There is a...fog...looming over this Standard format. The general consensus I've heard is that Standard is just a ticking time bomb until it eventually explodes. The claim is that Wilderness Reclamation is broken and that something, either Wilderness Reclamation itself or Nexus of Fate, will eventually need to be banned. The last time we saw hype like this the cards were Aetherworks Marvel and the Felidar Guardian/Saheeli Rai combo and those both did eventually end up eating a ban.
We aren't there yet, though. Maybe we never will get there. The truth of the matter is that it takes time for these decks to get optimized for the format. It often takes a few weeks for people to piece together the right maindeck and sideboard to push it into the territory where it can effectively beat basically any deck, but it's also entirely reasonable to think that it won't ever get there.
At any rate, I don't know what will happen, and I'm not worrying about it. It's basically a 50/50 to me. Either it happens or it doesn't. In the meantime, these Nexus of Fate / Wilderness Reclamation decks aren't currently breaking Standard, and Standard is pretty fun and diverse, so I'm satisfied playing my fiddle while Rome burns. Thank you, Nexus.
I'm incredibly happy that we're in a Standard format at the moment that even has five decks worth talking about, and even more happy that there are a lot of actually quality archetypes that won't even make the list, including my personal favorite deck, Esper Midrange. Alright, well maybe quality was a stretch.
Mono-Blue Aggro was the deck that Alexander Hayne played to take and hold the #1 ranked mythic spot in MTG Arena ranked play. Robert Wagner won the SCG Open last weekend in Dallas with exactly the same 75 cards that Hayne played to that #1 Mythic slot. Pteramander is an enormous upgrade to the deck, providing another one-drop creature with evasion that carries a Curious Obsession well. Pteramander also serves as basically an extra copy of Tempest Djinn, in that later in the game it can represent huge chunks of damage when you eventually adapt it.
The deck is insanely good. I picked it up and even I was winning with it, which is a pretty strong endorsement, as I'm typically really bad with these kinds of tempo strategies. I tend to tap out too much and get blown out, or play too conservatively and get blown out. But even I could manage to cobble together wins with these Alexander Hayneous 1/1s for one that somehow combine into a playable strategy.
Putting Mono-Blue at #5 in light of all this sounds like heresy, but I think the format is beginning to...adapt to this Pterrible strategy. Cards like Kraul Harpooner springing up in sideboards are a massive beating for the deck, as they kill off the one-drop creatures and then leave behind a 3/2 reach creature that both races the deck effectively and also can block additional fliers.
When your strategy is slower than Mono-Blue, the way to defeat it is to overload on cheap removal and disruption so that you can avoid getting beaten by Curious Obsession and then pair it with a clock that puts pressure on Mono-Blue at a fast enough rate to force them to react to it. Decks like Mono-White or W/U Aggro are naturally favored against it, thanks to a typically faster clock and unconditional removal options like Conclave Tribunal and occasionally Deputy of Detention as well that can hit either a Curious Obsession to play around Dive Down or any creatures themselves.
It pains my soul to put this deck in the top 5. I spent the entire last season building up my anti-Golgari Midrange persona. To go back on that in the tenth hour is disappointing to the say the least. But I do believe that Sultai is one of the strongest decks in Standard and maybe putting it at #4 will prove to be too low. The deck keeps putting up performances at events, and the addition of Hydroid Krasis to the Golgari strategy has proven to be a huge success, ensuring that the deck never runs out of gas, an occasional issue for midrange decks.
These three lists all have some marked differences from each other. Juza's list eschews the explore package for more disruption, a huge deviation from the standard Wildgrowth Walker package. Sultai is by no means a solved archetype in terms of how to build it, and as is generally the case of midrange decks, this will need to be constantly updated and tuned throughout the entire season. Midrange decks, similar to control strategies, generally need to update their answers to match the format's threats.
Another massive upgrade to Sultai over Golgari is access to a card like Negate in the sideboard. Midrange decks with sideboard Negate have proven time and time again to be an effective and powerful archetype in Standard. Negate allows these decks to protect their threats against control strategies and protect themselves from losing to combo strategies while their threats beat down.
The biggest issue with Sultai is that it's clunky, the same problem that Golgari had last year. It can take a while for Sultai to get its engine churning and the lack of maindeck interaction means that Sultai can be behind against both extremes of the format, such as aggressive decks like Mono-Blue and over-the-top control and combo, in game one. Even though those matchups improve significantly after sideboard, sometimes it is hard to come back from losing game one most of the time.
I was initially pretty down on this deck, believing it to simply be a bad deck, but I'm starting to come around on it, mostly because people keep beating me with it on MTG Arena.
One thing about Drakes that should be clear is that it's basically another midrange deck. U/R is generally not the color combination that lends well to midrange strategies, but that's exactly what this deck is. It plays powerful threats, removal spells, and can adjust after sideboard to add more removal vs. creature decks and more countermagic against control and combo decks.
