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The Golden Standard

Written by LegitMTG Staff on . Posted in Competitive Magic, Standard

The last two weekends have finally brought us a new Standard metagame. In those two weeks we had a GP, two SCG Opens, and a Pro Tour. The Pro Tour specifically flipped Standard deck building on its head, as we witnessed the rise of the devotion decks. Grand Prix Louisville featured many of these devotion lists on camera all throughout last weekend. The opens didn’t show us too much more than the decks that we have seen these last two weeks are, in fact, pretty good. With the SCG Invitational happening this weekend and the TCG Player 50k the week after, it seems pertinent that we should assess what standard looks like right now.

The Devotion Decks

Let’s start with the new hotness, devotion decks. We have four devotion lists that made a splash at PT Theros: Mono-Blue, Mono-Black, and R/G (one based in green, the other based in red). All of these decks had some things in common, some number of Nykthos, Shrine to Nyx and some number of their color’s respective god. Let’s look at how these lists operate. We will start with Mono-Blue.

There were a number of small variations of the archetype running around (including another two in the top 8), but we will look at the winning lists. This deck revolves around the power of Master of Waves, Thassa, God of the Sea, and her Bident/Jace, Architect of Thought. The deck tries to utilize a curve of blue mana symbols to push out a huge Master. If you watched coverage last weekend at all, you saw many instances of seven plus elemental tokens attacking helpless opponents. The deck has a lot of synergy and explosiveness, but it has weaknesses. You are still playing a number of terrible creatures. Beyond Thassa, Master of Waves, and Nightveil Specter, nothing really strikes fear into your opponent. The deck requires tight technical play and a welcoming metagame to do well. Like any decks looking to use creatures to turn on devotion, it is weak to removal and wrath effects. When looking to beat this deck, remember that you need different types of removal (Doom Blade will kill Master of Waves not Specter, Lightning Strike will kill Specter, not Master, neither kill Thassa, etc.). Also remember that most of these lists run transformative sideboards to morph into pretty competent control decks as well.

The next devotion list has been whispered about in the shadows since Torment rotated out of standard years ago…Mono-Black!

This list revolves around Theros draft hero Gray Merchant of Aphodel. Much like its blue counterpart, this deck tries to load up on black mana symbols (note the staggering four copies of Underworld Connections) in order to make the Merchant pack a real punch. Beyond that we see a number of powerful threats including Desecration Demon, Lifebane Zombie, and Pack Rat (!!!). Interesting note about Pack Rat, copies of Pack Rat also have a mana symbol on them and count towards devotion…neat!

This deck also comes packed with a bevy of removal and Thoughtseizes to hit any troublesome permanent that you can’t deal with. This deck can draw a ton of cards, and the cost of this is mitigated by Whip of Erebos. The deck can hit hard out of nowhere with Merchants, but it still has a hard time beating Planeswalkers and Enchantments once they have resolved. Make sure you have a way to kill early Pack Rats when preparing for a metagame featuring this deck, and based off of the results of GP Louisville, you will. Brian Braun-Duin won GP Louisville with a variant of this deck (which carried Brad Nelson and Todd Anderson to a top 8 berth as well). The main changes involved swapping the Specters in over Lifebane Zombies and including all four Rats across the 75, so be sure you know that this deck will be out in force.

The last set of Devotion lists that showed up at the Pro Tour feel very much like different sides of the same coin.

Here we have two more top 8 devotion lists. Kamiel Cornelissen’s red list is terrifyingly fast. It is able to abuse Nykthos to make its big guys go monstrous well before they should be able to. This deck also uses Purphoros, God of the Forge to its max ability; Nykthos even makes the fire breathing ability feel overbearing. The fact that this deck made top 8 in a format full of Master of Waves is a testament to its raw power. When tuning in this format, test here first.

Makihito Mihara’s list goes a bit bigger. The compilation of big creatures and planeswalkers come out surprisingly fast. Nykthos, Shrine to Nyx paired with Voyaging Satyr leads to degenerate amounts of mana. This may very well be the best Garruk, Caller of Beasts deck. You generally have the ability to cast all of the threats that his ability finds (possibly that turn). Unfortunately both decks were hard-pressed to kill Master of Waves and couldn’t take down the event.

The devotion lists are definitely here to stay. They are making their presence felt in the format even after the pro tour, Mono-Blue at SCG Seattle and Mono-Black at GP Louisville. The consensus on how to beat these decks ultimately focuses on keeping their permanents off the table. This means Detention Spheres, Supreme Verdict, removal, and counters. Ultimately, it means control.

The Control Lists

Generally there are still two popular variants of control in this format. The first is Esper.

Wafo-Tapa showed everyone that Esper wasn’t done. Featuring a list nearly devoid of creatures (hello singleton Aetherling), he stormed into another top 8 by casting powerful spells and playing planeswalkers. The Esper strategy isn’t one that is difficult to understand, but it is difficult to tune correctly. Esper lists will generally vary by a few cards as each player tries to prepare for the anticipated metagame. Wafo-Tapa had a number of powerful creature effects for post-sideboard games, and very nearly took down the whole event. Throughout this last weekend, Esper has made a bit of a resurgence with multiple players in Seattle and Louisville doing well with it. Esper is still weak to powerful permanents, especially Burning Earth.

