The Princess Bride

Patrick Chapin, author of Next Level Deckbuilding, takes an entertaining look at the current Standard metagame. Get a grasp on the format for #SCGKNOX and #SCGMINN!

Jund doesn’t get beaten by the other decks at this time.


The other decks don’t beat it. I’m explaining to you because you look nervous.

I wasn’t nervous. Maybe I was a little bit “concerned,” but that’s not the same thing.

. . .

M14 has been legal barely a fortnight, and already we have a number of high profile tournaments to draw information from. Two weeks ago the StarCityGames.com Open in Richmond was the first major tournament to use the set. Then this past weekend there was both Grand Prix Calgary (aka the second biggest tournament in North America of the weekend), the StarCityGames.com Invitational in Somerset, and the recording-breaking Open in Somerset with an unheard of 961 players (the largest non-Grand Prix tournament of all-time).

The following is a metagame breakdown of the four events. The Invitational was a mixed event, so the data below just measures the number of players that went 7-1 or better with an archetype in the Swiss. That info is merged with the Open Top 16 data to determine the New Jersey metagame. The #SCGRICH data is based on just the Top 16 of that event, but given that it is two weeks old it is being weighed at half as relevant as the other two columns for the purposes of evaluating the expected metagame. Finally, the Grand Prix Calgary data is just the day 1 metagame breakdown among archetypes that represented at least 1% of the field. At the time of this writing, day 2 had not yet been played.


Jund is 30% of the field? It was probably the best deck before M14. Where’s that miracle we ordered?

You rush a miracle man, you get rotten miracles.

There is lots of interesting information to glean from this chart, though first a word to the wise. Please do not take this information as some academic thesis on statistics. What it is is a way of describing shortcuts myself (and a number of other pros) use to get a picture of the metagame and where it’s going.

Every so often it seems someone that took two years of statistics at the International Correspondence School takes issue with the metagame data here being aggregated in a different way than when their professor used to aggregate metagame data when they were an undergrad. Could their professor’s metagame breakdown be even better? No question. I haven’t seen it yet though. What I do know is that the model I use (evolved from a model created by Hall of Famer Frank Karsten) has been producing useful predictions and good results for years, so until I see a better way I’m pretty happy with it.

. . .

You’ve done nothing but study deckbuilding?

More pursue than study lately. You see, I cannot find the perfect deck . . .  It’s been twenty years now, and I’m starting to lose confidence. I just play in Pro Tours to pay the bills. There’s not a lot of money in theory.

Well I certainly hope you find it someday.

You are ready then?

Whether I am or not, you’ve been more than fair.

You seem a decent fellow . . . I hate to kill you.

You seem a decent fellow . . . I hate to die.


Let’s take a look at the alpha strategy of the format, Jund (which in my opinion has long since earned the name Jund rather than Jund Midrange because when I say Jund you know exactly what I mean).

Is this build the best because Reid Duke said it was, or did Reid Duke say it was the best because it was?

Scavenging Ooze is an excellent addition to Jund, continuing its theme of top tier card quality and utility creatures that can singlehandedly take over a game. In addition to being a big body that lets Jund use its mana efficiently, gains life, and fights flashback, Scavenging Ooze provides much needed ammo against Jund’s former Achilles’ heel, Junk Reanimator. Remember, Scavenging Ooze can be used on spells, not just creatures, so Snapcaster Mage won’t work as long as you have mana to activate it. It only grows when you eat a creature, but it eats everything.

Doom Blade being added to the diverse removal package is not surprising or a big upgrade, but it is a quality card that helps Jund further diversify its reactive elements. With none of the options head and shoulders above the rest, this sort of Jund deck tends to want a lot of ones and twos of its reactive cards so as to limit the effects of diminishing returns. When you draw the wrong reactive card, you can save it for later and find a use for it a lot more easily than when you get stuck drawing two copies of it.

Primeval Bounty in the sideboard?

Ok, that’s an interesting one. Primeval Bounty gets overlooked a bit because of sharing a casting cost with Garruk, Caller of Beasts, but Jund doesn’t have nearly enough creatures to Call it up. This spot used to be occupied by Deadbridge Chant, but are either of these options even as good as Staff of Nin? Then again, is it on the table to not play a six-cost source of card advantage? I guess Deadbridge Chant is worse now that Scavenging Ooze is legal, but Primeval Bounty just seems kind of mediocre, so I hope we can find a better option.

