It has been an exciting week for Magic. Khans of Tarkir was officially released last week, and as I have now officially retired my Monoblack Devotion deck, the rotation has finally sunk in. There's much to talk about today, because we have results and decklists from the first weekend of post-rotation Standard tournaments!
Here at magic.tcgplayer.com we celebrated the new Standard format by hosting a $5,000 MaxPoint Diamond Open in Texas. We have all Top 16 decks posted, so check them out.Temur Midrange
Temur Midrange won the event in the hands of Justin Maguire, while Scott Russel took his own version to a third place finish:
The core these decks is mana acceleration, which starts with Elvish Mystic. Opinions are split on Sylvan Caryatid and Rattleclaw Mystic, but it's clear that eight total is the magic number of these creatures. From there each player added a set of Courser of Kruphix, 3 Polukranos, World Eater, and a full playset of Savage Knuckleblade, which seems to be the major draw towards playing Blue in the first place.
Justin added a set of Icefeather Aven to go along with his Rattleclaw Mystic as a way to keep the opponent guessing. Icefeather Aven is quite a strong card, whether by generating tempo or simply being cast on turn two as an evasive threat. I didn't expect to see this card immediately in Standard but Justin proved that the card is certainly worth another look. This card is poised to excel in a midrange format.
It's interesting that each player decided to use a pair of six-drops, Justin with Soul of Shandalar and Scott with Surrak Dragonclaw. Both of these creatures have a high power level and provide the deck with a way to take advantage of mana acceleration and go over the top of other midrange opponents. It's hard to say which is better, and I'd probably go with one of each to get a better understanding of how they function.
Both decks also play a planeswalker package, with a minimum of two Sarkhan, the Dragonspeaker and two Chandra, Pyromaster.
Justin opted to play a third Sarkhan, the Dragonspeaker and a single Stormbreath Dragon. He supplemented his strategy with a full set of the cheap and efficient Lightning Strike to deal with cards like Goblin Rabblemaster, Mantis Rider, and even planeswalkers. Combined with Icefeather Aven, Lightning Strike gives this deck a very versatile disruption package.
Scott Russel opted to play with three Xenagos, the Reveler and two Stormbreath Dragon. Scott also included one Genesis Hydra as a way to push up his power level. He turned towards Temur Charm and Crater's Claws for power and versatility in his disruption package.
The Temur sideboards teach many lessons, and the playset of Disdainful Stroke in Justin's sideboard is telling. This card generates tempo against midrange decks with large creatures, like in pseudo-mirror matches. It's something we are going to see a lot more of as the season develops. Negate in Scott's sideboard play a similar disruption role against controlling decks in particular.
Anger of the Gods was found in both sideboards as an ironclad way to put the brakes on aggressive decks and even play around Empty the Pits, while Scott diversified with a pair of the versatile Arc Lightning. I was a bit surprised not to see Magma Spray, and it's an option against rush aggressive strategies, but it's possible this deck is better off playing more powerful options like the ones in these sideboards.
Each player had a pair of Reclamation Sage, which is an answer to various cards including Banishing Light and Courser of Kruphix.
As far as powerful threats in the board, the players included things such as Sagu Mauler, Clever Impersonator, Soul of Shandalar, Keranos, God of the Storms, and Hornet Queen. Scott played three Temur Ascendancy, which is an interesting option against control decks as a way to generate card advantage and pressure their life total.
These decks differ from typical RG monsters by the addition of Savage Knuckleblade and the blue disruption/utility cards I mentioned, but once the mana is made to support the set of Savage Knuckleblade, the rest of the blue cards come relatively free. Justin supports blue with a set of Yavimaya Coast, a pair of Temple of Mystery, and three of both Mana Confluence and Frontier Bivouac for 12 total blue lands. Russel went with a set of Yavimaya Coast, three Temple of Epiphany, and a pair of Shivan Reef. The deck needs 12 sources of blue for a reliable turn three Savage Knuckleblade, so counting the mana creatures Scott passes the threshold with 13, while with 12 blue lands Justin is able to reliably get blue by turn three even with his mana creatures under attack. Considering this, it makes sense that Scott uses the more reliable Sylvan Caryatid, while the more blue-flushed Justin is able to comfortably play the more powerful but less reliable Rattleclaw Mystic. Justin also needs more blue mana for Icefeather Aven, and ideally he'd like it on turn two in some games, so it makes sense he plays a more blue-weighted configuration.Esper Control
Finishing in second place was an interesting Esper Control deck by Woodrow Bagucki.
