A week ago marked the beginning of the 2014 World Championship, which was followed by the 2014 World Magic Cup over the weekend. A metric ton of Magic was played in Nice, France last week, and luckily for us, there are a tremendous amount of decklists available.
The 24 competitors in the World Championship each brought a Standard deck and a Modern deck, and considering that this was the highest stakes tournament all year long, they clearly held nothing back. They brought the absolute best and most refined decks possible. A tournament like the World Championship spurs excellence and innovation, and the competitors did not disappoint.
The World Magic Cup format included Team Unified Standard, meaning the teams had to meet the requirement of using only four of a card between all three decks. This unusual restraint means these decks aren't necessary tuned and optimal for a broader, individual Standard event, so they aren't the first place I'd look for Standard tech.
Today I'll focus on the 24 Standard decks brought to the World Championship. I'll share a representative decklist for each archetype, explain what makes them tick, their metagame positioning, and how the archetype looks to fair going forward.
Perhaps the defining deck of the World Championship was Sultai Reanimator, played by champion Shahar Shenhar and his team, including Josh Utter-Leyton, Tom Martell, Paulo Vitor, and the deck's initial designer, Willy Edel.
This archetype is designed to go over the top of opponents with Hornet Queen and an inexhaustible endgame driven by Whip of Erebos. Sidisi, Brood Tyrant both fills the graveyard and acts as a powerful midrange threat that's capable of ending a game by itself if unanswered. It's also sometimes a tempo play because of its ability to generate two threats in one, though if an opponent kills Sidisi immediately, before the trigger resolves, no token will be generated. Sidisi, Brood Tyrant also has synergy with any Satyr Wayfinder that follows it because they are likely to mill a creature and generate a Zombie Token.
This archetype can only leverage its powerful lategame engine if it can survive that long; Murderous Cut allows that to happen. It provides the archetype with a powerful, tempo-generating removal spell that both enables aggressive tempo draws from the deck and mitigates aggressive tempo draws from the opponent. No deck utilizes Murderous Cut better than this one.
Compared to past versions, two copies of Ashiok, Nightmare Weaver have been brought to the maindeck. This card is devastating against the other midrange creature decks that make up the majority of the format, including other Whip of Erebos decks. It's also a threat that can enter play before the rest of the deck is turned on, so it's a very useful proactive tool in a deck that otherwise plays relatively expensive spells.
Perhaps the MVP of the archetype is Soul of Innistrad, which can provide this deck with a ton of fuel in the lategame and ensures it's nearly impossible to beat through attrition alone. Soul of Innistrad did a ton of work on camera coverage during the tournament, and it will remain a key part of this deck moving forward.
Reclamation Sage out of the sideboard is important for dealing with cards like Chained to the Rocks and Jeskai Ascendancy. Perhaps most importantly it's crucial for gaining an advantage in Whip of Erebos mirror matches. This deck can also return it from the graveyard for even more value. In this metagame it's a card I wouldn't go without.
There are anecdotes that the archetype actually performed quite poorly on the weekend, winning around 33% of its matches, but the reality is it's a very strong deck that has done very well outside of this tournament and will continue to do well going forward. It has the ability to go over the top of other midrange attrition decks like Abzan and Mardu, and Hornet Queen functions like a brick wall against Jeskai Tempo. It can be weak against the fastest aggressive red decks, but with its typical green midrange core of Sylvan Caryatid and Courser of Kruphix it has plenty of game. Two maindeck Doomwake Giant and sideboard copies of Bile Blight and a Drown in Sorrow mean it has all the tools necessary to be able to beat these decks.
Kentaro Yamamoto played his own version of the deck that included a maindeck Reclamation Sage for advantage in the mirror, along with four sideboard Reaper of the Wild as a robust threat that allows him to shift gears after sideboard.
