Magic Online holds Modern events every day, and these events provide Modern players a wealth of metagame information. Over the past month I did a two-part series on Modern. I shared new Modern decks dug up from various events, Magic Online being the focus, honing in on updated, unexplored, and brand new strategies. You can find part one here, and part two here.
The "Anything Goes" series was eye-opening to me and a hit with readers. This week I started digging into Standard events, and I realized I could do the same thing with Standard as I did with Modern. Beyond the chokehold of Devotion decks, Sphinx's Revelation, and Chandra's Phoenix, innovative players are finding success with all sorts of strategies. Today I'll attempt to shed light on them.Jund Renaissance
At the end of last year's Standard season, after M14 hit shelves but before Theros was released, Jund Midrange was the most dominant deck in the format. The addition of Lifebane Zombie and Scavenging Ooze crushed all traces of the formerly dominant Reanimator deck and also pushed aggressive decks from the format. After that, Theros players tried in vain to recreate the strategy. Now, with Temple of Malice, Temple of Malady, an expanded spell and creature base - especially Courser of Kruphix - and a defined format to attack, Jund Midrange has appeared again as a viable strategy:
The core of this deck is black removal and green mana, much like the Jund deck of old. While it shares some core cards with Jund Monsters, this deck is an entirely different animal. Thoughtseize is the base on which the rest of the deck stands, much like the Black Devotion deck. The removal core is also similar, including Devour Flesh, Hero's Downfall, and a full set of Abrupt Decay made possible by the bountiful green mana.
Sylvan Caryatid is a suitable replacement to Farseek, and it provides some level of board control. Courser of Kruphix is without comparison to the old Jund deck, but it does everything the Jund deck is interested in. It clogs the board against creatures, generates life, and smooths mana. It combines with scry lands to give the deck a mini-engine.
Underworld Connections was formerly a sideboard card in last year's Jund, but in this format it earns maindeck slots. It gives this deck the card advantage it needs to win an attrition war and take over the game. It also combos quite nicely with Courser of Kruphix by giving greater control over the top of the library.
The deck takes a page from Monoblack Devotion's playbook with Desecration Demon. Huntmaster of the Fells it is not, but it comes with its own strengths and weaknesses. It has proven itself as a very strong card in the format, and is capable of winning the game by itself if unanswered, much like Huntmaster of the Fells. A singleton Polukranos, World Eater adds diversity without sacrificing impact.
Compared to old Jund, red is just a minor splash, but it's relatively free because of Temple of Malice and Sylvan Caryatid, while shocklands do the rest. The exciting red card here is Rakdos's Return, a strong play against slower, card hungry decks like Black Devotion and Gruul/Jund Monsters. It's absolutely punishing against Sphinx's Revelation decks, providing a counterweight to their namesake card and devastating planeswalkers.
A single Chandra, Pyromaster picks off weenies and operates as a card advantage engine like it does in the Modern version of Jund. It's also incredible with Courser of Kruphix.Purphoros Naya Midrange
Purphoros, God of the Forge is an extremely strong threat against Black Devotion, which lacks a good answer, while Azorius-based control decks will be forced to use an Oblivion Ring effect. The following deck is built to take advantage of both abilities on the god:
What really stands out here is Scion of Vitu-Ghazi. It's great with Purphoros, God of the Forge, dealing six damage immediately. Offensively, creating two attackers in the air plus the Red god's ability to pump all creatures +1/+0 is an excellent way to win a damage race. Creating three bodies is also a strong, defensive play against aggressive decks because it creates three creatures in one card, a tempo play that clogs the board up with blockers. Scion of Vitu-Ghazi is also quite strong against the sweeper-less Black Devotion because it presents three threats in one.
Brimaz, King of Oreskos and its ability to generate tokens is also quite strong with the god, as is of course Elspeth, Sun's Champion's +1 token-generating ability.
A copy of Dictate of Heliod works well with all of token generation, effectively acting as fourth copy of Purphoros, God of the Forge that skirts the legendary restriction.
The following deck is a Standard take on what has been among the most popular Theros Block Constructed decks, GR Elspeth. Standard adds many great tools to the strategy and helps create a well-rounded deck for the format:Standard Naya Superfriends
Selesnya Charm is a wonderful piece of utility for this deck that it never had access to in block. Its best mode is as removal against some of the more threatening creatures in the format, particularly Desecration Demon. It's a threat against control, and it even has applications in combat as a pump spell.
Mizzium Mortars is dedicated removal that supplements Anger of the Gods. Banishing Light provides the utility to take on anything the opponent can throw at the deck.
Chandra, Pyromaster fits right into a deck already designed to protect and abuse planeswalkers.
