The Best Of Standard

Today MJ features the seven best decks in Standard, with examples of each, their strengths and weaknesses, and some suggestions on what to tune for #SCGMKE this weekend!

Journey into Nyx previews start next week, so it is time to start wrapping up the current Standard format and look forward to what the new set will bring us. This past weekend was the most active yet for Standard, with the SCG Open and Invitational in Charlotte and a Grand Prix on the other side of the world in Beijing. A large variety of decks placed well along with multiple versions of each archetype, so it can be difficult to decipher what each player was thinking with their individual choices in builds.

Today’s article will feature the seven best decks in Standard, with examples of each, their strengths and weaknesses, and some suggestions on what to tune for these final weeks.

Mono-Black Devotion

Japanese pros Shuhei Nakamura and Yuuya Watanabe dominated Grand Prix Beijing with nearly identical Mono-Black Devotion lists. I’ve chosen to display Shuhei’s list because even though he didn’t win the event, I prefer two copies of Bile Blight in the main for the blowout potential.

This list is a case study in competent deck design and metagame knowledge. Thoughtseize, Pack Rat, and Desecration Demon are good against everything. Lifebane Zombie excels against Mono-Blue Devotion, G/R/x Monsters, Naya Hexproof, and Esper Control. Devour Flesh is at a maximum for R/W/x Burn, G/R/x Monsters, Naya Hexproof, and errant Blood Baron of Vizkopa in the mirror.

With R/W/x Burn on the rise in popularity, the most wonderful card to see in the sideboard is Staff of the Death Magus. Without the Staff, R/W/x Burn was a tough matchup heavily reliant on Desecration Demon coming out early and sticking, as Gray Merchant of Asphodel was heavily neutered with the sideboarding out of Underworld Connections. Now you can keep in a few Underworld Connections since Staff of the Death Magus gives you a comfortable padding to draw cards while stymying Burn’s best card against you in Chandra’s Phoenix. Duress; Erebos, God of the Dead; and Read the Bones are present for the mirror and control, Doom Blade shines against aggro—all of a sudden you have a sideboard that addresses every deck in Standard.

Mono-Black Devotion is truly the complete package. No other deck comes close to the level of interactivity and customization, and it does not really have bad matchups, just bad draws.

My one and only critique is the complete lack of Nightveil Specter. Nightveil Specter excels in the mirror match, helps address one of the biggest problems from red in Chandra’s Phoenix, and contributes heavily to turn on Erebos, God of the Dead against control. Read the Bones seems to be the card that is chosen over it in the sideboard, but if people pack four copies of Duress, I might want a creature threat instead.

B/W Midrange

This season has shown that black devotion can splash each of the other four colors to help against different expected fields. Green offers Abrupt Decay and Vraska the Unseen in the mirror; blue offers Ashiok, Nightmare Weaver and Notion Thief for control; and red offers Dreadbore and Rakdos’s Return for the mirror and control. By far the most popular and deepest splash is white for Blood Baron of Vizkopa; Obzedat, Ghost Council; Revoke Existence; Sin Collector; and Elspeth, Sun’s Champion.

Blood Baron of Vizkopa and Obzedat, Ghost Council are far stronger against control than Gray Merchant of Asphodel is but far worse against most aggressive strategies. Maindeck Lifebane Zombie along with four copies of Devour Flesh make relying on white five-drop creatures a dubious proposition, which is made even worse with sideboarded Erebos, God of the Dead stopping life gain. Sin Collector and Revoke Existence are also strong against control but are not significantly better than the playset of Duress that staying black could provide you. Blind Obedience is a card that could excel against R/W/x Burn, but with the discovery of Staff of the Death Magus, it just seems like a worse choice.

Overall, I don’t believe white to be worth the extra tap lands, pain, and inconsistency (basic Plains) that comes with it. That being said, it is the best anti-control deck in the format if Esper Control once more rears its ugly head.

U/W Devotion

The single best card against black devotion decks is Detention Sphere. Pack Rat, Underworld Connections, and Desecration Demon are all removed for three mana, and without permanents Gray Merchant of Asphodel is dealt a crippling blow.

White also provides Revoke Existence for Bident of Thassa, Domestication, and Thassa, God of the Sea in the mirror match.

Ephara, God of the Polis is decent against G/R/x Monsters and Mono-Black Devotion (assuming it dodges Lifebane Zombie) but does not offer enough assistance to Mono-Blue Devotion’s worst matchup, which is U/W/x Control. There really isn’t anything in Standard that can help the matchup, as you need lots of devotion for Thassa, God of the Sea and Master of Waves to be useful but Supreme Verdict wrecks that entire game plan. Revoke Existence also deals with your Gods and Bident of Thassa, the only things you have going for you. Sending threats one at a time plays directly into cheap removal followed by a planeswalker on an empty board, something you are also ill-equipped to handle.

Detention Sphere is worth the splash if you plan on playing against Mono-Black Devotion, the mirror, and G/R/x Monsters.

Mono-Blue Devotion

Mono-Blue Devotion has changed very little in the past few months, with a whopping zero Born of the Gods cards in this 75. I really hate playing a deck with near zero interactive elements, but many experienced Mono-Blue Devotion players believe this is the right path. One of them is Sam Black, who ended up going 8-0 at the Season One Invitational with the above list.

