This has been a topsy-turvy Standard.
Leading into the Pro Tour, I had the following prediction of the metagame:
1 – G/R Devotion
2 – Abzan Control
3 – Mono-Red Aggro
4 – Abzan Rally
5 – W/U Heroic
6 – U/B Control
7 – The Rest
This was actually not horribly far off, but it had some major misses (I didn’t foresee any Scissors on the attack, for example).
If you look at my analysis of the field from last week, you can see the actual Pro Tour metagame was:
1 – Red Aggro (not necessarily Mono)
2 – G/R Devotion
3 – Abzan Control
4 – U/R Thopters
5 – U/B Control
6 – The Rest
In that analysis, I showed how the most successful deck, by the numbers, was certainly U/R Thopters. One of the real shocks of the last few weeks is just how little stability Standard has shown.
It isn’t unusual for the best decks of the Pro Tour to fall away a bit. One of the reasons for this is that, except for the rare deck, most Pro Tour decks are simply not that great.
It’s not that they’re not great for the event that they are being played in. What is simply the case is that everyone at the Pro Tour is dealing with a severe lack of information, absurdly challenging time constraints, and a simple lack of finished work. At the Pro Tour, we don’t know what everyone is playing, and all we can do is put forth our best guesses based on the work we’ve done. Before the Pro Tour, the set is only out for about three weeks and a full spoiler is typically only out for a few days before that. Finally, unlike after the Pro Tour, there isn’t full development on certain aspects of the metagame; a deck that puts up a great performance might simply be a flash in the pan and easily thwarted with minimal help or, alternatively, a great idea might have missed the important extra piece that made it worthwhile.
Take the last few weeks. It has only been three weeks since the Pro Tour, and the results of the last two GPs look almost nothing like the PT nor much like each other.
GP San Diego was won by Michael Majors with U/R Sphinx’s Tutelage and GP London by Fabrizio Anteri with Hangarback Abzan. Let’s check out the differences in Top performing Standard decks:
Pro Tour Top Standard Decks (as per my article)
1st – Mono-Red Aggro
2nd – Mono-Red Aggro
3rd – G/W Megamorph
4th – Temur
5th – Abzan Megamorph
6th – Abzan Control
7th – Jeskai
8th – Esper Dragons
9th – U/R Thopters
10th – U/R Thopters
Grand Prix San Diego, one week after the Pro Tour:
1st – U/R Sphinx’s Tutelage
2nd – Abzan Constellation
3rd – Abzan Control
4th – Esper Dragons
5th – G/W Megamorph
6th – Abzan Aggro
7th – Jeskai
8th – R/B Dragons
9th – G/W Constellation
10th – R/B Dragons
Grand Prix London, two weeks after the Pro Tour:
1st – Abzan Aggro
2nd – Abzan Aggro
3rd – G/W Megamorph
4th – Jeskai
5th – Abzan Control
6th – Abzan Aggro
7th – G/R Dragons
8th – Abzan Aggro
9th – Abzan Aggro
10th – G/W Megamorph
If this current trend continues, we’ll have an entirely different set of decks winning this weekend – and by the time that we hit the Season Three Invitaitonal in New Jersey, another entirely different set of decks.
With all of that being said, I do find it a bit exciting. If a part of the solution to this format involves selecting the correct deck depending on the week, it becomes important to try to channel your Brad Nelson/Ben Stark deck selection skills, and just pick the perfect deck for that week.
Of course, this means having a broad arsenal of decks.
Here is mine, currently…
More than anything else, I’m asked what my current build of U/B Control looks like. For context, I think it is important to see what I played at the Pro Tour:
I went 0-3 in Constructed with this deck, but I honestly don’t think that was because of anything fundamentally wrong with this deck. My first opponent was playing U/R Thopters, and Team Ultra PRO had no preparation for that deck. I knew I was going to lose very early in the match, and I put up a tiny fight, but was easily dispatched. My next two opponents were both playing U/B Control with four Thoughtseize maindeck, so I was a horrible underdog from the moment I sat down.
