Howdy, y’all! This week the SCG Tour is kickin’ off its boots in the Lone Star State. I ain’t horsin’ around, boys and girls, the trail ends in Dallas this weekend! The format’s Standard, and I don’t know if you’ve heard the rumors ’round the watering hole, but I know a thing or two about this format. That’s right, the sheriff’s here to tell you what you should and shouldn’t play this weekend as we rank the ten most popular decks in Standard. Shoot, I should be clearer. We ain’t talkin’ ’bout no Ranked Play. We’re slingin’ paper!
And now that I’ve offended a large portion of my readers, let’s talk about the decks!
Decks #10-#6: What I wouldn’t play or suggest others play.
#10: Izzet Drakes
Even though the strategy took second and third in the Magic Online MCQ this weekend, I’m still just not a fan of Izzet Drakes. I don’t win when I play with it and I don’t lose when I play against it.
I’m aware that’s not a good enough answer, so let’s try to articulate things a little better.
I believe Izzet Drakes is easily beaten by most strategies in the format if you know what you’re doing. Clearly it does have some good matchups out there, but for the most part the deck’s just not explosive enough against Nexus of Fate strategies or resilient enough against removal-heavy strategies.
Take the Sultai Midrange matchup, for example. Izzet Drakes is favored in Game 1 and for a little while it was also favored after sideboard, but not once I realized I should just have every removal spell and card advantage spell I had access to. Cards like Assassin’s Trophy weren’t good against Arclight Phoenix builds, but they’re serviceable against this iteration of the strategy thanks to it having zero real mana sinks.
Pteramander is a really good card for this deck, but the additional power it provides also has made the strategy more exploitable to those who know how to exploit it. Maybe not enough have learned how to exactly do that, but for me this deck choice is a really bad idea.
#9: Esper Midrange
- 2 Hostage Taker
- 1 Doom Whisperer
- 4 Thief of Sanity
- 2 Deputy of Detention
- 4 Basilica Bell-Haunt
- 4 Hero of Precinct One
When Wyatt Darby rolled into the Top 8 of SCG Indianapolis, I was all over Esper Midrange. I played it over a long period of time, hoping it was “my deck,” because, as you all know, I love me some midrange action. But what’s not spoken about that often is my affinity for this color combination. Unfortunately, my affinity for Esper Midrange decks didn’t result into me falling in love with this one because it just didn’t do enough powerful things.
However, my conclusions didn’t match my testing partner, so I had to ask him why he still likes this deck. This is what BBD had to say.
“It’s a classic midrange strategy. It may not be great Game 1 versus the field, but after sideboard it can adjust to take on anything. The deck is full of great two-for-ones and synergy and Teferi at the top end of a midrange deck is extremely powerful.”
While I respect Brian’s opinion immensely, I just can’t get behind him on this one. I believe Teferi, Hero of Dominaria is best utilized in decks that can use its extra mana or when the -3 ability is good. Esper Midrange can’t use the extra mana and there are a lot of easy ways to kill a planeswalkers with one loyalty counter left. Teferi is best used when there are spells to protect it, not creatures to block for it.
I could be wrong on Esper Midrange, but from my experience it’s just not giving me the wins I want out of it. You might have been able to change my mind on this deck if it had a good Mono-Red Aggro matchup, but being weak to this matchup for a midrange deck just isn’t where you want to be in Texas.
#8: Four-Color Gates and #7: Nexus of Gates
I want to preface this with “I love these two decks!” because I really do. I just don’t think they’re good enough to beat experienced players. Don’t get me wrong, they smash Sultai Midrange, so if that’s what you want to do, go live your best life. I just can’t recommend them as serious contenders for the Open.
I’ve lumped them only because they’re similar strategies and fell on my list right beside each other. Since that’s the case, it’s important that I clarify that Nexus of Gates is much better than Four-Color Gates. The late-game of Nexus of Gates is some of the most degenerate stuff I’ve seen in Standard. In fact, when this deck goes off, it feels like a combination of Tron and Marvel as you just destroy your opponent. You take every turn starting on Turn 5 and you Fireball your opponent’s face for more damage than you could ever imagine. The issue is when the deck stumbles – which it does a lot – and you just lose on the spot against anything aggressive.
