What The New Ikoria Standard Tier List Looks Like

Two bannings and a nerfed mechanic later, what are the major decks of Standard? World Champion PVDDR has your new tier list!

Shark Typhoon, illustrated by Caio Monteiro

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Ikoria: Lair of Behemoths had a huge impact in Standard. It gave us companions; Lukka, Coppercoat Outcast; and Winota, Joiner of Forces. Now, with the companion nerf and the Agent of Treachery and Fires of Invention bans, the most important cards from the new set are suddenly ripped away from the format. This means that post-ban Ikoria Standard will almost be a regression to pre-Ikoria Standard. If we want to know what the best decks in this format will be, we need to look at the format from far back. There are new cards in Ikoria that can update these decks, of course, and there’s an entirely new deck that’s still there (Boros Cycling), but for the most part I believe that looking at pre-Ikoria Standard will paint a good picture of how post-ban Ikoria Standard will look. 

The Decks That Are Gone

Agent of Treachery Fires of Invention

There are two decks that obviously can no longer exist. The first is Yorion Jeskai Lukka – the only deck to get triple-hit by the announcement. As Yorion Jeskai Lukka was both the best and the most popular deck in the format, this has big ramifications.

The second deck that can’t be played anymore is Jeskai Fires. Jeskai Fires has fallen a lot in popularity given its bad matchup versus the aforementioned Lukka deck, but it was a big player in the previous format, and now it’s gone. This means that strategies that were weak to Jeskai Fires, such as Mono-Red Aggro and Jund Sacrifice, become stronger.

Tier 3

Four-Color Winota

This deck relies on generating multiple non-Humans early on; getting a Winota, Joiner of Forces on the battlefield; and trying to hit some good Humans with your triggers. This deck was almost nonexistent a week ago but has gotten a surge of popularity in both Best-of-One and Best-of-Three.

Winota, Joiner of Forces

In Ikoria Standard, the best Human to hit by a significant margin was Agent of Treachery. Given that Agent is gone, can the Winota deck still be a thing? There is, after all, a Historic Winota deck that does not even play Agent of Treachery.

In my opinion, the answer is no. In Ikoria Standard, it’s very hard to flat-out kill them in your Winota turn, which means you’re always going to be vulnerable to sweepers. With Agent, you could steal their lands and make sure they couldn’t cast Shatter the Sky, but now you’re in trouble if they draw that card. Add that to the fact that I don’t think this deck was good to begin with, and I see no reason to play it now. 

There are many Tier 3 decks in Ikoria Standard, but these are mostly the decks that have always been there. Given Winota’s popularity and the fact that the nerfs hit it particularly hard, I felt it was worth mentioning.

Tier 2

Boros Cycling

Boros Cycling was affected by the companion change, but I believe the deck can live with it. Lurrus of the Dream-Den is no longer good enough to justify a restriction, but with this deck the restriction is basically nonexistent, so it might as well play Lurrus. Even though Boros Cycling got hit hard, the other decks got hit harder, so I think this remains in Tier 2 (which is where I’ve always had it). 

Rakdos Sacrifice

With Boros Cycling, Lurrus of the Dream-Den was just a bonus — you played it because you could, but it wasn’t an integral part of your gameplan. With Rakdos Sacrifice, the same isn’t true. This is a Lurrus deck through and through, and it even plays Call of the Death-Dweller to make sure you have more access to it. 

Lurrus of the Dream-Den

Still, not everything is lost, mostly due to the fact that Lurrus of the Dream-Den is a strong enough card for you to just put in your deck. You aren’t going to have access to it as often (you’re not even going to play four), but you’ll have access to it some amount of the time, and not having to conform to any restriction means you get to play Mayhem Devil, which is a very good card in many matchups. This change might make the deck incidentally better against creatures, but certainly worse versus the removal-heavy decks.

This is what I would try: 

Tier 1

Temur Reclamation

In the most recent Standard format, I didn’t think Temur Reclamation was a strong deck — it was even to unfavored against all the Yorion decks (even against Lukka, unfavored versus all the ones with counterspells), and also even to unfavored against the aggro decks, which meant it only beat the “random” decks (though it did smash those). Now, however, every single deck in the format seems to have gotten worse, and Temur Reclamation has lost absolutely nothing. To me, Temur Reclamation is the format’s new bogeyman. 

