My Top Three Picks For Theros Beyond Death Standard

It’s early yet, but the new Standard metagame is taking shape! Magic Pro League member Brad Nelson shares his top three decks ahead of SCG Richmond!

Growth Spiral, illustrated by Seb McKinnon

The first week of Theros Beyond Death has been played, and we’re starting to formalize some real opinions on the current Standard format. We’re finding cards that were overhyped, and also those that were missed in our first run through of the set. Things certainly have not settled down, but we at least have a few decks that are clear over-performers. Today I’m going to talk about the three decks you can’t ignore going into SCG Richmond this weekend! 

1. Simic Ramp

While there weren’t any major tournaments this past weekend, two events did take place on Magic Arena with Simic Ramp winning both of them. Shocking that Simic’s still winning, I know! Here are both of the winning lists, and thank you to Will and Madonai for inspiring me to try some new things in Simic Ramp. 

The question that’s on every Simic Ramp player’s mind is whether to yoink or oink. Agent of Treachery alongside Thassa, Deep-Dwelling is quite the nifty combo, but at the same time the combo of Finale of Devastation and End-Raze Forerunners is clean and effective. Honestly, I don’t have that answer yet because both can be great and also feel like win-mores. It’s really difficult to know what your ramp end-game should be this early in a format, and most likely won’t be decided upon until things settle down. 

Agent of Treachery End-Raze Forerunners

One thing I will say is that your top-end for this deck should not just be a million copies of Agent of Treachery to go with your Thassa, Deep-Dwellings. Of course this is great in specific matchups or certain situations, but more often than not it will be too clunky, as you don’t want that many of these effects against Embercleave strategies. I’m actually quite fond of the minimalist split on these two cards, even though at times they seem almost too broken to exist. 

Gilded Goose Thassa, Deep-Dwelling

Just seeing Gilded Goose in Madonai’s list blew my mind a little. It’s really difficult to play a Simic Ramp deck without access to Turn 3 Nissa, Who Shakes the World, but the Turn 1 options just aren’t what they used to be. Thassa, Deep-Dwelling might be the perfect card to justify playing Gilded Goose again, as it’s something you can ramp into without losing the Food token. This is absolutely something we need to be looking into, as it’s such a clean interaction the deck could have. 

Uro, Titan of Nature's Wrath

I’ve not really been that impressed with Uro in these Simic Ramp decks, and I’m not really sure why. In fact, I’m a little timid just saying this in my article today as the entire world seems to be obsessed with the card. To me, it’s just more Growth Spirals in the deck, and while that sounds great in theory, I’ve found it frustrating in practice. 

Maybe it’s due to all the Embercleave decks in the current metagame, but I just don’t want to rely on such an effect in the early-game, especially when the payoff in the later turns isn’t actually swinging games. Like seriously, has anyone escaped an Uro and not already felt like they’ve stabilized? I really hope I’m wrong on this one, as the card’s really sweet, but so far I’m not sold on it in Simic Ramp in Standard.  

Past that, there’s really not much more to say on the topic of Nissa, as we’ve done this song for what feels like years at this point. At the current moment there’s really no way to tune our Simic decks to beat the metagame until it calms down. For now we can just try differing ramp sequences to try to find the most efficient ones, and eventually we’ll have enough information to properly tune our payoffs. Luckily Nissa decks are so good that they can still be number one without even knowing how to build them! 

While I don’t think this list is tuned enough to suggest playing in Richmond, I at least want to give you my most updated version. 

2. Azorius Control

Control on my list of best decks? That has to be a mistake, right? Nope! Not only am I, Brad Nelson, saying Azorius Control is good right now, but I’ll also proudly admit that it’s the deck I’m playing with the most. In fact, I love playing this deck so much that I’ll gladly eat some crow!

Mmm mmm, feather-lickin’ good!

I never thought in a million years I’d think a control deck would be good in today’s Standard climate, but it’s thanks to these two cards. 

Dream Trawler Elspeth Conquers Death

By now we all know just how good Dream Trawler is, but only recently have we started to see the true power of Elspeth Conquers Death. While five mana seems like a lot to pay for a removal spell, Elspeth Conquers Death does so much more in the correct shell, which has become popularized by Gabriel Nassif on his stream.

And here’s my current take on the deck. 

Teferi, Time Raveler and Narset, Parter of Veils are exactly why Elspeth Conquers Death is so good. By design almost, the third chapter will go off, and there’ll be a planeswalker ready to come back on the battlefield with an additional loyalty counter. This is particularly great with Narset, as you’ll be able to get three activations out of her once you’re in full control mode. Another nice thing you can do is bounce back your Elspeth Conquers Death with Teferi, Time Raveler to exile additional permanents. All-in-all these three permanents work together to grind out any opponent trying to put cards onto the battlefield. 

Elspeth, Sun's Nemesis

I’m confident that Elspeth, Sun’s Nemesis doesn’t deserve a slot in the deck, but I’m going to at least give it a try as it might be good in the mirrors in Game 1. Just having a single escape card might be worth it, and this one in particular helps pressure the other planeswalkers on the battlefield. Ultimately though I’d bet it doesn’t make the final cut in a build I’d be happy with registering in a major event like the upcoming Richmond Open. 

While there’s a good chance that this deck should be my top pick for Standard right now, my biggest fear is how easily it could be dethroned. After all, control is a very exploitable strategy and one of the easiest ways to do this is for another control deck to cannibalize it. While I believe this tap-out variation is the best to beat a format full of Embercleave; Nissa, Who Shakes the World; and Bolas’s Citadel, I don’t have much faith in its abilities to beat other control decks that play a more flash-based game.

Another deck that might be able to prey on these control decks is Temur Reclamation, but that deck has always been better in theory than in practice. Well, one thing it was always good at was beating control, but that’s about all that deck is good at. Maybe the deck having a sweeper in Storm’s Wrath helps things out a bit, but there are certainly creatures being played with more than four toughness. 

3. Mono-Red Aggro

This is simply a very clean and lean version of Mono-Red Aggro. The deck’s been preying on those trying out new things, so who knows how good it’s going to be in the future. If you’re looking for something fast to go under the metagame, this is exactly what you should be playing. 

Anax, Hardened in the Forge

This is exactly the card that made me add more two-mana removal to my Azorius Control list, as you just can’t cast Shatter the Sky with it on the battlefield. I’m unsure just how good Anax is, but it seems like a great one-two punch alongside Torbran, Thane of Red Fell

That’s all I’m going to say about Mono-Red Aggro, though. It’s red, it’s fast, it’s relatively reliable. It’s also a deck I don’t want to play, but one I do highly respect right now. I mean, what more is there to say about Mono-Red Aggro?

While these three decks are my current front-runners, that doesn’t mean other decks aren’t good enough. Strategies like Mono-Black Devotion, Esper Hero, Gruul Aggro, Rakdos Knights, and Jund Sacrifice may very well be good in this format. All I know is these three decks have impressed me the most, and I do think it’s in your best interests to prepare for them for this weekend.

I promise you they will be showing up.