Hello everyone! I haven't played or even thought about the Standard format in a while until very recently. With GP Richmond coming to a close all I've been focusing on has been Modern and Draft. I am on somewhat of a break from Magic for the next month or so, only playing in FNMs and online, so now seemed like a good time to actually start looking at Standard again.
The Standard PTQ season has just come to an end and after looking at the most recent results, it seems that Standard is somewhat stale. The format can be broken down into a few distinct archetypes.
First, we have control decks such as UW and Esper Control. Before Born of the Gods was released, UW was the control strategy of choice. A two color deck was more consistent and allowed you to play all of your spells on time with only four of its lands coming into play tapped. The black wasn't really necessary because UW's removal (Last Breath, Azorius Charm, and Detention Sphere) accomplished pretty much the same thing that Ultimate Price and Hero's Downfall did anyway. The format was slow enough where you weren't missing anything by not playing Thoughtseize and Counterspells like Dissolve and Syncopate did everything that Thoughtseize did. When Born of the Gods was released the metagame shifted towards more of a big creature format, and players started adding the black back into their control decks to have better ways to deal with giant creatures like Polukranos and Planeswalkers such as Domri Rade, Xenagos, the Reveler, and Kiora, the Crashing Wave.
Speaking of big creatures, the next major archetype in Standard plays exactly that. RG "Monsters" is a powerful deck that plays hard to deal with threats such as Stormbreath Dragon and Polukranos, World Eater and Planeswalkers that are very hard for the control decks to remove. RG Monsters is a very consistent deck and has even taken down the past few SCG Opens. The deck can do some crazy things all in one turn, such as attack with a giant creature, bloodrush Ghor-Clan Rampager to deal a giant chunk of damage, and then cast the Blood half of Flesh // Blood to finish your opponent off.
RG Monsters has certainly become the deck to beat and the best way to fight a deck like that is with midrange strategies such as Monoblack Devotion or BW Midrange. These decks play tons of removal and have no trouble stopping RG's threats. Black decks also have a nearly unbeatable win condition in the form of Pack Rat. I don't have to tell you that a turn two Pack Rat on the play is game over against most decks. The most unfair thing about Pack Rat is you could be in a losing position and a topdecked Pack Rat can not only get you back in the game, but make it impossible for your opponent to even come back. This card is format warping and certainly broken.
One thing that hasn't been popping up at the top of major events is devotion strategies. I think devotion decks are a great choice for standard going forward. They have game against control and can "go bigger" than the RG Monster decks by ramping into huge things. They can be disrupted pretty easily but are overall more powerful than the other creature decks in Standard.
Here is the UG Devotion deck I've been working on for the past week.
The idea of UG Devotion is to ramp up into big creatures and gain a high devotion count. Once you have a huge mana advantage with Nykthos, Shrine to Nyx, use Garruk, Caller of Beasts to refill your hand and set up a winning board presence. Cyclonic Rift can clear your opponent's board, allowing you to set up an alpha strike. I think this deck is strong in the current metagame. Most of the green based decks have a hard time dealing with giant creatures outside fighting them off with Domri Rade and Mizzium Mortars can't hit Polukranos, World Eater or Arbor Colossus. With Nykthos, Shrine to Nyx out, you can power out creatures at a rate that most decks can't even deal with.
This deck is very high on power but does have some weaknesses. The first weakness of the deck is that it has a hard time getting going without a mana ramp creature. With four Elvish Mystic, four Sylvan Caryatid and three Kiora's Follower, we won't have that problem very often, but when we don't have a ramp spell in our opener, the deck is practically unplayable. I've seen lists with only four Mystic and four Caryatid, and I think that is wrong. You really need to play some number of Kiora's Followers or Voyaging Satyrs to increase your odds of drawing one in your opening hand. You really can't keep a hand without at least one mana creature.
This deck is also weak to mass removal, specifically Supreme Verdict. Your game plan is to play mana creatures and then big creatures to follow it up, making Verdict a three for one or worse for you. When playing against Supreme Verdict decks, your most important card is Garruk, Caller of Beasts. It can refill your hand once you run out of gas and its ultimate is just unbeatable. Garruk will usually get dealt with immediately but when that happens you will often have already gained three or more cards from it.
One card that I have not been impressed with is Kiora, the Crashing Wave. While it looks awesome on paper, it has underperformed every time I played her and I frequently side her out in between games. While Kiora can shut down a creature each turn, there are usually plenty of other ways to deal her damage. It takes four turns for her to go ultimate and each turn in which you tick her up, you are not gaining any value off of her. Most of the time Kiora has been nothing more than an extra land drop for me and hardly worth the four mana investment. I think Kiora is a great card but I don't think this is the deck for her.
The most important card in the deck is actually Cyclonic Rift. This deck plays zero removal spells so Rift is necessary to remove a problem permanent or wipe your opponent's board. Stalemates happen very often with this deck so it's really important to have access to this card.
Most of the creatures are self-explanatory but one guy I'd like to discuss is Courser of Kruphix. This guy is excellent and works very well with cards such as Temple of Mystery and Garruk, Caller of Beasts. Being able to see the top card of your library is very valuable when deciding which ability of Garruk to use or whether or not to play your scryland. Knowing the top card of your library is also good with our shuffle effect, Sylvan Primordial. Courser of Kruphix can also gain us some card advantage for those games in which we don't draw Garruk.