If we go back to the pre-Ikoria metagame, Temur Reclamation was in a reasonable spot. It had an unfavorable matchup versus aggro decks (but not overwhelmingly so), and I believe it was weak versus the Azorius-based control decks (both Bant and straight Azorius), but it was quite good against decks like Temur Adventures and Jund Sacrifice. It was also, in my opinion, slightly weak against Jeskai Fires. So it was basically in a spot where I believe it was slightly bad versus most of the field but its good matchups were good enough to make up for it.

Now, there are two big differences. The first is that Jeskai Fires is gone. This is a good thing, since that was not a good matchup, but it can also be a good or a bad thing depending on how the metagame reacts. For example, Jeskai Fires preyed on Mono-Red Aggro, so that’s not a positive outcome for Temur Reclamation, but it also preyed on Jund Sacrifice, and that is a good outcome. 

The second difference is Shark Typhoon

Shark Typhoon

When you played Temur Reclamation versus the control decks, what usually happened was that they just locked the game up with planeswalkers — namely Teferi, Time Raveler and Narset, Parter of Veils. Both these planeswalkers were extremely disruptive to Temur Reclamation’s gameplan and they didn’t have a convenient way of removing them, but now there’s Shark Typhoon and that’s a big game.

“But PV, can’t the other deck also play Shark Typhoon?” Yes, they can. But there are a couple of reasons why Shark Typhoon is better in the Reclamation deck:

1. Temur Reclamation ramps up more, as a general rule, so its Shark Typhoons can be bigger.

2. Temur Reclamation can afford to play four copies of the card. 80-card Yorion Control decks can also play four copies of Shark Typhoon, but they are less likely to find it, and I’m not sure the 60-card versions of these control decks can. For example, what would you cut from a Bant Ramp or Azorius Control deck for four copies? Would you just cut Hydroid Krasis from Bant? Even then, that’s usually a two- or three-of. It’s hard to play four Shark Typhoons and not make yourself worse versus another deck.

3. Temur Reclamation can play more copies of Brazen Borrower, which are good in Shark Typhoon fights.

4. Even if Shark Typhoons end up countering each other, the card is not that good versus you. This creates a scenario in which if you have Shark Typhoon and they don’t, that’s really good for you, but if they have Shark Typhoon and you don’t, it’s not so bad. 

In the end, even though control decks can have their own Shark Typhoon, I believe this puts Temur Reclamation in a better position than it was in pre-Ikoria in those particular matchups. Given it was already a strong deck that lost nothing, I believe Temur Reclamation is firmly in Tier 1, and it will probably be the “stress test” for every new deck in the format, given how good it usually is against random stuff. 

I would change some things from Seth’s deck. For example, I think you can get by with fewer counterspells (you certainly don’t want to play Tale’s End anymore) and instead play a fourth Shark Typhoon and some more removal, but the core of the deck should remain similar. 

Jund Sacrifice

Jund Sacrifice is traditionally strong against both control decks and aggressive decks. In return, it’s very weak against decks like Temur Reclamation or Jeskai Fires that can just go over the top of you. Given that Jeskai Fires is now no longer a deck and that Jund Sacrifice didn’t lose anything from the announcement, I believe it’s one of the big winners, even accounting for the increase in the number of Temur Reclamation. In my opinion, Jund Sacrifice will become the main midrange deck in the format, and solidly Tier 1.

As an aside, this deck has one Jegantha, the Wellspring in the sideboard, but it can only access it when it sideboards out Bolas’s Citadel against aggressive decks. Given the extra three-mana tax on Jegantha, that’s probably not worth it anymore, but it still could be.

Mono-Red Aggro

Before Ikoria, Mono-Red Aggro was a good deck. It put up very solid performances at World Championship XXVI and it remained a contender even after the format evolved. It also didn’t lose anything from the announcement.

Obosh, the Preypiercer

“But, PV, what about Obosh?”

Yeah, I guess it lost Obosh, the Preypiercer. However, I would argue that Obosh wasn’t even that good a card, and people should be considering not playing it already. I was always happier to play against the Obosh version of the deck, for two reasons. First, the best card in that deck was always Embercleave. It’s always the card that beat you and Obosh obviously doesn’t have that. Second, one of the strengths of Mono-Red was its Game 1 power, and Obosh kinda numbed that by announcing to the world what you were playing. Obviously in a big tournament it doesn’t matter, since decklists are public, but on ladder it very much does and Obosh let your opponent mulligan into the right cards for the matchup.

