Despite the stranglehold Alrund’s Epiphany (and Hullbreaker Horror) have on Standard, there are still some hidden gems out there. Given that Izzet, Mono-Green Aggro❄, and Mono-White Aggro❄ are in the top tier of Standard, it should come as no surprise that the decks classified as rogue are largely black-based.
The issues that black decks have with Alrund’s Epiphany have been well-documented. Black doesn’t have a solid, fast clock, so they rely on disruption to get the job done. Sadly, disruption like Duress doesn’t line up well against the flashback from Galvanic Iteration and Memory Deluge. Plus, Izzet has plenty of card drawing like Expressive Iteration and Unexpected Windfall to fight through it. To top it off, Alrund’s Epiphany itself is usually Duress-proof thanks to foretell.
Constricting their resources with one-for-ones like Duress won’t get the job done. You need to combine Duress with Go Blank in order to fight them, which most of the black decks tend to do.
If your rogue deck isn’t black-based, it probably has red. Despite being a primary color in Izzet, red doesn’t show up in many other places. Goldspan Dragon is the headliner for several archetypes, yet despite several powerful cheap red cards, there isn’t a home for them. Vampires is a great deck, but the other red cards can’t hope to defeat Mono-Green and their Esika’s Chariots.
Of these rogue decks, the most promising is also the strangest.
1. Esper Control
Lukas Dusek finished fifth in Red Bull Untapped with the same deck and third in this Standard Challenge as well! Esper Control is easily the largest success story of any rogue deck in Standard.
It shouldn’t be a surprise that a tap-out control deck is a stronger option than an entirely reactive control deck. Clocking your opponent, even with Graveyard Trespasser, is more likely to result in a victory than sitting back forever. Even though this is mostly a Dimir deck, it plays some Pathways and extra dual lands to support cleaving Path of Peril and a couple of sideboard cards. Edgar, Charmed Groom has also been impressive if given enough time.
Oddly, the deck consists of many cards that don’t see play outside of this archetype. I keep wondering if cards like Graveyard Trespasser and Henrika Domnathi are better threats than Smoldering Egg and Goldspan Dragon. Are the black interaction spells stronger than the red ones? Is this sort of deck better than playing Izzet Control, Izzet Dragons, or a more controlling version of Izzet Epiphany? Cards like The Meathook Massacre are certainly more flexible than the Cinderclasms that Izzet would have to play in order to beat Mono-White, but the black threats seem worse overall. It’s a trade-off.
Black gives access to cards like Go Blank and Sorin the Mirthless as tools for other midrange or control decks, so it’s not just about the threats and interaction.
Obviously this deck has a heavy portion of its sideboard dedicated to fighting Izzet Epiphany. That’s going to be the norm for any black midrange deck. Given its consistent success, I’d be shocked if this deck didn’t attract more supporters.
2. Jeskai Control
After making some adjustments, MisplacedGinger also finished in the Top 8 of the next Standard Challenge.
Jeskai Control first popped up on my radar when I saw Cain Rianhard piloting what was ostensibly Izzet Control splashing Valorous Stance for Hullbreaker Behemoth mirrors. Over time, it adopted more of a white component with Doomskar and sometimes Sunset Revelry in the sideboard.
Honestly, I kinda hate it. Although Valorous Stance is surprisingly solid against the scariest threats, stretching the mana for Doomskar doesn’t seem entirely worth it. Between Treasures, The Celestus, and the various dual lands, the mana shouldn’t be a huge issue, but I also believe you can solve your problems while remaining strictly Izzet.
Even if the details aren’t flawless, it does mean that more controlling decks can work in the metagame. They might not be entirely optimal, but if you have the skills and the knowledge, you can do well.
3. Dimir Control
Certain Magic players become larger than life. There’s something about silence and mastery that draws people in and makes them want to know more. WaToO is Guillame Wafo-Tapa, a player who never really made content, didn’t post on social media, and just focused on doing his thing. Recently, he’s been streaming on Twitch and it has been an absolute delight. If you want to know the secrets of a true expert, now you have the chance.
It shouldn’t be a surprise to see Wafo-Tapa playing a control deck, although this one is particularly interesting. Rather than rely on Lier, Disciple of the Drowned alongside Fading Hope and Divide by Zero as your form of defense, this one contains massive amounts of hard countermagic. His new list even had five Cancel variants, which might be a record, even for Wafo-Tapa. There are also seven copies of four-mana card-drawing spells in his updated decklist, which has to be another record.
