Your Complete Standard Metagame Breakdown

Brad Nelson is nothing if not ambitious! Today he unleashes his comprehensive Standard metagame analysis ahead of Grand Prix Memphis. What does he think people will play in Tennessee…and what should they be playing instead?

Say it ain’t so! Grand Prix Memphis is this weekend!

I haven’t been this excited for a tournament in some time. Standard’s yet to disappoint, as diversity’s flooded the format with the ban on Energy. Sure Hazoret the Fervent and The Scarab God sit on top of the format, but they haven’t become that frustrating yet. All-in-all, this is the best Standard’s looked in some time with a variety of strategies being attempted. Today we’re going to break down exactly which decks I predict to show up this weekend, and which ones I consider “too cute,” even if they are represented.

Let’s kick things off with an overview of the format. This might sound a little repetitive to those who have read my recent articles, but following the evolution of a format helps understand how to attack it. Like I’ve said, Standard is all about the casting and killing of both Hazoret the Fervent and The Scarab God. This has caused a higher density of removal that exiles to be played, which has had an effect on the format. The density of “sticky” threats has increased to insure threats stay on the battlefield. G/R Monsters does this by playing many creatures with eternalize; Mono-Red Aggro has replaced its maindeck copies of Chandra, Torch of Defiance with Rekindling Phoenix; and some red players have begun splashing black for Scrapheap Scrounger.

Some have gone as far as not playing any good targets for Vraska’s Contempt. W/B Tokens, W/B Vampires, and W/G Tokens have all started popping up more, each with limited good targets for removal spells. These decks lean on white enchantment removal and lifegain to fight Mono-Red’s biggest threats.

U/B Control has become the go-to control deck, as it gets to play both Vraska’s Contempt and The Scarab God. It preys on a format filled with removal spells in the maindeck games and leans heavily on its sideboard to help fight decks like W/B Tokens and Mono-Red Aggro.

The midrange decks have had issues finding their footing in this diverse metagame. Last week, I wrote about Sultai Midrange and at the time thought the deck was amazing, but it didn’t put up strong numbers over the weekend. I heard of a few PPTQs taken down by the strategy, but it didn’t put anyone in the Top 32 of the Magic Online PTQ or the Top 16 of the #SCGINDY Standard Classic.

I’m now coming around to the opinion that midrange decks need to have a deep understanding of what they’re up against to be good. There just is no room for error when it comes to building the deck correctly. I haven’t personally found the right formula, but I’m confident I’ll have something for when it’s time to register my deck for Grand Prix Memphis. If not, I don’t really know what I’d play since there are so many good options, which makes for a very healthy format.

At least for now.

Aggro Decks

The format’s still in its infancy, so there are quite a few decks roaming around out there at the moment, but that doesn’t mean a metagame isn’t predictable. Mono-Red Aggro has to be at the top of the heap when it comes to density. The deck has taken down both Magic Online PTQs and the Magic Online MOCS Quarterly, and is all over the place in the Magic Online Leagues. It wouldn’t shock me if this deck is close to 20% of the Day 1 metagame. It could even reach 25% if you include splashes.

This is what I expect roughly 60-70% of the Mono-Red Aggro decks to look like. Not everyone’s caught up to Fanatical Firebrand being better than Soul-Scar Mage, but it seems like it is as the trends moving towards that fact. I’ve personally found playing against Fanatical Firebrand to be more of an issue than Soul-Scar Mage with the variety of decks I’m testing, so I also lean towards this being the correct decision.

Many red players have also thrown Chandra, Torch of Defiance into the sideboard, as Rekindling Phoenix is simply a better card in the aggressive matchups. Since two cards are different in the two decklists, I’d assume an opponent had maindeck Chandra, Torch of Defiance if they showed me an early Soul-Scar Mage, but obviously that’s not always going to be the case. Just if a judgment call comes up, I’d lean one way or the other.

