How to Utilize the Decklists From Standard Leagues

by Simon Nielsen on 15 August 2018, Wednesday

Simon Nielsen

How to Utilize the Decklists From Standard Leagues

At Pro Tour 25th Anniversary,  I teamed up with Australian Gold Pro David Mines on Humans in Modern and Kevin "Daddy" Jones on Eldrazi in Legacy. I played Mono Green Stompy myself, and the event was such a blast. Wizards treated us so well with a murderous row of sick perks, and we even finished at 9-5 for 17th place. 

I'll bring you insights of the tournament and Mono-Green later, but for this week I thought I'd bring you the article I wrote on my way here, talking about something that I do twice a week. And no, it's not visiting my fitness center, but thank you. It's pouring over Standard decklists from Magic Online. 

I think people use them wrong, either ignore them because they seem like useless information or putting too much stock in the lists, assuming that they accurately represent the metagame.

The System

Magic Online has been releasing decklists from their Standard leagues using this system for months. For those of you unfamiliar, this is what they do:

Every Monday and every Thursday they post some lists that have gone 5-0 since the last posting. They post every single different deck that went 5-0, but only one example of each deck. Decks are considered different if they are more than 15 cards apart. 

I like this way of doing things, as we get to see a ton of variety and cool decklists without getting all of the data served to us. And while this means that a lot of information is restrained, such as the popularity of a deck, how many copies went 5-0 and what win rate the decks have, it can still tell us a lot if only we look at it through the right lens.

Getting Inspired

The most important thing you should know is that every functional deck could randomly go 5-0. It doesn't mean that the deck is good or even that it has a positive win rate! For instance, somebody could have a record of 5-6, where they went 5-0 in one league, getting lucky and having the right pairings, then 0-3 dropped the next two leagues with the same deck. 

And usually, when a rogue deck pops up, it's just that - a one-off occurrence that only 5-0'd once during the week and probably won't 5-0 again. If it did, we'd know about it. 

So don't assume that the decks that show up here are good or even remotely playable. But there are a lot of ideas to be gathered from these lists.

Take this for example. It's from a long time ago, but it's still the weirdest Standard deck I've seen go 5-0:


Unesh, Cryosphinx Sovereign Arcane Adaptation


There are a lot of things to take in here, but the central part is that this deck is part Marionette Master combo, which might be reasonably familiar to some of you, and part Unesh + Arcane Adaptation combo. 

Before stumbling upon this list, I had not seen or heard anything of that combo. The way it works is that you have an Arcane Adaption naming Sphinx and then play Unesh, Cryosphinx Sovereign. This will give you a Fact or Fiction and make all your Walking Ballistas and Metallic Mimics free!

You are likely to find one of them in the top 5 cards, and each will not only cost you 0 mana but also yield yet another five cards to find another artifact creature sphinx. Weaponcraft Enthusiast becomes triple Fact or Fiction for 1 mana!

As expected, this deck did not 5-0 again, but to this day I'm still sometimes thinking about the combo, how sweet it is and how one could make it work. Right now, for instance, I'm thinking about how Catalyst Elemental generates mana with this set-up while also ramping you into Unesh. 

A more recent example is this Jund Ramp deck that 5-0'ed on July 12th:


It also didn't show up again, but I noticed that this player decided to run Cut // Ribbons over Abrade in the main deck, and I found that peculiar. But as I thought more about it, it made sense. Cut is in excellent position to kill some key creatures out of the top archetypes, like Nicol Bolas, the Ravager, Goblin Chainwhirler, Steel Leaf Champion and Sai, Master Thopterist. Plus, the aftermath is frequently very relevant. I put two copies in my main deck of Red-Black and have been very happy with.

The takeaway here is that I think you're missing out if you never look through these decklists, but don't put too much stock into it. 


