Going into last weekend, it was unclear what would happen. Now it is clear that Thalia's Lieutenant is busted, and humans are a force to be reckoned with. At the open in Baltimore, various human builds were the most-represented decks on day two. There are a number of different directions you can take humans, but all are base-white. Some versions are hyper-aggressive, while some can play a long game as well. Either way, white has become the most popular color in Standard. Humans are one of the reasons why, so let's dig into why so many different builds of humans saw success.
First of all, the deck that finished second in the open was mono-white. There were fewer mono-white humans players than players that splashed a color. Playing mono-white means that color requirements are no longer an issue in order to cast your spells, and helps ensure your starts are as aggressive as possible. Having a ton of basic Plains means it is easy to curve a one-drop into a two-drop into a three-drop, or sometimes play two one-drops on turn two rather than a two-mana creature. There was a mono-white humans deck that finished second in the open, but I prefer my version:
The deck is quite similar to the one that took second place. Both are super aggressive and require fast starts in order to win. Since the mana curve is so low, it is typical to curve out and get your threats on the table before your opponent has time to set up shop. While Pastore plays 15 one-drops, my version has 18, which is a ton of one-mana threats! The version I played maximizes the potential for your best starts, while also preying on any slow starts from the opponent. The deck does not play particularly well once the game progresses past turn five, pre-sideboard. That means that if your opponent is able to stop the early assault, a lot of the time you are out of gas. This is a necessary sacrifice in order to be as aggressive as possible.
Pastore chose to play some more unusual cards like Gryff's Boon. While that may be a card that worked out well for Pastore in the open, I wouldn't expect that to be the case moving forward. Auras are not situated particularly well, with Reflector Mage being more popular than ever.
In both versions, there is a sideboard plan that allows the deck to transform after sideboard. I was one of the only players not running Knight of the White Orchid maindeck. The reason being is that game one, you don't have that much to ramp into, and on the play the card is significantly worse. That is why I played them in the sideboard to bring in on the draw.
On the draw with mono-white humans, the game plan completely changes, as all the Savannah Lions in the deck get much less effective. That means that you can bring in larger threats going all the way up to Archangel Avacyn. Many times after sideboard, your opponent will have more spot removal or mass removal which means that having more versatile threats is going to be important. The other factor that can work out in your favor is that Archangel Avacyn isn't a card your opponent will necessarily be anticipating, when it is clear game one the deck is super-aggressive. Many of the humans decks have opted not to go in the direction of Archangel Avacyn in the board, but this sideboard plan is the best way to get around removal. Eerie Interlude and Archangel Avacyn are some of the top options to give control decks a fit.
While straight mono-white humans is what I played, it isn't clear which humans deck is best. It seems metagame dependent, but one way to get an edge in the mirror is access to Dromoka's Command as a way to blow up the Silkwrap, Stasis Snare, and Always Watching. The version of W/G humans that made Top 8 of the open wasn't playing Dromoka's Command maindeck, but does have three copies in the sideboard. I would expect most versions to move towards adding Dromoka's Command to the maindeck. This is the list Dwayne Graham made top eight with:
With only eight green sources, you don't want to play too many maindeck green cards. Graham plays four copies of Tireless Tracker as his only maindeck green card, but Tireless Tracker does a lot for the deck's lategame. One of the main vulnerabilities with these types of aggressive decks is flooding out but Tireless Tracker means that the gas will never run out. Thraben Inspector has already been proven to be a perfect fit in human strategies, and Tireless Tracker is essentially the next level up from Thraben Inspector. With more lategame the deck gets slower, but that may be worth it.
It may not be clear if the green cards warrant the splash, but the sideboard offers a lot of options. Clip Wings has quickly become one of the top options in the sideboard of green decks in order to combat Archangel of Tithes and Archangel Avacyn. Human decks still play powerful flying creatures but don't play other small flyers, so Clip Wings generally answers the most powerful threat on the table. While Archangel of Tithes and Archangel Avacyn aren't humans they are still powerful enough to play in a Thalia's Lieutenant deck. This deck also has Evolutionary Leap in order to find specific creatures and snowball with multiple Thalia's Lieutenants.
