The Pro Tour is this weekend and I've been testing a lot of Standard. By the time you're reading this, the tournament will already be underway. So I'm holding nothing back in this article and will freely share with you my top seven under the radar decks from the past month of testing. To be clear, these decks do not represent what I take to be the best overall decks in the format but rather are the decks that have proven themselves capable of competing with the Tier 1 decks while also flying under the radar. If you're looking for something new and interesting to play with this weekend that will catch your opponents off guard, today I'm presenting you with seven options to choose from, each of which I've put a decent amount of work into tuning.
Let's start with one of the decks I've put the most amount of work into, a deck I've been calling "The Millennium Falconer."
The basic plan of this deck, as with most of the decks in today's article, is to attack fast and hard. Soldier of the Pantheon is especially good against Abzan Aggro which is why I chose it over Mardu Woe-Reaper, although Woe-Reaper can gain a lot of life off Secure the Wastes and can also be targeted by our Dromoka's Commands (unlike Soldier of the Pantheon) in addition to exiling opposing Deathmist Raptors and hindering the opponent's ability to cast delve spells. Seeker of the Way and Fleecemane Lion are great creatures to fight with on turn three using Dromoka's Command, although Anafenza, Kin-Tree Spirit is almost always the first two-drop I lead out with since getting max value out of her ability requires you to play her prior to the other creatures, much like Champion of the Parish.
Brimaz, King of Oreskos is great and, much like Fleecemane Lion, is basically just in the deck because of its raw power rather than due to some special synergy. Abzan Falconer on the other hand is the lynchpin that holds everything else together. In combination with Anafenza, Kin-Tree Spirit you can quickly and easily grow your team while also giving them flying. Fleecemane Lion going ultimate can also give itself flying with a Falconer in play. Citadel Siege and Ajani Steadfast are further ways to provide +1/+1 counters to our creatures, as is Dromoka's Command.
Secure the Wastes works really well with the -2 ability on Ajani Steadfast, allowing you to tap out on the opponent's end step to make a bunch of warriors and then untap and play the Ajani to make all your tokens into 2/2s. This is an especially potent combination against control decks when they tap out to cast End Hostilities or Crux of Fate.
I tried Monastery Mentor, Fabled Hero, and Phalanx Leader and they each underperformed.
As far as matchups, the life gain from Ajani Steadfast and Seeker of the Way make the aggressive red decks not that difficult. Our creatures are generally a little bit bigger than theirs too, which further complicates things for them. Sultai Whip decks are also pretty easy since they have tons of trouble with Abzan Falconer and post-board Wingmate Roc and not enough time to set up Hornet Queen. We also have Dromoka's Command to blow up a Courser of Kruphix or Whip of Erebos at an opportune time.
Abzan Aggro is a close matchup since their cards are slightly more powerful but our mana is slightly better. Our cards are a bit trickier though and afford us more room to set up unexpected combinations of cards in a hurry. Post-board we bring in lands and Wingmate Rocs. Wingmate Roc is about the best card versus any version of Abzan, whether control or aggro.
UW/x Heroic decks are not easy, despite us having four Valorous Stance and four Dromoka's Commands main. This is about the only matchup where naming "dragons" with Citadel Siege is correct. Post-board we bring in Glare of Heresy to give us that many more answers to their build-a-bears.
Our two toughest adversaries are Stormbreath Dragon and UB Control. Plummet is a narrow answer to Stormbreath Dragon but it's the best card available for the job and is often good enough. Against UB Control our plan is to board out our removal spells in favor of Mastery of the Unseen, a third Secure the Wastes, and some lands. Too many of our cards maindeck are ineffective against them, making game one a nightmare. This sideboard plan makes the matchup close, but we'd still rather avoid it. My teammate David Williams described the matchup as "like playing a draft deck against a Vintage control deck." If you don't expect to face many Stormbreath Dragons or UB Control decks, this is a great choice.
Another deck that has shown promise is RW Tokens.
I like this version of red/white better than the "stock" RW decks that were doing well a month ago but have recently dropped out of favor. This version is more linear with Plan A being "Kill them with Purphoros damage" and Plan B is "do stuff that a typical RW deck would have as its Plan A".
Purphoros, God of the Forge improves our control matchups a lot compared to other RW decks. Outpost Siege is certainly good but you still usually get beat in the long game because the control decks keep digging until they find Ugin, the Spirit Dragon and then blow up your Outpost Siege along with everything else you have. Purphoros doesn't play the same game. Instead of trying to grind card advantage before ultimately losing to Ugin anyway, he kills the opponent before they get to eight mana.
In my testing, Abzan Aggro has been the toughest matchup pre-board. Our cards match up pretty poorly against theirs and our creatures are mostly outclassed. I don't like Chained to the Rocks anymore because of Dromoka's Command, but I run the full four copies of Valorous Stance and Roast for games two and three. I also board in land and Wingmate Rocs. We end up going over the top of them post-board and forcing them to play a reactive role, which does not bode well for them since their point removal spells do not match up well against our token threats.
A card I've been considering for this deck is Impact Tremors. I've seen it be effective in other token-based Purphoros decks and it's possible it belongs in here.
