The Real Standard Metagame

Whenever we rely solely on top 8 lists, we lose out on a lot of important data. Fortunately, Pro Tour Hall of Famer Patrick Chapin is here to show us the road to #SCGPORT success.

Esper Dragons is that good, eh? Just can’t be beaten without playing some crazy all-counterspell deck with charge lands?

No. Not remotely.

It’s the deck to beat, but it is possible to beat. Most people fail at the “select a deck that can compete with Esper Dragons,” but it’s not hard to do. In
fact, four out of five of the most successful decks this past weekend (besides Esper) have a small edge over it (at least stock builds), or at least they
would say they do…

With GP Toronto and SCG Portland coming up, let’s take a look at what the metagame actually looked like at the top of the standings this past weekend in
Cleveland. Quirky cool thematic decks based around Dragons or heroic or morphs are cool and all, but what is the field really looking like?

This is a breakdown of the SCG Cleveland day 2 metagame, as well as the top 32 metagame weighted by finish:

SCG Cleveland

Okay, that’s a ton of information. Can we condense it down a little?

Let’s try removing the decks that had almost no top 32 penetration. Also, even though Jeskai Tokens and Jeskai Aggro are different decks, they
have some similarities, and we’re pretty split between them anyway. Let’s just merge them and know that there’s basically an even split between token and
aggro variants.

Condensed SCG Cleveland

Okay, that’s a lot more manageable!

I would have loved to see the day 1 metagame for this one, but already just seeing the evolution between the day 2 metagame and the Top 32 metagame tells
such an interesting story.

To start with, both the day 2 metagame and the top 32 metagame have exactly three decks that occupy at least 10% of the field, however, they are not
exactly the same. Abzan Aggro and Esper Dragons are the top two in each, though their relative position flips.

Meanwhile, R/x Aggro (which is half Mono-Red and half Red splash Atarka’s Command) is tied for second most popular on day 2, but it completely falls apart
by the end of the day, with almost no top 32 penetration. Instead, it’s replaced by Abzan Megamorph in the top 32, which is particularly interesting when
you consider that no one actually top 8-ed with the deck, which means it is flying a little more under the radar than it should be.

The only place to start is the The Best Deck™.

The general trend has been towards a mono-hexproof creature-suite, but I actually am only lukewarm on Silumgar, the Drifting Death. Personally, I think
Dragonlord Silumgar is so amazing, I’d really like to see more exploration of maindecking him. Besides, 4-5 Dragons is just not that many. I mean, it’s
fine since Force Spike is still a thing. It’s just, we can do better, particularly with the resurgence in popularity of Thoughtseize (which can take your
only Dragon and strand your Silumgar’s Scorn).

I also just think the Dragonlords are incredibly powerful Magic cards. Once you play a bunch of them, the other ones get better since you run your opponent
out of removal. I wonder if there might be a way to splash Dromoka, maybe even Atarka, in Esper Dragons. Flores’s Five-Color Blue Dragons does it losing
black. Is it possible to keep the black?

Here’s a possible manabase:

3 Crucible of the Spirit Dragon

3 Haven of the Spirit Dragon

4 Opulent Palace

4 Temple of Deceit

2 Temple of Enlightenment

2 Dismal Backwater

4 Polluted Delta

1 Urborg, Tomb of Yawgmoth

3 Island

2 Swamp

Maybe this would work, but that’s cutting it so tight on double blue for Scorn early, as well as double black early for Bile Blight. Besides, it’s not even
going to give us our Dragonlords quite as often as we’d like.

With Esper as the pace-setter, it’s not surprising to see an aggressive deck designed to make removal awkward take home the trophy in Cleveland. Tom Ross
has been advocating Bant Heroic since before the Pro Tour, and while it didn’t show up at the Pro Tour, its advocates argue it has a small edge over Esper

Nothing much has changed with Bant Heroic, which still just splashes green for Dromoka’s Command. Perhaps the most interesting tweak has been the move
towards two Treasure Cruise main and two more in the board. This is a sideboard plan that Ross Merriam advocated in his article last week as a general sideboard plan for getting percentage
against Esper.

Personally, I’ve never been the biggest fan of U/W/x Heroic decks, however, I generally think it’s a better choice for Portland than Toronto, as this style
of deck tends to perform better in later rounds of Open events than GPs.

Of course, if Esper is the “best deck” and Bant Heroic beats Esper, it’s not surprising to see the best performing deck of the weekend be a deck that beats
them both (and Five-Color Blue Dragons, for that matter).

Abzan Aggro is on my shortlist for decks I would consider for this weekend. It’s card quality is high, and it’s positioned very well right now. Traditional
Abzan Control has historically been a weak spot for Abzan Aggro, but Esper has really put a hurt on that archetype.

Abzan Aggro’s cheap threats and lack of many dead cards help make the blue matchups reasonable, but maindeck Thoughtseize would be preferred. Notice the
lack of Bile Blights or Ultimate Prices maindeck, which makes all the difference in the world against Esper. I like Warden of the First Tree more than Heir
of the Wilds personally, and I would consider a tweak in that area.

