February 26, 2015

Standard: Updates and Oddities

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Welcome back to Perilous Research, DailyMTG's exclusive Magic Online column. For the last few weeks, we've explored the new Standard format. One might expect Standard to have settled into an established metagame after multiple Grand Prix events and countless Magic Online results. However, it seems the pantheon of expected archetypes just continues to grow as the results pile up. Most major archetypes have undergone some structural improvements over the last week as new decks continue to push their way onto the stage. Today, we'll be discussing the new face of established archetypes and exploring some of the weirder decks that have gone undefeated in recent daily events.



Stormbreath Dragon | Art by Slawomir Maniak




Red-White


We'll start today's conversation by taking a look at the most popular successful decks in Standard. We'll focus on the major changes that the decks have undergone over the last week.





ArielNagy's Red-White (4–0)


































Red-White continues to be the most popular deck in Standard. The deck aims to apply early pressure and close the game with burn spells. Hall of Famer Ben Stark played a more controlling version of the deck to a second place finish at Grand Prix Memphis last weekend, but the most successful Magic Online pilots have been trimming copies of Outpost Siege and Soulfire Grand Master from their main decks in favor of Hordeling Outburst and Stormbreath Dragon. Both versions of the deck have access to a very similar 75 cards for Games 2 and 3. The latest main deck version of the deck from Magic Online, with Stormbreath Dragon, tends to be stronger against the new versions of Abzan Control and the mirror match is trumped with main deck Hordeling Outburst.


Jeskai





Kazaner3000's Jeskai (4–0)


































Jeskai remains the second most popular deck in the current Standard metagame. Again, the biggest change we're seeing in Jeskai lists over the last week is the inclusion of Stormbreath Dragon, usually three or four copies. This gives the deck enough haste to easily pressure decks that are slowing down, like the new versions of Abzan, so the Jeskai player can get opponents to a low enough life total for games to be closed by digging for burn spells.


Blue-Black Control





Leeksp1n's Blue-Black Control (4–0)


































Blue-Black Control is the control deck of choice for most players in the new Standard. Recently, we've seen more copies of Ashiok, Nightmare Weaver find their way into the deck. Ashiok, Nightmare Weaver is relatively weak against the Jeskai strategies, but those seem like they could be waning in popularity. The three-mana Planeswalker shines against Abzan Control and some versions of Red-White, usually those without main deck Stormbreath Dragon.


Abzan Control





krebrovich's Abzan Control (4–0)


































Abzan Control put on a dominating performance last weekend at Grand Prix Memphis, accounting for five of the eight decks that made it to the elimination rounds. To be fair, the deck's five pilots were all very talented individuals.




Testing a New Abzan Midrange


Last week, Brad Nelson messaged me an Abzan Midrange list, and we both started playing it in Daily Events on Magic Online. After one night of testing, Nelson decided that Sylvan Caryatid was weak in the current Standard and was sure he wanted to play a more controlling version of the deck. I wanted to keep a lot of the top end, but I also wanted the ability to apply pressure on my opponents. I sent Nelson a list with one Fleecemane Lion in the main deck and three in the sideboard, and explained that I sided them all in for most matchups.


Nelson immediately moved the fourth copy to the board and explained to me why they were over-performing in Games 2 and 3 when opponents had distorted their decks for a control matchup. The change stuck and, in less than a week from Nelson's Grand Prix Top 8, Fleecemane Lion has become a stock inclusion in the Abzan Control deck's sideboard. When playing against Abzan Control in the coming week as a red strategy, we should remember to leave our Lightning Strike in the deck for the second and third games so as to not get punished by Fleecemane Lion.





New to the Standard Metagame


The previously discussed decks define Standard's current tier 1, but it's important to remember that the texture of the current metagame is extraordinarily volatile at the moment and things could be drastically different as soon as next week.


Meanwhile, some of the format's most popular decks have gone from flirting with dominance to obscurity. Abzan Aggro has found itself in a bad place with a lackluster Red-White and Abzan Control matchup while most Devotion strategies are having problems with End Hostilities from Abzan (and Red-White after sideboarding) and Crux of Fate out of the control decks.


It's impossible to have a worthwhile discussion about the new Standard without discussing the exciting new decks that are popping up every day on Magic Online, often to great success. Let's take a look at some of the innovative new strategies that have gone undefeated in the last few days.


Ascendancy Devotion





awesomedunce's Ascendancy Devotion (4–0)


































Earlier, we noted that Green Devotion decks were performing poorly against a field full of End Hostilities and Crux of Fate. This version of the deck contends with the card disadvantage from board sweepers with Eidolon of Blossoms and Temur Ascendancy, often coupled with Temur Sabertooth and Nykthos, Shrine to Nyx for some impressive card drawing. The high number of mana creatures makes End Hostilities and Crux of Fate nightmare cards for the deck, but awesomedunce wisely included four extra lands in the sideboard so that they had the option of sideboarding out the mana creatures when they would be mopped up by a board sweeper in a given matchup. Temur Ascendancy versions of the deck were thought to be overly cute by many in the early weeks of the new Standard, but, given what's being played right now, the deck seems like the best-positioned version of the Devotion strategies.


Madison Red-White





bolov0's Madison Red-White (4–0)


































A lot of the Madison players at Grand Prix Memphis were armed with a version of Red-White splashing black for Crackling Doom in the main deck and Thoughtseize, Murderous Cut, Read the Bones, and Sorin, Solemn Visitor for Games 2 and 3. Cutting the number of Mountains, or ways to find them, means that the deck only has ten cards that actually turn on Chained to the Rocks: four Bloodstained Mire and six actual Mountains. This means the deck is roughly 90% to have access to one of these cards by the fifth turn, which isn't excessively late for a card that's usually trying to snipe Siege Rhino and Tasigur, but still a bit worrisome. It's likely that versions of this deck switch to more copies of Stormbreath Dragon over Sarkhan, the Dragonspeaker if the Abzan strategies continue to do well. The combination of Thoughtseize and Goblin Rabblemaster for Games 2 and 3 against a lot of opponents is very enticing.


Black-Red





Gongal's Black-Red (4–0)


































The last deck we'll be examining this week is, without any doubt, the most unique and exciting. Gongal's Black-Red Tokens strategy is well set up to fight through board sweepers with the dash mechanic and Tymaret, the Murder King. Access to Brutal Hordechief ensures that the deck has the ability to win any race. Decks that want to stick important bodies, like Abzan, will find themselves frustrated trying to fight through Merciless Executioner.


This deck is incredibly teched out, even playing Bile Blight over Lightning Strike to ensure Merciless Executioner can have decent value even against opposing token strategies. The single copy of Peak Eruption may seem odd in the sideboard, but the ability to set opponents back while freeing creatures from their rocky prisons (i.e. Chained to the Rocks) is a nice effect to have access to. This seems like an extremely exciting new route to victory in Standard, and I'm looking forward to tracking its success in the coming weeks.




Standard is in a tremendous place right now. The format is beautiful, with every type of strategy represented in some form or another. In coming weeks, we'll continue to keep our eyes on the evolution of the Standard metagame and likely explore Modern in the wake of Pro Tour Fate Reforged and Grand Prix Vancouver.


Knowledge is power!






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