures prove least effective. The fourth
Fleecemane Lion is probably the first candidate, as you don’t super-want to want into Bile Blight, anyway. Then again, Bile Blight is going to be solid
gold against us anyway, due to Pack Rat, so maybe we just roll with it and not care.

I know it’s a little funny to walk into a room full of removal with tons of dudes, but we do have good chances of tempo-ing people out, plus we have enough
card advantage to actually do a pretty good job of grinding them out (as long as we don’t die to Pack Rat, which we might). If there is anything
invalidating this strategy, it is probably the same card that invalidates all the sweet strategies.

I can’t wait for that card to rotate out in four months. Who doesn’t want to bash with big green and white creatures? That’s just pure Magic, there.

The final version of black midrange seeing play in Standard, at the moment, is B/r, which is basically just like Mono-Black or B/g, but with Rakdos’s
Return, Dreadbore, and Mizzium Mortars.

The only maindeck spice in Jared’s list is the use of Chandra, Pyromaster, but with just ten red sources, I am skeptical. As for the sideboard, Hammer of
Purphoros is sweet (if you can cast it), and Sire of Insanity and Magma Spray are not surprising roleplayers. While I do love Rakdos’s Return right now, I
think I’d rather play green. I guess three colors is on the table, and Caryatid does work well with Rakdos’s Return, but having your lands come into play
untapped is pretty sweet, too.

One last note on all these black decks – even if you don’t have it maindeck, try Silence the Believers in your 75. It will seriously over-perform. Anyone
that has played block knows how strong it can be, and while the format is leaner, it is enough of the same things that Silence will be a rockstar.

While black continues to lead the pack, red had a very good showing this weekend. First of all, despite being played by a small portion of the field,
Mono-Red aggro took both titles, an impressive feat in and of itself. Here are the winning lists:

Ross’s list is a hyper all-in Heroic deck that preys on people’s over-reliance on Underworld Connections and tapped lands. With favorable matchups against
black midrange decks and Jund Monsters, there is no denying that Ross makes up for in positioning what his deck lacks in raw power. I strongly recommend
making this list a part of your testing gauntlet, however, I wouldn’t recommend playing it unless it is exactly the style you have been looking for, as
there will be a lot more Drown in Sorrows next week, and other similar metagamed decisions to combat it.

What is it you really want against this style of deck? Cards that cost one, particularly removal spells. A single one-cost removal spell can have a major
impact on the tenor of the game, but they are hard to come by, at the moment.

Resendez’s build is much more traditional, with more burn rather than combat tricks. Thankfully, no one plays Fiendslayer Paladin, as the card would just
rip this deck apart. It would be absolutely fantastic against Ross’s build, as well, but at least he can beat it with Rumblebelt Maaka–if he’s lucky.

Mono-Red aggro is certainly not the only way to light people up with red aggression. In fact, while Resendez has a split of creatures and burn, the next
two styles of red decks are basically the two extremes.

R/w Burn has become standard fare, given its strength against black decks and control, forgoing most creatures to max out on burn. While Journey into Nyx
has given us Eidolon of the Great Revel, this is certainly nothing new.

Red Devotion, on the other hand, goes to the opposite extreme:

Personally, I’m not a big fan of the red devotion decks, but they do put up modest numbers. If you want to go this route, make sure you have Harness by
Force in your sideboard. It’s fairly standard, but people that haven’t been testing big mana red decks often overlook just how important of a dimension it

Continuing down our list, we come to blue decks, which are basically divided into two types. Amusingly, this division is also a “creatures” vs “spells”
one. I wonder how much the quantity of quality removal combined with the quantity of quality creatures combines to encourage people to either go all-in on
creatures (and just overload the removal) or go the other way (to make removal as average as possible).

The all-creature approach to blue is the same old devotion strategy that has been around since PT Theros. In fact, Logan Mize’s top 8 list uses zero cards
from the past two sets and would have been legal back then!

With blue control on a downswing and a lot of energy used to target black decks and Jund, the world isn’t quite as hostile as it has been for Mono-Blue.
Perhaps the biggest advantage to Mono-Blue is that despite how long it has been popular, most people still aren’t very good at playing against it. It’s a
little underpowered, but you do get some edge from how easy it is for most amateur players to accidentally punt against blue tempo decks.

The other side, of course, is blue control. You can’t get too much more extreme than Reid Duke’s U/W Control, a deck that only Andrew Cuneo could love. He
doesn’t even play a single Elspeth, let alone Aetherling!

