Taking Down The Best Deck In Standard

Sometimes the easiest deck to beat is the one with the biggest target on its back. Could that be the case with #SCGORL this weekend? Expert deckbuilder Sam Black has a number of lists that aim to take down public enemy number one!

While there’s been a bit of an ebb and flow, at this point, I’m comfortable saying this Standard format has a single “best deck”/”deck to beat.” G/W Tokens has won most major Standard tournaments, including the Pro Tour and the last three Grand Prix events. There are a lot of other decks in Standard, but G/W’s been winning consistently, and its metagame share has risen dramatically. I think it’s finally starting to reach the level of being truly dominant, despite the maindeck changing surprisingly little from the Pro Tour.

Early on, it seemed like Cryptolith Rite might be the way to beat G/W Tokens. It’s hard to attack through all their tokens, but Cryptolith Rite decks tend to be good at winning without needing to attack, and G/W Tokens isn’t good at killing them or disrupting their engine, but it’s difficult to design a Cryptolith Rite deck that’s actually good at winning a game against an opponent who can regularly kill all of their creatures with Archangel Avacyn, Tragic Arrogance, and Planar Outburst.

I played Cryptolith Rite in Costa Rica, and while the deck felt pretty good, most of my losses came to G/W Tokens players after sideboarding. At this point, I don’t feel like the deck is good at doing what it was designed to do.

That said, Eldrazi Displacer has been an incredibly impressive card in all formats, and it’s a card I like having in my deck against G/W Tokens specifically. I just wonder if the support needs a little tweak.

Andrew Elenbogen’s take on Bant Humans is an interesting approach. He plays Eldrazi Displacer where others play Knight of the White Orchid.

He has just enough colorless sources and just enough total mana to get by, rather than going really crazy with it, but in addition to the standard Reflector Mage shenanigans, blinking Thalia’s Lieutenant is extremely powerful. I’m hesitant because I don’t know that this fixes the problem. This is still fundamentally a creature deck that’s going to have problems with G/W’s control elements.

I don’t know if it’s enough, but I want to try to using Thought-Knot Seer to attack their sweepers while continuing to apply pressure. I don’t know that it’ll work, but with how consistent the metagame has been since the Pro Tour, I wonder about whether we’re all missing things by building decks a certain way, specifically by trying so hard to play Collected Company wherever possible.

Collected Company is a great card, and playing it with Thought-Knot Seer might be the way I want to go, but it does seriously restrict deckbuilding, and I wonder if it’s created some blind spots.

This deck shares a lot of elements with a Collected Company deck. It plays a lot of the same creatures seen in the Cryptolith Rite decks that play Collected Company, but this uses Eerie Interlude to accomplish some of the goals of Collected Company while allowing for a little more flexibility in the rest of the deck, and especially in sideboarding. This allows the deck to support Thought-Knot Seer, Greenwarden of Murasa, and Dragonlord Atarka, each of which are outstanding with Eldrazi Displacer or Eerie Interlude.

The idea is to play a lot of creatures that draw cards to smoothly build mana with Cryptolith Rite and then to either lock the opponent out with Eldrazi Displacer, or better yet, mirror the Ghostway / Eternal Witness combo, but with Eerie Interlude and Greenwarden of Murasa to protect all your creatures and keep reusing your Elvish Visionaries and Reflector Mages.

Rather than having a sideboard full of creatures so that the deck can adjust its Collected Company hits, this deck can become decidedly more controlling as needed, freely abandoning other elements of the deck.

In Game 1, this deck should be well positioned against G/W Tokens because Cryptolith Rite with Atarka or Eldrazi Displacer can trump a lot of what they’re doing before they have sweepers. After sideboarding, you can change what the game is about, abandoning your low-impact creatures that would get caught in sweepers and instead presenting a midrange deck similar to theirs, but with counters and Eldrazi, and surprise them with a plan of going over the top of them without overcommitting to the battlefield.

Another alternate Eldrazi Displacer shell I’ve been pondering is U/W Eldrazi:

I’m still in the early stages with this one. I’m not sure that I’m approaching the mana correctly, and I’m not sure about Reality Smasher versus Archangel Avacyn.