Jund is absolutely fantastic and will surely continue to be. This is the deck to beat, and even when the format adjusts, I expect Jund to still be a major player for the next three months. Whatever I played next week, you can be damn sure I’m not playing a deck that loses to Jund. A lot of fast decks just aren’t strong enough, and a lot of strong decks just aren’t fast enough to compete with it.

. . .

Craterhoof Behemoth.

Now that is a big game. There aren’t all that many eight-cost creatures worth paying retail for. The Behemoth is often game winning, but it just costs so much.

I donna suppose you could speed things up?

If you’re in such a hurry, you could activate the -3 ability of Garruk or cast Unburial Rites or find something useful to do.

I could do that. I have four Garruks in here, but I do not think you would accept my help since I am only waiting around to kill you.

That does put a damper on our relationship.

Another great finish from Baby Huey, this time with a Zvi Mowshowitz creation (bonus points if you figured that out just by reading the decklist).

G/W Ramp follows the classic Zvi formula of:

All the best mana creatures + all the best cards to ramp into = profit!

This list is designed to play two mana accelerators in the first two turns of the game so that turn 3 it can present an 8/8 of some variety (Kalonian Hydra or Wolfir Silverheart). Kalonian Hydra is shockingly hyped considering it’s just a giant trampler, but it does have a pretty outrageous rate. Its baseline power level is basically on par with a 10/10 trampler for five (since it is a giant trample creature that kills in two hits). Magic has never had anything quite like this—a 10/10 trampler that is actually castable early—and it’s going to be interesting to see the effects it has on tournament deck construction.

This is hopefully followed by a Garruk Caller of Beasts. If you can cheat a Craterhoof into play, you’ll often win on the spot. If you don’t have one, it’s like a Braingeyser every turn (which has a way of finding you one in a hurry or just overpowering opponents with your massive horde).

Ok, so the deck works beautifully when we draw a Garruk, Caller of Beasts, giving us the cards we need and letting us actually cheat Craterhoof into play. What are we supposed to do when we are stuck with a Craterhoof in hand and no Garruk?

You are sure nobody’s hard casting Craterhoof Behemoth?

As I told you, it would be absolutely, totally, and in all other ways inconceivable. No one that draws enough cards to have the land to cast it would do what we’ve done, and no one with enough creatures could have gotten that much mana so fast. Out of curiosity, why do you ask?

No reason. It’s only . . .  I just happened to look at this G/W list, and something is there.

What? Probably some local player out for a casual tournament at the 961-player Open . . .  in a . . .  Jund-infested metagame . . .

A key to the success of this strategy is the printing of Elvish Mystic, giving us twelve one-mana accelerators on turn 1. That means we will very consistently be able to play a three on turn 2, so we have hardly any need for two-drops. Once you have that many one-drop accelerators, Elvish Archdruid becomes a much more powerful accelerator. Not only is it coming out on turn 2 most of the time, but it is potentially a source of more than one mana, letting us actually get up to the eight necessary to cast Craterhoof the hard way.

The Elvish Archdruid didn’t die?! INCONCEIVABLE!

You keep using that word. I do not think it means what you think it means.

. . .

While Craterhoof Behemoth has new purpose in life thanks to Garruk, it has definitely fallen squarely out of favor for Junk Reanimator decks. Junk Reanimator’s future is far from certain however. The printing of Scavenging Ooze means tons of opponents will have very powerful graveyard hate maindeck. What is Junk Reanimator supposed to do in such a hostile playground?

I do not mean to pry, but you don’t by any chance happen to have six creatures in your graveyard?

Do you always begin conversations this way?

Shadowborn Demon is like a much, much bigger Shriekmaw (albeit it one that can’t be cast as a Terror for two). So why just one? Thragtusk ensures there is heavy competition at the five spot, but if Standard becomes overrun with Kalonian Hydras, Shadowborn Demon is going to start looking better and better. Unfortunately for Junk Reanimator, it doesn’t even gain much else from M14. Elvish Mystic isn’t even clearly better than the alternatives.

