The Battle for Zendikar Standard metagame is now a couple of months old, the card pool has been explored, and the top-tier archetypes have been established. It's a diverse bunch, with Abzan Aggro, Atarka Red, Esper Dragons, Jeskai Black, Green Ramp, Esper Tokens, and Four-Color Aristocrats all vying to win a tournament on any given day. With no clear best deck, the metagame is open to various interpretations, and there is room for players to attack the format from unique angles. The diversity of the metagame extends to the various rogue strategies that have appeared from nowhere but are competing with the best decks in Standard. In the near future some of these deck could find themselves along the top-tier archetypes in the format, and these new contenders even have the potential to unseat these existing archetypes from their positions.
I am always eager to look at decklists from different parts of the globe, so the results of last weekend's Standard Grand Prix in Japan were exciting news and a great resource for finding rogue technology. Magic Online connects players from all over the world and gives them the opportunity to play Magic together, so it's an invaluable resource for finding innovation in action. Today I'll discuss the new archetypes that found success at Grand Prix Kobe, and then I will share some rogue decks that have been winning on Magic Online.
Since Khans of Tarkir players have attempted to make competitive Warrior aggro decks, but until now they have existed entirely on the outer fringes of the metagame.
Joe Soh's take on Warriors is focused and aggressive, with ten one-mana creatures and eight two-mana creatures. At the top of the creature curve is four Mardu Strike Leader, which will quickly take over a game if repeatedly pushed into the red zone. Blood-Chin Rager pushes these creatures past blockers, and Joe further supports his aggressive plan with a large removal suite to keep opposing creatures out of the way. The removal package also includes two Wasteland Strangler, which synergize not only with Silkwrap and Stasis Snare, but also with Mardu Woe-Reaper's ability to exile creatures. Completing the deck are two Gideon, Ally of Zendikar to apply additional pressure. The manabase includes a pair of creature lands in Shambling Vent, which are a valuable addition to the archetypes compared to last year.
The sideboard gives the deck considerable ability to play a slower, extended game, with pairs of both Secure the Wastes and Mastery of the Unseen providing the resources to exhaust the opponent's removal spells and win a war of attrition. The sideboard also contains plenty of disruption spells; beyond Transgress the Mind as discard, the deck splashes into blue for Counterspells, which can be devastatingly effective against control opponents. The sideboard contains additional creature removal to help combat aggressive opponents.
B/W Warriors attacks the format from an interesting place. It's faster than Abzan Aggro, with cheaper and more efficient threats, but it lacks the same high power level and ability to play an extended game. It's neither as fast nor as explosive as red decks, but it has more robust creatures, a better removal suite, and is more consistent because it's not as reliant on synergy. The Warrior deck lacks the unique advantages of either Abzan Aggro or Atarka Red decks but, in theory, it also lacks their weaknesses.
The fact that Warriors is unremarkable might be its best feature. It's an aggro deck that will consistently and steadily apply pressure to opponents and Remove their creatures. It has a stable, two-color core without the volatility of Abzan Aggro's three-color manabase. It will never catch opponents by surprise and kill them from nowhere, but it will never draw hands with redundant and useless copies of Temur Battle Rage, nor will it ever run out of prowess fuel. It's easy to see how, with plenty of luck along the way, Joe was able to apply just the right mix of pressure and disruption to Defeat nearly every opponent in his way.
Whether or not Warriors will be a competitive archetype going forward remains to be seen, but it certainly has the potential. In terms of matchups, control decks like Esper and Esper Dragons are vulnerable to a combination of pressure and disruption. Jeskai Black, with more threats of its own and cheaper removal, would have an easier time with The Warriors deck, but Joe's sideboard is great for the matchup. Abzan Aggro might fall prey to the faster Warriors decks, but the matchup against red decks is sure to be unfavorable, as demonstrated in the finals of the Grand Prix.
At first glance, Shota Takao's deck might look like Esper Dragons, or it might look like Esper tokens, but after further inspection it's clear the deck is doing something completely unique:
The star of the show is Monastery Mentor, and this deck combines four copies with over twenty spells that will trigger its ability. Most interesting is the massive maindeck discard package of four Duress and two Despise, which can protect our Monastery Mentor before it hits play or cheaply trigger it afterwards. This discard stops whatever the opponent is doing while making sure the opponent can't deal with Takao's many threats. It's clear that this discard was integral to Takao's success, and it's something to take note of going forward. These discard spells also fuel Delve, which this deck uses to enable Murderous Cut as efficient removal and Treasure Cruise as card advantage.
This deck supports Monastery Mentor below and above it on the curve. Jace, Vryn's Prodigy is excellent with the discard and removal suite, and it helps to provide the stream of action necessary to make the most of Monastery Mentor. A more aggressive two-mana option, Seeker of the Way piggybacks its prowess triggers off of the same spells that trigger Monastery Mentor. It provides the deck with an efficient way to pressure opponents while disrupting them, and the value of life gain cannot be understated in such an aggressive metagame.