Reid Duke and his Peach Garden Oath teammates Huey Jensen and Owen Turtenwald piloted GB Constellation. This Whip of Erebos deck eschews blue and Sidisi, Brood Tyrant for a more consistent manabase, and it has replaced the threat with a card advantage engine in Eidolon of Blossoms. Combined with the acceleration of Elvish Mystic and Nykthos, Shrine to Nyx, this deck has awesome explosive power and at times can have a combo-like feel. This deck goes over the top of everything, even Sultai Reanimator, but on the other hand, it's not as adept at playing a fair midrange game, and it's more susceptible to hyper-aggressive decks.
Two maindeck copies of Pharika, God of Affliction stand out as a powerful tool for exhausting midrange decks, but it's also a form of graveyard removal for interfering with opposing Whip of Erebos, and it surely gave this deck an edge in those matchups.
This was a great archetype leading into the tournament, and it looks to be a great deck in its wake, so it's something that should be on everyone's radar going forward.
Another flavor of Whip of Erebos is Abzan, which turns to white for of course Siege Rhino, but also Wingmate Roc, both which provide extra value from Whip of Erebos. Soul of Theros is the most impressive card here, and while it will end the game quickly if cast and allowed to survive, it's most important for acting as an Overrun effect from the graveyard to close out opponents. It gives extra value to Sylvan Wayfinder, but it's a bonafide combo finish with Hornet Queen and its four flying tokens.
Whip of Erebos is the most powerful strategy in the format, and this deck provides a slightly different angle from which to attack the metagame.
Abzan Midrange has been near the top of the Standard pack since PT: KTK, and it was no surprise that Chapin reached the finals of the World Championship with the deck he has championed all season. There is nothing too out of the ordinary in his list, though it's important to note that he played two Brimaz, King of Oreskos, mirroring how Steve Rubin used two of them in his SCG Open winning Abzan Midrange list last month. Murderous Cut allows Chapin to gain tempo when he needs it most, a boon to a planeswalker-centric deck. He plays just a single Wingmate Roc, which is quite powerful when raid-triggered but often underwhelming otherwise, so it's clear Patrick has taken steps to streamline his deck.
Patrick has been a proponent of Read the Bones since the Pro Tour, and he played a single maindeck copy at worlds. Two more copies in the sideboard help him transform into more of an attrition-focused control deck when he brings in additional spot removal and board sweepers when applicable.
The biggest standout in Chapin's list is his two sideboard copies of Anafenza, the Foremost. This is primarily a hate card against the Whip of Erebos decks that have risen to prominence in Standard and were a major factor at worlds. These decks should only grow in popularity, so this is a sideboard option I really like going forward. Anafenza, the Foremost is also simply a cheap and robust threat that supplements Brimaz, King of Oreksos, and it allows Abzan Midrange to take a more aggressive approach against opponents like UB control.
Although Standard grows increasingly synergistic and sophisticated, there will always be a place for a deck like Abzan Midrange if it can evolve along with the metagame.
At the championship, Abzan Midrange was also played by Paul Rietzl, Jacob Wilson, Shaun McLaren, and Raymond Perez Jr.
The most exciting deck of the World Championship must be Yuuya Watanabe's Jeskai Tokens deck. Variations of this deck have appeared occasionally over the past few months, and reports say that Yuuya himself got his initial list from local Japanese players, but the tuned monster that Yuuya unleashed last week took the tournament by storm.
This deck utilizes Jeskai Ascendancy as a pseudo-anthem that's capable of growing his tokens multiple times on the same turn for a lethal alpha strike, and with enough spells it requires just a few creatures. Sets of both Raise the Alarm and Hordeling Outburst provide the creature core and serve as very robust threats against targeted removal. These are spells that function like creatures, so they work well with Jeskai Ascendancy itself. Combined with his burn spells, including Stoke the Flames that can sometimes be cast effectively for free in conjunction with the untap clause of Jeskai Ascendancy, the deck is quite fast and aggressive.
