Following Pro Tour Amonkhet, it was clear that there were three decks to beat, in order:
- Temur Marvel
- Mardu Vehicles
Blue-Red Control, Temur Energy, Sultai Marvel, and various Black-Green Winding Constrictor decks were also part of the metagame, but the big three were clearly defined going into Grand Prix Montreal and the Magic Online Championship Series playoff this weekend.
Coming out of this weekend, not much has changed. If you want to play the objectively most powerful deck, then play Temur Marvel. If instead you're like me and you want to be clever and outsmart the competition, I have five strategies for you to consider, each of which is built to take on the current metagame.
I've been having a decent amount of success with this deck online, winning about two thirds of my matches. The Blue-Red Control and Temur Marvel matches have been close, but I've beaten everything else so far. I have since made a few adjustments to make the deck better against Marvel, including moving two copies of Ceremonious Rejection to the main deck, so it's actually likely better against Marvel than the numbers from my testing would indicate.
Cermonious Rejection is secretly one of the best-positioned cards in Standard right now. It's literally the best card in the format against Aetherworks Marvel decks, even better than Transgress the Mind because it prevents them from beating you by drawing Aetherworks Marvel off the top of their Library. It's the old "why counters are more powerful than discard" adage. Having to only pay a single mana for a counter is huge and Ceremonious Rejection always only costs one mana. The downside is that it is narrow, only able to counter colorless spells.
Fortunately, every deck in the format right now has colorless spells we want to counter. Aetherworks Marvel decks certainly have no shortage, most notably their namesake card, but also Woodweaver's Puzzleknots. Mardu Vehicles also has plenty of targets, most notably Heart of Kiran, which is a card that can be especially problematic on the play following a first-turn Toolcraft Exemplar. Ceremonious Rejection being able to break up that play is pretty huge. The card is at its worst against Zombies, but Metallic Mimic always comes down on the second turn since it's better to play it out first to get value from it before playing out all your other Zombies. This means, much like with Heart of Kiran, being able to counter it on the second turn from the draw can change the course of the game considerably. I only run two copies because it is narrow, but it's a silver bullet right now.
Negate is another card that is very good in the metagame currently. It's another way to efficiently stop Aetherworks Marvel. Destroying Aetherworks Marvel with a card like Fragmentize or otherwise removing it with something like Cast Out is insufficient since a single activation will often generate an Ulamog, the Ceaseless Hunger. So really we're limited to discard spells (the best of which is Transgress the Mind by far) or counters, and as we said with Ceremonious Rejection, counters are the more effective option since it prevents them from simply drawing the Aetherworks Marvel during their draw step to kill you. Negate stops the Marvel and also stops their Chandra, Flamecaller. Negate is also great against Blue-Red Control and is also quite serviceable against Mardu Vehicles since you can hit any vehicle or removal spell. They will often side into planeswalkers too, which makes it just perfect against them in post-board games. Even against Zombies, I like drawing the first copy of Negate and don't mind the second copy since it counters any of their removal spells or their Liliana's Mastery.
Metallic Rebuke is a little more flexible than Negate or Ceremonious Rejection, but it gets worse as the game progresses since eventually the opponent will be able to pay the three mana to render it ineffective. I split the counters 2-2-2 because each is situationally better than the others and I can generally determine based on matchup and point in the game which one to play and which one to conserve for later.
A card that makes Negate and Metallic Rebuke much better is another card a lot of people are sleeping on right now (at least outside of 1v1 Commander): namely Baral, Chief of Compliance. Having Negate and oftentimes Metallic Rebuke only cost a single mana gives the deck tons of options and flexibility. It's also important that we get to loot from Baral each time our counter is successful. Baral is also a very reasonable blocker, matches up well against Whirler Virtuoso or any two-powered Zombie. He'll often hold off multiple Zombies as well since he'll not only block but also defeat in combat Dread Wanderer or Metallic Mimic. And in tandem with a Thraben Inspector, the two can Take Down a two-toughness threat, usually only at the expense of losing a Thraben Inspector. In other matchups the two can chip away at the opponent's life total for several turns, making it that much easier to finish the game with our actual win conditions.
Speaking of actual win conditions, the main one is Archangel Avacyn but we also have Aethersphere Harvester and Walking Ballista to help out. Avaycn is one of the best cards against Zombies in the format and is also great against Mardu Vehicles regardless of whether they're on the planeswalker plan or the aggro plan. Harvester is especially good against Heart of Kiran and we have lots of one-power creatures to crew The Harvester in this deck.
Baral, Chief of Compliance not only makes our counters cost less but also our removal and our card draw spells. Being able to cast Incendiary Flow or Harnessed Lightning for just one mana feels criminal. Also being able to Fumigate on turn four is straight-up Wrath of God with the added bonus of gaining life. And being able to cast Glimmer of Genius on the third turn also feels quite dirty. I originally had Torrential Gearhulk in the main but moved him to the sideboard since Pull from Tomorrow was actually testing better as a late game way to gain a big advantage, mostly because Baral essentially gives us one additional card off it.
