Into The Fray

Frank runs through a bunch of the established decks in the current Standard metagame and identifies which ones are best for the PTQ scene.

The Limited PTQ season has finally come to a close. This means qualifying for Pro Tour Born of the Gods is no longer on the table. Luckily, as quickly as one PTQ format ends, another begins. Qualifiers for Pro Tour Journey into Nyx are just starting up, and with them comes a well-explored Standard format. There is always more Magic to be played.

When it comes to Magic, I’ve always been more of a Limited guy. Innovating and tuning Standard decks has never been a specialty of mine, so I’m always a little remiss when this time of year rolls around. However, if there’s something I know very well, it’s PTQs. Just by looking at a list, I can tell the merits and detriments of bringing it to battle at a PTQ. Thus we reach the goal of today’s article. I’m going to run through a bunch of the established decks in the current metagame and identify which ones are best for the PTQ scene. I’m not even sure what deck I want to sleeve up just yet, so this should be a learning experience for all of us.

Here we go!

Let’s start thing off small and move toward the heavy hitters as we go. Although I haven’t been playing much Standard in the last few months, I have kept a watchful eye on the format since Pro Tour Theros. G/R Devotion is a deck that was popular a while back but has fallen out of favor as of late. The biggest shortcoming of the deck is how it operates only in extremes.

In most games you’re either going to dump your entire hand out on turn 3 or 4 and crush your opponent or mulligan, play a grizzly bear, and lose the game with three copies of Nykthos in your hand. You’re trading the potential to be explosive for consistency when it comes to a deck like this.

So what does this mean for you as a PTQ player? If you don’t mind being a slave to your opening seven-card hand and have a propensity to run hot, this could be the deck for you. In a shorter tournament such as a PTQ, picking a high-variance deck can be rewarding because all it takes is a little luck to easily cruise through the tournament. I’d also recommend this deck to anyone very unexperienced with the current Standard format. The decision trees tend to be pretty basic, and with a little practice the deck can be played optimally.

Next up we have a saucy little number my buddy Joe Demestrio almost took to the Top 8 of Grand Prix Albuquerque. At first glance it might look the token burn deck where you throw burn spells at your opponent’s head and hope it gets the job done before they manage to kill you. I know a lot of people don’t love playing a burn deck for one major reason—if you flood out, you’re going to lose.

However, this deck was specifically designed to circumvent that situation. By playing nine scry lands, you’re able to greatly increase your chances of not drawing excess lands and having more burn to play in the mid-to-late game. Chandra’s Phoenix is also downright incredible in this deck since a majority of the cards you’re playing are be able to bring it back.

There are two major benefits I see to bringing a deck like this to a PTQ. First off, you’re doing something very consistent and very hard for most decks to interact with. Couple that with the fact that Thoughtseize, Underworld Connections, and shock lands are all role players in the format and dealing twenty damage to your opponent starts looking easier and easier. Second, I love the idea of getting to play four Anger of the Gods main in a deck like this. A lot of people just won’t expect you to be running that card game 1, and Joe told me it led to many blowouts in his favor.

If you’re looking to catch people with their pants down, this could be the deck for you.

Here we see one of the formats heavy hitters in Mono-Blue Devotion. Right off the bat there are a few gains and losses to bringing a deck like this to a PTQ. The biggest loss is that anyone who has been paying even the slightest attention to Standard is going to know exactly what they’re up against as soon as you play an Island into a Cloudfin Raptor. But in a way that’s the deck’s biggest strength as well. A deck doesn’t get so widely known for no reason. If nothing else, you could call this deck a “safe” choice.

My biggest qualm with this deck is a simple one. Clearly Thassa and Master of Waves are awesome and powerful cards. However, I find the supporting cast to be a bit lacking. I’ve played my way through a few side events with this deck, and I’ve found winning incredibly hard when I don’t manage to draw either of these cards in a timely fashion. Also, as I just mentioned, most people are very aware that Thassa and Master are the two key elements of the deck and will be sure to save cards like Detention Sphere to deal with them.