This deck follows the typical pattern of Esper control decks over the past few years, combining targeted removal in cards like Hero's Downfall and Utter End, board sweepers in End Hostilities and Drown in Sorrow, blanket disruption like Thoughtseize and Dissolve, and card advantage in Divination. Gone is the raw power of Sphinx's Revelation, but this deck uses a pair of Dig Through Time as way to Restock in the midgame with some card advantage and powerful card selection.
Elspeth, Sun's Champion is the clear finisher of choice here in a world without AEtherling, and it does a lot of work as removal against this midrange metagame.
Ashiok, Nightmare Weaver provides a proactive card for the early game that shines against the midrange creature decks that define the format; Green Devotion, for example, simply doesn't play any answers.
I really like the inclusion of a single Resolute Archangel as a lifegain reset that is even more powerful than Sphinx's Revelation in that role, and as a 4/4 flyer it will close out a game quickly.
Nyx-Fleece Ram is an interesting maindeck inclusion that really punishes aggressive decks. It's just as at home in the sideboard, but it's a great maindeck metagame call in the right environment. This deck is a bit light on two-drop spells in general so this inclusion does make sense for the mana curve. Another viable card to explore at two mana would be Last Breath.
I shared an Esper list from Magic League last week , so it's no surprise to see this deck doing well at the MaxPoint Event. The decklists do differ in some aspects, like Jace's Ingenuity in the sideboard compared to a playset maindeck last week, but it's further proof the archetype has merit and is worth exploring. There is a perfect configuration and success with the archetype will require careful tuning each week until the metagame settles down.
Here's a look at Joe Bass' top 16 finishing Esper control deck. I am particularly fond of Nullify as a possible solution to the two-drop puzzle:
Finishing in third place was Karttik Patel with Abzan Reanimator:
The core midrange plan of this deck is based on Sylvan Caryatid, Courser of Kruphix, and Siege Rhino, but from there it becomes a full-fledged reanimation deck. Those familiar with the old Junk Rites deck in Standard should be somewhat familiar with this strategy. Compared to some other graveyard decks I have seen, like the two I shared in my article last week (just in case Esper didn't excite you, here's another chance), Patel's deck is much more focused on the reanimation plan. This deck is built to support a graveyard reanimation engine that includes a full playset of Whip of Erebos supplemented by two copies of Endless Obedience.
Graveyard enablers include a full sets of Satyr Wayfinder and Commune with the Gods. Satyr Wayfinder helps to fix the mana, while Commune with the Gods helps dig for the all-important Whip of Erebos. A single Nyx Weaver provides some graveyard redundancy. Pharika, God of Affliction provides additional value from the graveyard enablers.
The graveyard reanimation plan is made clear by the full playset of Ashen Rider that accompanies three Hornet Queen. The plan is that these creatures will go over the top of the opponent and take over the game. See the Unwritten can also find these powerful creatures and cheat them into play.
The real beauty of this deck is that it's fully capable of casting the high-end creatures outright if the game goes long enough. If it can function early as a midrange deck and slow the game down, it will eventually reach the point where it can cast these huge threats reliably. Junk Rites and Esper Solar Flare decks employed this strategy to great success in past Standard formats, and I expect it will evolve into a premier strategy this Standard season. I am also intrigued by the idea of a Sultai or even a four color version that explores blue options like Sidisi, Brood Tyrant, Sultai Ascendancy, and even Jace, the Living Guildpact.
Another version of Abzan Reanimator made Top 16, this one employing less reanimation but more delve with a full playset of Murderous Cut:
Last week I also shared a very sleek looking black aggro deck, and another version made an appearance last weekend. Check out Drew Lafatre's deck:
This deck splashes into white for Chief of the Edge, which adds a small Warrior subtheme with Bloodsoaked Champion, Tormented Hero, and Mardu Skullhunter, which should reliably act as a Ravenous Rats on turn two combined with the twelve one-drop creatures this deck plays. Pain Seer converts to card advantage, and Mogis's Marauder helps push through green blockers. Herald of Torment is important for pushing through those final points of damage as a Bestow creature but it's also a fine threat on its own.
Supporting these creatures is some disruption in the form of Thoughtseize, Hero's Downfall, and to my surprise, Suspension Field, which is an efficient way to Remove bigger creatures at a tempo gain.
Here's another take on Monoblack Aggro, piloted by Josh Gilmore to the Top 16:
Also finishing in the Top 8 was a copy of the green devotion deck that appeared after the release of Magic 2015 and is poised to be part of the top-tier this season.