Post-board we get more counters, more removal, more card draw, and artifact kill depending on the matchup. We also get some more win conditions in the format of planeswalkers, Dragons and Gearhulks for matchups that come down to who slams the last haymaker. I'm not convinced I have all the numbers exactly right in this deck, but it's undergone a reasonable amount of tuning and is tournament-ready.
I also tried out a more aggressive version:
I had high hopes for this build, but it ended up being worse than the previous deck. It felt like an inferior version of Mardu Vehicles against everything except Aetherworks Marvel. The deck certainly had some powerful draws, curving out from Toolcraft Exemplar into Heart of Kiran or Scrapheap Scrounger into Whirler Virtuoso into Gideon, Ally of Zendikar. Harnessed Lightning was not nearly as good without Glimmer of Genius though and I wasn't able to fit Glimmer into the main deck since Gideon occupied all the spots in the deck for four-drops. I suppose we could cut a Gideon, a Walking Ballista, and Pia Nalaar for three copies of Glimmer of Genius and maybe that would improve the deck.
I still feel like this deck has potential but that it needs work. It might also want to somehow fit Glorybringer or Archangel Avacyn into the main deck. Counters are really important right now due to the prevalence of Aetherworks Marvel, so it's possible this is where Vehicles end up, or maybe they'll just splash blue for Metallic Rebuke and stay low to the ground with Toolcraft Exemplars. Anyway, this is a work in progress I wanted to share. If you think you know what it needs or have time to test it for me and provide feedback, I'd love to hear about it in the comments.
Donald Smith played a similar deck at GP Montreal that may just be a better version of what this deck is trying to do or perhaps a mashup of the two could be the solution to the metagame:
Here is another deck I tried that has potential:
I like Gryff's Boon a lot against Zombies since they have no way to interact with flyers outside of their removal spells. If you can combine pressure with flying, it's very hard for them to recover. A big part of their game plan is drawing cards off Cryptbreaker, so every point of damage we can deal is one less card they can draw before they die. Gryff's Boon not only adds a point of power for just one mana but also makes your otherwise easily blocked Rogue Refiner into a fast killing machine. Glory-Bound Initiate makes racing very difficult, and Tireless Tracker lets us refuel and keep pace. The counters are a concession to Marvel, but they're also convenient against sweepers. The mana is a little sketchy in this deck, but I think it has potential. It's possible that cutting Always Watching and Glory-Bound Initiate for Glimmer of Genius and Baral, Chief of Compliance is correct (and adjusting the mana base accordingly). After all, Baral is a Human. At that point we're basically splashing for Thraben Inspector, Thalia's Lieutenant, and Gryff's Boon. I'm not saying it's wrong, but it might be trying to go in two different directions and would be better served committing to one of the two directions fully. That's exactly what I ended up doing this weekend:
This is the deck I played in the MOCS Playoff this weekend to a Top 32 finish. It's the deck I probably should have played at the Pro Tour and would have if I had realized how big Zombies was going to be.
The deck is super aggressive and has lots of flying and a surprising amount of resilience. People were getting their faces pushed in quickly, leaving me plenty of time between rounds to catch up on other things. I won every match in which I started on the play, but unfortunately the draws didn't quite line up in a few of the rounds. Most of the deck is pretty self-explanatory except for Sandstone Bridge. That's the secret piece of technology that makes the deck work. It functions as a baby Always Watching and lets us cheat on our land count. If we play first-turn Town Gossipmonger, we can target it with the bridge on the second turn while playing another one-drop. This allows us to attack with the Gossipmonger and transform it on the same turn, hitting for three points of damage without ever missing a beat. The other prime targets are Gust Walker and Glory-Bound Initiate since vigilance essentially takes away the drawback of exert. There are also the scenarios in which simply pumping a creature makes combat that much more difficult for the opponent, especially when combined with all the other pump effects in the deck, most notably Stitcher's Graft since it also takes away that card's drawback.
Overall this is my favorite deck of this article and the one I would recommend playing this weekend. I know, I'm sure that's a shocker to you that I would play the aggressive mono-white deck, but I have to live up to my Brimaz4Life moniker and it's also the most streamlined of the five. My second choice would be the first Jeskai list. Baral, Chief of Compliance and counters are good right now and that's the best shell I've found so far for the card. Perhaps *gasp* removing white altogether from that list and simply adding Baral to Blue-Red Control is correct, but that would be blasphemy and I'm no heretic! I'll continue with my mono-white aggro deck and be thankful that such a deck exists for me to play.
If winning quickly is a priority to you and/or you want to complete an entire five-round league on MTGO in a little over an hour with a good chance of finishing 5-0, this might be the deck you're looking for!