Standard was thrust back into the spotlight over the weekend, and made quite a display of just how healthy and engaging it is as a format. While we saw an increased level of homogeneity in the Top 8, with the energy mechanic still pushing decks to the top of the table, there were a number of exciting new strategies that contested the weekend very strongly indeed. Team Coverage posted a ton of decklists, and sifting through them all turned up some archetypes that may prove to be on the way up in the coming weeks.
Today, we're going to highlight three "new" decks that made something of a debut in Memphis, and investigate whether they were just something of a flash in the pan or if they might just have some staying power. As Mono-Red still has a commanding dominance of the Standard metagame from a numbers perspective, it's important that any newcomer is able to tussle with is, so that's our primary litmus test – in addition, however, we need to explore if any improvements or upgrades can be made to these lists moving forward. Let's get to it!
At first, I was a little confused to see a deck simply entitled "Jund" appearing at the GP. Jund what? Aggro? Energy? Monsters? But upon closer inspection, it's clear that the name was very well-chosen. Craig Rocco's deck is truly emblematic of the classic Jund deck – efficient, value-oriented creatures, good removal and powerful threats. In other words, it's Jund – classic, straightforward, good old Jund.
There are obvious comparisons to be made with this deck and its (admittedly much more powerful) older sibling in Modern. Glint-Sleeve Siphoner does a passable impression of Dark Confidant, Lightning Bolt is subbed out for Magma Spray/Abrade, and Chandra, Torch of Defiance is a removal spell or grindy engine card just like Liliana of the Veil. There's even Deathgorge Scavenger in the board instead of Scavenging Ooze! While all these cards are miles apart on raw power, they serve to illustrate that the overall game plan of this deck runs parallel to its Modern counterpart.
This leads us to the question – how good is a drawn-out, grindy strategy in today's Standard? Considering the enormous density of cheap removal spells in this list, I actually quite like the position it puts itself in to stabilize against early aggression before moving in on a creature plan later to dominate the board and, ultimately, the game. I think the removal suite could stand to be improved by including the full playset of Vraska's Contempt in the starting 60 – in a format filled with Hazoret, the Fervent and The Scarab God, I don't think there's any reason to start fewer than four if you can help it.
There is so much to like about the creature package. I love the combination of cards that offer immediate value like Jadelight Ranger and Glorybringer with cards that grind out a longer game like Scrapheap Scrounger and Walking Ballista. The inclusion of a main deck Carnage Tyrant is a little confusing, as it seems like it's a real liability when facing off against Standard's many aggressive decks. With a further two in the board, it could be that Rocco was looking to free up sideboard slots by hiding one in the main deck – but I'm just not sure if the format is forgiving enough for main deck squillion-drops like Carnage Tyrant.
Jund continues to display its unpretentious, no-frills approach to winning games. I think this deck has a lot going for it, and I'm very curious to see how it fares in the coming weeks. Between its early interaction and late-game value plan, Jund appears to have what it takes to go up against more or less anything the format can throw against it.
Sneaking into the Top 32 in Memphis was Christopher McMahon, put there by a horde of furious black one-drops. Grasping Scoundrel and friends seem to be a force to be reckoned with – this motley crew of draft chaff managed to acquit itself extremely well over the weekend. I never thought Vicious Conquistador plus Supernatural Stamina would be the way for someone to start cashing GPs!
As a pretty classic 19-land aggro deck, this list proves an important point: cheap cards are sometimes better than they look. Grasping Scoundrel, Vicious Conquistador and Night Market Lookout never threatened to be Constructed all-stars on their own, but get enough cheap, aggressive creatures together and baby, you've got a stew going.
There's a hidden depth to this deck when it comes to its plans for a more drawn-out game, and that was what I found truly fascinating about the list. Glint-Sleeve Siphoner has already proven it has the chops to run the streets of Standard, and Ruin Raider plays a convincing second fiddle. Keeping cards flowing – especially cheap, easily deployed creatures that can swarm an opponent – is crucial to contesting a longer game, and the two- and three-drops help to ensure you never run out of fuel. It doesn't hurt that with only 19 lands, you're much less liable to flood!