I’d expect less than 20% of Mono-Red Aggro players to be splashing black this weekend. CWLLC did however end up taking down this past weekend’s Magic Online PTQ with a splash of black for Scrapheap Scrounger and Unlicensed Disintegration. I’m not experienced enough to know if this is correct, but I do know it’s a stronger choice if you expect Fatal Push to be in high numbers, as the best target for that card is in fact Kari Zev, Skyship Raider. Scrapheap Scrounger doesn’t really bother itself with pesky removal like Fatal Push.

Odds are this deck sacrifices too much in the mirrors, but CWLLC did take down the event, so who knows.

G/R Monsters is an interesting deck in this metagame. The deck’s extremely consistent, but sometimes not fast enough or powerful enough to beat the opposition. It does prey on stumbles very well, as it’s consistently adding to the battlefield all the way up the curve, rarely giving any reprieve to the opponent.

I predict this deck to be on the decline in popularity. It feels as if this deck was very good at dispatching the brews early in the format but starting to struggle against the more refined metagame. Glorybringer is a great card, though, so I wouldn’t be surprised to see this deck rest at 5-10% of the metagame.

As I said earlier, W/G Tokens is a deck that’s come into being as a reaction to the metagame. It gets on the battlefield quickly, has very poor Fatal Push and Vraska’s Contempt targets, and can push insane amounts of damage early thanks to Appeal // Authority. This pump spell is crucial to the strategy, as the deck does not interact with creatures all that much. Appeal on a lifelink creature can help swing a game back into W/G Tokens’s favor and can sometimes just combo with Huatli, Radiant Champion for a fatal blow.

I expect this deck to show up at around 5-10% in Memphis, have a good Day 1, and possibly crush the tournament if people don’t respect it.

W/B Vampires is similar to W/G Tokens in the sense that it’s exploiting the same things about the format. Surprisingly enough, Call to the Feast is an extremely impressive Standard card. Who would have guessed it, right? Flooding the battlefield with pumpable threats is just such a good answer to the Level 1 strategies in the format.

I’d predict W/B Vampires to be played less than W/G Tokens, but not by much. Luckily for those trying to find answers for these decks, both have the same weaknesses, as they share so many of the same cards. Golden Demise is the perfect answer for this deck, but it’s just not good against anything else (not even Mono-Red Aggro). This is what gives decks like this a chance, as you have to dedicate specific sideboard cards just for this matchup, and that’s not something many players can afford.

Mardu Vehicles just won’t die. It doesn’t seem that good, but then all of a sudden two copies of it make the Top 8 of the SCG Indianapolis Classic, and I end up as the person with egg on his face.

I really don’t get it. The deck feels like a worse Mono-Red Aggro that gets beat up by Mono-Red Aggro. There has to be something I’m missing.

It’s worth noting that these same results aren’t being replicated on Magic Online. Normally a metagame will move more quickly online than in real life, with the grinders of the game bringing the new online strategies to the live tournaments. We can see this trend play out in real time with Kazu Negri playing W/G Tokens in the Classic while also seeing “outdated” Mardu Vehicles make an appearance as well. This also makes sense, as players most likely came into Indianapolis expecting to play two days of Modern. Once that was no longer the plan, they grabbed the Standard deck they played last week.

At least, that’s the story I’m going with!

Another deck that’s still unjustifiably “kicking it” is W/U Auras. Unlike Mardu Vehicles’s real-life exposure, W/U Auras is mainly a Magic Online deck. It’s not really that popular at this point, but some of the true champions of the archetype are trying to force their way through the metagame with it. I don’t predict this deck in high numbers relating to volume of players, but I would say you’ll hear about all the frustrating losses people take to the deck. It just really gets your blood pumping when you lose to a Slippery Scoundrel.