The other popular control variant is not nearly as weak to Burning Earth.

Jesse Hampton won SCG Seattle this weekend with his variant of U/W control. While U/W loses the benefit of great removal and Thoughtseize, it gains a much more stable manabase. You also don’t lose games straight up to Burning Earth like Esper can. However, you do make a conscious decision to lean heavier on cards like Detention Sphere and subpar removal like Celestial Flare. Overall, these two decks have similar game plans. You try and survive the early turns, cast a giant Sphinx’s Revelation, and ride Aetherling or a planeswalker to victory. If you can disrupt these decks’ ability to stabilize early, then you can probably beat them. They also have a hard time dealing with recursive/powerful effects which certain midrange decks are more than happy to dish out.

The Midrange Decks

Paul Rietzl and Patrick Chapin both played this interesting B/W list to impressive finishes at PT Theros. This deck runs a unique curve that finishes with one of the best creatures in the format: Obzedat, Ghost Council. Much like the Esper lists, you get to play a large number of removal spells and Thoughtseize. The difference though, is that the game plan is to beat the opponent down. You do this with everything from the impressively resilient Soldier of the Pantheon all the way up to the aforementioned ghost dad and Blood Baron of Vizkopa. This deck proved to be possible a little slow against the mono-blue deck’s best draws in the pro tour, but it is the kind of strategy that many players will flock to. It had the tools to beat Esper and most other creature decks, so look for it to be a player in the format.

Jon Stern managed to take 2nd at GP Louisville with this list. Variants of Gruul midrange, Naya midrange, and even Jund continue to appear in the top 8-16 lists in SCG opens. They generally follow the pattern of mana guys, big creatures, and planeswalkers. The mana for the three-color lists is rough to say the least. They are capable of doing powerful things, but they can stumble. Jon Stern’s pure Gruul list is running the usual suspects like planeswalkers and Boon Satyr, but the really spicy part of his list is maindeck Mistcutter Hydra. On camera he launched an 8/8 hydra (thanks to Xenagos, the Reveler) at his Esper opponent. This may very well be the direction to go in this blue heavy format. I am still inclined to think that the Nykthos/devotion versions of these lists are better. The mana is better, and they seem to have a greater level of explosiveness. For now Stern’s list will set the standard, but remember that any of these decks could show up at any time. If you play against any of these red/x decks, make sure that you can kill Stormbreath Dragon, or you’re going to have a bad time.

Lastly, let’s look at the aggressive decks in the format.

The Aggro Decks

Justin Herrell played this list to a heartbreaking 9th place finish at GP Louisville. I say heartbreaking because he went undefeated on day one and could have drawn in to the top 8, but Sam Black wanted to play for standings. Oof! Anyways, here we have another take on the Boros aggro deck that has been around for the last few weeks. This deck has a pretty single-minded game plan, kill your opponents with creatures quickly. This deck features cards like Brave the Elements and Boros Charm as a way to ensure that the creatures will get the job done. Spear of Heliod also offers a way to double the size of the team before going in for the kill. This deck is quick and will blow you out if you aren’t prepared.

The other side of this coin is red based.

It is debatable to which deck is really faster based purely on creatures. The edge probably goes to the deck running Burning-Tree Emissary. This deck can’t save it’s creatures like the white list can, but this deck has the reach that other list wishes it had. Between Shock, Lightning Strike, and Fanatic of Mogis this list can burn opponents out (or clear creatures out of the way). Neither list can deal with some of the bigger threats this format has to offer, nor do they have any top deck threats that can really turn a stabilized game around. They both focus on a linear strategy, namely kill as fast as possible. Make sure first and foremost that you can deal with these strategies before you begin testing elsewhere.

Drawing Conclusions

Once again it seems like we have a pretty healthy format. There are no Caw Blades or Delvers running around and terrorizing people. The above lists offer a pretty daunting gauntlet of decks to prepare for going forward. Many of these lists will continue to make top 8 appearances for the next coming weeks. That isn’t to say that the format is solved. The Pro Tour showed that there are definitely some untapped resources in Standard.

If you are going to brew in this format make sure you have answers for a number of things. I would say start here:

Wrath Effects: Make sure you can survive a Supreme Verdict. Attack your opponents from multiple angles.

Midrange monsters: Make sure you have some kind of plan to take out all of the huge creatures like Obzedat, Ghost Council that standard has to offer.

Aggro: If you aren’t the aggressor, make sure you have a solid plan for beating the decks that want you dead by turn four. If you can’t, go back to the drawing board.

If you are playing one of the known archetypes in Standard going forward, make sure you are not just playing these stock lists card for card. Try to recognize where the metagame is going, and make choices accordingly.

We will see how the format continues to shake out heading into the SCG Invitational this weekend in Indianapolis. I hope to see you there.

Mike Keknee
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