With the results in from the Pro Tour, we now have a clearer picture than ever before of what Standard looks like. Interestingly and quite pleasingly, the format isn't as clearly defined as you'd generally expect by now. In the past, the Pro Tour that closely followed a set's new release would lay out a clear roadmap for the format, with the best version of the best deck often strongly established.
This time, however, it's not so – even amongst the decks that put up the best results this weekend, there is little internal consistency. On top of that, Standard is composed of so many different viable archetypes, I think it will be some time yet until the hivemind finally uncovers the equilibrium we've come to expect.
Nonetheless, the Pro Tour did offer some valuable insight when it comes to Standard's expected movers and shakers. Given the composition of the Top 8 – with six Boros Aggro decks (again, with much internal inconsistency) – the biggest pitfall to avoid is thinking the format is totally dominated by these red-white decks. You could be forgiven for thinking so, as six Top 8 decks isn't to be sneezed at, but if you take a wider view of things, a different story emerges.
Golgari was still the most represented deck amongst players with a positive winning record, indicating it is still a force to be reckoned with. Jeskai was a strong contender all weekend, with many 8-2 players being let down by a weaker Limited result. Additionally, Izzet Drakes firmly established itself as a major player in Standard, demonstrating an incredible capacity for explosive burst damage.
With that in mind, and as this new Standard format continues to take shape, it's time to react appropriately. Reactive decks struggle in the opening weeks of a new format as it's difficult to properly predict which answers are the right ones to include, but now we have a good idea of what to expect and can build a disruption suite accordingly. Let's get stuck into the best answers to be playing in Standard right now.
Deafening Clarion and Fiery Cannonade
In the Top 8 matches, we saw Wilson Mok power through several games against Boros Aggro thanks to the power of Deafening Clarion. A key skill for any control mage is to be able to draw a sweeper when you need it, and Mok was a stone-cold master at it – time and time again, he saved his skin with a timely deployment of this powerful sweeper. On top of that, gaining a bunch of life with its secret lifelink mode plus a Crackling Drake is a great way to get ahead and stay ahead.
Conversely, Yuuya Watanabe on Izzet Drakes played zero copies of Fiery Cannonade, a concession brought about thanks to his reliance on Goblin Electromancer. I talked to Tay Jun Hao prior to his quarterfinal with Watanabe, and he remarked that he considered the matchup to be overwhelmingly favorable for him as a result. Tay explained that not having to live in fear of a sweeper post-board meant he could play his normal game, deploying plenty of creatures without fear of Repercussions for overcommitting.
These two vignettes from the Top 8 go a long way in demonstrating the need for access to cheap sweepers. Both Deafening Clarion and Fiery Cannonade do a lot of work at a very efficient price, and their efficacy is not limited to white-based aggression. Even against Golgari, they can clean up all the small value creatures with which the board is invariably flooded – it's only really Carnage Tyrant that survives plays like this.
Don't skimp on sweepers. Standard is board-focused, with many premier strategies committing heavily to the battlefield. Put yourself in the best position to punish these approaches with cheap and easy X-for-ones - Deafening Clarion and Fiery Cannonade are your best bets.
Moment of Craving and Golden Demise
Unfortunately, however, neither of those sweepers deal with one of the most important cards in Standard – Adanto Vanguard. Adanto Vanguard is the archetypical aggressive threat that white-based aggro decks hope to ride to victory, and its ability is a difficult one to properly contest with orthodox removal. Thanks to threat of Indestructibility, we must look farther afield for effective answers.
Shota Yasooka, a truly spectacular mastermind of control decks, was not mucking around when it came to beating Adanto Vanguard. He played a full four copies of Moment of Craving in the main deck and had three copies of Golden Demise split across the main and the sideboard.
You must answer Adanto Vanguard, and Moment of Craving and Golden Demise are the perfect candidates to do so. Killing the Vanguard even through a Benalish Marshal, these cards also contest white-based aggro in other important ways. Gaining two life with Moment of Craving is significant against a deck with very few ways to burn you out from range, and of course Golden Demise also cleans up more or less every other cheap creature in these decks.
It gets better, however. -2/-2 is a surprisingly relevant set of numbers. We know these cards will be good against Boros, but let's consider the range of commonly-played non-white creatures that die to Moment or Demise.
So on top of killing white one- and two-drops, these cards have huge game against much of the rest of the format, unable only to tackle the big fliers like the Drakes or Lyra Dawnbringer. This is the perfect example of a next-level adjustment to your deck's composition – you're ready for the expected developments of the coming weeks, while not hemorrhaging percentage points against the rest of the field. If you're playing black, play these cards.
Seal Away and Baffling End
In a similar vein, exile effects are one of the best ways to deal with Adanto Vanguard – and with Seal Away and Baffling End being priced to move, you can look to break even or perhaps trade up on mana investments with these robust, powerful answers.
