Wow, what a weekend for Magic. With The SCG Invitational and Opens, a Standard Grand Prix, a TCGplayer Open 5k, and the World Championships (huge congrats to Seth Manfield for taking it down!) all battling it out at the same time, we have a lot of new information for the Standard metagame moving forward. While Worlds has been covered extensively, the information taken from that tournament has to have an asterisk next to it. Not that the lists aren't well-tuned and obviously ready for high level competition, but there is a very specific metagame being prepared for in tournaments like this. Similar to how Pro Tours generally have a higher percentage of blue-based control decks, the default deck for a lot of players in this tournament was Abzan Control, because it gave the best players in the world more play over the outcome of their matches. In addition to the deeper play given to the deck, with the Top 4 of the tournament being Standard, and best of five matches, you are rewarded for playing a deck that sideboards well, and Abzan Control does that better than any other archetype.
Seth covered the deck and some of the non-conventional choices here, and so I'm not going to go into detail. However, I will mention that traditional Abzan Control did not have the best performing weekend elsewhere. Failing to Top 8 Grand Prix Prague or put any players to 7-1 or better at the SCG Invitational, it's an interesting metagame gaff to figure out...
Abzan Aggro on the other hand was absolutely everywhere. While slotting Hangarback Walker into Abzan Aggro isn't a secret anymore, it still put up the most solid numbers across the board this past weekend. Andrew Jessup had a very good performance with the deck at the SCG Invitational, and I really like the look of his list overall.
Packing the full set of Den Protector and Hangarback Walker, Jessup is able to play more of a long game with the bigger Abzan lists. Herald of Torment is good insurance for Elspeth, Sun's Champion, which has a knack for being lights out against the lower to the ground Abzan variant. The full set of Dromoka's Commands look great in hindsight, as Jeskai Tempo has been quickly becoming one of the more popular decks in the format. The ability to fight an early Mantis Rider, Fog a late burn spell, or, best case scenario, both is a huge tempo swing in the match and is usually enough to turn the game around for the Abzan decks.
Looking at the sideboard, Wingmate Roc shows up as a card that simply does not get enough press. The card is exceptional in the grindy Abzan mirrors and only truly takes the backseat to Stormbreath Dragon in the fight of the five-drops. Being able to get bigger for both the mirror and the Abzan Control match surely did Jessup well all weekend.
Overall, I don't think there are many changes I would make to this 75 if I were to play it in a tournament tomorrow. I'm not completely sure what the Gather Courage in the board is for, but being able to keep a Fleecemane Lion alive against an early removal spell or growing your Anafenza past their Rhino when blocking can be a pretty big blowout.
I mentioned Jeskai Tempo being a popular choice this weekend, and boy was it. It was the only archetype to put multiple copies into the Top 8 of the Grand Prix in Prague, Top 16 of the SCG Open, and put up a 7-1 record or better up in the Standard portion of the SCG Invitational! For a deck that was always Tier 2 to fringe, it certainly had a breakout weekend. What caused that? Was it a metagame shift that made Jeskai the deck to play? Was it simply coincidence that those playing the deck all did well this weekend? Or was it that people are starting to break the shell?
Robert Sabol took down the Open this weekend with one of the bigger Jeskai lists that has been seeing play. In addition to the full set of Soulfire Grand Master, Jace, Vryn's Prodigy, and Mantis Rider, Sabol decided to move in a dragon themed direction by playing Thunderbreak Regent, Stormbreath Dragon, Dragonlord Ojutai, and a few Draconic Roar. Sabol's list is able to play the traditional early game that Jeskai offers with cheap removal and threats, but also offers an end game that is able to go toe to toe with the larger control decks in the format.
Ojutai's Command has started seeing a lot more play with the printing of Jace, Vryn's Prodigy, and for good reason. Similar to how Valorous Stance gave the Jeskai decks a split of Doom Blade / Negate, Ojutai's Command offers a few powerful options that piece together the otherwise disjointed Jeskai lists. Having the ability to play a Soulfire or Jace early into the face of possible removal, knowing you have the ability to return them later when they are at their peak is perfect. Pair that effect with a well timed Remove Soul and you have a card that I can really get behind.
I have to admit, I previously had an issue with the Jeskai decks for being disjointed piles of very specific questions and answers. Holding a Wild Slash and a Valorous Stance while getting beat down by a Fleecemane Lion is not an entirely uncommon occurrence for Jeskai , but Jace's looting offers more to the deck than almost any other. While Jeskai has played Counterspells in the past, the chunk of their spells have always been ones that directly affect the board, and therefore play well with Jace's flashback. Because of this and what Dig Through Time does to deck building, you will see more one-ofs in Jeskai lists than most others.
Nathan had a slightly more traditional list, eschewing the dragon sub-theme for a few copies of Goblin Rabblemaster. While I'm not sure which is better, I do feel awkward playing Rabblemaster right now...there are certainly a lot of Wild Slashes, Magma Sprays, and Searing Bloods out there.
Moving down the list of decks that were popular this past weekend, ironically so, brings us to GR Devotion. While the Jeskai matchup is lacking to say the least, Devotion is often considered the favorite against Abzan lists of all varieties and will always be a strong choice for open formats.