Midrange Decks

I’m most likely wasting my breath when I say this, but please don’t play this deck. Look, I could be wrong, but I seriously don’t think this deck is good. Right when the format came into existence, I predicted that B/G Constrictor would come and go as it’s not good enough, and I don’t believe I’ve missed that mark. The loss of Nissa, Voice of Zendikar has just turned this deck into a stupid aggressive deck. Sometimes it works, but its fail rate of efficiency is just too high. The synergies in this deck are just too slow and too exploitable for this format. Of course Walking Ballista, Winding Constrictor, and Verdurous Gearhulk are maybe the most powerful combination when on the battlefield, but that just doesn’t happen enough.

Playing devil’s advocate, B/G Constrictor does seem well-positioned against the format’s Level 2 decks like W/B Tokens, W/G Tokens, and W/B Vampires while also having game against Mono-Red Aggro and Mardu Vehicles. I guess the deck just really suffers against The Scarab God strategies that make up a large percentage of the format. My harsh judgment may lie in the fact that I don’t enjoy playing matchup-dependent decks, as it’s difficult to string a ton of wins together. I guess time will tell, but I’d be shocked if I eat crow on this one.

Grixis Energy comes in all shapes and sizes right now. Usually the creature package is close enough to the same, yet still has enough deviations to make you stay on your toes when playing against it. The spell count can be even more different, as people are all over the spectrum from Grixis Energy to Grixis Control. It’s just difficult to put your opponent on specific cards until you see enough of their deck, but that can sometimes come after you’ve made a poor judgment call.

The thing is, these decks don’t feel better than Sultai, U/B Midrange, or U/B Control. The red cards just feel unnecessary to me and the damage to the manabase isn’t negligible either. I haven’t done my homework on these decks enough yet to have a more articulated argument for why red makes the deck worse, but my results against all of these decks have “proved” my stance, as I’m beating these decks consistently while struggling more in the two-color matchups.

I’m no longer sold this deck is amazing. At least not in this configuration, anyway. I’m here to give you the best advice possible, so as much as it pains me, I think I messed up last week. Now, I was crushing with this deck before I wrote last week’s article, but I started getting wrecked with it from there on out. Maybe that’s due to people catching on and my wins were easier due to lack of information? Maybe it was due to small sample sizes? Maybe I got too excited and got biased towards wanting it to be good. At this point I can’t be certain of anything, but my win percentage has dropped since the article last week.

I started to think the splash wasn’t necessary and at this point think Vraska, Relic Seeker is only great against W/B Tokens. Outside of that matchup, it’s more of a liability and Torrential Gearhulk is just a better card, but finding the correct mix of instants has been difficult. I’ve been chasing my tail for a while now trying to make this deck work and find the perfect mixture of cards. For now I don’t have too much faith in it, but that doesn’t mean it’s bad. It’s just not “Brad Nelson” perfect. I still think it’s a great deck that’s forced to interact with too many different decks. Once the metagame calms down, maybe it will be a player, but until then it’s just a fun deck I’m going to continue working on when I stream.

W/B Tokens is the deck to play if you face streams of Grixis Energy, U/B Control, and Mono-Red Aggro. It’s difficult for U/B Control to interact with enchantments and for Mono-Red Aggro to fight through all the lifegain, exile removal, and chump blockers. Many players agree with this stance, as we’ve seen a significant increase in W/B Tokens in the last couple of days on Magic Online. I see this trend continuing into the weekend and predict this deck to makeup roughly 10% of the metagame.

W/B Tokens is exploitable with a variety of cards, but having a density of them is quite difficult, as they are extremely narrow. This is one of the reasons why players can get away with playing W/B Tokens this weekend. Most players expect the deck to not be as popular as it’s going to be, so players shouldn’t respect it when they are working on their decks. If the deck picks up in popularity we’ll start to see cards like River’s Rebuke, more enchantment removal, or decks like Grixis Energy and U/B/x Midrange/Control fall from favor.

