Examining The Defined Standard Metagame

The first Guilds of Ravnica Standard results revealed the new metagame! Get Brad Nelson’s takes on Mono-Red Aggro, Selesnya Tokens, Golgari Midrange, and more!

Over the weekend the SCG Tour hosted SCG Columbus, showcasing many unique strategies of Guilds of Ravnica Standard. At the same time, a Magic Online PTQ was also happening that told a much different story. Today I’m going to go over the results of the weekend, do my best to figure out why everything happened the way it did, go over what strategies impressed me the most, and dissect the unique variations within those archetypes. We’ve got a lot to cover!

Examining SCG Columbus

Throughout the weekend, Mono-Red Aggro seemed to be the most hyped strategy. Max McVety carried his team to an impressive 13-2 record, also his personal record with the deck. Ben Ragan also did a deck tech with Nick Miller on Day 1 about how impressive Experimental Frenzy is. It really did feel like players weren’t prepared to beat the red menace and the deck would run over everyone.

That wasn’t the end of the story, though. In the semifinals, two different red decks got beaten by two Selesnya Tokens decks. Well, I’m not certain if Eric Shoopman defeated Mike Saad, as this was a Team Constructed event, but I do know Todd Stevens defeated Max McVety, giving the red mage his third loss on the weekend. These results reflect my personal ones, as I’ve seen Selesnya Tokens being advantaged over Mono-Red Aggro from both sides.

Past that, it seemed like the rest of the Top 32 from SCG Columbus had a decent amount of Mono-Red Aggro, control variants, and a smattering of Mono-Green Aggro with only one more Selesnya Tokens deck in the mix.

The Standard Classic told a slightly different story. This event involved all those Standard players who didn’t make Day 2 and some who didn’t even play in the main event. What’s most interesting about these specific Classic results is it’s not certain they had poor records during the Open, as it was Team Constructed.

Brian Cooper took down the Standard Classic with Boros Angels and Kyle Palmer piloted the deck to a fifth-place finish in the Team Constructed Open itself. Unlike Mono-Red Aggro and Selesnya Tokens, Boros Angels hasn’t gotten a lot of press, even though it’s been around for as long as they have.

One theory as to why the deck’s slightly under the radar is that it just looks like a mopey midrange deck in colors that aren’t normally midrange. Boros Angels is full of powerful effects that must be answered, and sometimes that’s a difficult task to accomplish when the deck supports four copies of Lyra Dawnbringer and three Shalai, Voice of Plenty to protect them. I keep expecting this deck to suffer from the format simply evolving, but I keep struggling against this deck when facing it.

Examining the Magic Online PTQ

The Standard PTQ on Magic Online told a much different story than those created from SCG Columbus. Golgari Midrange ended up winning the event, but six other Golgari Midrange lists found their way into the Top 32. Here’s yamakiller’s PTQ winning list.

The other Golgari Midrange lists looked nothing like yamakiller’s as they were mainly based around Find // Finality and Gruesome Menagerie.

While I’m not the biggest fan of Gruesome Menagerie, I’ve found Find // Finality to be exactly what Golgari decks are looking for to keep Selesnya Tokens from going wide. This variation of Golgari Midrange also plays Wildgrowth Walker alongside a heavy explore package which is effective against Mono-Red Aggro.

All of this makes me very confident that Mono-Red Aggro and Selesnya Tokens got pushed out of the tournament by the high volume of Golgari Midrange decks built around these cards. Of course, there were Golgari Midrange decks at the SCG Open this past weekend, but that’s still my working theory as the density of them was higher in the PTQ.

The last archetype worth discussing is control, as many variations did well over the weekend. However, we’re going to hold off talking about those decks for a little bit. Control has always gotten stronger as the metagame settles down. We’ll circle back to control decks once we have a better foundation for what’s going to happen in the metagame.

Now that we’ve organized the information, let’s start breaking it down. To me, there are four archetypes worth discussing: Mono-Red Aggro, Selesnya Tokens, Golgari Midrange, and Boros Angels. All four of these decks showed promise before the weekend and then delivered good results.