Alright, let's go ahead and move on to the most popular Humans deck from the open: W/U humans. Reflector Mage is a powerful human, though it is a three mana. The question becomes: how does blue/white adjust its creature curve to accommodate for Reflector Mage, and are there any other blue cards worth playing in the maindeck? The answer after the open, based on the Top 8, is that going bigger for Dragonlord Ojutai is worth it. While Dragonlord Ojutai competes for the same slot as Archangel Avacyn, it is worth playing because of its interaction with Always Watching. There are some decks in this format that aren't able to beat Always Watching plus Dragonlord Ojutai.
This is more of a midrange humans deck, with four five-drops, and comparatively less early creatures. Always Watching is even more important here than in the other humans decks because the deck is reliant on having large enough creatures to win a prolonged game, and there are three copies of Dragonlord Ojutai to maximize that interaction. We see that in terms of removal, Declaration in Stone is one of the best removal spells in the format, though some of these decks do opt to just play four copies of Declaration in Stone and no other removal in the main. The question becomes: is it enough to just play four removal spells?
In testing I have found that since by playing Always Watching you are already vulnerable to Dromoka's Command, playing enchantment removal doesn't have a ton of downside. Silkwrap and Stasis Snare are both cards worth considering, especially Stasis Snare, because it is instant-speed removal. There are flash threats like Archangel Avacyn against which instant-speed interaction becomes important. On the flipside, blue offers Reflector Mage, which acts almost like a removal spell, and Juliano does in fact have Stasis Snare and Surge of Righteousness in the sideboard. Surge of Righteousness doesn't seem particularly well-positioned given the current metagame but is a powerful option to keep an eye on.
Ojutai's Command is a card that most of the white/blue humans decks have in the sideboard, and is another answer to Archangel Avacyn. Ojutai's Command is such a versatile card that it could easily start shifting to the maindeck. Counterspells are not heavily played right now, which makes them even more surprising coming out of an aggressive deck. Negate and Dispel are both here, so the deck has countermagic rather than something like Eerie Interlude as insurance versus sweepers.
W/U Humans was the most successful deck of the weekend, but there is one last Humans variant that incorporates both blue and green while still being base-white.
Archangel of Tithes is still in the deck because it is that powerful of a card, but we see here another direction to go with Collected Company. Thalia's Lieutenant in particular can be a backbreaking hit with a Collected Company. Not only do we have Collected Company for green cards but there are also the full playset of Dromoka's Commands. Knight of the White Orchid is extremely important here because the mana fixing does a lot. While initially one would think that a double white card in a three color deck wouldn't work, the manabase here is actually better than traditional Bant Company. The deck is still primarily white, while having access to all the cards the human archetype wants.
Hanweir Militia Captain is a creature that some of the humans decks have been playing, but many still don't. Alongside Collected Company, it makes sense. Hitting Hanweir Militia Captain off a Collected Company at the end of your opponent's turn can come as a surprise, and the deck is more likely to get four creatures into play than the other Humans decks. Even though this deck is three colors it still plays the best white one-drops in Thraben Lieutenant and Kytheon, Hero of Akros. Since this is a Collected Company deck, you do have to make some sacrifices though, which means less noncreature spells. Declaration in Stone is nowhere to be seen, while Always Watching has been relegated to the sideboard. My initial reaction to the Collected Company humans deck is that it is still an unfinished product.
Clearly there are a variety of ways to build around Thalia's Lieutenant. I like mono-white for consistency reasons, but if the metagame shifts towards midrange, splashing makes a lot of sense. Humans are the new tribe of choice in Standard and it's exciting to see a tribal strategy this strong. This is not an archetype that is going to fade —the new face of Standard is a human face.
Thanks for reading,