Spread the Sickness – Exploring Standard: Decklists & Analysis by Grant Hislop
Magic and I have had a bit of a falling out recently. Nothing particularly serious, but towards the tail end of the Modern season, I couldn’t buy a win in a sanctioned matchup. Two successive 0-2 drop PTQ’s rounded out my experience, marking a season where I failed to put up even one top 8 performance, which is, quite frankly, embarrassing. I actually enjoy the Modern format, in spite of my very obvious shortcomings at it, so am somewhat disinclined to be overly enthusiastic at the PTQ format shift to Standard.
Basically, the entirety of my Magic focus for the last three or four months has been on Modern, so I’ve paid precious little attention to Standard, to my detriment. As is, I hadn’t actually played a match for almost a quarter of a year, with the lone standout being a 4-0 at a FNM that I attended for some reason just before Christmas.
In the last couple of weeks, however, the shift has led me to play a lot of Standard, due to the upcoming WMCQ and PTQs, and while I can’t see myself making many of the PTQs, due to real world commitments, I’ll be going hell for leather to book myself a spot on the national team. Last year, I managed to make the finals of one of the tournaments, and I’m hoping this go-around I can do one better.
I have access to a pretty much fully stocked MTGO account, so I’ve been able to experiment with a whole range of decks over the past couple of weeks, and while, for the most part, I’ve just been getting up to speed with the format, I’ve developed some preferences. The purpose of today’s article is to have a look at what is making up the core of the metagame, and have a look at the strengths and weaknesses of each of the decks that we’ve identified.
We’ll start with the fastest deck in the format…
Naya Blitz Sample Decklist:-
4 Boros Elite
4 Burning-Tree Emissary
4 Champion of the Parish
4 Experiment One
4 Flinthoof Boar
4 Frontline Medic
1 Ghor-Clan Rampager
4 Lightning Mauler
4 Mayor of Avabruck
3 Thalia, Guardian of Thraben
4 Searing Spear
This is the base-line aggressive deck in the format, and plays very much like a Zoo deck in older formats, to those who that means something to. Your ideal start looks like a Champion of the Parish, into a Burning-Tree Emissary or two into something else, and start swinging for three or more at every point from turn two until the opponent is dead.
This is a ridiculously powerful deck, and is very well developed from Brad Nelson’s original decklist posted a month or so ago. Now, we’ve moved to almost entirely creatures, without anything fancy. The joy of this deck is that people will be forced to respect pump spells that aren’t even in the deck, forcing unfavourable blocks.
In my personal experience with the deck, sequencing is incredibly important, and it’s often best to sacrifice a point or two of damage in the early game to get more in the following turn. Consider Champion into Lightning Mauler into Frontline Medic as our sequence of plays on turns one to three. Here, we’re generally better to save the soulbond on the Mauler for turn three, when we can immediately start swinging with indestructible creatures thanks to the Medic’s battalion.
This deck utilised Zealous Conscripts, which might be a little ambitious on the mana, but it’s a solid way of fighting the reanimator matchups – stealing their Angel or Behemoth to deal them the last few points of damage. Personally, I prefer Mark of Mutiny, but at least Cavern makes these uncounterable.
- Fastest aggro deck in the format – very often kills an opponent before you even know what they’re playing.
- Has easily the best nut-draw of all the commonly played decks.
- Capable of winning on turn 3, if the stars align.
- Doesn’t care what the opponent’s deck is doing – Your plan is your plan, regardless of what they’re trying to do
- In my experience, the games where my first creature or two are killed are pretty miserable. It’s very vulnerable to Tragic Slip, and the other slew of point-and-click removal spells.
- Inconsistency – It’s a three colour, twenty land deck. While Cavern does a good job of fixing the mana, it’s sometimes difficult to find a keep-able hand.
- The sideboard for this deck is pretty bad. The core is so tight, it’s difficult to find cards to cut, as it’s a deck so driven by the small synergies that are built in.
