Leveling Standard

Here’s how you get to the top of Standard: You listen to Gerry Thompson! #SCGBALT’s Standard Classic is going to be filled with predictable contenders from the present, decks from the past trying to make a comeback, and the future of the format! GerryT has all of the above here.

This might be the fastest-moving Standard format ever.

Early on, W/R Vehicles emerged as the de facto best deck. That set the stage for Pro Tour Kaladesh. By the time that event rolled around, Aetherworks Marvel was all the buzz. With a Standard format that seemed to resemble Modern with parallels to Infect, Dredge, and various other combo decks, control surprisingly ended up on top.

In the weeks that followed, W/U Flash rose to prominence as an answer to control, W/R Vehicles, and Aetherworks Marvel. B/G Delirium rose as an answer to W/U Flash.

Now we find ourselves wondering what the next piece of the puzzle will be. What’s the next step in this ever-evolving metagame?

The Gauntlet

First, we have to look at the enemies.

While Ben’s list might not be stock, and therefore not the best list to test again, I’m highlighting it because it might be the future. What has Kalitas, Traitor to Ghet done for you lately? Probably sat on the ground while Archangel Avacyn and Smuggler’s Copter fly over and steal your lunch money.

The issue is how poor spot removal is right now. Most decks pack their best instant-speed removal spell to have some play against Avacyn and Smuggler’s Copter (and Kalitas, to some degree), but there are very few threats worth killing right now. For every game you play where you gleefully remove every Smuggler’s Copter and Spell Queller, there will be twice as many games where you get beaten down by Thraben Inspectors and Reflector Mages.

There’s also Ishkanah, Grafwidow to consider. Removal is much worse than focusing on building your own battlefield presence. At some point, it comes full circle, where everyone is on Mindwrack Demon because no one plays spot removal, but then spot removal becomes good again. We’re not quite there.

Is it time for the return of maindeck Transgress the Mind? If you’re focusing on W/U Flash, B/G Delirium, and not much else, it makes sense to me. The main strike against Mindwrack Demon is still Reflector Mage, and if you can clear the way, Mindwrack Demon actually lines up well against Gideon, Ally of Zendikar and Archangel Avacyn. It might be something you immediately sideboard out, but it doesn’t have to be. It’s not like Kalitas, Traitor of Ghet was really getting you anywhere in those spots anyway.

I’m adamant that the Evolving Wilds should be a Foul Orchard in your Grasp of Darkness / Traverse the Ulvenwald deck, but it’s minor. Obviously there are delirium considerations, but Ben’s deck is especially good at achieving delirium thanks to the full amount of Mindwrack Demons.

This is what many would call the best deck, but B/G Delirium is vying for that claim as well.

My issues with W/U Flash mainly have to do with how exploitable the deck can be. With very few impactful early drops, it’s easy to fall behind, especially when you’re on the draw. Thankfully, that’s not much of an issue right now, since aggressive decks aren’t prevalent.

However, there are still draws from the mirror and B/G Delirium involving Smuggler’s Copter or Grim Flayer where they can tempo you out. With what W/U Flash has access to, there’s no real way around it. The saving grace is that those games are few and few between, plus you aren’t going to automatically lose. It’s just very difficult.

That said, the deck is powerful, had a solid manabase, and is very difficult to play and sideboard against. It’s one of those decks where I hate playing it and it feels awful, but no one can beat it for some reason. What are you going to sideboard against it? Tears of Valakut? C’mon. That’s going to help a little bit, especially if you’re already removal-light, but it’s hardly going to swing the matchup drastically. There’s not much you can do if your deck isn’t already a fundamental favorite.

As for the decklist specifically, I think it’s fine. The maindeck is mostly set in stone at this point, but you have a couple of flex slots to work with. Ideally, I’d want those to shore up prevalent matchups or help you transition with a sideboard plan. More on that later.

What people seem to disagree on most is the sideboard. The Gisela, the Broken Blade / Bruna, the Fading Light package in the sideboard is a pipe dream. As an answer to various aggro decks, Gisela is probably fine. Trying to sideboard that stuff in against B/G Delirium seems to be missing the point. You don’t necessarily need to go over the top of them to win. Instead, you should be aiming to stick to your tempo game plan and sideboard in more countermagic, some card drawing, and sticky threats such as Jace, Unraveler of Secrets.

Westvale Abbey also strikes me as particularly greedy. There are some decks where I don’t mind being greedy with my manabase, but this is not one of them. The margins are already so thin that I’d prefer not making my Port Towns and Prairie Streams worse. You aren’t going to play much of a late-game with this deck, and if you ran out of stuff to do with your mana, making some 1/1s isn’t going to get you back in the game.

If this deck could have something like Secure the Wastes, then adding Westvale Abbey as another dimension might be something I could get behind. As it stands, you’re not going to be transforming it anytime soon, and if you find that it does happen often, ask yourself if you’d be winning those games if it were an Island instead.

Is it odd that my main contention with these W/U Flash decks is that people are trying to make giant monsters, one way or another? It’s a tempo deck, and while I’m all for adding dimensions to your deck, in this case, it doesn’t fit.

Last, and obviously least:

Gideon, Ally of Zendikar popping up in the maindeck? Who would have guessed?

Moving away from Declaration in Stone and toward Unlicensed Disintegration is completely unsurprising. Again, the focus should be on instant-speed interaction. If you can’t attack into their five open mana, you aren’t going to win. Obviously there’s a cost to playing a spell that requires black mana, but it seems to be working well enough.