The thing about where that deck was situated, it is hard to say if it will be able to shoot at a moving target. If you’re expecting a lot of green-based decks, it is actually in a pretty great position. On the other hand, if you’re looking for something a bit more radical (and perhaps a bit more ‘classic,’ to some eyes), here is the version I’m playing online – where, granted, there is a lot more Mono-Red Aggro to contend with:
There is a way in which this build is actively trying to make sure that it can win more on the ground and less via the stack, acknowledging the problem of a wildly-diverse metagame that could well include U/R Thopters and Mono-Red Aggro again even if those two decks don’t make the final rounds. It loses a lot against Abzan decks of all sorts, and green in general, by not including Ashiok, Nightmare Weaver… but lately I haven’t really been feeling like that card is doing particularly well.
Of course, the natural direction to go once you start stepping down this path is to hit Esper Dragons.
To me, one of the huge draws to this deck is the simple “Dragons Matter” theme from Dragons of Tarkir:
There is something gut-wrenching about having either of these cards hit you. A lot of it has to do with the general nature of having a true version of Counterspell in your deck and the way in which lifegain can be devastating when paired with removal.
Right now, Esper Dragons is the most successful of the true counterspell-based control decks. This is the safest version of a Dissolve/Dig Through Time deck you can probably play in Standard at the moment.
Red is one of my other loves, and a lot of people have asked me why I didn’t just play something red at Pro Tour Magic Origins, especially since Team Ultra PRO had a great version of it. The simplest answer is that I thought that the metagame was going to be stronger with G/R Devotion, and just generally be more hostile to red decks, and I didn’t expect as much other red decks as there was. Going deeper, it can be hard to turn your back on a deck that has been performing for you, and U/B Control was continuing to perform.
That being said, I almost jumped ship.
Today, here is the build of Mono-Red Aggro I would play:
- 4 Monastery Swiftspear
- 1 Goblin Heelcutter
- 2 Thunderbreak Regent
- 3 Lightning Berserker
- 3 Zurgo Bellstriker
- 2 Chandra, Fire of Kaladesh
- 4 Abbot of Keral Keep
This is basically a merger between Stephen Neal’s top-ranked Standard deck from Pro Tour Magic Origins and my team’s version. I’m quite sympathetic to Chandra right now, as I think that a great many games might easily bog down to a stalemate. Thunderbreak Regent is also another card that can bust that dynamic right open.
After sideboard, the absent Eidolon of the Great Revel appear, ready to come in against the non-Dromoka’s Command decks. Even more mana is present, to help support the potential for four more four-mana cards. I’d love to fit in another Thunderbreak Regent or Eidolon of the Great Revel, but frankly I think every other card is more important.
One of the things I’ve been incredibly excited about in Standard for a long time is this mini-combo:
Playing both cards together is amazing. There are some games you play that you just run away with. Here is the current list I’m playing:
- 4 Elvish Mystic
- 4 Stormbreath Dragon
- 4 Goblin Rabblemaster
- 4 Rattleclaw Mystic
- 4 Thunderbreak Regent
- 2 Den Protector
- 4 Deathmist Raptor
- 2 Nissa, Vastwood Seer
This deck is basically built on the back of Steve Rubin’s awesome deck from Grand Prix Providence. It only has one new card in it:
She’s pretty good.
This deck is an excellent example of why midrange aggro can be so potent: you are fully capable of taking an aggressive stance and really going on the offensive. At the same time, if you slow things down to control a more aggressive opponent, it is surprisingly easy to shift gears again and start in on the beatdown much later in the game.
Ultimately, I’m always working on a million decks at once. I have a bunch of decks running Pyromancer’s Goggles (none of which are ready for prime time), U/R Hangarback Control, Narset Control (not the planeswalker), Turbo-Fog, U/W Control, and R/W Midrange.
If I were hard-pressed to make a choice for this weekend, my three recommendations would be, in order:
1) Esper Dragons
2) Abzan Control (targetting Abzan Aggro)
3) U/B Control with 3-4 Ashiok, Nightmare Weaver in the 75
Whether you’re playing in a Standard event or another event (I hear there is an exciting Modern tournament in Charlotte this weekend), I wish you the best of luck. I for one will be prepping for my next events and paying attention to the tea leaves. Good luck to everyone competing; the rest of you I’ll see in the queues on Magic Online!