Keeping Up With Standard

Sam Black has the WMCQ coming up! In this article, he explains the Standard decks he’s considering and why. He then tells you which popular Standard archetypes he wouldn’t go anywhere near. Don’t miss it!

A Pro Tour always has a dramatic impact on the metagame of a format, but it can be hard to see just how players are going to react to all the new
information. Will they follow the conclusions of big teams? Will they put a lot of faith in the winning deck? Will they play the successful decks, or try
to beat them? If a deck doesn’t show up, will they assume it’s dead, or overlooked? The Pro Tour will generally feature several new decks, and the
following weeks will tell us which decks are discarded and which ones stick around.

Now that we’ve had a weekend of results after the PT with a Grand Prix in Utrecht and the

Open Series in Syracuse

we can start to see how players are reacting to this format to predict what might happen at this weekend’s World Magic Cup Qualifiers.

Despite not putting up a top 8 finish in Portland, Rabble Red
appears to have been the biggest new deck from the PT, finishing second and third in the Standard Open in Syracuse, one top 8 finish in Utrecht, and
finding widespread success in daily events on Magic Online. One particularly interesting element to me is how rarely people change the cards that the deck
plays fewer than four copies of. This is the kind of deck where people will usually just play four of each of the best card since games end quickly and
there’s no card selection, so seeing three each of two different one-drops, two Ash Zealots, three Lightning Strikes, and one Titan’s Strength or Hall of
Triumph just looks weird. It’s easy to see how conclusions like this are reached for the PT, but it’s the kind of thing where I’d expect other players to
smooth the deck out moving forward, and that doesn’t seem to be happening.

The primary reason to play Rabble Red is its matchup against Mono-Black Devotion, despite its loss to Jared Boettcher in Syracuse. (I
don’t like how Eric played the first game–I think that deck wants to ignore Pack Rat in the spot where he killed it, and his draw was terrible in the
second game.) This has an interesting impact on the format in that the popularity of the deck might scare some people off of Mono-Black Devotion, but I
think it’s more likely that it will just make Mono-Black Devotion players put cards like Pharika’s Cure and Drown in Sorrow in their sideboard, which
should make the matchup very winnable. But it will hurt Black a little in other matchups. Given that this adjustment is so easy and obvious, I’m surprised
by the continued popularity of Rabble Red, but I don’t know its other matchups well (maybe they’re all great), and I never really understand playing red
decks anyway.

The biggest news of this weekend is that Mono-Blue Devotion, which didn’t really make a splash at Pro Tour Magic 2015, is still a deck. This may be
possibly fueled by the above mentioned success of Rabble Red, but Mono-Blue Devotion finished first and second in Grand Prix Utrecht (with a third top 8
finish as well) and has also seen success on Magic Online. This is obviously an interesting development to me. I’m surprised by the decision to play
Mono-Blue Devotion after U/W Control, its worst matchup, won the Pro Tour, but there are some points in its favor here:

First, the U/W deck that won had Planar Cleansing instead of Detention Sphere. I’m not completely sure, as I haven’t played against that version a lot, but
it seems like it should be worse against Mono-Blue Devotion since Detention Sphere is great in that matchup, and Planar Cleansing seems very slow. Second,
players might be scared to play the winning deck, thinking that’s the deck everyone’s going to try to beat. Third, a lot of players just aren’t interested
in playing that kind of deck anyway. But most importantly, Mono-Blue has a great matchup against the second place deck and most of the rest of the format.

The shift that most of my Pantheon teammates made in Mono-Black Devotion toward the slower B/W Midrange deck is good for Blue, the success of G/W Aggro is good
for Blue, and the popularity of red decks is good for Blue. In hindsight, it makes perfect sense that Mono-Blue Devotion could have an awesome weekend at
GP Utrecht. The question is, how much will that success hurt Mono-Blue Devotion going forward?

Will players pick up control to beat Mono-Blue Devotion? Honestly, that seems somewhat unlikely. Jared Boettcher’s win with Mono-Black Devotion featured a blue splash only to sideboard Negate
and Notion Thief, clearly gunning for U/W Control. If anyone copies that as their Black deck, things are harder for U/W Control, and most importantly, I’m
not seeing anyone play it on Magic Online, which makes me think players just aren’t drawn to it.

What might happen is that players might shift away from playing some of the decks Blue’s best against, like Rabble Red and G/W Aggro, after seeing its
success in Utrecht. I think a shift away from G/W Aggro is consistent with what I’m seeing on Magic Online, but there’s a lot of Red (though it’s possible
that matchup isn’t that bad for Red). Legion Loyalist definitely helps the Master of Waves problem, but the two-drops still seem like big obstacles.

So, what would I personally do with this information? Well, I’m playing in the WMCQ in California this weekend, so it’s not such a hypothetical. Here are
my considerations:

Decks I Might Play

1: Mono-Blue is reasonably well-positioned. Awesome! I can play that deck well, and it would be an easy choice. I’d still be afraid of U/W Control. I
haven’t seen a lot of Deicides, which is good, but it’s easy for them to add one or two to their sideboard after seeing the Utrecht results, and they’re
all playing Archangel of Thune, which is the scariest sideboard card anyway. On the other hand, this looks like a great format to have Domestication in the
sideboard since it looks good against Blue, Black, G/W, Rabble Red, and others, and there aren’t a lot of huge creatures getting played. Also, Black in
particular isn’t set up well to deal with it at the moment. Also, Mistcutter Hydra isn’t a card I’m seeing anywhere, which is a pretty big selling point.

