Last weekend there was a large Standard event online (the Magic Online Championship Series Qualifier) and it has provided a great snapshot of the metagame. MOCS events are among the most competitive of any tournaments online – especially because pro players are invited – so it's certain that the decks at the top of the standings last weekend didn't get there by sheer luck alone. There have been big surprises in the results every major Standard event over the past weeks, and in comparison the results of the MOCS last weekend were very unspectacular. Boros Aggro, Golgari Midrange, Jeskai Control, and Izzet Drakes (a combo-like deck) were all present in the winner's circle and represent the full spectrum of classic Magic strategies. It's as healthy a Standard format as I can ever remember seeing, so maybe the unspectacular results last weekend are anything but, and show a balanced metagame in some sort of equilibrium.
Whatever the case, there are some players looking to break any equilibrium and the status quo by making their own way, and today I will dig deeper under the surface and uncover a few other decks that succeeded in the MOCS. The most recent published Standard decklists from leagues also have a few very interesting lists, including one by a Pro Tour Hall of Famer.
The way the MOCS Qualifier works is simple, all players who finish 6-2 or better advance to the next tournament, the Playoffs, and earn some prizes, while 7-1 or 8-0 earns extra prizes. Of the 13 decks that went 7-1 or better, 12 were one of the four top-tier decks I mentioned: five Golgari, three Jeskai, three Izzet, and one Boros. The only outlier was Ben Weitz's Big Red deck, in fact the only Mono-Red deck of any kind in the published decklists.
The last couple weeks have been very tough for Mono-Red Aggro, which has seen a decline in its easy Boros matchup and a resurgence in the difficult Golgari matchup. This take on Mono-Red takes a drastically different approach to by playing like a midrange deck, and in some ways is an extension of a popular sideboard plan that Mono-Red Aggro has used since rotation, transforming into a midrange deck with Treasure Map for card advantage and Rekindling Phoenix for a resilient threat. This deck puts both of those cards into the main deck, along with more tools that support the same end. Siege-Gang Commander tops the curve as a battlefield presence and source of value that is difficult to interact with, Deafening Clarion aside. Dire Fleet Daredevil is another creature that generate some value when it enters play and has plenty of targets against every top-tier deck in the metagame except for Boros, where the first strike body will hold its own as a turn-two play. Goblin Chainwhirler is of course the ultimate red value creature, and at the three-mana spot is backed up by Legion Warboss, which is another source of value in its own right if it can live until combat and start churning out tokens. It seems like a great addition to the deck because it's capable of generating significant pressure and will close out the game in just a few turns if unanswered, so it means this midrange deck still has the potential to be lethal quickly. The opponent must respect that fact, and means that sideboarding out cheap removal like Shock, which otherwise is very poor against the deck, could easily backfire.
Banefire also clearly plays a major role here as a three-of, and it makes sense it would go farther in this deck that can grind to the late game rather than in the low-land aggro version. If the deck can tread water and extend the game, eventually it will draw enough burn to end it. That fact goes a long way against Golgari and Jeskai, which can't typically close out the game quickly but will have little recourse against a large Banefire late.
From the sideboard, this deck takes a page from the aggro playbook by going bigger, even bigger than its main deck configuration. Three Star of Extinction is a complete haymaker against Golgari, which can't reliably close out the game early enough to prevent it and won't necessarily want Duress against such a creature-heavy deck. To help cast it Arch of Orazca comes in, where it also helps the deck grind. Against control decks like Jeskai, the extra land helps cast the fourth Banefire and Fight with Fire. In these matchups Karn, Scion of Urza is a serious threat that they don't have many clean ways to deal with if they miss it with a counter. Versus faster aggro decks this red deck takes the control role, aided by Fiery Cannonade.
Moving down to the 6-2 decks, the field looks quite similar to the 7-1 or better decks, with a smattering of Boros along with a ton of Jeskai, Golgari, and Izzet decks. Yet, another red midrange deck also appears in that mix, this time a Boros version.
As far as I know this deck was first debuted by Sam Black at GP Milwaukee, and this decklist is simply a copy of that without changes. Another red deck based around Treasure Map, with Siege-Gang Commander, Dire Fleet Daredevil and some Banefire, this deck's existence backs up the Big Red deck as being more than a fluke, and that there seems to be something to this strategy.
One of the most interesting decks in the MOCS was a Grixis Control build that looks like a port from Adrian Sullivan's GP Milwaukee-winning Jeskai Control deck, made clear by the playsets of Treasure Map and Niv-Mizzet, Parun they share.
Grixis and Jeskai share some cards, and some others are essentially interchangeable, but there are some key differences. The most glaring is that Grixis gives up Teferi, Hero of Dominaria, but it does gain a significant card in the exchange, Nicol Bolas, the Ravager. Adrian Sullivan used the efficient Enigma Drake over the value-laden Crackling Drake, which has a more direct parallel in the four-drop Nicol Bolas, the Ravager and its discard effect, but its ability to transform into a game-ending planeswalker means it must be answered. That makes it even more deadly with Dive Down, which this deck still retains from the Jeskai version.
