What My Standard Testing Shows Me

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

What My Standard Testing Shows Me

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.

From the Testing Files: Week 1 Decklists

Answer Oriented Format:

Standard, as it stands, features a wide variety of flexible, powerful, and efficient answers. Cards like Assassin’s Trophy address everything, Conclave Tribunal and Necrotic Wound can offer double spell opportunities while still taking out large threats. There’s a massive number of sweepers, spot removal, and versatile Naturalize effects all over the format. Where Kaladesh Standard was defined by the threats, it seems that Ravinica Standard will be defined by the answers. As such, it’s important that you’re preparing broad answers in the first game and specific answers in the postboard games. To provide a more colloquial example: if you expect to face Runaway Steam-Kin, Doom Whisperer, Teferi, Hero of Dominaria, and Steel Leaf Champion, you can’t register Moment of Craving and expect it to be good all the time. If you’re a deck focused on presenting threats, you need to make your threats as resilient as possible. Rekindling Phoenix is a great example of this. Phoenix is a great card in Red decks that expect Assassin’s Trophy. Phoenix can be easily cast as Red decks get accelerated by Assassin’s Trophy, it’s a threat that can’t be one for one’d by something like Assassin’s Trophy. Building off of this, if you’re expecting Assassin’s Trophy, make sure you build ways for your deck to use additional mana. Playing cards like Goblin Banneret is an easy step to use the extra mana while still maintaining an early, aggressive plan. It’s an awkward place for aggressive decks. On one hand, you want to play threats that are resilient to Assassin’s Trophy, but, on another front, you don’t want the extra cost of the threats to make your ability to go under blue counterspells.

The Two Drop Problem:

In testing a lot of different decks, I’ve found that the biggest miss in the Standard format is the two drops. A lot of decks, as the deck dump has shown, have some very lackluster two mana plays. Specifically looking at the Boros decks, there’s a lot of two drops I could play, but, I’m not very happy with many of them as the metagame shakes out. Cards like Adanto Vanguard, Calvary Drillmaster, Viashino Pyromancer, and other threats I’ve seen don’t look well positioned if Legion’s Landing and Saproling Migration are commonly played threats. (Sidenote: the fact that Saproling Migration is a card we’ve agreed on playing speaks to my point about two drops in the first place). I have trouble finding two drops that set me up for what I want to be doing. This is perhaps a flaw in my testing, but, missing Scrapheap Scrounger, Heart of Kiran and the like makes me worry how aggro decks can attack in the face of all these answers. I like cards like Thorn Lieutenant, Glowspore Shaman, Kitesail Freebooter, but, I don’t know where to put them. The real strong aggressive two drops exist in Selesnya. I’ve had great experiences with Shana and Emmarra. Both are strong two drops that scale with their plans and offer additional benefits, however, much like Kari Zhev, their Legendary status sometimes makes me worry they can’t fill the slots as 4 ofs.

The Post-Board Games Look Different:

Back to the answer situated format claim I made earlier, the fact that the answers are so diverse means that the sideboards have access to so many poignant effects that the decks with a linear focus can easily be disrupted by the sideboard games. Another example: if I’m playing a single-minded graveyard deck or a linear tokens strategy in game 1, there’s a large number of playable cards that can disrupt the plan. This has always been true to some extent. The strength of popular decks in past Standard has been their ability to adapt after board. Mardu Vehicles removing their artifacts for planeswalkers, Control decks bringing in creature threats, combo decks becoming more midrange oriented, etc. etc. However, Standard in past years has been about threats: planeswalkers, powerful haste creatures like Glorybringers and Hazorets, and resilient threats like Rogue Refiner, Whirler Virtuoso, Bristling Hydra, and The Scarab God. These threats don’t exist to the same extent so most of my sideboards include powerful spells and answers to less resilient creatures. My sideboard options from the aggro deck needs to be built to diversify my plan to not fall victim to these potent sideboard cards. This is the toughest part of testing. It’s hard to know exactly how far down the rabbit hole someone goes this early in the format, but, it’s important to know that you’re flying in contrast to common trends. You don’t want to bring the known 75 and sideboard just like the article you read last week because you’ll likely end up on the wrong side of a known matchup.

