What's Been Good in Standard So Far

by Simon Nielsen on 06 February 2019, Wednesday

Simon Nielsen

After all these hours of brewing, watching, testing and tweeting about the new decks, we finally had the first week of competition to see Standard come into action at an SCG Open and a Magic Online PTQ.

I also did some testing myself, and it is based on these events that I will bring you my current stance on the format. Where we started, where we are now, and where we should go.

And we might as well start with the Jellyfish Hydra in the room…

Sultai Krasis

It was pretty clear that the powerful Golgari Midrange shell would continue to exist in some form or another still, likely with our new manabase to expand to three colors.

However it might not have been obvious to everyone how good Hydroid Krasis is. I compared it to an old fan favorite in Mulldrifter. When cast for 6 mana, the Krasis will draw you two cards, give you a flying threat and gain you 2 life. This is similar to Mulldrifter, and while it costs more mana you also get a real threat.

Similar to our flying fish friend, Hydroid Krasis can also be cast for less mana in order to gain some traction in case you need it. But what Mulldrifter can’t do is scale to your total amount of mana. It happens so often in midrange decks, especially with mana dorks, that you hit 8 or even 10 mana. But you can't really run such expensive cards normally.

And when you get to cast Krasis for 8 mana you gain so much advantage. A 6/6 flyer needs to come off the table, and quickly. After that you still have to deal with the 3 new cards it drew. This gets even easier in the early game when you pair Krasis with the mana-producing powers of Incubation Druid.

I’m sad that I didn’t preorder them.

Misplacedginger, renowned streamer and Standard trophy hunter, came up with this list that has been the basis for what people perceive as the initial best deck. Sultai Krasis even took down both major events this weekend:

This deck had 9 copies in the top 32 of the online PTQ and 7 copies in the top 25 of the Open. Those are some high numbers for week 1. People like their easy choices for the best deck!

Hostage Taker is another new overperformer. It works very well against Hydroid Krasis in the mirror, as even if the kill the pirate, they won’t get their big flyer back. But they basically have to get rid of your Hostage Taker, otherwise YOU get the ability to cast a Krasis and draw some cards!

It’s also another card that works well with the extra mana from Incubation Druid.

Petomartinez’s genius: A better version of Sultai?

However, it seems like these decks basically just splash black for Vraska's Contempt. Also, Wildgrowth Walker is so easy to go over the top of if you aren’t playing only Mountains. I was really impressed by this version that won the online PTQ:

Growth-Chamber Guardian adds another angle of attack and a good way to spend all of your extra mana. This addition also makes the deck much more of a threat against control decks.
Peto Martinez also gained access to Hadana's Climb, which is a good enabler for your adapt 2-drops, and Zegana, Utopian Speaker. These make it really easy to go over the top of other midrange decks, and they both impressed me so much.

From playing this deck, I found it to be really smooth and with a good manabase, great early game and plenty of options in the late game. This is the version I would recommend if you have a big tournament soon. Although I would look to add some Wildgrowth Walker between the maindeck and sideboard, because Mono-Red is a bad matchup.

There is also a chance that the black splash is just a mistake, when you could instead play white. That gives you cards like Ajani, Adversary of Tyrants, a planeswalker that works well with the adapt 2-drops, as well as Deputy of Detention, Ixalan's Binding and the like.

The sideboard of such a Bant deck could also have cards like Knight of AutumnShalai, Voice of Plenty and Lyra Dawnbringer, which should make it trivial to crush Mono-Red Burn.

And speaking of the devil… What are you at?

All it took was a common and an uncommon, and now we have a real Burn deck, where almost every card either deals direct damage immediately or draw more cards. This deck seemed obviously good, is cheap enough that it has ravaged MTG Arena, and even had a good handful of results here early in the format: There were 8 in the top 32 of the PTQ and 5 in the top 25 of the Open. Here is a sample decklist:

triosk's Mono-Red Burn (Standard (Ravnica Allegiance) - Others)

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These Mono-Red decks come in a lot of different variants, and it’s quite scary that such a apparently simple and one-dimensional deck can be built in so many ways. Some go for Risk Factor or The Flame of Keld instead of Experimental Frenzy, some play Fanatical Firebrand or Spear Spewer (with the latter, in my opinion, being superior) as additional 1-drops. Some don’t play Runaway Steam-Kin or replace it with Electrostatic Field. Some splash green for Cindervines and Collision // Colossus in the sideboard, and some splash black for Carnival // Carnage and Theater of Horrors.

What’s common between all the lists is that they run the 8 wizards, 4 Goblin Chainwhirler and at least 14 burn spells. And you must be prepared for this deck. I don’t think you can throw a couple Moment of Craving in your sideboard and call it a day. That won’t be enough. This deck is brutal.

