Surveying The Last Month Of M13 Standard

If you’ve taken the summer off and want to know what you’ll see if you show up at SCG Standard Open: Portland or SCG Classic Series: Birmingham this weekend, don’t miss this conceptual guide to the Standard metagame.

Because my son now has soccer practice on Fridays and he’s very bummed he’ll miss his weekly MTG fix, I’m going to try to take him to my FLGS’s Sunday Standard every week. However, I will still be able to play FNM myself every week. That means for the next few weeks I’ll get to play Standard twice per week Standard. That’s a lot more Magic than I’m used to, and I’m excited. I like to rotate decks every time I play, so I thought a good way to prepare for all this would be to sit down and do a big analysis—conceptual, not mathematical—of the current state of Standard.

First, I think it’s a very healthy format. There are a lot of viable decks, and while the Top 8 lists at big events still tend to feature a particular boogeyman with some frequency, there’s still quite a range of decks out there. I have decided to group them more or less by major archetype with variations noted within. There are some gray areas, but I think this captures it. There aren’t any deep revelations in here, but there are example decklists for nearly everything and this might serve as a useful guide for what to expect if you’ve taken the summer off and want to know what you’ll see over the next month if you show up at a Standard tournament.


This is the boogeyman and has been for quite a while now. However, as boogeymen go, I think it’s pretty benign. Jund certainly felt more oppressive and I think had a better win percentage against the rest of the field. Caw-Blade, one of the best Standard decks of all time, was certainly much more dominant, and while it could be beaten, if your deck was really good against Caw-Blade it probably wasn’t that great against the next best deck, Valakut. Delver isn’t like that.

The core of Delver, for those few of you who don’t know, consists of four of each of the following cards: Delver of Secrets, Snapcaster Mage, Ponder, and Vapor Snag. Most lists also run Mana Leak, though not always four, and multiple copies of one or both of Gitaxian Probe and Thought Scour. Most, but not all, also run some form of equipment such as Runechanter’s Pike or Swords, generally Sword of War and Peace and or Sword of Feast or Famine. Gut Shot is also common, as is Phantasmal Image in either maindeck or sideboard. Some lists are now running Augur of Bolas and even Talrand, Sky Summoner. Land count tends to be low—as low as eighteen in some builds.

This archetype not only accounts for the largest share of the metagame but has been the most instrumental in defining it. Right now creature quality is often evaluated by the Vapor Snag test; that is, how bad is this card against Vapor Snag? Wurmcoil Engine, for example, is a terrific card that certainly sees play, but my guess is it would see a lot more play if the meta wasn’t filled with decks that can cast Vapor Snag as many as eight times in a game. At some events this deck is probably around 30% of the field, though of course that varies depending on level of event and local metagame.

There is one dominant variant and several minor ones:

U/W Delver

This is the current "best deck" (notice the quotes), particularly since the printing of Restoration Angel. Geist of Saint Traft is also common, though sometimes omitted in favor of Blade Splicer due to the synergy with the flash Angel; some lists run both. Almost all of these builds also feature Moorland Haunt. It’s pretty hard to go to any Standard event and not see some version of this deck—if you want a decklist, the Top 8 at any just about any semi-major event in the last month or so should have one. Here is a typical example from a recent SCG Standard Open Top 8.

U/G Delver

This variant has been rising in popularity of late and seems to be showing up slightly more often at 4-0 in Magic Online Daily Events as a result. This deck eschews the white to run green, mostly for Quirion Dryad. This seems slightly weird to me since Dryad fails the Vapor Snag test, but it’s definitely a fun deck to play, so maybe that’s the draw. These lists almost always run multiple copies of Talrand.

Other Minor Variants

Some lists have gone mono-blue; these builds are basically the Dryad lists without the Dryads and the two-color mana base. U/W/R is another occasional variant, with the red usually just a splash in order to enable running Bonfire of the Damned. There’s also a PTQ-winning U/R list out there that I personally like a lot. It runs Grim Lavamancer and Arc Trail in the main and capitalizes on the synergy between Vapor Snag and Lavamancer. Finally, there are people out there—a couple of them at my FLGS, actually—who are running some kind of RUG Delver list as well.

Key Losses at Rotation

It will be very interesting to see how Delver evolves post-rotation. I cannot imagine that some version of Delver won’t still be around, but the loss of Ponder will likely make Delver itself a great deal worse. Furthermore, the deck also loses Vapor Snag, Mana Leak, Gitaxian Probe, and Gut Shot. It will depend heavily on what cheap blue Snap-able spells get printed in Return to Ravnica. The recently spoiled Izzet Charm seems like a great match for this kind of deck, so there’s hope. We’ll have to see what the other Charms look like and of course whether or not Remand gets reprinted.

