The Rights And Wrongs Of Standard

Ben made some gutsy calls, and uh…he got a few right! But more importantly, he wants to talk about what Indy means for SCG Baltimore and Standard this weekend! What kind of metagame can we expect in the coming month?

Week one of Ravnica Allegiance Standard is in the books. SCG
Indianaplis showed us exactly what we can plan for in the coming weeks, and
it very clearly didn’t line up with the general expectations going into the
weekend. We saw a huge surge of midrange decks with Bant, Sultai, and Esper
Midrange taking up the majority of the slots in the elimination rounds of
the Open. Many of the heavily-hyped flagships didn’t do much of anything,
and some truly unexpected cards got their time in the sun, down to the
mostly unassuming Basilica Bell-Haunt in Wyatt Darby’s Esper Midrange deck.

It’s time to grade my personal predictions for the event from last week and
see what we can make of the trends moving into SCG Baltimore and the second
week of the new format.

1. Andrew Jessup will not win this Standard Open.

Brad Carpenter, up to the last few hours before the tournament, was unsure
of what deck to play. He wanted to follow the tried and true cowboy method
of notching a respectable 3-2 performance in a League on Magic Online and
locking in the deck, but he had a problem…

He’d just gone 3-2 with two different archetypes!

Of course, the solution was clear. Andrew Jessup could never steer young
Bradley wrong, and so he set about picking up the cards to play Andrew’s
Invitational-winning Izzet Drakes deck with Pteramander as a supplementary
threat. One Top 8 later and Andrew’s record of finding the deck to play for
the first week of Standard stayed unblemished (sort of). Of course, Andrew
didn’t win the Open, as he wasn’t even in attendance, but I wouldn’t have
decided to team with him for this weekend’s Baltimore Open if I didn’t have
faith in his ability to pick a winning deck for the early weekends of the

The prediction was supposed to be an easy one, but Andrew tried his hardest
through his disciple, Brad, to show us all that he still has what it takes
when it comes to picking the best deck. I won’t be running back this
prediction this upcoming weekend.

2. Red Aggro with Light Up the Stage will be the deck to beat.

Big old NOPE for this one.

The midrange decks came prepared, with Hydroid Krasis and Wildgrowth Walker
to stop the aggression and with Basilica Bell-Haunt and Absorb from Esper
Midrange and Esper Control. It may be that the best players chose to play
fairer middle-of-the-road strategies this weekend or it may be that most
folks overcompensated for the expected onslaught of red decks by packing
tons of incidental lifegain. Whatever the reason for the underperformance
of Mono-Red Aggro – with Caleb Scherer and Julian John marking Top 16
finishes with the deck – it means that in the coming weeks the incidental
hate will start to dip, to the point where suddenly, without warning, red
becomes the best color in Standard again.

For all its charm, Basilica Bell-Haunt is a fairly mopey attempt to mush
together Ravenous Rats and Siege Rhino. A card like that only makes it into
a maindeck to punish Mono-Red, and it seems unlikely that it will stay as a
go-to threat in Ravnica Allegiance Standard.

The metagame wheel will continue to turn, but for this week, it doesn’t
seem like Red’s time yet. Wait for a bit more movement as the midrange
decks get inbred and soon, it will be Goblin Chainwhirler’s turn to mess up
Standard again.

3. Control decks will be underrepresented at the top this week.

Another swing and a miss! There were ten copies of Teferi, Hero of
Dominaria and eight copies of Absorb in the Top 8 of SCG Indianapolis. I
set the limit at one control deck in my prediction, and it appears that I
was mistaken. Teferi isn’t going anywhere, and it appears like he might be
even stronger going into the second week of the new Standard format. The
classic wisdom indicates that if midrange decks succeed one week,
well-built control or heavier midrange decks will prey on those erstwhile
winners in the coming weeks. Certainly, there are many cleaner answers to
Teferi now than there were before the release of Ravnica Allegiance, but the king of control is still ready to flex
some card-drawing muscle and make Sultai Midrange look silly.

I will never count Teferi out prematurely again. Just like betting against
Tom Brady, it’s foolish to ever bet against this king of control. And
before we see Brady and the Patriots play yet another Super Bowl
this weekend, we’ll probably see several copies of Teferi, Hero of
Dominaria scattered throughout the elimination rounds of the Open. It would
be silly to expect anything else.

4. Wilderness Reclamation will be the scariest card, but ultimately fall
flat due to not being perfected yet.

Finally, a truly successful prediction! Todd Anderson talked a big game
about his Temur Reclamation deck, and there were a handful of Bant Nexus
and Nexus of Gates decks competing on the second day of the Open, but
ultimately they all fell flat and not one made it into the Top 32. Let’s
not get too ahead of ourselves, though. Wilderness Reclamation is still the
scariest card in Ravnica Allegiance for Standard, as the line
between unplayable and bannable is very, very thin with an effect like this
one. As long as polarizing archetypes like Bant Nexus and Mono-Red Aggro
remain clear in players’ sights for sideboard consideration, it seems like
the tools are there to restrain them from being too strong. But every
single week, we’re going to have to consider these two poles of the format
and attempt to either plan for them with sufficient hate to not be
surprised/overwhelmed or decide to roll the dice and play them ourselves.

Fortunately, we have access to cards like Mortify, Negate, Disdainful
Stroke, Spell Pierce, Thrashing Brontodon, Deputy of Detention, Duress, and
Thought Erasure to protect ourselves from the ludicrous mana advantage of a
resolved Wilderness Reclamation, but the instant those cards stop being
ubiquitous, this deck will destroy a tournament or two.