Standing out is a full set of Treasure Cruise, and I can safely say that this deck utilizes Treasure Cruise better than any Standard deck we have seen yet. The token generators and burn spells are great Delve enablers, while Jeskai Ascendancy's ability to loot through the deck provides ample graveyard fuel. On that note, this deck simply doesn't run out of gas when it has Jeskai Ascendancy in play. Drawing spells and discarding excess lands provide all of the action it needs to exhaust opponents, and in the best case scenario it will rip through the deck by chaining Treasure Cruise after Treasure Cruise.
This deck followed up the worlds appearance by putting two copies into the Top 8 last weekend's SCG Standard Open in Portland, including a finals appearance by Brad Nelson, so it's certainly the real deal and here to stay. It can be vulnerable against board sweepers, especially Doomwake Giant, but I just don't think anything is going to hold this deck down.
Sam Black has a reputation as a deck designer, and he played a unique deck at the World Championship. His RW Tokens deck was actually inspired by conversations with none other than Craig Wescoe, and perhaps Craig will have more to say about the archetype later this week.
Sam's deck reminds me a lot of the RW Midrange deck Brad Nelson played at PT: KTK, but it's significantly different. For one it's a real tokens deck, including Raise the Alarm which Brad did not play.
The real innovation here is Heliod's Pilgrim. No, this is not a heroic deck, but Heliod's Pilgrim is a solid source of card advantage and a tutor for aura Chained to the Rocks, arguably the best removal spell in Standard when paired with a Mountain. It's also an excellent body for Eidolon of Countless Battles, which can grow to a massive size in this deck combined with the tokens and, with the bestow ability, can serve as a massive threat and even a tempo play against removal spells.
Sam also plays a set of Wingmate Roc, a card not played by Brad, and it's reliably triggered in this deck because Raise the Alarm and Heliod's Pilgrim serve as additional enablers.
This deck surely caught opponents by surprise, and with its unique combination of card advantage and tempo, it's a deck I look forward to seeing evolve going forward.
Li Shi Tian was last seen making Top 8 of PT: KTK with Jeskai Ascendancy Combo, and he brought it back for the World Championship. Amazingly, Tian's maindeck is nearly identical to the one he played at the Pro Tour, right down to the manabase. The only difference is that he moved away from a flexible Nissa, Worldwaker kill to a faster and more reliable dedicated Altar of the Brood kill. He also cut his second Briber's Purse for an Astral Cornucopia, a mostly cosmetic shift since both serve as combo cogs, but this gives him slightly less creature interaction and slightly more mana acceleration.
There have been sideboard changes but, like at PT: KTK, Tian included a transformational creature package. At the Pro Tour he used Savage Knuckleblade and Polukranos, World Eater, but I think he found himself too often falling to the removal spells that opponents kept in to destroy his mana creatures, because at the championship he played three Bassara Tower Archer. I don't think Tian played these for their reach ability, rather for their hexproof, which makes them immune to targeted removal and makes them a more reliable transformational plan, albeit significantly less powerful.
He also included three Nyx-Fleece Ram and a pair of Anger of the Gods in the sideboard, which gave him more game against aggressive decks.
I wasn't a fan of this deck before, but I'll admit it does seem uniquely positioned as a great option for defeating the Whip of Erebos decks that are so focused on beating midrange opponents. This combo deck attacks the metagame from a different angle than anything else, and it preys on the unprepared. On the other hand, the increase in Whip of Erebos and correspondingly an increase in enchantment removal will make life more difficult for a deck relying on Jeskai Ascendancy.
Jeremy Dezani and teammate Raphael Levy brought Monored Aggro to the table, ostensibly to prey on the various slow midrange decks they expected.
There is nothing too tricky or surprising about this deck, and it's very straightforward, though I don't think many expected to see Valley Dasher at the championship. A large creature suite including eight one-drops, eight haste creatures, a lot of burn, and a pump spell in Titan's Strength combine to create the most aggressive deck in the tournament and the entire Standard metagame.
Interestingly, this deck can transform into a robust midrange deck with seven planeswalkers and two lands in the sideboard. This seems powerful against opponents who look to bring in a ton of removal spells but will find themselves soft to planeswalkers.
