The banning of Aetherworks Marvel has brought about a seismic shift in the landscape of Standard. The previous banning of Felidar Guardian relieved the metagame of the dominant Copy Cat deck that combined the card with Saheeli Rai to create an infinite combo, but it did little to level the playing field. The decks using the combo essentially just replaced it with Aetherworks Marvel and Ulamog, the Ceaseless Hunger as an alternative overpowered pair that could also win the game immediately. With opponents threatening to win the game on turn four, the only options were to play highly aggressive and disruptive decks that could trip up the opponent and kill them as quickly as possible, or to wield the combo deck yourself.
Now that both of the combo strategies are gone, there is finally opportunity for other strategies to flourish. There are some specific decks that have demonstrated themselves to be clear winners after the banning, so today I'll examine what has risen to the top in the days since. This will provide a baseline metagame for the new our of Devastation cards that will be released next week and are sure to bring about change. The biggest winners from the Aetherworks Marvel banning are slower decks that can grind out value over a longer game because they aren't forced to end it quickly.
Immediately emerging as a top contender post-banning have been white decks designed to abuse Oketra's Monument, which use the artifact to overwhelm opponents with a swarm of tokens generated by discounted white creatures.
Beyond their ability to pressure the opponent or buy time as blockers, tokens from Oketra's Monument easily trigger Hanweir Militia Captain to flip and help it grow larger, and they are ideal fodder to be cashed in to transform Westvale Abbey. Oketra's Monument makes it very difficult for opponents to hold the deck down with creature removal because every creature generates value, and doubly so when Bygone Bishop is added to the equation as yet another way to generate extra value from each creature cast.
This value-maximizing strategy is nearly inexhaustible when backed up by the aftermath side of Dusk // Dawn as a way to return destroyed creatures to hand to be played again for more value. The first half of the card is an ideal sweeper in the deck because it doesn't destroy the deck's own creatures, but it's very effective against a field where midrange green creature decks like Black-Green Energy and Temur Energy are on the rise, and the fact that it can be played main deck means opponents will have a tough time winning the match.
Oketra's Monument also opens up a very interesting interaction with Aviary Mechanic. With two copies of the creature, each one can be played to bounce the other to create an engine that turns one mana into one token, which is comparable to the Thopter Foundry and Sword of the Meek combo that was once banned in Modern. This Aviary Mechanic engine was central to the original versions of this deck, but some creative players have moved beyond it to create space to explore other ways to take advantage of Oketra's Monument.
The most promising builds are those that have dipped into blue to gain access to the best it has to offer.
Cloudblazer offers a great source of additional value, especially when it only costs four mana, and it's a particularly juicy card to return with Dusk // Dawn. Spell Queller offers fantastic disruption for as little as two mana, and blue also opens up Metallic Rebuke, which takes advantage of Oketra's Monument to fuel improvise. Todd Anderson used this strategy to dominate the field at the SCG Invitational last weekend and earn himself a spot in the Top 8, and it looks like a clear top contender going forward until Hour of Devastation.
Other players have been iterating on the mono-white strategy to try to improve on the original builds, and one intriguing direction – like this build by Kenji "kogamo" Tsumura – is to add Thalia's Lancers and a package of legendary creatures including Gisela, the Broken Blade and Bruna, the Fading Light, all of which are even better when they cost a mana less.
The creature pair's ability to meld into Brisela, Voice of Nightmares has always had a lot of potential, but it has been outclassed by Emrakul, the Promised End and then by Copy Cat combo and Aetherworks Marvel. With those gone, it is now better than ever and could become one of the premier endgames in the metagame.
A fun new legendary for the toolbox that I've seen in other builds is Oketra the True, which is made cheaper by Oketra's Monument and easily turned on by its tokens.
The Copy Cat combo deck and Aetherworks Marvel decks used a very similar core comprised of the best energy cards in Standard, and these same cards have lived on to form the core of a more midrange decks that tops them with threats like Glorybringer and Elder Deep-Fiend instead of the combo pieces.
These decks were successful even with Aetherworks Marvel around, but with that enemy out of the picture they are now free to remove cards like main deck Negate and tone down the aggression in favor of playing a more long-term game plan. One of the premier strategies before the combo decks took over was Delirium, and a new Temur version has begun to emerge as an alternative to black-green as a way to utilize these powerful delirium cards.
The deck includes Traverse the Ulvenwald to greatly increase consistency and to gain access to silver bullet creatures including Ishkanah, Grafwidow, which was once a premier Standard creature before Aetherworks Marvel and the Cat combo rose to power, and looks to be strong again in a metagame that has moved towards midrange decks.
Another new Delirium option is Bant.
White opens up a strong delirium card in Descend upon the Sinful, along with a great enabler in Cast Out as an enchantment that can easily cycle and add to the graveyard count. This deck also uses white to gain access to the combo of Gisela, the Broken Blade and Bruna, the Fading Light, which are easily found by Traverse the Ulvenwald.
