Is This Standard Good?

With the controversial Standards of 2016 still fresh in our mind and a few interesting results lately, it’s worth it to take a look at the strengths and weaknesses of our new Standard world! Is Standard solved? Can it be? Shaun McLaren details the ups, downs, and in-betweens of Standard’s 2017 so far!

Usually after a solid month of preparation for the Pro Tour, I come out the other side a little sick of Standard for a while afterwards.

I’d say this Pro Tour and Standard format have been no different and did not manage to have a different effect on me.

Of course, if there’s one thing I’ve learned playing Magic for most of my life and now writing about Magic for a good chunk of it, it’s that people will often have very different experiences, opinions, and reactions to things than I do.

Standard has certainly been interesting lately.

Recently, for the first time in a long time, cards have been banned in Standard. Some are skeptical of this decision. Some think this may indicate a loosening of previously very strict requirements for what constituted a ban for cards in Standard, which may open the door a crack for more frequent bans in the future. Others think it was a one-time thing and necessary to re-establish the health of the format.

That begs the question, is Standard healthy again? Are we better off now than we were before the bans?

What if Standard continues to stay at approximately the same quality it was in the days of Smuggler’s Copter and Emrakul, the Promised End? Should that prompt more bans?

Naturally things aren’t clear cut. I’m torn. I think this Standard format has plenty of redeeming features, and plenty of room for improvement.

Today, I’ll play hype man as well as devil’s advocate, and I’ll discuss what I think the strengths and weaknesses of the current Standard format are in general.

Standard Weakness: Dominance of the Three Pillars of the Format

Where are we right now with Standard?

We’ve had access to a very powerful two-card arbitrarily large combo in Felidar Guardian and Saheeli Rai.

We also saw that Mardu Vehicles dominated the Top 8 of Pro Tour Aether Revolt.

Yet despite both those things, to me it’s clear black and green decks are the decks to beat matching up against the rest of the format.

The dominance of these decks isn’t necessarily a damning weakness, but I feel like they have been a bit too prevalent in the metagame so far.

Standard Strength: Solid Representation of Aggro, Midrange, Combo, and Control

You can easily paint a narrative that shows many different archetypes have been doing well in Standard.

It’s nice that if you have a preferred archetype that you love to play, you can invest in it, play it, and not feel terrible about your deck choice.

Standard Weakness: The Format Hasn’t Changed Much Since Week One

Pro Tour Aether Revolt didn’t have too many surprises. It’s interesting how solved the format was at the start and how little the format has shifted since.

Sure, there was the emergence of Mardu Vehicles, and there was plenty of tuning and improvement in new lists, but other than that it has just pretty much been green and black, Saheeli decks, and a smattering of Control.

Take a look at Daniel Fournier’s Top 8 Jeskai Saheeli lists from Week One at #SCGCOL and again from just this last weekend at GP Pittsburgh.

The format changed some and taking into account the results of a Pro Tour shifted Daniel’s card choices, but the overall strategy is the same. That’s because the first list was already very solid, the format didn’t shift that much, and there aren’t that many directions you can take since the core of the deck is already the combo.

Of course, this can be seen as a strength to the format, similar to how a Splinter Twin master would Top 8 multiple events in a row and allowed you to invest in that archetype in Modern.

I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: there are more top-tier Magic players than ever before and the time and effort that Magic players put into breaking Standard is massive. It should be expected that formats are getting solved faster and faster now.

That said, there are also very powerful cards that pigeonhole what the best decks look like.

Winding Constrictor, Walking Ballista, and Fatal Push.

Felidar Guardian and Saheeli Rai.

Torrential Gearhulk and Glimmer of Genius.

Heart of Kiran, Scrapheap Scrounger, and Gideon, Ally of Zendikar.

It’s almost like Hearthstone where you’re picking your hero, which in this case are the core cards in your deck, and then building around those cards.

Standard Strength: Interesting Deckbuilding Decisions and Variety Among Established Archetypes

Take a look at top six decks from the MOCS qualifier this weekend. Six G/B decks.

What about the Top 8 of Grand Prix Pittsburgh? Five G/B decks with G/B winning it all.

You might say, “Well, that’s an awful lot of G/B, which doesn’t seem like a good thing to me.”

But if you look at those G/B lists, you’ll find all sorts of hidden gems and thoughtful choices, much like how you have to scoop up a bucket of swamp water and really examine it up close under a microscope to see and appreciate all the unique organisms swimming around.

