We're now through the second weekend of Guilds of Ravnica, and a metagame is beginning to shape up. The results of the last online PTQ make it very clear that Golgari is the new frontrunner.
Golgari followed up its win last week with another this week, but grew from just two copies in the Top 8 to an incredible six! Those are the sort of numbers that Red-Black Aggro put up last season, and the new Golgari deck fits the bill of a dominant Standard deck—it's a midrange creature deck that is flexible in its ability to play offensively or defensively, so it can be aggressive against control decks while packing the card advantage to keep up with their card draw, and it has the tools to stop aggressive decks with its combination of solid blockers and removal spells. After sideboard, midrange decks like Golgari get even better because they have access to high-impact cards, including Duress against control and Moment of Craving against red, all the while being inherently resistant to opposing sideboard cards. Golgari is here to stay, and it seems that now the metagame will have to shape up around it.
The question is what other decks will rise up to fight against Golgari, but the PTQ also has some answers. Beating midrange decks like these new Golgari decks oftens means getting extreme, either by going under them with fast aggression or over the top of them with big cards they have trouble beating. As such it's not surprising that the highest placing non-Golgari deck in the PTQ was Mono-White Aggro!
No splashes, just Plains and all the best aggressive white cards in Standard. It makes really great use of Conclave Tribunal with its many cheap creatures to convoke with, which also make Venerated Loxodon a true bomb in this deck. It provides an anthem effect while being a big body and will be responsible for many of this deck's best draws.
The deck is also surprisingly resilient and has some ability to grind. A curve of Hunted Witness, Adanto Vanguard and History of Benalia plays well against removal spells, and Legion's Landing can flip and start creating tokens to give the deck some staying power.
I am going to be paying close attention to the Standard metagame to see if white aggro decks continue to perform, because it looks like they may be a key piece of the metagame puzzle. The Golgari matchup will be critical, and if mono-white does catch on, then Golgari decks will be sure to fight back with measures of their own, with more sweepers like Ritual of Soot and Golden Demise and other removal spells the white decks will have to adjust to. Being mono-color does sometimes lead to challenges with making a sideboard, but this deck has some quality cards, including Ajani, Adversary of Tyrants, which seems useful for grinding against Golgari decks bringing in creature removal spells.
The other archetype to crack the Top 8 this week was Jeskai, which I don't want to focus too much on because I discussed it last week, but it does seem clear that it's now the top control deck in the metagame, edging out Grixis at least for the time being.
White provides some really strong tools in this metagame, specifically Deafening Clarion as an anti-aggro sweeper. It also provides Cleansing Nova, which is great against Golgari because it kills larger creatures. Last week Jeskai Top 8ed the PTQ without this sweeper in the main deck, but it's excellent against green decks like Golgari, so seeing it main deck now makes sense. Teferi, Hero of Dominaria also remains one of the most powerful cards in Standard, and Jeskai is essentially designed to support and make the most of it.
There's a lot more to Standard than those decks that cracked the PTQ Top 8, and looking deeper into the standings and the most recent league 5-0 decklists show plenty of other strategies and interesting innovations on existing ones.
If there's one card in Guilds players are working hardest to break, it's Experimental Frenzy. It had mainstream success last week as a card advantage engine in the Mono-Red Aggro deck Max McVety played to the Top 4 of the SCG Team Open, and it's seeing a ton of play online in all variety of decks. The card is not very difficult to use, as McVety's deck showed—nothing changes the top card of his deck—but to really make the most of Experimental Frenzy and "break it" requires the ability to manipulate the top card and extract extra value, which is most useful for getting past clumps of land. There are a lot of ways to do this, like Treasure Map or Evolving Wilds, but the most powerful way to move lands is Wayward Swordtooth, which combines with Experimental Frenzy to become like Oracle of Mul Daya. It's a nice interaction that will quickly help trigger ascend and really make the Dinosaur a threat. This Dinosaur status makes this combo the perfect addition to a Dinosaur tribal deck, complete with Commune with Dinosaurs to help find Wayward Swordtooth and Thunderherd Migration as a ramp spell.
A big payoff for Experimental Frenzy and all the value it generates in this deck—much of which will be lands—is Fight with Fire, which becomes a game-ending burn spell. This deck reached 17th place in the PTQ with a respectable 7-2 record, and with more refinement I could see a strategy like this working its way into the metagame.
This deck takes an aggressive approach to Experimental Frenzy by putting it on top of a curve of creatures. It lacks the cheap burn spells that the typical red aggro decks use so effectively with Experimental Frenzy, but it does have the mana acceleration of green, which gives it more to spend on churning out extra cards with Experimental Frenzy. Wayward Swordtooth eventually turns into something like a Steel Leaf Champion, but it will always help reduce the cost of Ghalta, Primal Hunger, which the deck includes to get more value from the 5/5 body.
