The Standard landscape is changing. The format continues to evolve, and only now is dust from the Born of the Gods release starting to settle. A new set being introduced to Standard is always a tumultuous event, and the entire format feels the impact. Born of the Gods was no exception.
With Born of the Gods, top-dog Monoblack Devotion received some exciting new tools that helped tighten its grip in the immediate days following the release, notably Bile Blight and Drown in Sorrow. Similarly, Azorius Control and its Sphinx's Revelation were strengthened by receiving its guild scry land, Temple of Enlightenment. Lacking any new tools from Born of the Gods, the stagnant Monoblue Devotion deck started to fall by the wayside with the rise of those two removal-heavy decks.
One of the biggest winners from Born of the Gods was green, which saw a resurgence on the back of Courser of Kruphix. Gruul Midrange became one of the hottest decks in Standard. As time went on, the metagame has continued to develop, and I believe the results of events this week represent a more evolved and stable point in the post-Born of the Gods metagame.
This past weekend was Standard Grand Prix Buenos Aires. I always look towards Grand Prix as a barometer of a metagame because they occur regularly throughout the year, and they typically have the largest turnouts of any tournaments. They also come with a very sizable prize purse, and they represent the highest level of competition for most players. They draw out serious competitors with serious decks, and the results should not be taken lightly.
The winning deck in Buenos Aires represents the hottest new deck in Standard, Jund Midrange:
This is the next evolution of Gruul Midrange, and it dips into black for access to a variety of powerful cards. This splash is made possible by the excellent mana in Standard, in this case the black shocklands Overgrown Tomb and Blood Crypt. Another option is the new Temple of Malice, though this list eschews that.
The black splash turns the deck into a Jund Midrange deck that can control the relatively slow aggressive decks of the format while operating as an aggressive, disruptive rock deck against the more controlling opponents. The Born of the Gods tool Courser of Kruphix is integral to this strategy, where it fills a gap in the curve as a resilient defensive creature that can generate card advantage. It also provides life-gain value to help offset the shocklands. The synergies with Domri Rade are also apparent, and it has brought that planeswalker back to the forefront.
One of the biggest draws to black is targeted removal, which the deck direly needs to stay competitive against a format full of powerful creatures. Monlevade turned towards Dreadbore, the perfect solution for this format. Dreadbore answers problem creatures like Desecration Demon and opposing Polukranos, World Eater, but it also serves as an answer to planeswalkers like Jace, Architect of Thought and Elspeth, Sun's Champion against the Azorius Control deck.
A singleton Vraska the Unseen is another example of how splashing can increase the power of a deck. Much like the Dreadbore splash, Vraska the Unseen is a great splash because it offers utility against all opponents, both aggro and control. Another splash is Reaper of the Wilds, which gives the deck a better four-drop than staying strictly Gruul would provide.
Sideboards get better the more colors a deck has access to; this is doubly true in this current Standard because Return to Ravnica block so heavily features gold cards. Moving from Gruul to Jund gives Midrange a greatly improved sideboard arsenal. Monlevade's sideboard contains seven black gold cards and two Ultimate Price, meaning over half the sideboard utilizes black. This is a testament to how powerful black is in Standard, how much it adds to the Gruul Midrange deck, and why Monlevade went through so much trouble to play black in the first place.
Golgari Charm is one of the most versatile cards in Standard and one great reason to play black. Golgari Charm shines against the top decks in the format, where it has a variety of uses. In each matchup it fills some particular but very important roles:
Against Monoblack Devotion, Golgari Charm is effective removal for the all-important Underworld Connections. It can also counter targeted removal like Hero's Downfall and Ultimate Price. Golgari Charm can even kill a 1/1 Pack Rat;
Against Monoblue Devotion, Golgari Charm kills Bident of Thassa while also serving as a clean, non-red answer to Master of Waves and all of the Elemental Tokens. It also destroys Judge's Familiar and 0/1 Cloudfin Raptor;
Against Azorius Control, Golgari Charm functions something like a hard-counter against Supreme Verdict while also removing Detention Sphere.
