Well, we have the first week of Standard in the books, and there is plenty to talk about. There were a lot of new archetypes that showed up this week and many of them were misbuilt or simply not strong enough given the field. However, there were some clear winners this weekend - most notably vehicles - and most of the winning decks had vehicles in them. White/Red Aggro was expected to be a major player, but still performed above those expectations. The Open in Indianapolis had five White/Red decks in the Top 8.
White/Red Humans is a deck which has been around, as I talked about last week. However, the version of that deck which has been doing well is very different from White/Red Humans from last season. This is the version Donovan Lachney played last weekend.
The fact that there are only 10 white human creatures in the deck is insane, and it's clear this deck is no longer just splashing red, it is straight two colors. Inventor's Apprentice is a card which has come out strong and is seeing a reasonable amount of play. The fact that Thraben Inspector make clues and those clues are artifacts means there are enough artifacts to justify playing Inventor's Apprentice. Here is a human creature that also works well with artifacts, and the three toughness helps protect it from the most played sweeper in the format, Kozilek's Return.
The only sweeper that is actually seeing much play is Kozilek's Return. Sorcery speed sweepers like Radiant Flames and Fumigate are not as good as you want them to be right now, mainly because those cards cannot answer a vehicle, so effectively they are not full sweepers anymore. Even if Languish were still in the format it would be significantly worse because of vehicles. Not only are sweepers not well-positioned, but removal in general is seeing less play. There are not that many premium instant-speed removal spells in the format that are capable of answering Smuggler's Copter. This means that we are seeing proactive decks with a variety of difficult-to-answer threats do well.
Donovan's deck is able to fit in a package of eight vehicles, and in addition he has a number of humans including Thalia's Lieutenant! This is pretty impressive. While Thalia's Lieutenant doesn't help the vehicles it is still great with the normal creatures. However, Always Watching is no longer seeing play in the maindeck thanks to the fact that this deck has both vehicles and creature tokens. Hanweir Garrison and Pia Nalaar help showcase the deck's top end. The Thopter Token created by Pia Nalaar may not seem like much, but it is far from an irrelevant threat while being an artifact to boot. Hanweir Garrison is pretty special if it gets to attack, especially when Thalia's Lieutenant is involved.
Overall, White/Red Humans has become a bit bigger by having more expensive threats, which has increased the overall power level of the deck. Having access to both Gideon, Ally of Zendikar and Chandra, Torch of Defiance helps make life even more difficult for the control decks. We are seeing a lot of the same cards in this Humans deck as in the more popular White/Red Vehicles lists.
While it is clear White/Red Vehicles is very powerful, it was surprising to see just how many players opted to play it this past weekend, and it did win the Open in the hands of Chris VanMeter, making it the deck to beat right now.
Chris' mana base is a bit heavier on white, so he opts to only play eight one-drops in Toolcraft Exemplar and Thraben Inspector, but not Inventor's Apprentice. This is a true Cars deck with nine total vehicles in the deck, so the other creatures are more or less around to help facilitate attacking with vehicles. Veteran Motorist and Depala, Pilot Exemplar are perfect in this deck. When choosing which multicolored creatures to print in red and white it is clear that Wizards wanted White/Red Vehicles to be a strong contender in Standard. Veteran Motorist being a solid body that also has Scry 2 seems powerful enough, but the bonus it provides to Smuggler's Copter or Fleetwheel Cruiser is also very relevant.
Right now one of the easiest ways to deal with a Smuggler's Copter is to trade with it by using your own Smuggler's Copter, but with Veteran Motorist that extra point of toughness is going to make it much more difficult to answer the vehicle being crewed. The same can be applied when Depala, Pilot Exemplar is in play, as that is another way to pump your vehicles. All of a sudden Fiery Temper and Harnessed Lightning don't seem quite as good at dealing with vehicles. Depala, Pilot Exemplar is also a source of card advantage, and is a great card to use to crew a vehicle, as putting more gas in hand can end the game very easily. This deck would be scared of Kozilek's Return since most of the creatures are two toughness or less, but it has taken measures against the powerful sweeper in the form of Selfless Spirit, making even Kozilek's Return far less effective.
This deck is well protected against sweepers, and if sweepers aren't good against White/Red Vehicles, then what is the best way to fight this deck? That is the exact dilemma control decks are facing right now, and in general control decks haven't been doing all that well. The four copies of Gideon, Ally of Zendikar in the sideboard are going to make the control players life even more difficult.