I predict another week of quiet for Wilderness Reclamation, with Izzet
12-Drakes (Pteramander is a Drake!), Sultai Midrange, and Esper decks of
various flavors continuing to find refinement and create a healthy metagame
that leaves unfair combo (temporarily) on the sidelines. For how long we
can sustain that level of metagame health, though, is another matter

5. Selesnya will surprise this week.

I’ll give myself very partial credit for this prediction. Bant
Midrange did end up in second place in the Open and some of the cards I
pointed to last week as potentially underrated and likely to pick up in the
face of Mono-Red were a part of that list. Shalai, Voice of Plenty showed
up, as did March of the Multitudes and History of Benalia; however, they
were only in small numbers and didn’t include the full token-oriented sweep
with Trostani Discordant at the top. Instead, Angel of Grace made a big
breakout appearance as a new threat with flash, creating a veritable Flash
deck alongside Frilled Mystic and the aforementioned March. With so many
threats capable of being deployed during an opponent’s end step, it’s
possible that Bant Midrange can continue to evolve and maintain a presence
at the top of the format.

I’m a bit skeptical, though. My initial impression here is that Jonathan
Hobbs gained a ton of value from opponents being unfamiliar with the
threats he brought to the table, thus playing poorly when confronted with
the unknown. New Standard formats always bring around new play patterns,
and for the first week or so, people are unprepared to play against cards
that don’t resemble something they played against in the previous Standard
format. Pattern-matching is the name of the game and this Bant deck
capitalized on opponents forgetting how to play against sequences that
don’t fit into a familiar pattern.

In the coming weeks, this archetype will likely change in dramatic ways,
but the lack of focus that was an advantage in week one will come to be a
liability when facing down opponents with a greater knowledge of all the
tricks this deck can employ. I believe a more focused Selesnya Tokens deck
is still a well-positioned strategy in some metagames, but neither it nor a
Bant Midrange concoction is a prime pick for Standard at SCG Baltimore.

6. Hydroid Krasis will surprise in a midrange shell.


Here’s the prediction that saved my hide. Sure, I was underselling Hydroid
Krasis a bit in
last week’s article
, but the prevalence and power of the card surprised most folks not in the
know. Only a very few believers would have predicted such a banner weekend
for the Genesis Hydra/Sphinx’s Revelation crossover. In Sultai, Temur, and
Bant decks alike, this massive creature can turn an abundance of mana into
a stream of cards that allow a slight mana flood to turn into a fresh hand
and a giant monster in the middle turns.

Tons of the more experienced SCG Tour grinders picked up Sultai Midrange to
good effect, resulting in the trophy, a Top 8 finish, and a whole mess of
others in the Top 32 casting the big Jellyfish Hydra Beast. There’s a ton
of power in this card, and it’s going to continue to see play as one of the
best top decks in the format and one of the best ways to close the door on
a close game. The lifegain is important for hanging on against Mono-Red,
and the body is a no-nonsense way to stymie further aggression and put the
opponent in a do or die spot. Among powerful cards that have pros and
pundits alike trying to find the correct level of hyperbole to accurately
communicate their impact, what looked like a casual mana sink at first
blush has swiftly become one of the most important cards in the whole set.

And it’s going to stay that way.

7. Dive Down is going to be underrated again.

I’ll give myself this one, if only because I’d like to imagine that Brad
Carpenter rode his Dive Downs to that Top 8 in small part to save my
prediction percentage. People are playing Thief of Sanity. People are
playing Deputy of Detention. People are playing Hostage Taker. People are
playing Enigma Drake, Pteramander, and Crackling Drake. People will still get embarrassed by Dive Down. It’s not complicated. Brad
essentially took last year’s Izzet Drakes deck and still made it through to
the elimination rounds because people still consistently underrate the
tempo swing associated with a big flying monster backed up by a protection

At some point in the coming weeks, we’ll see a slightly updated version of
the Wyatt Darby special with a few Dive Downs to protect the various
creatures that need to survive a full turn cycle to swing the game. I’m
legitimately concerned about beating counterspells, discard, Dive Down, and
haymakers. It’s going to be an interesting Standard season walking
opponents into the Dive Down trap over and over again.

8. Elfball is the dark horse deck that will get heads turning.

Well, if it wasn’t a dark horse strategy going into the weekend, it sure is
now. I whiffed on my most speculative prediction, as no Rhythm of the
Wild-fueled Elf onslaughts made it to the front page of StarCityGames.com.
That doesn’t mean I’ve completely given up on the possibility of the deck,
but it does mean that it’s going to be way less likely that such a strategy
receives much in the way of attention and tuning. It might be worth
streaming once or twice, but it seems like there aren’t quite enough
redundant pieces to give Elfball the consistency it needs to succeed in a
tournament setting.

Would I recommend Elfball as a tuner’s project to try to bring up to the
level where it could surprise a tournament and take home the trophy one
week? Absolutely. Would I recommend it to a player who needs to practice
for their RPTQ? Unfortunately, no. Now that the format has begun to take
shape, it’s a lot more fruitful to tune the good decks or the almost-there
decks, not take something from way out in left field and turn it into gold.

Brewers, you have your challenges set out for you after this Open. With so
many potentially busted cards, the field converged on several bland aggro,
midrange and control strategies. I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t a little
bit sad that no one found success yet with one of the more off-the-wall
powerhouses from Ravnica Allegiance, but this weekend is another
chance to prove that Wizards of the Cast messed up somewhere in their Play
Design process. Now is your big opportunity, because I promise you, the
pros are going to try their hardest to break it in front of the whole world
at the upcoming Mythic Championship in Cleveland.