Jeskai Black is more efficient and more versatile than anything else in the format, but it packs just as much power. It feels more like a Modern deck than a Standard deck, maybe because of all the fetch lands, but mostly because all of its cards pack a large punch at a low rate.
Dan Lanthier won Grand Prix Quebec City with a Jeskai Black deck very similar to Team Pantheon's list from Pro Tour Battle for Zendikar:
Two similar versions followed behind in second and third place:
Paulo Vitor finished in the Top 16 with the archetype:
The fetch lands mean Delve cards are excellent in Standard, and Jeskai Black makes the most of them with Dig Through Time and Tasigur, the Golden Fang. No card in the format compares to Jace, Vryn's Prodigy, and Jeskai Black makes better use of it than any other deck in Standard does.
Mantis Rider draws comparisons to Siege Rhino, and Mantis Rider serves Jeskai Black in the same way that Siege Rhino served Abzan Control decks last season. These creatures are the primary pieces of board presence for these midrange decks, and they are called upon for their abilities to play both offensively and defensively. Siege Rhino and Manti Rider simultaneously pressure the opponent's life total and defend against their creatures. There are less cheap instant-speed removal spells in Standard than last season, so Mantis Rider more reliably connects for three damage than it did before. Siege Rhino gains three life, but Mantis Rider attacks while it defends, so in practice it may protect more than three life and is a similarly annoying roadblock for aggressive opponents. If last season revolved around Siege Rhino, this season revolves around Mantis Rider, and that represents a marked increase in the pace of the format.
Standard is now fundamentally faster than last season, because the change from the tapped scrylands to lands that primarily come into play untapped, and that makes Siege Rhino relatively slower, and Mantis Rider more attractive. Jace, Vryn's Prodigy is another reason why the format has sped up, because interacting with that card immediately is required to have a fighting chance against Jeskai Black.
The dominance of Dark Jeskai is bad news for red decks, especially R/G Landfall, which struggles to put together a combination of winning pieces against the removal-laden control deck. Going forward, Dark Jeskai can adapt to the evolving metagame and position itself at the top, but until people figure out how to beat it, changing isn't necessary.
Eldrazi Ramp is the Real Deal
During the Pro Tour coverage, commentator Ian Duke said something along the lines of, "We haven't seen the Eldrazi this weekend, but we will when players figure out how to use cards like Shrine of the Forsaken Gods and Hedron Archive." Players have figured it out, and last weekend Eldrazi Ramp strategies scored a big finish in Jake Mondello's Grand Prix Quebec City Top 8:
This deck seeks to ignore the small-ball being played at the bottom of the mana curve of Standard by going over the top of the metagame with the biggest and most powerful cards available. Opponents will be ill-equipped to deal with the huge threats and catch-all answers that Jake presents in the form of Dragonlord Atarka, Ugin the Spirit Dragon, and Ulamog, the Ceaseless Hunger. Assuming a ramp strategy focuses on getting lands into play over mana creatures, Shrine of the Forsaken Gods is worth two lands and is something like a fixed Urza's Mine. In a deck where colored mana isn't a concern, Sanctum of Ugin becomes a source of card advantage and deck tutoring at a very low cost, and adds a ton of redundancy to the strategy, like a fixed Eye of Ugin. Add in Sylvan Scrying, and the deck starts to look more and more like a Modern Urzatron deck in Standard.
Another Eldrazi deck turned up big at the SCG IQ in St. Louis, where it took first place:
The rise of Eldrazi is bad news for G/W Aggro, which lacks good ways of interaction and isn't fast enough to reliably kill the opponent before they take over with Ugin, the Spirit Dragon. Dark Jeskai has the tools to race and disrupt Eldrazi strategies, but they are overall ill-equipped to handle Eldrazi in an extended battle, so it's possible the reigning deck has found a tough opponent in Eldrazi Ramp. It's clear this archetype has a lot of tools for customization, and it's exciting to think about how these decks could evolve going forward, perhaps with splashes into the benefits that other colors could provide. Don't forget about Crumble to Dust as a potential hate card, perhaps in Jeskai Black, but especially to gain an edge in the Eldrazi mirror!
Esper Will Only Get Better
Control decks have a difficult time immediately after Standard rotation, because the metagame is undefined and it's very difficult to predict it accurately enough to properly tune a deck to attack it. As the metagame becomes more polarized, control has a clearer path to victory. Esper Control fell short of reaching the Top 8 at the Pro Tour, but Reid Duke reached the Top 8 of Grand Prix Quebec City a week later:
Duke identified the strength of Ugin, the Spirit Dragon and built an Esper deck designed to make the most of him. It's designed to buy time to survive until turn eight when it can cast the planeswalker, with enough card advantage to have the eight lands necessary and the card selection to reliably find it in time.
What really stands out in this decklist is four Clash of Wills, which has proven itself as an excellent disruptive role-player that interacts with the opponent as early as turn two but maintains value into the late game. Broken Ambitions used to be a staple in top-tier Standard decks like Faeries and Five-Color Control, and this style of Counterspell should be getting more attention going forward.
Duke also includes a set of Ojutai's Command, which has obvious synergy with Jace, Vryn's Prodigy, has Counterspell applications against every opponent in the metagame, and provides valuable life gain to offset damage from fetchlands and aggressive opponents. Ojutai's Command is better the more instants there are in a deck, and Duke also includes a pair of Utter End to add some versatility in the four-mana slot. With the loss of Hero's Downfall, Utter End becomes an important tool in the instant-speed arsenal of control decks. Access to Utter End makes holding up mana for Ojutai's Command a more attractive line of play, and for the opponent it makes playing around Ojutai's Command even more difficult to play against. This pairing can also be found in Omar Beldon's Dark Jeskai deck, which is very capable of playing the long control game and even plays an Ugin, the Spirit Dragon of its own in the sideboard. I expect we will see more of Utter End in control decks going forward, where it's especially useful for removing otherwise difficult enchantments like Retreat to Emeria and Outpost Siege.
