Consecutive Standard Grand Prix taking place over the past two weekends have drawn considerable attention to the format and with the TCGplayer MaxPoint Open 5k in Chicago, IL this coming weekend along with a Standard Grand Prix in Miami, the metagame is coming to a boiling point. The results of these Grand Prix and other events, large and small, including Magic Online, reveal that Fate Reforged has been a driver of Standard metagame innovation. Players are experimenting with Fate Reforged, and early adopters of the best technology have earned an edge. Assuming that players are now fully incorporating Fate Reforged into their Standard decks, then the metagame is now feeling the full impact of the set.
As it stands, it's clear that the most popular archetypes are RW Midrange and Abzan Control. These two decks are clearly in the top tier, and from there things get murky. For one, there are common variations on these core archetypes.RWx
The RW Midrange deck debuted by Ben Stark in Memphis, with four maindeck Soulfire Grand Master and four Outpost Siege, has gained mainstream popularity, but so too have wedge versions that dip into a third color for the best it has to offer. These decks gain a large dose of power, giving up some consistency, mana quality, and typically Chained to the Rocks.
Jeskai, which in its post-Fate Reforged configuration is effectively a RW variant splashing blue, has been gaining traction among some of the top Pros. Martin Juza used it reach the Top 8 in Seville, Owen Turtenwald nearly reached the Top 8 in Memphis with the deck, and I am sure we'll be seeing more of it in Miami. Blue provides the powerful Mantis Rider, which is the three-drop RW wishes it had, and Treasure Cruise, which provides fuel in an attrition-based format. Counterspells like Disdainful Stroke out of the sideboard or even maindeck are particularly potent.
Players are increasingly adopting Dig Through Time rather than Treasure Cruise which, as higher quality card selection, better allows the deck to play a control game, especially after sideboard. This was the variation piloted to the finals of PT: KTK by Shaun McLaren, and it may be the best option going forward. Here's a current decklist, which finished 7-0 before falling in the quarters of the MTGO PTQ last weekend:
Mardu has also re-invented itself with a RW base splashing black for Crackling Doom, Butcher of the Horde, and Thoughtseize. Here's the list John Cuvelier used to win the TCGplayer MaxPoint Open 5k in Orlando last weekend:
Crackling Doom isn't as efficient as Chained to the Rocks, but as a burn spell its more aggressive and better against control. It's also not vulnerable to enchantment removal and cards like Ugin, the Spirit Dragon.
There are also shifts possible within RW, as displayed by this RW Tokens variant from the TCGplayer MaxPoint Open 5k in Columbus that plays Purphoros, God of the Forge as a potent threat against a metagame shifting towards control.
Abzan Control received a Fate Reforged makeover with Tasigur, the Golden Fang joining its ranks, and the Fleecemane Lion sideboard plan debuted at Grand Prix Memphis has become mainstream. The archetype will continue to evolve as players take the deck in various directions. Here's the list Matt "mlmcc1" McCullough used to reach the finals of the MTGO Standard PTQ last weekend:
The notable change here is End Hostilities has been removed for maindeck Sorin, Solemn Visitor, making the deck more proactive against controlling decks. Sylvan Caryatid is back, which speeds the deck up.
Abzan exists all along the spectrum from control to aggressive. Abzan Control is aggressive in its own way, just over a long timeframe and at its discretion. Abzan Aggro gives up versatility and late game power in exchange for a robust and consistent proactive plan. Abzan Aggro has the ability to pressure opponents, so it is better able to take advantage of its removal spells as tempo gains, better ability to snowball opponents out of the game with curve-out draws, and to capitalize on poor opposing draws.
Against most matchups Abzan Control has the ability to let the game come to it, play reactively, and win on the back of its card advantage and raw card power. Abzan Aggro must force the action and maintain the aggressive role throughout the game in an attempt to end it as soon as possible. If Abzan Aggro is not able to develop its board and apply pressure to the opponent, it is at risk of being out-powered in the late game because it lacks haymakers on the level of those played by its opponents, including Elspeth, Sun's Champion, Ugin, the Spirit Dragon, and even Dig Through Time.
