Remember the World Championship?
There were three decks: Ramunap Red, Temur Energy, and U/B Control. From
what I’ve seen on social media, everyone seems to have noticed that U/B
Control was the one of those decks untouched by bannings, so level one is
the assumption that U/B Control is the new best deck/deck to beat.
Rampaging Ferocidon wasn’t a great card against U/B, but Ramunap Ruins
certainly was, and the matchup between Ramunap Red and U/B had been close
enough that I think between that ban and the printing of Moment of Craving
(yes, that’s my pick for the card that matters here, not Ravenous
Chupacabra), U/B should be solidly ahead in the matchup. I also think Temur
Energy needed absolutely everything it had going for it to be competitive
with U/B Control, so I think the bans are clearly sufficient to leave U/B
Control on top of that three deck metagame.
But what about the larger Standard metagame?
There, I think U/B Control actually has some weaknesses.
U/B is fantastic at killing creatures and planeswalkers, but quite bad at
answering artifacts and enchantments. If you want to beat them, artifacts
and enchantments are a great way to do it. Fortunately, this format has a
ton of really powerful artifacts and enchantments against U/B. Let’s look
at some options:
Hidden Stockpile has always been a nightmare for U/B, because it’s cheap
enough to sneak under counterspells and provides a threat they can’t easily
answer. Moreover, if build your deck to be essentially creatureless and
play answers that exile creatures, The Scarab God is mostly just a vanilla
5/5, which isn’t exactly an impressive finisher for a control deck. I found
the Abzan Procession deck to be a very difficult matchup for U/B Control
before the World Championship, and I don’t see anything that would clearly
Treasure Map is a flexible enough card that almost anyone can use it to
improve their matchup against U/B Control. Remember
Ben’s Stark’s Treasure Red
deck? If that doesn’t show that anyone can play Treasure Map, I don’t know
Silent Gravestone is a narrow sideboard card, but it’s worth noting that it
cripples both Torrential Gearhulk and The Scarab God. Often, U/B is winning
by enough that they just need a random threat to finish the game because
they’ve taken over with Search for Azcanta, but that’s not always the case;
so if your deck has problems with their finishers specifically, rather than
the general engine of the deck, this is a narrow but very effective
sideboard card–this is probably most relevant for God-Pharaoh’s Gift
decks, which can often keep up with the grind and whose artifacts U/B can
have a lot of trouble with, especially if they can sneak a Gate to the
Afterlife onto the battlefield but which can get completely trumped by The
Scarab God. If The Scarab God can’t exile your creatures, U/B will have no
hope of beating God-Pharaoh’s Gift, and even Champion of Wits will be
difficult to keep up with.
In a more general case, if you have Silent Gravestone for their finishers
and Field of Ruin for Search for Azcanta, finding a way to beat them
eventually shouldn’t be that difficult.
On the subject of invalidating their threats, how exactly is that deck ever
beating a resolved Profane Procession? I’ll help: It’s just not happening
in their previous configuration. The answer is that U/B will had to adapt
by playing something like Commit to be able to get it off the battlefield
before playing a creature to win the game. It’s not that hard for U/B to
play a couple copies of Commit and find them with Search for Azcanta before
trying to kill you, and until they want to cast one of their threats,
Profane Procession doesn’t do anything, so it might ultimately turn out to
be a bad card against them if they have a few answers, again, depending on
whether your deck does something that forces them to be able to use their
finishers, and, to some extent, on how many finishers they play/draw–If
they only draw one, it’s not that big of a deal; but if they draw two, the
double mulligan might catch up with them before they find their answer.
The other issue is overloading the few answers to artifacts and
enchantments they can manage to play. It’s reasonable for an Abzan control
deck to have Treasure Map, Arguel’s Blood Fast, Hidden Stockpile, and
Profane Procession, on top of other things that can incidentally be large
problems, like Ixalan’s Binding.
So, what’s the point? Well, to start with, I don’t think U/B will be the
uncontested best deck in Standard, because blue and black as colors simply
don’t have enough good answers to the wealth of powerful grindy
enchantments in Ixalan and Standard, in general.
So, will Abzan Control be the deck to beat? After all, Ixalan is a
tribal set, and Abzan Control is a Fumigate deck that can also play Settle
the Wreckage and whatever other answers it wants.
I don’t think so. From my testing of Abzan Control, it wasn’t just a
terrible post-sideboard matchup against Temur Energy that got in the way
for that deck, the biggest problem was Approach of the Second Sun. The
finishers in U/B are atrocious against Abzan, so they try to grind
for a while and eventually lose to tokens that they don’t have a good way
to clean up, but the white version has Cast Out, which is a much better
answer to opposing enchantments and artifacts than black can muster, and
Approach of the Second Sun itself, a trump finisher in a long, slow
matchup, rather than completely ineffectual finishers. While the core of
the deck is similar, Approach replaces all the worst cards in U/B with the
best cards in Approach–in other words, where both decks have
counterspells, the U/B deck is hoping to draw them while the U/W deck would
prefer to draw its white cards but can settle for drawing counterspells.
The result is that the overall win percentage difference is night and day.
It’s possible that this will lead to the normalization of Esper Control, as
U/W Approach will likely find that it has problems with U/B Control because
it’s extremely hard for a control deck without Duress to beat a control
deck with Duress. Basically, if U/B is the better deck but Abzan Control or
something similar becomes a substantial enough metagame presence to demand
respect, then U/B might have to add white to give itself a fighting chance
against that kind of deck.
