This past weekend two of the top performing archetypes were Jeskai Burn and Abzan Midrange. Both decks have game versus any matchup, which makes them strong choices in such a wide open format. I am going to start by talking about Jeskai Burn. Many players including myself didn't anticipate this being a major player in this Standard format, but this deck is certainly proving itself.
Here is the list which Kevin Jones took to a first place finish at the SCG Open in Edison, New Jersey:
To start off what exactly is the deck trying to do? This is not a straight burn deck, but there are also not a ton of creatures. The gameplan generally involves sticking one creature in play and then using the burn and removal spells to clear the way for that creature or two to go the distance. One threat that goes unanswered is generally enough to win.
Alright, so starting at the two-drop slot we have Seeker of the Way. This card is basically a 3/3 with lifelink for two mana! With so many noncreature spells it's really not that difficult to continually turn on prowess. Since this deck can play the long game and is not an all-in burn you out style deck, the lifelink can be a very big deal. In fact I expect to see Seeker of the Way upgraded to a four-of moving forward as the other threats start at three mana or more.
Goblin Rabblemaster should no longer surprise anyone in a red tempo based deck. While this is not Rabble Red the deck can take advantage of some of the similar synergies, such as tokens plus Stoke the Flame. Goblin Rabblemaster is just so great when played on an empty board, and with the amount of removal in the deck, it is quite likely that there won't be anything besides maybe a Sylvan Caryatid on your opponents side of the board when casting Goblin Rabblemaster.
The last creature in the deck embodies an aggressive Jeskai creature: Mantis Rider. Remember that if you just get in one hit with Mantis Rider and then your opponent kills it, it has still done its job. In fact you have essentially cast a Lightning Strike that has removed a spell from your opponents hand and generally your opponent has to take most of their turn to play a removal spell on the Mantis Rider. There are a variety of large ground creatures in the format, but the list of flyers is quite small, and the other flyers generally cost five mana to cast as opposed to three.
Now that we have talked about the creature threats lets briefly go over the planeswalkers There are three total, two copies of Sarkhan, the Dragonspeaker and one copy of Chandra, Pyromaster. Sarkhan, the Dragonspeaker plays a Mantis Rider like role, but at the cost of five mana. While sometimes it will be correct to shoot a creature, more often than not later in the game the four damage will be more important. Chandra, Pyromaster is another card that is quite good on an empty board, but sometimes will just be a target for opposing removal spells. If Chandra, Pyromaster sticks around for a couple turns though it is hard to lose from that point.
Moving onto the burn spells let's start with the obvious Magma Jet and Lightning Strike. In many decks these two cards butt heads because you may not want eight two mana burn spells, here though you do want all eight copies. One can be more useful than the other depending on the situation, but most importantly they help fill up the mana curve. In a deck with a lot of burn spells scrying later in the game to hit more burn spells usually feels like one of the best ways to use a scry effect.
There are 16 total burn spells in the maindeck and eight of them deal four damage. However, one of these burn spells has multiple uses. Of course Jeskai Charm is one of the main draws to playing Jeskai. In this deck the ability to put a creature on top of your opponent's library is extremely useful. First, it is important to be aware of the fact that if your opponent cracks a fetchland you can go ahead and cast Jeskai Charm on one of their creatures in response, in order to deal with it permanently. Oftentimes, though this is a card that can gain you a lot of tempo when used on an opposing creature, especially when you already have a threat in play. The last burn spell is Stoke the Flames, which should come as no surprise. Stoke the Flames has become a premium burn spell.
So what are the other spells in the deck? Well there are a couple Banishing Lights which is just a versatile removal spell that can also take out creatures with more than four toughness, which really is a big deal. Once in play a card like Polukranos, World Eater can be difficult to deal with. Perhaps the spell that is most surprising is the two copies of Steam Augury. Steam Augury is a card that has seen very little competitive play since it was first released in Theros Block, but yet all of a sudden there are two copies in this deck! While initially it may seem out of place, Steam Augury acts as a way to fuel both your hand with gas later in the game, and it puts cards into the graveyard, which is important because of Dig Through Time. Remember that you are making the two piles, so if possible try to play a little bit of a mind game with your opponent.
One of the cards that has recently been getting a lot of hype, and for good reason, is Dig Through Time. Going into Khans of Tarkir I was one of those people who figured that Jace's Ingenuity was going to be the new best source of late game card drawing. Anyone who has cast Dig Through Time should realize how much better choosing two cards from the top seven is, than just drawing three random cards. In addition, Dig Through Time will usually be much cheaper than Jace's Ingenuity would be, and it is not unrealistic to cast it for two. This is another way of keeping your hand fueled with enough burn spells later in the game.
