The Truth About Standard

This isn’t clickbait. The Truth is a Magic term you need to have in mind if you’re playing in #SCGKNOX–or any other event. Gerry Thompson has critical information and analysis on this format, the way we view our own testing results, and the way we look at Magic.

Last weekend, Josh Cho and Chris Andersen once again took my W/U Flash deck to the Top 8 of the Classic. This time, Jack Kiefer joined them in Top 8 with the same deck, and Jack beat Cho in the finals. Is Flash the best deck?

Flash players say they beat everything, as do the B/G Delirium players. Clearly they can’t both be right. So let’s set aside the results for a moment and talk about The Truth.

When we’re discussing results, I’m far more interested in the truth rather than someone’s personal experience. It could be that someone is beating B/G Delirium with W/U Flash 85% of the time, but that’s not useful to me.

The things that are matter are:

  • How would you quantify the quality of opponents you’re playing against? For example, would you expect a Pro Tour-caliber player to win games against you that your typical opponents are losing? If so, you can’t really count on the same success to be replicated during the later rounds of a Grand Prix.
  • Is there anything specific in your deck that’s helping you win so frequently? Is there is a great sideboard plan you have that no one else does, or that no one else is prepared for?
  • How does the matchup feel? This one is a little out there because of how difficult it is to quantify. When I talk about how a matchup feels, it’s often shorthand for something like “W/R Vehicles is favored against W/U Flash because they get under the Flash deck and Flash has no great way of coming back. The onus is on Flash to interact on a meaningful level because Vehicles is going to do basically the same thing every game. Vehicles is the strategic favorite in the matchup.”

The Truth is what happens when two players with a comparable, high amount of skill play against each other with the best versions of their decks for the matchup (without being biased and sacrificing too much against the other decks in the format). When you’re trying to figure out what beats what and why, The Truth is the only thing that matters.

Relying on information gleaned by playing against suboptimal opponents with suboptimal sideboard plans is fine if you expect to consistently play against players of that caliber. However, if you’re trying to win a larger tournament, it’s more useful to find The Truth. If you run into players who make mistakes against you, that’s a happy side benefit.

Lately, I’ve been trying my hand at various aggressive decks. Aggro seems like the place to be, with powerful openings and very few ways to get punished for those openings; the best mid-game pivots in Vehicles and things like Gideon, Ally of Zendikar; and excellent removal. While these aggro decks have their flaws, so do B/G Delirium and W/U Flash.

So why explore aggro when Flash and Delirium win nearly every tournament? The aggro decks are strategically superior, and I’m constantly finding ways to make that more and more true.

W/R Vehicles vs. Standard

There are three major versions of this deck (W/R Tokens, W/R Vehicles, and Mardu Vehicles), but each of them attacks the format is mostly the same way. You try to get your opponent dead with small, efficient creatures. Each deck has its own unique, built-in resiliency (Reckless Bushwhacker, Scrapheap Scrounger, various Vehicles, Gideon) that allows it to beat spot removal.

Depending on what you think your best plan is, either deck can be configured to go toe-to-toe against mirrors and/or midrange, or simply go under them.

There are a ton of options here. Here’s where I am:

One of the things I noticed from playing this deck last weekend is how much diminishing returns you get on the one-drops. You want one in your opening hand (and sometimes more), but it’s often better to have something that packs a little more of a punch. Inventor’s Apprentice is the card I’d look into cutting if you wanted to go down a more midrange route, similar to what Reid Duke has been doing.

Vehicles vs. W/U Flash

Make no mistake, Vehicles in the favorite here. With all the variation within the archetypes, it’s difficult to make a blanket statement like that, but it’s true most of the time. The more your Vehicles deck leans toward midrange, the more difficult it is to beat W/U Flash.

Flash wins one of two ways. Either it gets under the opponent and tempos them out, using all of their resources before their opponent has a chance to use theirs, or it treads water until it can set up a big swing turn, often involving something like Archangel Avacyn or Spell Queller.

Vehicles gains the edge in a few ways. The first is by playing a plethora of powerful one-drops to get under the Flash deck as soon as possible. The second is by not particularly caring about Smuggler’s Copter.

Finally, by having instant-speed interaction for Spell Queller and Archangel Avacyn, there is less likely of a chance to get blown out in combat. Not having the fourth Unlicensed Disintegration might be a mistake, but the copies of Declaration in Stone are a much bigger necessity. Perhaps the second Fragmentize is supposed to go instead.

The beauty of it all is that Flash can’t even sideboard anything relevant. Fumigate beats some of their draws, but not the ones involving Gideon, Smuggler’s Copter, or whatever other Vehicle they’re playing with. The more Needle Spires they have, the worse it gets as well. Blessed Alliance has the potential to be good, but it’s bad against Thraben Inspector. Linvala, the Preserver is probably their best card, but that one frequently misses also.

