The Sixteen Best Decks In Standard

While it’s hard to be sure, it looks like Standard may start cycling back through the previous iterations of its metagame rather than continuing to break out in new directions… so GerryT shares his look at the format’s top decks to prepare for your next event!

Standard is in that weird place where nobody knows what’s going to happen next. Pointing to Stormbreath Dragon after Grand Prix San Diego was pretty obvious, but now that Stormbreath Dragon and Abzan Aggro have shown themselves, U/R Thopters and Mono-Red Aggro have basically flopped after the Pro Tour, and every deck is potentially viable again… anything is possible.

The best thing to do now is update the gauntlet by tuning the decks and either finding a strategy that the top decks are weak to or simply picking a deck and hoping for the best. If you’re planning on playing a deck on this list, you’re probably going to do alright.

This article is a stack-ranked order of what the best deck to play this weekend is (in my opinion of course, each metagame will vary), but it is by no means an indicator of what “the best deck” is. The best deck in a vacuum is likely Abzan Control, but that deck can’t do the things the first deck on the list can, nor do I think it is as well-positioned. However, it’s important to note that the difference between #1 and #4 isn’t all that big, nor is the difference between #4 and #10.

How well you play, how well your deck is constructed (your 75, not just your 60), your matchups, and maybe how lucky you get will all probably be more instrumental in your success than the archetype you choose. Standard is a wide-open format with several viable decks and it rewards those with good preparation, not the best technology or positioning. In short, you can probably play whatever you want.

1) Abzan Aggro

This is the deck I almost audibled to for Pro Tour Magic Origins. Given how things played out, I don’t regret my choice to stay course, but having seen how the deck decimated Grand Prix London I’ll always be left wondering what could have been.

In order to keep its top spot, this deck needed a better manabase. The deck that won Grand Prix London had more black sources than white sources despite having only a single card in the deck that cost BB. Also, most of the early drops require white mana and not black. It’s a rarity that you’ll ever need more than a single black in a turn, but there are numerous turns where you need multiple white mana to operate efficiently. Temple of Plenty should probably work its way into the deck. I’ve done that with my list, but then again, I also added Herald of Torment which may or may not be correct.

Right now, it looks like Abzan Aggro, Jeskai, and various Stormbreath Dragon decks are trending upward while U/R Thopters, Mono-Red, and control are trending down. This deck has a target on its head, but what can people actually do about that? Abzan Aggro has the best threats in the format and arguably the best removal. It’s not weak to anything in particular. If I don’t make Day Two of the StarCityGames Modern Open in Charlotte this weekend, you’ll likely see me battling with Abzan Aggro in the Standard Premier IQ on Sunday with this 75.

There are times when the deck that won last week is the exact deck you should stay away from the next week, but this isn’t one of those times.

2) Jeskai

Jeskai has never been the most powerful deck in the room. It’s a scrappy deck seeking to exploit clunky three-color manabases or other underpowered decks by using tempo to get under them. Magic Origins gave the deck quite a boost, and it’s close in power level to the other best decks in the format.

Ben and Bill finished quite well at the last two Grand Prix, and both with very similar decks. If you want to start somewhere, you should be working off this shell. I think Bill correctly identified that Stormbreath Dragon was where you wanted to be, especially over Dragonlord Ojutai. Anger of the Gods is also a nice addition.

This might be the best Tragic Arrogance deck in Standard. It rarely has more than one creature on the battlefield, which is the opposite of many other decks out there, plus it has a difficult time coming back from behind. “Kill everything except your Elf, attack you for three,” is pretty common.

We’re probably not done innovating though.

Kevin’s deck could be a nice upgrade to the archetype. Personally, I was not a fan of the Goblin Rabblemasters in the deck, so trading those in for Hangarback Walkers might be a good deal. Hangarback Walker is slightly worse with Stoke the Flames than Goblin Rabblemaster, but it is arguably much stronger with Jeskai Charm. Silumgar’s Sorcerer is also adorable with Hangarback Walker.

3) G/R Devotion

This deck needs to move away from my Grand Prix San Diego list. Shaman of Forgotten Ways is likely more important than I was giving it credit for and all the hate for Mono-Red Aggro and U/R Thopters can be toned down at this point. We should be worrying about Stormbreath Dragon, Abzan decks, and very little else… but we should still be mindful of everything that’s out there.

