Rivals of Ixalan was officially released last Friday, and that means last weekend's events included the new set, and maybe more importantly, lacked the freshly-banned cards Attune with Aether, Rogue Refiner, Ramunap Ruins, and Rampaging Ferocidon. All eyes were on these events to see what emerged as the best decks in a world without Temur Energy and where Ramunap Red was hobbled, and what new cards stood out as potential staples of the future. These events, which include the SCG Team Open and the Standard Classic, a Magic Online Pro Tour Qualifier and competitive leagues, and smaller events like PPTQs in Japan and Brazil, have given us a lot to chew on.
Mono Red was the most successful deck in the field, taking both finals slots in the SCG Classic, and winning the online PTQ. Mardu was not far behind, winning the Team Open and taking many Top 8 slots in various events. Green midrange was also successful, with Black-Green Constrictor, Sultai, and Red-Green Monsters all putting up big results. These decks are now known factors and have been widely shared and discussed at this point, so today I'll focus on the new and unique decks that emerged from the weekend.
The most fascinating and novel deck of the weekend must be Jim Davis's White-Blue Auras deck, which looks something like a cross between the Modern White-Green Auras (Bogles) and the White-Blue Heroic deck of Theros Standard.
The idea is to suit up a creature with auras to build a threat that will win the game all on its own by overpowering the opponent. The deck doesn't include hexproof creatures, but Adanto Vanguard comes close, and the deck has other payoffs like Adorned Pouncer making each aura hit twice as hard – including card draw from Curious Obsession – and Sacred Cat comes with lifelink to win a damage race. The centerpiece of the deck is Sram, Senior Edificer, which draws a card for each aura cast, fueling the deck and allowing it to never run out of action. As far as auras, Cartouche of Solidarity and Cartouche of Knowledge do the heavy lifting. For utility, Sheltering Light gives the deck a way to protect its threats, Baffling End is efficient removal and Legion's Landing gives the deck a back-up token plan with Adanto, The First Fort, ensuring the deck never runs out of creatures to suit up. This is the exact sort of deck enabled by the bans, and its success in the SCG followed by being picked up online is a sign it has what it takes to compete.
While it didn't quite break into the Top 8 of the SCG Classic like the Auras deck, sitting right below it was another unique strategy, a Blue-Red Aggro deck built around flying creatures and Favorable Winds.
This deck makes the most of Favorable Winds, which is an efficient anthem for flying creatures. Proven staples like Glorybringer, Whirler Virtuoso and Aethersphere Harvester mean the deck doesn't have to sacrifice card quality, and it even gains an excellent new tool from Rivals of Ixlan with Warkite Marauder, which shuts down a blocker. The best threat of all is Maverick Thopterist, which puts seven points of power into play combined with Favorable Winds. A bit of disruption in Shock and Lightning Strike round out the deck, and it goes deeper into the sideboard with a wealth of creature removal and counters. There definitely seems to be some room for tuning here, so if anything it's a sign that the deck could be even better than it seems.
What really stands out is Rekindling Phoenix, which is one of the best cards from the new set and looks like it would be a perfect addition here. I could also see playing a Pia Nalaar or two over Whirler Virtuoso, which won't ever produce more than one token. Ipnu Rivulet and Spire of Industry also don't make much sense, and the sideboard is crude. With some TLC and testing, this deck could evolve to the next level.
Energy was so powerful that there is still something to it, and one approach is to move past blue – which is no longer required without Rogue Refiner as an option – and embrace black as a Jund Energy deck, making the deck something like the old Four-Color Energy deck but without blue. This build of Jund reached the top 4 of a 77-player PTQ in Japan.
Moving to Jund opens up access to Winding Constrictor, which has a successful history in Energy strategies because it supercharges energy production, which is more important now than ever without Attune with Aether helping, and it doubles the +1/+1 counter production of Longtusk Cub and Bristling Hydra. By dipping into red, the deck gains access to a wealth of removal spells, including Harnessed Lightning along with Chandra, Torch of Defiance as a removal spell that doubles as a threat. Red also provides Rekindling Phoenix, which is proving itself to be one of the very best cards from Rivals of Ixalan.
Speaking Rekindling Phoenix, it may help the post-ban Temur Energy deck adapt to the new world. Pro Tour Champion Masahiro Kuroda has used it to replace Bristling Hydra, which was once the centerpiece of Temur Energy but is now at its worst without extra energy shielding it. It's now more vulnerable to being immediately killed with its trigger on the stack or being ground through with two removal spells, something that Rekindling Phoenix is mostly immune to.
Replacing Rogue Refiner is Jadelight Ranger, which has the potential to do an even better job at generating card advantage. If Temur Energy wants to survive and thrive after the bannings, it's going to take innovations like these.
Grixis Energy has been off to a good start in the early days of the new format online – and is being considered by many to by the successor to Temur's throne – but another version of the deck that skips on the energy component is maybe even more promising.
