New Standard: The Decks We Have And How They Can Improve

Gerry Thompson has examined and tested most of the lists that we’re seeing for SCG Philly Standard contention! Today he puts forth the rising and fading stars heading into this weekend’s big SCG Tour event!

I think it’s finally over.

Between Magic Online and SCG Dallas, we have plenty of results for the new
Standard format, and the results are good. Really good, actually.

Do we finally have a good, perhaps great, Standard format?

Basically all of the macro archetypes are well-represented, and those
macros each contain multiple options within them. So far at least, the
bannings seem to have done their job. Whether you’re a brewer or someone
who enjoys some nice, interactive games, Standard finally looks fun again.


I’ve seen some interesting takes on U/B Control since the World
Championship, but this is a classic take. Moment of Craving might be an
upgrade to Essence Extraction, both because there are fewer three toughness
threats to take out and because it’s easier on the mana.

Consign was a cute card that Sam Rolph used to good effect at the World
Magic Cup. That, alongside a pile of Deadeye Trackers, absolutely
demolished our team’s God-Pharaoh’s Gift deck. Despite looking like it’s
been figured out, U/B Control still has some interesting options.

Realistically, this is a U/B Control deck that simply splashes Approach of
the Second Sun as a win condition. Standard is incredibly hostile toward
creatures at the moment, and with Hazoret the Fervent being the prime
target, Vraska’s Contempt is creeping up in numbers. The Scarab God is no
longer the brick wall it used to be.

U/W Approach is a somewhat viable option, but it needs the metagame to
settle down first. Tuning control decks in the first weeks of a format can
be difficult since you never know what to expect and people are trying to
come at you from a variety of angles. A pile of Cast Outs can solve some
problems, but the black tools are typically stronger at dealing with those
random problems and at a better rate.

If Mardu is the aggro deck of choice, at least for the moment, Fumigate is
a worse place to be than Vraska’s Contempt. Rekindling Phoenix is also
receiving a ton of hype, so the same is true there as well.

Recent updates to U/W Cycling include shaving on the hard win conditions,
like Abandoned Sarcophagus and sometimes even a Drake Haven. As always,
this deck is solid, but not great. Its true worth is largely defined by how
potent Fumigate and Settle the Wreckage are, and as I noted above, they
don’t look particularly great.

These control decks tend to side in additional threats post sideboard, and
this deck has four Angel of Sanctions, which is something I haven’t seen
before. I happen to like it quite a bit. I’m not a huge fan of the deck,
even though I want to be, but this is a well-constructed version if anyone
wants to pick it up.

There’s a lot of Mono-Red Aggro hate in this deck! Life gain is actually a
reasonable angle against them again, so you might as well go deep. Approach
of the Second Sun is a nightmare, but most other things seem as least
reasonable. The main issue is the complete and utter lack of nut draws.

I’m not an expert on this deck, nor do I think I’ll become one, so I’ll
leave the Lantern-esque deck discussion to Sam Black.


I always love how these decks look, but they always, always end up weaker
than they look.

If there’s anything to take note of, it’s how great Treasure Map is as a
card advantage engine in non-blue midrange or control decks. It’s one of
those things where you might start with one or two copies and eventually
just play four copies and be happy about it. Bryan Gottlieb even added a
pseudo fifth copy in Azor’s Gateway to his W/B Midrange deck.

The combination of great threats and great removal will be a solid one, but
I’m understandably skeptical of B/R’s place in the metagame.

After the bans, Grixis Energy was poised to be Standard’s top deck. The
initial Magic Online results were good, but that’s tapered off since then.
Two things are responsible for that. The first is the (repeated) rise of
red-based aggressive decks. The second is that the Grixis decks haven’t
adapted yet.

The Supreme Will, Glimmer of Genius, Torrential Gearhulk package is strong
against other midrange decks, particularly the mirror, but it’s not a
midrange format anymore.

This deck is awesome and one that couldn’t really exist without an energy
(and maybe a Ramunap Red) nerf.

Unfortunately, G/R Monsters seems like it’s a tad on the slow end for a
format with Mardu Vehicles and Mono-Red Aggro running amok, so we’ll see
how that plays out. Additional Magma Sprays in the main deck could go a
long way towards solving that.

The Scarab God, Glorybringer, and Winding Constrictor are still at the top
of the midrange heap.

The Jessups stuck with a minor energy theme, even foregoing Winding
Constrictor and Walking Ballista altogether. Is Bristling Hydra more
valuable in the format than Walking Ballista? That seems difficult to
believe, especially if you’re giving up a 2/3 for a 3/2 against Mono-Red.

Jamming The Scarab God is attractive, especially in the first week of a
format, but that seems like a poor idea going forward. There are some
midrange decks around, but not enough to realistically turn to The Scarab
God as your metagame-breaking threat. It’s not good against Mardu or
control, and Verdurous Gearhulk is arguably better against Mono-Red,
especially in conjunction with Walking Ballista. So what are we doing here?

