Throne of Eldraine has arrived with a resounding bang. We've even had the first big Arena rotation with public access to all the cards before the Prerelease, with two Fandom Legends events before the set's paper release! It may seem odd to dig into metagame analysis from just four days of Eldraine as I write this on Monday, but there's a lot to dig into.
The first Fandom Legends event was on Arena release day, mere hours after the set launched on Arena. While this means that the results are based on very early builds, most of these participants were also part of the Early Access event last Tuesday and those that weren't part of the action watched plenty of it. The second Fandom event was the invite-only Caster's Cup, but don't let the name fool you—every player in the event has a stacked resume, and a full half of the event is in the MPL. These two events are going to be the vast majority of what the public will have to work from until the Sapphire split of the MPL kicks off later this week.
Before we start digging in I do want to add one caveat to the Caster's Cup results: Because many of these players are in the MPL or working with people who are, not all of these lists are what these players believe to be the strongest decks in the format. Several players will be hiding tech for the Sapphire split.
In the first Fandom event we saw a lot of the expected culprits: An updated Mono-Red Aggro, a Simic Flash, several versions of U/G/x Ramp and several Food builds. We also saw some of the less expected decks like Izzet Phoenix, black aggro decks and Esper Dance of the Manse. Over the course of the day we saw a lot of aggro falling flat and U/G/x builds showing off an impressive amount of pressure and power. The bodies of the aggressive creatures are too small to punch through for damage, and the lack of reach available in the format really hurts these decks in the face of Food, Wicked Wolf and Voracious Hydra.
Conversely, Oko, Thief of Crowns was somehow even more impressive than anticipated. Cards like The Great Henge, Feasting Troll King and even Questing Beast were just turned into 3/3s that were quickly outscaled by Hydroid Krasis and Wicked Wolf. The U/G/x decks thrived on invalidating most creatures and turning the rest into Elk, and against slower strategies Oko and Nissa, Who Shakes the World delivered an impressive combination of pressure and resilience, allowing these decks full of mana dorks to race—an option these decks don't often have.
As the day went on it was clear that nobody was prepared for the deck Bryan Gottlieb had chosen: Esper Dance. Created by Andrew Cuneo and espoused by Ondrej Strasky as the best deck in Standard at the time, Dance relies on Guild Globe, Golden Egg and Oath of Kaya as permanents that draw cards and buy you time to whittle your opponent down with Doom Foretold. The "nontoken, nonland" clause on Doom Foretold meant that players were often unable to offset the repeated sacrifice effect with Oko or Nissa, allowing Esper to quickly pull ahead, especially when Doom Foretold was combined with Kaya's Wrath. This sounds incredibly slow and would otherwise lack a win condition with the rotation of Teferi, Hero of Dominaria, but Dance of the Manse gave the deck a backdoor "combo" kill that was also just a recursive engine, allowing you to rebuy your cards sacrificed to Doom Foretold and eventually convert them all into 4/4s. Bryan went on to win the tournament over Javier Dominguez and put a full deck tech on the Arena Decklists YouTube channel.
The big takeaways from this first event were:
Fast forward a few days and we come to the Caster's Cup where the players had a bit more info and submitted the following:
By Sunday it was clear that Food was not something you had to work for, you could just play Gilded Goose, Oko, Thief of Crowns and Wicked Wolf. That was it. Black-based aggro checked a lot of the boxes for speed and resiliency, and two players went even bigger with their creature decks, electing to play Lucky Clover and Edgewall Innkeeper to get further value out of their Adventure creatures. However, the finals of this event didn't contain any of these strategies. Carlos Romao took 2nd place with Esper Dance, adapting the deck to include Liliana, Dreadhorde General as a way to offset the relatively linear nature of the deck as well as a large amount of sideboard removal for the green planeswalker decks. The now back-to-back champion was Bryan Gottlieb, this time on another deck the event was unprepared for: Bant Golos.