Junk Reanimator probably your deck of choice, huh? I’ll ask it.

It’s dead. Scavenging Ooze is in half the maindecks in the format.

Whoo-hoo-hoo, look who knows so much. It just so happens that your deck here is only MOSTLY dead. There’s a big difference between mostly dead and all dead. Mostly dead is slightly alive. With all dead, well, with all dead there’s usually only one thing you can do.

What’s that?

Go to the dealer booth and trade the cards for store credit.

While I think this style of Junk Reanimator’s days on top are mostly over (at least for this season), the archetype still has enough good things going on that it can continue to enjoy moderate success as a tier 1.5 strategy. As the format adjusts away from it, things may actually get slightly better for it, with more people spending more of their testing time focused on strategies like Jund and Bant Hexproof.

Speaking of . . .

Can you attack at all?

Attack? You’re alive. If you want, I can make my Geist fly.

Bant Hexproof got a second lease on life with the printing of Unflinching Courage in Dragon’s Maze. Then M14 introduced Gladecover Scout, giving us even more fast ways to build an untargetable, unstoppable threat. Witchstalker is also legal, but Brown opted against it, preferring instead Silverblade Paladin as his second three-drop of choice. Silverblade Paladin is much easier to cast and fantastic at racing against opponents that only have sorcery-speed removal.

Mending Touch is just Death Ward, but the world is a very different place these days than the early nineties. Wrath of God, Swords to Plowshares, Terror, and Control Magic were all immune to Death Ward. Nowadays, Mending Touch trumps Supreme Verdict, Doom Blade, Bonfire of the Damned, and Dreadbore. It’s at its best in a deck that makes a single lethal threat, like Hexproof, but we’ve been seeing more and more fringe use of it all over Standard and I don’t think we’ve seen the end of it.

Interestingly, Bant Hexproof has snuck up on the format, now being second only to Jund in popularity. It hits from such a different angle than most other decks that it is super important to actually test against it if you want to beat it. Now that it is such a big part of the metagame, you really need to give it its due. If you test against just one deck, it should be Jund, but if you test against two, the second should be Bant Hexproof.

. . .

Hello, my name is Varolz, the Scar-Striped. You killed my Voice of Resurgence. Prepare to die.

Junk Aristocrats is significantly more popular than its W/B/R predecessor at this point. It doesn’t have any out of the park homeruns, but it does have a number of good cards to consider.

To start with, Lifebane Zombie is just a super card that does a lot of work for people that need percentage against Thragtusk, Restoration Angel, and Huntmaster of the Fells. The printing of Kalonian Hydra and the surge in popularity of Craterhoof Behemoth is just going to further strengthen Lifebane’s Zombie’s role in the format. Lifebane Zombie looks like a color hoser, but the interesting thing about it is how not embarrassing it is against non-green, non-white decks (since a 3/1 intimidate creature for three isn’t that bad).

Scavenging Ooze is worth considering, if only because of just how great of a rate it is and how disruptive it can be to opposing strategies. Of course, it is nowhere near as good here as it is in decks like Jund since spare mana to activate it is harder to come by and we don’t want to use it on ourselves (lest we have less bodies for Varolz to scavenge).

While Diliberto doesn’t employ Xathrid Necromancer, it’s also worth looking at and has been showing up in some Junk Aristocrats lists. Not all of your creatures are Humans, but enough are. If you make even two 2/2s in addition to the 2/2 body of Xathrid Necromancer, you are getting a huge amount of value for three mana. It is vulnerable to Pillar of Flame, but so is this entire deck and zero-cost sac outlets help.

Of course, Xathrid Necromancer has already been making waves in Aristocrat/Humans hybrids, such as the list AJ Sacher used to win #SCGRICH.

Good night, Doomed Traveler. Good work. Sleep well. I’ll most likely kill you in the morning.

Lifebane Zombie and Mutavault are pretty straightforward additions, but it’s really Xathrid Necromancer that calls this deck into existence. While some Aristocrats decks are happy to make a couple of 2/2s with it, AJ’s list consistently threatens to make half a dozen Zombies, crippling those that rely on Supreme Verdict and occasionally even allowing him to “combo off” with Blood Artist and a sacrifice outlet (not to mention upgrading 1/1 Humans into 2/2 Zombies).