Prophet of Kruphix and Sylvan Primordial are our utility creatures. Prophet is insane in our deck. He lets us cheat on mana by playing creatures on both our turn and our opponent's and makes attacking on the ground nearly impossible as your opponent will always fear the possibility of getting ambushed. Remember you can bestow creatures at instant speed with this guy in play, which kind of makes me want to add Boon Satyr to the deck. Sylvan Primordial is one of my favorite cards in this deck. He can kill anything from Detention Spheres to Planeswalkers to bestowed Boon Satyrs, and a 6/8 creature is pretty difficult to deal with as well.
The sideboard has some cards for our more difficult matchup: control. We have Pithing Needles to deal with Planeswalkers and a third and fourth copy of Mistcutter Hydra as a way to get around Counterspells. We also play a fourth Garruk because it's the most important card in the matchup and it's really hard to win without drawing at least one.
The rest of the sideboard includes Nylea's Disciple and Sedge Scorpion to deal with fast creatures in decks like Monored or White Weenie. Scorpion is also insane against the RG Monsters matchup. It trades with everything and can even kill a Polukranos if our opponent attempts to damage it with its monstrous ability. Rapid Hybridization is good against any deck with must-kill creatures like Monoblue Devotion or any green-based deck. Finally, the one of Nylea, God of the Hunt is your trump card in the green creature mirror. With Nylea in play, all of your creatures will be slightly better than theirs and if you have a Nykthos, Shrine to Nyx this guy will get out of hand very quickly.
The next deck I'd like to talk about is Monoblue Devotion. We all know about how this deck dominated at Pro Tour Theros but the deck seemed to die down in the newly evolved metagame. It didn't take long before white was added to the deck to give it some game against decks that it couldn't really deal with before.
This is the deck that my friend Devon O'Donnell piloted to a first place finish at a PTQ this past Sunday. After talking to Devon about the list and testing it myself for the past few days, I have come up with the following changes:
I just want to say that I'm in love with this deck! It is just the same old Monoblue Devotion deck that we all know and love but white was added for Detention Spheres and a few sideboard cards. I'm not going to discuss the deck in great detail because I've said plenty about the deck already (check out my primer here). The addition of the white solves so many of the problems that the deck previously had. Detention Sphere, unlike Cyclonic Rift and Rapid Hybridization, is actually hard removal that can deal with any creature or Planeswalker (or permanent for that matter). The best part about Detention Sphere however, is that it is a way to completely deal with Pack Rat and all of its tokens, something that was nearly impossible to do before.
I cut Ephara, God of the Polis from the deck because the card is just very underwhelming and does not provide you with the same card advantage that Bident of Thassa or Jace, Architect of Thought does. Ephara is very hard to turn into a creature. You need to control at least four permanents for Ephara to turn on and if you have four or more permanents in play, Ephara is often just a "win more" card.
Playing more white cards also meant that we had to play more non-Island lands in our deck such as Azorius Guildgate and Godless Shrine (Godless Shrine is better than Plains in this deck because it allows us to cast Nightveil Specter). More shocklands and guildgates make our deck a bit slower which is never something we want to do when playing an aggro deck.
One thing that I do miss about this list is that it is missing Jace, Architect of Thought. We do have one copy in the maindeck and the remaining in the sideboard, but I do like having access to more copies of Jace in game one. With a maindeck as tight as this one, we would have to cut Bident of Thassa to make room for more Jaces and I am not willing to make that sacrifice. Bident is a better, more consistent way to draw cards and is very hard to remove while Jace can get a card or two and then usually just dies. The activated ability of Bident is often relevant as well. You can Ambush attackers and also clear the way for an alpha strike on the following turn.
The sideboard also solves a lot of the problems that the previous Monoblue Devotion list had. Monoblue's worst matchup was control and the addition of Glare of Heresy and Revoke Existence means that we can now deal with most of the cards that previously wrecked us such as Detention Sphere and Elspeth, Sun's Champion. Those utility spells combined with Jace, Architect of Thought, Gainsays and Negates make the UW and Esper Matchup surprisingly good.
The main reason to play this deck however is it has great matchups against both Monoblack Devotion and any deck that wins with green creatures and those are the most played decks in the metagame right now. I wasn't surprised to hear that Devon won the PTQ with a blue devotion list.
With the Standard Metagame being in a bit of a stalemate, I hope you guys take a look at these devotion decks. They are both well positioned in the current metagame and pretty fun to play. I'll definitely be piloting one of them at my next big event, the TCGplayer 5k in Orlando next month, and maybe you could give this one a tray at the upcoming Diamond Opens in Santa Clara and Chicago this weekend!
That's all I have for this week. As I've mentioned, I'm on a break from competitive Magic for the next few weeks so I'm going to be doing more fun magical things such as streaming with Frank. If there are any particular decks that you are interested in seeing on our stream, let us know in the comments. I'm really looking forward to the return of the MTGO Cube on March 19th and you can be sure that we'll be streaming lots of those.
Thanks for reading!
Melissa DeTora@MelissaDeTora on twitterwww.facebook.com/melissa.detora on facebook