I recently wrote a Modern Gauntlet article where I briefly discussed the top Modern decks along with each deck's strengths and weaknesses. Based on feedback from that article, today I am going to do the same for Standard. Whether you're looking for a snapshot of the current metagame, a menu of the strongest decks to choose from, or a guide to beating the top decks, today's article has what you're looking for!
The metagame right now consisting of black-based control decks (UB Control, Abzan Control, Sultai Control), white-based aggressive decks (Abzan Aggro, UW Heroic, RW "Midrange," Jeskai Tokens, Jeskai Tempo, Mardu Aggro), and green-based midrange decks (GR Devotion, Abzan Midrange, Sultai Reanimator, Temur Midrange, Naya Tokens). Red and blue are mostly support colors right now.
Here's the distribution I expect going into GP Memphis this weekend, based on a combination of popularity and positioning in the metagame:
Tier 114% Abzan Aggro13% RW "Midrange"12% UB Control12% GR Devotion
Tier 210% Abzan Midrange9% UW Heroic8% Sultai Reanimator7% Jeskai Tokens
Tier 33% Abzan Control3% Jeskai Tempo3% Sultai Control2% Mardu Aggro2% Temur Midrange2% Naya TokensBlack Control Decks (18% of metagame)
The control decks of the format mostly rely on black for removal spells and either blue or green for card access. With the addition of Crux of Fate, UB Control has a "big wrath" to complement its "little wrath" ( Drown in Sorrow). Abzan Midrange decks have been pushing in two different directions, each of which cuts Sylvan Caryatid: Abzan Aggro lowers the curve and plays faster while Abzan Control introduces End Hostilities and more removal spells. Sultai Reanimator has also lost a lot of its popularity lately with the printing of Ugin, the Spirit Dragon. Sultai players are slowly moving away from Hornet Queen and Whip of Erebos and more toward planeswalkers and removal spells, including Crux of Fate. Reanimator is still the most popular version of Sultai, but the gap is narrowing.
UB Control (12%)
Immanuel Gerschenson won GP Seville with UB Control. This is the second consecutive Standard Grand Prix that has been won by UB Control. I expect UB Control to be by far the deck of choice for the control mages.
Compared to the other control decks, UB Control can do the most with its mana base, being able to gain life off Radiant Fountain and Dismal Backwater. This might not seem like much but one copy of each equals an entire Lightning Strike or Siege Rhino trigger against all the aggro decks. And when Pearl Lake Ancient gets involved, UB Control is able to permanently remain out of burn range by picking up and replaying its lands. Control decks in general are great against midrange decks because they "go bigger," so adding percentage points against the aggressive decks without much cost is a huge advantage for UB Control. The deck can still be weak to pressure backed by disruption (Thoughtseize / Negate) or just backed by too many burn spells.
Abzan Control (3%)
WraithHunter finished 4-0 in a recent MTGO Daily Event with Abzan Control. With the recent rise of Green Devotion decks, some Abzan players have moved away from Sylvan Caryatid and toward End Hostilities in the main. You still have Courser of Kruphix and Siege Rhino but you are less vulnerable to getting run over by Green Devotion's rampant mana production. You also don't get set back on your mana by an opposing End Hostilities or Crux of Fate since you run more lands over Caryatids. The downside to this build is that you are weaker to strategies that require you to race, such as against other midrange strategies with a strong planeswalker presence. There is also a good chance you get out-carded by UB Control since you don't have access to Dig Through Time. I don't see the incentive to play this deck over Abzan Aggro or UB Control.
Sultai Control (3%)
Mtgthomas312 went 4-0 in a recent MTGO Daily Event with Sultai Control. It's a bit of a mashup between Gerard Fabiano's Sultai Superfriends list and UB Control. The green splash is basically just for a few planeswalkers. I don't fully understand the appeal of this deck over UB Control because you lose the ability to gain life from your lands against the aggressive decks. Nevertheless people are playing it. Fortunately beating it involves many of the same plans you would use for beating UB Control, most notably aggression backed by disruption and/or burn. And without the life gain from the lands, burning Sultai out is much easier than burning out UB Control.White Aggressive Decks (48% of metagame)
White aggressive decks are the best positioned decks in the format right now because they can go underneath the control decks or they can use cheap removal spells (most notably Wild Slash) to burn out the mana accelerants from the Green Midrange decks. Or they can use bigger removal spells (most notably Valorous Stance) to trade with the big green creatures. Valorous Stance doubles as protection against removal spells out of the creature-light control decks. It allows white aggressive decks to play more removal spells to combat opposing midrange strategies without conceding ground against control decks where removal spells are typically weak. Valorous Stance really is that good!
