The previous Standard format was static. A year ago, Standard was locked into a battle between various monocolored devotion decks, Azorius-based Control decks, a smattering of Burn, and all sorts of aggressive decks a tier below the top. Months later, in the weeks before Khans was released and Standard rotated, Standard still looked very much the same. Three new expansions and the force of time were not enough to significantly change the metagame in a meaningful way.
The powerful devotion mechanic simply didn't lend itself to much flexibility; these proactive, synergistic strategies all but required the inclusion of many staple cards and largely built themselves. Azorius control leveraged the most individually powerful, impactful cards in the format: Supreme Verdict and Sphinx's Revelation. Combining these cards with some planeswalkers, the deck simply overpowered the competition. These few dominant strategies were too powerful and pushed fair decks to the fringe, and their presence stifled the ability for innovation. Decks like Rakdos Aggro, Boss Sligh, and Rabble Red had their weekends in the sun, but they didn't spur broad metagame shifts.
Today, Khans Standard is dynamic like we couldn't imagine a year ago. There are some clear top archetypes, but there is a ton of diversity within them. Competitive new decks are appearing every weekend, all over the globe. Seemingly anything is possible.
The diversity of Standard and its vast, unexplored potential is primarily driven by the format's multitude of powerful multi-colored lands, including the fetchlands, scrylands, tri-lands, and even the common gainlands. All of these lands come together to create one of the most powerful mana cores Standard has ever seen. Another major factor in the diversity is the high density and sheer volume of quality, tournament playable cards available to deckbuilders. These two factors combine to create an environment where there are a huge amount of potential deck combinations available.
Consider that any three-color Khans wedge has access to a roughly 60% of the cards available in the format. These cards available are of extremely high quality, in part because the apparent mana restrictions inherent to gold cards allow them to push the limits of individual card power level. Any given wedge gets access to a great number of potential cards to incorporate into the maindeck or sideboard. The rich cardpool is full of tools that lend themselves to varied strategies, which is why the wedge decks can play all along the spectrum from aggressive to controlling.
In this Standard metagame there is a ton of flexibility afforded to deckbuilders, and each weekend successful decklists are incorporating new cards or charting their own course against the mainstream. Today I'll take a look at ten decklists that are shifting the Standard landscape:Mardu Aggro
Mardu Midrange has been one of the strongest performing decks in Standard over the past few months, with results including a victory at the 2014 TCGplayer MaxPoint $50,000 Championship. The archetype has spawned variants including this aggressive take that incorporates a set of Monastery Swiftspear:
This deck took down the TCGplayer Diamond Open 5k in Richmond, Kentucky, proving that it's a real competitor in Standard. Monastery Swiftspear is extremely aggressive, and it allows this Mardu deck to get in under the more expensive spells played by midrange decks and begin pressuring the opponent as early as turn one. Monastery Swiftspear is enabled by 18 maindeck spells and, combined with the removal suite, allows the deck to play a tempo game like Delver of Secrets decks do in eternal formats.
After sideboarding it's impossible to peg this deck on a strategy, because it has access to a variety of control cards and can change gameplans at will. End Hostilities and Anger of the Gods serve as board sweepers. Elspeth, Sun's Champion and Sarkhan, the Dragonspeaker serve as a powerful top-end for taking over the game. Utter End serves as a versatile and powerful removal spell. Read the Bones is an important piece of the puzzle, providing the card advantage necessary to play an attrition-oriented control strategy. Chandra, Pyromaster is board control that also fills the card advantage role and is capable of running away with a game.
By switching to a control strategy against decks where the aggressive maindeck plan is not effective, Mardu can leverage the powerful cards available to the colors to better position itself for the fight. This sideboard plan can potentially catch an opponent completely off-guard or make sideboarding difficult.
Mardu Aggro has what it takes to succeed, and it's a great option for attacking slow midrange metagames. There are a lot of options available to the strategy, for example, other takes on aggressive Mardu decks have incorporated the resilient Bloodsoaked Champion to exhaust opposing removal. Mardu Aggro has all of the tools it needs to keep pace with the metagame, and it will continue to thrive.
Whip of Erebos is among the most powerful cards in the format. The reanimation aspect generates massive value from the graveyard as a proactive strategy and as a way to exhaust removal spells from midrange and control decks, while the lifelink ability on Whip of Erebos ensures that aggressive decks can't effectively race against it. Whip of Erebos has primarily been seen in Green/Black Constellation decks and Sultai decks using Sidisi, Brood Tyrant, but Abzan provides many juicy options, like Siege Rhino and Ashen Rider.