For what it’s worth, I don’t put much faith into these strategies. They seem fun but should be exploitable. Maybe it’s just that my decks are better-tuned than others, but I’ve yet to struggle with these strategies with anything I’m playing. I get the appeal, but at the same time they’re just not for me. I expect Hour of Promise midrange decks to make up 1-2% of the metagame tops, and for it to not really get any traction. I’d be shocked if even one copy of the card finds its way into the Top 16 this weekend.

The same goes for Esper Gift and U/W Gift. These God-Pharaoh’s Gift strategies are just not good enough. You wanna know how I know? It’s simple – they aren’t putting up numbers. I could go into how the deck doesn’t beat The Scarab God, Abrade, or graveyard hate, but the biggest reason is if they were good, they would be winning. The decks aren’t tricky, but rely on sheer power. They would win more if they were good enough. Those who play the Gift decks may try to keep making them happen and someday could succeed. I just don’t think it’s going to be anytime soon, if it does actually happen.


U/B Control may end up just being the best deck. I for one will do everything in my power for that not to be the case, but the deck does play some of the best cards in the format. Sure, there are a few decks that exploit the strategy, as there should be when we are discussing one of the best decks. It does struggle some against Mono-Red Aggro and W/B Tokens, which will be some of the more played decks this weekend, but I’d still be surprised if we don’t see a big performance out of the deck. It just plays some of the best cards while also having some of the better-positioned ones as well.

As I said earlier when discussing Grixis Energy, I don’t think this deck is better than U/B Control. The deck is more prone to mana issues while not improving the removal all that much. In fact, it could be argued that the removal is worse unless there’s an increase of Vehicles and God-Pharaoh’s Gift. I’m stumped as to why this deck has any popularity at all when U/B Control just seems strictly better.

This deck is just not good enough. Most players, including me, assumed it would be great when the format first came around, but it just hasn’t put up any good finishes. Lost Legacy is seeing play due to other decks. Other decks! How could you justify playing this deck when the best card against you is being played for other matchups? That’s just asking for it! Look, I know I’m The Grinch who ruined control more times than not, but this deck is just not justifiable at this point. If you play control, just pick up U/B Control. That’s the great deck right now! It’s even good enough for me to want to pick it up!

Metagame Percentage Predictions

Phew! We’re finally done breaking down all the decks in the format. Just a few more things to finish up before I put a bow on today’s article. Since we’ve broken down the metagame, it’s time to list what I think the percentages of each deck will be in a more organized manner.



Mono-Red Aggro


U/B Control


W/B Tokens


B/G Constrictor


Grixis Energy


G/R Monsters


R/B Aggro


Mardu Vehicles


Sultai Midrange


Grixis Control


W/G Tokens


U/W Approach


W/B Vampires


God-Pharaoh’s Gift


Hour of Promise Control


W/U Auras


Obviously this is a loose prediction, as not all 100 percentage points are being used. I’d also be shocked if I’m spot on with these guesses, but this is the metagame I’m preparing for. It’s worth noting that my predictions don’t actually match my opinions of the decks. It’s important when you do this yourself not to fuse your own biased opinions of decks into your metagame predictions. Often they won’t match up as well, as you’ll be wrong both ways. Sometimes a deck is better than you predict it is, and another worse. Just hope the deck you picked isn’t the latter!

The Standard Archetype Power Rankings

This last thing to cover is my own personal power rankings of these decks. I’ve already gone into great detail about each, so I won’t bother you with more discussion about them. I just thought it would be useful to know how I rank these decks against each other.

1. Mono-Red Aggro

2. U/B Control

3. R/B Aggro

4. W/G Tokens

5. G/R Monsters

6. Sultai / U/B Midrange

7. W/B Tokens

8. B/G Constrictor

9. Grixis Energy

10. W/B Vampires

11. Mardu Vehicles

12. W/U Auras

13. Hour of Promise Control

14. Grixis Control

15. God-Pharaoh’s Gift

16. U/W Approach

Well, there you have it: my complete Standard metagame breakdown! Do you agree with everything I said? If not, be sure to let me know and I’ll do my best to argue with you why you’re wrong!