Meanwhile, the combination of powerful aggression backed up by removal is a winning formula against Bant Heroic; but again, I would like to see
Thoughtseize in the maindeck, at least in some numbers.

Another form of Abzan Aggro that has been showing up is Collected Company, which is even better suited for fighting Esper, with it’s almost complete lack
of removal, in favor of more threats.

With 22 hits, Collected Company is about 95% to reveal something and 74% to hit two or more. That it’s an instant is a big game against counterspell decks,
but it’s generally just a powerful card (once you pay the deckbuilding cost of having to play so many cheap cards and so few removal spells).

I like the use of Merciless Executioner as a removal spell you can reveal to Collected Company. Grim Haruspex is also a cool addition, particularly when
you Collected Company in response to your opponent’s removal spell, which will often draw you an extra card.

That it has morph makes me wonder if there’s a way to marry Company/Haruspex with Deathmist Raptor/Den Protector. Maybe something like:

This might be too slow and grindy of a build, but it does seem like Deathmist Raptor/Den Protector is well suited for fighting Esper and other
Abzan decks.

If you count all of the Siege Rhino decks, you’re looking at almost a quarter of the day 2 field and a third of the top 32 field. Abzan Aggro was the most
common, but Abzan Megamorph also performed very well in the day 2 field. Perhaps we’re already seeing the Raptor/Protector prophecy coming to fruition.

The search for the best home for the Deathmist Raptor/Den Protector engine appears to have spawned a replacement for Abzan Control in the metagame. Abzan
Megamorph basically uses them to replace the planeswalkers, Tasigur, and Read the Bones that were in Abzan Control.

Basically, if you want to be able to compete with the Dig Through Time decks, you’ve got to be a lot more aggressive with Abzan. Abzan Aggro has been the
more popular approach, but the resiliency of Abzan Megamorph was particularly effective on day 2. In fact, of the eight players employing the strategy on
day 2 (out of 115), six of them finished in the top 32!

Abzan Megamorph isn’t as good against Abzan Aggro as Abzan Control was, but Deathmist Raptor and Den Protector are no slouches, even if Anafenza can mess
them up sometimes. The key is to be able to sideboard into more of an Abzan Control deck, gaining cards like Elspeth, Sun’s Champion, not to mention more
removal (in this case, Bile Blight, Glare of Heresy, and Self-Inflicted Wound).

If you’ve only got time to test three matchups, I would still pick Esper Dragons, Abzan Aggro, and Atarka Red, but if you’ve got time for five, this should
be one of them. That said, we really need to cover Red Aggro, even if it performed poorly on day 2 of SCG Cleveland.

Nothing really new to see here. We’ve even managed to preserve the 1/1 split of Lightning Berserker and Frenzied Goblin!

I wouldn’t want to play red this weekend, but I absolutely respect it and would definitely test against it. You can beat it, but you have to try!

If Esper, Abzan Aggro, and Atarka Red (which I like better than Mono-Red) are the first three decks in the gauntlet, I think the fourth has got to be G/R
Dragons. It was the big deck the week before the Pro Tour, but it got stepped on hard once everyone was aiming at it. It’s particularly poorly set up
against decks like Esper Dragons because of cards like Foul-Tongue Invocation and Crux of Fate. However, the more Abzan we see and the less Esper, the more
G/R Dragons starts to come back into the picture.

This isn’t really a deck that gets crushed or crushes anything. It has a lot of close matchups, and that’s fine. It’s just that its particular mix of
threats is quite reasonable against Abzan decks, particularly the Dragons themselves. Now that Abzan decks have moved away from cards like Elspeth and End
Hostilities, the gap is widening. If people don’t adjust, G/R Dragons could be poised to make a comeback this weekend.

The remaining two decks from the top 8 of SCG Cleveland happen to be the next two most popular decks (if we don’t count all of the many various Whip decks
as one deck). The specific builds don’t really feature anything new, but they are included here for reference.

Up first, Bant Megamorph, another Deathmist Raptor/Den Protector deck that aspires to have edge over Esper and other control decks. The rise of this deck
has basically replaced the G/W Devotion decks in the metagame.

The final list is another Jeskai Tokens, with the most notable aspect being four Seekers of the Way as the only creatures in the main.

Personally, I wouldn’t want to play that many Wild Slashes and Lightning Strikes with how popular blue decks are going to continue to be, but there’s a
floor to how bad they can be in a Jeskai deck.

The use of three Raise the Alarms and only one Dragon Fodder is insanity, however. It’s not like it’s even really helping against Bile Blight. The deck has
four Hordeling Outbursts making Goblins! The instant speed aspect of Raise the Alarm is great on its own, but it’s particularly important against
counterspells, Foul-Tongue Invocation, and with Jeskai Ascendancy (to pump at instant speed, or just make a surprise army).

This Standard format has been shaping up amazingly. There are so many new cards, so many old cards have changed in value, the best decks are fluctuating,
the games are interesting. I’m in love!

Now that we’ve got an idea of what people are playing, what’s the best way to attack the format? I’m gonna be back Friday to do some brewing and go through
the decks I’d consider for this weekend. If there’s a strategy you want covered, let me know!