Higher on the curve, Gideon, Ally of Zendikar trigger prowess, so it's a convenient follow-up to Monastery Mentor. It's another huge threat that quickly develops the board, whether it be with a stream of 2/2 creatures, a 5/5 attacker, or an anthem emblem. The anthem is great with any Monk Tokens, and the 2/2 tokens help to support the plan of building an army to put a strain on the opponent's removal spells. Dragonlord Ojutai is a powerful top-end threat that will seize control of any game when it is not answered, and this deck includes a lot of discard to make sure the coast is clear for it to attack.
This deck's great finish at Grand Prix Kobe is proof that it has some merit, and its card choices are very intriguing. Compared to Esper Tokens, including Jace, Vryn's Prodigy is a huge bonus, and the deck offers more disruption and flexibility. Compared to Esper Dragons, the deck looks less clunky, and it's less reliant on resolving and protecting Dragonlord Ojutai, which can be troublesome against Crackling Doom and Self-Inflicted Wound, especially without so much discard to protect it. The deck does not look to be favored against red aggro, but the discard goes a long way, and Monastery Mentor will create an insurmountable army of blockers if not immediately dealt with. Esper Tokens plays by its own rules, and with six discard spells, lots of delve, and Monastery Mentor acting like Young Pyromancer, it feels more like a Modern or Legacy deck than a Standard deck. I'm excited to try this deck out for myself, and I'll be looking at future tournament results for any sight of the archetype.
Grand Prix Kobe had another interesting deck appear, this one sitting just outside the Top 8:
The green megamorph package of Deathmist Raptor, Den Protector, and Rattleclaw Mystic form the backbone of this deck, which is support supported by Jace, Vryn's Prodigy and Nissa, Vastwood Seer. The splash is where things get interesting, starting with a pair of Tasigur, the Golden Fang as an efficient threat and source of card advantage. Like Jeskai Black, this Temur Black deck splashes into black for Kolaghan's Command as a source of card advantage. It combines with Den Protector to create an endless supply of action that no amount of traditional removal spells can exhaust. Black mana also provides access to Murderous Cut, which is a much needed removal spell for the Temur archetype. Splashing into a fourth color also makes Exert Influence a great card, particularly for taking Siege Rhino.
Rather than push down an aggressive route with cards like Thunderbreak Regent or Savage Knuckleblade, this deck plays the control role with three Kiora, Master of the Depths and three Sarkhan Unbroken. These planeswalkers will generate an unbeatable advantage if left in play for long, so the rest of the deck is really built to support these planeswalkers. With robust blockers and efficient removal, this deck has the tools to make these planeswalkers work.
It's impossible to say how this deck will fare going forward, but it should be on everyone's radar. It's another sign that Temur, previously the most maligned wedge in Standard, has earned new life by splashing into black. More traditional Temur decks are taking a page out of Jeskai Black's book by splashing to black and finding success in Standard:
This deck plays the usual Temur favorites like Savage Knuckleblade, along with Woodland Wanderer as a huge threat that trumps even Siege Rhino. The splash supports Murderous Cut as an efficient and flexible removal spell, which this archetype was previously lacking and was often regarded as a major hole in the archetype. Black also enables discard in the sideboard, which can be combined with Counterspells to attack control decks from all sides.
Josh McClain is a familiar face to anyone who has competed in past TCGplayer.com MaxPoint Invitationals and Championships, and with multiple past Top 8 finishes that include a victory, I expect we'll be seeing Josh in Milwaukee at the MaxPoint Series $50,000 Championship that is now under two weeks away. Perhaps we'll see him sporting the Temur Black deck that served him so well last weekend.
Andrew Tenjum is a successful player on the SCG circuit with Pro Tour experience, and his MTGO name "Tenjum" is a common sign to any MTGO grinder. His latest deck reminds me of Heroic for a new age:
This deck combines the Become Immense / Temur Battle Rage combo with a shell of prowess creatures that includes Monastery Swiftspear, Seeker of the Way, Monastery Mentor, and even Abbot of Keral Keep. White also provides Defiant Strike as a great way to trigger prowess and fill the graveyard. The card that really stands out is Myth Realized, which hasn't seen much competitive play in the past, but looks great in a world where Hero's Downfall is gone and many removal spells, like Silkwrap and Ruinous Path, miss is entirely.
This Mardu deck uses a playset of Pia and Kiran Nalaar and Hangarback Walker to provide fuel for Butcher of the Horde and Wingmate Roc. It supports its threats with an assortment of creature removal, discard, and card draw.
This deck reached the Top 8 of last weekend's MTGO PTQ, so it's something to consider.
A deck that could also be called Jeskai Black Dragons, this deck combines the best aggressive Jeskai creatures with a top-end of dragons, which supports four Draconic Roar:
This deck is focused and aggressive, and it has found MTGO success in the hands of multiple players.
For those that like what B/W Warriors has to offer but are looking for an extra dose of power, this Abzan Warriors deck splashes into green for The Warrior in disguise, Warden of the First Tree, along with Anafenza, the Foremost as a threat that works well with an aggressive curve.
Green also provides Dromoka's Command as a potent utility spell and Collected Company as a source of card advantage.
What rogue decks are you playing with in Standard? Share your ideas in the comments, and I'll answer any questions.