Rakdos's Return was one of the premier spells in Standard before Theros, where it served the Farseek-powered Jund Control deck as a backbreaking haymaker against other control decks while also doubling as a game-winning burn spell. It was also an effective solution for planeswalkers.
The current Jund Midrange, powered by Sylvan Caryatid and Elvish Mystic, is fully equipped to take advantage of Rakdos's Return. It is best in the sideboard where the trap waits to be sprung against the most vulnerable opponents. Rakdos's Return gives the deck an incredible tool against Azorius Control, which appears today much as it did in the pre-Theros format. It is also useful against Monoblack Devotion, maybe the mirror, and for any other game that will ultimately come down to attrition.
Sire of Insanity is excellent for this sideboard because it is a sizable 6/4 creature that fits the Midrange plan while also serving as a hateful sideboard card against control decks. Hateful sideboard creatures that offer utility in a matchup, along with a body, have been proven time and time again, and Sire of Insanity fits the bill. A copy of Ruric Thar, the Unbowed offers a similar effect but avoids the legend rule.
Access to the tri-color manabases made possible by shocklands is not new this season, but only now is it necessary or feasible. In the immediate wake of PT Theros, Standard was a more diverse place, but a faster, more aggressive place. The aggressive Monoblue Devotion was heavily played, Standard was filled with various aggressive red decks, aggressive green decks including Monogreen and GW, and at one point there was a wave of aggressive white weenie decks. Decks like Junk Midrange, which were hyped after the Theros release and saw modest success online and in the paper circuit, were nearly wiped out after the Pro Tour. These decks were simply not fast enough and not good enough at the many things they were doing. The format was too diverse, and these decks could not beat both polar ends of the format, fast aggro and Azorius Control, at the same time.
Standard has come a long way since the release of Theros, and now the conditions for a deck like Jund Midrange are right. The rise of Monoblue in the wake of the Pro Tour started to eliminate the aggressive red decks in the format, which was the hardest deck for 8 shockland.dec to beat. Born of the Gods did not do anything to put aggressive red or white decks in the spotlight. As such the Jund deck is free to configure itself against the big three decks and Gruul while also suffering less shockland restraints in the less-aggressive format. For the same reason I would not be surprised to see decks like Junk Midrange also see a resurgence in the metagame.
Another midrange deck that has been revived from the dead is Rakdos control. This deck, along with BRW, was thoroughly-hyped after Theros release but was one of the worst performing decks at the Pro Tour and in the weeks that followed. It suffered the same problem as Junk, as it was unable to combat both sides of the format. This new list is much more focused on the job at hand, which is combating green creature, devotion decks, and Sphinx's Revelation.
The biggest boon to this deck from Born of the Gods is Temple of Malice. Bile Blight improves the removal suite. Compared to Jund midrange, this deck has done away with the green component, which slows it down considerably, in exchange for a robust removal package and a strong manabase with four Mutavaults. It is a control deck that seeks to disrupt everything the opponent does and win through attrition. In this sense it shares similarities to Monoblack Devotion, but it lacks the synergies Monoblack Devotion brings to the table.
Monoblue Devotion seems to be back in force. Three copies made the Top 8 in Buenos Aires.
The deck is the same as always: slick, streamlined, and effective. I reckon that some of the resurgence is in response to Gruul Midrange, which struggles against blue tempo-generating cards like Tideminder Mage, Rapid Hybridization, and Cyclonic Rift. Where Gruul gained in popularity after Born of the Gods, Monoblue Devotion has followed. Monoblue is also strong against the tide of BW decks that eschew Grey Merchant of Asphodel for Blood Baron of Vizkopa, which is rather anemic against Monoblue. While Monoblue was underplayed for nearly two months, in reality the deck is probably just as good now as it has always been and I expect it to be reasonably popular going forward.
