Rivals of Ixalan Standard is in full swing, and the new cards combined with the bans that nerfed Temur Energy and Ramunap Red mean there are a ton of new decks putting up results. Rather than narrowing down the field, the second weekend of events since release has only served to broaden the metagame by introducing a variety of valid strategies. Today I'll run down the decks that have put up significant results over the past week that offer an alternative to the Mardu, Mono-Red, Grixis Midrange, and Black-Green Constrictor decks that appeared on top during the first weekend of events.
The biggest trend to take note of this week is the success of control decks, and none did better than Grixis Control, which takes a true counter-control approach compared to the midrange-leaning Grixis Energy decks that have emerged as the top Energy strategy after the bans hit green Energy decks. Grixis Control reached the Top 8 of both the SCG Team Open and Standard Classic, and was the highest finishing deck in the Magic Online Championship Series monthly event.
Grixis Control stands out because of its fantastic disruption package that combines the best creature removal of black and red with the card advantage and countermagic of blue. Red gives access to Magma Spray, Abrade and Harnessed Lightning to give the deck a ton of game against aggressive decks, and sweepers Sweltering Sun and Hour of Devastation take this even further. Black provides the all-important Vraska's Contempt, which deals with what seem to be the two most important cards in the format – Hazoret the Fervent and The Scarab God – along with what might be the best card in Rivals of Ixalan, Rekindling Phoenix. Black also allows the deck to play The Scarab God itself as main win condition, and Duress in the sideboard gives it an edge against non-black control decks. Some particularly effective tech in this sideboard is Whirler Virtuoso, which is excellent for slowing down Mono-Red and other aggressive decks.
That said, the mana base comes with its own issues, so some players have designed decks that seek to accomplish with two colors what Grixis does with three.
Removing red from the control deck means it doesn't have access to as much removal, but this version played to a successful 6-2 record in the MOCS by control expert Joe Lossett helps make up for it by incorporating Moment of Craving, which combines creature removal with life gain.
In place of red creature removal, the Blue-Black Control deck loads up on counters like Censor and full sets of Essence Scatter and Disallow. Hieroglyphic Illumination is a more flexible alternative to Glimmer of Genius in a deck without any energy outlet.
This list includes some spicey one-ofs with Consign // Oblivion and Commit // Memory, which are better than normal because Torrential Gearhulk can cast the back halves at instant speed. The one-ofs extend to the sideboard, with Tetizmoc, Primal Death being particularly exciting. A few Deadeye Tracker give the deck a creature threat against other control decks, which will remove most of their removal after sideboard, and it's a nice graveyard hoser against God-Pharaoh's Gift decks.
A Blue-Red control deck put up the 6-2 record in the MOCS, and it's a promising alternative to the black control decks.
This Blue-Red list is very streamlined, with multiple playsets of creature removal and Counterspells backed up by a full set of Torrential Gearhulk, which it relies on to end the game in the absence of The Scarab God. Because it won't always be able to reliably win with Torrential Gearhulk, the sideboard includes dedicated threat against control with Nezahal, Primal Tide, which opponent's will have few if any solutions for stopping.
A completely different approach to control is this Esper deck that I'm still trying to wrap my head around.
Rather than an instant-based control strategy built around Torrential Gearhulk, this deck takes a "tapout" approach with its own proactive plays. Sailor of Means presents a wall to slow down aggressive decks and ramps mana. It can be used to curve into Regal Caracal, which is an oppressive piece of board presence against aggressive decks like Red and Mardu. These creatures give the deck its own targets for The Scarab God, which the deck uses as its main finisher. Typically reserved for aggressive decks, Legion's Landing gives the deck a small speed bump against aggro that can convert into a way to grind out the opponent when it's able to flip with the help of other creatures.
Sets Baffling End and Ixalan's Binding highlight the tap-out approach, and are relatively more powerful compared to the instant options "draw go" control decks typically use. This deck has plenty of permanents to trigger ascend and gain the city's blessing, which turns Secrets of the Golden City into a powerful piece of card advantage similar to Painful Truths without the downside of life loss. The deck also features Arch of Orazca, which provides a flow of value and gives the deck inevitability into the late game. A nice advantage of control being in Esper compared to other shards is that the colors provide both blue cycling dual lands, so full sets of both Fetid Pools and Irrigated Farmland provide mana consistency early and insurance against flooding later.
Approach of the Second Sun was highly hyped after the bannings but so far seems to have completely failed at breaking through. An alternative to the typical White-Blue and Esper Control approaches, no pun intended, is Bant, which saw some play before but may be the best version now.
The main advantage of the green plan is mana acceleration, and its key piece, Hour of Promise, is better than ever now that it can find Arch of Orazca to generate a stream of card draw. The deck has also gained Baffling End, an efficient and versatile piece of removal for white control decks without Torrential Gearhulk restricting its card choices.
