The last week has been… frustrating, to say the least. It turns out that not only was I right that Yorion, Sky Nomad was about to have a good week, I dramatically underestimated just how well it would do. Every other match I play on ladder is against the sky noodle, and there's only so many times you can endure Elspeth Conquers Death entering play on turn five while you look at a hand of cards that would be foolish to play into the face up Yorion, Sky Nomad sitting in the opponent's sideboard.
What's worse is that popular streamer Crokeyz is continually working to push Yorion, Sky Nomad to its absolute maximum. If Elspeth Conquers Death is frustrating, Agent of Treachery entering play on turn four or five because Lukka, Coppercoat Outcast exiled a token is nauseating. Breaking up the synergy from there is difficult, because unless both Agent of Treachery and Lukka, Coppercoat Outcast are removed, more cards will be stolen. Even an opposing Elspeth Conquers Death is only okay because it will remove half the equation and leave you tapped out.
And that's if they even have to steal something other than a land! Because almost nothing matters from the point where Lukka, Coppercoat Outcast has resolved its -2 ability, the right choice is typically to constrain the opponent's options by stealing their access to mana.
"Am I just fighting against the tide?" I wondered most of the week, as I threw anything I could think of at Yorion, Sky Nomad to try and counter it.
Fundamentally, the problem with attacking "Yorion Decks" is that while they're all structurally similar—enchantments and creatures with enters-the-battlefield effects and a way to get more mana, whether that's Growth Spiral/Uro, Titan of Nature's Wrath or Fires of Invention—there are so many of these effects across a multitude of different spells and card types that there isn't a clear answer to all of them at once. For now, other decks have to be built from the ground up with a singular goal in mind: beat Simic-based Ramp and Yorion Fires, exclusively.
The problem with that is that even if someone does find a way to beat those two flavors of Yorion (and potentially the others that pop up as people realize that 80 cards and excellent mana gives them access to every card legal in Standard), these decks would only ever approach Oko, Thief of Crowns-type numbers at an event like Mythic Championship Richmond. Lukka and Bant Yorion are closer to 35% of the metagame. While I assume it's likely the deck will reach over 50% this weekend, it certainly won't on the ladder. Your metagame deck needs to be able to win against the other 60% of the field too, and most strategies slanted so hard to beat two archetypes tend to lack the tools to win in other places.
But, if you're like me last week and don't want to give up yet, here are the things you need to have in mind.
First, you need to stop or invalidate Lukka, Coppercoat Outcast's Plan A. That means having a way to either stop his -2 from resolving, or find a way to make Agent of Treachery's ability not matter. The latter is a tough one to crack, though I found at least one deck that does it reasonably. The former is easier, as cards like Grafdigger's Cage will turn Lukka off more or less completely, and removal actually does the trick short term. Because his ability targets, killing the token in response does stall for one turn. If there is enough of a board presence to remove Lukka, Coppercoat Outcast from play, they won't get a free Agent of Treachery out of it, and Yorion, Sky Nomad won't have much to blink.
Second, again for Lukka, Coppercoat Outcast, you need to make sure they don't get triple mana out of Fires of Invention. For the most part, this means destroying Fires of Invention, or not letting it enter play to begin with. One spell, Yorion, Sky Nomad blinking Fires of Invention, third spell, etc. is a quick way to fall so far behind so quickly that the game will be over in short order. Shark Typhoon cycling also achieves this as a way to make a large flier without technically breaking the two-spells-per-turn limit on Fires of Invention, and ends the game quickly.
Third, you need to be able to outgrind them, or win quickly enough that their hand full of cards isn't relevant. This is effectively Bant Yorion's Plan A: get multiple cards' worth of effect out each of their spells. Uro, Titan of Nature's Wrath hasn't gone anywhere from the format, and is still a massive pain in the side of any strategy trying to control Yorion, Sky Nomad from resolving spells and stabilizes them against aggression very quickly. The Lukka, Coppercoat Outcast deck has fewer grindy elements, but blinking Omens and Elspeth Conquers Death still stymies many people's plans.
Fourth, don't die to large fliers. This isn't just Yorion, Sky Nomad, but also Shark Typhoon. Even if they don't have much else going on, they still always have access to a 4/5 flier. Later, a Shark Typhoon off the top will end the game in a couple turns. The game just has to end before that.
