The Standard Deck To Beat (And A Little Legacy!)

Get ahead of SCG Worcester! Have your Standard and Legacy teammates consult Brad Nelson on how to approach the competition this weekend!

Doesn’t it always feel like when you think Magic is starting to feel stale,
it all of a sudden doesn’t anymore? Core Set 2019 looks to be
doing its best efforts to shake up Standard, and WotC’s decision to ban
Deathrite Shaman and Gitaxian Probe in Legacy has turned the format on its
head! Modern is still Modern, which is fine if you’re into that sort of
thing. I’m more interested in the other two formats, and today I’m going to
do my best to get you all caught up for what to expect this weekend when
your team registers for #SCGWOR. Not playing at
the SCG Tour’s next stop? Well that’s okay, it doesn’t mean this won’t help
you out at your local game store this weekend!

Let’s get into this starting with Standard!

Last week
, we talked about what interesting things are expected from the format’s
aggressively-leaning midrange decks, but what we didn’t get to is what to
expect to come out this weekend from Core Set 2019. Well, results
on Magic Online have already started to pour in and it seems like everyone,
and I mean everyone, is interested in Magic’s bad guy.

A perfect storm has begun as B/U Midrange was becoming one of the more
popular decks after Oliver Tiu took 2nd with the deck at Grand Prix
Pittsburgh. Well our very own Gerry Thompson did probably have something to
do with that, as
he wrote about the deck
, played it at the Season One Invitational, and spoke highly about it on
his podcast (no, not on the episode where he said The Scarab God was
unplayable, but on one of the other ones). Regardless, the deck began to
pick up in popularity right before the splashable Dragon was released upon
the format.

I’d be surprised if there wasn’t a decent amount of Grixis Midrange
floating around this weekend. Whether it’s actually good or not is
irrelevant, as people love playing with new cards, especially when the new
card so happens to be one of the game’s most iconic characters. The only
question is what will Grixis Midrange look like. There are countless lists
floating around right now from those that merely just splash red for the
four-mana Elder Dragon to some that are practically just R/B Midrange with
Nicol Bolas and The Scarab God.

Personally, I’d like to be somewhere in the middle. Fatal Push is a great
removal spell for decks that can’t access those from other colors, but
clearly splashing opens the proverbial Pandora’s Box as to what’s possible.
Once you’ve already splashed you might as well play the impressive removal
spell that is Abrade! Magma Spray? Why not! Who says we must be base blue
and black? I sure wasn’t last time I played Grixis Energy!

Now this list is just to look at, but I highly suggest not going down this
exact road. I’m simply showcasing this list, as I’d much rather move
towards a list that plays all three colors more evenly even though there’s
some issues that are going to arise by doing so.

First off, Nicol Bolas doesn’t exactly just solve the problems that B/U
Midrange had. In fact, the card does some interesting things to how the B/U
Midrange deck plays out. For starters, adding too many of the card will
cause the deck to become too top-heavy unless other finishers get cut. I do
believe this card is going to be good, I just don’t know if it’s “The
Scarab God” good.

I want to have access to Nicol Bolas, but flooding on it doesn’t exactly
seem like the best thing, especially when card advantage trumps card
disadvantage in the more grindy matchups, meaning the discard Nicol Bolas
causes will not overcome a disadvantage in the card accumulation
department. In fact, causing an opponent to discard a card of their
choosing in the B/U Midrange mirror can sometimes backfire when they get
rid of a Champion of Wits they didn’t want to cast yet. That may sound
paranoid, but the fact remains that Nicol Bolas might discard the
game-winning God-Pharaoh’s Gift!

Another thing to consider when adding too many copies of Nicol Bolas to B/U
Midrange is that Essence Scatter gets so much better against the deck and
the counterspell is already great! That’s one of the reasons why I like two
Liliana, Death’s Majesty in the maindeck, as this will often resolve in the
B/U/x mirrors and is usually very powerful, especially when your opponent
allowed you to discard The Scarab God to Nicol Bolas’s ability (wink wink)!
Two seems like a good number as it does give the deck a great way to win
unwinnable games.

The release of Nicol Bolas should increase the number of Liliana, Death’s
Majesty being played, which in turn should lower the amount of The Eldest
Reborns floating around, which is just a net positive for everyone, as I’ve
always considered that card unimpactful. Sure, it can sometimes do
impressive things, but five-drops should do it more consistently in this
format. Nicol Bolas has the potential to make midrange decks play out
slightly more tap-out than they have recently. What this means now, I’m not
sure, as it’s just a small observation.

Another new deck that is completely tap-out is Zombies. I’m in love with
the way WotC spaces out their sets, and their strategy is almost
transparent when looking at Zombie tribal. Amonkhet was full of
these little critters just long enough for them to interact with the
Zombies from Shadows over Innistrad, but the tribe didn’t have
that much time in the sun. Now that Amonkhet is on its last legs
in Standard, Core Set 2019 introduced just enough new Zombies to
allow the tribe one more hurrah! I’m just such a fan of allowing cards that
are about to rotate just one more chance to showcase why they were printed
in the first place, and I expect Zombies to be a powerful Tier 2 strategy
at the worst with the potential that this tribe will be good enough to

The biggest advantage Zombies has in Standard is that its most powerful
cards get around Essence Scatter. Both Liliana, Untouched by Death and
Liliana’s Mastery dodge the impressive counterspell, a nice place to be in
this Standard environment especially when the already impressive card is
increasing in value with the release of so many good midrange creatures
like Nicol Bolas. The biggest hurdle in front of Zombies is whether or not
the deck has enough pieces to be sufficient.