I think I want to be somewhere around here:

Shaman of Forgotten Ways is back in and Courser of Kruphix is back on the bench. With all the Shamans, I want the fourth Genesis Hydra since that’s the best card to have in numerous situations. Gather Courage stays as a response to G/R Dragons and Jeskai. Gaea’s Revenge is back because of how great it is with Shaman of Forgotten Ways, plus I expect control to have a minor resurgence.

Nothing is set in stone and I’m sure a couple conversations with smart people would convince me to change some things, but if I had to register G/R Devotion for a tournament this would be the list I’d submit.

4) Abzan Control

I would be shocked if this deck ever dropped out of the Top Five, the power level is simply too high across the board for that to happen. That said, it is very difficult for Abzan Control to match Abzan Aggro on power level at this point. Abzan Control needs to not get run over, needs to develop its mana, and needs to have clean answers to Hangarback Walker. If it doesn’t draw Elspeth, Sun’s Champion or Elspeth dies (say, to a horde of Thopters), Abzan Control is probably not going to make it out of the midgame.

That said, Abzan Control is typically pretty good at all those things, but the onus is certainly on them to have the necessary tools.

5) G/R Dragons

Stormbreath Dragon is well-positioned in the face of all the Dromoka’s Commands. Additionally, with Abzan Aggro having a pile of multicolored and colorless creatures, Ultimate Price’s value is waning slightly. All of that is well and good until you realize that unless you draw Stormbreath Dragon, your deck probably isn’t very good in those matchups. Because of just how much you lean on Stormbreath Dragon in those matchups, you might find that your matchups aren’t as good on average as you’d like.

Still, if you want to run that gambit, this is probably the best Dragon deck out there.

Martin’s list is a straightforward, no-nonsense approach to the archetype. Wild Slash over Magma Spray is a little suspect considering how much certain decks lean on Hangarback Walker’s Thopters to block Stormbreath Dragon, so I’d be curious to see how often they were helpful at actually finishing off his opponents.

With Brad’s and Martin’s lists being so similar, I’d be shocked if Brad didn’t have a hand in catapulting Martin to his umpteenth Grand Prix Top Eight. Hopefully Brad will be able to shed some light on the deck, his experience, and where the deck should be moving forward.

6) R/B Dragons

If you want to play with Stormbreath Dragon but would rather feel like a fake Abzan Control deck instead of a fake G/W Megamorph deck, R/B Dragons is your best choice. Some may discount this deck as being a bad Mardu Dragons, but it’s actually the opposite! There’s currently no need to splash a third color.

Dan has played Mardu Dragons before, so it should be telling that he himself chose to drop the third color. Hangarback Walker is better in this deck than Seeker of the Way would be, and with Crackling Doom not being necessary right now it’s more important to have good mana.

The Magma Sprays in the maindeck are almost prophetic. Sure, Grand Prix San Diego was right after the breakout of U/R Thopters, but at that point maindecking Magma Spray over Wild Slash was very aggressive. Given how the format looks now, I think it will be a popular move from now on.

Quad Bile Blight seems excessive, although it is one of the few ways to get a horde of Deathmist Raptors off your back. I’d still prefer to have the fourth Draconic Roar, maybe an Ultimate Price, and a more forgiving manabase.

7) Jeskai Heroic

That’s right – Jeskai, not Bant. First Todd Anderson struggled with Fleshbag Marauder incidentally being great against him, then last week he lost to a stream of Hangarback Walkers that chump blocked for days. Hangarback Walkers of his own solved the Fleshbag issue (which is likely no longer an issue), but now we need something like Aqueous Form to get through the Hangarbacks.

You might think it’s odd to jam a bunch of enchantments in the face of Dromoka’s Command and you’d be correct, so instead of going down that route I want Temur Battle Rage. Joe Lossett has been playing a very greedy-looking four-color Heroic deck packing Temur Battle Rage and Dromoka’s Command as of late, but I think you should focus on getting them dead. Dromoka’s Command is getting worse as players start building their decks to be less vulnerable to it, so why bother?