And maindeck Nissa, Steward of Elements? Hard pass (at the moment).


I wasn’t super high on Mardu last week, and honestly, not much has changed.
The aggressive matchups are still poor, so once people figure out the other
options, Mardu will be in trouble. Given the Magic Online results, I
thought we were already there, but Mardu had a pretty good weekend overall.
The Mono-Red Aggro mirror in the finals of the Dallas Classic is a sign of
things to come.

If people continue to explore control and midrange without significant
answers to Heart of Kiran, then Mardu looks great.

Jim Davis brought the fire to Dallas’ Standard Classic.

Curious Obsession and Cartouche of Knowledge are two excellent cards that
pair well with Adanto Vanguard and Sram, Senior Edificer. Jim’s deck is
innovative and proven to be at least competitive, although his loss to a
Mono-Red Aggro deck in the semifinals is worrisome.

How many Squire’s Devotions is too many?

I’m still a big fan of B/R Aggro, but the recent trend seems to be cutting
Glint-Sleeve Siphoner altogether. Overall, I’m not a fan of that move, but
you can’t argue with the results. As it turns out, being more aggressive
will likely yield better results.

The sideboard is bare bones, but that’s not necessarily a bad thing. The
Bontu’s Last Reckonings were previously the sideboard plan against Temur
Energy, but they line up well against G/R Monsters and G/B Constrictor just
as well. It’s odd to not see Yahenni, Undying Partisan anywhere in the
list, but again, having the most impactful, aggressive cards is likely the
best strategy, at least for now.

Cut is still great, fits into the more aggressive approach to the deck, and
is one of the most underutilized cards in Standard. With Harnessed
Lightning more or less out of the picture, Cut is poised to see more play.
I wouldn’t be surprised to see it show up in Brennan DeCandio’s G/R
Monsters list eventually.

While I wanted to take the deck in a different direction, this list makes
me reconsider my stance. Overall, B/R Aggro has the capacity to play a
midrange game against the other aggressive decks, and I thought that was
where its market share would come from.

As time goes on, Merfolk seems to get more and more aggressive.
Mist-Cloaked Herald and Seafloor Oracle are a match made in RIX Draft
heaven, but how well does it hold up in Constructed? As it turns out, the
plan of swarming the battlefield with tiny fishies is rather potent in a
number of matchups, at least until people start playing sweepers. Right
now, there’s not a ton of demand for something like Sweltering Suns, and
most of the aggressive decks actively punish you for it with vehicles or
haste creatures.

With Kumena, Tyrant of Orazca being a huge part of the deck, playing more
one-drops is likely a good idea anyway. Also, the move away from some
Unsummons and toward Essence Scatter is potentially a great move. The U/G
sideboard options are mopey, but what can you do.

Invigorated Rampage isn’t in every single Mono-Red Aggro deck, but maybe it
should be. This isn’t the same red deck with staying power from last
season. While Bomat Courier and Hazoret the Fervent are still around,
you’re better off trying to go under them. A return to Cartouche of Zeal
wouldn’t surprise me, and Invigorated Rampage is more or less a better
version of that effect.


Calling God-Pharaoh’s Gift a combo deck is a little generous since most
games play out like a typical midrange slog. Still, it’s the best we’ve got
for the moniker.

Dusk Legion Zealot and Ravenous Chupacabra are wonderful updates for the
U/B version of God-Pharaoh’s Gift. You lose the Refurbish angle, but Gate
to the Afterlife has its own benefits.

One lesson remains.

The Format is Still Largely Unexplored

Focusing on beating aggressive decks should be your number one priority.
There is no shortage of good removal, and while energy represented the
majority of the sticky threats in the format, there’s enough to keep aggro
in check.

Should things take a different turn, I’m interested in utilizing the ascend
mechanic. Ten may seem like a lot of permanents and the various ascend
effects might not be powerful enough for Standard, but I’m becoming less
convinced of that the more I play with these cards.

Is there something in this pile of cards?

The idea is that you can acquire ascend with Wayward Swordtooth, Ramunap
Excavator, and Evolving Wilds rather quickly. Your various explore
creatures, Treasure Maps, and cantripping creatures will also help. Once
you have a pile of lands on the battlefield, your copies of The Scarab God
are going to be much stronger than theirs and you can basically do whatever
you want. This sort of thing could even be a Zacama, Primal Calamity deck.

You don’t even necessarily have to go way over the top of your opponents.
Instead, you could focus on establishing something like a Twilight Prophet
or Tendershoot Dryad (which, admittedly, is incredibly weak to removal).

There’s something here, and at some point, having a bigger midrange deck
will be the correct metagame call. Until then, I’d say keep on attacking.
So far, that seems to be the best strategy.