Running 26 lands might also not be enough, but I still don’t know what you want to do to change the deck. I’m pretty sure there’s no perfect configuration for either deck, and even though your wins will always feel busted, there will never be that many more of them than the losses you’ll accrue.
#6: Esper Control
Just the act of putting Esper Control this far down on my list makes me feel like I’m sticking my neck out for no good reason, but I just think this deck sucks. I know it’s not that bad, as it has pretty good aggressive matchups – you know, when you don’t flood, make all your land drops, have a Teferi, and your opponent’s draw isn’t that good. Luckily for Esper Control, that happens enough for people to still think the deck’s good, but I’ve got bad news for you.
The biggest issue with Esper Control is there’s no good win condition. Like, at all! What’s funny is Edgar’s list looks great, but the deck can’t beat a Nexus of Fate strategy. Even if you do your thing and exile all their lands, any Nexus of Fate player can evaluate if they think conceding Game 1 will yield a better result than a draw. All they have to do is discard a Nexus of Fate every turn and draw it again.
Sure, this isn’t the most sportsmanlike act, but it’s legal to play the game out to its natural conclusion if you know your opponent can’t kill you. This may be a bad example, but it’s one in favor of draws rewarding zero points. I’d love any reason for this to be the case, but let’s get back on track, as I’m getting hung up on something that doesn’t really matter…
I just think it’s funny that there’s a strategy you can’t actually beat when your deck functions is all. People think Esper Control beats Sultai Midrange, and even if I disagree, they’ll continue to think that. For whatever reason, control players always convince themselves they beat the midrange deck, and year after year, I use this fact to line my pockets. It might not be easy to beat control with Sultai Midrange, but the lines are usually there.
Even though you’re going to, don’t play Esper Control.
Decks #5 and #4: Decks I wouldn’t play, but don’t fault others for choosing.
#5: Azorius Aggro
- 3 Adanto Vanguard
- 4 Skymarcher Aspirant
- 4 Snubhorn Sentry
- 4 Benalish Marshal
- 4 Dauntless Bodyguard
- 4 Venerated Loxodon
- 2 Hunted Witness
- 1 Tithe Taker
- 2 Deputy of Detention
I’m not the biggest fan of Azorius Aggro, but I understand why people like it. The deck is decent against other aggressive decks, Izzet Drakes, and Gate strategies, but usually suffers against control and Golgari/Sultai Midrangee. The blue splash at least helps against control as you now have cheap creatures and counterspells – a combination poised to take down Teferi decks. These counters also help against all the Nexus of Fate strategies and are way more reliable than going monocolored or splashing red for Heroic Reinforcements.
All that said, this deck struggles against Sultai Midrange, which will most likely be the most popular deck. The matchup isn’t unwinnable, but most Sultai Midrange pilots know what’s up at this point. They know they need to handle Tocatli Honor Guard, so they pack many Doom Blade effects. They know you’ll swarm them, so some even come packing Cry of the Carnarium (even though I wouldn’t respect this deck enough to play the three-mana sweeper).
I do think Sultai Midrange has the chance to struggle this weekend if enough people come packing Guildgates, but at the same time, we’re in Texas. This is the Burn State, and the #4 deck on the list is…
#4: Mono-Red Aggro
- 4 Fanatical Firebrand
- 4 Ghitu Lavarunner
- 4 Goblin Chainwhirler
- 4 Viashino Pyromancer
- 4 Runaway Steam-Kin
- 20 Mountain
I don’t know the best build of this deck, even though I’ve played a lot with it. I think I want 21 lands in the maindeck and at least three Rekindling Phoenix in the sideboard, but again I’m not confident. What I do believe I have a good foundation on is this deck’s position in the metagame. The deck’s actually not bad against Sultai Midrange, which is a great start, but at the same time it struggles against Esper Control, which might be the second most popular strategy this weekend.
