While the cards in Standard constantly change, the strategies that players use often stay the same. A classic example is Red Deck Wins, which persists through rotations by incorporating new cards to replace the ones it loses and subtly tweaking its strategy as necessary.
A look back into the red decks of the past few years include decks focusing on a swarm of creatures with Atarka's Command, a combo with Temur Battle-Rage and Become Immense, burn with Stoke the Flames and Boros Charm, and even Devotion with Fanatic of Mogis, all of which used the best red cards of their eras to deal twenty points of damage to the opponent as quickly as possible.
Red decks haven't had a great time in Shadows over Innistrad Standard, but the recent success of hyper-aggressive W/R Human decks shows that this creature aggro niche is open. I found a version of Red Deck Wins that's a great take on the archetype.
This deck plays out much like Human decks, with an aggressive, low-costed curve dense with creatures that get in under opponents, using removal to clear the way. The tools this deck uses are different, and it has some unique advantages.
Burn spells means this deck is better suited to destroy planeswalkers, with Exquisite Firecraft as a great answer to Gideon, Ally of Zendikar and Nissa, Voice of Zendikar. Dash creatures Zurgo Bellstriker and Lightning Berserker can attack with haste and then return to hand at end of turn, which makes them excellent at fighting against sweepers like Languish that give Human decks nightmares. Thunderbreak Regent is very effective against decks that rely on targeted removal spells, and flying makes it the ideal threat against the ground-based creatures of decks like Bant Company and W/G Tokens. Dragon Fodder is another great tool that helps to defeat targeted removal spells. Chandra, Fire of Kaladesh is a great addition that really proves its worth in longer games with board stalls, like against W/G Tokens, where the ability helps to contain planeswalkers, and if flipped will become a game-winning tool.
This deck applies the Red Decks Win strategy to the current format using the tools it has available, and it's an effective and faithful reproduction. There are a lot of red options in Standard and plenty of different directions to take this deck, and even the potential for a splash.
Sometimes an extreme adaptation of a strategy is effective, and Masanori Kobayashi explores a completely different side of red decks with his Molten Vortex-Day's Undoing Burn brew.
The general concept of this deck is to use Day's Undoing to fuel Molten Vortex, which can discard extra lands in hand before discarding new land drawn with Day's Undoing. It's also a great way to fuel a burn plan, which is what most of the remainder of this deck is composed of as a complement to the Molten Vortex plan. Burn spells are also a key component of this deck's plan to control the opponent, which it also accomplishes with Counterspells like Clash of Wills.
This deck makes especially good use of Brutal Expulsion, because returning an opponent's spell or creature to hand is as good as destroying it when you are going to cast Day's Undoing and aren't worried about card advantage. Case in point is Fevered Visions, which fuels this deck with burn while punishing the opponent for their extra cards. Fevered Visions is especially great with Day's Undoing, which keeps the opponent's hand well-stocked. All of the best burn decks include creatures as a repeatable source of damage, so this deck includes the proven package of Rattlechains and Dimensional Infiltrator to pressure its opponent and their planeswalkers. As fliers they are as reliable as they come, and flash makes tactically flexible.
This deck exploits a metagame heavy with creature removal by orienting around burn spells, which offer a different angle of attack compared to the traditional red aggro deck. This deck also eliminates one of burn's big issues — running out of fuel — with Molten Vortex and Day's Undoing. The biggest question for me is whether or not the deck is fast enough, but Counterspells help to mitigate that problem with the potential for massive tempo swings, so along with a great sideboard the deck looks like the total package.
Like Red Deck Wins, another classic deck that appears time and time again is W/U Control, which seems to perform well whenever Standard has a white board sweeper and blue card drawing. When the board sweeper is black, like when Damnation as in Standard, or last year with Crux of Fate, U/B Control is the deck of choice. Today other colors can compete with the card advantage of blue with cards like Read the Bones, so in the current format W/B has taken over as the dominant control deck, because it offers sweepers in both colors — Languish and Planar Outburst — and plenty of other support, like Shambling Vent. The modern incarnations of control decks have adopted planeswalkers into their strategy, which is well-equipped to protect the loyalty of planeswalkers and gain considerable value from them over an extended game.
Midrange decks are a muddled classification, so following their evolution through rotations is not a clear process, but there are simple truths that define them in any format. Midrange includes a mix of threats up the curve, including haymaker win-conditions, plenty of disruption, and card advantage, and they are flexible in their ability to shift roles between aggressive and defensive.
Today I ran into a deck that brings back memories of Theros-era Abzan Midrange, and it uses current cards to create a faithful reproduction of the deck that once defined Standard.
The defining card of the old Abzan Midrange decks was Elspeth, Sun's Champion. It was a trump card against the majority of the format, and it specifically gave the midrange deck an advantage over more aggressive varieties without the planeswalker. Sorin, Grim Nemesis looks to provide a similar finishing role in W/B/X midrange decks, and this deck is built to make the most of it.