Rakdos Aggro Sample Decklist:-
This is a similar deck to Naya Blitz, though it attempts to sacrifice explosivity for consistency. It’s amusing to think that in a matchup between the two, the deck with 8 ETB tapped creatures will likely as not be the control deck. This was the kind of strategy that pushed out Junk reanimator in the old standard format, and as before, it seems like huge fliers are one of the better ways to fight them. Falkenrath Aristocrat and Thundermaw Hellkite make a hell of an airforce, and in tandem with Zealous Conscripts from the board, we’re looking at quite the way to fight against Angel of Serenity.
I like the inclusion of Gloom Surgeon here, in what was traditionally the slot reserved for Blood Artist, as just another cheap beater. In a deck like this, that relies so heavily on the top of its deck, with no real way to recur any advantage from the graveyard, save Gravecrawler, there really isn’t much of a drawback to the surgeon, and we’re just looking at a two mana, two power creature here.
I’d be interested to see if there were more of a ‘steal and sac’ route to take, appropriating Bloodthrone Vampires and Mark of Mutiny. At that point, you’re moving to quasi-combo territory though, and for the most part, this deck just wants to be as aggressive as possible.
- Fast clock, comprised of quite tough to deal with creatures. The Messengers and Gravecrawlers give control fits, and there’s enough haste creatures to ensure that the second wave hits about as hard as the first.
- Consistent mana – the mana in this deck is really good, if somewhat clunky, due to the presence of Guildgates in an aggressive deck.
- Awkward curve – As an aggressive deck curving all the way up to five, sometimes you’ll just get awkward draws. The price you pay for those draws where you’ve got six power on the table on turn two…
- Similarly weak to the first couple of creatures being dealt with, though slightly less due to Undying and Gravecrawler.
- Falkenrath Aristocrat is easily the best card in the deck, and there’s no way to ensure you draw one. Typical aggro deck problem.
Bant Delver Sample Decklist:-
This deck is an update of Zvi Mowshowitz’s Bant Delver deck that he’d been developing for possible consideration for Pro Tour Gatecrash. It won one of the MTGO PTQ’s, if I’m not mistaken, so people will be likely to try it out.
Looking at the decklist, it obviously attempts to harken back to the dark days of last summer, where Delver of Secrets was omnipresent everywhere people were playing standard. Fortunately, without the core of the engine in Ponder and Mana Leak, it’s probably just a fair alternative. I’ve seen this deck experimenting with Quirion Dryad, which is a personal favourite of mine, but obviously, Geist of Saint Traft is better, for the most part in a tempo deck like this.
- Delver revealing Spell Rupture is pretty sweet…
- The multitude of one and two of’s in the deck make it very difficult to assess what to play around at any given time, causing an opponent to mis-assess a situation, and play sub-optimally.
- A plethora of countermagic, backed up with a reasonable clock means that this deck should, on paper, have a decent reanimator matchup. I can’t imagine the Naya Blitz matchup is quite so good though…
- Fast aggro will run this over before it can set up a threat to protect.
- It’s a traditional ‘Protect the Queen’ strategy in a format with turn three or four kills. It’s can’t have a good time running against the Burning-Tree Emissary decks.
- Awkward Mana – Trying to make a turn one Delver isn’t always going to happen in a deck with eleven lands that can’t make Blue on the first turn.
Junk Reanimator Sample Decklist:-
This is a relatively standard version of what is the most popular and most winning deck in the format. The deck is a midrange value deck, in that all it’s trying to do is play creatures that are a little bigger than the aggressive decks, ideally ones that draw the equivalent of a card when they come into play too.
This version favours Centaur Healer over Loxodon Smiter, which I think is wrong, due to the body typically being worth a lot more than 3 life over the course of a game, but it does mix up the Lotleth Troll and Restoration Angel split, which is interesting. I like Restoration Angel better, due to synergies with playing Magic, but there are enough decks that just can’t beat a Lotleth Troll that makes the split worth considering.
This version, as most do, packs a semi-transformational sideboard, where you can cut out your reliance on the graveyard and just play as a pure creatures + removal deck. Your colours mean that you can deal with basically anything, and the deck is one of the most customisable in the format. There are versions which eschew the reanimation package entirely, and focus on Planeswalkers, and operate very similar to the Jund decks we’ll come to in a moment. Basically though, the reanimator decks are winning every tournament going, so in smaller markets, like the UK, you’re going to be playing against a lot of lazy people who’re running this deck.