This deck, which finished in the Top 8 of the online PTQ, is essentially a Black-Red Midrange deck that splashes into blue for The Scarab God and Nicol Bolas, God-Pharaoh. The biggest complaint I've heard about the Grixis Energy deck is that it has weak mana, and this deck fixes that by removing the need for double-blue and for early blue plays. Rather than Aether Hub, it uses the more consistent Evolving Wilds. The more robust mana base allows it to use the lifelinking Gifted Aetherborn, which is a light-and-day difference compared to Glint-Sleeve Siphoner against tough matchups Mono Red and Mardu, and with deathtouch does great work trading against large green midrange threats.
Dire Fleet Poisoner fills this same role as a deathtouch blocker, and it's a difficult threat to profitably block. Without energy sources like Attune with Aether and Rogue Refiner, Whirler Virtuoso no longer consistently churns out extra tokens, so replacing it with the more mana-friendly Pia Nalaar makes a lot of sense, especially because its ability to pump its token is of value in this more aggressive deck. The deck also makes great use of Rekindling Phoenix, which caps off the aggressive plan, but is also excellent as a blocker. If you're struggling with Grixis Energy, this deck looks like a great alternative that fixes many of its problems.
An entirely different approach to midrange is to cut out all the extra colors and just play one, in this case black, which leads to a perfect mana base that opens up access to Ifnir Deadlands, which is now the best Desert around since Ramunap Ruins was banned.
This deck plays all the best cards black has to offer, starting with Gifted Aetherborn and Scrapheap Scrounger and moving up to the new Ravenous Chupacabra and even a Tetzimoc, Primal Death, which provides an alternative option to the pair of Demon of the Dark Schemes. The biggest draw to black is its removal, so this deck includes playsets of Fatal Push and Vraska'a Contempt, and even some Essence Extraction to hose the aggressive decks currently on top of the metagame. Liliana, Death's Majesty has been ticking up in play for its ability to churn out Zombie Tokens, and because its ability to reanimate a creature is now better than ever with Ravenous Chupacabra to target. The sideboard includes Golden Demise, the newest Infest reprint that becomes unilateral with the city's blessing, and is great for hosing Mono-Red, Tokens and new tribal strategies like Merfolk, Pirates and Vampires, and is quickly becoming a staple in all of the black midrange and control decks that can cast it.
Control strategies were hyped as being the biggest winners from the bannings, since they were unable to interact with Ramunap Ruins and they struggled with the value inherent in Attune with Aether and Rogue Refiner, but so far control has seemed to mostly fall flat. One variation from that past that could see new life is Dynavolt Tower control, which was once a successful deck in the metagame and has now appeared again.
Dynavolt Tower is perfect for grinding down creature decks, so it has potential in this metagame, especially as the hype around God-Pharaoh's Gift fades and Abrade starts seeing less play. The strategy has also gained an excellent new tool since the last time it was around, with Search of Azcanta fueling it throughout the game. There's not much else to say about the deck, which is full of disruption backed by card advantage, but it's important to know Dynavolt Tower still exists and is an option for anyone looking for an alternative to Approach of the Second Sun as their control win condition.
Mono-Red aggro looks to be the best deck in Standard, at least for now, but that doesn't mean there's no room to improve. One thing the color lacks is two-powered one-drop creatures, so moving from a red base into black solves that problem and makes the strategy even more aggressive.
Black provides Dread Wanderer, which joins Scrapheap Scrounger to create a package of threats that is difficult to exhaust with removal and gives the deck a lot of staying power into the late game. Black also opens up some excellent removal, with Fatal Push killing creatures higher up the curve than Shock does while Unlicensed Disintegration destroys any creature and potentially adds extra damage to the equation. Moving from a red core to a black one means the deck can play Ifnir Deadlands, which gives it back some of the value it lost with the banning of Ramunap Ruins. Black also dominates the sideboard, with Duress hammering control decks and Bontu's Reckoning catching midrange decks by surprise. The best addition may be Cut // Ribbons, which is similar to Unlicensed Disintegration as a removal spell that deals damage, but is even more powerful and reliable against decks with creatures it can destroy.
The biggest question hanging over Standard is if the bans and new Rivals of Ixlan cards have made tribal decks competitive, so many people will be excited to learn that Dinosaurs had a successful weekend by placing a deck into the Top 8 of the SCG Standard Classic.
This deck contains all the Dinosaurs one would expect, including a full playset of the powerful new Ghalta, Primal Hunger at the top of the curve and crushing opponents when it has haste from Regisaur Alpha. Reckless Rage stands out as one of the best cards for the deck, where it functions as an efficient removal spell that generates value by triggering enrage on Ripjaw Raptor. A surprising addition is Nissa, Steward of Elements and a blue splash, which also opens up the sideboard to the valuable Negate.
What are your favorite decks from the new Standard metagame? What are you playing? Share your thoughts in the comments, and I'll answer any questions!