The Good And Bad Of Standard

Countless strategies, countless archetypes. One of the side effects of such a diverse format is that, by definition, each deck has glaring weaknesses. Pro Tour Champion Ari Lax shows you how to exploit them at #SCGCLE.

Between testing for Pro Tour Dragons of Tarkir, figuring out what to play at Grand Prix Toronto, developing a format familiarity for Pro Tour Magic
Origins, I’ve gone broad in this format.

The decks and cards are all good, but as has been the case the whole year, nothing is perfect. Some decks are close, and every deck does one or two really
great things, but they all have exploitable flaws.

Why It’s Good:

Silumgar’s Scorn is a messed up Magic card.

Listen, the Dragons are all good. We know this. But the reason your deck is called “Esper Dragons” and not “Esper Control” is the tribal cards. While all
of the Fate Reforged Dragonlords are technically tribal cards, you wouldn’t be a dedicated Dragons deck just for Silumgar, the Drifting Death.

You are a Dragons deck for Silumgar’s Scorn.

Turns out Counterspell is just as good as everyone always said it was. I tried to play normal U/B Control after the Pro Tour, and it was miserable by
comparison. A huge part of Standard this season has been aligning your two mana answers, as there isn’t a Doom Blade or Mana Leak, and suddenly all you
have to do to get one of those is play mythic rare Dragons that have been obviously pushed to be good for Constructed.

Of course, that’s the other half of why the deck is good. Specifically, being able to play a bunch of hexproof threats is great. You get to blank your
opponent’s removal while playing enough threats to get out of the issue old U/B Control had where occasionally a Thoughtseize would take your Pearl Lake
Ancient and three removal spells later you would have no threats and just deck. Sure, your opponent can technically Hero’s Downfall a Dragonlord Ojutai
after it attacks, but you don’t have to actually attack with the card until you have positioned yourself into a spot where that is a profitable trade.

How to Beat It:

Thoughtseize is really good here, as is Duress. This has been true since I was literally in elementary school. But you can’t just throw them at your
opponent recklessly and expect them to win the game. These are tools that open holes for threats to take over the game. Typically these are cards that are
very difficult to answer, like Rakshasa Deathdealer, and quickly create some cascading advantage that proves impossible to come back from without the right
engine or answer, like Nissa Worldwaker, or both, like Dragonlord Ojutai.

Also worth noting: The current stock Esper Dragons list has one answer to a resolved card of the type “Enchantment,” and it costs eight.

That said, Dragonlord Ojutai does throw a wrench in both of these plans. You need some way to ensure that card doesn’t connect, or they will just chain
counters while a 5/4 kills you.

Why It’s Good:

Creatures these days hit hard. If unanswered, 100% of the creatures in this deck can easily kill your opponent, and if you curve out…

You also still have access to the best answers. Hero’s Downfall, Thoughtseize, Abzan Charm, Dromoka’s Command. All of these cards just beat a lot of things
without having to try.

How to Beat It:

The mana in Abzan Aggro is… I don’t want to say it leaves things to be desired, as having better mana in the format would mess up a lot of other things,
but it isn’t perfect. You have tapped lands sometimes when you want to curve out, take a lot of pain some games, and are often making decisions about if
you can keep a hand with some uncastable cards, as you need full Abzan mana early plus possibly double white, double green, and double black for specific

The deck also plays a significant number of purely interactive cards. If you make those bad by playing a bigger control plan, the Abzan deck is on a lot of

The Abzan creatures are also sized for standalone power and not necessarily for trading profitably for removal. There’s also a considerable gradient
between the cards in terms of how well they scale up when flooded, how good they are in multiples, and other things. With Abzan Aggro’s slightly lower
threat density, it’s possible to create mismatches between the threats they have in play and the cards you have in action with the right removal.

Why It’s Good:

Beyond the obvious “Red Aggro is always good at bashing”?

Hero’s Downfall is basically the best card in the format. There are so many powerful things you have to kill, and Downfall kills the vast majority of them.

Except against Red.

Technically, Hero’s Downfall does kill creatures in the red decks, but it doesn’t kill them efficiently. You pay three, they paid one. The dorky red
one-drop probably dealt them four or more damage before you even got to that point.