Birthing Pod

Tutors have a long history of being overpowered in Magic. Variance can be the bane of MTG, and Tutors reduce that variance. Birthing Pod, while being a limited Tutor, is still a reusable tutor and that makes it powerful. These decks tend to feature mana dorks, particularly Birds of Paradise and Avacyn’s Pilgrim, and then generally a lot of one-of "value" creatures that have some kind of useful enters the battlefield effect. These "toolbox" decks can be great fun to play but do require that you know the decklist really well, since you need to know what four-drops are available when you decide to Pod your three-drop.

There are several variants; the most common ones are base G/W with a splash of a third color. The base G/W package generally includes cards like Restoration Angel, Blade Splicer, Borderland Ranger, and Thragtusk. Sometimes Geist-Honored Monk and/or Acidic Slime also make an appearance. There was some debate about the two-spot in this deck, as prior to M13 it was usually Strangleroot Geist, but that’s mostly been bumped in favor of Elvish Visionary. Since these decks tend to run few non-creature spells, Thalia, Guardian of Thraben is also fairly common in the two-spot. These decks sometimes go all the way to the seven-spot in the form of Elesh Norn, Grand Cenobite, but some stop at six for a Titan of some form. Gavony Township is generally included in the base G/W lists.

Naya Pod

This is the base G/W deck with a splash of red, usually for Huntmaster of the Fells, Zealous Conscripts, and Bonfire of the Damned. Those are terrific cards that don’t really strain the mana base very much, so this is probably the most popular variant, though lately the Bant variant might have passed it. This is a pretty typical list, taken from the top 4 of an MTGO PTQ.

Bant Pod

This version took off when Cedric Phillips won a PTQ in Seattle with it. It obviously adds blue to the base G/W build, generally for Deceiver Exarch and Phantasmal Image and then a fair amount of variation around that. Mist Raven seems to be popular of late and some lists run a Frost Titan. Another interesting card that sometimes shows up is Deadeye Navigator, which is expensive but hey, you’re going to Pod into it anyway, right? These builds also sometimes run Venser, the Sojourner for extra Blink-y goodness.

Minor Variants

The most common is probably Four-Color Pod, which is a fusion of the Naya and Bant ideas, though there are some fans of RUG Pod, which goes all-in on the splash colors and punts the white entirely. That opens up some interesting opportunities, but Restoration Angel is so good in these decks that I’m not sure that it’s a net win.

Key Losses at Rotation

And the winner for "blindingly obvious answer" goes to…Birthing Pod itself! Unless there is some very interesting similar mechanism in Return to Ravnica, this whole archetype is going to go "poof" once October rolls around. I like this style of deck, so I’ll miss it.


This archetype is essentially a black aggro deck centered on Geralf’s Messenger, Gravecrawler, Diregraf Ghoul, and Blood Artist, plus removal and supporting cast members in black (e.g., Fume Spitter) or in the splash color. Many lists also run Phyrexian Metamorph, most often just copying Messenger. Mortarpod is also popular. This is an extremely straightforward deck to play but that doesn’t mean it’s bad, as these cards, particularly Messenger, are strong and synergistic. The heavy tribal theme makes Cavern of Souls particularly effective in this deck. There are presently two major variants.

B/R Zombies

This build splashes red mostly for Bonfire of the Damned (hmm, anyone sense a theme here?), Falkenrath Aristocrat, and Brimstone Volley; it won a recent SCG Standard Open. I’ve also seen Zealous Conscripts, Arc Trail, Flames of the Firebrand, and Gut Shot appear in this deck as well.

Zombie Pod

The alert reader will note that there is a Pod variant that I didn’t mention in the Pod section, and that’s because I classify that deck here instead. With Blood Artist, sacrificing your own guy to get another guy is pretty sweet. Sacrificing your own guy that doesn’t even really die (Gravecrawler, Messenger) seems even better. The amount of green splashed here varies some, and some of these lists include a Thragtusk and even a Massacre Wurm at the six spot.

Four drops include things like Disciple of Bolas and Phyrexian Metamorph. Many of these lists splash blue for Phantasmal Image as well, but some stick with red as the second splash color. I classified these as Zombie decks rather than Pod decks because these decks tend not to have as many one-ofs, using Pod as more of a value engine than a Tutor for answers. Here’s a good list from a Magic Online Premier Event (Jaksiel’s list).

Minor Variants

There are probably still people out there running the straight U/B version of this deck, but that seems to have mostly vanished.

Key Losses at Rotation

Obviously, the Pod variant loses Pod. Outside of that, however, this archetype doesn’t lose very much, especially the B/R variant. Support cards like Fume Spitter and Mortarpod are leaving, but the core of the deck will still be intact. That doesn’t mean it will still be a strong deck after rotation, as the meta always changes when new cards come out, but this deck at least has the potential to come through rotation in some form that resembles its current form.