This deck checks all of the boxes for lessons from the first Fandom Legends event. It's capable of fully ignoring both Oko, Thief of Crowns and Doom Foretold. It plays wraths but isn't weak to them. It pays respect to the aggressive decks, playing a full playset of Arboreal Grazer and Hydroid Krasis, as well as going out of the way to include Plaza of Harmony for that extra life gain on demand. Bryan is just consistently bringing the most powerful deck of the moment to each of these events and taking advantage of the fact that it's early on and people don't know what they need to respect yet. The old adage is to play aggro week one, but that's not quite true. You should be playing the most powerful thing people aren't ready for yet. While that's often aggro, it isn't always, and Bryan correctly identified the powerful strategies that people aren't ready for yet.
For people who want to see gameplay of this deck as well, you're in luck: This one is also available on YouTube.
So we've covered the two big tournaments so far, lets dig into Throne of Eldraine Standard as it sits right now.
This deck just won the last event and as mentioned beats a lot of the current format. People will likely be able to adapt before SCG Philadelphia but one of the strengths of these Field of the Dead decks is that outside of combo kills these strategies are very context agnostic. Playing powerful cards and spamming Zombies is rarely going to be a losing strategy, and the onus is on your opponents to do something about it.
Where Golos decks are context agnostic, Oko, Thief of Crowns is the format's context. Oko is incredibly powerful and makes many games all about himself. He's also the best Food generation tool in the format, which means you can use both Gilded Goose and Wicked Wolf to great effect. Gilded Goose in particular has a lot of hidden power in its capacity to sink extra mana to generate Food for Oko and Wicked Wolf, making both of those cards much stronger on multiple angles. Casting either card early is a huge beating for your opponent, and feeding either really amps up the pressure on your opponent.
Many people underrated the Goose, but I assure you its inclusion is anything but loose. This is the deck with the most format-warping play patterns, and that's a strength that must be respected.
How the mighty have fallen. Mono-Red used to be capable of some of the fastest starts and the most hopeless endgames, but Experimental Frenzy is no longer as powerful after rotation. Red's one-drops are severely lacking, and the rotation of both Lightning Strike and Wizard's Lightning mean that the deck lost a lot of its access to high-tempo removal and efficient burn. Skewer the Critics is much worse at clearing the way and Shock is not enough when 3 toughness has become the breakpoint of the format thanks to Oko, Thief of Crowns and Bonecrusher Giant // Stomp.
Bonecrusher Giant itself is incredibly efficient, but does not play well into the Experimental Frenzy game plan. There are also Cavalcade of Calamity-based builds but I suspect these will drop off harshly as people return to cheap removal and small sweepers like Flame Sweep and Cry of the Carnarium.
Another fan-favorite, Simic Flash simply doesn't have the power. Teferi, Time Raveler didn't rotate, good mana did, and while Once Upon a Time can help find Nightpack Ambusher the deck is still incredibly underpowered in comparison to the rest of the format. Oko, Thief of Crowns and Gilded Goose haven't made it any easier, as without Dive Down you can't protect your Nightpack Ambusher from being turned into an Elk and they can simply make a ton of Food to beat your racing draws. People love this deck but it still can't line up properly against most of the format.
Wait, didn't I just talk about how this deck was in BOTH grand finals? I did, but this deck is unfortunate in its linearity. While it forces people to play decks with higher action economy (actions per turn cycle), it can't punish those decks outside of Kaya's Wrath. Adventure builds are rising and the deck has a very hard time with hasty threats like Rankle, Master of Pranks and Questing Beast. I simply don't think that Esper can adapt and still succeed to the degree that it has so far.
Speaking of action economy, these decks have them in spades. You're casting things from the first turn of the game, and often double spelling by turn three or four. The catch here is that while the action economy is high, the action impact is low. These decks play a lot of very weak cards and I suspect they won't thrive as people play more Disfigure, Deafening Clarion and Cry of the Carnarium. I love aristocrats-style decks as much as anyone else, but now is not the time.