This deck was a metagame deck, and based on its performance at the tournament it did not seem like the best call. In a vacuum it's certainly well-tuned and consistent, and it's something to keep in mind going forward as the metagame develops, but I would not play it without good reason.
Leave it to Ivan Floch to play a control deck. He brought UB control to the event, as did his teammate Stanislav Cfika.
There is nothing too out of the ordinary here, and it fits the same UB control shell seen all season. It's clear the duo prefers the Andrew Cuneo-style of the deck which plays 0 copies of Ashiok, Nightmare Weaver between the maindeck and sideboard.
I'd look to this list as an example of how to build the deck going forward, but it's not something I'd recommend to the faint of heart. With a lot of Counterspell disruption it looks to be strong against slow Whip of Erebos decks, and it has a ton of removal to deal with Jeskai Tokens, so it may be a strong choice in the hands of a skilled and experienced pilot.
Mardu Midrange was surprisingly sparse in the tournament, being played by just Nam Sung Wook.
His version is not particularly innovative, though I do like the fact that he plays a suite of singletons including Chandra, Pyromaster, Elspeth, Sun's Champion, and Wingmate Roc. Playing just one Sorin, Solemn Visitor I can't agree with, especially with a set of Hordeling Outburst. Wook did play two maindeck Arc Lighting, a great choice against the various token decks in the field and a decent answer to Hornet Queen, but it seems lackluster in most situations.
Mardu Midrange is a top Standard deck, and while it was not popular at the World Championship, I expect it will continue to be a top performer going forward.
Lars Dam brought a Jeskai Control deck unlike one the world had seen before.
This deck has no notions of being an aggressive deck, and there are no Mantis Rider or even Sarkhan, the Dragonspeaker to be found. No, this is a true control deck with a full set of Anger of the Gods and three End Hostilities. Lightning Strike acts as removal for many cheap creatures, including Sidisi, Brood Tyrant and Goblin Rabblemaster. Banishing Light takes care of planeswalkers and Whip of Erebos. Dissolve and Disdainful Stroke create a modest Counterspell suite. Dig Through Time, Steam Augury, and Jace's Ingenuity fill the card advantage role.
A single Pearl Lake Ancient serves as a dedicated finisher, and two copies of Prognostic Sphinx are surprisingly strong against a field of midrange decks unable to Remove it, but a full maindeck playset of Nyx-Fleece Ram surely draws heads.
I can't remember ever seeing a playset of maindeck Nyx-Fleece Ram before, and it doesn't make a lot of sense given how relatively slow and unaggressive the format is. Part of me thinks Lars caught wind of the Frenchmen testing the night before and panicked, but the part of me that knows Lars is a master thinks that he simply put a lot of work into the deck and realized it was the part of the puzzle he was missing. Surely it's a great card against aggressive decks, but perhaps it also does work to mitigate the incremental damage done by cards like Sylvan Wayfinder, Courser of Kruphix, and Hordeling Outburst. Perhaps Lars reasoned that his deck was so full of card advantage that he could easily afford to spend a card early on to ensure he reached the lategame where his deck shined.
The final card in the deck is a single Jeskai Ascendancy, which in this deck is primarily a card-filtering engine similar to Compulsion in that it can convert dead cards into valuable cards. The anthem ability also cannot be overlooked, especially combined with Nyx-Fleece Ram!
These eleven archetypes cover the 24 players in the World Championship. These players were metagaming against one another, but at the end of the day each of these decks was tuned to be intrinsically solid and high-performing, so their manabases, curve distribution, and their unique spell makeups should serve as templates for deckbuilders moving forward. A Standard player could do a lot worse than selecting any of these decks and bringing it to their next tournament. This Standard format has been among the most interesting and dynamic in recent memory, but it has matured and is unlikely to drastically change until Fate Reforged changes the game near the end of January.
Turn to the comments section below with any questions or comments! What is your favorite deck of the World Championship? What would you have brought to the tournament?