Seal Away isn't new technology but has fallen out of favor recently as Jeskai Control mages look to leverage the power of Crackling Drake, resulting in a minimization of non-instant, non-sorcery answers. I don't like this. I still think Seal Away is one of the best cards in Teferi-based control not just due to its role as a terrific answer to early aggression, but also how it enables you to slam a Teferi on five and then properly defend it after untapping two lands.
While Baffling End isn't quite as synergistic with Teferi, Hero of Dominaria, it still has an important role to play in contesting low-to-the-ground aggressive decks. Removing Adanto Vanguard and Benalish Marshal is critical, and even if these white decks manage to remove the Baffling End, they don't get their creature back. A 3/3 token is much easier to deal with than a walking, talking Crusade effects.
Outside of white Baffling End gets even better. Against Mono-Red, this card is essentially a Terminate. Standard's red mages, bereft as they are of Chaos Warp, simply cannot remove Baffling End. When you consider that Mono-Red was one of the most unsung successful decks at the Pro Tour – with 11 pilots going 7-3 or better – it's clear that Baffling End is in a great position to do work. Similarly, Izzet Drakes lacks any real answer to Baffling End, so it can pull some weight there by dealing with Goblin Electromancer and Enigma Drake (although it falls short of removing Arclight Phoenix and Crackling Drake, which is definitely a downside).
Let's talk about the Elephant in the room. Venerated Loxodon had a pretty good weekend, winning a Pro Tour and demonstrating its power as a bridge towards the mid-to-lategame in white-based aggro. It, along with both Crackling and Enigma Drake, have four toughness – a key number in a field that contains everything from Adanto Vanguard to Deafening Clarion. Four is the magic number when it comes to toughness – there are a huge number of three-power attackers (Benalish Marshal, Goblin Chainwhirler, Adanto Vanguard, etc.), and blocking them with impunity is a big deal.
As a result, a way to clear out four-toughness blockers is a welcome addition to any deck looking to get aggressive. Lava Coil is the card for the job. It kills just about every relevant threat in Standard outside of Lyra Dawnbringer and Carnage Tyrant, and the exile clause is very relevant when people are looking to recur Arclight Phoenixes. More than anything else, however, being able to remove four-toughness creatures is incredibly important, and a clean, two-mana answer like Lava Coil is a great choice.
Settle the Wreckage
The story goes that team ChannelFireball didn't even want to play Settle the Wreckage in their Boros Aggro list but sought to Bamboozle anyone out there scouting by having a single copy across their entire team. LSV bit the bullet, played a singleton Settle in the board, and gave us one of the most iconic moments in the history of the Pro Tour – the "Sale of the Century".
Based on Team CFB's estimation, you'd think Settle the Wreckage is a card you should avoid playing and were you playing in the Pro Tour last weekend, doubtless you'd be correct. Today, however, it's a different story. A horde of eager, entry-level players will swarm to buy and build the relatively cheap deck that won the Pro Tour, and you're now in a unique position to advance their careers as Magic players by dispensing swift and devastating lessons such as What Happens When You Don't Play Around Instant-Speed Cards.
Depending upon the level at which you usually play, Settle the Wreckage will be fine, good or even great. The simple fact of the matter is that inexperienced players will not play around Settle in the way one should, and these players will flock to a relatively cheap, PT-winning decklist that eats it to Settle. Consequently, Settle's stock rises significantly.
Even if you're playing against more experienced players, Settle doesn't lose much value against a wider field. We've already discussed the reasons to play sweepers and Settle ticks all the same boxes that Deafening Clarion does – with added bonus. It removes Drakes and Adanto Vanguards and is still perhaps the best answer to Carnage Tyrant.
Why is it not being played? Principally, Jeskai decks are committing more heavily to red and therefore shying away from the double-white Settle. In truth, however, the mana can support Settle in Jeskai, and I think it should be higher on the list of answers you look to play. Good players can and will play around it, but you'll still get your value and the surge of popularity that Boros Aggro will experience in the coming weeks will make the card a better than it was last week.
Adjusting your deck to the expected field is a critical component of success in competitive Magic. Digesting the results of major events like the Pro Tour and making educated and informed decisions about how things should shape up will put you at a significant advantage in the time immediately afterwards - and now that the format is more defined than ever (but again, not completely - yet!), building a suite of the optimal reactive cards is a much more achievable task.
Whatever strategy you're looking to play, some of the cards in this article are likely to be very relevant to your battle plan. Aggressive players can include copies of Baffling End and Lava Coil; defensive players can look to play a more effective contingent of sweepers with Fiery Cannonade or Settle the Wreckage. Stay one step ahead of what your opponent is doing – be the scissors to their paper – and you'll win more games.