The deck also got considerably better against Drown in Sorrow with Dragons of Tarkir. It’s a lot easier to force that specific answer with Dragon
Fodder adding another “flood the board” threat to Hordeling Outburst, and you gain Lightning Berserker and Zurgo Bellstriker as dash threats that allow you
to apply significant pressure without exposing actual cards to the sweeper.

How to Beat It:

Drown in Sorrow is still a good card here. Bile Blight is too.

There are also the reasons red didn’t dominate this format or block from the start: Sylvan Caryatid and Courser of Kruphix. And Fleecemane Lion, Siege
Rhino, and Sorin, Solemn Visitor. Or Sidisi, Brood Tyrant, Doomwake Giant, and Whip of Erebos. Or really just a lot of things. There are a ton of powerful
cards that just laugh at 1/1 Goblin tokens in this format, and while the red cards are good, they just come up short enough of the time against green good
stuff that the deck isn’t overpowered.

Why It’s Good:

Same reason as always. 75 powerful Magic cards. Up until Dragons of Tarkir, you could even claim you played basically all of the best: Hero’s
Downfall, Thoughtseize, Courser of Kruphix, Siege Rhino, Elspeth, Sun’s Champion, Ugin, the Spirit Dragon. Now there’s a few more that are in the same
tier, but you are still playing half of the top cards in the format.

You have answers to basically anything if you want them. Beyond the typical black ThoughtseizeHero’s DownfallDrown in Sorrow package that handles all the
normal threat angles, you have cards like Utter End to mop up the rest.

Now that we’ve reached our first Courser of Kruphix deck, it’s also worth talking about how that card erases mulligans. The extra cards in a long game are
nice, but when you start down a couple cards and suddenly hit a couple extra lands off Courser to put the game back to normal… that’s the really unfair
mode of that card. Between that card and Abzan Charm, this is by far the most forgiving deck in the format.

How to Beat It:

The old Sylvan Caryatid bind.

If you look at a lot of the Abzan cards, they need mana. Significant amounts of it. If you stumble a bit on the right answer or your opponent gets the drop
on you, you can find yourself fighting back from behind at the rate of one spell per turn. Sometimes your spells are good enough, sometimes they aren’t.

Sylvan Caryatid allows you to not fall behind on curve and sometimes cast two spells in a turn. But it comes at a cost.

Have you ever revealed Sylvan Caryatid to Courser of Kruphix? Have you ever drawn Sylvan Caryatid instead of your sixth land to cast Elspeth on time?

Playing 30 mana in your one-for-one attrition deck is not the best thing you can be doing, but neither is clunking out.

So you have a choice: be prone to flooding, or never have a nut draw. Either way, you end up with the same result. Abzan is The Rock. 55-60% against the
field. You win some, you lose some. The only times this hasn’t been true were when people weren’t building decks efficient at capitalizing on one of these
scenarios, when they didn’t have a better lategame than you so Caryatid was a non-issue, or didn’t have a way to get under you so you out-powered them card
for card.

Why It’s Good:

Besides straight up removal, Thunderbreak Regent and Stormbreath Dragon are relatively uninteractive ways to win a game. Flying is a real nice ability. If
these creatures stay in play, they are going to deal lethal very quickly regardless of your opponent’s board.

Beyond that, they are really good at creating assured damage that adds up over time in the face of removal. Add that to a couple other sources of chip shot
damage like Draconic Roar and dealing lethal gets real easy despite your opponent’s attempts at interaction.

How to Beat It:

Thunderbreak Regent is not Siege Rhino. The “three free damage” does not happen if it just stays in play. It does not gain life. Four toughness is less
than five by a significant amount.

If your opponent just plays your non-interactive game and gets under you in the race, your threats are not good at helping you fight back. This was one of
the reasons we opted to play Abzan Aggro at the Pro Tour. Play some hard hitters underneath their Dragons, kill the threats they do play if necessary to
break through, and get them dead.

These decks also tend not to be the most threat dense. If your removal actually lines up well with handling Thunderbreak Regent, such as answering it on
the stack before the Lava Spike trigger matters, it’s very possible to just kill all of their things that matter while at a stable life total.

In other words, this deck was the biggest deck at the Pro Tour and was bad against red aggro and U/B, which ended up performing the best.

Why It’s Good:

Whip decks play a lot of individually powerful cards. Looking at this list, you have the namesake Whip of Erebos, Sidisi, Undead Vizier, Dragonlord Atarka,
and Dragonlord Silumgar.