Another concern for U/B is that it has also had a truly horrendous matchup
against black aggro (with or without Hazoret). Black creatures hit harder
than red creatures, but they’re easier to block and they’re harder to kill
(Dread Wanderer and Scrapheap Scrounger). Being easier to block doesn’t
really help U/B, and harder to kill threats that hit harder and can easily
be supported by Duress results in a combination that’s extremely hard to
beat. Without Ramunap Ruins as a draw to make aggro players play red, we
might see more black aggressive decks and B/R aggressive decks–decks that
previously couldn’t exist largely because Whirler Virtuoso was basically
unbeatable–pick up some metagame share, which should make things hard for
any blue control deck (Abzan Tokens can likely reasonably defend itself
Oketra’s Monument should play well against this style of aggressive deck,
as should most God-Pharaoh’s Gift decks, since both are very good at
incidentally blocking 2/1 creatures at very low cost. I’m genuinely not
sure how either of these decks will fit into the larger metagame.
Let’s talk about some individual cards and some new decks.
Ravenous Chupacabra has gotten a lot of press (largely due to
Patrick Sullivan’s excellent rant
–unfortunately, Patrick is so well-spoken that I think this delightful
rant will cause a lot of people to really overestimate the significance of
this card for a while), but I think there are actually not that many decks
that will want to play a lot of these. I think it’s a worse fit than
Vraska’a Contempt if your deck is using Search for Azcanta and/or trying to
operate at instant speed, and I think the likely prevalence of control
decks will make it a weak maindeck card. If it has a home, I think it will
likely be in decks with Liliana, Death’s Majesty or God-Pharaoh’s Gift.
People talk more about its synergy with The Scarab God, but I don’t really
think an active The Scarab God needs the help.
Adanto Vanguard is an impressively powerful threat that was held back by
not being great against Temur Energy. It will be a staple of white
aggressive decks, which may succeed largely on the strength of this card.
As a result, both Moment of Craving and Golden Demise are both very
important cards, since Adanto Vanguard can’t save itself from -2/-2.
I concluded with a
that I thought wouldn’t be able to compete with the Standard metagame, but
it might do well in an alternate universe dominated by control decks. Well,
looks like there might be a reason to try that deck out.
Merfolk is in an interesting place. It has enough playable creatures, but
the question is whether the supporting spells offered in blue and green are
sufficient. Honestly, after looking at it a bit, I’m most optimistic about
Merfolk in a world where they can afford to play four Spell Pierce main
deck–It’s a tempo deck with a lot of card advantage that most needs to
avoid getting destroyed by a sweeper, and if we can play four Spell Pierce
and sideboard four Negate, this becomes another interesting take on an
aggro control deck that might be able to prey on Search for Azcanta decks
and Fumigate decks.
And what about Rekindling Phoenix, currently the second-most expensive card
in Rivals of Ixalan? Will this lead to the creation of a midrange
red deck that has a curve too high to play Hazoret the Fervent, and instead
plays removal into large creatures like Rekindling Phoenix, Glorybringer,
and maybe Burning Sun’s Avatar? This big red deck could use Treasure Map
and Chandra, Torch of Defiance to try hang with control decks while playing
good cheap removal for other aggressive decks and a great set of fliers to
win the game. Abrade is looking like a nice card to have moving forward,
where the tier two decks that were built around artifacts (or Winding
Constrictor) now have a chance to move to the forefront and pick up
substantial metagame share. In fact, between Vehicles, Winding Constrictor,
Oketra’s Monument, Treasure Map, and God-Pharaoh’s Gift, Abrade is a card I
think people should very highly value being able to cast when considering
their deck choice for early events in this Standard format. Sweltering Suns
is another great card to have access to early on, while people might be
exploring tribal decks more than they likely will later in the format.
A word of caution: this is the exact deck The Scarab God is looking to beat
up on. Be sure to pack your Magma Sprays.
So, given all these decks with real strengths and weaknesses, what would I
advocate moving forward? I think U/B is too obvious and too beatable by
people who are trying, regardless of how busted Search for Azcanta and The
Scarab God are. I think U/W Approach is likely a better way to play a
control deck for the moment (consider adding Baffling End to prepare for
Adanto Vanguard and Scrapheap Scrounger), and it will be a strong choice
for the first weeks.
To beat that, I’d want to be a blue aggressive deck or a deck with a lot of
relevant planeswalkers like Chandra, Torch of Defiance or Nissa, Steward of
Elements. Failing that, I suppose I’d want Duress and Arguel’s Blood Fast,
and possibly even Lost Legacy in my sideboard.
Esper Gift feels like a deck that does something powerful that people might
sleep on at first and that can be built with a lot of tools to combat
control decks. If you want to put the work into finding a good version of
that, it could be good. I’d start by trying to play Glint-Sleeve Siphoner.
I think that if I were preparing for a Standard event, I’d try decks out in
the following order:
Adanto Vanguard Aggro
After talking through the implications for the future, I’m pretty
optimistic about Standard following these bans. It’s always possible
something will turn out to be too good, but at least for now, there are a
lot of decks that look like they could be viable. For the last few weeks,
I’ve been excited that I might not have to play this Standard format at all
if I skip a GP or two, but now, I almost wish this coming PT was Standard
so I could really dive into these things. I say almost because Modern is
also great, and I’m happy to get to play it at the PT and to be able to put
a lot of time into drafting, because, aside from the fact that there are a
ton of really obnoxious rares in Rivals of Ixalan, I’m enjoying
the format out of the gate a lot more than Ixalan.