With Dominaria, the Standard metagame has settled more rapidly than I can remember in previous Standard Formats. Shortly after Dominaria's release, Chainwhirler Aggro decks in both Mono-Red and Black-Red have proven to be the dominant forces of Standard. White-Blue Control, Esper Control and Blue-Black Midrange have established themselves as the next best thing as more controlling contenders that have put up some results. Llanowar Elves decks populate another section of Standard since even in a Chainwhirler world it's is still one of Magic's most iconic and powerful cards of all time. Generally, the shells with the most success that we see them in are Mono-Green Stompy and Black-Green Constrictor. Lastly, with Grand Prix Singapore and Pittsburgh in the books, White-Blue Gift has seen a resurgence as a legit threat in the established metagame.
Core Set 2019 looks to have some options to potentially make a splash in Standard, with five new planeswalkers and a brand-new creature type with five new cards: Elder Dragons! Zombies are back and abundant too. While that is all swell and exciting, these existing meta-decks most likely will continue to exist – and they'll be looking for new options to bolster their competitiveness and win more matches.
Core Sets from the past don't always translate into that many new decks. It's been a while, but for reference let's take a look at the Top 8 of Pro Tour Portland to see just how many non-land Magic 2015 main deck cards made the Top 8:
4 Stoke the Flames
7 Elvish Mystic (was already in M14)
5 Chandra, Pyromancer
2 Sunblade Elf
4 Nissa, Worldwaker
3 Divination (was already in M14)
25 Cards from Magic 2015 made the Top 8, where 10 were already in the format. While that isn't terrible coverage, this is the exact opposite of a format overhaul. Mono-Black Devotion, Green-White Aggro and control were all decks that had existed before, and used almost no new cards yet still had success. Chandra, Pyromancer and Nissa, Worldwaker were the new powerful planeswalkers that found their way as defining cards in decks. As Core Sets have five Planeswalkers and normal sets have two or three-it would be surprising if that isn't the case.
While history has shown us that there may be a few new decks from a release of a core set, for the vast majority of the metagame established decks will remain dominant. Since the card pool for Standard is as big as it gets after a summer release, these decks can often maintain outright power while including little to no new cards. Does that mean we're going to see another three months of Chainwhirler vs. Control vs. Llanowar Elf? Unfortunately, that is probably going to be the case.
Because of that instead of focusing on new spice, I'm going to focus on which cards might slot into existing decks. Let's start with public enemy #1, Red decks. The good news is, there are no obvious slam dunk main deck inclusions into red decks. The bad news is, the new good cards seem to have one thing in common – giving those decks utility against control that may have previously been a weak spot.
Alright, a red creature that doesn't die to Goblin Chainwhirler – which means we can actually play this guy if we wanted to, sweet! This guy is atypical for current iterations of Red as he's a bit slow and doesn't hit hard or fast. He does provide some utility in mirrors if they get super grindy. Most notably, he's rather good against Settle the Wreckage as he allows you to replace your creatures that will die. It works particularly well after you've been Settled, as you have a bunch of mana. A quick design note, I really like that they let you play the lands you hit which many previous iterations of this effect didn't have.
While this card certainly doesn't seem like such an amazing addition for Red, I think that this may have been one of the best possible sideboard cards they could have gotten as this is an absolute house against control. Current Red decks are playing Fight with Fire just to take down sideboarded Lyra, but now Banefire is not only an uncounterable way to do that but also an uncounterable way of killing a Teferi outside combat. Against a deck that is trying to Settle the Wreckage you to win, this card will often just straight-up kill a control player. Honestly, I believe this card might push the matchup so much that control will likely need to play Esper or blue-black versions that include The Scarab God to get around the inevitable repeated hard L's that they will take to Banefire.
I think out of the different strategies in Standard, control got the worst end of it. Not only did we not receive that many goodies, but Banefire is a real house against it – but what they did get is some utility
This is one heck of a sideboard card and puts Azure Mage to shame. Currently, black control decks are generally siding in Glint-Sleeve Siphoner, which makes the matchup more difficult for White-Blue Control. This card is essentially going to be White-Blue's Siphoner, and is much better later in the game and off the top than Siphoner is. Because of Chainwhirler this is clearly going to be a bit narrow, but I'm excited for the post-board free win potential against decks that are siding out removal.
