Powerful Decks in Standard's First Week

by Simon Nielsen on 05 October 2018, Friday

Simon Nielsen

While Guilds of Ravnica has yet to be released in paper Magic, our vigilant Magic Online grinders have already been playing through the new Standard format for a week. And the results are rather...aggressive.

By now, people have generally figured out that Runaway Steam-Kin is a powerful option for a mono red aggro deck. And that Flower // Flourish is a great for Selesnya decks to have a high land count while also giving them access to a powerful finisher at the top of their curve. And that History of Benalia is way better than the amount of play it saw last format would suggest. And that Pelt Collector into Kraul Harpooner is a effective alternative curve to Llanowar Elves into Steel Leaf Champion for Mono-Green Stompy decks.

So where does this leave our brave readers who want to venture into this aggressive new world of Magic Online leagues, or perhaps a release weekend PPTQ? I think you’d want to play some powerful stuff that is somewhat well suited to beat aggro decks. Generally, powerful anti-aggro midrange decks have had success early on the format. And how wrong can we really go by just jamming the best spells?

So here are four deck suggestions that try to do exactly this!

Path of Mettle

Now that the all-powerful Kaladesh block has rotated out, we can start to seek out overlooked cards from the previous year. We already know from Search for Azcantaand Arguel's Blood Fast how great these cheap transform enchantments can be. Path of Mettle is an oft-forgotten one, but powered by new Boros cards it could have its place in the metagame, especially if people feel like they can play X/1’s again.

My first encounter with this version of the deck was when I was watching a late-night stream from Buttons Gaming, just zapping around Twitch channels. I came in as his opponent ultimated Ajani, Adversary of Tyrants. The emblem stayed in play for ten turns until Buttons had finally ground through it and won the game. That made me realise that this deck doesn’t have to rely on curving out; it can also muscle out the opposition in the late game, similarly to how Red-Black Midrange operated last format.

One big change I made to Buttons's list was to change up the manabase with the addition of 4 Boros Guildgate to enable maindeck Goblin Chainwhirler. I’m always a big proponent of functional manabases and spend a lot of time making sure I’m not getting too greedy with the spells I want to cast. While you might think that playing four tapped lands in an aggro deck is heresy, think about Red-Black last format again. That deck played 4 Canyon Slough and sometimes even some Cinder Barrens. And that was totally fine, because while the deck sometimes got free wins by curving out, you certainly didn’t need to do so as the deck had more than enough staying power if the game went long.

Path of Mettle does ask us to fill up our deck with creatures that meet certain requirements, but luckily most of these would see play in a regular Boros deck anyway. And I’ve found that the payoff of a flipped Path of Mettle really rewards us. You can even completely switch your gameplan and sit behind a wall of first strike blockers while Metzali, Tower of Triumph keeps any flyers at bay. And while they’re not dealing you any damage, they take 2 damage each turn until they die.

I think Aurelia, Exemplar of Justice is another primary card of new Standard. It works so well with mentors and first strikers where it can push through significant damage the turn it comes into play, then proceed to become a 4/5 with vigilance, trample, and flying - that sometimes even mentors up your other creatures. It doesn’t die to most Red spells, including Justice StrikeCast Down or Seal Away. I think playing four copies of her is not a hard decision at all.

The deck started out with Knight of Grace, but Black isn’t especially popular in the current metagame, so it was often just a 2/2 with first strike. Somebody pointed out to me that Sunhome Stalwart is often just the same card, but with a very relevant mentor ability. Sometimes you just want to run out Rigging Runner on turn 1 to enable Path of MettleSunhome Stalwart is the perfect follow-up to that, and really likes to receive a counter from a turn 3 Tajic, Legion's Blade. 

Speaking of which, Tajic has apparently been underwhelming because it often just runs into a trade when you play it. An alternative option is Legion Warboss which has similar features of being a pseudo-haste creature that can enable an early flipped Path of Mettle, and it also happens to be a great follow-up to Sunhome Stalwart, but for different reasons.

I also just want to point out the bonkers sideboard card that is Experimental Frenzy. Miles better than Vance's Blasting Cannons, it not only runs circles around control decks, but also lets me board into a bunch of removal against aggro and bury them in card advantage.

Lyra Dawnbringer and friends

If you are looking for ways to beat aggro decks, Lyra Dawnbringer is usually your best bet. Before rotation there was a Mono-White angels deck with a base of Knight of Grace, History of Benalia, Resplendent AngelShalai, Voice of Plenty and Lyra Dawnbringer. A tribal angels deck, if you will.