Changes I’d consider: I didn’t test Mono-Blue Devotion a lot for the Pro Tour, but I tried a few games with a Military Intelligence in my deck just to see
if it was any good, and it worked out well in the few games I drew it. It was a very small sample size, but it’s definitely something to try more.
Relatedly, Zvi was considering the deck and mentioned the possibility of playing multiple Military Intelligences and more one-mana fliers, which was
interesting, but concluded against because he couldn’t make the sideboard work the way he wanted with that plan. Still, it might be worth trying out.

2: I like the W/B Aggro deck I played at the Pro Tour against a
field of U/W Control, Mono-Blue Devotion, G/W Aggro, and Black decks. I’m a little afraid of the Rabble Red and especially R/W Burn matchups, but Courser
of Kruphix looks to be at an all-time low this week, and those decks are the decks I really want to avoid. The Mono-Black Devotion matchup is closer than
I’d like–I think I’m favored, but I’m not as confident as I could be, and I think I’d probably rather play Mono-Blue with Domestication against the Mono
Black Devotion decks that are doing well than W/B by a little bit. On the other hand, I’d rather play W/B against Mono Blue Devotion than play a Blue
mirror match, and I’d much rather play against U/W Control with W/B than with Mono-Blue Devotion. But Blue is better against Red and Green than
W/B is. I’d be thrilled to play against G/W Aggro with either deck.

So the question mostly comes down to whether I expect more U/W Control and Mono-Blue Devotion or more Courser of Kruphix and Goblin Rabblemaster. When I
put it this way, it makes sense to me that more people should play the first pair of decks, but the second pair looks like the kind of decks people play
for reasons I can never understand, so I could easily be biased enough to be coming to the wrong conclusions.

Changes I’d consider: Was Ephemeral Shields really good enough? What about Herald of Torment? I could replace them with any combination of Desecration
Demon, Ajani’s Presence, Bile Blight, and Hero’s Downfall.

3: Matt Sperling’s Burn deck looks surprisingly tempting. Young
Pyromancer, Satyr Firedancer, and Shock are the exact cards that deck needs access to in order to beat Mono-Blue Devotion. Stoke the Flames looks awesome.
I imagine the deck is great against Rabble Red and good against Mono-Black. It has a gameplan against everyone, and the power level just seems very high
for the kinds of cards the deck plays.

This is far enough from what I usually play that I don’t know its matchups well enough to really know what I should be considering, but it just looks like
a deck that makes sense to play, which, incidentally, I see as an argument against playing either of the other decks I like, as I imagine Burn is good
against both of them.

Changes I’d consider: I don’t know this kind of deck well. Maybe play the fourth Sacred Foundry or the fourth Skullcrack? Maybe play more Eidolon of the
Great Revels because there don’t seem to be a lot of Courser of Kruphix/Sylvan Caryatid decks?

Decks I Wouldn’t Play

I wouldn’t play Mono Black Devotion because other people have more experience with it than me, and I don’t know where my edge would come from.

I wouldn’t play Rabble Red because I respect Mono Black Devotion’s ability to beat the deck if it wants to, and I think it should bother spending a few
sideboard slots to do it. I’d also be afraid of Mono Blue Devotion.

I wouldn’t play GW Aggro because it’s bad against Mono Blue Devotion, and I generally think the deck is just worse the W/B Aggro because of Caves of Koilos
(and Pack Rat, Thoughtseize, and good removal).

I wouldn’t play Jund Planeswalkers because I just don’t like the deck much, but I think I should give more thought to why it isn’t more popular. It can
certainly have draws that line up well against Control. I think it’s bad but not horrible against Mono-Blue Devotion, though that is a serious strike
against the deck. I think it’s unfavored against Black, but again, only slightly. Filling the deck with Planeswalkers instead of Polukranos, World Eater to
dodge Lifebane Zombie and get a little value against Hero’s Downfall is a step in the right direction but not a big enough one. I imagine a lot of its
draws are too slow for Rabble Red. I guess I’m not too surprised that it isn’t seeing more play, as I’m not seeing much of a reason I’d want to play it.
However, most of these matchups are close, and I could easily imagine someone who wanted to play this kind of deck feeling like they had a good plan to
account for each of these potential weaknesses.

This Standard format actually looks pretty diverse and awesome right now, which is good, because I think there was a lot of fear that M15 wouldn’t change
things much and the format would be stale, or that Mono-Black Devotion would just be the only real deck, and I don’t think that’s what’s happening, though
I do think Mono-Black Devotion is better than the amount that I discussed it here might lead one to believe. I’m not terribly interested in the deck, and
not much more needs to be said about it, but don’t forget that it’s still very likely that Mono-Black Devotion is objectively the best deck in
Standard. It’s hard to be great against it and likely impossible if it actively wants to beat you. As boogeymen go, I think it’s relatively tame, but it is
still this format’s boogeyman.