I have been playing Standard pretty much nonstop this past week due to the Pro Tour coming up, and I can tell you a lot has changed in the format. There continue to be new decks and major shifts in the metagame – what was once a format with just Blue-Black Control, Temur Energy and Ramunap Red, has become so much more, as new decks continue to emerge. There is no deck that is too dominant right now in terms of power level, which makes for a balanced metagame where many decks are legitimate contenders.
New aggressive decks are entering the format, so we have more than just Ramunap Red for players looking to attack. We have seen Mardu Vehicles start to put up results, but now there are also other decks looking to make use of Heart of Kiran and Aethersphere Harvester. This Mono-Black Aggro deck but up a strong showing in a recent MOCS event:
The deck is full of cheap spells, so it can afford to play a lower land count – in fact there are only 20 lands total here! We haven't seen many mono-black decks before because on the surface there aren't enough high-quality creatures to round out a deck. But if you go past the surface level, there are some creatures that are worth taking a second look at. Dread Wanderer is the obvious one-drop of choice, but after that we have a couple creatures that often don't even make the cut in Limited.
Enter Night Market Lookout and Vicious Conquistador. While neither are technically two-power creatures, they do essentially attack for two once you consider their ability to ping opponents. Night Market Lookout is the stronger of the two because it also gains you a life, and the effect triggers anytime it becomes tapped – which means it triggers when crewing a vehicle. With five vehicles in the main deck and more after sideboard, inevitably you will need to use some amount of your creatures to crew a vehicle rather than attack, and Night Market lookout is perfect for that job.
With so many cheap spells, Ruin Raider is great here. This is the best home I have seen for that card so far; it crews Heart of Kiran and you always want to be attacking. For an aggressive deck, being able to draw a card every single turn means you don't run out of gas. The opponent needs to immediately use a removal spell on Ruin Raider to stop it from getting out of hand. This deck has plenty of sweet creatures in it, and the four copies of Bone Picker certainly are unique. Opponent want to trade their creatures off for yours, but you can punish that by getting Bone Picker into play for one mana.
The creatures here may not be flashy, but they work well with what the deck is trying to do. This is a low-curve black deck, and of course there is going to be some removal. You want the removal to be cheap, just like the creatures, and that means Fatal Push and Walk the Plank are well set up here. This deck has no trouble casting Walk the Plank since there are not any non-black mana sources. The other spell of note is Supernatural Stamina. This is both a one-mana pump spell and a way to protect your creatures from opposing removal.
In many ways, the evolution to this deck is going straight black-red. The two-color version has more high-quality creatures that we are used to seeing in Standard. However, the mana isn't quite as consistent, and you do need to play more lands when incorporating four-mana cards like Hazoret the Fervent.
We have seen a variety of Black-Red Aggro lists pop up, and clearly there are a few different directions you can go in. This one plays both Dread Wanderer and Bomat Courier, two very high-impact creatures. Like the mono-black deck, the ability to have creatures that can return from your graveyard like Scrapheap Scrounger and Dread Wanderer is going to make life very difficult for an opposing control deck. Yahenni, Undying Partisan and Hazoret the Fervent add two creatures into the mix that also happen to be very difficult to answer.
Part of the sideboard plan is to go more controlling and bring in Bontu's Last Reckoning. Bontu's Last Reckoning works very nicely here because you don't care much about your creatures dying, and some are indestructible already. This deck also gains access to red removal, though with the different mix of threats there isn't enough room for the one-two punch of Heart of Kiran and Ruin Raider.
Overall, both of these aggressively slanted decks seem to be strong enough that they aren't just one-hit wonders, and we will be seeing more of them. But let's move away from the aggro decks and take a look at combo. Wait, there are combo decks in Standard? Well yes…there are. I know we don't see a ton of them, but the ones that do exist are pretty sweet. Let's look at one of my favorites that recently went undefeated in an online league.
This is a list I hadn't seen played before, but clearly there is something here. We have seen some cycling strategies based around New Perspectives, but not so much Drake Haven and Abandoned Sarcophagus. These are permanents that can create an incredible amount of card advantage in the right deck over the course of many turns. These two cards are critical to winning the game, as you really need one in play to make all your cycling cards good.
This means you need to fill most of the rest of the deck out with cards that have cycling. The colors with the strongest cards with cycling are white and blue – cards like Censor, Hieroglyphic Illumination and Cast Out are already staples in a variety of decks. Irrigated Farmland also works well with Drake Haven, though it doesn't have synergy with Abandoned Sarcophagus.
Moving past the obvious cyclers that are included in the deck, let's talk about some that don't see much play at all. Renewed Faith is a nice way to gain life against any aggressive deck, as you can always cast it to gain six in a pinch. I remember the Astral Slide days when we saw Renewed Faith played, but we haven't seen it much in the current Standard until now. The fact that you get an additional benefit just for cycling is quite nice. Djeru's Renunciation is a card you almost always will be cycling for one mana, but the ability to replay it later with an Abandoned Sarcophagus in play can be the difference in a racing situation.
The other cycler in the main deck is a creature: Curator of Mysteries. When Curator of Mysteries was first printed, I had high hopes for it, but it never really lived up to expectations. However, it does fit well in this deck. You want most of your cyclers to only cost one mana, and when Curator of Mysteries does make it onto the battlefield the ability to scry when cycling is great. One of the main dangers to playing a deck full of cycling cards is the vulnerability of flooding out, but with the ability to scry on each cycle flooding becomes much less of an issue.
On top of the cycling package, this is a control deck and needs a few ways to handle the board. Both Fumigate and Settle the Wreckage are excellent ways of doing just that. The games play out so that the opponent needs to get aggressive before you can accumulate a ton of advantage from cycling, and they are forced to play into Settle the Wreckage or Fumigate, which will swing the game heavily in your favor.
The control matchups can be tricky for this deck because of their ability to answer Abandoned Sarcophagus and Drake Haven with countermagic. Countervailing Winds is the perfect sideboard card. It is a counter that cycles, but costing two mana to cycle means it's a bit too expensive to be in the main deck.
Okay, looking for a combo deck that is a bit more popular? The primary combo card in Standard right now is God-Pharaoh's Gift, and decks that aim to cheat the powerful artifact into play. Traditionally, we see Esper God-Pharaoh's Gift decks, but I want to look at a straight white-blue take played by "Wrasty" in an online league.
This list uses Refurbish as the primary way to get God-Pharaoh's Gift into play, rather than Gate to the Afterlife like most other lists. By playing Refurbish you don't need to play as many creatures, and can afford to have cards like Strategic Planning and Chart a Course. Both are good ways to help get that God-Pharaoh's Gift in the graveyard. The idea is that by having more ways to put cards in the graveyard, it is more likely that a turn-four Refurbish can be set up.
The playset of Sacred Cat makes more sense when you take into consideration how easily this deck puts cards in the graveyard. Making a large lifelink threat by targeting Sacred Cat with God-Pharaoh's Gift also has its benefits. This deck has a consistent and straightforward plan, so it will be able to get God-Pharaoh's Gift into play quickly. However, it doesn't have access to Hostage Taker and Kitesail Freebooter, so it isn't as resilient to opposing disruption.
Overall, I like how God-Pharaoh's Gift is moving more towards Refurbish. I wasn't happy with the consistency of versions relying on just Gate to the Afterlife, though there are a variety of ways to build around God-Pharaoh's Gift and it has yet to be determined which is best. I expect to see a variety of different versions show up at the Pro Tour in a week.
Thanks for reading,