Ceremonious Rejection in the sideboard in a field with very few scary artifact decks is interesting, but I guess there isn’t much you can do with your sideboard anyway. Keeping Ceremonious Rejection, but not playing Spirebluff Canal? That seems downright greedy. I get that you need four mana on turn 4 for Gideon, but if that’s more important than casting your sideboard card in a fourth color, perhaps you should cut that sideboard card.

This deck is fast. It will beat you if you aren’t prepared for it. It might not be putting up the best numbers right now, but it’ll be back.

We have a three-deck gauntlet, and one of them is increasingly more and more fringe. Mardu Vehicles isn’t in the same ballpark as the other two, but it still remains as part of the litmus test of the format. If your deck is bad against any one of these three archetypes, you should probably consider playing something else.

The Oddballs

Despite Standard being utterly dominated by two decks, there are some decks that show up here and there that are trying to carve their own place in the format, possibly as soft-counters to some of the big three. If you’re looking for a way to gain an edge instead of having to slog through mirror matches, there is the section you should pay attention to.

There is no Bant Company to keep this deck in check. That said, there are only a couple of matchups where this deck absolutely annihilates the opponent. Most of your games are going to be nail-biters.

I have no idea how much work went into this decklist. It could have been something Jonathan was working on since the Pro Tour, or it could have been something he threw together last-second as a metagame call. It looks well-tuned to me, but I know Jonathan is also a talented Magician, so who knows?

Either it was planned or spur-of-the-moment, but it honestly doesn’t matter. It worked! He made Top 8 of Grand Prix Santiago with a deck that was completely off-the-radar.

I imagine that both B/G Delirium and W/U Flash could problems with this deck, so it’s something to keep in mind.

If you want to light people on fire, I would recommend the following deck:

I will always have a soft spot in my heart for Bomat Courier.

R/B Aggro was largely considered to be a dog to W/R Vehicles and didn’t have any particularly great matchups. Because of that, it kind of fell by the wayside. However, it can get under W/U Flash. It can also play at instant speed with madness, and it has several instant-speed removal spells for Archangel Avacyn.

The B/G Delirium matchup is the big issue. It’s winnable, but getting through Ishkanah, Grafwidow is no easy feat. I would love to see two Key to the City in this maindeck (with another in the sideboard), possibly at the expense of the Incendiary Flows. You might run into Haunted Dead from time to time on Magic Online, but it rarely shows up in real life. Maybe you want them for Grim Flayer, but I think you’ll be fine without them. Bloodhall Priest is potentially better against Ishkanah than I think it is.

B/G Delirium and W/U Flash are such a huge part of the metagame right now that angling your deck to beat anything other than those two is a waste. Both of these red decks are aiming to do just that and could very easily explode in popularity.

The Future

I strongly believe the future of Standard involves a certain 10/10 creature.

Overall, Colossus decks are under-represented, and because of that, we haven’t even come close to scratching the surface of what they’re capable of.

Starting with U/R makes sense, as Harnessed Lightning is a clean answer to Smuggler’s Copter, Spell Queller, and Archangel Avacyn (if you have Aether Hub or Deadlock Trap). Incendiary Flow out of the sideboard handles the other end of the spectrum. Sylvan Scrying is nice if you’re trying to play a longer game, but not many decks in Standard are trying to do that at the moment.

Michael Majors has been working on a U/W version of the deck with Descend upon the Sinful and Aetherworks Marvel, but I think I still prefer the red.

There is just something satisfying about leveling the format by going over the top of them.

That said, here’s what I think you should play this weekend:

If the metagame starts shifting into a place that is less comfortable for W/U Flash, don’t be afraid to jump ship immediately.

My list is heavily based off one that Andrew Shrout used to go 5-0 in a Magic Online League. His Revolutionary Rebuffs are indeed revolutionary. They give you more meaningful interaction in the early turns; help against Archangel Avacyn and Ishkanah, Grafwidow; and aren’t totally dead in many spots. With people moving toward Gideon, Ally of Zendikar and/or Reckless Bushwhacker in W/R decks, they look even better.

They also allow you to sideboard into a very counterspell-heavy deck in the B/G Delirium matchup, which is what you wanted to do all along. It just didn’t make sense to give up all those sideboard slots.

Jace, Unraveler of Secrets is perfect against them. It’s difficult to kill as long as you play around To the Slaughter and can go to work on things like Mindwrack Demon and Kalitas, Traitor to Ghet. In that’s not relevant, it can help you gas up to fight through their removal spells.

I’m confident there is no G/W Tokens-style leveling to be done with the sideboard, mostly because that sort of transitional sideboard plan isn’t necessary. For example, you could go full control against R/B Aggro or G/R Energy, but those decks are not nearly prevalent enough to justify it. Against the mirror and B/G Delirium, it’s better to stick with your initial game plan.

For this weekend, I’m strongly considering attending the SCG Tour stop in Baltimore and not playing Legacy. It’s not that I wouldn’t have fun playing Legacy, because I would, but I’m really looking forward to playing in the Standard Classic on Sunday. Not only is the format fun, but it’s also been fascinating for me. I guess that’s what happens when there isn’t a Collected Company or something similar stifling the natural churn of the format. I want to see what’s going to happen with the format moving forward.

I could try to break it and play something with Metalwork Colossus, but I want to win. Right now, I’m too scared that my lists aren’t 100% where they need to be.