Standard as I See It

Written by Zach Cramer on . Posted in Competitive Magic, Standard

Standard as I See It

Zach Cramer

Zach is a Northeastern Magic grinder who specializes in eternal formats. When building decks, he has a strong preference to Blue cards, toolboxes and combo decks. With a recent RPTQ finish just short of an invitation, Zach hopes to take his skills to the next level and play on the Pro Tour.

The first deck dump of the new Standard season is underway. With this information, we can begin to figure out just what this format might shape itself up to be. In my article today, I plan to assess the data we’ve been given, point out patterns, trends, and cards and comment on what I’d expect to see going forward. Without further ado, let’s jump right into it:

27 Decklists:

6 decklists with basic island
8 decklists with basic swamp
9 decklists with basic mountain
11 decklists with basic forest
15 decklists with basic plains

This is looking good!

The Macro-Archetypes:

Boros Mentor:
Whether it’s Tajic-focused with one drops and Calvary Drillmaster or a more midrange center with Angels like Aurelia, Lyra, Shalai, and Resplendent Angel, Boros has a lot of creatures and is looking to go sideways. The Boros decks have combated the problem of Mentor cards getting brick walled in a few ways: Ajani to add counters to Mentors, History of Benalia to go wide and make large creatures, or take to the sky with Angels. The removal suites look fairly similar in Lightning Strikes, Integrity//Intervention and Conclave Tribunal but the two drops are really dissimilar. Knight of Grace, Swiftblade Vindicator, Adanto Vanguard, Calvary Drillmaster and Boros Challenger are in various lists in a diversity of numbers. Getting these slots right is where I’d focus my attention.

The “Tribal” Decks:
The Tribal Decks are a loose term I’ve used to classify multiple linear focus archetypes. The decklist dump featured some attempts at GWx Knights decks, a White Weenie deck, a Goblin deck, and some others focused strategies. Some utilize Venerated Loxodon while the goblins deck uses Radiant Destiny and Volley Veteran. Another addition is the port of Ken Yukihiro’s Mono Blue Djinn deck with Nightveil Sprite and Exclusion Mage trying to fill the big shoes of Nimble Obstructionist. Taking to the skies once again seems like a good place to be in the first few weeks of Standard as the ground gets well gummed up. Whether it’s a creature’s subtype (knights or goblins) or a focused plan (mono blue or mono white), these linear decks all have an idea of what they wanted to do in deckbuilding and place all their chips on making that plan as consistent as possible. Of note, I really like the use of Radiant Destiny and Vanquisher’s Banner in the Goblins deck to highlight the point of choosing a theme and focusing your power on it. The Knights deck is a more nuanced approach that doesn’t seem to go all-in and plays reasonable creatures, but, when you choose to register Skirk Prospector, you’ve got to have some focus.

The Very Different Flavors of Temple Garden:
While Green Stompy and White/Green Tokens only represented 4 of the 27 decklists, it’s important to remember that the sorting algorithm only picks decks that are specifically different from each other. It’s very possible that other Stompy and Tokens decks did well but the core of the decks are fairly agreed upon. The key to the Stompy decks are Nullhide Ferox and Pelt Collector adding consistency to the deck’s draws. Most of the deck remains the same, but, filling out the list with more consistency is important to larger success. A complaint of Stompy pilots last season was the immense difference in Llanowar Elves and Steel Leaf draws. Without access to those two cards, you’d often start anemically and not be able to pressure your opponent. The addition of another large midgame play and a powerful one drop make the opening hands more homogeneous and predictable which should make it a great strategy to start Standard early.

The tokens decks are similar in that they also have an established plan. Being able to set up March of the Multitudes with cards like Saproling Migration, History of Benalia and Emmara seems like the right direction and whether you want to add consistency with District Guide, acceleration with Song of Freyalise or a late game with anthems or Shalai, is still to be determined, but, the token shell seems like a safe archetype going forward. I’m fairly certain 4 Flower//Flourish will become standard with these lists. You were right, Nick Hyler. The key in the token decks is being able to cast massive March of the Multitudes. This often means that I’m not blocking in the early turns to set up early Loxodons or quickly flip Legion’s Landing. Chumping isn’t something I’ve wanted to do as being able to have lots of lifelink creatures with Flourish later helps me catch up any amount of life I’ve lost early.