Although I would’ve been much happier bringing Mono-Blue Devotion to a PTQ about a month ago, I still wouldn’t fault anybody who wants to do it now.

Now here’s a deck I really like. Brave the Elements is an incredible Magic card that has been dying to be put to work ever since being reprinted in Magic 2014. I’ve seen a lot of aggressive white shells come and go over the past few months that all make good use of the card, but I think Ben Stark and the Team CFB guys finally found the perfect home for it.

On top of playing Brave, this deck has pretty much everything I’m looking for in an aggressive creature deck. A good curve filled with impactful creatures? Check. Glorious Anthem effect? Check. Access to an on-color scry land and Mutavault? Check. Top all of that off with the discard and removal options from black and a great anti-control piece in Xathrid Necromancer and you’ve got yourself the total package.

There’s a good chance this deck catches on in a big way and starts popping up at PTQs. I know if I were going to come packing an aggro deck this would be it.

Here we begin to broach the apex of what makes a top-tier PTQ deck. Mono-Black Devotion may be a very well-known entity, but the deck is brutal and unforgiving. A lot of people like to bring homebrews to PTQs or add cute little interactions to existing decks that make them overall worse. Mono-Black Devotion is exactly the type of deck to tear those decks to shreds.

You get to play four maindeck Thoughtseizes to pick apart your opponent’s game plan before it gets off the ground. You get to play four copies of Hero’s Downfall, which is the most versatile and effective spot removal spell in current Standard. You also get the one-two punch of Mutavault and scry lands that helps so many decks operate.

And most of all, you get to play Pack Rat.

I remember months of falling asleep weeping into my pillow like a one-year-old child during the period of time that Pack Rat was known as a Limited nightmare. I thought with the coming of Theros that the nightmare was finally over, but it seems that I was mistaken. If you decide to bring Mono-Black Devotion to a PTQ, you’re going to win quite a few games just by playing a Pack Rat on turn 2.

Gray Merchant of Asphodel and Underworld Connections provide an insane late game to put the cherry on top for Mono-Black Devotion being a great choice for any PTQ. The deck is relatively easy to play; once you learn how to leverage your Pack Rat and removal usage, you should be good to go.

With a card as powerful as Sphinx’s Revelation in the format backed up by Supreme Verdict, there will always be a few control decks running around. Here we see the current top dog of Sphinx’s decks. Not too long ago Esper was the go-to deck for sculpting your draw X gain X deck, but recently U/W has made a resurgence.

Although Esper is still a reasonable choice, the cards you gain access to from moving into black aren’t good enough to warrant the strain you have to place upon your mana base. Even without a U/W scry land yet available, there’s still room for a few “half-color” scryers in the deck. Plus without the need for so many shock lands, there’s even room for a few Mutavaults. Trust me when I say it’s no coincidence that all of the best decks in Standard are playing scry lands and Mutavaults.

My one problem with U/W as a PTQ deck is that it can be a bit weak to all-in Mono-Red Aggro decks. These kinds of decks will always be prevalent in PTQs because they are easy to build and play for players trying to move into the tournament scene. However, you’re more likely to play them in the early rounds of the tournament, and if you can maneuver through those first few matches, you will be much better set up down the line to win the whole kit and caboodle. As you can see, Seth Manfield opted to play the full four Last Breaths just to pick up some extra game against such aggressive strategies.

If you’re familiar with decks like this and love playing with the card Sphinx’s Revelation, then U/W Control is a great option for PTQs right now. Unlike with a deck like Mono-Black Devotion, you’re going to have to earn all of your match wins, but there’s something to be said for having more control over the game.

Speaking of earning your wins, you could always opt to play this version of U/W Control. Keep in mind that it takes a true master like William Jensen to win with only a single Elspeth and Elixir of Immortality as win conditions, but this is pretty much the be all and end all of control decks.

That about covers most of the decks I would consider bringing to throw down at a PTQ. While I’m still not 100% sure what I’d like to run myself, I’d have to say it’s somewhere between U/W Control and W/B Aggro. Although I do think Mono-Black Devotion might be the best choice overall, I just can’t bear the idea of joining the Pack.