Being an incredibly proactive deck that is more worried about asking questions than figuring out the answers, GR Devotion continuously puts up strong numbers in a field that is otherwise Siege Rhino-centric. The incorporating of Shaman of the Forgotten Ways is something that has been seen over the past few months, but hasn't fully caught on. Having the ability to Biorhythm out your control opponents, as well as set up an alpha strike in the mirror, the Shaman's ability is more relevant than most people think.
The real winner in this list is Whisperwood Elemental. With the format moving to a lower base of removal to adjust for Hangarback Walker and Abzan Aggro in general, Bile Blight is much more attractive option than cards like Ultimate Price. Even Hero's Downfall has seen a slight downtick recently in favor of cards like Dromoka's Command. Whisperwood is a card that can dominate a game by itself, but it is often found alone. While simply being cast on turn five is a powerful option, having the ability to play one as early as turn three is something that most decks are not equipped to handle.
BR Dragons is a deck that has not gotten much press over its short lifetime in this format, but has put up incredibly solid results. The new adaptation of the outdated Mardu Dragon lists, BR Dragons looks to take advantage of the powerful removal, threats, and recursion available. Elliot was able to take down Grand Prix Prague with this list, and there are a lot of things that I really like about it as well! Traditionally, Goblin Rabblemaster plus Thoughtseize is the big draw to playing this deck. Elliot however, has delegated Rabblemaster to the sideboard in favor of more cheap interaction that allows him to get to the late game to take full advantage of his threat base. While Rabblemaster is good at winning games where your opponent stumbles, we did mention the above average number of cheap removal spells that are being played right now earlier.
To compensate for the slight reduction of threats, Eliot has decided to play the full four copies of Kolaghan's Command, a move that I commend him for making. Being one of the most prevalent reasons that this archetype exists, the previous incarnations with one or two copies of the Command have always confused me. The card does absolutely everything you want to be doing in this deck, and does it all pretty well. While Shock isn't a maindeckable card in a lot of formats, Eliot built his deck for the metagame and nailed it. Not only does he have the full suite of Commands, but also two maindeck copies of Magma Spray...he was ready for opposing Hangarbacks and cheap creatures alike.
While we're talking about cheap creatures to shock to death, let's bring up everyone's favorite, Monored Aggro!
Ellison approached the deck from a more burn orientated place, which makes sense given the plethora of cheap removal in the format. Packing a clean 20 burn spells, including the full set of Exquisite Firecraft, Ellison does not rely on his creatures getting in as much damage as traditional red decks. To further reduce the weakness to cheap removal, Ellison decided to play four copies of Abbot of Keral Keep, to Recoup some card advantage. While it took some time for Abbot to shine, this deck seems to take maximum advantage of its effect.
I would say this is one of the cleaner looking monored decks we have seen, looking like a throwback 20-20-20 list. I'm not sure I'm sold on the third Zurgo, but other than that I wouldn't change a card in his main. One quick thing I want to touch on in the sideboard is the inclusion of Outpost Siege over Chandra, Pyromaster. I feel as though in this format there are more Dromoka's Commands, especially post board, than Hero's Downfall against strategies like this, and therefore if you are going to play a four-drop to go long with, I would feel inclined to pick Chandra. Thunderbreak Regent is another option for that slot, but being able to Chandra and push damage through on the same turn, while threatening to draw additional cards moving forward is very powerful.
From one side of the spectrum to the other, UB Control decks were the Elephant in the room everywhere this past weekend. Claiming a favorable matchup against both flavors of Abzan and the Green-based Devotion decks, it felt like the re-breakout weekend for UB. While it almost claimed the title in Prague, Peter Vieren has to settle for a second place finish with the following list.
With zero copies of Ugin, the Spirit Dragon or Ashiok, Nightmare Weaver, Peter decided to be as dedicated to the control role as possible. A single Pearl Lake Ancient, Silumgar, the Drifting Death, and Cranial Archive (I'll wait while you check that one out) were the only ways Peter had to actually win a game.
Examining his list, you'll find some more oddities. Four copies of Dig Through Time is normal for decks like this, but four Jace's Ingenuity? This man really likes drawing his cards, I guess I can't fault him much for that. Peter has done his best to try and build traditional draw-go control, with three copies of Clash of Wills and a ton of instant speed card drawers. Unfortunately, there are no instant speed sweepers in the format, so Peter is still forced to play cards like Languish and Perilous Vault to have plays to impact the board. 28 Lands also makes a statement. That statement is we don't want to miss a land drop until we're dead.
Moving to his sideboard, we see some interesting options. A single Hangarback Walker, Liliana Vess, Dragonlord Silumgar, and Ugin, the Spirit Dragon do allow him to diversify threats in post board games, along with a pair of Tasigur, the Golden Fang and a few Jace, Vryn's Prodigy. Personally, it seems like there are a lot of different things going on here and it could be cleaned up slightly, but obviously he was doing something right to be able to make the finals of the Grand Prix.
While this format is quickly coming to an end and the magical world of "rotation" is approaching, there are still Standard tournaments to play of this format, and it's as wide open as ever. I think Jeskai is where I would want to be in the last few weeks of this format, and maybe even the first few weeks of the next, but we'll save speculation on post rotation decks for when we have a little more information to work with.