Instead of pairing white with green or red, another direction I've explored is pairing it with black.
The goal of this deck is to play out a bunch of warriors as fast as possible and then start mowing down potential blockers with our versatile removal spells. Brutal Hordechief and Secure the Wastes are our late game tools for closing things out.
This deck has a great matchup against control decks post-board when we replace our creature removal spells with Mastery of the Unseen, Thoughtseize, and Duress. The hand disruption takes away their Perilous Vault or wrath effect, forcing them to deal with our threats individually. Our second hand disruption spell then takes their Dig Through Time or whatever other card they need to claw back into the game. If you expect a lot of control decks, this is a great choice.
Like the previous two lists discussed, it has a close Abzan Aggro matchup. It has the tools to deal with a lot of the other decks in the format though, including Red Aggro decks or Green Devotion decks.
White/Black is not the only possible pairing for The Warrior tribe. I experimented with every possible combination of colors and the two combinations that stood far above the rest for warriors were Black/White and Red/Black.
This deck has a lot of synergies and can make it tough for an opponent to stop us from all the angles we're able to attack from. First off we have the recursion ability of Bloodsoaked Champion in conjunction with the sacrifice abilities of Tymaret, the Murder King and Blood-Chin Fanatic. We also have the combination of Blood-Chin Fanatic and Goblin Rabblemaster, allowing us to sacrifice the Rabblemaster post-combat while it's large. This might not seem like a particularly attractive option until you look at all the ways this deck is able to generate direct damage or inflict life loss on the opponent.
Lightning Strike and Stoke the Flames are powerful removal spells that also contribute heavily to our plan of burning the opponent out. Brutal Hordechief also contributes in a big way to this plan while also controlling combat against decks that plan to block us. Speaking of blocking us, Blood-Chin Rager makes that a rather difficult proposition, as does Chandra, Pyromaster post-board.
The deck is fast, has power and synergy, attacks from multiple angles, and unlike a lot of the other aggro decks of the format, its removal spells are useful against control decks, hence it has a much better chance at winning the pre-board game against control decks.
Another pairing with black that has a lot of synergies and multiple angles of attack is Black/Green.
Elvish Mystic is the premier first turn play, leading to our most explosive opening sequence of second turn Pitiless Horde into third turn Surrak, the Hunt Caller (or a dashed Pitiless Horde). There aren't many decks that attack for 10 on the third turn but this is one of them.
Satyr Wayfinder is our next big enabler creature. He fills our graveyard with fodder to fuel a fast Tasigur, the Golden Fang or Murderous Cut while also putting Deathmist Raptors into the yard to be brought back by unmorphing future Deathmist Raptors or Den Protectors. Speaking of Den Protector, she can use her Regrowth ability to bring back whatever else gets milled away with Satyr Wayfinder.
The deck has some explosive draws, it has good removal and disruption, and it has a surprisingly powerful late game filled with card advantage. It's either recurring Deathmist Raptors, regrowing cards with Den Protector or Tasigur, the Golden Fang, or simply pumping all its mana into Rakshasa Deathdealer.
Other cards I'm considering for this deck are: Sidisi, Undead Visier, Read the Bones, and Courser of Kruphix. I chose to go the faster route with this deck but it's possible that some number of these cards should be in the 75 in order to make us even better at attrition fights.
The decks discussed so far in the article have all been pretty low-curve aggressive decks, but that's not the only way to engage in combat. Dragons of Tarkir also brought us some awesome new dragons!
Various RG/x Dragon decks have been seeing quite a bit of play lately, whether straight GR or Temur or Jund, but in my experience I prefer the one flying lowest under the radar: Naya.
You get all the same tools afforded to RG but white offers a few things that make the deck a bit more powerful. Instead of only having a ramp plan and thus being vulnerable to early removal spells on your mana accelerants, Fleecemane Lion and Scaleguard Sentinels give us a way to pressure the opponent early while also being able to block against the Red Aggro decks. These creatures also happen to fight especially well with Dromoka's Command, the other reason to play white.
Dromoka's Command can be such a powerful tempo boost when used on an early creature or it can be card advantage later, or it can be utility to kill an enchantment. We have large creatures all along our curve, so we should usually have a creature big enough to fight down whatever the opponent is doing, at least after the +1/+1 bonus is granted.
Post-board against UB Control we can replace our Dromoka's Commands with Mastery of the Unseen and a second copy of Chandra, Pyromaster. Against aggro decks we bring in Wild Slash to make sure we can keep up and won't randomly lose to a one-drop, a dashed Goblin Heelcutter, or a Goblin Rabblemaster. Roast is further insurance here and also our best card against Abzan Aggro. Valorous Stance is also excellent against Abzan while also being our best card against UWx Heroic. Barrage of Boulders is good against anything with tokens, whether it's Hordeling Outburst or Hornet Queen. It wipes out the Hornets while making our creatures unblockable for the turn against Sultai Reanimator or it essentially acts as an Arc Lightning against Red Aggro or Black Aggro.