I have a couple examples I've had some success with here:
While Yorion, Sky Nomad decks are preoccupied beating up each other, going underneath them is at least a plan. Some people have turned to Mono-Red Aggro and Mono-Black Aggro, generally playing Obosh, the Preypiercer as a companion, but I'm wary of those decks' ability to actually beat everything that people are doing right now. Specifically, Omen of the Sun strikes me as… very frustrating for a mass of one-drop creatures.
Instead, I've tried tuning Rakdos. While there aren't a lot of new cards in this archetype, it does get to play one card wreaking havoc on every other format in Magic: Lurrus of the Dream-Den. Bringing back a destroyed Witch's Oven or replaying a Dreadhorde Butcher to attack or sacrifice to Priest of Forgotten Gods gives Rakdos a way to outlast the opponents.
My original builds tried to keep Lurrus as a companion but with less dependence on the graveyard to avoid all the hate that doomed the archetype's first run. Something had to go, and thankfully Whisper Squad is very replaceable. Instead I opted to play more copies of typical aggressive cards: Gutterbones, Knight of the Ebon Legion and Dreadhorde Butcher.
While it felt at least reasonable as a plan, it was still weak to a combination of sweepers and graveyard hate. Perhaps there will come a point when graveyard hate disappears and the strategy regains its ability to be competitive. Then it should have a powerful game one and hopefully steal a game two or three. But I'm going to keep waiting for that moment and not play it now.
After that, I changed my tactic to return to the classic version with no companion. What the deck lacks in consistency, it makes up for by having access to both Lurrus of the Dream-Den and Mayhem Devil, which no other deck in the format can do.
The deck is solid, and still catches people by surprise. Because there aren't many targets for Claim the Firstborn right now (notice that the Bant decks cut Hydroid Krasis), and the Lukka, Coppercoat Outcast versions of Yorion, Sky Nomad actively run no useful targets for it, I've opted for discard over Claim and moved the red sorcery to the sideboard for other aggressive decks.
The Akroan War is strangely underrated. Baiting their creatures into attacking and then destroying themselves is effective against the non-Yorion, Sky Nomad versions of Fires. A card like Act of Treason might be more effective short term, but I've preferred the Saga instead. That said, if general enchantment removal like Gemrazer becomes more common, I think that I'd switch back to Act of Treason.
Ultimately this strategy is a decent alternative to Yorion, Sky Nomad if you're looking for one, or have a lot of experience with the deck from before. But I'm not convinced that it's a serious contender in the metagame. Jeskai Fires disappearing might be good for the deck, but the other versions are still problematic in their own ways. For a brief moment it looked like there was an opening to exploit the removal people were playing (Omen of the Forge is not good removal against Rakdos Sacrifice), but Yorion, Sky Nomad decks playing black for Oath of Kaya and adding Calix, Destiny's Hand into the mix makes things awkward for a deck with Mayhem Devil and almost no ways to remove an enchantment from play.
Further, the rest of the format is a bit of a mixed bag for Rakdos. Mono-Red and the cycling decks don't feel like good matchups. Rakdos does a reasonable job shutting down the Fires of Invention/Lukka, Coppercoat Outcast Plan A, but not enough elsewhere.
Late last week, after playing a string of matches where I hit nothing but Yorion, Sky Nomad and the Zenith Flare deck, I was frustrated. In a flurry I opened a new deck, slammed four Casualties of War in the maindeck and four Leyline of the Void in the sideboard. The deck?
Well, full disclosure, at first it was a Sultai deck. It was not good. Don't try to outgrind Yorion, Sky Nomad with some nonsense pile from last format.
Instead, I eventually came to the idea of playing this nonsense pile from two formats ago.
Some amount of why I like this deck is how clean the numbers are. If I could get away with 24 lands so that I could have 36 four-of spells, I would in a heartbeat. But the deck really needs to hit its land drops, and we're also running four Casualties of War. 25 might be too low, but I flooded a bit too often for my tastes with 26. Smitten Swordmaster isn't exactly an all-star either.
This deck has a few things going for it that actually make it effective against Yorion, Sky Nomad:
1. Casualties of War hits three or four cards from the Yorion, Sky Nomad decks. With so many of them moving toward Fires of Invention after VTCLA and Crokeyz trumpeted it pretty publicly, there are several targets floating about for Casualties of War very consistently. Destroying Fires of Invention, the planeswalker they played, and one of their lands can be devastating in multiple ways with their incredibly greedy manabases. Even against the Bant versions, it's still quite good.
