I'm personally excited to be playing in the TCGplayer MaxPoint Championship for the first time in my Magic-playing career. This is actually going to be quite a large Standard event with a lot of prize money at stake - $50,000 to be exact - so I want to start preparations immediately, as the event is approaching rapidly. When preparing for a tournament it is always important to know which decks you expect to play against, which means predicting the metagame. There are a variety of viable Standard decks at the moment, and I am going to go over the ones that I expect to see the most of at The Championship.
While there is no actual "best deck" in Standard at the moment I do think that Abzan Aggro is the most popular deck in the format. The deck not only won the last Pro Tour but has had continued success after that win, and one player made Top 8 with the deck at Grand Prix Kobe, here is the list played by Shunsuke Takahira:
My personal experience with Siege Rhino has certainly been positive and this is a deck I am considering playing. There is no longer an Abzan Control deck in the format it seems, as Anafenza, the Foremost is the signature card of the aggressive deck, and that card is great at the moment. This deck has so many individually powerful cards in it, that it is hard to build a deck that straight up beats it. Unless you decide to entirely morph your deck, it will be important to just change a card here or there to gain small percentages versus Abzan Aggro.
The deck had been moving away from Hangarback Walker, but that card is definitely necessary right now. With Esper Dragons rapidly rising in popularity, playing this card on turn two, in order to have protection versus Foul-Tongue Invocation is very important. While it is true that Hangarback Walker getting hit with a Silkwrap is annoying, that is a small price to pay for playing one of the best creatures in Standard. Playing Hangarback Walker in a deck that also has Dromoka's Command is a proven recipe for success, and it is likely that there should be the full four copies of Hangarback Walker in this list.
Moving on to the sideboard, it seems that Transgress the Mind has been rising in popularity recently, and the fact that it can exile not only big annoying threats, but also creatures like Deathmist Raptor is what makes this discard spell worth the two mana to cast it. Painful Truths is a singleton in this list, but that is a card that I am personally a big fan of. This is a card I expect to continuously see more and more play, as drawing three cards for three mana is very powerful, especially with turn-four plays like Siege Rhino to offset the life loss. The only reason why we haven't seen more copies of Painful Truths in Abzan Aggro is there is already Abzan Charm which is a very similar card, and is also more versatile.
Moving on from Abzan Aggro here is a look at the Jeskai Black deck that finished in second place at the open in Kansas City, played by Patrick Klima:
Since its success at the Pro Tour, Jeskai Black has been a mainstay in Standard, though as we see here the card choices are rather flexible. This version actually has two copies of Despise in the maindeck as another answer to difficult-to-deal-with big threats, like say Gideon, Ally of Zendikar. It is clear that while Thoughtseize is no longer Standard legal discard is still rather important. In the board there are also a full three copies of Infinite Obliteration, which stand out as a way to beat the green ramp decks by naming Ulamog, the Ceaseless Hunger. This deck is still one of the best decks in the format, though over the past two weeks its popularity has been decreasing. Cheap removal like Silkwrap has been proven to be potent against Jeskai Black as a way to deal with the relatively small amount of creatures in the deck, and protect against Ojutai's Command and Kolaghan's Command.
The next deck I am going to go over is Esper Control. There are two different types of Esper Control in the format, one involves playing dragons, and the other has more planeswalkers typically. Currently the version with dragons is more popular, and this is Shuhei Nakamura's list from the Top 8 of Grand Prix Kobe:
Dragonlord Ojutai is a very powerful magic card, and is on the upswing. Not only are there four copies of Dragonlord Ojutai but there are also a couple Dragonlord Silumgar. Dragonlord Silumgar is the best way to answer a very problematic threat for control decks, and that is Gideon, Ally of Zendikar. A lot of the time an opponent will have a Gideon, Ally of Zendikar on four loyalty, and you can steal it, then ultimate it immediately. This way if the opponent does have a spot removal spell for Dragonlord Silumgar the Gideon, Ally of Zendikar has already been dealt with. Of course since the deck runs six dragons that also means it is able to play cards that synergies with dragons. Silumgar's Scorn and Haven of the Spirit Dragon are pretty obvious additions, and Foul-Tongue Invocation has gotten a lot of play recently as well. With creatures like Hangarback Walker and Deathmist Raptor becoming bit less popular lately, edict effects are better positioned.