The thing is, I don’t really think I need to say much about this deck. You’re either playing it or you’re not. If you are, you’ve probably played with it enough to like your plans. I’m just here to say this is probably not a bad choice this weekend, but that’s contingent on how many people actually stop playing Esper Control (which they should).
Decks #3-#1: What I’d consider playing, and highly suggest for this weekend.
Golgari Blue Sultai Midrange
- 4 Llanowar Elves
- 1 Hostage Taker
- 4 Wildgrowth Walker
- 4 Merfolk Branchwalker
- 4 Jadelight Ranger
- 1 Ravenous Chupacabra
- 1 Midnight Reaper
- 4 Hydroid Krasis
I know, I know, yesterday I said this was the deck I’d play in What We’d Play, and in all honesty that’s the truth. At least I think that would be the case, but it’s always a little different when you’re not actually going to the tournament. If I wasn’t going to play Sultai Midrange, it’s only because I got in enough hours with one of the next two decks.
Sultai Midrange is great, but the metagame is warping around it. Last season, Golgari Midrange was able to fight back against the hate and I honestly considered it the best choice for much of the season. I don’t think there’s much of a difference with this Standard format. I’ve made a few changes from the list I wrote about last week, but none of them should be too confusing.
#2: Bant Nexus
Two weeks ago, Bant Nexus had a poor finish in Indianapolis and its failure was celebrated all over social media. Many even said Wilderness Reclamation didn’t need to be banned, using this as proof, even though many of the game’s top pros were screaming it from the rooftops for weeks.
One week later, Luckesh played a unique version to a qualifying finish on Magic Online and I believe this to be one of the best ways to build the deck. In fact, I think this deck might just be the truth. Just because it didn’t crush SCG Indianapolis doesn’t mean it’s not a broken strategy. Just remember – it took us almost a month to discover the true power of Temur Energy, and once we did, the deck took over the entire format.
While I do think there are a couple of ways to keep this deck in check, I don’t think it’s going to be enough. Bant Nexus is arguably the best deck in the format and there’s not much that’s going to change my mind. It’s not fun and it’s not nice, but it’s effective. I don’t think Luckesh will be the last person to win a tournament with this strategy.
#1: Mono-Blue Aggro
- 19 Island
Our very own Tom Ross wrote about this deck last week and it took the world this long to catch up. Two days ago, Alexander Hayne used the deck to decimate the Arena Traditional Ladder all the way to #1. After that, the hype train started and I picked it up to get myself into Mythic. After that, a friend of mine messaged me to tell me that Mono-Blue Aggro was very good. After that, I decided to put the deck as the best choice for this weekend and truly believe those words.
The strategy has some issues, but there are just so many expensive spells out there right now that makes Spell Pierce so good! The deck’s also pretty decent against Sultai Midrange, which is a great place to be right now. Again, we’re seeing decks well-positioned against Sultai Midrange taking over the format, while those that aren’t as good are getting pushed aside.
Due to this, I could see this weekend being very similar to Grand Prix New Jersey from last spring when zero copies of Golgari Midrange made the Top 8. I hope that’s not the case, but the waters are getting rougher for the deck.
Mono-Blue Aggro can be difficult to pilot, but it doesn’t take that long to learn. If you’re unsure of what to play for the weekend, I’d suggest Mono-Blue unless you know Sultai Midrange or Bant Nexus better. I do think this will be a great choice, but you need to take some time to practice with it, which might not be possible given the time between now and the event itself.
— Alexander Hayne (@InsayneHayne) February 6, 2019
Well, that’s all I’ve got for this week. In the end, these are just my opinions, so don’t let my words discourage you. I know for a fact many players will prove me wrong this weekend, so do whatever it takes for you to be one of them!
One last thing! if you’re interested in hearing more from me about Standard, join me tomorrow on the Bash Bros Podcast. If you haven’t heard about it yet, my brother Corey Baumeister and I get together each week to talk about all things Magic and always with a very special guest. This week we wanted to bring in another Standard pro, so we got the person who absolutely broke the Preseason 1 ladder with an innovative Selesnya Angels deck.
Brian Braun-Duin will be joining us as we go more in-depth with the decks in the format and argue about why we all have differing opinions. See you there!