In the weeks since the Pro Tour, we have seen the Standard metagame start to move in two distinct directions. First there are the control decks borrowing heavily from the success of Shota Yasooka, Carlos Romao, and Pierre Dagen. These decks use Torrential Gearhulk in strong control shells to beat up on aggro and combo. Meanwhile on the other end of things, aggresive decks using the power of Smuggler's Copter set the tone of the metagame, presenting a clock that all other decks must respect.
Of course there are plenty of combo decks and midrange decks being experimented with, but in general, Torrential Gearhulk control and Smuggler's Copter aggro are the two poles of Standard. You can't really account for all of the unknown brews that will pop up even if you will face them. Build with the two pillars of the format in mind and then adjust your strategies as its weaknesses are exposed by the metagame.
Shota's list, the most popular new control deck, is only a notch more controlling than what most midrange lists are thought to be. His deck contains 12 removal spells and four copies of Thing in the Ice, clearly keeping aggressive decks in mind. Six maindeck counterspells help him out against a wide range of opponents, but are hardly enough to classify this as any sort of extreme, "Draw-Go," deck. In my opinion, this leaves a big hole in the metagame to be exploited.
The theory is simple, if you can go big against the current control decks, but still put up game against aggro thanks to them falling into such a neat line, you can carve out a nice little niche to live in for Standard. Remember that Shota's list has a full 16 cards almost exclusively dedicated to aggressive matchups. That means 16 slots that are pretty terrible against control. If we move those numbers down to say, 10 cards even, we should gain a substantial edge in control mirrors. The trick is making sure you don't give up too much against aggro while you're at it.
Luckily for us, Smuggler's Copter is so common amongst aggro decks that we have a much narrower line of threats to expect out of aggro decks. Normally, fighting against the red aggro deck is a much different game plan than fighting against the white aggro deck, but vehicles pull the two lists into much more similar space. This space is focused on creatures and combat damage. If we can reasonably defend ourselves against that primary attack of aggro, I think we can go over the top of control just fine.
Pierre Dagen looked to take on aggro by casting many cheap one-for-one removal spells until he could get a Dynavolt Tower online. This plan works for a deck willing to dedicate a bunch of slots to removal, but if we could just get away with a few high-impact sweepers and then take over with an engine like Dynavolt Tower, I think that would work as well.
Before I go on any further, here is the list we are playing:
Fumigate, Radiant Flames, and Kozilek's Return have ushered in a new era of sweepers now that Languish is gone. Many control players naturally turn to red or white to gain access to these cards, but we have neither, so how are we planning on dealing with aggro decks with fewer cards than Shota? The answer, as always, lies in the tides: Engulf the Shores.
Engulf the Shores is one of my favorite sweepers even if it does ask a lot out of our mana base. Being an instant has huge advantages which allows you to bounce a vehicle and its crew, creating huge tempo swings. Against a control opponent, Engulf the Shores isn't great, but no sweeper is. At least with Engulf, we can bounce our own Gearhulk to get additional value going long.
Speaking of this play, it ends up mattering quite a bit against aggro. You see, Engulf the Shores doesn't answer problems so much as push them back a for a turn or two. This allows you to build up an advantage with Dynavolt Tower or Metallurgic Summonings and take things from there. However, sometimes you will be facing down such a threatening board that gets recast quickly. In this position, one Engulf often won't do the trick, but with Torrential Gearhulk, you can essentially flashback every Engulf in your graveyard over that many turns, preventing all damage you might take and putting Gearhulk right back into your hand. Obviously you need six Islands for this play to work, but it comes up pretty often against aggro.
Meanwhile, we should have a huge advantage against any form of control we run into. We have seven ways to disrupt their hand, eight counterspells, and threats that are difficult to interact with. We should not get too cocky about this matchup, but I am more concerned with tweaking our aggro match up as I expect us to be naturally advantaged here.
It may be the case that Aether Hub is actually better than Choked Estuary for our purposes. For starters, it always comes into play untapped and if it never needs to make colored mana then we just get a free energy for Dynavolt Tower. The freedom of a blue or black every turn has me sticking with Estuary for now, but that is definitely a change worth testing.
After testing, this is my current list:
Until next week, thanks for reading!!!