Abzan Aggro (14%)
Pierre Sommen finished in second place at GP Seville with Abzan Aggro. This archetype has been Tier 1 for a while now due to the strength and versatility of its removal combined with the strength and speed of its creatures. Thoughtseize, Fleecemane Lion, and Rakshasa Deathdealer make it much more resilient to the wrath effects the control decks rely on to beat the aggro decks. Anafenza, the Foremost provides an additional tool against Sultai Reanimator while Wingmate Roc offers a way to attack planeswalkers through the air. Overall the deck is very hard to beat, which is why I consider it the best deck in the format right now. It's one weakness seems to be its inability to beat a steady stream of cheap removal spells backed by ways to Recoup card advantage (Dig Through Time, Outpost Siege, etc.).
RW Midrange (13%)
Rafael Camargo Galvez made Top 16 of GP Seville with RW Midrange. The deck has really been taking off recently, placing several people in the money of Opens and GPs and MTGO Daily Events. It has cheap removal that can hit small creatures or big creatures or just go to the face. It has efficient creatures that are resilient to removal and have value-generating abilities. And it has sideboard cards that allow it to become a more focused deck post-board whether it is playing against aggro, midrange, or control. This deck is the main reason I like UB Control over the other control decks. Gaining that extra bit of life off the lands is so crucial in this matchup. The classic weakness of this strategy is similar to Abzan's weakness in that it has trouble dealing with a deck that uses Sylvan Caryatid to go slightly over the top of it with bigger things along the curve. Just as Abzan has Thoughtseize to overcome this weakness, RW has burn spells and the "aggression backed by Chained to the Rocks" draws.
UW Heroic (9%)
Jon Johnson made Top 4 of the TCGplayer Open 5K in Cleveland with UW Heroic. It also made the Top 8 of GP Seville in the hands of Marcos Antonio Cordero Valle. Not much has changed about this archetype but it continues to punish players who fail to give it Due Respect. Cheap removal that can kill a big heroic creature at any time (Glare of Heresy, Valorous Stance, Hero's Downfall, Abzan Charm, and Chained to the Rocks) is especially effective against UW Heroic. Thoughtseize is also very strong against it because it lets you know exactly what to play around and when. UW Heroic is usually pretty bad against the top two Aggro strategies because they play all these efficient removal spells in addition to fast clocks. The deck is better against midrange and control strategies though since your protection spells make you more resilient to their wrath effects.
Jeskai Tokens (7%)
ObviousHero went 4-0 in a recent MTGO Daily Event with Jeskai Tokens. The most recent additions to the deck are Monastery Mentor, Valorous Stance, and Wild Slash. Jeskai Tokens offer a unique angle of attack that the other aggro decks of the format do not offer, namely midgame engines that allow the deck to "go off" if unchecked for a turn or two. Between Monastery Mentor and Jeskai Ascendancy, and to a lesser extent Goblin Rabblemaster, you really have to have an answer in hand and ready to be deployed or you can find yourself quickly buried under a pile of enormous tokens.
Jeskai Tokens also has the powerful cards that RW Midrange has access to, most notably the versatile removal spells (minus Chained to the Rocks), many of which can be aimed at the opponent. It also has the excellent blue sideboard options: Disdainful Stroke and Negate for the midrange and control decks. It also has Treasure Cruise to refuel in the midgame. The best way to disrupt Jeskai Tokens is typically to do your own powerful thing and then efficiently disrupt their powerful three-mana play (Erase on Ascendancy, Wild Slash or Chained to the Rocks on Monastery Mentor or Goblin Rabblemaster), and continue applying pressure while they have to spend their time Treasuring Cruising for more gas. Gods Willing can throw a wrench in this plan, but Anger of the Gods or any of the more expensive wraths can also help clean up a board that has gotten out of control.