This is one of the more well-rounded decks. It has few low impact cards against control, making that matchup better than it is for most other decks in this article. It also has a good matchup against Red Aggro because of its second turn 3/3 and 3/4 creatures that brick wall the opposing forces immediately. And it also has good cheap removal spells post-board. And we start closing the door quickly with Thunderbreak Regent and Stormbreath Dragon, so they don't have much time to find enough burn spells to make up for their creatures getting brick walled so early.
One last deck I'd like to share is the deck I've put more time into than any of these other decks, with the possible exception of the GW Falconer deck. It is not quite as Dragon-centric as Naya Dragons, but it plays both the new white dragonlords!
The Elvish Mystic + Sylvan Caryatid + Courser of Kruphix package has been among my favorites in Standard. Bant has a lot to offer that pairs quite nicely with these setup cards. Fleecemane Lion is a great tempo play that can give decks fits once it goes monstrous. This threat of activation, along with the amount of damage it can deal, typically forces opponents to use their removal early on the lion, which allows our bigger threats to survive.
Surrak, the Hunt Caller often comes down with haste due to us incidentally having at least three power worth of other creatures already on the battlefield. In addition to the Lion, Surrak is yet another creature that has to be dealt with quickly. This sets the stage for our most important threats: our Dragonlords!
Once the coast is clear and our Fleecemane Lions and Surrak, the Hunt Callers absorbed all the removal spells out of our opponent's hand, we can start dropping dragons like it's 1995, except these dragons have hexproof, lifelink, can't be countered, draw cards, and don't allow the opponents to cast spells. Ojutai into Dromoka is an especially potent one-two punch because Dromoka Silences opponents from casting spells, which allows Ojutai to let its hexproof guard down long enough to get in for five and Anticipate a free card. Then the opponent who was planning to kill the Ojutai when it attacked now has to spend their next turn figuring out how to deal with both Dragonlords.
Courser of Kruphix is another creature with a target on its back that can keep the gas flowing if the opponent chooses not to use their removal spell on it. A second turn Shaman of Forgotten Ways, off Elvish Mystic, can also accelerate us into a third turn Dragonlord or a hasty Surrak, the Hunt Caller with protection mana open, so it can likewise do some dirty work if allowed to stick around.
Most of the decks in this article have a close matchup against Abzan Aggro, but not this one! Bant Dragons has beaten Abzan Aggro pretty handily in my testing. We go over the top of them and really only lose when they curve out, have Thoughtseize for our dragon, removal spells for all our threats, and then we flood out without a Courser in play. It can happen sometimes, but we're certainly a favorite in the matchup.
UB Control is a close matchup but we're favored post-board after we bring in Negates and Mastery of the Unseen.
Mono Red Aggro is closer for this deck than it is for Naya Dragons, but it's still in our favor. Dromoka's Command can force them to sacrifice Eidolon of the Great Revel while having one of our creatures fight one of their creatures. I like bringing in a few Negates to avoid getting burnt out and also Encase in Ice for their early threats. Hornet Nest is also good against them, but just don't rely too heavily on it that you get blown out by a dashed Goblin Heelcutter. I side out Surrak, the Hunt Caller and Valorous Stance.
GW Devotion is also a good matchup for us. Valorous Stance and Dromoka's Command are great here. I haven't tried Encase in Ice but in theory it's a good way to slow them down and some number of them should likely come in, though I'm not sure whether that number is one, two, or three. Deathmist Raptor is a good target for Encase in Ice, as is Voyaging Satyr.
Against UW Heroic we bring in Glare of Heresy and Valorous Stance and maybe some number of Negates. I've also considered Mastery of the Unseen because games often get into strange standoffs where our Courser of Kruphix revealed to them that we have Valorous Stance and so they're waiting for us to act first to go for it with their protection spell and we're waiting for them to go for it because we know they likely have the protection spell. Mastery could in theory force them to act prematurely while also providing us with colorless blockers and life gain.
The matchup has been favorable regardless. The games all feel close but we usually out-muscle them eventually. Dromoka's Command can also kill Aqueous Form or Ordeal of Thassa.
I tested a lot against RG Dragons because Stormbreath Dragon is such a thorn in my side. After several unsuccessful sideboard plans I finally found the card I liked best: Encase in Ice. It immediately freezes the dragon and can also take care of Surrak, the Hunt Caller or Goblin Rabblemaster, unlike Plummet. Hornet Nest is another card I like against Goblin Rabblemaster and in conjunction with Dromoka's Command, mostly because I can have the nest fight an opposing creature and I can say COME AT ME BRO!!!Conclusion
Any of these seven decks is capable of winning in the current metagame as long as you follow the advice given about how to play them. I've also been straightforward about my testing results, indicating which matchups are especially good or especially bad for each deck, in order that you can make the most informed decision possible about which deck to bring to your local metagame. Aside from being competitive and off the radar, each of these seven decks is super fun to play and offers the opponent lots of decisions to make. And the more decisions you give the opponent, the more mistakes they are likely to make. Hopefully today's article has given you some ideas about what you want to play in Standard this weekend. If you want to know what deck I decided on for the Pro Tour, tune into the live coverage going on right now where I'll be representing Team Ultra PRO.