. . .

I mean, if we only had a manland, that would be something.

Where did we put that Mutavault the new set had?

In just about every monocolor deck using the new set, I think.

Well, why didn’t you list that among our assets in the first place?

Red aggro was very much on people’s radars a few months ago but has managed to fly a little lower to the ground in recent weeks due to being split between so many different viable approaches to the archetype. While no single red aggro deck occupies more than 6.6% of the metagame, together they amount to 14.9% of the field!

Mutavault is the exact land mono-red has been looking for (no longer needing to use tier 2 options like Hellion Crucible). This gives us an even greater threat density, protection from sweepers, and asks only that we reconsider Boros Reckoner.

Fortunately, M14 returns Chandra’s Phoenix to us, which is arguably even more on theme than Boros Reckoner.

Young Pyromancer is a pretty major upgrade for mono-red, as more two-drops is exactly what we want if we want to try to capitalize on Burning-Tree Emissary. It’s just a great rate on its own, but it can also help us play a somewhat midrange game against opponents that successfully slow us down with blockers.

Chandra, Pyromaster is an excellent new option, but Burning-Tree Emissary into Young Pyromancer takes us down a path where we end up with a horde of small creatures rather than one of two large ones. As such, Hellrider wins this round. Hellrider is an absolutely top-notch card, so there is no flaw there, but Chandra will have her day (and more than one).

Shock may not be the flashiest upgrade, but it is a nice tempo play and the fact that it is an instant is nice when fighting opposing Mutavaults. Of course, Searing Spear does this as well, but when more and more opponents are using a dozen one-drop Elves, Shock’s one-cost is also very appealing.

There’s a shortage of perfect mana bases in this world. It would be a pity to damage yours.

Burning Earth is one of the more important cards to come out of M14 and signals a changing of the guard. It has been all fun and games for a year now, but it looks like some people want the party to be over.

And to think, all that time it was your side of the table with nonbasics that were hosed.

They were both hosed. I spent the last few years building up an immunity to Burning Earth.

Times are changing, and people are going to have to evolve their strategies to take Burning Earth into consideration. Ratchet Bomb, Detention Sphere, Oblivion Ring, Ray of Revelation, Naturalize, Acidic Slime, Vraska the Unseen, and Cyclonic Rift are all potential ways to remove it, but there are other ways to fight it.

Artifacts and creatures that produce mana can be effective, including everything from Manaweft Sliver to Gilded Lotus. It is interesting how much better Elvish Mystic and Avacyn’s Pilgrim are against Burning Earth than Arbor Elf.

Of course, you can also just use more basic lands. In addition to whatever basics you can afford, Evolving Wilds, Farseek, Borderland Ranger, and the like are all effective ways of finding even more basics. Remember, you don’t need to have all basics, just enough to cast your spells. You don’t even need to cast everything without taking damage; you just want to get the number of nonbasics you have to tap down to a manageable number. If your Jund deck gets one of each of its three basics in play (or a Rakdos Keyrune), it’s going to be able to function for the most part.

As you can see, Standard is a rich and diverse landscape despite Jund’s early dominance. We have barely scratched the surface of the decks people are playing, and already it’s clear there is huge opportunity for brewers and deck tuners alike . . .

You are wonderful.

Thank you; I’ve worked hard to become so.

I admit it, you are better than I am.

Then why are you smiling?

Because I know something you don’t know.

And what is that?

 I . . .  am not a beatdown player.

. . .

You are amazing.

I ought to be after twenty years.

Oh, there’s something I ought to tell you.

Tell me.

I’m not a beatdown player either.

If Jund and Bant Hexproof are two of the pillars of the format, the third is surely U/W/R Flash/Control. People love to discuss things like the demise of control (or its demise being overstated). The truth is that like many formats in recent years, control is viable but not the most popular strategy.

It doesn’t have the absolute best collection of tools, but because of this not as many people play it, which makes the format less hostile for it than it would otherwise be.

There are a number of different approaches to control seeing play right now, but most people seem to be hung up on the wrong question.

How are you going to win?

No way of consequence.

I must know . . .

Get used to disappointment.