With Temur Battle Rage, you don’t need to go around people with Monastery Mentor. You don’t need to worry about only being able to win the race by using Defiant Strike to find another Defiant Strike. You just plow right through them and usually for plenty of overkill. Unblockable is great, but Berserk is better.

I chose not to play any Seeker of the Ways or Ordeal of Heliods maindeck, although I’ll fully aware that may not be correct. Perhaps the games when you don’t have access to a Temur Battle Rage are tight races where having any sort of lifegain could make the difference.

The singleton Dragon Mantle is probably greedy, but I wanted to see if playing more Defiant Strikes was a possibility. I’m guessing that there will be more than a few games where you’re not able to find red mana until later on, so Dragon Mantle will likely be useless. You only want to cast Temur Battle Rage the turn you’re going to kill them, so not having red until later doesn’t bother me.

8) Abzan Rally

If the metagame is devoid of aggressive red decks, this deck starts looking very attractive. Hangarback Walker definitely messes up your 16-Bag plan, but it’s possible to simply focus on the combo instead. Then again, they’re also playing four maindeck copies of Anafenza, the Foremost, so no matter what life isn’t going to be easy.

We definitely need to solve the Abzan Aggro problem, but I’m not sure how to best go about that. Having some spot removal maindeck would definitely help, although it’s possible that it would weaken you in other matchups. Perhaps the Fleshbag Marauders/Merciless Executioners aren’t worth playing right now because of all the Hangarback Walkers, but they are basically the only thing you can use to potentially tag an Anafenza, the Foremost in game one.

It’s tough, but if you’re able to crack the code you’ll almost certainly reap the rewards.

9) G/W Megamorph

Is the new Abzan Aggro deck a bad G/W Megamorph (AKA Kibler) deck or vice versa? I honestly don’t know, but I prefer the versatility of having the additional color plus the added power level is nice. Being able to actually kill things such as Stormbreath Dragon, is a welcome addition as well.

Kibler’s deck suffered some from having curve issues, but maindecking Hangarback Walker solves that nicely. It might be time for Hidden Dragonslayer to sub out for the additional Hangarback Walkers, which at least gives you a fighting chance against Stormbreath Dragon.

Still, why play this over Abzan Aggro?

10) U/W Control

If you’re looking for technology, Yuuki Ichikawa typically has you covered.

I played a bit with this deck yesterday. My expectations were high but after playing with the deck a bit, those expectations fell a little short. Granted, I’m far from a control expert these days, but the deck did suffer from a lack of velocity when my opponents were killing my Jaces.

The rest of the deck felt powerful. Ojutai’s Command continues to be excellent in a Jace deck, and when I had velocity it was nearly impossible to kill me. Despite being low on win conditions, actually winning was never an issue as this deck is actually capable of locking up the game.

Overall, I’d say the deck is medium plus, but it feels like there could be something great here.

11) Sultai Reanimator

This deck is basically everything I want out of Magic. It’s also very playable.

I played around with some Jund Whip of Erebos decks, but ultimately went to Sultai. The allure of having an additional two-drop in Jace, Vryn’s Prodigy was intoxicating, especially when you consider that there’s a non-zero percent chance you end up with a dead Dragonlord Atarka in your hand.

There’s not really anything you can point to as the reason to play Sultai Reanimtor, but there are also very few strikes against it. It doesn’t rely on Whip of Erebos to win games, so while Dromoka’s Command is often good against you it’s never backbreaking unless you let it be. Focus on your plan of grinding them out and you should be fine.

12) Mono-Red Aggro

Oddly enough, I’ve actually played a lot with this deck.

The hate was out in full force for a while. Here’s what I learned.

I prefer to start 21 land and sideboard out a land on the draw if necessary rather than start 20 and board up to 21. Eidolon of the Great Revel is actually good in the mirror and should therefore be maindecked because it’s not really bad against anything. The board is going to be clear the majority of the game, so an Eidolon is like a reverse Searing Blood.

