Staying A Step Ahead In Standard

Standard is a highly dynamic format at the moment, full of powerful cards and decks that gain a significant advantage if you play them into the right metagame. Staying ahead is key, and Anthony Lowry looks at how to do just that for #GPLondon this weekend.

As ridiculously good as Mono-Red is, I don’t think it’s a good time to play it.

However, I don’t think there’s ever a bad time to play Abbot of Keral Keep.

We could be moving into similar territory as we were in six months ago. Fate Reforged Standard consisted of small-ball aggressive decks with a large value engine centered around it. That deck, R/W Aggro (along with all of its variants), was the best deck of that format.

Outpost Siege was one of the big tools, but the lack of reliable enchantment hate was also of note. Chained to the Rocks was the premier removal spell of the format at that time, and the sheer efficiency of the deck as a whole revolved around those two factors.

Dromoka’s Command, in tandem with ridiculously massive Dragons, changed all of that. You couldn’t reliably register Chained to the Rocks without the constant fear that you were going to get million-for-one’d. Outpost Siege? Thanks for the Time Walk!

The efficiency of everything else in the format skyrocketed while that specific deck remained the same. Now things are coming full circle.

Funnily enough, I was getting bombarded with messages by Mark Nestico about playing R/W the night before Gerry Thompson featured this deck on his Daily Digest. It just goes to show that it really doesn’t matter who does it first in Magic, it matters who does it best.

Even so, I wanted to get this going. I had a really good feeling that this would be an excellent choice for the IQs I was attending over the weekend. The best cards in the Mono-Red deck were still present, but with a central focus on being able to put the game at parity from behind – something that Mono-Red often struggled with, though it didn’t happen nearly as often as last weekend.

I don’t know if it’s a knock on the Mono-Red deck as much as it is a nod toward just how dynamic this Standard format is. It’s so important to stay on your feet and keep moving every single week. The art of taking one deck and perfecting it is semi-lost. It’s simply foolish not to expect things to change very quickly and adjust accordingly, even if you do well.

What I found about this particular build was how flimsy the threat density was, forcing the burn spells to carry a lot of the workload. This wasn’t something I was a big fan of, and I decided to add a little more push to the deck while consequentially raising the curve. The second issue I had was the land configuration. It wasn’t a major thing I was trying to change, but I definitely felt that I wanted another dual land, preferably Evolving Wilds to better support Chained to the Rocks. Alternatively, Mana Confluence can work, but with how aggressive and punishing the Mono-Red and U/R Thopters decks are, we can’t afford to take any unnecessary damage.

Lastly, there’s the sideboard. While Thunderbreak Regent is a nice bulky threat that I definitely do want, I think that the rest of the sideboard can be moved around a bit to better suit the format. As Gerry said in his Daily Digest, Valorous Stance can make its way in – but Smash to Smithereens is also great, and having some more options against the rest of the field is probably more advised at this point.

If you’re on the other side of things, then you probably already know that Dromoka’s Command is one of the best cards if not the best card against both Mono-Red and Ensoul Artifact. I believe that Bant Heroic is the best Dromoka’s Command deck, but I don’t think that you need to be the best Dromoka’s Command deck to make the card great. It’s tough because Abzan Aggro has been mostly pushed out, but if you want to play a creature-heavy Abzan deck then Abzan Megamorph is the way to go.

I know, boring Abzan deck is boring. As much as you may not want to see it, you’re going to be playing with or against it and staying ahead is the name of the game. The ability to board into a semi-Aggro Abzan deck is pretty interesting, but I think that we can take it a step further and have tools in the main that Abzan Aggro already wants when looking to board into that plan. This is skirting the line of what Brian Kibler G/W Megamorph deck was doing, so maybe a hybridization of the two could work out well. Anafenza, the Foermost and Siege Rhino are obviously powerful cards, but is it worth the black splash? Do we want to be more of an Abzan deck or more of a Megamorph deck? How would the mana even look if those are your only maindeck black cards? These questions are all really tough to give straight answers to, but the central focus should be around Dromoka’s Command for sure.

And for extra measure, Brian Braun-Duin take on the same idea:

Lastly, there’s a deck that I think hasn’t been talked about much, but is much better-positioned than it has been.

If Mono-Red does wind up getting pushed out, then this is an excellent spot to be in. The decks that are very good against Red and Ensoul Artifact get beat up by Languish, and if Languish is making that big an impact on those decks then Thoughtseize can do a lot of the heavy lifting against everything else. The more players try and slow things down, the better Ashiok gets… and if Ashiok is good, then Jace has to be even better. Yes, your opponent’s removal gets turned on when you play Jace and Hangarback Walker, but that isn’t too big of a deal considering the payoff you’re getting.

I do think that this deck is very slow at turning the corner, and if that’s a major concern to you then Esper Dragons may be preferable. I question how good Dragonlord Ojutai is right now though, even if there is a predicted shift. It’s possible that just adding the Dragon shell to U/B Control is good enough. You maintain Languish, Silumgar’s Scorn, and Foul-Tongue Invocation, while still having the option of playing Crux of Fate. In exchange, your curve gets a lot higher, and your Dig Through Times get worse. You probably don’t have enough room for Ashiok anymore, and you simply cannot afford to miss a land drop ever which means your land count has to go up quite a bit. Do you play tap-out control, or countermagic? Which assortment of Silumgars do you play? Silumgar, the Drifting Death is getting much better nowadays with the presence of smaller creatures, but Dragonlord Silumgar is very good against the decks that are good against those smaller creatures as well as always being solid against Abzan. Perilous Vault is still really powerful, but we’re reaching the point where deck space becomes an issue – especially given the rise in land count and the already clunky core.

The overarching goal in Standard is to always try and stay a step ahead, even if it means stepping away from a deck that’s very much in your wheelhouse. It was really difficult for me to move out of the Stormbreath Dragon age, but I’m afraid that that era is done for (at least for now). This is a great opportunity to expand your range and work on things you wouldn’t otherwise work on in other Standard formats, so don’t be discouraged, it’s a great chance to learn and get better! With the big Grand Prix happening across the pond in London, it’ll be interesting to see where the format ends up, if and how the existing decks adapt, and what new things will pop up!