Standard Trends And Advice For SCG Cincinnati

It’s been a few weeks since Mythic Championship Cleveland, and Standard has evolved more than you think! Ari Lax shares the metagame moves he has observed and his choice for the Standard seat at SCG Cincinnati!

The Mythic Championship happened three weeks ago. We all know who won (Autumn Burchett) and what won (Mono-Blue Aggro), and all the narratives people made in the wake of that.

And then Standard kept moving on.

I’ve spent a lot of time grinding the Arena ladder these last couple weeks, all in the best-of-three queues, and the metagame has felt way different from the one at the Mythic Championship. Not just because people play random decks, but because Ravnica Allegiance Standard still has room to grow months into the format.

Let’s bring everyone up to date with everything going on now.

Niv-Mizzet, Parun

Niv-Mizzet, Parun may have ended Guilds of Ravnica Standard as the most powerful card in the format, but it took forever for people to figure it out.

It turns out Niv-Mizzet, Parun might be one of the most powerful cards in Ravnica Allegiance Standard, and again it took people forever to figure it out.

The deck that kicked this all off was Temur Reclamation. This was an early archetype in the format that Pascal Maynard revived with an 8-2 record at Mythic Championship Cleveland. Since then people have just taken this archetype and run with it. Both Niv-Mizzet, Parun and Explosion give you big effects to fire off and punish people used to playing against Nexus of Fate decks that need an enchantment to leverage their big spell. The second list here takes that to the extreme, loading up on other creatures.

This last week, Niv-Mizzet, Parun has also meant Grixis. This trend may have been kicked off by a Reddit post where Clet_ breaks down the entire Grixis Dragon deck they made the Arena ladder Top 100 with.

Oddly, the big thing driving the new presence of Niv-Mizzet, Parun seemed to be finding the right threats, and not just answers like before. Both of these Grixis decks lean hard into this. Grixis Midrange is just a pile of must-answer threats, or really just the Dimir package of Thief of Sanity, Hostage Taker, and Thought Erasure layered on the harder-to-answer Rakdos Midrange cards like Rekindling Phoenix. The Eldest Reborn out of the sideboard is an important part of this equation as just another way to force the midrange and control decks to have an answer. I’ve even run into lists using Lazav, the Multifarious as yet another hard-to-kill thing to support Disinformation Campaign.

With Grixis Dragons, the story is largely Skarrgan Hellkite. I think a lot of people have leaned on planeswalkers as their way to answer large fliers, which is an issue if you have exactly one Dragon. If you have Nicol Bolas, the Ravager into Skarrgan Hellkite, you clean up the Vivien Reid and still end up ahead a card. I don’t quite know why Skarrgan Hellkite has been great, but a 4/4 flying haste creature just hits a lot of the right notes right now.

I want to highlight Siege-Gang Commander as another card that started showing up across the format a lot more over the last few weeks. At Grand Prix Memphis, both Rakdos Midrange and Gruul Midrange in the Top 4 played it. Rakdos seems to have faded away, but Gruul is still hanging around. I’ve seen Siege-Gang Commander in Grixis decks where Skarrgan Hellkite would otherwise be the only good Vivien Reid target, as a sideboard threat for Temur decks with a little more immediate stopping power than Biogenic Ooze, and just generally in everything with red mana. The format has bogged down a bit and most of the linear strategies are being answered, so a threat like Siege-Gang Commander that just dodges the clean answers and provides utility when it resolves is great.

The biggest consequence of this uptick in Niv-Mizzet, Parun has been a huge hit to Mono-Blue Aggro’s viability. Mono-Blue Aggro just doesn’t beat Niv-Mizzet. It isn’t fast enough to race the card and its answers to six-drops all say “counter target spell.” Beyond just Wilderness Reclamation being a bad card to face, Temur Reclamation is taking up metagame share that previously belonged to the easy matchup of Simic Nexus. You lose games, you lose free wins, and Mono-Blue Aggro still lives on the thin margins every game that are disappearing.

Hostage Taker

All of your opponents with Watery Grave are playing Hostage Taker in their 75. Not just some Hostage Taker, all the Hostage Takers. This is tech from the Mythic Championship, but it has drifted from being a good choice to just being the truth.

This mostly impacts how you should be sideboarding against Esper Control. You want some removal against them, but how much is up for debate and might even vary game by game. I’ve sideboarded my Hostage Takers back out against people who had multiple Cast Downs, and I’ve seen the number of Thief of Sanity brought in drop due to Kraul Harpooner. If anything, just bias what removal you do keep in to account for instantly killing a 2/3 and maybe play an extra Disdainful Stroke.

Red Aggro

While Alex Majlaton was able to make the Top 8 of Mythic Championship Cleveland with Goblin Chainwhirler, things may have gotten even better for Mono-Red and Gruul Aggro since then.

The big gains have come from the Watery Grave sector of the metagame. For some reason, people have just stopped playing Sultai Midrange, one of Red Aggro’s worst matchups. Well, not me. I haven’t and I keep winning with it.

The other is more subtle. More people are playing Esper Control right now. It had the best conversion rates at the Mythic Championship, and the latest builds have turned around the Nexus of Fate and Sultai Midrange matchups to at least close. But these updates all come at a cost. Less Moment of Craving, less Absorb, and less Mortify. To quote Alex’s article, “There are some Esper Control decks that look like nightmare matchups, and others that are a walk in the park.” The current stock Esper list is pretty close to a walk in the park, at least in any game where you have early creatures.