Traditional Black-Green Delirium is back in the metagame, but Cast Out is so effective in the Delirium strategy as an enabler and versatile disruption that the deck is splashing into white to include it and Descend upon the Sinful.
Gnarlwood Dryad has seen its value go way up now that the metagame is filled with midrange creature decks against which it can trade up profitably. Liliana, the Last Hope is also more effective against a creature-rich metagame, and it's strong against the Oketra's Monument decks as a way to keep tokens off the table and pick off Selfless Spirit.
Players have been tweaking the Temur Energy core in various ways, and besides slowing down like the delirium strategy, another direction is to speed up by being even more aggressive and getting under the slower midrange decks. One take is to add Heart of Kiran, which is fantastic with Greenbelt Rampager as an enabler alongside others like Voltaic Brawler and Rogue Refiner.
Temur Energy can be pushed towards an even faster and more combo-style deck capable of winning turn four by embracing Electrostatic Pummeler, which threatens to end the game very quickly when combined with energy generators and pump spells. This build takes it even further with Fling, which backs up Larger Than Life and Invigorated Rampage as another way to push it past blockers, and also backs up Blossoming Defense as an additional way to beat removal spells.
I'm a big fan of this sideboard, which allows the deck to move away from its Electrostatic Pummeler combo kill and towards a fair midrange deck by bringing in traditional creatures like Glorybringer, Tireless Tracker and Whirler Virtuoso along with disruption spells.
The banning of Aetherworks Marvel has also made control decks more attractive. Even though control had the tools to stop Aetherworks Marvel itself, they would often lose in the long game to Ulamog, the Ceaseless Hunger simply being cast because they weren't able to apply adequate pressure to win before the game reached this conclusion. Now this nearly unstoppable endgame isn't a concern, so control decks are free to play a reactive gameplan that's as slow as they would like. Control is further bolstered by being able to prey on the increase in fair creatures decks in the metagame like Black-Green Energy and Temur Energy that are vulnerable to creature removal – especially to sweepers like Fumigate – which this build by Jody Keith includes a playset of in the main deck.
From the sideboard, Gideon of the Trials helps the deck put a clock on its opponents and win the game more quickly, while potentially surprising opponents and catching them without a good answer to the planewalker.
The most popular control deck this season has been Blue-Red, and it's positioned as a midrange slayer in the new metagame with its wealth of countermagic and efficient removal. Adrian Sullivan innovated on the traditional Blue-Red Control deck by splashing into green, which isn't a serious strain on the mana but provides access to Lumbering Falls as a more robust threat than Wandering Fumarole, and access to Tireless Tracker in the sideboard as a devastating way to catch an opponent on guard and steal games singlehandedly.
Eldrazi have had a relatively minor role in Standard because they have always existed in rough conditions, whether it was with Reflector Mage holding back midrange creatures, Smuggler's Copter working best with smaller and cheaper creatures, Emrakul, the Promised End going over the top of them, or the combo decks ignoring them. Now that everyone is fighting fair, Eldrazi looks a lot more attractive.
By supporting Eldrazi with red, this build gains access to Glorybringer as a great way to top the curve alongside Reality Smasher and really punish other creature decks. Chandra, Torch of Defiance provides a fantastic planeswalker, and it is supported by a wealth of red removal spells. This deck interestingly uses the combo of Hanweir Garrison – which is fine on its own – and Hanweir Battlements, which is also useful for giving haste to Eldrazi.
The release of Amonkhet made Zombies look like a very strong deck, but after early success it was kept in check by Aetherworks Marvel decks perfectly equipped to beat it. Now the deck doesn't have a clear nemesis, so it has returned has a way to beat the midrange decks like Mardu and Black-Green Energy that don't have the tools to contain its wealth of threats. Brian Braun-Duin took his build of the to the Top 8 of the SCG Classic last weekend.
Another deck that has returned to the spotlight is Grixis Colossus, which as the epitome of a midrange deck suffered against combo decks but is perfectly suited for beating other midrange decks like Black-Green and Temur Energy that struggle with getting Metalwork Colossus off the table and are weak to Kozilek's Return.
There have also been some more subtle changes to the metagame and its decks since the bannings now that Aetheworks Marvel is not a concern, like artifact removal being less important now than it has been in months, so main deck Dissenter's Deliverance and sideboard Manglehorn are being phased out. Another example is a decrease in Transgress the Mind and a marked increase in Lay Bare the Heart, which is suddenly much more attractive now that the legendary Aetherworks Marvel doesn't require discard to hit it.
Standard has become much more interesting and a whole lot more fun since the banning, so it is shaping up to be a very good move that was critical to improving the health of the format. The full Hour of Devastationspoiler has been released and theprerelease is just days away, and the new cards will shake up Standard even further. Next week I'll make projections as to what its impact will be on this post-ban metagame. I'll follow up the week after with a detailed look at what new cards people are actually putting to use in events, and I'll explore any new decks that appear. What do you think of the bannings and that decks that appeared since? Share your thoughts in the comments, and I'll answer any questions!