Flash’s best bet in the matchup is to get a battlefield presence and protect their Archangel Avacyn with Selfless Spirit. Awkwardly enough, that’s the thing that most Vehicles decks are trying to stop the Flash deck from doing.

Vehicles vs. B/G Delirium

On the surface, this is a poor matchup for Vehicles. In reality, B/G Delirium only has a few threats that matter. Without a good sweeper, B/G Delirium is forced to stabilize behind its creatures. With Kalitas, Traitor of Ghet and Ishkanah, Grafwidow, in addition to Grapple with the Past and Liliana, the Last Hope to return them, it’s not that difficult.

What Vehicles needs to do is sideboard in a removal package plus some resilient threats and trim on low-impact cards, especially those that are vulnerable to Liliana, the Last Hope. Last weekend, I was able to side out seven of my one-toughness creatures, but I didn’t have Declaration in Stone to fight Ishkanah, Grafwidow. Key to the City was fine, but you’re better off removing Ishkanah permanently with Declaration in Stone and then getting rid of the Spiders through combat.

The other option is to mostly ignore Delirium’s creatures and go with a Fevered Visions package. Spirebluff Canal isn’t just for casting Ceremonious Rejection! I considered that plan, but I don’t like it. Not only are they bringing in Disenchant effects for Smuggler’s Copter, but there’s no guarantee that your Fevered Visions is going to beat them. I’d rather load up on Gideons and spot removal.

My new sideboard plan is much better.

R/B Aggro vs. Standard

In a side-by-side comparison to W/R Vehicles, R/B Aggro doesn’t look great. It has weaker creatures, no Gideon, and no Thraben Inspector. However, what it lacks in overall power, it makes up for in having a little more card advantage, slightly better removal, and enough reach to close the game. If you’re looking to attack, there is no clear advantage between the two.

R/B Aggro vs. W/U Flash

I’m probably going to need some help to make R/B Aggro sound good here. Thraben Inspector is the natural predator of the Bomat Courier.

R/B Aggro has a slower goldfish turn than more aggressive versions of W/R Vehicles, which is one of the reasons why it can be trickier to beat W/U Flash. If you’re not putting Flash under pressure, they have more time to set up their defenses or clock you with their air force without having to worry about their life total.

The bright side is that R/B Aggro can play the flash game almost as well as W/U Flash can, thanks to madness. If they don’t respect what you’re capable of, they will most likely get blown out by Fiery Temper and/or Bloodhall Priest. If they keep mana open with you, things get trickier. Ultimately, you’re going to want to force the action even if means making a bad exchange in the short term. You can’t give W/U Flash time to build up.

R/B Aggro can win by grinding out W/U Flash, but it should win more games by getting a tempo advantage and picking off Flash’s main ways of coming back with spot removal.

R/B Aggro vs. B/G Delirium

This one can be tough, but as always, it depends on how many copies of their good cards they draw. Any hand without a Kalitas or Ishkanah isn’t going to go well for them. However, they have an absurd amount of ways to find creatures and bring them back, so it’s unlikely. Keep them off-balance with removal and kill them quickly, because you won’t win the long game.

Gideon can be a liability in these matchups from the W/R side, but that’s typically in games you were losing anyway. Bloodhall Priest isn’t as difficult to remove as Gideon, but does a great job cleaning up the Spiders from Ishkanah. With Key to the City, it provides a very solid clock.

Bomat Courier is often at its best here, as it’s relatively easy to clear the way. A 1/1 isn’t exactly they want to remove, but the mid-game reload is huge. Liliana, the Last Hope is the biggest issue.


The Truth is that all the matchups are close. There’s no shortage of room to outbuild and outplay your opponents, which is one of the hallmarks of a Standard format I enjoy. Oddly enough, I heard a lot of complaints last weekend about how awful and stale this Standard format is, but I strongly disagree. Yes, W/U Flash and B/G Delirium are basically half the format, but there’s no reason that can’t change. It’s not like we’re dealing with Bant Company levels of oppression here.

So, what’s the plan from here? Maybe I should keep attacking and hope it works out. If the format is rock/paper/scissors, finding a way for an aggressive deck to beat B/G Delirium consistently seems to be the key, at least if you don’t end up losing too much in the mirror match. The other option is sidestepping everything completely, which is something I could totally see myself doing.

This is probably what the future looks like.

Obviously the key is going to be figuring out just how poor the W/U Flash matchup is and whether you can make it any better, but I imagine you’re only a slight underdog. Delirium and Vehicles are solid matchups, if not outright bloodbaths.

Jaberwocki’s deck is well-tuned and looks like a potential candidate for taking apart the established metagame.