On his most recent stream, he showed the updated version of this decklist. There were only slight changes, but I can appreciate the art of fine-tuning. Wafo-Tapa is playing his Dimir Control deck in the Innistrad Championship this weekend and I wish him the best of luck.
4. Orzhov Control
We’ve seen plenty of versions of Orzhov Midrange, often utilizing Shambling Ghast and Deadly Dispute. On the far end of the spectrum, we have a true black control deck with copious amounts of removal and very few win conditions. This is exactly the type of deck that I wouldn’t want to register into a field full of Izzet Epiphany, but if you want to beat up on aggro, you probably won’t be able to find something better.
Honestly, grinding people out with Wedding Announcement; Edgar, Charmed Groom; and Sorin the Mirthless sounds fun as hell, even if it isn’t the strongest choice.
5. Orzhov Clerics
- 3 Orah, Skyclave Hierophant
- 4 Cleric of Life's Bond
- 2 Skyclave Apparition
- 4 Luminarch Aspirant
- 4 Righteous Valkyrie
- 4 Elite Spellbinder
- 4 Chaplain of Alms
- 4 Lunarch Veteran
- 4 Voice of the Blessed
Finally, Orah, Skyclave Hierophant makes a Standard appearance. All it took was a pile of solid Clerics and Pyre of Heroes to make it happen. I’m still skeptical of the Izzet matchup, but at least you have Elite Spellbinder and a clock. How bad can it be?
6. Izzet Delver❄
What an odd combination of cards. This is a departure from how we envisioned Delver decks. There are only 21 ways to transform your Delvers and zero DFCs because of the snow theme, although it’s mainly Ascendant Spirit that constricts the manabase. In order to keep up with Mono-White and Mono-Green, the deck utilizes Frost Bite and Play with Fire. Playing a ton of cheap spells with Thermo-Alchemist also makes sense.
Is getting another one-drop in Ascendant Spirit worth the trouble? Given that I’ve seen repeated results from Ascendant Spirit and very few with DFC Delver decks, I’m guessing the answer is yes. The other big question mark is Magmatic Channeler. Is playing another threat better than playing more spells for Delver? Maybe we need the 4/4 defender against the other aggro decks?
This is one of those decks you have to play with before making any executive decisions.
7. Jund Midrange
- 4 Prosperous Innkeeper
- 2 Shambling Ghast
- 3 Tovolar's Huntmaster
- 4 Fell Stinger
- 3 Toxrill, the Corrosive
- 4 Bloodtithe Harvester
- 4 Voldaren Epicure
You can always rely on xfile for a cool brew and this one certainly delivers.
Overall, this is a reanimation deck that doesn’t have to play any explicitly bad cards to achieve its goal. Its early creatures trade well, helping you cycle through your deck, and Blood tokens discard your larger creatures to reanimate later. It’s a genius combination of cards.
Now that we know we can do it, we have to ask whether we should do it. I can see the argument for playing it if, like Orzhov Control, it absolutely demolishes the creature decks. If that’s the case, and we can get a non-embarrassing record against Izzet, maybe we have something on our hands.
Naturally, the sideboard is largely dedicated to fighting Izzet Epiphany. It’s humorous to me how many of these sideboards start with four Duress and four Go Blanks and the hope that it’s good enough. Sometimes it is, but damn is it difficult.
8. Mono-Black Zombies❄
- 3 Ebondeath, Dracolich
- 3 Shambling Ghast
- 4 Champion of the Perished
- 3 Jadar, Ghoulcaller of Nephalia
- 4 Tainted Adversary
- 3 Fell Stinger
- 3 Archghoul of Thraben
- 4 Headless Rider
After doing some work with Rakdos Vampires, I wanted to try Zombies as an alternative. It felt like their potentially faster clock and extra stickiness could be better-positioned than Vampires. However, I never considered trying Archghoul of Thraben.
Is the card advantage worth it? There are instances in creature mirrors where it matters and control decks are showing up to some degree, but running three copies maindeck seems like a lot. Regardless, I like what the rest of this deck is doing.
Whether or not this Standard format can truly churn will depend on the Innistrad Championship this weekend. There’s also another Red Bull Untapped stop, which is where some of these cool decks came from in the first place, so I have high hopes. Even if Izzet remains at the top of the heap, there’s no shortage of cool decks to try on ladder if you’re bored with Magic.