Paulo Vitor Damo da Rosa reached the Top 4 piloting Esper Control:
Most exciting about this list is the 12 Scry lands, something I have been advocating to my friends for a while. Given how slow the metagame has become, this decision seems like a no-brainer. Decks with twelve come-into-play-tapped lands have been excellent in Standard before, and scry lands are even better than Vivid lands. Three sets of scry lands gives the deck a rock-solid base from which to operate. As a Monoblack player with eight discard spells post-sideboard I would expect to have some trouble against an Esper player with so much card selection, and scrying is quite powerful in drawn-out, blue control mirrors.
Paulo played two Doom Blade, which shows how heavily he expected Monoblue Devotion and Gruul Midrange to be represented. Doom Blade is one of the best possible cards against these two decks. It is quite weak against Monoblack Devotion, but it does provide an effective answer to the otherwise troublesome Mutavault.
Maindeck Revoke Existence also shows the sort of metagame Paulo was preparing for. Monoblue has proven to be quite popular in South America in the past, and Revoke Existence answers both Thassa, God of the Sea and Bident of Thassa in addition to removing the usual Underworld Connections and Detention Sphere. This decision seems excellent going forward assuming Monoblue maintains a reasonable level of popularity.
Esper seems very well positioned in a metagame that is lacking predatory red aggressive decks and with prey Monoblue Devotion on the rise. There were two more copies of Esper in the Top 16, with just one Azorius Control deck present. Esper offers more power and a wider card access than UW, and it seems like the ideal control deck in a slow metagame. Esper typically struggles to achieve anything greater than a 50% win rate against Monoblack Devotion, but well played and properly built it is one of the best decks in the format.
Monoblack Devotion is still as strong as ever, and it put two players into the Top 8. Bile Blight has become a Standard in the maindeck; these players each ran three. Ultimate Price is back in the maindeck to combat Gruul Midrange and Master of Waves.
One player reached the Top 8 with a typical build:
He added one Doom Blade to the maindeck, which I do not support in a Monoblack-heavy metagame, but it is the best removal spell against the non-black aggressive decks. This player uses one Notion Thief in the sideboard to defeat Sphinx's Revelation, and the usual set of Temple of Deceit will ensure access to blue mana over a long game against control.
Another player decided on a more serious splash, and he used a playset of Blood Crypt along with a set of Temple of Malice as his scry land to splash some powerful sideboard cards.
The first splash is Slaughter Games. This gives Monoblack Devotion a proactive answer to its most problematic card, Sphinx's Revelation. Without access to its powerful card drawing spell, blue control decks will be left helpless against the attrition strategy of Monoblack Devotion.
The second splash is Mizzium Mortars. This puzzled me at first, especially considering the deck has no plans to Overload it, but I realized that Mizzium Mortars is a clean answer to Blood Baron of Vizkopa. I view this splash as extreme, but it shows just how flexible Monoblack Devotion can be with its sideboard.
Eight sources of red is plenty for a long game that is expected to go to turn seven and beyond. This painful manabase would seem suicidal in an aggressive metagame, but against a slow metagame with lots of mirror matches and control decks this splash offers a lot of power.
I would also like to share Boros Burn, which put two copies into the Top 16:
This deck is as straightforward as they come. Every nonland card in this deck can damage the opponent, sans the two Chained to the Rocks. This deck looks to get in as much damage as possible while leveraging Chandra's Phoenix as a source of card advantage against the control decks, Monoblack Devotion and Azorius; Skullcrack is a critical tool to stop the large lifegain spells of the control decks, which play Grey Merchant of Asphodel and Sphinx's Revelation. Most of the burn spells double as removal, which gives it a lot of play against creature decks but can lead to some difficult decisions. Proper planning and calculating race math is critical for piloting a deck like this. I see this red burn deck supplanting red aggro as the red deck of choice, where it will pressure slow decks with greedy manabases, such as Jund Midrange.
The final deck I would like to share also made the Top 16. It is one of the most unique decks I have seen since the oppressive Devotion decks took choke-hold of the format.
This deck offers some hope for rogue strategies, and it is further evidence that Standard is evolving.