Andrew "Tenjum" Tenjum has been grinding Standard PTQ with Abzan Aggro the entire season. I did some PTQ grinding in Indianapolis, Detroit, Toledo, and Columbus, and this Wisconsin player was at every event, and in the Top 8 if not finals of most of them. He finally got the win with his final opportunity, not eight hours from home, but through Magic Online:
Tenjum's innovation was to replace Wingmate Roc with Whisperwood Elemental. Opponents have been familiar with Wingmate Roc in Abzan Aggro for months and instinctively play around the card at all times. Whisperwood Elemental shifts the plan with a card that often produces a two-for-one effect on the first turn, but it gives the deck a way to gain value over time and to break stalemates. It helps the deck go long and let the game come to it, where Wingmate Roc forced it into the aggressive role. In that sense Whisperwood Elemental fixes a strategic hole in the archetype and makes it a more well-rounded deck.
Also consider that with its sacrifice ability, Whisperwood Elemental specifically punishes the players that rely on board sweepers to deal with Wingmate Roc, and in many cases they may specifically not cast a removal spell in order to get more value from End Hostilities, only to be beaten by Whisperwood Elemental. Of course in this case the opponent could just cast removal on Whisperwood Elemental before untapping and then sweeping the board, but assuming they spent their turn casting Divination or needed to spend their mana on Dig Through Time to find the sweeper, then they would be punished. In any case, Whisperwood Elemental certainly improves this deck's resistance to board sweepers like End Hostilities and Crux of Fate and fills that hole in the archetype, which is especially glaring given that two of the most popular decks, Abzan Control and UB(/g) Control, play them maindeck.
Michael "MMajors" Majors has been playing an Abzan Midrange variation of his own for the past few weeks. With maindeck Fleecemane Lion and the inclusion of four Whisperwood Elemental, this deck blurs the line between aggro and control, and it continues to put up solid results in Standard Daily events:
Whisperwood Elemental provides the deck with a powerful piece of battlefield presence that generates value and tempo if left unchecked, and it comes with a built-in resistance to board sweepers. I particularly like it here because it's a five-cost threat that bridges the gap in the mana curve between Siege Rhino and Elspeth, Sun's Champion.
Whisperwood Elemental provides resistance to board sweepers, but it's also a sort of combo with his own End Hostilities. This combination allows him to clear the opposing board but leaving him with his own 2/2 manifest army, which even converts any Sylvan Caryatid into value.
Inclusion of maindeck Mastery of the Unseen is a clear metagame move against an increasingly controlling and attrition-oriented format. In a world where players are trading removal and creatures, Mastery of the Unseen is relatively immune to maindeck removal and will inevitably provide enough advantage to win the game. It's a slamdunk against UB Control, but it's very serviceable against Abzan Control and RW Midrange. Mastery of the Unseen
Mastery of the Unseen is beginning to become staple of the format. Consider just how powerful Mastery of the Unseen is with Courser of Kruphix. For one, Mastery of the Unseen is simply excellent with Courser of Kruxphix's ability to play the top card if it's a land, because it can clear away a non-land for a fresh look and a second chance. There is also some value in the fact that Courser of Kruphix reveals the top card, so Mastery of the Unseen can be used selectively to manifest a particular creature, or can be held back to ensure a specific card is drawn.
Mastery of the Unseen is certainly a strong option against control decks as a slow source of card advantage, but Green Devotion in particular, with its massive amount of mana generation backed by Nykthos, Shrine to Nyx, is equipped to take advantage of Mastery of the Unseen as a card advantage engine that carries it into the late game.
Lauren Nolen splashed Mastery of the Unseen in his Green/Red Devotion deck to reach the top four at the TCGplayer MaxPoint Open 5k in Columbus.
Mastery of the Unseen is particularly fun here because of its snowball effect with Xenagos, the Reveler, which with its +1 ability can potentially generate a significant amount of mana to be spent towards making 2/2 tokens, which in turn add to the mana generation the following turn.