Wolf Run Ramp

The successor to Valakut decks of the Zendikar era, these decks generally revolve around Primeval Titan and big splashy stuff, supported by the usual cast of mana dorks and Rampant Growths. All the flavors of this deck obviously run Kessig Wolf Run and generally try to win through pumping an attacker, often an animated Inkmoth Nexus, and usually end the game in one or two swings. Currently, there are two major variants and some minor ones.


The base two colors and nothing else. Huntmaster of the Fells is often present, as is Inferno Titan, usually backed by sweepers like Slagstorm and, of course, Bonfire. Thragtusk is fairly common as well. LSV’s list from the World Magic Cup is a fine example.


Popularized by Reid Duke SCG Standard Open: Washington, DC winning list, this version runs an interesting blue package of Frost Titan, Phantasmal Image, Ponder, and Temporal Mastery and usually uses Farseek rather than Rampant Growth to support the heavy commitment to an off-color. Actually, that’s a slight misnomer as this deck is really U/G with a splash of red, mostly for—wait for it—Bonfire.

Minor Variants

There have been both Jund and Naya versions of this deck ever since Innistrad came out—I’ve played against both at FNMs before—but those seem to have fallen out of favor lately.

Key Losses at Rotation

All variants of this deck are, at heart, Titan decks, so they stand to lose a lot at rotation. As always, it depends on what RTR brings, but I suspect whatever takes the place of this archetype will be substantially different.


Why do twenty damage when you can win with just ten? That’s kind of the theory, anyway. Pre-Dark Ascension, there was actually a respectable Mono-Black Infect deck in the meta, but the deck was really neutered by the printing of Lingering Souls. Various Infect builds appeared now and again, but there wasn’t really much traction until more recently, with both Wild Defiance and Rancor being available. There’s one major variant:

Mono-Green Infect

This deck was making some headway into the metagame, and then the Team Croatia played it in the World Magic Cup with great success. Since then it’s really taken off. It’s cheap to build, steals wins with turn 3 kills, and generally creates havoc in the metagame—good times, really.

It’s basically fast small infect guys with a bunch of pump and protection spells and the kind of mana consistency you only get in mono-colored decks where only a couple cards require more than one colored mana. If you’re looking for a competitive deck on a tight budget and are willing to sink a little money into cards that are about to rotate out, the entire deck can probably be had for under $100 total, including sideboard.

Minor Variants

There’s a version of the deck that splashes blue, mostly for Blighted Agent and some light permission, and a version that splashes white for Ajani, Caller of the Pride and Lost Leonin. I’ve played the G/W version and wouldn’t recommend it; while Ajani is indeed amazing, you lose to your own horrible mana base as often as to anything else. The mono-black version was successfully resurrected at a PTQ in San Diego back in late June, but it hasn’t been seen again since then.

Key Losses at Rotation

Right up there with Birthing Pod decks in terms of obviousness, the archetype will completely vanish at rotation since infect rotates out with Scars block.

Green Aggro

Sometimes all people want to do is play straightforward efficient beaters and turn them sideways. If that’s you but you don’t like Zombies, then this is your spot in the meta. There are really two base green straight-up aggro decks in Standard, though their popularity seems to be waning somewhat. They generally run accelerators, Rancor, Strangleroot Geists, and Wolfir Silverheart at the top end and often equipment to pump them up. There are two major variants:

G/R Aggro

If you’ve actually been reading all this—and kudos to you for your perseverance if you have—you already know what the red is for here: Huntmaster of the Fells, Zealous Conscripts, and Bonfire. Some builds run the occasional other burn spell like Pillar of Flame or Arc Trail as well, often out of the sideboard. The other big splashy card that sometimes shows up here is Thundermaw Hellkite. Oh, and Kessig Wolf Run almost always makes an appearance too. Here’s a good example, ASchulhof’s 4-0 from a recent Daily Event.


This is a mono-green variant that eschews the burn for four copies of Dungrove Elder and also usually adds Ulvenwald Tracker and sometimes Predator Ooze and/or Bellowing Tanglewurm. Revenge of the Hunted is also sometimes part of the package. It seems less popular since M13 came out, but it still shows up in places.

Minor Variants

G/W certainly bears a mention. I don’t think this version of the deck has been that present in the meta, except that it did take down the most recent SCG Standard Open and that usually generates some interest. There are Naya builds as well, but those seem less common lately.

Key Losses at Rotation

This archetype doesn’t lose very much: Birds of Paradise (maybe), Llanowar Elves, and Swords are really about it. The mono-green version loses Dungrove Elder, of course, but as long as there’s a chance to go turn 1 mana dork, turn 2 Strangleroot Geist with Rancor, my guess is that some version of this deck will survive rotation.