Personally, I’m impressed by Spear Spewer and its ability to consistently threaten damage and enable spectacle. It does damage both players, so be wise when you consider its activation. Runaway Steam-Kin also felt somewhat clunky. It rarely does anything as a topdeck and is weak on defense.

Bant Nexus

Despite so much hype, no Wilderness Reclamation decks managed to make it to the top of the SCG Open standings. It might be because their website hyped up the cards so much and many writers warned the players. Maybe people just showed up scared and prepared.

The Magic Online PTQ shows a different result, because it had 3 Wilderness Reclamation decks in the top 8!

All of them try to take advantage of the broken interaction between that card and Nexus of Fate. Here’s the 3rd place list, which is a pretty stock Fog style version:

The scariest thing about this deck is that when it goes off, you might never get another turn.

Consider turn 2 Growth Spiral into turn 3 Wilderness Reclamation (potentially with a play on the opponent’s turn), followed up by a Teferi, Hero of Dominaria. If you float mana in response to a trigger in the end step, this will lead to 7 mana so you can cast Nexus of Fate and pass the turn to yourself again.

Again, there are lots of different version. Some play Temur and some are on a spicy Gates brew, that eschews both Teferi and Root Snare. These decks run other ways to build a card-draw engine and stay alive, with Expansion // Explosion and Uncomfortable Chill in Temur or Guild Summit and Gates Ablaze in the Gates list.

These decks don’t play out like normal Standard decks as they are much more like combo decks in nature. And while it can feel deflating to play for so much time where your turns don’t matter, I do think it’s awesome that we get decks like these in Standard again.

Also, this is something to be prepared for. It certainly hurts this deck that many of the green creature decks now play blue, so they have access to countermagic postboard. Also be aware of cards like Duress and Knight of Autumn that are good against both Burn and Turbofog.

Esper Control

This deck, powered by the new shocklands and Kaya's Wrath showed the opposite story of Turbo Nexus decks. It didn’t place higher than 10th at the PTQ, but there were two in the top 8 of the Open. I guess only one type of Teferi deck can succeed in each tournament.

This is one of the top 8 lists for reference:

At the moment, Jeskai Control almost vanished completely in favor of Esper. I’m not sure if this will hold up, as the Green decks have so many ways to gain card advantage now that it might be hard for Esper to keep up. In that case, it’s so much more attractive to go for Expansion // Explosion and Niv-Mizzet, Parun so that you can make sure to go over the top when you go late.

The upside of Esper though, is how much more flexible the removal spells are. Cast DownVraska's Contempt and Kaya's Wrath just get things dead and especially Mortify is clutch now with all of the enchantments floating around. Black also gives you access to more life gain, which is certainly welcome in a Mono-Red world.

I don’t know if Esper Control will live as the format goes on, but Teferi is still such a stupidly good card advantage engine, so I wouldn’t write it off the list.

However, it’s not the only Esper-deck that sees results. 

Esper Hero

Wyatt Darby has created a very good stream channel to build upon his Pro Tour win, and during his early playtime on Arena he created a Hero of Precinct One deck in Esper colors where every spell but the Hero was multicolored!

He tuned it since and managed to top 8 the Open with it. The deck also got 9th at that tournament and top 8’ed the online PTQ, so it certainly has some prowess:

The Hero is certainly a good card in this deck, as it basically reads “whenever you cast a spell, create a 1/1”. Hostage Taker also got better, as discussed earlier, and Mortify as well as Deputy of Detention are just slam dunks.

Basilica Bell-Haunt completely wrecks Mono-Red and with access to maindeck discard and sideboarded counterspells, I wouldn’t be afraid of Nexus decks either. What I do fear is that this deck does not have what it takes to go toe to toe with other midrange decks that get to play Vivien Reid.

Also, because this deck doesn’t play any 1-mana cards, I can imagine that it’s quite clunky when you try to utilize the Hero. And the tokens might not matter that much anyway, at least not on a stalled board.

I suspect that these finishes were just a flash in the pan, since the deck is nowhere to be seen outside of those top results, and that people will now think that the deck is stronger than it actually is.

Closing thoughts: Where to next?

It seems like a solid metagame begins to take shape. These five archetypes should turn into a testing gauntlet if you want to prepare for the coming weeks. While most of these decks are still not fine-tuned, it seems like Sultai, Red, Nexus and Esper variants will make up most of the metagame in the coming weeks.

This doesn’t mean that the format is already solved. Far from it. While these lists work towards more consistency when they face each other, people are still out here and perform with Izzet Drakes (that feature Arclight Phoenix again!), White Weenie with Deputy of Detention, Gruul Aggro and even crazy Gate-based decks. I wonder where Judith, the Scourge Diva went?

It also seems like nobody really pays attention attention to or wants to explore the sick synergy between Hero of Precinct One and March of the Multitudes. I guess that’s only to my advantage!

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

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