Welcome To Our New (Again!) Core Set 2021 Standard Format

Ari Lax surveys the SCG Tour Online Championship Qualifier #2 results. What won, what overperformed, and what has no business in your Standard deck?

Extinction Event, illustrated by Filip Burburan

Ten bans, a companion nerf, and the breaking of scheduled banned announcements later, we finally have a Standard format that might not be broken.

The SCG Tour Online Championship Qualifier this weekend had a stacked field, as evidenced by me and PVDDR meeting in the 0-2 bracket, and we have some results that show where the format goes without Growth Spiral making Simic shells the default best.

The Trophy Holder: Sultai Ramp

Sultai Ramp was a quarter of the field this weekend and half of the Top 8, with similar representation among those tied for eighth place at 5-2. Despite banning a million Simic cards over this last year, there are still even more overpowered Simic cards floating around. Nissa, Who Shakes the World and Hydroid Krasis are buddies to the end, and Uro, Titan of Nature’s Wrath might still make it another year (the key word being might). Since all the broken enchantments got banned, creatures are the relevant card type and you get to mix those cards with black removal.

Since there are so many Simic cards to choose from, which ones did the best?

Planeswalkers appear to be the successful baseline of choice, which makes sense if the most popular deck is the Sultai mirror. Midrange mirrors being decided by planeswalkers burying the other player in cards has been happening for a long time. Nissa, Who Shakes the World is the obvious inclusion, but the winning lists have a mix of many others beyond that. Teferi, Master of Time and Tamiyo, Collector of Tales are the most common, but Narset, Parter of Veils; Ugin, the Spirit Dragon; and Vraska, Golgari Queen all show up.

Teferi, Master of Time Tamiyo, Collector of Tales

Some of these are fairly obvious. Ugin is just an alternate big whammy to Hydroid Krasis that admittedly fails against 3/3 lands. Tamiyo is the same value engine she always has been, with the -3 ability always seeming to be underrated. Vraska is the least common of these planeswalkers and the worst in the Sultai mirror, and given her -3 is largely covered by Eliminate I’m not super-interested in her moving forward.

That leaves Teferi and Narset to talk about, and both of these have been strong threats in midrange mirrors. Narset is just obviously strong against Uro and Hydroid Krasis, even if it’s vulnerable to Nissa. I think Teferi, Master of Time is a generally overrated card right now since it is so bad against opponents who control two creatures and never puts you up cardboard, but in a Sultai mirror where they won’t be attacking Teferi unless they control an unopposed Nissa, it does a ton of work. Filtering cards helps you escape Uro faster, the phasing ability helps mitigate opposing Uros if you end up a turn behind on getting one going, and the ultimate does eventually win the game if activated.

The trends from the Top 8 lists continue through the other 5-2s, so there’s strong evidence this is the default best build.

Casualties of War

All these planeswalkers also make Casualties of War a key part of the mirror. Casualties of War might no longer be killing many artifacts or enchantments, but it is still the best answer to a Nissa, Who Shakes the World. The land part is also way more important than you would expect, both to choke future Hydroid Krasises and because Castle Locthwain and Castle Vantress can be big threats from the rest of the field.

Jolrael, Mwonvuli Recluse Cultivate Llanowar Visionary

Notably absent is Jolrael, Mwonvuli Recluse, only showing up in a single 5-2 list. If the most prevalent matchup is the mirror, Jolrael just makes their creature removal good and gets cleaned up by a single Extinction Event. This also informs the choice of Cultivate over Llanowar Visionary as your backup ramp spell, since locking in the mana source is all you really want the card to do if it doesn’t come with a Cat.

Cutting Jolrael also means you have no excuse for keeping Discovery in your deck. You really didn’t have an excuse before since that card has never been playable, but now you really don’t have any logic backing up the decision.

Cavalier of Thorns Polukranos, Unchained

Also missing: the heavier escape package. Creatures are worse than planeswalkers in the midrange mirrors.

Aether Gust Eliminate Extinction Event

The removal suite has also converged within these lists. Basically every deck is still green or red, so Aether Gust isn’t going anywhere.

If you want to understand where the metagame is going, I would look at Extinction Event. Temur Elementals had a horrible weekend because it lines up poorly against that card, and the aggressive decks that did well all have fairly divided curves. Something like the Glorious Anthem Mono-White Aggro from the Temur Reclamation era would be horrendous right now since everything dies to a single Extinction Event. At least make them think about using their spot removal on one set of costs before firing off Event on the other.

Thought Erasure Neutralize

While I played counterspells this week, it looks like discard was in more of the successful lists. Thought Erasure being two cards for Uro is really good, and in the mirror an early Erasure carving a path to get ahead might be as good as a late Neutralize or Sinister Sabotage. I’m interested to see if this holds moving forward, but the results are hard to argue with.

Enter the God-Eternals Cry of the Carnarium Thought Distortion

The sideboard should all be pretty obvious, but I want to point out a couple of cards that looked notably good or poor.

Enter the God-Eternals seemed great. The primary way for Sultai to lose to aggro is to have too many things happen too quickly and not be able to catch up with your late game hammers like Uro or Nissa, or for one of those cards to get turned against you with Claim the Firstborn. Enter the God-Eternals just stops all that nonsense and prepares you to escape Uro with a self-mill. I’m also into a couple of additional sweepers beyond Extinction Event that don’t have some of the weird misses on split-cost battlefields for exactly the same reason.