Jeskai Tempo (3%)
Zhangke went 4-0 in a recent MTGO Daily Event with Jeskai Tempo. Martin Juza also made Top 8 of GP Seville with a similar list. Jeskai Tempo is very similar to RW Midrange in that the game plan and card choices are each very similar. Jeskai runs fewer creatures, so it will transition to the burn plan faster than RW does, but it also has Dig Through Time as a midgame way to refuel and find those extra burn spells. It also has access to Disdainful Stroke and Negate (in some builds) post-board to combat opposing control decks. I don't see the payoff for running a third color in RW when the cost is losing Chained to the Rocks. It also doesn't have the explosive potential that Jeskai Tokens has.
Mardu Aggro (2%)
Mrkristopher went 4-0 in a recent MTGO Daily Event with Mardu Aggro. By changing a Temple of Triumph and the Urborg into a Plains and an Evolving Wilds you can easily run Chained to the Rocks in this deck if you wanted it. I'm not sure you even want to though. The deck comes out fast with Monastery Swiftspear and has Soulfire Grand Master as its late game engine. It has lots of efficient removal spells that can kill big or little creatures and a heavy burn plan to finish the game. It also has the great sideboard cards of RW and could even run Thoughtseize if it wanted to (and it probably should over Hushwing Gryff). This deck has difficulty beating Nylea's Disciple since it is so reliant on the burn plan and has so few ways to efficiently attack past a 3/3. Butcher of the Horde can get around this though and Crackling Doom / Valorous Stance can dodge Arbor Colossus. Mardu could be a sleeper, though it's really just doing the same thing that RW is doing but with Butchers and Crackling Dooms.Green Midrange Decks (34% of metagame)
The Green-based midrange strategies of the format have become more resilient to wrath effects but more susceptible to the point removal spells of the format. For instance, Whisperwood Elemental provides a huge boost to Green Devotion against End Hostilities and Crux of Fate while Valorous Stance (combined with Chained to the Rocks) often makes Polukranos, World Eater a losing turn three play against aggro decks (since they kill the hydra, attack, and play another threat all in the same turn). Many of the non-devotion green midrange decks are moving more toward the aggro or the control ends of the spectrum.
GR Devotion (12%)
Robert Berni won SCG Houston with Green Devotion splashing red. A similar Green/Red Devotion deck and a Monogreen Devotion deck each made Top 8 of GP Seville. Whisperwood Elemental is a huge addition against control decks while Ugin, the Spirit Dragon offers a unique angle against opposing aggro and midrange decks that Hornet Queen could not previously provide. Crater's Claws is yet another angle of attack, affording the deck a way to convert a ton of mana into an immediate kill. It also conveniently doubles as a reasonably efficient removal spell for problematic creatures such as Stormbreath Dragon, Monastery Mentor, or Soulfire Grand Master. Chained to the Rocks and Valorous Stance are hard to beat, as are burn spells pointed at Elvish Mystic and company. It's also hard to beat end step removal on Whisperwood Elemental into untap and cast End Hostilities or Crux of Fate.
Abzan Midrange (10%)
Nicholas Merrian made Top 8 of GP Seville with Abzan Midrange. This is a prime example of the midrange decks starting to look more like the aggro version: three Sylvan Caryatid? To be fair, the aggro version is now running Courser of Kruphix, so I suppose they're meeting somewhere in the vicinity of Fleecemane Lion. Wrath effects are usually the best weapon against this type of strategy, though Thoughtseize means you won't be able to rely too heavily on the wrath plan working. Racing Abzan Midrange is also an option, especially when combined with Seeker of the Way or Soulfire Grand Master to gain life. The singleton Whip of Erebos can do some major work when it comes to winning races, but not if all your creatures are exiled with Chained to the Rocks or Glare of Heresy, destroyed by Valorous Stance, or burned out by Lightning Strike. Given the added clock against the control decks, I see Abzan Aggro being better positioned than Abzan Midrange.
Sultai Reanimator (8%)
Fibero23 went 4-0 in a recent MTGO Daily Event with Sultai Reanimator. The deck gained Torrent Elemental and Tasigur, the Golden Fang. It also gained Crux of Fate in the sideboard. The two creatures that were added have strong synergy with the deck. Combined with Satyr Wayfinder, Tasigur can come out a turn sooner than Siege Rhino and it can also do some work in the midgame with its activated ability, especially when you can continually sculpt your graveyard with delve cards. Torrent Elemental provides an essentially unstoppable way to fight through walls of green monsters in the midrange matchups. Soul of Innistrad provides more late game power while Thoughtseize and Disdainful Stroke can keep opposing control decks from winning with a Wrath or an Ugin, the Spirit Dragon. There are a lot of Anafenza, the Foremosts running around right now and Hushwing Gryff is still lingering in sideboards, so I'd be less inclined to sleeve up Sultai Reanimator right now but if these handful of factors change, I can see it storming back onto the scene in a big way.
