Standard is in an odd spot right now. As Yoman5 explained on Wednesday, Standard has gone from having a de facto best deck in Azorius Control for two weeks in a row to a sudden power vacuum. Azorius may be the most powerful deck in Standard generally, but with every deck in the format gunning for it, the Dreamhack $100,000 event was taken down by Temur Adventures, a deck with tools that Elspeth Conquers Death and Absorb aren't well suited to face. Suddenly, Standard looks a lot more open than it did before.
Unlike most metagame decks, Temur Adventures isn't so niche or narrow that it can prey on just one enemy, like Simic Flash did last season to Jeskai Fires. It certainly has its weaknesses, but it looks like a real player in the metagame. Maybe that shouldn't be surprising, since Brazen Borrower, Bonecrusher Giant and Lovestruck Beast are some of the most value-laden creatures Magic has ever seen printed, and the Adventure payoffs like Edgewall Innkeeper and Lucky Clover reward staying on theme handsomely. It's actually just an attractive choice in the metagame generally, and that means people are picking it up fast.
With the Mythic Point Challenge coming up this weekend, Standard is already back under pressure from both the Challenge and the end of the February season. Temur Adventures has been a popular choice and has meant that Azorius is on the decline. While the deck is probably never going to be an actively bad choice in the metagame, it does feel like it's not where I want to be going forward.
That said, Temur Adventures isn't exactly what I want to be doing either. While it certainly has some pretty good matchups, I'm not blown away by its positioning anywhere else. Beating up the former best deck is nice and all, but Azorius is unlikely to be 30-50% of the field like it was at Dreamhack, depending on how you break it down. Additionally, the number of players qualified for this event is massive, with four separate months qualifying for this one tournament somehow. I would much rather be strong against the field more broadly than a deck that's earned its place based primarily on beating one deck.
At this point, I've narrowed it down to two decks that I'm considering playing. As of writing this, both feel incredibly defensible in the metagame, and I wouldn't fault anyone for playing either one.
The original Bant Midrange deck that won a Star City Games Classic a few weeks ago was all over the place in terms of what it was trying to do and the numbers of cards it wanted to play. Petomartinez, on the other hand, absolutely nailed it in a MTGO Challenge by streamlining the deck to one core plan: ramping into the most powerful things in Simic and Azorius. It's essentially just the boogiemen/women/Jellyfish Hydras of Standard from the past year, the ramp to play them faster, and some Wrath of God effects to clean things up against fast opponents.
Against slower decks, none of them are going to have the raw power that this deck has. Nissa, Who Shakes the World and Hydroid Krasis are a tried-and-true combination that goes over the top of just about everyone. Dream Trawler is nearly impossible to interact with, especially when there are already likely to be other creatures around acting as fodder in case of Plaguecrafter or Liliana, Dreadhorde General.
But what makes the deck so potent is really the ramp from Simic. When the deck runs so many five and six-cost cards that can catch it up quickly, focusing on powering out lands is… just worth it.
And unlike any other deck right now, this one can power out Teferi, Time Raveler thanks to Arboreal Grazer.
Frankly, a new guiding principle in Standard might just be "pick the deck that can actually use Arboreal Grazer." Teferi is already format-warping on turn three, but nobody has the tools to fight a turn-two Teferi that came in with a 0/3 reach monkey defending it. Even against red, the Teferi player can just hold off on using its -3 ability and keep shutting down their ability to play Embercleave. Azorius is nearly cold to the card on turn two, because it comes online before a lot of their countermagic, and their soonest answer to it won't be until turn five.
And unlike Azorius, this deck has no real weakness to Teferi game one. The only instant in the deck is Growth Spiral, which is hardly different when cast as a sorcery. Most of its creatures are actively bad to bounce, with the exception, maybe, of animated Nissa lands.
I changed just one card from petomartinez's list so far, and that is to cut a Mystical Dispute for a Heliod's Intervention. Heliod's Intervention is the sort of catch-all effect that I like having in an event like the Mythic Point Challenge. Against Temur Adventures and Jund Food, I want effects that can hit Lucky Clover, Trail of Crumbs and Witch's Oven, which Elspeth Conquers Death misses. Mystical Dispute, on the other hand, is an amazingly powerful card that scales poorly into the late game. Given that most games where Mystical Dispute comes in tend to go long, the fourth copy is almost always dead.