Same thing applies if you want to combo off with Saheeli Rai and Felidar Guardian; there are a ton of different options for supporting cast and characters to help you do so.

Standard really excels at having variety from decklist to decklist, despite the core of many decks being the same.

I love examining differences in lists. Over the years I’ve pored over hundreds, if not thousands of different Jeskai lists in Modern. It’s almost like you’re getting to know a person by looking at what cards they value in their list, which cards they’ve identified as powerful and which they haven’t.

Some formats do not have this quality, and I think it’s a very good thing to have. It makes it so it takes an intricate understanding of an archetype to get things just right.

Let’s take a quick look at differences between the G/B decks that Top 8ed GP Pittsburgh:

I think one lesson learned is that it’s difficult to make a G/B deck that isn’t great.

Just look at these decks: they’re all the same deck, but completely different! It’s kind of mind-boggling the number of unique card choices in each list and how the format hasn’t spit out a clearly superior version of G/B yet.

I really like it when there are a bunch of different cards of similar power levels to choose from because it leads to decks like these.

How sustainable is a format that revolves around getting an edge in the G/B mirror? That reminds me of what Caw-Blade Standard used to be.

Standard Weakness: No Catch-Up Mechanisms.

It’s easy to predict who is going to win a game after a couple of turns.

Curving out is super-important. Planeswalkers and vehicles are difficult to remove or race unless you already have a battlefield.

Plenty of games just come down to playing your stuff out and hoping your opponent stumbles.

Even Control decks can’t afford to fall behind in the early-game. They need to make sure no threats sneak through and begin snowballing an advantage.

Standard Strength: Skill-Testing

Not only is deckbuilding incredibly important, but the play in each game is also very challenging.

Every turn in the tight games seems incredibly important, and every decision you make seems incredibly crucial.

Standard Weakness: Rock-Paper-Scissors

There are the three front-runners of the format: G/B, Mardu Vehicles, and Jeskai Saheeli. Nothing right now has really come close to dethroning them.

Is there another evolution to the format?

It took some time before Midrange Aetherworks Marvel decks appeared in Standard last season. Is there another archetype similar waiting to pop up? Or is a tuned G/B list just the final evolution of the format? Probably not.

Standard Strength: Rock-Paper-Scissors…

A rock-paper-scissors format is a gift and a curse.

The focus of the format has shifted from week to week and the crown keeps being passed around between G/B, Mardu Vehicles, and Jeskai Saheeli.

It’s nice that there isn’t a clearly dominant deck quite yet.

Should Anything Be Banned?


I don’t think so.

First of all, whatever your opinion on the best deck right now (I think it’s G/B), I don’t think there’s a case to be made for a dominant deck archetype as far as tournament results go.

That would mean you would have to ban multiple cards from multiple archetypes, something along the lines of Felidar Guardian, Winding Constrictor, and Heart of Kiran.

What would this accomplish?

Well it might open up a bunch more archetypes or improve the health of the format by making games more interactive and less focused around those oppressive cards.

But is a ban warranted?

By now we know Felidar Guardian was an oversight, but it also thankfully proved to be beatable when the format is focused on beating it. I think we just have to live in this world, since it isn’t that bad.

That said, bans may still have to happen down the road.

Even though Felidar Guardian and Saheeli Rai are manageable right now, that doesn’t mean they will be as Standard continues.

So wouldn’t it be a good idea to just get rid of the Cat Beast right now so we don’t have to worry about it later? Pro Tour Aether Revolt revolved around the existence of the combo. Won’t things be the same or worse in the future?

Maybe. I do think that’s a realistic fear and I don’t think that it’s a bad idea to preemptively ban Felidar Guardian, but it’s certainly a difficult call to make.

I think we just have to wait and face that reality when and if it comes and hope the Copy Cat doesn’t become a killer.

It Was the Best of Standards, It Was the Worst of Standards

I honestly think you can make a case for this being an excellent Standard format, but I’m also just not really in the mood to play it right now.

Perhaps that’s just it: there will always be good and bad as well as varying opinions and desires to play.

It all comes down to if you’re having fun playing.

Is the best cure if you’re not feeling Standard just taking a break? Sometimes. I’ll probably be interested in breaking Standard again in a couple of weeks after I’m tired of exploring Modern.

What do you think? Are you enjoying Standard?

What do you like about Standard? What would you change?

Are we doomed to suffer Standard sometimes, or is it possible to have it all?