Temur Midrange (2%)
Dandallas went 4-0 in a recent MTGO Daily Event with Temur Midrange. Compared to the other midrange decks, Temur loses out on some of the more powerful removal spells but gains counter-magic in the form of Stubborn Denial and Temur Charm pre-board and Negate and Disdainful Stroke post-board. This makes it much stronger against control decks but weaker against aggro. It's a typical Sylvan Caryatid + Courser of Kruphix deck but has a stronger aerial presence with Ashcloud Phoenix, Stormbreath Dragon, and Sarkhan, the Dragonspeaker. It's weak to fast creatures backed by removal spells, though Sarkhan and Stormbreath Dragon are admittedly good at dodging Chained to the Rocks and Valorous Stance. They are also good at dodging Crux of Fate. I'm not convinced this is the best place to be though, given my prediction that aggro will be more than twice as popular as control this weekend, especially since Anger of the Gods isn't even that great against the current top aggro decks of the format.
Naya Tokens (2%)
Deifi00 finished an MTGO Daily Event 4-0 with Naya Tokens. From my GP Omaha Top 16 list he cut a pair of Elspeth, Sun's Champions, a Dictate of Heliod, a Xenagos, the Reveler, and a Temple of Plenty from the main in favor of three Rattleclaw Mystics, a Purphoros, God of the Forge, and two Outpost Sieges. In the board he cut an Erase and all the Arbor Colossuses for two Arc Lightnings and three Valorous Stances. His version is much weaker to Stormbreath Dragon but also more explosive due to Rattleclaw Mystic. While I agree with shaving in the most of the places he shaves, I believe the better addition is Lightning Strike instead of Rattleclaw Mystic since it gives us a lot more game against the top aggro decks of the format (Abzan Aggro and RW). I like Valorous Stance in the board, though I would cut Hushwing Gryff to make room instead of Arbor Colossus. For anyone interested, here is my updated version of Naya Tokens:
It has a strong plan against just about every deck in the format. It uses Sylvan Caryatid to stay a step ahead of aggro and midrange decks and powerful five and six mana cards to take over the game. It has lots of powerful removal spells in the sideboard that allow it to become more of a control deck post-board against creature decks. Against control decks we have Xenagos, the Reveler and Elspeth, Sun's Champion and we also have aggressive draws such as Elvish Mystic into Goblin Rabblemaster. The deck is hard to sideboard against, attacks from multiple angles, can blow someone out with Dictate of Heliod, outlast an opponent with Courser of Kruphix, or just raid Wingmate Roc and attack with flyers the old fashioned way. It also has most of the best sideboard cards short of Disdainful Stroke and Negate.
It can sometimes be weak to a Thoughtsieze or to a fast start backed by multiple removal spells (as just about any deck in the format can be weak to). It can also sometimes lose to control when all its spells get countered. I might consider Purphoros, God of the Forge or even Mastery of the Unseen to improve the control matchup, although I suppose Ugin, the Spirit Dragon still beats either of these cards. If you run the Rattleclaw Mystic version, you might want to play some blue counters in the board for this matchup and just cast them off Rattleclaw Mystic, Sylvan Caryatid, and Mana Confluence (9 total sources).Conclusion
If you want to play the deck that will give you the best chance of winning the tournament this weekend, I would recommend Abzan Aggro, RW Midrange, UB Control, or GR Devotion. Those are the four decks that I expect to see the most at the top tables. Regardless of whether or not you choose to join them, you at least need to have a plan for beating each of them. This format is a bit unique in that you can actually have a strong plan against all the top decks in the format, despite there being a healthy mix of aggro, midrange, and control. This is largely due to the multipurpose nature of the format's disruption spells such as: Thoughtseize, Valorous Stance, Disdainful Stroke, Abzan Charm, Ugin, the Spirit Dragon, Crux of Fate, and Crater's Claws. It is therefore more important in the current metagame to know how to play your deck against the best decks and less important which of the best decks you choose to learn and pilot.
Whichever deck you choose, I hope this article has helped you to figure out your plan for the weekend!
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