There were two Standard Grand Prix last weekend in Manchester and Minneapolis, and they have provided us some great insight into the metagame across the globe. As expected, there's plenty of innovation in the top decklists. The results contain evolutions of existing decks, under the radar decks that are now seeing the spotlight for the first time, and even some brand new decks that I've never seen before. Today I'm going to share this week's top eight Standard innovations so you know what to expect from across the table and get an edge on the competition.
Bant Humans was the story of Grand Prix Minneapolis, where it put three players into the Top 8, but the best-performing Bant Humans deck was Andrew Elenbogen with the innovation of Eldrazi Displacer. Eldrazi Displacer's ability is good in general as a way to clear out blockers in front of this aggressive deck, and Eldrazi Displacer combines with Reflector Mage to keep the opposing board in check and easily take over the game against creature decks. Eldrazi Displacer is not a human, but its synergy with humans, like Thraben Inspector to make an extra clue, or even Thalia's Lieutenant to provide an extra round of +1/+1 counters, makes it feel right at home. Eldrazi Displacer is a great answer to troublesome permanents like Hangarback Walker and Ormendahl, the Profane Prince, and it clears away tokens. It's a great mana sink into the late game, and it gives this deck a valuable extra dimension that versions without it simply lack. Supporting the creature is easy in a deck with Yavimaya Coast, and adding a single Wastes makes Evolving Wilds a colorless source.
Last week I saw Raphael Levy make a Facebook post asking to borrow Nissa, Voice of Zendikar and Archangel Avacyn for GP Manchester. I knew he would be playing W/G Tokens, and I thought that such an experienced player choosing to wield what's widely considered to be the best deck in Standard was a wise and safe choice. What I didn't know is that he was playing Chandra, Flamecaller alongside those cards.
Instead of including Declaration of Stone or Tragic Arrogance in his maindeck, Raph played Chandra, Flamecaller, which does a fine impersonation of a sweeper with its -X ability, but it's also a huge offensive threat and even a way to draw cards. "Splashing" Chandra, Flamecaller into W/G Tokens without changing the manabase requires Oath of Nissa in play. It means the deck doesn't lose any consistency in its mana, but it does add volatility because some percentage of the time Oath of Nissa won't be available. Just how wise and safe was Raphael's deck choice?
To cast Chandra, Flamecaller on turn six, Oath of Nissa has to be in play by turn five. Assuming we don't mulligan, that means we'll have seen eleven cards on the play or twelve on the draw. A hypergeometric calculator tells us that we'll draw at least one Oath of Nissa by turn five 56.6% of the time on the play, and 60% of the time on the draw. Assuming we always have green mana to cast Oath of Nissa, Raph was a favorite to be able to cast Chandra, Flamecaller on turn six. Those aren't bad odds, and because Raph knows you have to get lucky to win a tournament, he wanted to give himself the opportunity to have the best draws possible. He made his deck more volatile, but he also made it a lot more powerful, especially when his opponent's didn't expect to see Chandra, Flamecaller hit the battlefield. Even with the cat out of the bag, it's still hard to expect Chandra, Flamecaller from an opponent without red lands, and it's not always possible to play around even if you wanted to. It's a great option for the deck going forward, and at the very least there is a lesson to be learned that Oath of Nissa could enable splashing other planeswalker in other decks, or even other planeswalkers in W/G Tokens.
Human Aggro saw a resurgence at Grand Prix Minneapolis, but both versions that made the top 8 were notable for including Needle Spires. McVety simply played Battlefield Forge and added Needle Spires to his sideboard, while Shota Takao embraced a full red splash maindeck for other cards like Abbot of Keral Keep and Reckless Bushwhacker.
Needle Spires is important for Humans because it gives the deck an additional angle of attack. In a world where board sweepers are everywhere, it's very valuable to have a threat that stays safe on their turn, which then punishes them with the threat of damage of they do tap out to destroy other creatures. Creature lands like Needle Spires are also very important for pressuring the loyalty of planeswalkers, which are often vulnerable to the threat of an additional creature attacking it. Needle Spires' double-strike ability is especially potent because these decks include Always Watching to boost its power.
Shota Takao's red splash is an adaption to a slower and more controlling metagame. Abbot of Keral Keep's ability to generate extra cards helps the deck outlast control's plan, which is based around card advantage and creature removal. Reckless Bushwhacker helps squeeze extra value out of attackers, allowing the deck to come back quickly from board sweepers or surprise planeswalkers with extra damage.
Needle Spires is the future of Humans in Standard, but it's worth noting that Shambling Vent also has merit, and online I've seen successful versions that splash black instead.
Tomoharu Saito is known as a prolific deckbuilder, and he did well in Minneapolis with an innovative U/R Fliers deck.
The day after the Grand Prix I played against this deck multiple times on Magic Online, so I expect it's going to be popular in the near future. It attacks the format by focusing around flying creatures that almost none of the commonly played creatures in Standard can block. That leaves these creatures open to race the opponent, a race that it can win with burn spells like Exquisite Firecraft, which double as a way to destroy creatures or even planeswalkers.