This deck also incorporates See the Unwritten as an additional way to leverage the reanimation creatures. It also potentially generates card advantage and a huge tempo swing when the Ferocious trigger finds a second creature.
It's cool that this deck sideboards Fleecemane Lion, an example of a midrange deck transforming into a more aggressive deck capable of applying early pressure.Azorius Control
Tyler Winn has been grinding for as long as I can remember. He has Pro Tour experience, and he won an SCG Standard Open last season. He made it to the Top 16 of the Diamond Open in Richmond, KY with an Azorius brew:
This deck is straightforward and simple, and it employs a classic control strategy with all of the necessary elements; sweepers, pinpoint removal, Counterspells, and card advantage. As an alternative to the massive one-shot lifegain of Sphinx's Revelation, sets of Tranquil Cove and Radiant Fountain provide a slow stream of lifegain throughout the game. Resolute Archangel serves as a one-shot lifegain alternative that doubles as a win condition.
Control strategies have already found considerable success this season, and as the Standard metagame continues to develop into predictable patterns, control strategies will only grow more effective. This isn't the sort of decklist to copy verbatim and play next weekend, but with some testing, experience, and especially careful tuning, the archetype can be a contender in any metagame.Monoblack Aggro
Aggressive monoblack decks were a big player in Theros block constructed, and early results revealed them to be a player in Khans Standard, but the archetype soon waned before ever gaining a real foothold. Hope remains:
Boon of Erebos is the black answer to Gods Willing, a key card for aggressive white strategies in this metagame as a pseudo-counterspell against targeted removal. Boon of Erebos has the upside of also serving as a pump spell for winning combat, and is particularly great for slaying Sylvan Caryatid, Courser of Kruphix, and even Siege Rhino, though it's weak against Abzan Charm.
I particularly like the pair of Whip of Erebos in the sideboard. I'd recommend cutting the Master of the Feast for the fourth Herald of Torment.
UR Ensoul Artifact
The most interesting deck to come out of the MaxPoint Diamond 5k may be this Ensoul Artifact Aggro deck:
This deck is an advancement over previous builds I have seen because it hybridizes the Ensoul Artifact strategy with an aggressive, red core. Ensoul Artifact lends itself to an aggressive strategy and especially towards creatures that can wield a Ghostfire Blade. There are no better aggressive creatures than Goblin Rabblemaster and Monastery Swiftspear, and they come with great burn spells in Stoke the Flames and Lightning Strike. Red also provides a big reward for playing artifacts with Shrapnel Blast as a wonderful finisher.
The MaxPoint Diamond Open 5k in Richmond, Kentucky was a great tournament for those involved and provided some great Standard decklists to the community, but in another Richmond, in Virginia, the SCG circuit rolled to town and provided its own competition. It too revealed a diverse Standard format full of innovation, so I'll share the decks that stand out.Jeskai Prowess Combo
Jeskai Ascendancy Heroic combo won an SCG Open a few weeks ago and caught the attention of practically every Standard writer on the internet. It also caught the attention of brewers, and last weekend a different variation on the archetype took the spotlight.
This deck forgoes the heroic creatures and enabler spell suite and instead focuses on more traditional, aggressive Jeskai creatures paired with burn spells. Goblin Rabblemaster and the prowess creatures fill the creature role, and the usual burn spells like Stoke the Flames and Lightning Strike are used as removal, win conditions, and prowess triggers.
The deck intends to abuse Jeskai Ascendancy in two ways: one, it plays two sets of token makers in Raise the Alarm and Hordeling Outburst, which create an army that will grow out of control with the enchantment. A set of Jeskai Charm creates redundancy because it can be used to pump the tokens and swarm the opponent out of the game. Jeskai Ascendancy also enables the combo loop with Retraction Helix and Springleaf Drum, which gives this deck an excellent back up plan.
Including the combo does make this Jeskai deck less consistent than a straight tempo version, but it also adds a ton of power. Retraction Helix isn't a terrible card on its own, so the real cost is Springleaf Drum, but even that card isn't too bad in a deck with so many token creatures available. This deck can also sideboard into a more traditional Jeskai strategy, note the set of sideboarded Mantis Rider. I like what this deck has going for it, and it's a deck that we might be seeing a lot more of in coming weeks.Esper Control
The biggest strength of Tyler Winn's UW Control deck as an alternative to UB control is that it can play the powerful End Hostilities and Elspeth, Sun's Champion. Shaheen Soorani chooses not to go without anything, as showcased in his Esper control deck that pairs the best white cards with the UB control core:
This deck trades some mana consistency for a lot more power!Wingmate Roc in Jeskai Tempo
Kevin Jones won the first SCG Open featuring Khans Standard with his Jeskai Tempo deck, and he recently won the 2014 Legacy Championships sponsored by WoTC. He is a player to watch, and his Jeskai brew is cutting edge:
The innovation here is Wingmate Roc. The archetype typically plays Stormbreath Dragon or Sarkhan, the Dragonspeaker in the five-drop slot, but Wingmate Roc is a great fit into the strategy. It generates card advantage and builds board presence with the raid trigger. Tokens from Hordeling Outburst are a great way to ensure the raid trigger is met.