I won't go into the sideboard too much here, as it should be pretty straightforward which cards are for which matchups. Anger of the Gods is one of those cards we are beginning to see present in just about every red decks 75, unless it is a super aggressive strategy. Many of the cards are for the control matchup, so as to have more threats against a removal heavy archetype. It can be hard to win with just burn spells because there are only 16 of them, so sticking at least one threat during the course of the game is certainly important. The one card here that does seem a bit unusual is Disdainful Stroke. Not sure how I feel about this card but it does provide a cheap answer to large creatures and planeswalkers, which some people may not anticipate.
Okay, let's move onto the other big deck I want to talk about, Abzan Midrange. Here is a list played by William Comminos to the top eight of the SCG Open in Edision, New Jersey:
Abzan Midrange should be one of the most popular archetypes in the new Standard format. This list has a few cards that are a little bit different from some of the other lists that have been doing well, but a lot of that is personal preference. One thing that is intriguing is that many of the Abzan Midrange decks aren't maindecking Thoughtseize. A lot of this has to do with the manabase and wanting to play a tapland turn one. Another big reason is of course how bad of a lategame draw Thoughtseize can be. This goes to show that just because a spell has been proven to be very powerful in other formats doesn't mean it will be that good in the current Standard format.
Comminos has opted to forego playing Elvish Mystic, and just has Sylvan Caryatid for ramping. He has opted to play 11 taplands so once again that could be a major reason for this, another one is that Sylvan Caryatid is a much better color fixer in this sort of deck. Since Elvish Mystic isn't present it is easier to argue for running Brimaz, King of Oreskos. Playing turn one Elvish Mystic will very rarely allow you to play a second turn Brimaz, King of Oreskos, as it is only possible with a first turn Mana Confluence. Brimaz, King of Oreskos is not a card that is present in many of the Abzan Midrange decks, but it is seen here as another powerful midrange creature.
There are certainly a number of creatures here which are above the curve in terms of power level compared to mana cost. Fleecemane Lion hasn't seen as much play as it was initially expected to when first printed, though it was a staple in Green/White Aggro. Now it seems Fleecemane Lion has found a home in Abzan Midrange as it has beaten out other options such as Rakshasa Deathdealer. Of course Courser of Kruphix is another one of these good early drops that also has a ton of utility later in the game, but playing four Courser of Kruphix in a green midrange deck should come as no surprise.
Perhaps the largest pull towards the Abzan colors is Siege Rhino. The power level of this card really is pretty crazy. The lifegain from his enters the battlefield trigger can be very effective against aggressive strategies. Also, against Jeskai Burn just gaining the three life essentially nullifies a Lightning Strike. Siege Rhino is definitely a format warping creature, and is likely one of the primary reasons aggressive decks didn't have a ton of success this past weekend.
The last few threats in the deck are lategame white cards. I will take a moment here to mention that one notable omission is Sorin, Solemn Visitor. This could be due to card availability. I have seen lists with four copies, but personally I would like to see at least a couple copies in this sort of deck. To help make up for not having Sorin, Solemn Visitor there are actually three Wingmate Roc and four Elspeth, Sun's Champion. These are both great cards but their numbers could be slightly trimmed. Wingmate Roc is a new five casting cost flyer which looks to be a staple in white midrange decks. It isn't usually that hard to set up making two 3/4 flyers.
The removal package here highlights many of the popular ways to kill creatures and planeswalkers in the Abzan colors. Hero's Downfall is generally the best of these and there are four copies. A lot of the time Utter End is a Hero's Downfall that cost one more mana, but destroying an artifact or enchantment can rarely come up and exiling the permanent can be relevant too. Perhaps the card that most players should be aware of in the deck is Abzan Charm, because it is not just a removal spell. In combat situations against this deck it is very important to be ready for two counters to be distributed to opposing creatures.
This is also a deck that has some of the best sideboard options in the format. Having access to a sweeper after board is very important, and Drown in Sorrow is just that. There are a variety of quality removal spells and the Thoughtseizes are present here. Whip of Erebos is quite good alongside creatures with enters the battlefield abilities like Siege Rhino and Wingmate Roc. Another one-of to be aware of is the enchantment destroyer Back to Nature. There are cards here for just about every matchup.
Thanks for Reading,