Token Decks are Preying on One-for-One Removal
Standard features a variety of different token-based strategies that fight back against one-for-one removal spells like Wild Slash and Crackling Doom with creatures that render this removal ineffective. The Pro Tour saw Jeskai Ascendancy tokens reach the Top 8, but it was Bant Tokens that had a stronger overall performance and had the most champions in the week following, like Shahar Shenhar with his Top 16 Grand Prix Quebec City finish:
Results are proving that other token strategies are competitive. Here's the Esper Tokens deck that nearly won this month's Magic Online Championship Series event on Saturday:
There is value to be gained from tokens even in traditional strategies, as Edgar Magalhaes proved in this Grand Prix Quebec City Top 8 finish with three Pia and Kiran Nalaar in his Jeskai Black deck:
Pia and Kiran Nalaar puts four power and toughness into play for four mana, but compared to Thunderbreak Regent it looks a lot better against Crackling Doom and Abzan Charm. It's also great on defense because it creates three blockers. When it lives, the activated ability to turn tokens into two damage can create additional value. Pia and Kiran Nalaar shouldn't be overlooked, although it's weak to Ojutai's Command in general. Perhaps moving down towards Hordeling Outburst will be a wise decision going forward, but there's also the option to go bigger with Secure the Wastes.
Abzan Aggro is the Litmus Test for New Decks
While it was absent from the top tables of Grand Prix Quebec City, Abzan Aggro remains heavily played. It won the Magic Online Championship Series event this past Saturday, and the winning list contains some new innovation from the Pro Tour decklists:
Silkwrap was primarily a sideboard tool at the Pro Tour, but it clearly has maindeck applications. It's especially strong against Jeskai Black, where it Removes any of their creatures. It Removes the troublesome Deathmist Raptor against G/W Aggro, and it's strong in the mirror, where it deals with Hangarback Walker very well.
Any new entry into the metagame must be able to put up some fight against Abzan Aggro or it will find itself disadvantaged against the field. While Eldrazi strategies are very capable of going over the top of Abzan Aggro, it won't always be fast enough to beat the best aggressive draws, especially not when they are backed up by Transgress the Mind. Esper Control has issues with the fastest decks in the format, Abzan Aggro included, and Duress from the sideboard backed by Den Protector presents a real problem. Abzan Aggro could be a major factor in helping to contain the growth of Esper going forward. Anafenza, the Foremost remains a real issue for graveyard strategies.
Four-Color Rally is the Combo Deck of the Format
This deck combines the best of Aristocrats-style decks with the best of Rally the Ancestors to create a flexible and powerful creature deck that is capable of beating down like an aggro deck, grinding out the opponent like a control deck, and killing the opponent quickly from nowhere like a combo deck. Rally the Ancestors is used as a recursion engine to beat removal spells through attrition or to power a combo-like endgame with Nantuko Husk and Zulaport Cutthroat. Elvish Visionary and Catacomb Sifter generate value each time they enter play, and Grim Haruspex generates value whenever a creature leaves.
Adding blue for Sidisi's Faithful is a form of creature interaction that's much more reliable than Fleshbag Marauder, and it's quite a good blocker. It can also help generate value by returning another creature to hand, especially useful when Rally the Ancestors would otherwise exile said creature. Blue also provides access to Jace, Vryn's Prodigy which, as a discard engine, is extremely useful for fueling Rally the Ancestors. Four-Color Rally is a coherent and consistent package with a proactive plan for ending the game that is capable of withstanding disruption, so it's going to remain a player in the metagame.
The Sidisi, Brood Tyrant Deck No One is Talking About
Sidisi, Brood Tyrant was once a pillar of Standard paired with Whip of Erebos, but it fell from the radar completely. It's back from the dead and into the Top 16 of Grand Prix Quebec City:
In theory, Sidisi, Brood Tyrant generates card advantage and tempo with a free 2/2 Zombie creature, and it has potential to generate more with future attacks or graveyard enablers. The issue is that the 2/2 Zombie doesn't trigger if Sidisi, Brood Tyrant is destroyed in response to its ability resolving, so it's quite often a four-mana dud. Last season, Bile Blight and Lightning Strike made Sidisi, Brood Tyrant more of a liability than anything else, but this season instant-speed removal is much less capable of efficiently dealing with the legend, and that makes it a much better threat than before.
Jace, Vryn's Prodigy makes playing blue with black/green a more attractive proposition than it was the last time Sidisi, Brood Tyrant was competitive. It's a great discard engine in a graveyard strategy, especially with Deathmist Raptor. Gather the Pack is a graveyard enabler that helps flip the planeswalker, and it's also a great proactive target to recast with the -3 ability.
Without the payoff of Whip of Erebos, this deck is less reliant on its graveyard for generating value, but it does leverage its graveyard to fuel four Murderous Cut. It's the most powerful and versatile removal spell in Standard, but it requires delving to be the most efficient, and this deck has plenty of ways to fill the graveyard. Murderous Cut is critical to kill creatures like Anafenza, the Foremost, which shuts down Sidisi, Brood Tyrant, and Mantis Rider, which this deck can't reliably block. It also clears the way for Sidisi, Brood Tyrant to attack and generate more Zombie Tokens.
Some archetypes are beginning to rise from the Standard pack, but new archetypes are nipping at their heels. Will Jeskai Black continue to dominate the metagame, or will the new breed of Eldrazi decks overpower them? Will Esper rise to control the metagame, or will aggressive decks keep them in check? Perhaps this weekend's Grand Prix Indianapolis will begin to answer these questions.