Drakes suffers from the same problems that plagues most midrange decks in that drawing cards like Shock, Beacon Bolt, and Lava Coil against control decks sucks. The major difference is that cards like Chart a Course and Discovery // Dispersal help this deck filter through draws and find the cards that matter in the matchup. That is a huge benefit that other midrange decks rarely get access to outside of formats like Modern and Legacy where Faithless Looting and Brainstorm exist to help.
The other thing that's important to note about Drakes is that the threats in the deck get more and more out of control as the game progresses. A turn three Jadelight Ranger is the same size as a turn ten Jadelight Ranger. The same is not true for Crackalackin' Drake or Enigma Drizzle. The dynamic where these threats grow as the game progresses means that every single creature needs to be dealt with individually, since they all start to get to "one-shot" status later on.
Thanks to the deck's ability to filter and draw cards, this means that trying to beat this deck by killing everything doesn't usually work very well, especially when Dive Down factors in. Drakes tends to be a pretty big favorite against other midrange decks thanks to this. The best way to beat Drakes is to get under it or to go over the top of it, not to try to just plow through and deal with everything.
Ali Aintrazi is one of the best brewers in Magic and he was clear that he thought that Wilderness Reclamation was a broken card. He put his money where his mouth was and came up with a U/G version of the deck that eschews any of the frills that other lists have—well, except for Frilled Mystic, of course. This no-nonsense list plays only the good cards and has interaction to deal with other decks.
Incorporating interaction into a combo deck is how decks like Aetherworks Marvel, Felidar/Saheeli and even decks like Modern Splinter Twin became powerful enough to ban. So it's clear to me that Ali is on the right track.
I like that this version of the deck doesn't have a bad mana base, only plays the top-tier cards, and has the necessary interaction to protect itself from the cards that generally beat decks like this.
The maindeck looks super tight, but the sideboard seems like a mess to me. Once that sideboard turns into something truly tuned, I expect that this deck will be one of the best, if not the actual best deck in the format.
Mono-White Aggro won the last Pro Tour, and the power level of the deck never really dropped off, even though it stopped being a dominant part of Standard afterward. The introduction of Hallowed Fountain brought the deck roaring back.
Adding countermagic to the sideboard of a hyper-aggressive strategy, especially one that abuses cost-reducers like convoke on Venerated Loxodon and Conclave Tribunal is a massive boost to the deck. Being able to slam a bunch of one-drops into play and then ride Negate is how decks like Mono-Blue prey on decks like Nexus and Control. Giving access of that angle of attack to a deck that has a much better and robust aggression plan than Mono-Blue is pretty dirty.
One card that is in some lists, but not all, is Deputy of Detention. The jury is still out on whether this card is worth it or not. Having extra catch-all answers is nice, but Deputy's 1/3 body and vulnerability to your opponent getting their nice thing back with a removal spell are hard knocks against it.
The one thing I feel like is true is that Deputy of Detention and Unbreakable Formation aren't a great combination together. Formation asks for a lower curve and creatures with more punch, whereas Deputy seems better with Venerated Loxodon and a little slower and more interactive game plan.
Another huge benefit to this deck is that cards like Hunted Witness, Tithe Taker, Adanto Vanguard, and Dauntless Bodyguard all insulate the deck against Kaya's Wrath, which is the premium sweeper in the format. With that being said, if this deck continues to be a dominant part of the format, I expect to see a rise in Cry of the Carnarium to combat it. Cry of the Carnarium is a huge beating for this deck. Cards like Snubhorn Sentry, Venerated Loxodon, and Benalish Marshal can fight through it, but killing off the initial salvo of creatures is often enough to cripple the deck enough to make winning easy.
Even though these are my top decks in the format, there are still a number of decks that didn't make the list that are still very much playable strategies. R/G Aggro can be impressive, but isn't quite there yet. Mono-Red is the best deck in best-of-one play, but hasn't yet put up results when sideboards and no hand selection algorithm are in the mix. That could easily change in the future, since the power of the red cards is gross.
Esper Control is a deck that I actually think is extremely overrated, but it has also been doing fairly well. Esper Midrange is my personal favorite deck in the format but I'm not delusional enough to believe that it's one of the best decks, although I am still delusional enough to never stop playing it, no matter what.
This doesn't even factor in decks like Jeskai Control, which is still a thing, or various other Nexus of Fate decks like the Gate decks, or Bant or Temur Nexus. These decks are all very decent strategies, but just not quite tier one.
The Pro Tour in a few weeks should do a good job of helping to settle the format and separate the wheat from the chaff. I know that I'm personally looking forward to Esper Midrange being separated out as chaff but still continuing to play it anyway. Bring it on.