Standard has gone in a strange direction. From W/R Vehicles coming out in front at the first SCG Tour stop to control stomping out combo at the Pro Tour, the people have decided that the real winner of the format is… W/U Flash?
We still win, pal.
With an incredible set of Constructed results at Pro Tour Kaladesh, it was difficult for the world to not take notice, and the Magic Online results leading up to this week of Grand Prix were loud.
W/U Flash is, for the most part, the undisputed best deck in the format. It is true that G/B Delirium sports a reasonable matchup against the deck and won Grand Prix Providence, but the brutal combination of having an efficient curve, sticky threats, and the “Faeries Factor” of presenting so much difficulty on a turn-by-turn basis to play against their scope of creatures and interaction makes W/U Flash the premier aggressively slanted deck.
I joked while testing for the Pro Tour that Smuggler’s Copter has created a world where Thraben Inspector is the best creature in Standard. I now actually find it hard to believe otherwise.
All of my praise for W/U Flash’s prowess aside, I actually believe that Kaladesh Standard is objectively great. The games are all relatively interesting, sporting a healthy amount of jockeying for position in the early-game while making how to approach longer contests tricky.
Even the tough games against W/U Flash create incredibly rewarding moments where picking the correct combination of Reflector Mage / Spell Queller / Archangel Avacyn to play around leads to tight wins.
I don’t believe that a properly built deck is horribly outclassed by any measure, so I’ve had my fun this week tuning a handful of strategies that are a little more…”out there.”
Let’s start with my favorite, which I tuned from Ross’s Daily Digest last week:
What might appear to be a “joke deck” at first is actually quite powerful. Essentially, this is a combo control deck that uses Aetherflux Reservoir for inevitability. This might sound silly on paper, but the truth is that it is fairly easy to bog up the ground and make it difficult for an opponent to attack you effectively between Engulf the Shore, incidental creatures, and various means of interaction.
Once you are able to reach a later position in the game, chains involving Torrential Gearhulk, Engulf, and other cheap spells can quickly notch up your “Storm” to put you completely out of reach with Aetherflux Reservoir before actually enabling a kill.
Essence Flux is, of course, a nice piece of value with Reflector Mage, Cloudblazer, and Torrential Gearhulk, but it can also enable a clean combo kill with the latter. Should you amass two to three Essence Flux between hand and graveyard, this can quickly enable a turn where you repeatedly blink a Gearhulk for six to seven total spells, which is often enough life to end the game. This can also be done at instant speed, taking opponents off-guard.
What I quickly noticed after I began playing with the deck Ross featured is that Cloudblazer is the best card in it. This deck is better at drawing a critical mass of cards (and needs to do so) more than most Standard decks I’ve played in years. It is the ultimate piece of battlefield position that snowballs the deck between Essence Flux and Engulf loops while also critically providing life. Further, I liked slanting the deck more as a control deck by cutting some Reflector Mages and a copy of Engulf. Drawing several copies of these cards doesn’t actually push you in a winning direction because you need card-drawing outlets and raw numbers of cheap spells to properly leverage Engulf.
I also got the impression that the deck was fairly weak to Archangel Avacyn and Gideon, Ally of Zendikar, which prompted my inclusion of Immolating Glare for the former and Cultivator’s Caravan for the latter. It is not particularly intuitive, but one can put a crew activation on the stack and respond with Engulf the Shore, which typically clears the way for the Vehicle to snipe a planeswalker.
You can also see my nod to the card in my sideboard with the inclusion of a Niblis of Frost package to pressure planeswalkers in addition to countermagic.
I tried many variations of this deck, including a small black splash for Anguished Unmaking and sideboard cards to help fix problems. These attempts weren’t necessarily unsuccessful, but there are certainly consistency issues when trying to support multiple colors and Engulf the Shore despite how this deck isn’t completely reliant on a critical mass of Islands to support the powerful instant.
There are many potential iterations of the metagame where this deck is great. It is excellent at fighting aggressive strategies and even has the means to go completely over the top of control decks in part to how difficult it is to trade. The biggest issue is certainly planeswalkers, and there are means to address those problems.