Going into a wide-open event like this, playing the most mythic and rare cards with good rates is almost always a solid choice. There isn't anything tricky or clever about this deck, just pure power and efficiency.
Along the same lines as Bant Ramp, my other choice for the Mythic Point Challenge is Jeskai Fires. Fires and I actually go back a few months. After Grand Prix Portland, I picked up the deck for the last few weeks of the previous Standard, even taking it to an 8-2 record in the Mythic Championship Qualifier in January, only losing to a couple off-meta decks after an 8-0 start. Frankly, I assumed the deck was dead because it didn't get much from Theros Beyond Death, and never bothered to even write about it despite how much success I had with the archetype.
Then, seemingly out of nowhere, it made a comeback at the World Championship mid-month. With a strong Mono-Red matchup and an Azorius Control one that was at least defensible, the deck looked like it could actually still be a player in the metagame. In fact, it might actually be better than before because of one key fact:
It no longer needs Fires of Invention to win in most of its games.
In the past, Fires was the only way this deck actually got wins in a variety of matchups. No more. The presence of Azorius has meant that it plays a suite of Adventure creatures, a sideboard designed to beat real control (not just Simic Flash like before), and the remaining aggressive decks are particularly weak to Deafening Clarion. All of this adds up to a deck that isn't so all-in on Fires of Invention to win its games, because its interaction spells are also threats.
This list in particular actually evolved from one that Austin Yost tweeted on Tuesday.
Haven't done this ladder thing in a while so can't remember who high I need to go before I can stop for the month. Deck has been pretty good at crushing everyone trying to pick up clover. Should be strong for the Mythic Challenge this weekend. 🐴🔥 https://t.co/EvbmDmYEDx pic.twitter.com/jJ7xyddySG— Austin Yost (@Y0stwiththeMost) February 26, 2020
What I liked most about this deck was the move away from Shatter the Sky. The card just doesn't seem to fit in Jeskai Fires. Most of the metagame already accounts for it by playing either creatures or strategies that aren't all that impacted by a legal Day of Judgment. Against Mono-Red it's often a bit too slow. It's also questionable that it's even good in Jeskai at all, because it's a dead draw so often after the deck has started deploying its end-game threats. Deafening Clarion has none of this baggage, and instead locks up games with huge life swings thanks to the life gain mode.
After playing Austin's version of the deck for a while, I actually moved back toward where I was a month ago: less Dream Trawler, more Cavalier of Gales. The flying on Cavalier is surprisingly good, as is it having 5 power at all times and not just when it's attacking. The extra mana also hurts quite a bit for Dream Trawler, because the deck often wants to play two five-drops on turn five when it's effectively comboing out. But the biggest selling point was just that Cavalier pays the deck right away, instead of slowly drawing cards each turn. All the ways the deck has to scry or shuffle actually mean that it's closer to a draw-three effect than just a cantrip. But even if it only effectively draws one card, Cavalier of Flame and Kenrith, the Returned King mean that the deck uses cards pre-combat much better than post-combat. Dream Trawler is simply the wrong card for the job.
The sideboard is still a work in progress, but the one card I'm certain I won't be cutting is Robber of the Rich. Robber has looked like an absolute joke against most of its time in Standard, but against the mass of planeswalkers and expensive threats, stealing cards from an opponent is incredibly relevant. Hitting Elspeth Conquers Death against Azorius or Bant is almost just a free game win, because those matchups so often feel like they come down to who draws more of the Saga. The only regret I have with Robber is that it feels like it Chokes the sideboard space so significantly. I would love to have one more Aether Gust, especially as Nissa decks are on the rise, but there just isn't a card I can justify cutting over it. Maybe there's a way to replace the Omen of the Sea in the maindeck with something from the sideboard, but it feels like anything in that spot would be too narrow for game one.
From here, the next two days are going to be about finalizing slots in both lists and deciding on one. Both seem fairly justifiable, and unless something radically changes in the next couple days, it's not clear which will be better without knowing the metagame breakdown. If it really does come down to a coin flip, I'll at least be confident that I had two reasonable choices for the weekend. Wish me luck!