This archetype is somewhat similar to the Temur Monsters decks I shared earlier. The major difference is that Green Devotion pushes the ramp aspect harder with more high-end creatures like a full set of Genesis Hydra and a pair of Hornet Queen, which are powered out by a set of Nykthos, Shrine to Nyx. It also contains a minor card draw engine in Eidolon of Blossoms. The high Forest count allows the deck to take full advantage of Nissa, Worldwaker as a ramp spell and threat. Splashing into black provides even more power with a pair of Garruk, Apex Predator.
The black splash offers improved sideboard options, including Thoughtseize and even Drown in Sorrow. In Garruk's Wake is a huge game, and it's a card I don't think anyone expected, but this deck can support the mana cost and utilize the unilateral sweeper as a way to end the game against midrange opponents.
What this deck gives up by losing red is mainly cheap creature removal, which makes it more vulnerable to fast and aggressive decks. This version has more power overall and, with that, the ability to go over the top of midrange decks and outlast control opponents.
Robert Puntenerry reached Top 16 with another take on the green devotion archetype:
Next up in the Top 8 is a Mardu Midrange control deck, which supports a small suite of powerful threats with all of the most efficient and powerful removal available to Mardu.
Butcher of the Horde and Goblin Rabblemaster were chosen for the creature threats here because they are both so individually powerful, and together they even form a sort of combo with the Goblin Rabblemaster generating fodder for Butcher of the Horde.
Supplementing the creature threats are three Sarkhan, the Dragonspeaker and a pair of Elspeth, Sun's Champion at the top of the cure. Left uncontested either of these planeswalkers will end the game in short order, but they are also very valuable as removal spells. Overall they play a very important role in this deck. Elspeth, Sun's Champion is particularly interesting because the 1/1 Soldier Tokens work so well with Butcher of the Horde.
The disruption suite is vast, but it's anchored by a playset of the versatile Thoughtseize. A pair of Despise provide some redundancy in the discard package. A full set of Hero's Downfall is the catch-all answer to creatures and planeswalkers, while a set of Crackling Doom punishes creatures and planeswalkers alike, often at the same time for massive card advantage and tempo gain. Bile Blight and Magma Jet form a removal package that can be used as early as turn two to Remove aggressive creatures.
Mardu Charm fills in the disruption package as half discard spell, half removal spell. It can also be used in a pinch to generate a threat or in the best case to blow out an opponent in combat with the first strike tokens it can generate.
The sideboard here is full of control options, but the most important is the board sweeper package that includes End Hostilities, Drown in Sorrow, and Anger of the Gods. In a world without Sphinx's Revelation control players will turn to other control options, and this Mardu deck is an early front-runner.
Here's a similar take from the Top 16, by Colin Bevis:
Another take on Mardu Midrange reached the Top 16 in the hands of Matthew Long. At first glance it reminded me of a Jund-style deck with lots of card advantage, so I truly like the direction it's headed in:
Rounding out the Top 8 was a Boros Burn deck:
This Boros deck is very focused on burn, but it utilizes creatures as a repeatable source of damage and board presence. This deck uses Monastery Swiftspear as a Goblin Guide impersonator, and it adds Seeker of the Way as another threat that works well with burn spells and helps the deck in racing situations. Goblin Rabblemaster rounds out the creature package.
Stoke the Flames, Searing Blood, Lightning Strike, Magma Jet, and Arc Lightning form a potent burn core that Removes most creatures or goes to the dome. For removing larger creatures, three Chained to the Rocks are supported by 11 Mountains. Deflecting Palm is the most extreme card choice here, but it's a potent card for winning a race or ruining combat math. It practice it does a very good job of impersonating a burn spell that also prevents some damage. Against a 3/3, Deflecting Palm is essentially Lighting Helix cast on the opponent, and the value only increases against larger creatures.
I like how the Boros Burn deck can play a very aggressive tempo game against midrange and control with its creature suite, but it's just as comfortable buckling down and taking the control role against rush aggressive decks.
Jeskai also has lots of Burn tools, so take a look at this little aggressive number, which Mike Cieszinski took to ninth place:
And finally, here's a fascinating deck that looks too fun not to share, a Naya Superfriends ramp deck built to abuse Purphoros, God of the Forge:
Did any of these decks catch your attention? What deck are you playing this weekend? Is there an archetype you think is poised to dominate? What about decks still lurking in the shadows? Share any thoughts, opinions, or ideas in the comments section!**BONUS**
Jeskai Ascendancy Combo
I'd be doing a disservice to everyone if I did not share this decklist, a bonafide combo engine deck in Standard that has already proven itself with an 11th place finish at the SCG Standard Open in Indianapolis last weekend: