By the time you're reading this, Pro Tour Hour of Devastation will already be underway and you'll have access to the data about the exact numbers of the metagame. So the rankings may get adjusted a bit, but the main point of the article is to walk you through the ins and outs of all the top decks in Standard. So if you're looking to gain a deeper understanding of the key decks in the format and how they work, that's the topic at hand today. I've played against every deck in this article multiple times in my Pro Tour testing and have learned a lot from it. So today I'm sharing with you what I've learned about each deck, including how each strategy operates as well as what works and what doesn't work against them.
In order from top to bottom, here are what I take to be the best decks in Standard.
- Mono-Red Aggro
- White-Blue Monument
- Red-Green Eldrazi Ramp
- Temur/x Energy Ramp
- Mardu Vehicles
- Blue-Red/x Control
- Red-Green Pummeler
- Blue-Red Prowess
- Black-Green Constrictor
I have to give a shout-out to the most creative deck in the format. This deck took me by surprise when I first played against it on Magic Online last week. It crushed me and impressed me quite a bit. I since played against it a few more times and things got a bit easier once I knew what's happening but it's still a very formidable strategy.
The goal of the deck is to get God-Pharaoh's Gift onto the board and start pumping out monsters from the graveyard. It can do this in three different ways. The first is to get six creatures into the graveyard and activate Gate to the Afterlife. The second is to get God-Pharaoh's Gift into the graveyard and target it with Refurbish. The third is to hard-cast the card for seven mana. The deck is a lot more consistent than I would have imagined if looking at it for the first time on paper without seeing it in action.
Cataclysmic Gearhulk and Angel of Invention buy the deck a lot of time while Champion of Wits and Minister of Inquiries fill up the graveyard quickly for Gate to the Afterlife. Gate also helps fuel itself by looting every time a creature dies. And the creatures in the deck are all highly expendable, so there is lots of chump blocking and trading in combat at every opportunity. Mausoleum Wanderer also gives the deck a small amount of interaction with disruptive spells. I've seen some versions run Wharf Infiltrator over Strategic Planning and I like this change since the deck requires a critical mass of creatures for Gate to the Afterlife, especially when self-milling off Minister of Inquiries to set it up. Negate and Abrade are not cards I want to face with this deck, but it packs four copies of Dispel in the sideboard, likely for those cards. A lot of people will write this deck off as a joke, but I would not be at all surprised if it Top 8s the Pro Tour or wins a Grand Prix in the coming months. I can't speak for its positioning in the metagame since I haven't run it through the gauntlet yet, but the deck is internally consistent and definitely a real deck.
This deck looks like it suffers from the same problem most decks suffer from though, namely getting hit by fast red creatures. Blocking is not an effective plan against that deck, but unfortunately beyond the four copies of Fatal Push and the two copies of Grasp of Darkness, the only game play the deck is capable of is to block. You can potentially buy yourself some time with Walking Ballista too, but really I expect Aethersphere Harvester and maybe Kallitas, Traitor of Ghet to have to move into the main deck in order to give the deck a better shot at beating the mono-red menace.
The Cryptbreaker is unlikely to even live long enough to make that part of the game plan relevant, though. Against decks that try to play a slower game, I like Zombies. Their removal spells are cheap and efficient and can gain card advantage through Dark Salvation. Maybe a version running four Fatal Pushes and four Grasps of Darkness can compete against the Ahn-Crop Crashers and Earthshaker Khenras of the world? Maybe main deck Kalitas, Tratior of Ghet is the answer? I'm not sure, but if someone more committed to Swamps sets their mind to it, I don't doubt that the red matchup can be solved.
Mardu Vehicles was the top dog six months ago, but not anymore. It has trouble handling decks that go underneath it, which is not a great place to be given the rise of Mono-Red. It's still a powerful strategy though and it has the tools to adapt, at least somewhat. Its aggressive draws can hit very hard, curving out with Toolcraft Exemplar into Heart of Kiran or Scrapheap Scrounger and following it up with removal spells such as Fatal Push or Unlicensed Disintegration. It also has reach with Gideon, Ally of Zendikar and Archangel Avacyn. It's hard to sideboard against this deck because you never know whether they'll leave in their artifact-heavy aggro plan or side out all their artifacts and aggressive cards in favor of a controlling package that wins with planeswalkers. In addition to red being a tough matchup, the printing of Abrade also hurt this deck since it kills Heart of Kiran or Toolcraft Exemplar. If the red matchup can get solved, I can see this deck once again taking center stage. Otherwise I see it getting outclassed by the decks listed above it.
Hour of Promise and the new colored Desert lands are what really allowed this deck to come together. The Deserts (Hashep Oasis and Ramunap Ruins) allow the deck to play as a ramp deck that can also support the colorless Eldrazi creatures such as Thought-Knot Seer, Matter Reshaper, and Reality Smasher. Hour of Promise is basically the new Aetherworks Marvel in that it finds two copies of Shrine of the Forsaken Gods to enable Ulamog, the Ceaseless Hunger to be cast the following turn. The downside is that Ulamog doesn't come down until the following turn, but the upside is that you're not spinning a wheel that often lands on Woodweaver's Puzzleknot instead of Ulamog. The other upside is that Hour of Promise is legal in Standard whereas Aetherworks Marvel is not. The deck also gained Hour of Devastation to compliment Sweltering Suns and Kozilek's Return as its sweepers. It also gained Abrade as an efficient removal spell that can hit cards like Oketra's Monument and Heart of Kiran. Not many people are expecting to face this deck, so I think it is poised to take some unsuspecting players by surprise. It is actually a very good deck. Fighting through counters can be a challenge, though.
Dusk // Dawn is the sweeper spell of choice for this deck because it doesn't kill any of their own creatures and it stops all the creatures that would be problematic for the deck since the amount of flying and token production dominates any small creature games. Generally the two ways to combat this strategy are to either (1) take them off monument via Abrade, Fragmentize, Manglehorn, Dissenter's Deliverance, or Negate, or (2) go underneath them, forcing them to block with their creatures prematurely since they really don't function without having a critical mass of creatures on board – usually the number four for Hanweir Militia Captain to transform. By Force is especially potent against them since it can efficiently kill their Monument along with all their clues in one swoop.
ten 11 decks don't comprise the entire metagame, but they do comprise most of it. The rankings might not be exact as there is always some amount of speculation and unpredictability in the metagame, especially for a Pro Tour, but I think it paints a pretty accurate picture of the metagame going into the Pro Tour and should give you a healthy amount of insight into what each strategy is doing and what its strengths and weaknesses are. I could potentially see some fringe strategies such as White-Black Tokens, Blue-Red Emerge, or one of the non-Zombie tribal strategies (Cats, Humans, etc.) potentially carving out a spot in the metagame – or maybe someone will come up with something inventive and unforeseen. And depending on how I do at the Pro Tour, who knows, perhaps Mono-White will rise above them all!
- Craig Wescoe