There are two top decks in Standard right now: Black-Green Delirium and White-Blue Flash. Not only are these the two best decks, but they are by far the most played decks. After that we have builds of Mardu and Red-White Vehicles, which does not make for a diverse Standard format at all. So, if you are a brewer or aiming to play something off the radar, the goal is simple: build a deck that beats White-Blue Flash and Black-Green Delirium. At a major tournament, it is easy to predict which decks a player will play against for the majority of the rounds. However, clearly beating these op decks is easier said than done. Both Black-Green Delirium and White-Blue Flash are battle tested, but there are still decks off the radar that have been sidelined, or archetypes that are more or less unexplored. I want to go over some decks which are not one of the top decks, and talk about why they have potential in this metagame.
Let's start with a deck that just finished second at the Open this past weekend: Jeskai Control. Since the Pro Tour control decks have significantly declined in play, but they still have legs in this metagame.
Bradley played a lot of matches against White-Blue Flash and Black-Green Delirium, and yet still made it to the finals of the Open, which is saying something. He ended up getting mana screwed against Brad Nelson in the finals, but in general Black-Green Delirium isn't a bad matchup for the Jeskai Control deck. Sweepers like Fumigate and Descend upon the Sinful are nice clean answers to a board full of spiders, the games tend to go long and the Jeskai Control player needs only to manage a few specific threats from the Black-Green Delirium side, and if they can do that they will win. A turn three Liliana, the Last Hope from the Black-Green Delirium side is threatening, but there is a ton of countermagic to stop it from resolving.
Creatures are pretty easy to answer, but it's planeswalkers that the control deck must keep off the table. There is a good amount of spot removal in the deck. Opposing Spell Quellers should be easy to remove from play and Radiant Flames is the mass removal that stops the Vehicles deck in its tracks, so Bradley also is prepared for that matchup. This deck is trying to cover a lot of different angles the opponent can attack from, and does so pretty successfully. Most game ones are going to heavily favor Jeskai Control, because the opponent will have excess removal that is easy to work around. After sideboard, Jeskai Control does need to be prepared to deal with discard and more counterspells, which makes things a bit more difficult.
When looking at control decks in Standard, one criticism is the lack of win conditions. While control decks typically have far fewer win conditions, the fact that Torrential Gearhulk is vulnerable to removal spells the opponent can stockpile over the course of the game is relevant. Therefore, I like the choice of going up to four copies of Torrential Gearhulk rather than three. With four Torrential Gearhulks alongside Wandering Fumarole, there really is no longer a need for Archangel Avacyn, a card which has been in a lot of the lists. Torrential Gearhulk plus Glimmer of Genius can just bury the opponent in card advantage, and there are also three planeswalkers which can take over the game if needed.
We no longer are seeing Dovin Baan, but in its place Nahiri, the Harbinger and Jace, Unraveler of Secrets. Playing two copies of Nahiri, the Harbinger is smart. This card can deal with very annoying creatures like Scrapheap Scrounger that really need to be exiled. There are also enchantments like Stasis Snare and artifacts like Key to the City which Nahiri can exile. But the best use for Nahiri, the Harbinger is using the ultimate and getting a ton of value off a Torrential Gearhulk. The Counterspells in the deck allow you to protect a win condition late in the game.
One pitfall is that in the first game there is not a way to stop the opponent getting to control your turn. Emrakul, the Promised End will usually meet a Void Shatter, which helps to mitigate the threat Emrakul poses. It is pretty easy to set up having Void Shatter or another Counterspell for Emrakul, the Promised End, and usually the Black-Green Delirium player can't do too much damage on the turn they control. After sideboard, Summary Dismissal can completely stops Emrakul, the Promised End. The Spell Quellers out of the sideboard are also very good, because the opponent will board out a lot of their removal. It is the classic transformational plan to win the game more easily post board.
There is a lot going for the Jeskai Control deck, so what is the reason it currently isn't being played more? First of all, many players either don't like control decks in general, or have trouble winning matches in 50 minutes. Beyond that, the three-color manabase and the need to make lots of land drops means that this deck will get mana screwed more often than some of the more popular decks. Sometimes you want an untapped land late in the game, and a Port Town, Inspiring Vantage, Spirebluff Canal or Wandering Fumarole comes off the top of your deck.
