Mythic Championship Cleveland has come and gone and Standard’s diversity has survived the professional stress test. A whopping seven archetypes comprised at least five percent of the field, and today I’d like to take you through what I’ve found to be the best cards and strategies to give yourself an edge against the most popular decks you may face at your next Standard tournament.
- 19 Island
- 4 Opt
- 1 Negate
- 3 Spell Pierce
- 1 Entrancing Melody
- 1 Chart a Course
- 4 Dive Down
- 4 Curious Obsession
- 4 Wizard's Retort
- 2 Essence Capture
It makes sense to start with the deck of the tournament. Winning in the hands of Autumn Burchett and placing two additional copies in the Top 8, Mono-Blue Aggro has proven itself a potent deck in the hands of the best the game has to offer. Despite its demonstrated staying power, however, Mono-Blue is not without its fair share of bad matchups.
In my experience, the baseline requirement to keep pace with Mono-Blue is access to cheap interaction. Red decks that feature Shock and Shivan Fire can remove the early aggressive creatures before protective elements can be held up and this greatly slows the pace of gameplay. If you can produce removal spells for several turns in a row, you can force your Mono-Blue opponent to continue to tap out, and resolving a haymaker like Rekindling Phoenix or Siege-Gang Commander is frequently enough to close the game.
An interesting thing to note about these decks is the limited amount of positive matchups they have. Beyond being strong against different aggro variants, they struggle to win more than 50% of their games against the rest of the field. This creates an interesting tension: some weekends will have the perfect environment to feast on aggression, and the following week you could easily finish winless after running into Nexus of Fate or control strategies. If you want to index heavily to beat Mono-Blue Aggro, do so at your own risk.
Decks to consider if you want to beat Mono-Blue Aggro:
- Rakdos Midrange
- Izzet Drakes
- Gruul Midrange
- 4 Llanowar Elves
- 1 Carnage Tyrant
- 3 Hostage Taker
- 4 Wildgrowth Walker
- 4 Merfolk Branchwalker
- 4 Jadelight Ranger
- 4 Hydroid Krasis
Sultai Midrange was the most-represented deck at Mythic Championship Cleveland, holding over twenty percent of the metagame share. It’s the deck I chose to play, primarily due to the high average power level of its cards and a good sideboard plan that leads to many close matchups. It’s not a deck without holes; you just have to get creative to have a great matchup.
The easiest way to achieve this is to go over the top. Simic Nexus was the second-most-played deck at the MC primarily off its ability to abuse the slow clock and minimal maindeck disruption Sultai has to offer. While a smattering of Duress and countermagic certainly helps bring the matchup to slightly unfavorable, the Sultai player is hard-pressed to be a favorite over the course of a match.
The other, and significantly more extreme, option to crush Sultai is to bring a deck featuring Gates-matter payoff cards. This is another case of being able to punish the mediocre clock provided by explore creatures, but instead of taking all the turns, you draw all the cards off the back of Hydroid Krasis, Guild Summit, and Expansion // Explosion. This truly is the nightmare for Sultai, as your copies of Vivien Reid don’t provide enough of an advantage; your opponent casting ramp spells means your copies of Hydroid Krasis will almost always be outclassed; and if you can scrounge up an aggro draw, Gates Ablaze is singlehandedly able to brush it off.
Decks to consider if you want to beat Sultai Midrange:
- Simic Nexus
- Nexus of Gates
Of all the top decks in Ravnica Allegiance Standard, I’d say that Simic Nexus is the most exploitable strategy; all you need to do is be consistent and aggressive. Simic Nexus requires a critical density of resources to set up and take all the turns: four to five lands on the battlefield minimum, Wilderness Reclamation, Search for Azcanta, and then the namesake in Nexus of Fate. If you can bring a strategy that’s able to close the game by Turn 5, you make it incredibly difficult for your Simic Nexus opponent to assemble all of their moving pieces.
White- and red-based aggro do the best job of this by providing the fastest goldfish kills in the format and putting Simic Nexus in a position where they need to begin casting Fog effects as early as Turn 3 or 4. These matchups are why we saw the Nexus lists begin as Bant towards the beginning of the season, as the lifegain provided by Revitalize and Knight of Autumn are critically important in having any reasonable chance to get the amount of turns you will need.
Interestingly enough, Mono-Blue Aggro is the most manageable of the matchups that are bad for Simic Nexus. While there’s disruption present in Spell Pierce and Wizard’s Retort, the cost is a clock that allows Simic Nexus several additional turns to set up. Kraul Harpooner also headlines a sideboard plan that brings the matchup much closer to even than Simic Nexus can get for any other monocolored aggro opponent.
Decks to consider if you want to beat Simic Nexus:
- Mono-Blue Aggro
- Azorius Aggro
- Mono-Red Aggro
- 2 Adanto Vanguard
- 4 Skymarcher Aspirant
- 4 Snubhorn Sentry
- 4 Benalish Marshal
- 4 Dauntless Bodyguard
- 4 Venerated Loxodon
- 4 Tithe Taker
Azorius Aggro is in an interesting position: even to good against most of the field, but severely handicapped by a poor matchup against the most popular deck in the field – Sultai Midrange. Wildgrowth Walker on Turn 2 represents a powerful blocker without any explore triggers and a threat that can spiral out of control if it’s able to remain on the battlefield.
Even when the powerful Elemental is absent, closing the game before Finality is available is a challenge. Explore creatures plus some light removal make every turn of every game a tightrope to walk in the face of an impending sweeper. The good news for Azorius players is Wildgrowth Walker is starting to get trimmed or cut entirely as the metagame shifts, and this can leave greedy Sultai Midrange players vulnerable in the weeks to come.
The other way to pull ahead against white-based aggro is with the bigger red strategies featuring Goblin Chainwhirler. With the same cheap interactive suite that allows you to clean house against Mono-Blue, Azorius Aggro also has a decided lack of evasion that allows The Chainwhirler and Dire-Fleet Daredevil to wreak havoc on the ground.
Decks to consider if you want to beat Azorius Aggro:
- Sultai Midrange
- Gruul Aggro
- Rakdos Midrange
Esper Control is another deck occupying an interesting space in the Ravnica Allegiance Standard metagame. Much like Sultai Midrange, it has access to a wide range of tools, giving its pilots the ability to have positive matchups against essentially every archetype. The key is to then pick a strategy that the Esper player is not prepared for. For example, Azorius Aggro is a good choice when there are few Kaya’s Wraths floating around.
The one archetype that consistently gives Esper Control fits: combo decks featuring Nexus of Fate. Simic Nexus is able to match Esper Control in land drops as the game develops and can use the instant-speed Time Walk as an effective bait spell to resolve a haymaker like Wilderness Reclamation or Search for Azcanta. Once these powerful enchantments hit the battlefield, the game tends to spiral out of control, as the mana and/or card advantage they can provide is enormous.
Decks to consider if you want to beat Esper Control:
- Simic Nexus
- Nexus of Gates
Ravnica Allegiance Standard is in an incredible spot. There’s an archetype for everyone, with combo, control, aggro and midrange all represented and viable from week to week. Every deck is beatable and tournament success will go to those who both can predict the metagame and have the knowledge of how to best attack it.