A more extreme alternative of Approach of the Second Sun is this version from Japan, which takes advantage of green's mana fixing potential to bring the deck to four colors and enable Mastermind's Acquisition. The tutor-wish hybrid provides access to a full range of one-of silver bullets in the main deck and sideboard. The deck looks wild, but making it to the top 4 of a 61-player event is a pretty solid result worth exploring further.
The deck has a ton of one-ofs that can wreck specific opponents, like Profane Procession to grind out expensive, midrange creatures and Battle of the Bridge to gain life against aggro. Access to sideboard cards in game one is very potent, particularly Nezahal, Primal Tide against control, Bontu's Last Reckoning against creature decks and Slice in Twain against God-Pharaoh's Gift. The coolest one-of is definitely Wildest Dreams, which can return Mastermind's Acquisition along with other spells for value and another round of tutoring or wishing.
There's something to be said for including black beyond Mastermind's Acquisition, since Vraska's Contempt is one of the very best cards for control strategies in this God-driven metagame, and Duress in the sideboard goes a long way towards beating other control decks.
Another deck that has something to gain from expanding into four colors is God-Pharaoh's Gift, like this 5-0 list from a league that uses Merfolk Branchwalker and Jadelight Ranger to fill the graveyard with explore, which takes advantage of this ability in a way that other decks using these creatures don't.
Including green explore creatures means the deck has a critical mass of high-quality creatures to help enable Gate of the Afterlife, so it's not forced to play the relatively subpar options that the Esper version includes. This allows it to play more of a fair game and gives it a much better chance of winning without God-Pharaoh's Gift, which most opponents are prepared to deal with after sideboard. This also enables Carnage Tyrant in the sideboard, which allows the deck to shift gears and wreck unprepared opponents, especially the control decks that it normally struggles against.
One of the more interesting decks to have success online has been White-Blue Eternalize, which employs a midrange strategy centered on eternalize creatures and Anointed Procession to grind out opponents. I nearly included it in my article last week, but left it out because on paper it seemed disjointed in its strategy so I wasn't sure how good it really was, but a top four finish in the SCG Classic is a good sign the deck functions much better than it looks.
The deck is clearly designed to prey on creature decks with a wealth of disruption and life gain, containing sets of Ixalan's Binding and Fumigate backed up by Sunscourge Champion. Additional eternalize creatures like Adorned Pouncer, Champion of Wits and Angel of Sanctions give it battlefield presence. Their ability to grind from the graveyard is supercharged by Anointed Procession, which is used to double their eternalize abilities, proving that Procession is valuable in more than the token-based strategies it's typically used in.
This grinding ability gives the deck plenty of game against control decks, and over a long game provides inevitability against other midrange decks. It also gives the deck a sort of combo-like feel, with Chart the Course and Champion of Wits enabling eternalize immediately to set up curves like Anointed Procession on turn four into eternalizing a creature on turn five for massive value and battlefield presence.
The banning of Ramunap Ruins and Rampaging Ferocidon along with the reprinting of the powerful new grinding tool Rekindling Phoenix have given red decks incentive to explore a more midrange approach, historically known as Big Red, like this list from the MOCS that also finished 5-0 in a league.
Going bigger allows the red deck to take more advantage of Glorybringer and Chandra, Torch of Defiance, two of the very best cards in the format. This list also uses Pia Nalaar, which is the new Whirler Virtuoso and a perfect way to generate robust battlefield presence and value against aggressive and control opponents alike. Earthshaker Khenra is retained from the aggressive version because of its ability to generate value from the graveyard, while the burn removal package is expanded to give the deck more ability to stop aggressive decks. Treasure Map provides a stream of card draw, and Dunes of the Dead combines with sacrifice enabler Scavenger Grounds to give the deck an additional source of value to grind out the opponent.
In the sideboard, Bomat Courier and Hazoret the Fervent allow the deck to shift gears and get more aggressive against control decks, while Sweltering Suns allows it to double-down on the control plan against aggro.
The most promising new aggressive deck is the Jeskai Pirate deck played by Craig Krempels to the Top 8 of the SCG Classic.
Calling the deck Jeskai is something of a misnomer, since the only blue is Negate in the sideboard, while the white is just for Path of Mettle, which the deck is designed to take advantage of with a wealth of creatures to enable it. The main feature of the deck is its 16 one-drops, including Daring Buccaneer, which it supports with Pirates Fanatical Firebrand, Rigging Runner and Kari Zev, Skyship Raider, all of which also trigger Path of Mettle. Its low-curve approach makes it even faster than the typical red deck, so it's even better at turning on Hazoret the Fervent, which is the biggest reason to play an aggressive red deck in the first place.
What's your favorite new Standard deck?