In every Standard format there will be Tier 1 decks, if not a clear best deck. If you don’t choose to play a top-tier deck, then you have to be prepared to beat the best.
With #SCGCOL behind us, two decks are competing for king of the hill.
- 4 Mindwrack Demon
- 2 Tireless Tracker
- 4 Grim Flayer
- 4 Verdurous Gearhulk
- 4 Winding Constrictor
- 3 Rishkar, Peema Renegade
- 4 Walking Ballista
More specifically, two sets of card interactions. One based around this:
And the other:
Or, as Shaun McLaren believes: Five-Color Snakeheeli.
Jokes aside, it looks like these are the two decks to beat going into #SCGRICH and further into Pro Tour Aether Revolt.
Saheeli Rai and Felidar Guardian go into several shells as well. A bunch of Anticipates and Glimmer of Genius help dedicated Jeskai players find their combo pieces in reasonable time. Others opt for more value cards like Cloudblazer or Whirler Virtuoso to have more utility with Sahleeli Rai or Felidar Guardian if the combo isn’t drawn in tandem. Then there are the Four-Color Saheeli Rai builds that play green for Servant of the Conduit and Oath of Nissa.
Both of these decks require creatures to win the game. Path to Exile and Dismember were good against players casting Splinter Twin on Deceiver Exarch as well as being good against a Might of Old Krosa on a Blighted Agent.
The Right Removal
Your removal being instant-speed is required in Standard. Sorcery speed gets you dead to a swarm of Felidar Guardian copies. Declaration in Stone has nearly vanished from the metagame, and rightly so. Removal needs to be instant while being cheap enough to interact with the moving synergistic parts of G/B Aggro variants, namely getting rid of Winding Constrictor before it gets out of control.
Fatal Push needs Revolt to destroy Felidar Guardian and must be paired with some number of Evolving Wilds and/or Clue makers like Tireless Tracker. Walking Ballista doesn’t really count because that’s stopping their combo anyway.
Lightning Axe has been too inefficient for the past few months in Standard. Now it’s an integral part of B/R Zombies and likely deserves a home in more decks. Most Saheeli Rai players won’t hesitate to go for the combo while facing only a single red mana. Aether Harvester is a 3/5 and Mindwrack Demon a 4/5; both cards that have been trending upward. To play Lightning Axe you probably want some use out of the discard, whether Fiery Temper, Prized Amalgam, or Drownyard Temple. Also, Lightning Axe is decent if you play a bunch of card draw like Glimmer of Genius to either get up to six lands naturally or to have extra cards to pitch.
Harnessed Lightning used to be good on its own to take down the oppressive Smuggler’s Copter. Now Harnessed Lightning needs additional energy to take down a four-toughness Felidar Guardian. Aether Hub and Glimmer of Genius are the easy options in Jeskai Saheeli. If I were to play R/G Energy or Jund Energy, I’d want four copies of Harnessed Lightning. If I play W/R Vehicles or any red deck without an energy focus, I don’t want it.
Murder, Unlicensed Disintegration, and Stasis Snare are good catch-alls for the price of three mana. Generally there won’t be room for Murder after having Fatal Push and Grasp of Darkness. However, if you’re already leaving up three mana anyway for a counterspell, then Murder is a nice option. Unlicensed Disintegration goes in decks that can cast it and is one of the main draws to red and black as a color combination. Nabbing Felidar Guardian while redirecting the three damage to Saheeli Rai to finish her off is huge.
Stasis Snare was once very important to circumvent the “protection from instants” clause of Emrakul, the Promised End. Now it grabs Felidar Guardian and pretty much anything else. I see stock in Stasis Snare going up very soon.
For one, there are fewer copies of Natural State and Fragmentize going around with Smuggler’s Copter gone. Sure, there’s Heart of Kiran, but that’s rarely worth bringing in narrow removal for. It’s entirely possible to play Stasis Snare without any other enchantments or artifacts in your deck.
I believe the size of an average Standard creature will start to grow soon. Walking Ballista is the cause of this, which I’ll get into later.
Of course these are not instants and thus aren’t good against the Saheeli Rai combo. This isn’t to say these cards aren’t valuable in the sideboard. Each of these can be situationally amazing. I wouldn’t start any of them in my maindeck, except maybe Collective Defiance if I could get enough mileage out of the other modes.
The only sorcery-speed removal spell I’m okay with is Ruinous Path. It can be dead sometimes, just like any other removal spell, but will be live a high enough percent of the time where I’m comfortable with it. The Saheeli Rai decks sometimes run other planeswalkers like Nahiri, the Harbinger to hit in addition to the namesake herself.
The Walking Ballista Test
Much like in previous seasons with Reflector Mage or Jace, the Mind Sculptor, creatures in current Standard must pass a test to determine their playability. With Jace and Reflector Mage, it was a high casting cost without a significantly beneficial enters-the-battlefield trigger. This means four-drops like Gisela, the Broken Blade and Mindwrack Demon could be met with a big loss of tempo.
Now the judge, jury, and executioner is Walking Ballista.