Steam-Kin Decks:
Another common card that I saw was Runaway Steam-Kin. There were a lot of different ways to use its unique abilities in the decklist dump, but, commonly it was being used to either: accelerate into large midrange threats like Rekindling Phoenix or Siege-Gang Commander or burst spells and clear out your hand quickly for The Flame of Keld or Experimental Frenzy. The Experimental Frenzy interaction was the most interesting to me because you could easily find the mana to detonate Frenzy once you’ve filled your hand. My testing team and I have taken to calling it “Big Bomat” and I think that this interaction gives Red decks a lot of card advantage which proves very interesting. The supporting cast may be different, but, keying in on Runaway Steam-Kin’s power is a good direction to take when looking at Red strategies moving forward. A final pair I liked was Dismissive Pyromancer and Treasure Map if you’re going to play Explosive Frenzy to be able to remove lands from the top of your deck to keep the fuel going. Verix Bladewing seems like a sweet card to kick with some extra mana and the Sarkhan deck seemed to make interesting use out of that mana bump, which might be an interesting plan to riff on going forward.

Black Eldest Reborn Decks:
There’s a wide variety of decks that feature The Eldest Reborn. Mostly, these are Black/Green decks that feature a large number of creatures and top off at Izoni and Doom Whisperer. Additionally, some of these decks feature a white splash for Knight of Autumn or other sideboard cards. There’s also a Grixis Midrange deck that uses Ritual of Soot and Surveil cards, but, don’t have very many creatures, and uses The Eldest Reborn as almost a stand-in planeswalker, with no way to recur it and few ways to reanimate its own creatures. While these decks don’t always have the same kind of plan, there’s a focus on gaining advantage from The Eldest Reborn. If you’re using creatures to gain advantage or spells to slow the game down, all these black decks have decided that The Eldest Reborn is the tool to break serve. I’ve liked the Golgari Findbroker loops that can appear with The Eldest Reborn. One deck that opted to play similarly, but, eschewed the Eldest Reborn was a UB midrange deck that played 4 copies of Disinformation Campaign to grind out some extra value. This seems like a better avenue for the spell decks to proceed.

Teferi Decks:
Teferi is still good. There’s lots of ways to use it and the decklist dump had several plans. Jeskai and UW Control are generally pretty stock. Much like the Modern lists, the Jeskai plan has lots of point removal and fewer counters while the UW Control list leans on Sweepers and counterspells to close games more slowly. The Devious Cover-Up package in the UW list is very intriguing to me in that it utilizes an Elixir of Immortality-esc strategy in being able to loop your cards over and over which is something I’m interested in exploring more. Most interestingly, there’s also a Bant list that focuses on Urza’s Ruinous Blast, Mox Amber, and other random midrange plans. I’m not convinced that this list has legs but it was a treat to look at all those powerful cards. One thing I’m sure of is that the Nullhide Ferox in the sideboard is probably a stray that was taken in and does not belong in this decklist. It’s worth noting that Turbo Fog will have a real presence despite not being in the decklists. I’m looking forward to seeing how it works with Jump Start and I’m sure we will very soon.

What to Do:
There’s a lot of decklists in this dump, but, we’re still pretty early in the process. These initial trends are important to be aware of, but, they might not be, and likely aren’t, what Standard will be all about. Below are a few preliminary thoughts about where I might go from here:

-The presence of Tokens makes me want to make sure I’ve got an answer for March of the Multitudes whether it’s a timely discard spell, a Disdainful Stroke or Negate, finally, I might return to Goblin Chainwhirler or my new pal Plague Mare.

-The presence of Boros and Mono Red reminds us that early, cheap removal should be in all the decks in Standard. A card I was particularly surprised to see a lack of was Necrotic Wound because of the ease of double spelling and its ability to cleanly answer Phoenix in most creature decks. Cards like Shivan Fire, Lava Coil, Dead Weight and Moment of Craving are all options I’m excited about.

-Having an early answer for Runaway Steam-Kin is very smart, which has me interested in Jeskai Control over UW Control. Shivan Fire and Lava Coil are good draws for me.

-If there’s a continued uptick in enchantments, looking at cards like Knight of Autumn, Thrashing Brontodon, and Reclamation Sage as good answers to History of Benalia, The Eldest Reborn and Experimental Frenzy makes some sense.

For as different as Standard looks, there’s a lot of familiar faces which makes me want to stay prepared for Rekindling Phoenix, Teferi, Goblin Chainwhirler, and History of Benalia going into week 1. Looking forward to seeing what this weekend brings us. Until next time!

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