The chart above merges the archetypes that are basically the exact same in play pattern since whether or not Aetherling is maindeck doesn’t radically change the primary method of establishing control that U/W/R uses (efficient reactive cards like Pillar of Flame, Azorius Charm, Supreme Verdict, and Ratchet Bomb combined with card advantage in the format of Sphinx’s Revelation, Augur of Bolas, Snapcaster Mage, and Think Twice).

Like most control decks, U/W/R’s primary new addition from M14 is Ratchet Bomb, giving it more general purpose solutions to problems (like artifacts, enchantments, and planeswalkers), as well as better answers to token-based strategies and Blitz decks (despite playing just two Supreme Verdicts maindeck).

What I find very interesting is the use of Clone. Clone has been a classic answer to legends for quite some time now, particularly Geist of Saint Traft. M14 brings with it M14 rules, which means no more legend-ruling opponents. Gerry’s a pretty sharp fellow, so it can be assumed that he knew this when he filled out the decklist he used to Top 8 the Invitational.

This suggests that Gerry wants Clone as an answer to Thragtusk, which is definitely defensible given how good Thragtusk is against him and how effective of an answer Clone is. It can be tempting to fill our decks with cards like Turn // Burn, but that’s actually a pretty overrated “answer” to Thragtusk because you are still losing value. If you Clone a Thragtusk, you aren’t just ahead a mana; you get more utility out of the five life than they do.

I challenge you to a battle of the wits.

First to Top 8 an Open or GP?

To the death?

I accept!

So far no one has succeeded in the Battle of Wits challenge, but the format is still young. This is pretty far from the least hostile format for Battle of Wits in recent years, but if there is one thing I know, it’s never go in against a Battle of Wits player when death is on the line . . .

That said, true control hasn’t disappeared entirely. In addition to U/W/R variants (and a small amount of Grixis and Bant), Esper refuses to relinquish its place in the metagame.

Hear this now: control has to be good.

But Wafo, how can you be sure?

This is Sphinx’s Revelation; you think this happens every day?

Once again, Ratchet Bomb features prominently in a post-M14 control deck. Not only should we get used to it, but we should ask ourselves how we can tune our decks to be better against Ratchet Bomb (and in game, ask ourselves if we can play around it).

Doom Blade is a solid choice, and it seems the question of “how is it better than Warped Physique?” is answered by Kalonian Hydra and Wolfir Silverheart. It is still has an obvious weakness, but from looking at these lists there does seem to be a decrease in the number of black creatures we actually need to target. If you don’t play too many, you are unlikely to get caught with multiple Doom Blades against an opposing Olivia or Lifebane Zombie you need to remove.

Evil Twin is an even better Clone for the purposes of fighting Thragtusk, which is not new but is worth noting given the change in M14 rules. It’s also worth noting the use of Oblivion Ring over Detention Sphere because of Renounce the Guilds (which is also not new).

You’re the Dread Aetherling kill condition, admit it.

With pride. What can I do for you?

You can die slowly, cut into a thousand pieces.

Tsk, tsk. That’s hardly complementary Highness. Why loose your venom on me?

You killed my love.

It’s possible. I kill a lot of people.

Aetherling really is a fantastic card, and adding just one or two to a deck or sideboard can completely change the capabilities of a deck. It is the ultimate weapon against reactive strategies. Even against opponents not relying on removal, it just has a big impact on the board, threatening to end the game quickly and unstoppably while also serving as a fantastic blocker.

Ok, that concludes this first look at the world of M14 Standard. A Grand Prix, an Invitational, and the largest Open of all-time are certainly some big stages to debut the format on, but I have a feeling the World Championship this week are going to have a huge impact on the direction the format goes next.

I do have one announcement, something I have been working on for the past two years and am very proud to unveil. The ultimate guide to deckbuilding, Next Level Deckbuilding, is available now! The subject I get asked the most about that I can’t do justice to in a single paragraph or a single article is deckbuilding. Next Level Deckbuilding covers archetypes in Magic, every element of deckbuilding, card evaluation, a look at every major deck in Magic’s twenty-year history, and even deckbuilding for Commander. More info can be found here!

I’m out for today, but I’m looking forward to some serious brewing using the information we discussed today as well as the results of the World Championship. Same time, same place next week?

As you wish.

Patrick Chapin
“The Innovator”

Next Level Deckbuilding