Cut // Ribbons

Look For What Isn't There

As I mentioned earlier, there is no way of knowing how many times a given deck went 5-0. If Blue-White Gift shows up one week, it might not necessarily reveal anything about the metagame. However, if Blue-White Gift does NOT show up one week, that shows something about the metagame. Because this means that NOBODY went 5-0 with the deck during the past 3-4 days, we know that for sure. 

This might be because the deck is terrible in the current metagame or that there are fewer players with the deck, but both things are relevant. It can be a random one-time occurrence, though I do think it's improbable for a Tier 2 deck to not show up amongst the 5-0s given how much Magic is played online. You can also follow the trend for next decklist dump and see if it continues to not show up for more affirmation. 

These are the decks I'm currently expecting to show up every time (in no particular order), and I believe that this covers the mainstay tier 1-2 decks of the format:

  • Red-Black Chainwhirler
  • Mono-Red Aggro
  • Mono-Green Aggro
  • Blue-white Control
  • Esper Control
  • Blue-White Gift
  • Mono-Blue Storm
  • Grixis Midrange 
  • Blue-Black Midrange
  • Zombies
  • Black-Green Constrictor 

Last week, something significant happened, and it's a great example to illustrate my point.

At the decklist batch of Monday, July 23rd, Mono Red did not show up.

I can't recall if this has ever happened since they started showing decklists this way. Mono Red Aggro is usually one of the most vibrant and popular deck choices on Magic Online. The games are fast, and the deck has always been dominant in this format, making it an obvious choice for the competitive grinder. 

This week, it had no success at all. And that's huge. I don't know how many Mono Red lists go 5-0 every day usually, but I imagine it's high and that number have dropped so much to Plummet down to 0. 

I believe that Mono-Green Stompy is the reasoning, as especially after the printing of Thorn Lieutenant, it just matches up so well against the small red decks. The next batch, Mono Red did show up again, but it was the version that splashes for Scrapheap Scrounger and does not play Earthshaker Khenra - a card that has been pushed out of the format.

This knowledge is vital for planning your next tournaments, as you will know that the fast red decks are not nearly as much of a priority as they used to be.

Look For Recurring Decks

I said that random occurrences of rogue decks usually don't mean much. But if they keep showing up, week after week, it's unlikely that it's just a flash in the pan. After around five consecutive occurrences that's when I start testing the deck. And I keep an eye out for the deck to see if it keeps showing up. If it doesn't, I know that it might have just been a trend, and I shouldn't move it up to the tier 2 anyway.


God-Pharaoh's Gift Combat Celebrant

Remember GP Seattle earlier this year when 3 Blue-Red Gift decks made Top 8, seemingly out of nowhere? Well, it started here.

It was those people who saw the deck pop up a couple of times in these decklist batches, that tuned the deck into the monster that took over the tournament. If people had been following online results, it would not have been a surprise at all!

I had my eyes on Red-Green Monsters as it seemed to pop up again and again, and made sense as a Rekindling Phoenix deck to fight Mono-Green. Plus, Thorn Lieutenant is a significant upgrade to this deck.


Thorn Lieutenant

However, on July 23rd the usual version didn't show up, and on July 26th there was just no green Rekindling Phoenix decks among the 5-0s. I believe Red-Green Monsters to have been a reasonable choice when mono-green was on top of the format.

So the deck I've turned my eyes to now is this seemingly innocuous Mono-White Angels deck. For the past five weeks, it has shown up, probably laughed at and scoffed away by the Standard grinders. But at this point, it's not a coincidence.


Mono-White Angels (M2019) (Standard (M2019) - Others)

Gallery View

Standard by

deck download


Lyra Dawnbringer 


Lyra is really working overtime here, and it's one of the best cards against Mono Green, so that makes sense. I have a hard time seeing this deck consistently beat control, but if it can, we could have a real format contender here. It does have the strength of most cards being able to win on their own.

I ended up talking about Standard anyway it seems. But at least I didn't give you all the answers, you now have to use these tools yourself to figure out where the format is at and where it is headed. Standard moves fast, people, so if you want to succeed, it's really important that you keep your finger on the pulse. 

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