The next deck drew inspiration from watching coverage of Grand Prix Providence and seeing various types of aggressively slanted Energy shells:
- 3 Archangel Avacyn
- 3 Tireless Tracker
- 1 Longtusk Cub
- 4 Voltaic Brawler
- 4 Bristling Hydra
- 4 Servant of the Conduit
Ever since testing the R/G Energy “Infect decks,” I knew that Bristling Hydra was an amazing card that needed to see more play. There are many decks that can’t effectively answer the four-drop at all due to the position of the format and the complete lack of sweepers that are currently present in Standard.
Basically this deck has a powerful proactive strategy that can also turtle up and play a long game due to many of the elements that have been forgotten in Standard – Tireless Tracker, planeswalkers, and individually powerful threats.
While at first glance it wouldn’t appear as if this would be a great place to incorporate Vehicles, Cultivator’s Caravan pulls many duties by fixing mana, allowing double spell turns, and giving almost all of your relevant threats a form of “haste.”
Speaking of planeswalkers, Nahiri, the Harbinger does seem a touch strange, but I think she’s well-positioned against the likes of various Vehicles and threats that are floating around. Again, the only real blind spot with the powerful planeswalker is Archangel Avacyn. That was a problem to the point where I shifted the deck from a Verdurous Gearhulk deck to an Avacyn deck just to have an effective answer to the mythic Angel.
Perhaps a sad reality? Yes, but it isn’t as if the Naya Energy deck isn’t able to properly leverage the effect itself. It is entirely possible that there should be a green Gearhulk present to be a “bullet” with Nahiri as it once was, but I doubt that it is too relevant for keeping up the overall power level of the deck.
I do want to take a moment to talk about Skysovereign, Consul Flagship.
Again, this is another high-power Vehicle that is present due to how effective the deck is at crewing, but I want to discuss its position as the perfect threat against W/U Flash. It enters the battlefield with the ability to kill all of the deck’s non-Avacyn creatures, it is a five-mana card that dodges Spell Queller, it makes Gideon impossible to stick without the aforementioned Angel, and it actually trumps or matches Avacyn based upon her current transformation.
That’s a huge implication from a colorless card. There is a good chance that Skysovereign is one of the missing links of the format to turning the metagame around on W/U Flash. Start playing with the card and building your decks with creatures to better incorporate it!
A huge issue with this strategy at the Pro Tour was the critical mass of splash hate. Everyone had Aetherworks Marvel combo on their radar and was adequately prepared with Ceremonious Rejection, Fragmentize, and (unfortunately for me) even Cataclysmic Gearhulk.
We anticipated so much aggression that we built our deck in a manner to be as explosive as possible to try to set up as a “turn 5 combo deck.” In reality, I think that approach is fairly poor, as it means you are more likely to do nothing of consequence.
I like several aspects of moving back towards Aetherworks Marvel, including how it gives you more ability to play a long game where you accumulate resources and can feasibly use the Metalwork Colossus recursion ability multiple times to give yourself ultimate inevitability.
The missing piece in our testing process might have been the inclusion of a sweeper. While Fumigate was likely better for the expected metagame of the Pro Tour, Descend upon the Sinful looks like a home run right now.
My inadvertent theme of this article has likely been “Archangel Avacyn is really good,” and Descend completely ignores her potent ability while incidentally being powerful against decks like B/R Zombies or even any kind of mirror match. When you couple this with the ability to sometimes hit it off Aetherworks Marvel, the sweeper looks like a powerful missing link of this archetype.
Is the reality that combo decks are once again in prime position to be a contender in Standard? I’m not quite sure. It is difficult to tell whether W/U Flash will have the longevity of a deck like Bant Company or will succumb to adaptions. I do know that the metagame will not be stale. There are already upwards of six viable decks in my eyes, and although many of them do rely on Smuggler’s Copter, I think there is a great deal of innovation available to those who do the work.