Hordeling Outburst is great in the mirror and good in small numbers against U/R Thopters, but that metagame has long since passed. We need ways to fight green creature decks and Hangarback Walkers. With so few Mono-Red Aggro mirrors (at least in real life), Firedrinker Satyr might be reasonable again. I would like additional one-drops, but the burn spells aren’t really negotiable and I wouldn’t cut any Eidolons or Abbot of Keral Keeps, so that’s basically how I arrived at this build. Exquisite Firecraft, while nice for giving you a critical mass of four-damage burn spells, is clunky at times so that’s what I shaved to make room for the singleton Magma Spray maindeck. Perhaps Lightning Strike is the correct cut, but the Fleecemane Lions are out in full force lately. Shrug.

The four-drops, Outpost Siege and Chandra, Pyromaster, never really won me any games. Goblin Heelcutter is phenomenal though.

It’s not like Searing Blood has gotten any worse, it’s just that people are playing a bunch of Pharika’s Cures and the like which makes it more difficult to win. Since Mono-Red Aggro hasn’t done well lately, perhaps that fad is over. Really though, if people are trying to beat you with Pharika’s Cures and Hangarback Walkers and the mirror match doesn’t really exist, it’s probably time to go back to Atarka Red.

Thankfully one of the truly awful matchups (G/W Constellation) is getting beaten up by Tragic Arrogance and Stormbreath Dragon, but that’s not enough. There needs to be another week or two of red putting up poor results to consider jumping back on it.

13) U/R Thopters

I’m not sure what to do with this deck. There’s not much you can do in the face of a bunch of targeted hate. If the format is full of grindy decks, maindeck Thopter Spy Network is a good place to be. However, when the format is all Dromoka’s Commands and Unravel the Aethers, you basically can’t do anything.

The power level of the deck is still very high, so it has that going for it, but the splash damage is just too much right now.

14) U/R Sphinx’s Tutleage

Despite winning a Grand Prix and having the best draw engine, I think this deck is a flash in the pan. People will likely not hate it out of the metagame, but the deck will incidentally get hated out as decks find ways to deal with enchantments and artifacts easier and generally just speed up.

15) G/W Constellation

This deck, like U/R Thopters, can only do so much in the face of targeted hate. I think Elspeth, Sun’s Champion is a beautiful way to beat Tragic Arrogance, but that requires having a six-drop to beat their five-drop so it’s a little too dicey for my liking.

16) Esper Dragons

Look, someone’s gotta be in last place.

For control decks, I trust Danker (AKA Carlos Moral). His list looks great for the Magic Online metagame but will likely have to switch it up for the coming weeks. Pharika’s Cure in particular looks like a bust at this point. Foul-Tongue Invocation is potent against the current iterations of red decks, but when everyone is playing Hangarback Walker I’d rather be playing any other card.

For the most part, Mono-Red Aggro is beatable when you’re playing control. You have to work for it, but not to the extent of playing maindeck cards like Foul-Tongue Invocation, Pharika’s Cure, or Drown in Sorrow when they would otherwise be poor in the metagame. Make sure you have a low curve and are able to interact in the early turns. If you have some lifegain, great, but it doesn’t have to be extensive. Even just maxing out on Radiant Fountains will likely be enough.

If you’re able to stop their creatures from dealing you a bunch of damage, it’s unlikely that you’ll get burned out. You don’t need to play cards like Foul-Tongue Invocation to beat them. There is also an alternate universe where you can play Ojutai’s Command maindeck and Arashin Cleric in the sideboard of Esper Dragons without having your manabase be horrendous. I think that just ends with you playing a bad U/W Control deck though, as Dragonlord Ojutai isn’t exactly a card I want to be playing right now.

Sixteen decks that I’d consider to be viable, and I’m sure there are others that could be good metagame calls that I’m overlooking. Either way, this Standard format appears to be as healthy and diverse as ever and I’ve been enjoying playing it. Nearly every card in the format gives you value in some way, which makes running out of gas very difficult for either player. The current solution that I’m on involves killing them as quickly as possible while playing the best cards, but I wouldn’t be surprised if there’s a deck that just goes way over the top of all these decks and sidesteps those battles entirely.

You can try to fight your opponent on a level playing field, but it’s difficult to gain an edge. Finding the hole in the metagame, such as Stormbreath Dragon last week, could be enough. Playing the best deck could be enough. Going under them could also do the trick. I have that nagging suspicion that we’re missing something though.

These next couple weeks should be interesting.