Another addition is Murder, a card that always seems like it's not making the cut, especially after we've been jaded over its supplanting the superior superior Doom Blade of the past. We do have Vraska's Contempt, which is certainly the go-to black removal spell. But something that red decks have done quite well in this format is just completely and utterly overload Vraska's Contept with cards like Rekindling Phoenix, Chandra, Scrapheap Scrounger and such… Wait a minute, Murder doesn't kill any of those cards? Exactly, Murder will prevent you from having to stretch your Contempt too thin by killing just about everything. The biggest problem with Cast Down is that it doesn't kill Heart of Kiran or Kari Zev, Skyship Raider, which are both super prevalent. Depending on how popular Elder Dragons are, Cast Down might become even more of a liability. Biggest issue with Murder, is you aren't really ever going to profitably kill a Llanowar Elves with it. I imagine that Cast Down will win out most of the time, but for full coverage black decks might move to playing some amount of Murder.
I lump these guys together as I'm not entirely sure what's going to happen here. There may be a move for more midrange or control decks that can actually end the game. Problem is these both seem to be worse than The Scarab God to me. I'm not going to pursue breaking these, but I'm going to keep my eyes open here.
Green decks are gaining a decent amount of utility. I'm not sure how positive this will be, as right now the green decks are super low to the ground and hit hard and fast, which doesn't really lead into a need for utility. But, versatility in sideboarding and main deck tech options are never a bad thing:
While this guy does die to Chainwhirler, I imagine that this is worth including more often than not where Manglehorn has fallen short. The ability to kill God-Pharaoh's Gift and Gate to the Afterlife, Heart of Kiran, Lifecrafter's Bestiary, or Skysovereign, Consul Flagship while also hitting Cast Out, Search for Azcanta and Seal Away means a ton of use cases for Rec Sage against decks that aren't Chainwhirling.
Vivien is the planeswalker I'm most excited about. It's a card advantage engine and the fact that it hits lands too solves a problem that Ajani, Mentor of Heroes had in getting too many spells without being able to cast them. The -3 is super relevant in Standard, as it can take down everything that we talked about with Rec Sage and more. Killing fliers gives green decks ways of killing Glorybringer it didn't have before to gain back tempo. It can also help green decks deal with Lyra which is a common sideboard card, and in Walking Ballista decks can help get rid of a Phoenix.
Of all the decks in Standard, I believe White-Blue Gift is getting the most love. It's also coming off a resurgence at the most recent Grand Prix, and I can totally imagine this deck becoming a powerhouse again in new Standard.
This card is pretty awesome in Gift decks. While it's obviously better in a Gate of the Afterlife deck as it's a cheap efficient creature, this may slot into White-Blue Gift as a creature that is also interaction. It delays, blocks decently well and is a great card to return with Gift.
Mentor of the Meek is another that might fit. It's a bit of a slow card, but Mentor is a creature-based card advantage engine. It might be better in a creature-heavy Gate version, but the power is undeniable. It triggers off everything, and even triggers of Angel of Invention three times. This might not end up making the cut, but the potential is there. It triggers off the cheap creatures like Minister and Hangarback for zero.
In a self-mill deck that is very grindy, I imagine Crucible of Worlds has potential. In this deck, you don't care that people have Abrade as you might in a deck like White-Blue Control, as they need to save Abrade as it's pivotal for disrupting your combo. This allows Champion of Wits to essentially draw you two cards without having to discard, makes your cycling lands and Rivulets do more work and is might annoying in conjunction with Hostile Desert, which is a card that I've seen as a one or two-of in Gift.
Lena, Selfless Champion might be a stretch, as this card doesn't trigger off GPG copies. But, this card can go a wide while providing protection from sweepers and Chainwhirlers. Unfortunately, Soul Scar Mage is a thing and you might not have enough creatures to power her out. I don't think this card is actually going to be good enough, but I wanted to include one potential spicy card in my list.
Hopefully Standard will freshen up a little bit with decks adding some new cards. New decks might also pop up from the Zombie and Dragon themes. If the format becomes stale quickly again, at least we have Return of Return to Ravnica to look forward to!
- Steve Rubin