The sideboard here is great, including Archangel of Thune as a pseudo-Baneslayer Angel against aggressive decks, and Scavenging Ooze as a scalable threat that dominates ground combat in the same matchups. Together they form a potent combination, with Scavenging Ooze triggering Archangel of Thune's ability. BG Constellation
Another effective port from block to Standard is the Constellation Enchantment deck, based around the card-advantage engine of Eidolon of Blossoms and the board control of Doomwake Giant:
The Standard cardpool adds some excellent cards to this strategy:
Underworld Connections is already one of the best cards in the format, and as an enchantment it's a perfect fit in this deck. It has excellent synergy with Courser of Kruphix, allowing greater control over the top of the library to more consistently play lands off the top, which generates more card advantage.
Abrupt Decay is a powerful but efficient piece of removal that's considered by many to be the best in the format. It's strong in nearly every matchup, and many Monoblack Devotion decks have stretched their mana just to splash it. It's a key piece of this BG Enchantment deck, and gives the deck a way to leverage the card advantage it generates.
Vraska the Unseen is another form of BG removal that's strong against nearly every opponent. While it's not as efficient as Abrupt Decay, it's much more powerful and comes with greater upside. This deck is packed with removal and with creatures that gum up the board, which ideally allow Vraska, the Unseen to live to see two -3 activations and generate valuable card advantage and tempo.
One of the ultimate enchantments in Standard is Primeval Bounty, but it hasn't found a great home, until now. It's the perfect top-end for this deck, which seeks to win with card advantage and attrition. Primeval Bounty will create an advantage insurmountable for most opponents, and it doubles as an enchantment which creates value when combined with Eidolon of Blossoms or Doomwake Giant.
Scavenging Ooze is a tool Block decks could only dream of playing. Its merits have been widely discussed, and it combines with the removal in this deck to dominate the board. It's a threat that snowballs in power as the game progresses, which gives this deck a reliable threat to end games with.
A set of Lifebane Zombie in the board allow this deck to get decidedly more aggressive after sideboarding, in additional to being an excellent hate card against many decks in the format.
The Standard enchantment deck looks like an awesome alternative to some of the blander Standard options. It could also be looked at as an extension of the BG Devotion deck, replacing the Gray Merchant of Asphodel endgame with the Constellation endgame.
This week I saw various rogue decks that break control's traditional mold:Boros Control
What makes this control deck so interesting is the threats. Taking a page from Patrick Chapin's Pro Tour winning Junk deck, it utilizes an entire set of the legendary Brimaz, King of Oreskos. With a plan "A" of "protect the king," it seeks to deploy an early Brimaz, King of Oreskos and ride it to victory by clearing a constant path into the red zone. With 23 pieces of removal and with five planeswalkers that control the board, it's a realistic pursuit.
Chandra, Pyromaster feels right at home in this deck. It's board control against weenie decks, and it's a card advantage engine against opponents who cannot remove it immediately. In this deck, it's even a reliable win condition with the ultimate and burn spells. It also completes the curve after Brimaz, King of Oreskos, because the +1 ability disables blockers and allows the king to march across the battlefield unheeded.
Elspeth, Sun's Champion is the powerhouse finisher that's excellent against Black Devotion and Sphinx's Revelation decks. It's a form of board control in many situations, such as against Jund Monsters.
Assemble the Legion was once the single most difficult card in the format for Monoblack Devotion to beat, and that hasn't really changed. This deck uses a whopping three, meaning it will draw it reliably, potentially after one has already been stripped by a Thoughtseize. It's also a very great defensive threat against aggressive decks, with each token a potential blocker that can extend the game, with each turn yielding even more tokens. It will win the game, eventually, against every opponent.
This deck leans on burn spells as creature removal, but unlike black removal, these spells can hit the opponent and do their part in ending the game. They can go straight to the face, putting significant pressure on Black Devotion, and they can wreck the planeswalkers that are so common from UWx control decks and Jund Monsters. Warleader's Helix is particularly powerful and gives the deck a healthy lifepad against aggressive decks, including Boros Burn.
Anger of the Gods is an effective sweeper, while Chained to the Rocks is very efficient pinpoint removal. Banishing Light is a catch-all against just about anything, and it gives this deck the utility it needs to exist in a format with such varied threats.
The sideboard contains a wide variety of tools, mainly additional removal and specific cards for specific matchups, such as Assemble the Legion against Black Devotion and Nyx-Fleece Ram against any aggressive opponent attacking on the ground. I particularly like Hammer of Purphoros, which allows this deck to change gears and become a more proactive deck against control and Black Devotion. Most opponents will find themselves light on creature removal, making them particularly susceptible to Golem Tokens.Bant Walkers
This deck is a hybrid of the traditional Azorius Sphinx's Revelation decks with the green mana creatures Sylvan Caryatid and Courser of Kruphix. The green combination of mana fixing and board presence enables the deck to better protect and leverage planeswalkers, so in addition to the traditional Jace, Architect of Thought and Elspeth, Suns' Champion, this deck adds Kiora, the Crashing Wave and Ajani, Mentor of Heroes. Kiora, the Crashing Wave does it all, from locking down a threat, accelerating and generating cards, to winning the game. Ajani, Mentor of Heroes is a surprisingly powerful source of card advantage, and this deck also has creatures to take advantage of +1/+1 counters.