Rounding out the deck is a pair of Banefire, which converts extra land from Experimental Frenzy into a kill and is overall a useful finisher for the green deck that otherwise had no way to force through the final points of lethal damage without attacking.
One way to move past the top card of the deck with Experimental Frenzy is Dismissive Pyromancer, which, conveniently, is red. It's comparable to Treasure Map, but it has the distinct advantage of being a creature that can actually attack, which makes it more appealing in an aggressive deck like this Boros deck that finished 10th place in the PTQ.
That's not to say Dismissive Pyromancer can't be used alongside Treasure Map, like in this Big Red-style deck that takes a more controlling role than red aggro with less cheap threats and more removal, and goes higher up the curve to Siege-Gang Commander, finishing 15th place in the PTQ.
The Standard metagame is starting to take shape and decks are being refined, but it's also a time where we can see widespread experimentation. Not only are there new deck ideas being developed, but there's also innovations that can be seen within specific decks and archetypes. For example, the Golgari deck is a perfect candidate for splashing, and players are working diligently to find out if a splash could make the Golgari deck even better. This week there have been a couple notable versions with 5-0 finishes.
One variation on Golgari is Sultai, like this decklist that splashes for a set of Thief of Sanity.
Thief of Sanity grinds out value every turn it stays alive and can hit the opponent. In theory, if it lives one turn it's going to live the next unless the opponent hits a lucky topdeck, so odds are if Thief of Sanity gets going it will snowball out of control and take over the game. It's a great threat and it fits well into the Golgari midrange gameplan. When Grixis with Thief of Sanity reached the Top 8 of the PTQ last week I mentioned that it plays a role similar to Glint-Sleeve Siphoner, which was a Grixis and Golgari staple last season, so it makes sense we are now seeing it here as well. The blue splash also opens up the sideboard to counters.
A similar variation is this Abzan deck, which splashes into white for a set of Militia Bugler.
Militia Bugler is typically seen as an aggressive creature, but it's quite an effective card advantage tool for this midrange deck. Golgari offers a surprising number of great creatures with two power—each of which offer extra value themselves—so Militia Bugler really helps push the deck ahead on cards. The digging effect of Militia Bugler is also a sort of tutor-lite, and helps the deck dig into some high-impact silver-bullets. Militia Bugler is also a really strong target for the Raise Dead half of Find // Finality, as it will generate more value when it enters play. It looks like Militia Bugler really holds the deck together. It might be most effective in a control-heavy metagame where the extra card advantage is most valuable, so it will be a good choice if Jeskai rises, but the 2/3 vigilance body does seem useful against red decks too.
Instead of pure aggression, this deck focuses on robust creatures and a more midrange gameplan. Militia Bugler is central to that because it adds a card advantage engine, as well as card selection that helps smooth draws and sets up the deck in the midgame. The deck has plenty of great hits, including a set of Aurelia, Exemplar of Justice and even a pair of Siege-Gang Commander. The deck also includes Ajani, Adversary of Tyrant, and Militia Bugler is a great target for counters because it's a vigilance creature that will protect the Planeswalker while pressuring the opponent. The week-one Boros deck didn't fare so well the second week, and was completely absent from the PTQ Top 32, presumably because it falls prey to Golgari, so some changes will be necessary, and this approach looks promising.
Back to Golgari, there's also plenty of innovation to be done without splashing. The colors have a wealth of playables, and the decks we've seen at the top so far only use a portion of them and have specifically left most of the graveyard interactions available on the sidelines. One version from leagues that does put more focus on the graveyard is this deck that uses Molderhulk as an Undergrowth payoff, and it combines with Memorial to Folly for some fantastic synergy.
Molderhulk can return Memorial to Folly to play, and Memorial to Folly can return dead Molkderhulk to hand, so it creates a loop of value that will be difficult for decks without exile effects or counters to really break through.
The most novel Golgari deck this week was a bit of a surprise, and it looks as effective as it does ingenious.
Golgari Zombies combines Golgari's ability to fill the graveyard with Zombie's ability to rise from the dead, and it adds up to an aggressive deck backed by a lot of value. The main Zombie payoffs are Death Baron—which pumps many of the creatures—but even more so Liliana, Untouched by Death, which is an effective way to fuel the graveyard and act as a source of removal and card advantage in a Zombie deck—and this one has just enough to make it work. Graveyard Marshal is the main graveyard payoff and gives the deck a lot of grinding power. Molderhulk happens to be a Zombie, so it makes an appearance along with Memorial to Folly to give the deck a good late-game plan. There's obviously some tuning to be done with this decklist, but it's a strong concept that I'll be looking out for more of in the future.