I’m not absolutely convinced that the Obosh version was worse — it is, after all, a free card, and I have played much more against the deck than with it — but my inclination in the past format was that regular Mono-Red Aggro was arguably better, and if it wasn’t better, it was close enough that missing Obosh should not be that big a deal. Given that the deck lost nothing or close to nothing, one of its main predators is gone, and one of its prey (Temur Reclamation) has become better, I feel like this is the Tier 1 aggro deck in the format. 

Temur Adventures

Temur Adventures is a weird deck. I feel like everyone forgets about it, then it comes back, wins a tournament, everyone starts playing it, and then after a while everyone forgets about it again. Back in pre-Ikoria, this deck made waves after World Championship XXVI, and I see no reason it won’t make waves again. This is a deck that could compete with companions and Fires of Invention, and it lost absolutely nothing with the announcement.

The one thorn on this deck’s side is that it’s really extremely weak to Temur Reclamation. I expect Temur Reclamation to be the most popular deck moving forward (or at least one of the most popular), and if it’s the most popular by a big enough degree, then it could singlehandedly stop Temur Adventures from being good. That said, I believe it’s unlikely that there will be that much Temur Reclamation even if it’s the most popular deck, so I think Temur Adventures is definitely a Tier 1 contender. 

Bant Control 

After World Championship XXVI, Azorius Control was mostly replaced by the much more proactive Bant Control. Here’s a sample list from back then:

This deck originally included Knight of Autumn, which made the Temur Adventures matchup significantly better, but as Temur Adventures waned in popularity, so did the Knight.

I have no doubt that some version of Bant will be a Tier 1 deck — the cards are too strong for it not to — but I honestly don’t know if Yorion, Sky Nomad is going to be good or not. Paying three more mana is a big deal for a Yorion deck, but it’s not as big a deal as paying three more mana for Obosh, the Preypiercer, for example.

What the nerf does is mean that you no longer have the option to just curve enchantments into Yorion. Instead, it will act more as a late-game finisher (as opposed to a mid-game value bridge into the late-game). You can still just pay three mana on Turns 3 or 4 to get Yorion in your hand if you have nothing else to do, but then at that point it’s going to be less powerful as you will have fewer things on the battlefield, and passing Turn 3 or 4 with no play is not often advisable.

Basically, you’ll be giving up a turn, which means your first blink target (whether that’s a Teferi, Time Raveler or an Omen of the Sun or an Elspeth Conquers Death) will just put your gameplan back to where it should have been to begin with if you were just casting one spell per turn, rather than a free addition. If you have the time to spare, you’ll see the same advantage but you’ll not be using it to impact the battlefield ahead of schedule.

Omen of the Sun

There’s also the matter of certain cards being good specifically because of Yorion. Take, for example, Omen of the Sun (which I’ve been sideboarding in Yorion Bant Control). You could play it because you knew you’d have access to Yorion every time on Turn 5, and that was a very strong play versus an aggressive deck. Now that you no longer have free access to a Turn 5 Yorion, is Omen of the Sun good enough to play?

Probably not, which means you’re less likely to want to spend three mana to return Yorion to begin with, as you have fewer cards to blink. Still, the original version of Yorion Bant Control that I played didn’t actually run any bad cards and depended a lot less on Yorion than, for example, the Lukka builds, so maybe it can still be played. 

My inclination is that the deck will be better if it returns to its pre-Yorion state, but my confidence level is really low. It’s the kind of thing that you have to play with to be able to assess, and there’s every chance that Yorion decks specifically remain Yorion decks even after the nerf.  

As far as decklists go, I’d like to incorporate some Shark Typhoons. Here’s what I would start with:

So, to recap, I believe that most of the decks that were good before Ikoria will be good again, since the most powerful cards from Ikoria are gone. I would say the Tier 1 is composed, in no particular order, of:

  • Temur Reclamation
  • Jund Sacrifice
  • Mono-Red Aggro
  • Temur Adventures
  • Bant Control

This doesn’t mean the other decks aren’t playable or even good, just that this is where I’d start again. I expect these to be the best and most-played decks, and every new deck I try will go against this gauntlet, though I sure hope that by the time Players Tour Series 2 happens in two weeks we’ve managed to come up with something new and incredible. 

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