A surprising addition is Advent of the Wurm. This unexpected card is a huge threat when unanswered. As an instant it comes with great utility. It's capable of coming down at end of turn to dodge sorcery speed removal, and it will commonly Ambush attackers.
Not to be left behind by Esper or Bant, red is making its presence felt in Sphinx's Revelation decks. American Control
Keranos, God of Storms is the headliner here. I have heard nothing but amazing things about the card from all sorts of people, and it has even seen play in the sideboard of Patrick Dickmann's Modern Splinter Twin deck. While the card is a legend, it's the sort of card so powerful and game-winning when in play that drawing an extra is a very acceptable risk. Its group of abilities changes the entire dynamic of the game by generating card advantage, controlling the board, and even killing the opponent.
Ral Zarek is here as a repeatable form of removal, providing two shots against creature decks or the opponent. The ability to untap lands means after turn three it effectively costs only three mana, allowing it to slip into play more smoothly and allow follow up plays. The two devotion towards Keranos, God of the Storms is also a critical reason for its inclusion. This combination will often be unexpected and is capable of dealing massive amounts of burst damage. Consider on one turn dealing three damage on draw step, three with Ral Zarek, and six more with the attacking god.
Font of Fortunes has not seen much Standard play, but I do know players who stand by it. While overall it's one mana more than Divination, it has upside. For one, it's a much better play on the draw, where it can sit around and provide cards when most necessary, compared to Divination, which often leads to eight cards and an end-of-turn discard. The instant speed nature of the ability allows the deck to keep up mana for disruptive spells, particularly Dissolve, Azorius Charm, and Izzet Charm. It also provides devotion!
Not limited to midrange and control, this week also presented successful rogue aggressive strategies in Standard:Esper Midrange Redux
When it made the finals of Grand Prix Shizuoka at the end of last year, Esper Midrange made waves in Standard as a foil to Monoblack Devotion that had game against nearly everything. While it had power in spades, inconsistency kept it from the spotlight. Born of the Gods brought Temple of Enlightenment, and the deck reached the Top 4 of Grand Prix Beijing. Mana Confluence is the final piece of the puzzle, and now the deck has all the tools it needs to leave mana problems behind.
The deck is a combination of threats, removal, and card advantage. The deck has an aggressive white weenie base of Soldier of the Pantheon, Precinct Captain, and Daring Skyjek. Xathrid Necromancer combats removal, while gods Ephara, God of the Polis and Athreos, God of Passage give the deck a lot of Staying Power. Detention Sphere is a premium removal spell in Standard, and Far // Away provides utility and power, not to mention surprise factor.
The deck also has a strong sideboard made possible by three colors, and it allows this deck to adapt itself in a variety of ways to better combat specific opponents. It's a strong, versatile deck that I would not be surprised to see rising to the top of the metagame in the coming weeks and months.GW Auras
This take on Hexproof leaves red on the sidelines in favor of a much more consistent manabase. It makes up for the loss of speedy Madcap Skills by slowing down a bit and increasing the overall power potential. Eidolon of Countless Battles is a huge threat, and as a Bestow creature it eliminates most of the problems found with auras, whether it be setting up a two-for-one or simply lacking a target. Full sets each of Unflinching Courage and Gift of Orzhova allow the deck to race effectively.
The combination of Selesnya Charm and Banishing Light provide the deck with a surprisingly serviceable removal package. Rakdos Aggro Rebooted
There's nothing particularly notable about this deck, but it looks to be a clean, consistent version of a deck I expected to make a big splash after Journey into Nyx was spoiled. A full set of Master of the Feast and Mana Confluence are testament to how the new set helped the archetype.
Finally, I'd like to share a deck that has been putting up consistent results, the pilot being one of the most prolific and successful Standard players this week:Azorius Aggro
This is a straightforward, aggressive Azorius deck. Ephara, God of the Polis provides the card advantage it needs to outlast opponents, while Dictate of Heliod provides the deck ability to overpower opponents. Notice the high-land count of 25, including eight scry lands, which ensures it will hit land drops and curve-out as necessary. This high land count also enables the deck to switch gears post-sideboard and turn into a slower, more controlling deck, a classic sideboard strategy that will give it a huge edge on other aggressive decks in games two and three.
Standard is far from boring, and there's a lot more going on than what initially meets the eye. I'll be playing close attention to the format in the coming weeks as the format continues to develop in the wake of Journey into Nyx.
What off-the-radar Standard deck are you having success with?