Ever since being spoiled, the "Aether Vial for spells" Brain in a Jar has captivated deckbuilders, but the card hasn't made an impact on the competitive scene. A great finish by Pete Vieren in Manchester is a sign of good things to come.
Vieren sticks to a two-color core, which offers plenty of tools to use with Brain in a Jar. It requires a steady curve of spells to be effective, and that means being adventurous and playing spells beyond the typical staples. At three mana, Pieces of the Puzzle provides excellent card advantage in a deck heavy with instants and sorceries. Sight Beyond SIght bulks up the four mana slot. At five mana, Vieren includes Pour over the Pages and a pair of Silumgar's Command. At the top of the curve sits Rise from the Tides, which Vieren employs as a win condition after a game spent filling the graveyard with instants and sorceries.
This deck is designed to cast Pieces of the Puzzle to power massive Rise from the Tides, and Brain in the Jar helps fuel the process. It's a great merging of strategies to create synergies, a deck that is greater than the sum of its parts. It's a great example of how to build Brain in the Jar decks going forward, and at the very least a great starting place for building Brain in the Jar control in Standard.
A few months ago I took note of a Standard deck that reminded me more of Urzatron than anything else. It had elements of ramp, like Hedron Archive and Shrine of the Forsaken Gods powering an Ulamog, the Ceaseless Hunger top end, but it was supported by blue cards like Clash of Wills and Drowner of Hope. The deck persisted with presence online, and last week Ali Aintrazi identified that it was a real contender in Standard. Now it has a Grand Prix top 8 to its name, and it's official that the deck should be taken seriously.
This deck has a lot of things going for it. Its main feature is an assortment of maindeck Counterspells in a metagame almost entirely lacking them. Counterspells are typically great against midrange decks, and that's where the metagame sits, so its access to Counterspells gives this deck a unique advantage over typical tapout planeswalker-centric control decks like W/B and Grixis. Ulamog, the Ceaseless Hunger goes over the top of opponents, especially when backed up by Kozilek's Return from the graveyard sweeping the battlefield.
The secondary threat, Drowner of Hope, is well-positioned against a field relying on -4/-4 removal spells and Reflector Mage, and has synergy with the deck by ramping into Ulamog, the Ceaseless Hunger. The deck also takes advantage of Chandra, Flamecaller and even provides a home for Jace, Unraveler of Secrets, which is blue's analog to Ob Nixilis Reignited. The deck also has a great manabase that includes a set of Wandering Fumarole to further punish control decks and to help close out games quickly, and Mage-Ring Network to help get Ulamog, the Ceasless Hunger into play early. This deck is powerful, and this specific decklist is a well-tuned version that I'd be confident playing in the future.
Martin Muller is one of the best Magic players in the world, and choosing a deck for a Grand Prix isn't a decision he makes lightly. Rather than playing something run-of-the-mill, he chose to bring a very unique deck to the table in Manchester: Mono-Blue Prison.
This is a blue control deck that doesn't fit the mold of anything we've seen before, but the best comparison is a Turbo Fog/Takin' Turns style deck. Rather than use Howling Mine, it uses Day's Undoing to refill. To contain opposing creatures, it uses Hydrolash and Engulf the Shore to buy time to cast more spells and gain value with cards like Prism Ring. Part the Waterveil buys extra turns and doubles as the main win condition, backed up by a singleton Rise from the Tides. Jace's Sanctum is the engine that keeps everything running smoothly, not only making everything cheaper, but providing scry triggers that ensure a steady stream of action. From the sideboard, Thing in the Ice and Jace, Vryn's Prodigy punish opponents that don't expect to see creatures.
I haven't played with this deck yet, so I can't make any comments on how good it is, but given Muller's great finish I expect it's the real deal, and it's a great list to copy if this style of play appeals to you.
One pillar of Standard is green midrange creatures, robust and/or value-generating creatures like Sylvan Advocate, Tireless Tracker, and Nissa, Vastwood Seer. Reid Duke's development of the B/G Great Aurora deck showcases this concept taken to the next level with more expensive creatures up the curve.
The Gitrog Monster certainly fits the concept of robust and/or value-generating, but it's a known quantity, and it's not particularly great against Reflector Mage or removal spells like Ruinous Path or Declaration in Stone. Woodland Bellower, however, generates immediate value. It quietly got much better when Tireless Tracker was printed, but Duke remarked that he considers Woodland Bellower to be best as a pseudo-Broodmate Dragon when finding a Sylvan Advocate. Greenwarden of Murasa also fits the theme of large, value-generating green creature, and it's specifically designed to be great against opponents destroying or bouncing creatures. It's especially potent as a target for Dark Petition, which it can return to hand and recast. It's a nightmare against opponents relying on removal.
These creatures gave Duke haymakers to match his opponent's sweepers and planeswalkers, the sort of high-impact threats that control players are loathe to see. The innovation served him well in Minneapolis, and it's provided some direction to B/G players looking to adapt to the ever-changing metagame.
The innovations made by players at Grand Prix last week gave them a competitive advantage over their opponents. They've given us some great ideas to use ourselves, and hopefully they've inspired us to make innovations of our own. What innovations have you seen? Have you made any innovations to your decks? Share your ideas in the comments, and I'll answer any questions.