This style of Jim Davis U/W eschews Detention Sphere to capitalize on Planar Cleansing. The result is an absolutely dominating game against Jund Monsters,
a match-up that can be quite challenging for traditional U/W. I am not in love with blue control, at the moment, but if I played a blue control deck, this
is the style I would play, though I might be a wimp and use an Elspeth in the main. Maybe. You do have Jace and Mutavault, but if your Elixir ever gets
Thoughtseized or Abrupt Decayed, you might have to jump through some serious hoops to actually win.

This style of control deck eventually reaches a state where it has access to its whole library at will, since it can Sphinx’s Revelation all of its cards,
then Elixir them back. It is focused completely on not dying, and makes up for the shortage of quality cards in these two colors, by using lots of cantrips
to help find the actual good ones more often.

Chi Hoi Yim’s build is more traditional, with Elspeth, Aetherlings, and Detention Spheres. It’s fine, just nothing special. It is worth noting just how
many Quickens both of these players have. Michael Flores isn’t always right, but we gotta give credit where credit is due. Quicken really has proven to be
as important and ubiquitous as he said it would be.

Love the Fiendslayers in here, absolutely love ’em.

Finally, we reach the base green decks, headlined by Jund Monsters.

Both of these lists are well-tuned examples of the very stock Jund Monsters. Both are collections of good cards (which I like), but they can be defeated
pretty reliably if one just does their part and plays enough Lifebanes, enough Doom Blades, or even enough Planar Cleansings.

This strategy is fine, never really worse than 40% even against its bad matchups, but I think the amount of hate people have will be higher than usual next
weekend. I just question the idea of playing a Polukranos deck in a room full of Lifebane Zombies. At least Chandra, Pyromaster is fantastic against
Lifebane Zombie, and Vraska and Rakdos’s Return help give you enough power to sideboard out the Polukranoses.

Finally, we come to Naya Hexproof, a fringe deck that recently gained a totally reasonable hexproof creature (Bassara Tower Archer), but more importantly,
a finally reasonable manabase (now that it has Mana Confluence).

This deck is cute and much better than it used to be, but a well prepared opponent with Devour Flesh, Lifebane Zombie, and Desecration Demon is going to
give you a hard time. The same is true for U/W decks full of Verdicts and Planar Cleansings. It matches up well against a fair number of decks, just none
that I would actually play, making it hard for me to recommend it.

What would I play? I am still a sucker for black midrange decks, as the one-for-ones are so unreal, the creatures actually good, the card draw excellent,
and Lifebane Zombie is not a real Magic card. I’m going to be trying to make various Courser of Kruphix decks work, this week, but Lifebane Zombie is a
real challenge.

Before heading out today, I want to provide an update/correction to last week’s article.

“The card is so nuts, I am still not 100% sure I believe that it is as people say it is…”

“How can this be real?”

Last week
, I discussed one of the most important cards coming from M15, Soul of Ravnica. It was accidentally spoiled in a WotC promo video, but the image was a
little blurry and the internet filled in the wrong activation cost as a result of Soul of Zendikar combined with a low-res image. Once the world started
discussing how crazy bonkers Soul of Ravnica was, WotC did the only thing they could do, and unveiled the real card to try to stem the tide of

I had a feeling that the version people thought was being printed could not actually be, as it is just too nuts. I mean, the card as actually printed is
nuts, but just like with Giant Solifuge, people are going to underestimate it now that they are anchored in an unrealistic place.

For context, when Giant Solifuge was first spoiled, it was wrongfully spoiled to be a 4/3. Then, when it turned out to be a 4/1, everyone was like “Oh, ok,
I guess it’s not that good.” Seriously? The card was bonkers. Surprise, surprise, Mark herberholz wins the Pro Tour with the card as the centerpiece of his
Gruul aggro deck, and Osyp Lebedowicz makes use of the card in the sideboard of his U/R Tron deck.

The moral of the story is, do not get tricked by anchoring. The card did not get “nerfed” to cost two more to use this week. It never was the other cost,
and we didn’t understand the implications of that card, nor do we understand the implications of this card. As a corollary, WotC needs to be very careful
with accidentally spoiling new info in a way that can be interpreted wrong, as it deflates excitement about what should be one of the marquee cards of the
set. Obviously, they usually are, and this was just an accident, but they did the right thing setting the record straight now that we’re here.

As for Soul of Ravnica, I’m not sure how good it is now. I’m going to have to give it some more thought. It is certainly much more in the realm of reality,
rather than just the best Tidings ever, however, it is still going to be absolutely beastly against black decks.

Anyway, I can’t wait for M15 spoiler season to kick into full gear. New sets are the most wonderful time of year. In the meantime, GP Chicago and SCG Vegas
are this weekend, and all I want to do is activate Underworld Connections with a Courser in play…