None of that stuff has rotated, so it’s time to update it in a new light. Here is first a Green-White take, which should be an aggro killer! 

I already noted the significance of Flower // Flourish in my intro. Selesnya is the guild with the best mana solely because of it, and I wonder how far we can actually push it. Being able to run essentially twelve good dual lands is huge.

I also love how this deck has no 6-drops yet has no shortage of things to do once it hits six mana. The way this is set up it should be very good at never getting mana screwed or mana flooded. But I can see that not working out, as most of our mana sinks can be destroyed if the opponents wields lots of 1-for-1 removal.

Another approach to this archetype would be Boros so that we get access to yet another magnificent angel: Aurelia, Exemplar of Justice!

This is from Magic Online user Bertram in the first set of published 5-0 lists.

It’s self-explanatory how powerful it is to curve Aurelia into Lyra, but the trick I really want to highlight here is how great Deafening Clarion is in this deck. Not only can it make sure you don’t die before you start dropping angels, but the cheesy tacked on lifegain mode can actually be used to trigger your Resplendent Angels! Plus since you can choose both modes it works wonderfully with Adanto Vanguard, as not only does it survive the 3 damage, it also regains most of the life you paid to do so straight away!

Golgari Midrange

I’ve seen so many attempts at building Golgari midrange decks that include Llanowar Elves. Not only is it hard to make the mana work for turn 1 Elves and double-Black costed spells in the same deck, but these grindy midrange decks just don’t want to be topdecking Llanowar Elves once they reach the later parts of the game that they’re aiming to get to in the first place.

Instead, I really love Dryad Greenseeker. Adored in Core Set 2019 Limited and largely overlooked for Standard, this little guy provides a steady stream of card advantage throughout the game and makes sure you hit your land drops while also being a decent size for blocking small creatures.

This is the package that I’ve wrapped it all in:

Initially I also had Field of Ruin in here, as I really like to have my lands perform additional duties when I am so good at picking them up. That version also had Josu Vess, Lich Knight as the 4-drop, as that card has the same properties of dodging removal as Aurelia while also being a manasink (especially when we get hit by Assassin's Trophy).

But I’ve come around on Golgari Findbroker. It’s a very decent body, gets back removal spells for almost anything, including Dead Weight to kill small things on tempo. And I can’t resist the temptation to try and loop it with The Eldest Reborn, a card I believe will see much more play now in the new Standard.

Naturally, playing Golgari Findbroker stops us from running Field of Ruin, but I will accept this cost. I believe that Memorial to Folly picks up the slack as a value land, and especially in combination with Findbroker it lets us access almost anything out of our graveyard in the very late game, or just loop Findbrokers in the grindiest of games. 

Not playing District Guide wasn’t an easy choice, but I already have Dryad Greenseeker and Jadelight Ranger doing its job, and I think Jadelight Ranger is better as it can put a permanent into the graveyard for Findbroker to get back on curve.

This deck has answers for basically everything, especially postboard, and would be the go-to option for any Jund fan out there.

Teferi is still around

In spite of all these new and exciting cards, we must not forgot that Teferi, Hero of Dominaria is most likely still the best card in Standard. It’s just hard to build around, mostly because the manabases in current control decks aren’t great. Blue-White Control suffered a lot from the loss of Cast Out, and the manabase isn’t even that good, as you have to run 4 Meandering River to be able to support double-Blue and double-White costs.

Esper has the better control tools, but without Hallowed Fountain and Godless Shrine it becomes ambitious to try and splash Teferi into a deck that already has double-Blue and double-Black costs.

But with Jeskai we have access to Ionize, a rare single-blue variant on Cancel. This means that we don't need to run as many blue sources as the other Teferi control variants, and as such our manabase is great. Granted, Ionize is worse than Sinister Sabotage, but I’d rather be able to cast my spells consistently than surveil 1 sometimes. 

An incredible advantage of going with Red is that our removal spells are so much more suited to beat aggro. They are cheap and efficient, and we even get to play a 3-mana sweeper. Between the incidental damage from Ionize and Lightning Strike to the face, Expansion // Explosion can just act as an additional win condition.

What I really love about this deck, though, is the ability to board into Rekindling Phoenix and Dire Fleet Daredevil against midrange decks to outmuscle them and beat down on planeswalkers, which can undeniably be troublesome for this version of control.

Hopefully these lists will provide a good starting point for your own exploration of the format. I think all of the ideas are solid, even if they are untuned at their current state. Best of luck!

This article was written by Simon Nielsen in a media collaboration with Snapcardster.com.

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