Thought Distortion on the other hand seems questionable at best. In the mirror I think it’s a bit too slow and vulnerable if people are playing Thought Erasure. If you get to six mana before they’re casting planeswalkers, you should have an advantage with anything you do. The other decks going big are all based around permanents at this point, and Thought Distortion feels like a relic of the Temur Reclamation era.

The Peak Performer: Rakdos Sacrifice

A really small set of people played Rakdos Sacrifice this weekend, and multiple almost identical copies of it still made the Top 8. The only difference between Ryuji Murae’s second-place list and Carson Bell’s fourth-place list is the removal spread in the sideboard and a single Serrated Scorpion in the maindeck.

If you have played a lot of Rakdos Sacrifice, the immediate thing you will notice is the lack Mayhem Devil or other three-drops. Mayhem Devil just isn’t good without the Cauldron Familiar + Witch’s Oven combo backing it. Everything you sacrifice is an actual piece of cardboard, and it’s really hard to generate large amounts of damage with it. Midnight Reaper suffers a similar fate, and Woe Strider is hard to justify without Mayhem Devil.

Priest of Forgotten Gods Village Rites Claim the Firstborn

Really, the “Sacrifice” here is less raw sacrifice engines and more building a deck that fuels Priest of Forgotten Gods and Village Rites. Claim the Firstborn being so good against the default best decks of the format is the main reason this is even that desirable, and this feels like a similar situation to Searing Blaze in Modern Burn, where if Claim the Firstborn ever stops being good, I think the entire Rakdos Sacrifice deck has to question why it exists and change.

Dreadhorde Butcher

Dreadhorde Butcher is among the best cards in this deck after Priest. The cards you play to maximize Priest of Forgotten Gods all promote an aggressive strategy looking to chip in tons of damage, and if a Butcher ever gets two hits, the net six damage it deals is often enough to make the rest easy.

Lurrus of the Dream-Den Call of the Death-Dweller

The question of expensive spells is whether you want Lurrus of the Dream-Den as your companion or just as a card in your deck. Call of the Death-Dweller makes this decision for you, since having a way to recur Lurrus changes the dynamic of the companion a lot. It’s not just a one-shot value play; it’s a real gameplan you can rely on even if it dies the first time you cast it. Call giving Dreadhorde Butcher deathtouch is also a common play to clear out threats.

Kroxa, Titan of Death's Hunger Mire Triton

Both Kroxa, Titan of Death’s Hunger and Mire Triton massively outperform their quality in prior Rakdos Sacrifice lists. Kroxa is still outclassed by Uro, but losing Growth Spiral means it’s outpaced less often. Mire Triton’s deathtouch matters a lot more than it used to, and being able to companion Lurrus means incidental mill of things to recast matters more.

Fiend Artisan Archfiend's Vessel

I have no respect for Fiend Artisan. I don’t want to activate it, and it’s just a Boneyard Wurm. I’m also dubious of Archfiend’s Vessel. The card does little until you set up some other great effect. I would be interested in trying Knight of the Ebon Legion in some of these spots, as the card has overperformed now that the format is more about creatures battling and both the growing effects matter.

The Rest of the Top 8

Winota, Joiner of Forces remains a broken card. I didn’t love Mardu Winota against Temur Adventures, and it lost a lot to Sultai on camera, so I’m unsure of its prospects moving forward beyond the raw power it offers.

Basri's Lieutenant

The one big upside to Winota is that protection from multicolored is looking pretty good. I lost a match to Basri’s Lieutenant being impossible to block or kill or attack into, and I’m sure it won’t be the last time that happens.

Temur Adventures had just an okay weekend despite being one of the two default decks coming in. It’s honestly a victim of its own success. Bonecrusher Giant and Brazen Borrower are great interactive cards and threats, but they are both limited in scope. Sultai is pretty good against both of those, going bigger than the Adventure threats, and Extinction Event kills them all at once.

Aether Gust

While the Top 8 list didn’t play the card, I liked the maindeck Aether Gusts showing up in more of the 5-2 lists. The card is just good right now, and it was really the only thing you wanted in the sideboard anyways. Rather than taking up slots for relevant Granted targets, you can just pre-sideboard since the format has been a Gruul mess the whole time.

The Trash Heap

Embercleave Questing Beast

Sandydog still wins with Mono-Red Aggro, and Cedric might even play Mono-Green Aggro. With maindeck Aether Gust on the uptick I wouldn’t advise you try the same. Both decks are also soft to Extinction Event.

Risen Reef

I kept beating Temur Elementals with Sultai Ramp despite hearing it should go the other way. Aether Gust strikes again; Nissa, Who Shakes the World kills people too hard; and Extinction Event is a problem yet again. You are even behind the curve against aggro, so I don’t know what this deck offers until things really start going down the inbred midrange path.

Nightpack Ambusher

Nightpack Ambusher is a good card, but the rest of the Simic or Temur Flash deck isn’t. Without Growth Spiral for the fast draws it’s too easy to get caught in a counterspell mismatch and just die to any threat in the format since they are all so good. Having a deck of one-for-one answers also is a liability in the Uro format.

Yorion, Sky Nomad

I don’t quite know what happened with the Yorion, Sky Nomad decks. They used to be good against Simic midrange piles. It might just be a matter of rebuilding to the right set of things to blink. Keep an eye out for Yorion decks especially as Aether Gust counts creep up.

It’s still too early to say where this Standard format ends up, and honestly, with just over a month left, “ending up” might be an overstatement for anything that happens. But for the time being, it looks like weakened versions of the old best decks are the things to beat. That sounds extremely doable, and even without a diverse Top 8 this week, I won’t expect that to stay the same going forward.