This week Sam "Vicalis" Black was spotted playing a Green Devotion deck with Mastery of the Unseen of his own. Sam's deck has done away with Red in favor of a stronger manabase:
In addition to three Mastery of the Unseen, white also provides Ajani, Mentor of Heroes and Elspeth, Sun's Champion. I like the consistency provided by this version of the deck, and I wouldn't be surprised if Sam and others pilot the deck this weekend in Miami.UBx Control
UB Control won GP Seville and Sultai Control won GP Memphis, and the wins have brought about a revival of blue control. I'm particularly fond of this decklist, which Kyle Boggemes used to win his local PTQ last weekend:
This deck foregoes Jace's Ingenuity in favor of maindeck Tasigur, the Golden Fang, which is an effective win condition and card advantage engine.Aggressive Resurgence
With a rise in control deck, hyper-aggressive strategies that seek to get in under the opponent and overwhelm them with efficient threats become more attractive.
The plethora of available mana fixing and high quality gold cards has brought about a resurgence of Zoo-style aggressive strategies that play three or more colors in order to dip in the most efficient aggressive creatures and spells available.
Here's a Naya build from MTGO that recently finished 4-0 in a Daily Event:
The following deck finished in the Top 16 of the TCGplayer MaxPoint Open 5k in Columbus:
This is an Abzan Aggro deck that splashed into red for Goblin Rabblemaster, Lightning Strike, and sideboard Cracking Doom. Four Warden of the First Tree are particularly interesting because they are likely to draw early removal and help clear the way for Goblin Rabblemaster. Crackling Doom gives the deck a great plan against Siege Rhino. The mana base is a bit painful with four Mana Confluence, but it's negligible against the control opponents this deck is designed to beat.
Monored is also alive and well and preying on control opponents. Sandydogmtg is a longtime monored aficionado and MTGO grinder, and someone I look to for monored wisdom. Here's the list he used to reach the Top 8 of the most recent MTGO Standard PTQ:
A look through Magic Online event decklists reveals plenty of innovation, from adaptations on known quantities to decks completely off of the wall. Here's the best of what I have found:
Luis "LSV" Scott-Vargas played a Jeskai Tokens deck that replaces Goblin Rabblemaster with Monastery Mentor. It also does away with Seeker of the Way in favor of Soulfire Grandmaster. The world is well-equipped to deal with Goblin Rabblemaster, so shifting towards a long-game focus with Monastery Mentor seems strong, and Soulfire Grandmaster helps reach that end by replacing early game power with late game value. Two maindeck Gods Willing is particularly notable as a way to protect Monastery Mentor or to gain value from Soulfire Grandmaster.
This fascinating Jeskai Ascendancy deck takes advantage of the fact that Springleaf Drum can be used to combo with Retraction Helix and is an integral part of the Ensoul Artifact UR Aggro deck, combining both decks into this Abomination:
This deck is half UR Artifact Aggro, half Jeskai Ascendancy combo. It doesn't look all bad, and hybrid decks like this always get my attention. This one needs to be played to be believed. I recommend testing out the "Sample Hand" feature on this deck!
For the faint of heart, here is a UR Ensoul Artifact list from the Top 8 of last weekend's PTQ in Colorado:
The 4C Soul of Theros deck has also been reinvented with Fate Reforged:
This deck has done away with Sylvan Caryatid in favor of Fleecemane Lion, making it more aggressive. It also incorporates Heir of the Wilds and Anafenza the Foremost, making the deck closer to Abzan Aggro than anything else. Torrent Elemental provides a valuable tool that pushes offensive creatures through any amount of defenders. It also provides extra value from the graveyard when delved away with Murderous Cut.
The following is a Green Chord of Calling deck splashing blue. It includes a toolbox package powered by four Chord of Calling:
This deck certainly incorporates a lot of cards I did not expect to see in Standard, but it does have potential and reveals that there is a powerful toolbox card at our disposal. Perhaps Chord of Calling could be applied to other colors for other interesting toolbox options.
The final deck today is built to take advantage of the interaction between Ajani's Pridemate and Underworld Coinsmith.
This is a relatively straightforward aggressive deck with a curve up to Brutal Hordechief and Wingmate Roc. Citadel Siege is quite powerful here, as in Sorin, Solemn Visitor. With some polishing perhaps it could be a contender.
Are there any other interesting rogue decks out there? What about variations on the top-tier archetypes? What's the solution to this metagame? Share in the comments! I'll also try to answer any questions.