Blue-based control isn’t very good right now, at least in part because of Cavern of Souls. So the few control decks floating around are fairly heterogeneous, to the point that this almost isn’t an archetype at all but more a loose (and small) collection. There are really only two versions with much traction these days:

Mono-Black Post (Black Market)

First, let me say that I love the name "Black Market." It is roughly a quintillion times better than "Mono-Black Trading Post." Anyway, since you can’t counter stuff, instead you just kill it all with Mutilate and maybe Black Sun’s Zenith, and Trading Post works wonders with Solemn Simulacrum and the Wellsprings. I like this deck a lot and will almost certainly be giving some version of it a try over the next month. Here is an example list from a recent SCG Standard Open Top 8.

Esper / Solar Flare

There has been some disagreement as to what the difference is between these two decks. As far as I’m concerned, it’s all Esper Control, but if you have an Unburial Rites in there and want to then call it Solar Flare, whatever. Pretty prototypical control deck: sweepers (Day of Judgment), spot removal (Go for the Throat), card draw (Forbidden Alchemy), and a fatty finisher (Sun Titan, Elesh Norn). This deck also seems to have been on the decline since M13 came out, maybe even before then, but is still around in places. Here’s one from the World Magic Cup.

Minor Variants

There are a few Grixis lists running around (check out King Feeble’s list from the Top 8 of an online PTQ), once in a while a U/W/R Miracles deck makes an appearance, and occasionally a not Mono-Black Trading Post list will show up, but the field here is not deep.

Key Losses at Rotation

Obviously, this depends entirely on the build. I think it’s safe to say we have no concrete idea at all what the "control deck" landscape will look like until RTR actually comes out and people have had a few weeks to brew with it. However, since Cavern will still be around, I don’t expect to see any heavy blue lists dominating the metagame unless they’re more aggro-control like Delver.


There are a few decks worth mentioning that don’t really quite fit into any of the above categories and that don’t take up much of the more competitive metagame but are still kicking around at FNMs and on Magic Online.

U/W/x Midrange

"Delverless Delver" is what the straight U/W variant has been called; basically, U/W Delver with a little more land, no Delvers, plus a few other goodies like Day of Judgment and Gideon. (See _Derek_Pendarvis_’s 4-0 list from a recent Daily Event.) There was an Esper variant floating around for a while, but that seems to have vanished. I also rather like the U/W/R version of this that ran red for—you guessed it—Bonfire but also a much more interesting card, Thundermaw Hellkite. It made a bit of a splash on camera at a recent SCG Standard Open, but it hasn’t really gotten that much traction since then.


This is a B/W + others (dependent on build) Reanimator deck that looks to pitch a really serious fatty—like Elesh Norn or Griselbrand—into the graveyard and pop it right back out with Unburial Rites. Red and green are the most common off-colors; red lets you run Faithless Looting, and green gives you cards like Mulch and Tracker’s Instinct. People often run both (see tsuru’s 4-0 Daily list). It’s a fun deck to play, but it’s soft to cheap removal and countermagic, so the Delver matchup isn’t that great. It’ll lose Elesh but not too much else, and if there are any really serious monsters in RTR, this deck might make the transition.


This G/W deck came from out of nowhere to a second place finish at an SCG Standard Open. Basically, it’s tons of mana ramp creatures with Village Bell-Ringer, with the idea being to generate a ton of mana and cast a gigantic Genesis Wave into a Craterhoof Behemoth or just to hard cast the Behemoth with many creatures in play. Soul of the Harvest also helps the engine along, and Ezuri, Renegade Leader provides an alternate Elf-based win condition.

Personally, I don’t really like Genesis Wave decks; it feels too much like a Commander game has broken out at a Standard table, but that’s just me. The deck seems pretty easy to deal with if you can keep it off early mana dorks but kind of a challenge if not. It will die at rotation since Genesis Wave is leaving, unless of course there’s some kind of similar replacement in RTR.

Minor Decks

But wait, we’re not quite done yet! There are still people sleeving up Tempered Steel (see reedeemeer85’s 4-0 Daily list)! W/B Tokens (Sfugliatella’s Top 8 list from a Magic Online PTQ) is apparently also still a deck—who knew, right? Of course, there are other viable strategies out there; even an article as long as this one cannot quite cover everything you could see at a Standard event.

Wrap Up

Whew, that was quite a tour, wasn’t it? Right before rotation there tends to be a feeling that the metagame has gotten stale. The good news for the next month is that there are a pretty good number of viable archetypes out there and most have multiple variants, so even if it isn’t changing rapidly, there are still a lot of options.

Everybody should be able to find something that appeals to them, though if you’re really committed to being a control player, pickings are indeed a bit on the slim side. U/W Delver is certainly the deck to beat at big events like SCG Standard Opens, but maybe not quite as much at your FLGS FNM depending on your local meta. If you hate Delver, there are certainly plenty of other viable alternatives—try one out!