Sam wrote an article explaining his choices, but the sideboard containing an inordinate amount of counterspells (eleven total) is something I’m not entirely sold on. Domestication for the mirror match seems like a strange omission, as killing Thassa, God of the Sea with the legend rule, Master of Waves, and Nightveil Specter all seems like things I would enjoy doing.

Esper Control

With Esper Control winning both the Standard Open in Los Angeles and Grand Prix Cincinnati, it appears this week people were prepared. Since Esper has twelve Temples and few two-drops, players brought out hyperaggressive aggro decks to win games before the control deck could even cast a spell. Planeswalkers were played over easily killed creatures in G/R/x Monsters, and Mono-Black Devotion even had the full complement of sideboard Duress to push through a problematic Underworld Connection or Erebos, God of the Dead.

Doom Blade seems way out of position for current Standard, with Mono-Black Devotion and decks featuring Rakdos Cackler on the rise. Replacing it with either Devour Flesh, Ultimate Price, or Last Breath seems prudent. Blood Baron of Vizkopa in the sideboard does not excite me against someone boarding Lifebane Zombie and Erebos, God of the Dead, so I might replace those with something like Dark Betrayal to beat Obzedat, Ghost Council. Archangel of Thune still seems terrific against Mono-Blue Devotion and Mono-Red Aggro, as does Nightveil Specter.

Esper Control had a rather poor showing this weekend, but I expect it to bounce back as more people try winning with Shock in their deck.

R/W/x Burn

R/W/x Burn is relatively new to Standard and quite different than a red aggro deck that incorporates Rakdos Cackler or a slower version that has Boros Reckoner and Stormbreath Dragon. Much like Esper Control, you blank a significant portion of your opponent’s deck by playing no effective targets for spells like Hero’s Downfall and Mizzium Mortars. Current Standard is also quite slow, with many archetypes incapable of winning before turn 6 without a good draw and certainly not through any amount of resistance, giving you ample time with twelve cards to assemble seven burn spells to the dome.

This version has the most advanced technology by far. Ten Temples assure that mulligans are not a death sentence and that winning by turn 6 is almost a certainty. Satyr Firedancer and Chained to the Rocks excel against aggressive decks, and Blind Obedience with maximum Skullcrack and Warleader’s Helix dominate the mirror match. Burning Earth, Toil // Trouble, and Firedrinker Satyr are present for slower control decks. Staff of the Death Magus can be a problem, but it could be remedied with Wear // Tear, though perhaps it might be wiser to bypass it altogether and go back to Assemble the Legion with a mere two copies of Bile Blight in most lists.

I highly recommend this deck because it attacks from an angle people really aren’t prepared to deal with. This is as close to a combo deck that Standard has had for a while.

G/R/x Monsters

The final piece of the Standard puzzle is G/R/x Monsters. I have been quite vocal with my distaste for Reaper of the Wilds, and I’m happy to see it gone from the list that I believe to be the most developed. It’s not that Reaper is a bad card; the problem is that it’s not a good card. Master of Waves, Lifebane Zombie, and Desecration Demon are all huge problems, of which Reaper addresses none while also being very difficult to cast in a base G/R deck.

Xenagos, the Reveler is one of the absolute best cards to have against Esper Control, and Scavenging Ooze helps a ton against Chandra’s Phoenix. Dreadbore is better than Ultimate Price at nearly everything but killing Master of Waves, but it may be okay because killing Nightveil Specter or Frostburn Weird before they cast the four-drop may make the point moot.

Sire of Insanity is also a card I wholeheartedly agree with, and I’m confused it took so long for it to be played over the truly terrible Ruric Thar, the Unbowed. Why give your opponent the option to take six damage to get out of your fatty versus nothing scenario? Make them discard their hand and rip out of it, and if they don’t, attack them every turn the rest of the game for six.

G/R/x Monsters can be the most fun deck to play in Standard, with Domri Rade and Courser of Kruphix providing rollercoasters of emotion on every look at the top. It can also be the most frustrating deck to play, as half the decks in the format play Lifebane Zombie or Tidebinder Mage and Supreme Verdict puts a damper on things as well.

Chris VanMeter has been playing variations of Monsters for weeks, and it shows here since this list looks very tuned. My suggestion would be a third Courser of Kruphix in the maindeck over the third Scavenging Ooze and some sideboarded Skylasher over Abrupt Decay since I hate losing to Mono-Blue Devotion.

The seven lists in this article are not the only decks in Standard, but they are the ones that I feel are a little step above all the others. Shuhei and Yuuya’s Mono-Black Devotion lists are works of art and remind me a lot of Owen Turtenwald’s domination with the same archetype a few months ago. Standard is a pretty low-power format where each deck is not hugely better than all the others, so at the end of the day you should play whatever deck suits your style best and not be blindsided by cards like Staff of the Death Magus, Assemble the Legion, or Toil // Trouble

Is Mono-Black Devotion the best deck in Standard? Is there a deck I missed that belongs in the upper echelons of Standard? Either way, good luck to those going to Milwaukee this weekend!