Looking at VanMeter's sideboard we see he isn't playing singletons, showing that he knows what cards are most important to have access to. In the mirror match Weaver of Lightning can shine as a way to block a Smuggler's Copter and ping away one toughness threats like Veteran Motorist and Toolcraft Exemplar. Weaver of Lightning is the type of card that was never looked at twice before now, but with less cards overall in Standard more cards become playable. Similarly, Fragmentize may not look like anything special on the surface, but in reality it may be one of the most important sideboard cards in the format. With vehicles and other artifacts and enchantments seeing more play, Fragmentize is actually one of the best answers.
I want to transition away from the various White/Red decks and look at one of the more unique decks of the weekend. Temur Emerge was likely the Emerge deck players expected to perform the best, but it was Grixis Emerge which made the finals of the Open. On paper the matchup against White/Red Vehicles doesn't look great, but Zach Voss consistently beat the deck all the way up until his loss in the finals.
Here is a deck with a ton of creatures in it, so many that it can actually be a bit of a beatdown deck, especially if the opponent stumbles out of the gate. Scrapheap Scrounger has started seeing play in a variety of different black decks, which makes sense. The card is clearly powerful, and while it definitely works well in an aggressive strategy since it can't block, there are also slower decks that may want to play him. Bringing Scrapheap Scrounger back from the graveyard is synergistic with what decks like this are trying to do.
A lot of the time it won't actually be necessary to cast Scrapheap Scrounger in order to get it into play. This deck plays a ton of different discard outlets which make cards like Prized Amalgam and Scrapheap Scrounger more likely to come into play from the graveyard than from the hand. This deck doesn't play Emrakul, the Promised End, so it does rely on attacking with normal-sized creatures in order to win. While Kozilek's Return is an important piece of the equation, the deck doesn't play four copies as they can be milled with Perpetual Timepiece and the backside is much more important than the front.
The actual big Eldrazi threats here are four Elder Deep-Fiend and two Wretched Gryff, and there are definitely plenty of creatures to emerge from. Elder Deep-Fiend is just as strong as ever: it can swing the game and tap down annoying opposing vehicles. The deck starts out putting creatures on the board on the first turn with Cryptbreaker and Insolent Neonate, which means that the engine can get going as quickly as possible.
Grixis Emerge is a deck which is still in its infancy as a concept. This is going to be a strategy that more players will definitely look into, as this may very well not be the optimal list but there is clearly plenty of power and synergy with the deck. The recursion creatures provide an amazing lategame but are also creatures which can be cast on curve, so clearly black provides something which green could not in the Temur build.
The last deck I want to take a look at is the Green/White Aggro deck a lot of the Roanoke crew played at the Open, and while none made the top eight the deck still put up a good showing. We haven't seen many Green/White decks since the dominance of Green/White Tokens, but here is the list Tom Ross finished 10th with.
This deck is playing some cards that most other decks seem to be overlooking at the moment. Okay, there are four copies of Smuggler's Copter, but that is not a surprise – it's likely going to be the most-played card in Standard for a while. A two-drop seeing much less play is Servant of the Conduit. Servant of the Conduit helps enable playing Gideon, Ally of Zendikar or Verdurous Gearhulk a turn earlier, which is pretty important. By the time the two energy is used Servant of the Conduit will have done its job.
The deck is as proactive as possible, which means no actual removal spells in the maindeck outside of Fairgrounds Warden. With Verdurous Gearhulk and Blossoming Defense it is fairly easy to get creatures out of burn range here. Verdurous Gearhulk may be the best of the Gearhulks, and while it seems simple, huge creatures have a way of ending the game in a hurry. Always Watching and Gideon, Ally of Zendikar also can help provide an additional boost which helps justify playing so many creatures in the first place.
The other nice aspect of playing Green/White is the variety of sideboard cards the deck has access to. We see a wealth of options here compared to White/Red Vehicles. This deck has the ability to go big with cards like Quarantine Field and Nissa, Vital Force, but can also become more reactive with Declaration in Stone or artifact and enchantment removal. Having a sideboard with a wide variety of options makes sense early in a format as it is hard to predict the metagame right away, but after the format develops more we will see players narrow their sideboards to fight specific decks like White/Red Vehicles.
Personally this week I'm going to be working on control decks, and going deep. The combination of planeswalkers and vehicles is tough for control to overcome and I don't expect control to do particularly well this weekend, but that doesn't mean that there isn't a way to do well without playing Smuggler's Copter.
Thanks for reading,