- Solid nut draw. Plenty of ‘Oops, I win’ moments.
- Very fun to play – who doesn’t like turning their deck over into their graveyard and Demonic Tutoring from it.
- Craterhoof Behemoth is just dumb.
- Winning pedigree. More people have been working on this than any of the other decks, making it the most developed deck in the format, and the most customisable.
- Doesn’t do very much for the first few turns. Swarm aggro can run it over before it does anything meaningful.
- Rest in Peace and Purify the Grave are very frustrating to play against from the Junk side of the table, with Purify being my least favourite.
- Decks that just don’t care about life totals are annoying. Bant Wolf-Run and Esper are very frustrating to play if they’re overloaded on Wrath effects. Craterhoof or bust.
Jund Sample Decklist
I’ve got to be honest – I haven’t played with Jund at all. It looks solid, but it also looks pretty simple to play. If you wanted to, I’d expect you could get fully up to speed on Jund by playing 50 matches or so against a range of decks. The deck has singular purpose cards, and it’s very clear what everything is for. As with all non-blue decks though, it’s going to suffer from a necessity to draw the right half of itself in the right matchups, as you’ve no way to regulate what you draw. Control decks will laugh at you as you draw your removal spells and Farseeks, while aggro decks will just kill you if you’ve got a hand of Garruks and Rakdos’s Returns.
If you don’t like Olivia Voldaren, this isn’t the deck for you.
- Solid against most decks – no real terrible matchups, though Reanimator is supposed to be rough.
- Clearly defined plan against everything – you’ll know what you’re supposed to be doing.
- No surprises – Very little that you can do will catch the opponent unawares.
- Reliant on the top of the deck, and needs to have the right cards at the right time.
WUR Flash Sample Decklist:-
This deck straddles the line between midrange and control strategies. It’s got a similar removal suite to Jund, suggesting that it’s matchup against swarm aggro is good, and it has an extensive suite of permission, suggesting that it’s going to have a reasonable reanimator matchup as well. In practice though, I’ve found that this deck, in a similar fashion to Jund, is very reliant on finding the right pieces at the right time, and frequently finds itself with dead cards in hand throughout.
It’s possible that my limited experience with this deck has led me to dismiss it out of hand, as it certainly looks sweet on paper, but I have the feeling that it’s just stretching itself too thin, and fails to accomplish much of anything a little too often for my liking.
- Sphinx’s Revelation is still the stupidest card in the format. This deck makes good use of it.
- Solid transition from mid to late game – Aurelia closes things out very fast.
- Can be very difficult to win if a key piece is disrupted.
- Awkward combinations of permission leads to disappointment.
Esper Sample Decklist:-
This is the closest thing to a control deck in the format. It operates, like Flash above, primarily on the opponents turn, exceptions being predominantly when you need to wrath. This is the deck that I have most experience with, and will probably end up playing myself at the upcoming WMCQ at the weekend, unless I can find a good reason not to.
It has a realistic plan against most decks, though I’ve found the Naya Blitz matchup most difficult, if they get a reasonable draw. It’s possible the sideboard needs more consideration for that matchup, as it’s really quite bad, and I do expect a lot of it. I’m considering the old tech of Vampire Nighthawk, or that 2/4 Angel with lifelink, for four, whose name escapes me as a way to combat this, but it’s possible that Terminus and cheap removal would do the job as well.
I like this deck versus the field, to be honest, and it’s definitely the best Sphinx’s Revelation deck in the format. The other options are Wolf Run Bant, but I don’t really rate that. It’s possible that my opinion is skewed, as I’ve only played it as Esper, where it’s basically a bye.
- Solid Reanimator matchup.
- Crushes most random decks.
- Best Sphinx’s Revelation deck in the format.
- Better sideboard than most other decks, due to being a control deck, and not attempting to switch roles or straddle lines.
- Pretty stinking Blitz matchup
- Undying’s a pain.
- Mirror is pretty miserable.
This pretty much rounds up what I think Standard looks like this week. Hopefully you’ve got some food for thought. Good luck to those playing in WMCQ tournaments or the like this weekend, and I promise, I’ll try and start writing with more frequency again. Hopefully with tales of how I’m going to represent Scotland.
Stay classy mtgUK,