The idea is that flying and trample should help control planeswalkers, and all of the three mana creatures are good against opposing creatures. The sideboard takes advantage of the fact that the desire for colorless lands pushes the deck to have red mana to sideboard Fevered Visions, a card that has really impressed me against control decks, along with Gideon, Ally of Zendikar and a couple of counterspells. Against creature decks, I can add a good range of removal.

Eldrazi Displacer would get better if I played Eldrazi Skyspawner and Archangel Avacyn instead of Matter Reshaper and Reality Smasher, but Matter Reshaper and Reality Smasher have impressed me, and Eldrazi Displacer should be good enough with Reflector Mage, Thought-Knot Seer, and Whirler Rogue.

Whirler Rogue feels like a card that might be really good right now. Both the tokens and the activated ability help attack planeswalkers, and it’s one of the better creatures to pair with Eldrazi Displacer. We haven’t seen much of it because it doesn’t pair well with Collected Company, which, again, is the kind of blind spot I’m suggesting might exist.

That said, Collected Company has been prioritized the way that it has because it’s an incredibly powerful card with a solid history of success, so maybe abandoning it shouldn’t be the first step.

I’m not sure how this is against G/W Tokens. I’m not targeting it in a dedicated way; I’m just combining cards that I’ve liked that work well together. The thinking is that, by adding Eldrazi Displacer to the creature mix, I decrease the burden of actual creature removal, which frees me to play Thought-Knot Seer over Dromoka’s Command, which helps against control and ramp decks. Matter Reshaper, again, is just a card I’ve liked so far, so it felt worth including once the mana supports it.

The other direction that I’m wondering about is whether G/B Ramp can be adjusted to better target the metagame as it exists today.

If the way to beat G/W is to be a bigger midrange deck, this deck can do that very well. I’ve generally felt good in the matchup, though getting behind a Gideon, Ally of Zendikar can be a problem. To address that, I’ve increased the number of Ruinous Paths and added a splash for Dragonlord Silumgar, which is excellent against Gideon. I’ve also added a second Transgress the Mind to the main and a second Virulent Plague to the sideboard.

To make room for this, I cut cards from my old version that weren’t great in the matchup. Ob Nixilis Reignited was too easy to kill and not a good answer against their threats, Den Protector and Pulse of Murasa didn’t fight on the axis I needed, and The Great Aurora could be good but could also backfire if they were succeeding at making tokens or could respond with a Secure the Wastes.

I loved this archetype when I played it in GP New York, but then I got complacent with it. I’m hoping that there might still be room for the deck if I can update it to follow shifts in the metagame.

The other promising approach to beating G/W Tokens is the fringe mono-blue decks Part the Waterveil deck. Structurally, Engulf the Shore is very good against tokens. A failure to reset planeswalkers can be a problem, but the good news is that Gideon can’t really attack into a potential Engulf the Shore.

Frank Karsten’s build, which he piloted to a Top 16 finish in Costa Rica, relies heavily on Jace’s Sanctum:

Jace’s Sanctum is really great in this deck but opens up a vulnerability to Dromoka’s Command.

Other takes on this strategy have centered on Brain in a Jar, which has the disadvantage that it can be slow to get going late, but its advantage, in addition to not being an enchantment, is that it has an interesting combination with Day’s Undoing that allows you to cast Day’s Undoing on your opponent’s turn, skipping the “end the turn” clause, which means that the Day’s Undoing ends up in your graveyard. This means that you can recycle them through your deck, which can theoretically allow you to endlessly Engulf the Shore.

I’m tempted to try adding Brain in a Jar to the maindeck, but you can only play so many spell enablers before you simply don’t have enough spells in your deck to make all the enablers good, so it’s possible that Brain in a Jar should be a sideboard card to replace Jace’s Sanctum against Dromoka’s Command decks, which currently occupy a huge portion of the field.

While the continued success of a single deck can make brewing feel futile, as the format appears to be solved, I prefer to think that a solved format is an exploitable format, and while I may not find the solution in time and settle for playing the best deck, I think it’s best to never give up the quest for the solution we’ve missed. At the very least, trying to find it is more fun, and the practice helps the next time it comes to build a new deck.