The Grixis version, with even more potent creatures to protect, goes deeper into protecting them by including Thought Erasure main plus Duress in the sideboard. It even plays The Eldest Reborn, which can Reanimate these powerful creatures if they die. It all comes together in a nice control package, and while it has a long way to go to unseat Jeskai as the top deck, it's definitely possible. History usually shows that black control decks beat white ones in the head-to-head, often because of discard like Duress, so maybe Grixis could rise to fight back against the tide of Jeskai decks.
Some further evidence that Grixis is competitive is another version that finished 6-2.
Nicol Bolas, the Ravager plays a starring role here up to a four-of, but instead of Niv-Mizzet, Parun as it haymaker win condition, this deck goes the opposite approach of Death of a Thousand Stings by using Disinformation Campaign and plenty of surveil to go with it. Such a strategy seems a bit slow in an aggressive metagame but looks perfect against a sea of Jeskai and Golgari decks that are slow to empty their hands.
The most surprising deck to 6-2 in the MOCS was definitely the Sultai Dinosaurs deck.
Sultai is not exactly the most popular color combination for the Dinosaur tribe, but it's also not really fair to label the deck Dinosaurs, as it just uses Thunderherd Migration and a set of Carnage Tyrant. The deck must be comfortable casting the ramp spell for three mana since it most of the time it won't actually have the Dinosaur in hand on turn two, but the controlling deck looks happy to move at its own pace.
The deck is another example of Treasure Map holding a control deck together, except in this case with Carnage Tyrant as the uncounterable haymaker. With hexproof, no Dive Down shenanigans are required. Complementing the threat is a set of Karn, Scion of Urza, which make Construct Tokens that play very well with Treasure Map and its Treasure tokens. As a continuous source of value it's a real problem for Jeskai and Golgari, so I'm not surprised this deck thrived in the MOCS field. Three main deck Ritual of Soot shows plenty of respect against Boros and aggressive decks, and certainly goes a long way towards making this sort of strategy viable.
Although most successful decks in the MOCS were known quantities, there was some innovation in the top decks and some new technology to be found. For example, Murmuring Mystic – previously a sideboard staple of the Izzet Arclight Phoenix deck – has its made its way to the main of multiple MOCS lists as a one-of.
A bit more extreme is an alternative take on Golgari, which finished 7-1:
Instead of Wildgrowth Walker this deck uses Thorn Lieutenant, which hits a lot harder against Jeskai and trades more favorably against Izzet's Lava Coils. This deck also gives up the two-mana explore creatures entirely, instead focusing on the three-drop slot with a full four Plaguecrafter. The sacrifice effect has nice synergy with the deck's three Midnight Reaper, another card choice that helps the deck battle against control and gains points in the mirror at the expense of the aggressive matchups. Beating midrange and control is definitely the name of the game with a whopping seven planeswalkers, which is a ton compared to most versions now that have cut down to solely Vivien Reid. This deck is a bit different than the rest, but it could be a real threat in a metagame filled with Jeskai and the mirror match where aggro decks are contained.
To me, the success of multiple Grixis decks is the most interesting new development out of the MOCS, especially because it seems well-positioned in a metagame where red aggro is on life support and control is everywhere. Those same reasons make Esper appealing, as it's another control color combination with access to the control mirror-breaking Thought Erasure and Duress to get an edge on Jeskai. I hadn't really considered Esper a viable option in a world without Hallowed Fountain and was waiting until Ravnica Allegiance, but Hall of Famer Shuuhei "Astarisk" Nakamura put a league 5-0 with his version last weekend.
Combining black cards with Teferi, Hero of Dominaria means Esper gets the best of both worlds, so in theory could become the dominant control. I'm skeptical and think the mana is holding it back for now, but at least this league result says differently.
Another alternate control deck is this Izzet build, which is really more of an Izzet Drakes deck without Arclight Phoenix.
Instead of Arclight Phoenix, the deck focuses on protecting its eight drakes with Dive Down, which have proven to be so effective with Niv-Mizzet, Parun that it's no surprise this deck includes two of those as well. Three Spell Pierce add additional ways to protect creatures and disrupt the opponent. These changes definitely remove some of the deck's explosiveness, as well as the grinding ability and inevitability that comes with Arclight Phoenix, but it leads to a more balanced Game Plan and likely a more consistent one because it doesn't rely on digging into any specific card.
The coolest deck of the weekend is definitely the Dimir Quasiduplicate deck that 5-0ed a league.
A set of Quasiduplicate find plenty of targets to copy for value, but none more impressive than Dream Eater, which can surveil into additional copies of Quasiduplicate to keep things going. I can't say I'm taking this deck too seriously, but if nothing else it shows that Quasiduplicate is probably a lot better than it has performed so far, and it might just be a matter of time before the right card is printed to push it to the next level.