Some of these cards are centerpieces to respective archetypes. It often won’t be possible to cut them and have a functional deck. It might be best to steer away from decks that lean on one-toughness creatures.
It’s probably overall better to face down a small Walking Ballista that you can trade with (albeit costing a significant amount of resources) than to face a Liliana, the Last Hope. What’s really bad is that Walking Ballista will show up more often, in more decks, and is completely unbeatable late-game, in tandem with Winding Constrictor, or followed by a Verdurous Gearhulk.
There is an aversion to one-toughness creatures. There is less creature bouncing with Reflector Mage gone. Some of the best removal spells cost three mana. This opens up breathing room for bigger creatures to start seeing play in Standard.
These are just more likely to see play and isn’t a statement that three-plus-casting-cost creatures aren’t currently played. I’m also not saying that #SCGRICH will be littered with fatties. I’m saying that if trends continue that slowly decks will start going over the top of each other in creature mirrors.
I hope we get all the way up to this critter:
- 4 Expedition Envoy
- 4 Thraben Inspector
- 4 Thalia's Lieutenant
- 4 Town Gossipmonger
- 3 Thalia, Heretic Cathar
- 3 Pia Nalaar
- 4 Inventor's Apprentice
- 4 Metallic Mimic
- 2 Kari Zev, Skyship Raider
The maindeck should be tuned to beat G/B decks and Saheeli Rai decks. The sideboard should include cards to narrow in on the extreme decks.
These lists are far from extensive. Basically, anything that kills a small creature is good against aggro, while anything that draws a card, counters a spell, or has the text “planeswalker” on it will be good against a deck that’s not threatening your life total early.
In this Standard, I’ve been happy with four to five cards each against hyper-aggressive decks and do-nothing control.
I think you can get away with running no artifact or enchantment removal. The decks that do have artifacts or enchantments play so few that your sideboard card could end up being dead. It’s also not like removing a Walking Ballista is the best tradeoff. These spells ending up in sideboards is an afterimage of last Standard where Smuggler’s Copter and Aetherworks Marvel were the threats.
I still like a good aggressive deck. Now it just can’t really include one-toughness creatures. Sadly, it’s not looking good for Expedition Envoy and friends.
This is a little Temur Energy beatdown deck that I whipped up after being inspired watching Todd Stevens get whipped in a Standard League on stream by a Temur Energy player.
- 4 Longtusk Cub
- 4 Voltaic Brawler
- 4 Bristling Hydra
- 4 Whirler Virtuoso
- 4 Servant of the Conduit
- 4 Greenbelt Rampager
- 4 Rogue Refiner
I think the direction of R/G/X Energy can (and should) shift from a combo deck with Electrostatic Pummeler to an efficient Energy deck full of solid cards. There was a shortage of playables before, but not anymore after Aether Revolt.
Greenbelt Rampager, Aethersphere Harvester, and Rogue Refiner are all great on size and rate. Greenbelt Rampager is the complementary one-drop to Attune with Aether that G/R Energy was lacking before.
Aethersphere Harvester is great against opposing aggressive decks while being a threat that doesn’t get swept up against a Fumigate. It has a problem getting “overcrewed” by a two- or three-power creature, since there aren’t any one-power creatures in the deck. Whirler Virtuoso is great for creating 1/1s for efficient airship driving.
Rogue Refiner is probably my favorite card in the Aether Revolt. This stems from my twenty-year-long fondness for Striped Bears, the animal that taught me the meaning of card advantage. Rogue Refiner is worth playing blue for nearly all by itself. That, along with Whirler Virtuoso and countermagic in the sideboard, has blue being an easy inclusion in R/G Energy moving forward.
Aether Meltdown is a good way to deal with a quick creature like Grim Flayer while still progressing your gameplan of generating energy. When combined with Whirler Virtuoso, we’re looking at a Violet Pall impression.
Why do you need a combo with Electrostatic Pummeler and Larger Than Life when you can do it all in one card? Lightning Runner alone typically threatens eight damage after a Fumigate. If you have more energy, it can be more. Obviously, the stats of a 2/2 for five whole mana don’t look like a great deal and “dies to Shock” is a real thing. I like Lightning Runner in the sideboard against decks that want to get “sweepy” after sideboard.
Here to go off with Greenbelt Rampager.
Seriously, though, it’s fine against control as a grindy element similar to a planeswalker. Lifecrafter’s Bestiary feels similar to Tireless Tracker and gets the edge due to the dream scenario with Greenbelt Rampager and an energy sink like Longtusk Cub.
Temur Energy looks to be “a deck” for #SCGRICH. I use that term lightly, to mean something that’s capable of winning a tournament given the proper amount of testing and a good pilot. I wish I had a bit longer to develop the list, since I think it has some legs. I wouldn’t be surprised it an energy deck is the breakout deck of Pro Tour Aether Revolt.
Hey… I have some New Year’s Resolutions to make good on!
I’ve repositioned my deck to my right side (no easy habit to break). Now I just need to start playing the best deck more often and start playing more toolbox decks.
Two birds with one stone.