This is the version of Jeskai Tempo that I'd recommend moving forward.Abzan Hyper-Aggro
Much like Mardu, Abzan has repositioned itself as a more aggressive deck. This Abzan Aggro decklist pushes its aggression much harder than typical Abzan Aggro by including playsets of Bloodsoaked Champion and Soldier of the Pantheon.
This deck puts down unrelenting pressure starting on turn one. Where the old Abzan Aggro deck was nothing more than an aggressively-focused midrange deck, the list with eight one-drops is a true aggressive deck.
Gather Courage surely catches opponent's off guard, as does the singleton Become Immense. I'd be interested in experimenting with Gods Willing or Boon of Erebos in this deck to give it additional play.Brad Nelson's 4C Midrange
Is 60% of the Standard cardpool enough? It wasn't for Brad Nelson, who brought a Four Color Midrange deck to the party last weekend at SCG Richmond, where he cruised to the top 8 on the back of a 7-0 start.
This deck takes the best cards from Brad's old Mardu Midrange deck and combines them with the best cards of the Abzan Midrange deck. Green provides a core of mana creatures in Sylvan Caryatid and Courser of Kruphix, which help support the intensive color requirements, speed up the deck, and generate card advantage. Siege Rhino is too good to pass up and a big reason to play Green in the first place.
Red provides Butcher of Horde as another overpowered four-drop creature, but it also provides most of the removal suite. Crackling Doom is the highlight, and it provides an extra source of free damage to accompany Siege Rhino's drain three. It's also great against planeswalkers and is a particularly good answer to Sorin, Solemn Visitor. Lightning Strike is a very efficient removal spell and important for controlling early creatures, but it's also a great source of reach for closing out games. Sarkhan, the Dragonspeaker is even more removal but also an excellent win condition to back up the Elspeth, Sun's Champion top-end.
Brad's deck exists because of the great mana available to him, and it's this mana core that allows the deck to operate freely. It's amazing that even with intensive mana requirements across four colors, Brad is able to support Chained to the Rocks. It wasn't easy to support even in straight Mardu, and it's a testament to Brad's deckbuilding ability and grasp over the format. Seven Mountains is a reasonable number of sources but hardly enough to play Chained to the Rocks consistently early in the game. Brad knows that his deck is built to see plenty of cards and has ample opportunity to find a Mountain eventually. Landing a Chained to the Rocks early is a huge tempo boost and a payoff worth the effort, but when it doesn't work immediately, he knows Chained to the Rocks will maintain its value later in the game.
Brad lost in round eight to the previous deck, Hyper-Aggro Abzan, a deck he surely wasn't gunning for, and he eventually fell in the quarterfinals to Shaheen Soorani's Esper control deck, another deck off his radar. Brad's deck was tuned to beat the midrange metagame he expected, and he perfected his build to dominate those strategies with a combination of higher card quality and tempo plays. There are weaknesses, like the fastest aggro decks, which is why Brad has a playset of Anger of the Gods in the sideboard. The most controlling decks could also be a problem, given that Brad doesn't have the card advantage of Abzan Charm nor the disruption of maindeck Thoughtseize. That being said, the four color mana base enables the deck to dip into a huge toolbox of options and adapt itself to fight against any metagame that it comes up against.
Brad's deck may or may not catch on as a top contender in the metagame, but at the very least he has expanded what was previously thought possible in Standard. He revealed that there is still a lot of unexplored territory to explore. I imagine that Brad's deck will be a great option going forward, and I have enjoyed playing it myself a bit online, but it will surely need to continue its evolution to keep pace with the dynamic Standard metagame.Looking Towards the Horizon
Standard is anything but stale. Each new weekend of events has not been narrowing down the metagame, but rather broadening it. Every new piece of information shows us just how little we actually know, and how much more there is to learn. This is an enchanted time to be sure, and with Standard continuing to grow in popularity and tournament support, there is no better time to be playing it.
What are your favorite decks from this week? Have you seen any innovative decks from other tournaments? What are your thoughts on where the metagame is headed? Turn to the comments! I'll also do my best to answer any questions.
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