Beyond that, you have a lot of the best answers to back them up. There’s the typical black cards as always (Hero’s Downfall, Thoughtseize), but the blue
cards are no joke. Disdainful Stroke is especially great as the format turns towards midrange and control.

How to Beat It:

Don’t let it set up.

Whip’s cards are really good, but they are clunky, situational, or both.

Sidisi, Brood Tyrant trades down for two-drop removal pretty easily. Sidisi, Undead Vizier isn’t exceptional without a creature to sacrifice and often
another turn of mana. Whip of Erebos requires a lot of mana and set up. The Dragonlords are fairly expensive for a deck that often struggles to interact

Whip also has the same Sylvan Caryatid issues Abzan has and then some. Look at the list I posted. You have 24 lands, but 32 mana sources with Caryatid and
Satyr Wayfinder. As a result, it’s both easy for you to stumble early when your Wayfinder whiffs and to flood out.

Again, don’t give them time to smooth out the difference.

Why It’s Good:

Similar to Red Aggro, Hero’s Downfall is really, really bad against this deck.

Unlike Red Aggro, you also have one of the best attrition games in the format. This is the deck that can play four Treasure Cruise in a format where no one
else really can play any. The white and red removal overlap with the blue counters to provide answers to basically anything.

Jeskai Ascendancy is also a really messed up card, but we should all know that by now. So are your Dragonlord Ojutais.

How to Beat It:

This deck is trying to play longer than red with Hordeling Outburst. Sometimes Outburst holds off multiple creatures, but if they are bigger than X/2,
playing the defense is often more of stalling the inevitable than actually making profitable blocks. Buying time to Treasure Cruise sometimes gets you
there, but against a developed enough board, three cards might not be enough.

If your opponent keeps you off of Jeskai Ascendancy, the deck often fumbles around doing not so powerful stuff.

If your threat base is diverse, you can also often catch Tokens with the wrong answers. The white and red answers aren’t like Hero’s Downfall and
Thoughtseize. They are Erase, Valorous Stance, Roast, Wild Slash, and Glare of Heresy. This was especially clear with G/W Devotion.

Why It’s Good:

This includes the Bees and Bant decks.

Cascading advantage. Plain and simple. If the metagame gets into board stalls and one-for-ones, Devotion tends to punish that fairly well by forcing an
answer to every single threat.

Xenagos, the Reveler is also a card I didn’t talk about in the context of Dragons, as it only really shows up in the two-color G/R lists, but it is near
the top of the list for cards that overperform for how underplayed they are.

How to Beat It:

Attack an angle. Threats or mana.

If you attack their mana creatures, the Devotion deck often has issues deploying threats on time. While their individual threats are good, they are often
reasonable to overrun or out-muscle if not played ahead of schedule. Peg down their Elvish Mystic with a Wild Slash and have them in single digits when
Polukranos, World Eater lands.

If you attack their threats, you can often strand them with a couple mana creatures in play, drawing out of a deck that is 60% mana. Sometimes they runner
multiple threats and you run out of removal, but usually they miss for a turn and die.

Which one is more effective depends on their list. If they are playing six- and seven-drops like Ondrej Strasky’s G/R list with See the Unwritten and
Dragonlord Atarka, you want to attack their mana since they can’t cast their relevant cards without it. If they are closer to the stock G/W Devotion lists,
their mana matters less than their threats, as they can easily curve out to four or five without mana dorks and play their actual threats on curve.


Behind it all, Hero’s Downfall still drives a lot of the format, but the ways to play against it are getting better. There was also an overemphasis on
answers in the wake of G/R Dragons rising to the top, but the pendulum is shifting back towards wanting threats with Esper Dragons taking the top seat.

The three-cost barrier for impactful cards is a little blurrier than it was before, but it still exists in a lot of cases. That alone is one of the draws
to decks that can cast Fleecemane Lion.

There are a lot of options. I just talked about eight major archetypes, and if you start splitting things like Jeskai Dragons from G/R Dragons, you end up
easily hitting a dozen. There are another dozen decks just below the surface here (like G/W Collected Company) that with the right positioning and tweaks
could easily be part of this list.

Despite what the Pro Tour suggested with U/B stalwarts taking up a lot of the top slots, this is not a format that rewards playing your deck through thick
and thin. This is a Brad Nelson format. Pick your spots, find the opening to exploit, and once your event is over, move to the next deck for the next week.