While Jeskai Control is a known deck, there is another deck that just popped up that is completely new. The one known weakness of Black-Green Delirium is the Temur Aetherworks deck, however that deck has a terrible White-Blue Flash matchup. Now we are seeing players try to play Aetherworks Marvel decks which aren't quite so all in, and this means the White-Blue Flash matchup is manageable, but the Black-Green Delirium matchup isn't as good. The latest brew allowed Mark Nestico to make a Top 32 appearance at the Open.
This is essentially a cross between Black-Green Delirium and Temur Aetherworks. Here is an intriguing idea which could still use some tuning, but it is good to see players trying to play Aetherworks Marvel with Black-Green Delirium being so dominant. There are a few ways this deck makes energy so that there will be six energy around when Aetherworks Marvel hits the board. Attune with Aether, Servant of the Conduit, Aether Hub, and most importantly Woodweaver's Puzzleknot help facilitate activations of Aetherworks Marvel. Sometimes you will have the Marvel and the energy by turn four, but this deck can also grind out the game for a while without needing an Aetherworks Marvel.
We see a lot of the cards that are known to be good against White-Blue Flash incorporated into this deck. Ishkanah, Grafwidow has been proven to be that deck's weak point and Liliana, the Last Hope can help rebuy Ishkanah, Grafwidow and enable delirium. The deck also maximizes the potential of Vessel of Nascency. Vessel of Nascency can be used both to find Aetherworks Marvel, the most important card in the deck, but also is another way to enable delirium. Once Aetherworks Marvel is activated Emrakul, the Promised End is the big payoff card. The deck doesn't play Ulamog, the Ceaseless Hunger, but instead plays the eldrazi it can realistically cast.
Emrakul, the Promised End is the card which has come to be known as the ultimate trump card in Standard. Playing the full four copies means that you will almost always have one to cast. There is less of a need for Traverse the Ulvenwald as you can naturally draw or dig for creatures with Aetherworks Marvel. Mark has opted to play only a single Traverse the Ulvenwald, as there are already the full four Attune with Aether which provides an identical effect, each have a different upside though. This is an example of how this deck is caught going in two different directions. Traverse the Ulvenwald is an overall better card than Attune with Aether, but energy is too important to pass up on.
The one question is whether this deck is trying to do too many things at once. A deck that wants to cast Aetherworks Marvel on turn four and have delirium for Ishkanah, Grafwidow on turn five seems like a lot to ask. Still, this deck is attempting to combine the best elements from two different archetypes and merge them into one deck, something which we don't see very often. Unfortunately, there were a handful of players on this deck at the Open, and the best finish was a Top 32, so the deck seems to need more tuning.
The last deck I want to talk about is Black-Red Zombies. A few weeks ago we were seeing a lot of straight up Black-Red Aggro without the zombie component. Now the pure aggro deck isn't seeing as much play, but we are seeing a new Black-Red Zombies deck that takes advantage or Prized Amalgam. This deck is doing something no other deck in the format can, as it uses both early aggression and a lategame engine to push past the opponent.
Shrout plays a ton of Magic Online, so you can bet he has taken this deck through its paces. To start we have multiple one-drops to get off to a good start. Cryptbreaker is the perfect one-drop here both for its Zombie synergies and as a discard outlet. Bomat Courier, on the other hand, isn't always played in this deck, but it can be great. A first-turn Courier often allows it the chance to exile multiple cards and provide lots of gas when it gets sacrificed later on. Bomat Courier is definitely better on the play, so I like having it in after sideboard based on play/draw. This is another discard outlet as well, so this deck almost always has access to a discard outlet when it wants one.
Having lots of discard outlets is great since there are both madness cards, Scrapyard Scrounger and Prized Amalgams, which can't actually be cast in this deck. The classic two-drop threat of the format - Smuggler's Copter - also happens to provide a loot effect. Think Smuggler's Copter is good in Vehicle decks? Here, it is even better! There is so much synergy here and all the cards work together.
There are actually a lot of creatures in this deck. Haunted Dead does everything the deck could possible want while being a Zombie to boot. The deck cares about every single card in hand because you can always use them for something. Then we have the signature card of the deck in Voldaren Pariah. This is the card that can steal games that are otherwise unwinnable. It can also be put into play at instant speed when the opponent least expects it. Fiery Temper and Voldaren Pariah really bring the deck full circle by having ways to get additional value when discarding a card.
The Black-Red Zombies deck can be pretty unfair, and is another strategy that has a lot of potential. It is not going to be easy to dethrone White-Blue Flash and Black-Green Delirium, but there are definitely other options out there for players getting sick of where Standard is at the moment.
Thanks for reading,