There’s a million ways we can build a deck like Zombies in current
Standard. We can stay mono-black, which leaves us lacking in the Zombie
department, but it does allow us to play Scrapheap Scrounger. Doing so may
even allow the deck to access not just Skysovereign, Consul Flagship but
also other vehicles, like Heart of Kiran and Aethersphere Harvester. We can
also splash white with upwards of twelve dual lands, including Unclaimed
Territory to get Wayward Servant and/or Binding Mummy in the deck.

Whatever the build of Zombies is, cards like Magma Spray, Skysovereign,
Consul Flagship, and Glorybringer have never looked better. Zombies hasn’t
been a deck for over a year now so it’s important to remember just how out
of control the card Liliana’s Mastery can get. You need to be prepared for
the card in one way or another or a horde of Zombies will be
knocking down your door.

The last new archetype to discuss for this weekend has to be W/B Knights,
as the deck was fringe playable last format and also got a serious upgrade
in Ajani, Adversary of Tyrants.

This initial list is somewhat all over the place, but it’s difficult to
know exactly how to build decks like this until we see where the metagame
goes. This deck still has a decent amount of power behind it, as the
interaction between Glint-Sleeve Siphoner and Ajani, Adversary of Tyrants
should not go unnoticed. In fact, I see these two cards becoming very close
friends for the few months they must spend together. We’ve seen how
powerful The Scarab God and Liliana, Death’s Majesty can combo with each
other given how difficult it can be for an opponent to deal with both in
the same turn cycle. Now we will see opponents spending an entire early
turn dispatching Glint-Sleeve Siphoner just to see it back on the
battlefield the very next turn alongside Core Set 2019’s newest
Planeswalker. This combination is so easy to set up, and yet so powerful!

Ajani, Adversary of Tyrants’ second ability seems awesome, but alongside
History of Benalia, its +1 can be devastating. Alone, these two cards
threaten to deal fifteen damage by turn five, which by my calculations, is
a lot. If you add in a two-drop, that’s enough damage to finish a game all
by itself. Now, of course, an opponent gets to play spells too which means
this won’t happen all that often, but just knowing the raw damage output is
important when considering just how powerful this card is!

These new decks are great and all, but can they stand up the last season’s
boogeyman, R/B Aggro?

Owen Turtenwald showcased just how good The Pantheon’s take of R/B Aggro
was when he made his way into the Top 8 of Nationals with the same 75 cards
he used to top 8 Pro Tour Dominaria a month prior. Owen may just
be the best player in the world which means he could do this with any
decklist, but he chose this list. Why?

I’m guessing it’s because the team worked very hard on the numbers and
those are the ones they like the most. Things will change ever so slightly
in this new Standard format, but that doesn’t mean this deck will suddenly
become unplayable. In fact, there’s a good argument to just playing a list
known to have good numbers than trying to find them in the first week of
competition. If you’re playing in a big event like #SCGWOR this weekend, it
does make sense to lean on something proven, and there’s nothing more
proven than this 75.

Small tweaks can be made to the deck, but I wouldn’t stray too far from
this build. I would like to see one Skysovereign, Consul Flagship in the
75, but in all honesty, I have no idea what it would replace. Maybe you
could swap a maindeck Lightning Strike with the sideboard Abrade, as I’m
pretty confident that U/W Control will lose ground, thanks to Zombies and
W/B Midrange.

We went pretty deep on Standard today which is why I’m only going to brush
over Legacy briefly. Not to say the format doesn’t need more attention, but
let’s be honest, very few people are going to be changing their minds this
late in the game, which is a good thing because switching Legacy decks at
the last minute can be a very poor choice.

I think the attention Temur Delver is getting is undeserved. Nimble
Mongoose just isn’t what it used to be back when cards like Monastery
Mentor and Recruiter of the Guard weren’t cards. Now all the other decks
are leaner, more consistent, and more powerful. It doesn’t really matter
what I say right now though, as those who agree with me have tested, and
those who don’t will learn rather quickly when they play the deck this

Decks that I do believe are going to be good this weekend are Storm, Death
and Taxes, and Sneak and Show. Storm doesn’t need Gitaxian Probe to
function, but it seems like most people don’t agree, as hate for the deck
is being taken out of decks to make room for other hate cards. This could
cause a good Storm player to absolutely crush any Legacy event they want to
play in. The other two decks are just fantastic decks that benefited from
the bannings. The only two decks I’ve personally tested have been Temur
Delver and Death and Taxes, which is why I love one and hate the other. I
also have a decent Death and Taxes list if you’re interested in that kind
of thing.

I wish all of you the best of luck and encourage you to let me know what
you think is going to be good this weekend. If you have a spicy Standard
deck, send it my way and I just might add it to my personal gauntlet for
when I start testing the format!

May the Zombies not come knocking at your door!