On the other side of the curve, like Abzan Midrange decks of the past, this deck relies on cheap creatures to establish a board presence. Fleecemane Lion used to control the early battlefield before growing into a huge threat later on, and Sylvan Advocate fills that same niche. Abzan decks would often include Sylvan Caryatid to ramp their mana and to block small attackers, and Knight of the White Orchid can fulfill a very similar role. While Courser of Kruphix is irreplaceable, Nissa, Vastwood Seer is actually a more reliable way to find a land and generate value, and in the late game it shines as a planeswalker that generates repeatable value more reliably than Courser of Kruphix ever could. There's certainly no more Siege Rhino or Wingmate Roc in Standard, so instead this Abzan deck uses the best threats of the current era — Gideon, Ally of Zendikar and Archangel Avacyn — to dominate the battlefield.
Hero's Downfall was always used in Abzan Midrange decks to deal with Planeswalkers and creatures. This build does the same thing with Anguished Unmaking and Stasis Snare, which deal with problem creatures of the current era, like Ormendahl, the Profane Prince. Abzan Charm is one-of-a-kind, but efficient and flexible cards like Dromoka's Command give the deck a similar amount of options. Abzan Midrange decks relied on their plethora of scrylands to smooth their draws throughout the game, so this deck includes Oath of Nissa to help grease its gears. Creature lands provide an alternative way to gain value from lands, so this deck includes Shambling Vent.
The sideboard is a source of great strength for the midrange deck, as it was for Abzan Midrange, and as it is here. Where the old deck had Duneblast, this one has Descend upon the Sinful. Transgress the Mind sits where Thoughtseize would have. Powerful hosers against the metagame are always great in midrange decks, so this deck uses Virulent Plague and Clip Wings to attack specific problems, like the top deck W/G Tokens and the troublesome Dragonlord Ojutai. The final decklist is an homage to the glory days of Abzan, and a fantastic deck that's a change of pace from the established metagame.
One way to approach deckbuilding is to iterate on existing archetypes. Building off of an established core that has proven itself in the metagame, deck builders can explore the outer limits of what's possible in the format. For example, Green ramp decks of various flavors have been a big part of Standard over the last year because Explosive Vegetation, which generates card advantage, fixes colors, and ramps into any of the biggest threats in the format, provides a great base from which to build a deck. There are ramp decks of all varieties, and many use Tireless Tracker as a threat and source of card advantage that work well with cards like Explosive Vegetation. I've come across a deck that takes this Clue theme further.
This deck is designed to use Tamiyo's Journal as a repeatable tutor engine and a constant source of card advantage to provide the deck with endless fuel and access to whatever cards it needs. This deck tweaks the ramp formula by incorporating more clue-makers where it can, for example, using Weirding Wood rather than Nissa's Pilgrimage to make Tamiyo's Journal a more reliable tutor. What pushes the deck to the extreme is Erdwal Illuminator, which will glean extra clue tokens from Tamiyo's Journal every turn. It's great with all of the clue-makers, and can be combined with Tireless Tracker and Evolving Wilds to produce an extra clue on the opponent's turn as well.
Tamiyo's Journal and all of these clue-generators are more than a source of value, because they enable the ultimate end-game plan of this deck, which includes four Part the Waterveil. Assuming Tamiyo's Journal can sustain sacrificing three clue tokens a turn, it can find Part the Waterveil turn after turn to take multiple turns in the row. This will provide a huge advantage, and assuming there are any attackers in play or mana to awaken Part the Waterveil, it will win the game. Erdwal Illuminator plus Tamiyo's Journal is two clue tokens a turn, so all it takes is a second copy of either card or a Tireless Tracker to keep things going indefinitely.
Sphinx's Tutelage offers blue decks an alternative way to win the game that doesn't rely on creatures or planeswalkers, which is valuable in an environment where answers to these threats are in every deck. It has been used to success in U/R Mill decks in the past, and I've found a decklist that supercharges the strategy with Forgotten Creation as a two-card combo.
This deck includes Forgotten Creation, which is a repeatable way to draw large numbers of cards and trigger Sphinx's Tutelage multiple times. This engine will end the game in just a couple of turns at most, and it's especially powerful against opponents like W/G Tokens that don't have a lot of creature removal. Similar things can be said about Thing in the Ice, which is a natural pairing with the high density of cheap spells in this deck, and it's a great sweeper alternative to Engulf the Shore that doubles as a win condition.
Brain in a Jar is an exciting addition because it offers a speed boost in a relatively slow deck. It's also a form of color fixing, which allows the deck to splash Reclaim and Pulse of Murasa to Recycle any destroyed pieces of its engine.
Sometimes the most effective innovation is a small tweak to an existing deck that gives it an advantage against the metagame, and I've found someone who has made such a change to the new U/R Eldrazi Control deck that has been massively increasing in popularity.
This version dips into green to splash World Breaker, which is very effective against a format slanted towards midrange and control. It's certainly a very good card against the mirror match, where it gives this version a serious edge. In my experience it's also effective against W/G Tokens, where it removes Westvale Abbey and blocks Archangel Avacyn. World Breaker is an easy splash off of Corrupted Crossroads, and adding some more green sources is a simple as swapping in some painlands. It also gives the deck access to Lumbering Falls, which brings this deck to six total creature lands. The deck doesn't really have enough green sources to support non-Eldrazi green cards, but I could be interested in Den Protector because it can always be cast as a morph, and it's one of the better sideboard cards against other control and midrange decks.
What other Standard decks have caught your eye? What are you playing? Share your ideas in the comments, and as always, I'll try to answer any questions.