The A+ Mythics:

The key of standard metagames are always going to include the busted cards that define the metagame. We know what is currently powerful: Teferi, Karn, Lyra, Nexus of Fate, Rekindling Phoenix, Vraska, Relic Seeker. We also have some idea what might be powerful: Nullhide Ferox, March of the Multitudes, Aurelia or even what might become powerful in the new home: History of Benalia, Resplendent Angel, Carnage Tyrant, Sarkhan. Having these explosive, powerful, unique cards in mind when building your deck is very important. For example, I have loved building with Muldrotha this season. I have constructed every element of my deck with Muldrotha in mind. My gameplan is based around resolving, empowering, and enhancing this powerful mythic. My worst case scenario is my opponent disrupting the things that makes the card powerful. The same can be true with other mythics. Being able to disrupt synergies, being able to halt the cogs that enable the power of these unique cards not only reduces the power and impact of the mythic itself but also disables the cards that gain their power from the mythic. Another great example is Nexus of Fate. If you can challenge the potency of the cards that buy time to Nexus, you’re also disrupting the power of Nexus. The point I’m trying to make is that if Standard is a format that is defined by Mythics, powering down those Mythics breaks down the power of the deck.

Consistent Decks Win Events:

In early testing, there are decks with promise and there are decks with a plan. When building a deck, I have two friends who I always have to defend my plan to. If my plan sounds like it’s unlikely to happen or you can’t find multiple engine effects in my decklist, what I’m doing isn’t going to be occurring with consistency. Looking again at Nexus of Fate, 8 two mana cantrips, 8 fogs, 4 ramp spells, 4 Teferi, 4 Nexus – there’s redundancy in the tools, there’s some consistency in the effects. What the deck is doing is going to be similar every time, whereas my off-the-wall-nut-draw-pile is not consistently winning the same way. Tutors, Toolboxes, and other like effects can enable that consistency. An example would be Stitcher’s Supplier and Glowspore Shaman allowing consistent numbers of cards in the graveyard, or Flower//Flourish allowing you to cut down on lands and increase the number of Green and White sources you’re able to have access to in the early game. Moreover, making sure your manabase is consistent #karstenbibleplug. Another way to add consistency is to just play powerful cards. You don’t need to have engines in decks that are full of good cards. Rb Aggro, Mardu Vehicles, and Gideon Ally of Zendikar Midrange decks are all good examples of just playing powerful cards and winning the game on its own merits rather than enabling lower powered cards.

Bringing it all Together:

The format feels so deep right now. Every strategy seems to have tools to grind, but, the aggression seems to come from inevitability. For example, the poor two drops lead to a lack of aggressive curves, but, the Red decks have Risk Factor and Experimental Frenzy to chip out inevitability. The Green/White Tokens list is similar in that it completely turns the corner with March of the Multitudes into Flower//Flourish for enormous lifegain swings. Esper is able to utilize inevitability with the powerful and dynamic Teferi. The Golgari decks seem to gain this inevitability from small 2 for 1 effects. Gruesome Menagerie, Find//Finality and even Molderhulk or Golgari Findbroker offer countless amounts of minuscule value over and over. Those are the strategies that I like because of the plans they offer. Boros doesn’t have that recursive value or inevitability, Mono Green doesn’t offer much more than playing a worse Find // Finality plan than Golgari. Below, I’ve posted 5 decks that I’d confidently play tomorrow:

All of these decks feature a powerful late game engine, are situated by the most powerful cards in the format and feature resilient threats with good ETB effects. Moreover, all of these sideboards address some specific things:
-Answers for Experimental Frenzy
-Answers for March of the Multitudes
-A way to check Teferi, Hero of Dominaria
-A plan to take the game long

If you aren’t checking those boxes, I’d focus on playing something different. Until next time!

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