Standard is back! The MagicFest Online series has brought Standard back to the forefront of competitive play in a big way. There are literally qualifiers happening 24/7 with weekly championships paying out $25,000 and a season finals that pays out $50,000. ChannelFireball has even been streaming coverage and commentary on Twitch.
Best of all, though, is the fact that these events are open decklist and pairings are public. This means we get an absolutely absurd amount of data. The good folks at mtgmeta have been compiling all of these matchups into a beautiful matchup matrix with some of the biggest sample sizes we've ever seen. Check out the data for last week here.
With all these resources at our disposal, let's dig into the metagame itself. We had the first MagicFest Online Weekly Championship alongside the usual Standard Challenge on MTGO. I've combined the Top 32 of both events into the weekend winners' metagame:
The Standard metagame is a lot more compressed than that of Pioneer. With just four decks making up nearly 70% of the metagame it's much easier to pin down an expected field and pick your battles. The big four for the past weekend were Jeskai Fires, Rakdos Sacrifice, Sultai Ramp and Bant Ramp. These decks will define the format for the next week, and you should expect people to adapt to that heavily.
In addition to these two premier-style events we also got a lot of data from the six-round MagicFest Online Qualifiers. These are preliminary events that award an invite to the Weekly Championship to all players who finish with fifteen or more match points. This is the metagame breakdown for qualifying decks:
The most notable difference here is a much bigger metagame share of Mono-Red Aggro and Temur Reclamation. Both of these decks performed poorly in the Weekly Championship leading to much lower representation in the winners' metagame.
With over 400 decks we get a pretty in-depth picture of the Standard metagame. Rakdos Sacrifice is the only truly viable "aggro" deck in the format, due in large part to the presence of Jeskai Fires. The other half of the top four consists of blue-green ramp decks splashing either white for Elspeth Conquers Death and Teferi, Time Raveler or black for Casualties of War and Thought Erasure.
We have a rough rock-paper-scissors metagame where Rakdos Sacrifice beats the ramp decks, Jeskai Fires beats the Rakdos Sacrifice decks, and the ramp decks beat Jeskai Fires. While none of these are complete slam dunk matchups, this is the format positioning of each archetype.
There is one odd quirk of this metagame, however. Sultai Ramp has incredibly similar matchups to Bant Ramp—and loses in the head-to-head. I'm unsure why Sultai Ramp has the metagame share it does, because despite the prevailing notion that Sultai beats Bant, the matchup data shows Bant Ramp to be the slight favorite. I expect Sultai Ramp to die off as a deck and its metagame share to be consumed by Bant Ramp unless a significant rebuild of the deck occurs.
If we combine the ramp decks into one major category because of their similar matchup spread we end up with a rock-paper-scissors group that takes up a vast majority of the metagame. The goal with a field this narrow should be to attack the weak points of the metagame and punish the field as a whole. When rock is 30% of the field and paper and scissors are 20% each, look for the deck that beats rock and then one of the remaining pair.
This is the lens through which to view Standard right now. Decks should be evaluated in terms of how strong they are against rock, paper, and scissors. If you can't beat rock you should heavily reconsider your choices, and you should at least be beating paper and scissors. If you are playing one of the big three, you better have a good plan in the mirror.
If you're not sure what to play, allow me to break it down:
This is "rock." If you combine Bant and Sultai, blue-green ramp decks are by far the most successful archetype in Standard. Bant Ramp is the better version of the two and is being listed first. Both of these decks can seem pretty clunky, relying on their top-end haymakers to win despite the lack of any real early plays. Both decks rely heavily on Growth Spiral to allow them to skip the early turns of the game and play their threats ahead of time.
Bant Ramp is the better deck for a few key reasons. While Casualties of War may be an excellent up-to-five-for-one answer, Elspeth Conquers Death is almost always going to be a two-for-one and redeploys a threat while leaving your mana up, allowing you to effectively double spell and overwhelm your opponent. Teferi, Time Raveler is also a powerful tool, forcing opponents to spend interaction on their own turn and denying a lot of tempo plays in mirrors or pseudo mirrors.
Its biggest weak points are still its lack of early plays, its reliance on color-hate spells, and decks capable of simply playing a stronger endgame. These are why Bant Ramp struggles against Mono-Red, Rakdos Sacrifice and lean Simic decks like Flash.
I think once the dust settles and Bant Ramp eats up Sultai Ramp's metagame share, this is the best deck in the format until it adapts. If you can't find something to break the format (or just want to play the current best deck) this is what you should play.
This is rock, but a little bit worse. You still beat most of the same decks except Temur Reclamation and lose to the same stuff plus Bant Ramp. All my complaints aside, this is still going to be one of the most popular decks because it won the Weekly Championship and retains most of the good matchups.
The weak points are very similar to Bant Ramp's, but there's an additional weakness to countermagic with higher-cost spells and a lack of Teferi. Casualties of War is very powerful as an answer card, but Sultai Ramp lacks the flexibility to be proactive. I do not recommend this deck until it has been significantly rebuilt.
Rakdos Sacrifice is the premier aggro deck in Standard. Though it functions more as an "aristocrats" deck than a traditional aggro deck, Rakdos Sacrifice is what keeps all the greedy decks in check. When the ramp decks are incapable of interacting with the board until turn three or four, engine decks built around cheap creatures are very powerful.
Claim the Firstborn is also incredibly well positioned at the moment because the creatures the ramp decks use to stabilize are Uro, Titan of Nature's Wrath and Hydroid Krasis. Even lands animated by Nissa, Who Shakes the World are vulnerable to Claim the Firstborn. Rakdos Sacrifice is "paper," and is one of the ramp decks' worst matchups in the entire metagame.