Up above I mentioned Rankle, Master of Pranks and Questing Beast as problematic cards for Esper Dance. The thing is, these cards are problematic for basically everyone. They're hasty threats capable of ending the game if they go unanswered, and they have an immediate impact the turn they arrive and connect. Where mono-colored aggro strategies either struggle on impact and body size or struggle on removal, this is the happy middle ground, championed by VTCLA. You get access to profitable attacks, hard removal and resilience. While I don't think this is one of the top decks to beat, I do think this deck will beat a lot of people. It's very hard to efficiently answer Questing Beast, Spawn of Mayhem and Midnight Reaper simultaneously.
Fires of Invention is a card that defines a strategy, and I'm simply using this version as a stand-in for all of the Fires decks. These have been in every color combination including Five-Color Niv-Mizzet builds, and all of them have some very impressive hands. However, they have yet to show consistency in power and therefore command little respect at the moment. If someone can figure out the good build of this strategy they will very likely have the most broken deck in the room. Especially notable is the capacity for Cavalier of Flames-based builds to absolutely demolish Esper Dance and Bant Golos, because you can punish them heavily for having minimal board presence on turn five when the Fires deck is the scariest.
Of all the decks I played in testing this weekend, this one was the most promising. You can go wide, you can go fast, and you stay resilient. Venerated Loxodon and Lovestruck Beast // Heart's Desire are both incredibly large very early on and can make use of Faerie Guidemother // Gift of the Fae to launch them into the sky. This is easily the best Once Upon a Time deck I've played with, as the consistency you get with fast starts and access to Edgewall Innkeeper and Venerated Loxodon are just absolutely incredible.
The sideboard options are very good against people trying to beat you through conventional sweepers, as the combination of card advantage from Innkeeper, planeswalkers and instant-speed play means that board wipes alone don't knock you out. The metagame isn't super settled yet, but here's how I'm currently boarding against the known field.
The Golos decks are very powerful, but they don't have much early interaction. Your Edgewall Innkeepers should live often and you should abuse that to sculpt a hand to win through their wipes. It's possible we still want small numbers of Tribunal to take out Golos, but most of the time you're just attacking around it if possible.
This matchup is all about playing more stuff than they do. Shepherd might still be good as a 3/1 to attack through their dorks but Questing Beast is just such a house in this matchup.
These decks lean on small creatures and Shepherd is almost never going to be used to bounce your own stuff as you can't afford the tempo loss on board. Their creatures are just worse than yours, so trading resources to go later in the game favors us a lot.
I'm legitimately not sure if we need to sideboard. We're capable of completely overwhelming them and they're almost never going to be able to answer an Innkeeper. You could maybe consider Glass Casket, but I think that you're largely going to just want to stick to the main game plan and run them over.
Doom Foretold is laughable here. Your main goal should be to play around Kaya's Wrath and stick a three-mana planeswalker. Questing Beast is big and expensive but it also has haste and nukes Teferi, Time Raveler.
Change out removal for cheaper removal, and just like against Mono-Red, Shepherd is going to trade inefficiently. Questing Beast is actually very hard for them to answer and the racing power is very nice.
Questing Beast for racing power and to answer their own large creatures. We don't cut any Tribunal because Spawn of Mayhem, Questing Beast and Rankle, Master of Pranks are all very important to answer. If they show Rotting Regisaur, cut the other two Shepherd of the Flock as well for two Devout Decree.
This matchup depends a lot on the particular build of Fires. You can lean into Gideon Blackblade if they are Jeskai with Deafening Clarion, but Vivien, Champion of the Wilds is too slow. You can't grind these decks out, you need to just overwhelm them on board and beat them early off the first Tribunal. If they're the Big Red-style or Grixis you can consider Devout Decree as well.
I'll be streaming this deck as well as the other promising decks from my testing tonight at twitch.tv/yoman5, and don't forget to catch the MPL action throughout the week! Eldraine Standard is going to move fast on Arena for the first two weeks, so keep your eyes peeled for any new tech.
Adam "yoman5" Hernandez is a streamer, brewer and competitive player with a keen sense for what makes a deck tick. He writes about changes in the Standard metagame and the art of deckbuilding.
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