2. It dodges Elspeth Conquers Death. None of the key pieces of this deck cost three, and Lucky Clover, Edgewall Innkeeper and Order of Midnight can't get exiled by the enchantment. Sure, there are twelve creatures that can be exiled with it, but none of them are important to the deck's game plan other than by applying pressure, which isn't necessary.
3. It can grind out just about everybody. As long as your graveyard hasn't been exiled, the deck will eventually assemble Lucky Clover and two Order of Midnight and effectively gain access to any creature in the graveyard. Typically it just brings back Edgewall Innkeeper as the second target, but as Lucky Clover get added, more copies of Clover will bring back more creatures.
4. Few of its individual pieces hurt that much to get stolen. The exception to this might be Lucky Clover, but it's a completely dead card for the opponent. Unless they steal multiple from play, it's not that important. Otherwise, you're generally up on lands over most opponents thanks to the trio of Lucky Clover, Beanstalk Giant and Casualties of War, so stealing multiple lands is merely annoying. The creatures are all pretty bad, and they'll die eventually to be returned with Order of Midnight.
5. It can win in ways most decks can't deal with. With enough time, the deck will eventually put enough Knights in play that when stacked with Lucky Clovers, a Curry Favor will drain them even from 25+ life.
The rest of the format is primarily focused on trying to go underneath Yorion, Sky Nomad right now. Golgari is at least reasonably set up to deal with low-to-the-ground decks, unlike some Casualties of War decks (*cough* Sultai *cough*). While there are four six-drop sorceries, the deck is almost entirely low-cost creatures. Order of Midnight might not block, but the creatures it can return do. The sideboard was made with the idea of taking out the four Casualties of War and some or all of the Beanstalk Giants to have a strong post-board setup against Obosh, the Preypiercer and Lurrus of the Dream-Den decks. I've flipped a couple times on whether I want more Heartless Act (to kill Mayhem Devil specifically) or Legion's End (which deals with the Zenith Flare deck's best draws more effectively), but having around six cards specifically for aggressive matchups is the goal.
So is Golgari Adventures a good lock for this weekend?
Well, it's fine.
It certainly attacks the Yorion, Sky Nomad decks on multiple angles, but Golgari Adventures hasn't really changed much in the last four months since Ally Warfield was crushing people with it at MCVII. It can't really take advantage of anything new, and there aren't many changes that can even be made to the maindeck. This puts Golgari Adventures in a position where it can do well against Yorion, Sky Nomad decks for as long as their decks are built with zero consideration of it in mind. So keep this one a secret just between you and me, okay?
Whether the Yorion Sky Nomad decks even should care is a different matter. While Golgari has a good matchup against Zenith Flare, Lurrus of the Dream-Den and Yorion, Sky Nomad, everything else beats it up very well. Spot removal, Cry of the Carnarium, Extinction Event and Scorching Dragonfire all cut off avenues of Adventures' game plan.
Plus, Mayhem Devil is still an absolute beating for Edgewall Innkeeper decks. If the card ever stays in play for more than a turn the game is usually over right there. Thankfully, there have been fewer and fewer copies of the card running around as the flavor of the week for Obosh, the Preypiercer is mono-colored decks with Heraldic Banner.
Temur Adventures may also be a consideration, but I don't think that it's the hammer against Yorion Lukka or Bant Yorion that it was against Azorius Control three months ago. Bonecrusher Giant and Brazen Borrower are okay at slowing Lukka's Plan A down for example, but Temur doesn't have a card like Casualties of War to catch it back up if Teferi, Time Raveler was in play for the Lukka, Coppercoat Outcast turn. They also don't have a great way to stop Fires of Invention, and Bonecrusher Giant/Brazen Borrower both look awful against Bant.
So what should you play?
Yorion, Sky Nomad.
The reason is fairly straightforward: while each of these decks has a decent match-up against Yorion, Sky Nomad, neither of them crushes the Yorion decks so hard that they're a bye, and they're not fantastic against the rest of the field.
If instead I had put my energy into tuning the best deck to win "the mirror," I would have a similar win rate against the Yorion, Sky Nomad decks that these lists do and an advantage over the rest of the field. It would also be more useful long term, as even if something does pop up that can soundly defeat these decks, I suspect that across all five colors of Magic they will find a way to adjust. Having the edge in experience—knowing the deck intrinsically and how to make changes to alter certain matchups—will be useful for weeks, as opposed to just a few days.
So do yourself a favor: play a Yorion, Sky Nomad deck until Wizards takes it away from you. With a few months left in this Standard, hopefully that's sooner rather than later.