The big weakness of Rakdos Sacrifice is, well, early interaction. When opponents let this deck set up all its synergies it's incredibly difficult to stop, but each individual piece is not very powerful. Decks like Temur Reclamation and Jeskai Fires interact early and often, and Rakdos Sacrifice has a much harder time setting up. If you want to play foil to the ramp decks or if you're just looking for something aggressive in this format, Rakdos Sacrifice is what you want.
Jeskai Fires is "scissors," and I don't mean Izzet Ensoul. Jeskai Fires is based around early interaction so that Fires of Invention can power out a quick kill in the midgame. This is excellent against decks like Rakdos Sacrifice where interacting early and closing the game out are both important, but weak against the ramp decks where early interaction is irrelevant and their top end is better. When splitting up Bant and Sultai, Jeskai Fires was the most popular and successful single archetype.
A big draw to Jeskai Fires is that it's powerful enough to have game against just about anyone, and Teferi, Time Raveler is very strong against Fires of Invention's natural weakness: countermagic. A resilient deck with free win potential that naturally shines against aggressive decks is almost never going to be bad, and I would fault nobody for playing it.
The big weakness of this deck is of course ramp decks, as Elspeth Conquers Death, Casualties of War, Cavalier of Thorns and Hydroid Krasis are all very powerful against Jeskai Fires. It's almost shocking how few bad matchups this deck has, but the biggest metagame share is the bad matchup. If someone can solve the ramp matchup, this deck may just be the uncontested best deck.
Temur Clover is an incredibly well-designed and powerful deck, but it's no longer a good one. Gone are the days where half the field was Mono-Red Aggro or Azorius Control. Instead you lose to rock, paper, and scissors. While some amount of tuning could improve this, the core of the deck is so set in stone that I'm not sure that effort is worth it. Find that deck edge in selection, not tuning.
Look, I know people love their aggro decks, and on a platform like Arena the cheapest decks will always be overrepresented, but Mono-Red Aggro just isn't good right now. It may have a favorable matchup against the ramp decks, but that's just about the only favorable matchup it has. The matchups against Rakdos Sacrifice and Jeskai Fires are 40% and below, and that's with a sample size of over 200 matches in both cases. People will still be playing this deck, though, so don't go around cutting your Lovestruck Beasts and similar sideboard hate.
Temur Reclamation is very nearly on the level of Jeskai Fires. It similarly has only one bad matchup in the metagame, but that bad matchup is Jeskai Fires itself. Comparing win rates across the board, Jeskai is a bit stronger in the current metagame, but Temur Reclamation is not getting the respect it deserves right now.
Simic Ramp is one of my top candidates right now for meta breaker. This past week I worked on Sultai Elementals and went 4-2 in my first MFOQ, narrowly missing the weekly championship. The deck's biggest struggle was awkward and painful mana, and Simic Ramp solves that issue without losing much power. Risen Reef, Cavalier of Thorns and Agent of Treachery did the real heavy lifting in Sultai Elementals, and all we lose is the interaction.
The power of these Risen Reef decks is additional early plays that the opponent cannot interact with profitably, and getting ahead on mana is an incredible edge in the ramp mirrors. This edge doesn't come without a cost though, as the matchup against Jeskai Fires is a little bit worse without Teferi, Time Raveler or Casualties of War, and the Rakdos Sacrifice matchup is still unfavorable.
Beating rock, even against paper, and weak to scissors is really close to breaking it, and if we can improve either the Rakdos matchup or the Jeskai matchup while retaining an edge in ramp mirrors I think Simic will be the real deal.
This build is where I want to start my testing for the week. It's possible that Tamiyo, Collector of Tales is overkill without access to Jace, Wielder of Mysteries and Yarok, the Desecrated, but Tamiyo has been impressive in all the ramp decks so far, and I don't see why we shouldn't be playing such a powerful card.
I've converted the common Negates into Disdainful Stroke as a way to hedge for Fires of Invention even though it doesn't hit Teferi. I think having the ability to counter the creatures themselves is a big enough upside that it's worth the cost, but I'll want additional testing to back that up.
Questing Beast is a card I think people are once again sleeping on as a way to pressure planeswalkers and close out games, and I'm very close to playing them in the maindeck. I may regret splitting the fourth Aether Gust with Brazen Borrower, but I wanted to have access to Borrower maindeck.
Despite adding Tamiyo, I trimmed a Quasiduplicate. With all four Hydroid Krasis we aren't hurting for ways to spend our mana and gain cards, so I'm fine with a single copy as an additional way to use our graveyard and a "third Agent of Treachery" for matchups where we want it.
I did consider including Thassa, Deep-Dwelling as a powerful threat that dodges Aether Gust, but I think it's a little too slow for the current metagame despite being a powerful tool to go over the top of people. It's only really good against other ramp decks, and we already excel there.
Standard is once again popular and important, and I've enjoyed diving back into this format without having to engage so much with ladder. ChannelFireball has been running these events incredibly well, and I can't thank them enough for keeping tournament Magic and tournament coverage going in these trying times. I'll be jamming a few of these a week and hopefully even playing this weekend's championship.
Think I'm right? Think I'm wrong? Think I missed something you want to ask about? Don't be afraid to reach out to me on Twitter or catch me when I'm live on Twitch! Let me know what you thought about this week's breakdown and pass along any feedback you have on TCGplayer Infinite, we want to make this the absolute best content site for Magic: The Gathering.
Unless you're a Sultai Ramp fan. Sorry, not sorry.