Esper Dragons supposedly has a good matchup versus Abzan Aggro, though that can also depend on the specific decklists. This seems to be the most popular control deck at the moment, so if you are going to prepare for any one version of Esper Control, this really should be it. Recently the Top 8 of Grand Prix Brussels was filled with both Esper Control and Four-Color Aristocrats. The Four-Color Aristocrats deck based around Rally the Ancestors may not be as popular as Esper Control, but it is an important part of the metagame. This is the list of Martin Muller's:
This is an archetype that can create a constant stream of gas, so the best way to beat it is to race it or have a great hate card. The most annoying card for this deck to deal with is definitely Anafenza, the Foremost, as the deck needs to put creatures in the graveyard in order to get Rally the Ancestors going. What is interesting is that, while Anafenza the Foremost is very good versus Four-Color Aristocrats, the other cards in Abzan Aggro don't do that much against you, so that isn't actually that bad of a matchup. There are tools like Sidisi's Faithful which can be used to bounce an opposing Anafenza, the Foremost before trying to fire off a Rally the Ancestors. Not only is this the best deck that abuses the graveyard right now, it is also the best Collected Company deck. Collected Company has already been proven to be a very strong magic card, and is one of the reasons this deck always has something to do with its mana.
The worst matchup for the Four-Color Aristocrats deck is actually Red/Green Landfall, which has proven to be one of the top aggressive strategies in the format. Here is a list from the Top 4 of Grand Prix Indianapolis, played by Scott Kirkwood:
This is a deck that I have played quite a bit, and have talked about previously so I won't go into too much detail. The easiest strategy to compare this deck to is Atarka Red, though it is hard to say which one of those two is actually better. At the moment Red/Green Landfall does seem to be better based on the current metagame. Compared to Atarka Red the Red/Green Landfall deck is a bit more explosive, while not needing to play any removal in the maindeck. Since there are more lands in the deck you are able to bring in more expensive cards from the sideboard in order to beat the control decks.
Red/Green Landfall and Atarka Red actually have pretty good matchups against all the decks mentioned so far, depending on what the sideboard plan is. The reason these decks haven't been crushing are the rise of the token strategies, which also play lots of cheap removals spells. Here is the first token deck of the format, Bant Tokens:
This is the exact list Sam Black played at Pro Tour Battle for Zendikar, and he proved how strong the deck he designed is. While Bant Tokens isn't that popular now, it has helped lead to the formation of other decks with similar game plans. Playing Wingmate Roc in a deck without a ton of actual creatures may seem counter intuitive, but in fact playing Wingmate Roc alongside tokens makes a ton of sense. Opponents are much less likely to use a spot removal spell on a token than on a real creature, which means you are more likely to be able to raid Wingmate Roc. The deck is very synergistic, and the natural evolution to the deck was Esper Tokens.
There was an Esper Tokens pilot who made Top 8 of Grand Prix Kobe. Here is the list of Akihiro Ookawa:
Like Bant Tokens this deck has a lot of removal, and very few actual creatures. Besides Wingmate Roc, the two-drops in Knight of the White Orchid and Hangarback Walker are capable of generating card advantage, and you don't mind them being killed. Knight of the White Orchid completely warps how this deck plays its games, as you don't mind being on the draw because of the importance of finding an additional land. This deck is able to maindeck Painful Truths, one of the best ways to actually draw cards in the format.
As a way to beat midrange strategies that rely on removal like Silkwrap the green ramp strategy has emerged. There are a few different ways to build the green ramp deck, but the most popular of them does seem to be base-green with a small red splash. This deck is fun to play as it gets to cast cards that cost a ton of mana like Ugin, the Spirit Dragon and Ulamog, the Ceaseless Hunger. Here is Mark Vollmar's list:
This deck is what a typical Red/Green Ramp deck will look like, besides a couple of the creature choices. Most lists I have seen play Hangarback Walker, Dragonlord Atarka, Jaddi Offshoot, and Ulamog, the Ceaseless Hunger as the only guys in the maindeck. Some versions also have Rattleclaw Mystic, but Mark has gone in a different direction. He is maindecking a Conduit of Ruin package which of course involves Ulamog, the Ceaseless Hunger, but there are other Eldrazi as well. Both Oblivion Sower and Void Winnower are in the deck to make sure there is plenty of gas in the late game. Void Winnower is a card that can actually just completely shut some decks out of the game.
While there are certainly other deck in Standard at the moment, these are the archetypes that I expect to be the most popular at the TCGplayer MaxPoint Championship on December 5th and 6th.
Thanks for reading,