On the note of less Mortify showing up, a lot of the broader power of this strategy comes from its enchantments. Most decks in Standard have serious issues with Experimental Frenzy, Cindervines, or both. For the first few weeks of the format, all the decks without good answers to enchantments got pushed out by Wilderness Reclamation and Experimental Frenzy, but the wider metagame has opened up opportunities for decks that just lose to them. I talked about Grixis decks on the rise, and they literally have no way to stop the card type enchantment on the battlefield. Even if that deck or Gruul Midrange is a “bigger” deck than your red aggro deck, it doesn’t matter when you are spamming multiple spells a turn at them. Sultai Midrange is the only deck in that weight class that packs a good answer to Experimental Frenzy in Vivien Reid, which is a big part of why that’s the worst matchup for Gruul Aggro.

Recommendations for SCG Cincinnati

SCG Cincinnati adds another layer to all of this: teams. Across many events and formats, team events seem to significantly condense the metagame. It’s easy to convince yourself to play some fringe deck on a weekend. It’s harder to convince two other people that you are right to do that and you aren’t also incinerating their event. That being said, it also slightly amplifies new hotness. I think this is due to the split formats, where your Modern player might not know a ton about the details of Standard but may have heard about Grixis Dragons starting to win a bunch.

So given that, what would I recommend for this weekend?

I think Level 0 is just playing Temur Reclamation. This is the first major Standard event since the Mythic Championship, and Temur Reclamation was a secret breakout deck that didn’t put up a big result to put it in the general spotlight. Content producers have largely spent their time covering the past preparation and metagame where Temur Reclamation wasn’t a big thing, or covering best-of-one Standard leading into the Mythic Invitational. Temur Reclamation an open secret, and even if your opponent knows it exists, a lot of people won’t have the practice to properly play and build their decks with Temur Reclamation in mind.

Between the lists I posted before, I would bias towards Pascal’s. The Frilled MysticSinister Sabotage debate was already settled in Simic Nexus, with the only upside to Mystic being how it holds against Duress. Just costing three mana makes protected Wilderness Reclamations easier, even if you only have two Search for Azcanta with the surveil. Growth-Chamber Guardian is better as a value threat in a bigger package of less removal-resistant threats. Hydroid Krasis is another big spell in a deck full of them, except Niv-Mizzet, Parun and Explosion just kill people.

As the last section suggests, I think the Level 1 answer is just to jam Mono-Red Aggro. It exploits all the updates people are making based off the Mythic Championship results in all the ways I previously covered. From Alex’s list, I don’t think I would change much.

I personally hate Treasure Map and think it’s a clunk fest of a card, but that likely just impacts where I sideboard it in and how much I expect from it. If my opponent is going to try to close the game on me and not actually answer everything I’m doing, that’s not Treasure Map’s job. Treasure Map isn’t really an engine like Search for Azcanta that seals a game. It’s Precognitive Perception, scry 3, draw three, but it takes six turns to do it.

But really, I would just play Sultai Midrange. The deck was great for the Mythic Championship, was great even before that, and still is great.

I made exactly one change to my Mythic Championship list after the event: the second sideboard Carnage Tyrant over a Midnight Reaper. I’ve made exactly one more since then: the second Disdainful Stroke over a Crushing Canopy. I think the maindeck Assassin’s Trophy is the other negotiable slot, likely for the sideboard Vraska’s Contempt and opening a sideboard slot for something. Possibly a copy of The Eldest Reborn or something else that fights opposing The Eldest Reborns.

If you want to play Sultai Midrange, I’ll give you the same advice from my blog post that I tweeted out last week. Attack more.

If you play Sultai Midrange as an attrition-control deck, that’s when it’s a 45% deck. When you play it as a proactive deck with punishing anti-interaction attrition tools and a good answer set, that’s how you win 75% of your matches.

You beat all the nonsense by hitting them with Merfolk Branchwalker and Jadelight Ranger when their two- and three-drops don’t produce power and cards at the same time. You don’t beat them by sitting around and reacting unless their deck folds to Finality or Hydroid Krasis.

The Rest of the Spread

What about the other decks?

Mono-Blue Aggro is still a fine choice. I don’t think it would be fine for an individual event, but team events lack quite the metagame filtering that would make Mono-Blue Aggro start to be a bad choice in the Day 2 rounds. Your Standard opponent in the last round could easily be 7-7 and carried by Modern results, or 11-3 but playing against Standard opponents who were closer to the 50% mark for the same reasons.

Esper Control is in a similar boat, and I actually like it more, as I think it loses to all the same new things Mono-Blue Aggro does but has less hate directed at it right now.

I would not play with the card Nexus of Fate this weekend. People will not be completely prepared for Temur Reclamation, they will be prepared for Nexus of Fate, the decks are functionally very similar, and I don’t think the power cap increase of infinite turns is needed.

Izzet Phoenix was a reaction to the format becoming more answer-based for a week or two. We are swinging back towards threats, and I’m not interested right now. It isn’t even good against the premier answer deck of the format right now due to Esper Control starting Cry of the Carnarium. Izzet Drakes is also dated. Honestly, I would play Grixis if I wanted to go down the Izzet threats road and I don’t have a good enough read on those decks to actively recommend them.

Azorius Aggro put up good results in recent Magic Online events, but I can’t tell anyone to play that deck. Every deck has Hostage Taker, Cry of the Carnarium, Goblin Chainwhirler, Fiery Cannonade, or multiples of those in the maindeck.

Gruul Midrange, Rakdos Midrange, Selesnya Midrange, Bant Midrange, whatever. They have all fallen to my Sultai Midrange beats. Play a better midrange deck.

If I forgot to mention something, feel free to ask. I’ve gone over ten or fifteen archetypes, and it still feels like I could go over more. Ravnica Allegiance Standard has hit the nail on the head in terms of broad viability without huge shocking turnover for people who want to stick to a deck. I won’t go as far as to say it’s the best Standard format ever, but I would love for every future Standard format to be this deep and complex.