Mono-Red Aggro

It didn’t take long for the masses to pick up on Runaway Steam-Kin, and once they did, it was so obviously good that it was no longer worth discussing. It’s just correct to play four copies in any Mono-Red deck you play and this left room for another red card to get talked about this weekend: Experimental Frenzy. This enchantment was showcased in Max McVety’s list as a two-of and Ben Ragan and company played four. In his deck tech, Ragan described how absurd the card can be with Runaway Steam-Kin, but also about how powerful it is on its own.

While he’s correct in his assessment that Experimental Frenzy can be practically busted at times, I’ve also found it to cost me games. That’s especially true when my opponent has played a high-powered mythic like Rekindling Phoenix, Trostani Discordant, or Lyra Dawnbringer the turn after I cast it. It’s a high-variance card that also comes with a serious cost: not playing Rekindling Phoenix. Moving every copy of this powerful mythic to the sideboard seems like a mistake to me in these Mono-Red Aggro builds, as I’ve found myself wanting the card in almost every matchup. It’s good in the mirrors, great against Mono-Green Aggro, and is one of the best ways to steal a game from Selesnya Tokens once they’ve revved their engines a little.

I believe Experimental Frenzy will become a very good sideboard card once both decks have the correct removal for the matchup and players will move back to Rekindling Phoenix being the correct maindeck four-drop. That’s for Mono-Red Aggro though, as I’m not sold these variations are better than the variations that play The Flame of Keld. I’ve played a decent amount with red decks and I’ve had the best results with The Flame of Keld variants, especially in the mirrors where velocity is extremely important. That said, The Flame of Keld variants have a tougher time dealing with green decks where Rekindling Phoenix shines.

Here are my current lists for both variations.

Selesnya Tokens

Selesnya Tokens is like Mono-Red Aggro in how it will beat you if you’re not prepared, but preparing for Selesnya Tokens isn’t as easy. Sweepers are good against the deck, but mostly just in Game 1. After that, Selesnya Tokens is designed to rely less on the swarm it can create and focus more on individual threats and removal. This is the main reason why I like having access to District Guide. The deck relies less on Convoke after sideboarding, won’t transform Legion’s Landing early in the game as often, and brings in more expensive cards. Land drops are vital after sideboarding.

Selesnya Tokens’s transformational sideboard makes it difficult to know exactly how to position yourself against the deck. It’ll take some time to figure that out, but for now Selesnya Tokens will prey on decks that don’t want to play sweepers maindeck.

My current version:

Golgari Midrange

It’s difficult to know where to go with Golgari Midrange, as the deck’s value fluctuates with what the format looks like. For example, yamakiller most likely preyed on other Golgari Midrange decks by packing so many planeswalkers for the matchup. I’d guess yamakiller struggled with Selesnya Tokens, but it’s not certain they played against the matchup on their way to winning the PTQ. It’s tough to ignore the deck that won the first SCG Tour event of the new season, though, so I’d imagine respecting Selesnya Tokens is a must moving forward.

How does Golgari do that outside of building around Find // Finality, though? Sideboarding the card doesn’t make much sense, but then again, Selesnya Tokens can’t really transition in this matchup. In all honesty, I can’t answer this question just yet, but I should be able to do so on Thursday after I get some reps in with Golgari variants against Selesnya Tokens. I’ll most likely play the matchup on VS Live! on Thursday, so tune in at 1:00pm ET to find out how that goes!

Here’s the version of Golgari Midrange I’ll be testing with next.

Boros Angels

I don’t really have much to say about this deck, so I’ll refrain from presenting any ignorant judgments. My opinion is this deck will die off after the format figures itself out, but it could continue to be a great choice while decks don’t have the correct mixtures of threats and answers. The deck is extremely powerful.


This is also not really my wheelhouse, but I do have some specific thoughts about the archetype. I’m a fan of Jeskai Control over Esper Control as long as creatures are going wide. I could see Esper being a stronger choice in the control mirrors, but Jeskai seems much better against creature matchups. In Jeskai, I’d play Ionize over Sinister Sabotage, as it’s easier on the mana. This alone is a nice addition to a three-color strategy, as you’re never in need of double blue for any early spell.

Moving forward, it’s important to just figure out how all these matchups play against each other. That’s what I’ll continue to do. This is the defined metagame and these are the five archetypes you’ll face the most when playing Standard. I’m not sold that any one deck can be favored against all of them, but new strategies will pop up all over the place, so who really knows.

I’m just happy that Standard is fun again!