It's also worth taking a second look at the removal in this list. Fatal Push is obviously industry-standard (and industry-modern, for that matter), but it's great to see Walk the Plank finally getting some time in the spotlight! Its restrictive mana cost has kept it from the front pages of Standard, but a mono-black deck such as this can send 'em to Davy Jones' Locker, no worries at all. Supernatural Stamina can also sometimes serve as a removal spell, and it something to keep in mind when your opponent opens with ol' Graspy.
Finally, I want to mention Aethersphere Harvester. In this deck, the Harvester is an exceptionally precise and well-chosen piece of technology, as every single thing the card does synergizes supremely well with the rest of the list. Firstly, you'll never run out of crew – every single creature in the deck gets it done (the spiciest option of course being Night Market Lookout). Secondly, gaining life is of extra importance when attempting to make the most of cards such as Glint-Sleeve Siphoner and Ruin Raider – quite aside from the extra cards you'll receive, it means you can afford to continue to attack. And finally, when you can't attack through a stalled board, the Harvester is another evasive threat that alongside Bone Picker still provides meaningful pressure in the face of ground blockers.
We don't often see a 19-land special, so when I saw what McMahon had been up to in Memphis, I had to sit up and take notice. I generally don't have much truck with aggro decks like this, but Mono-Black Aggro really caught my eye as a fresh take on aggression in Standard.
Oh boy. Oh boy. The Sun Empire may have won control of the Golden City, but the Legion of Dusk won my heart from the moment I previewed Legion's Landing! I'm absolutely thrilled a tenable Vampires deck seems to be emerging, slowly but surely, from the dark mists of the sea's horizon. And on horseback, no less! I love every inch of this deck, and I very much hope this is only the starting point for the archetype.
So many of these card choices seem sub-optimal, but when explored further, actually make a ton of sense. Queen's Commission instead of Mavren Fein, Dusk Apostle? Martyr of Dusk rather than Skymarcher Aspirant? This very clearly signposts the number one priority of this list – bodies on the battlefield. Kiefer would sooner have the guaranteed two creatures of a Queen's Commission rather than the highly probable two (or more!) creatures provided by Mavren Fein. It's abundantly clear that this list relies very heavily on both Legion Lieutenant and Radiant Destiny, and pulls no punches in getting the most out of its Crusade effects.
With tribal synergies out the wazoo, it's curious to see Crested Sunmare as the top-end of choice given some of the ridiculous Vampire payoffs available. Sanctum Seeker is the first card I'd think to pair with all the token generators, or even Champion of Dusk – but instead, it's Crested Sunmare! I'm not complaining, as it's always terrific to see these mighty steeds galloping across the battlefield – and when you think about it, it's a great fit with the huge number of little lifelink creatures. Not only does every chump-attack generate an indestructible 5/5, so does every chump-block – how can opponent ever attack into your board?
The light smattering of removal provides good options against most threats that Standard demands you answer, although – once again – it's just a smattering, and often enough you won't have the right answer at the right time. Is there a way to find room for Vraska's Contempt in the main deck, or is that too difficult to pull together? Another question worth considering is including Pride of Conquerors ahead of Radiant Destiny. I didn't think it was the most intuitive deckbuilding decision to make either, until I heard this zinger from Sam Black:
In any case, this new take on White-Black Tokens (how insane is it that there are two playable token strategies in the format!?) is very exciting indeed, and holds great promise for anyone looking to harness the power of Ixalan's baddies. Vampire for (un)life!
The general consensus on Standard seems to be an overwhelmingly positive one. With diversity amongst the best decks and new challengers such as the ones we've covered today, the format is bound to continue to develop – and in doing so will provide engaging and meaningful challenges for those looking to get ahead with a new strategy. I'm looking forward to seeing what emerges in the coming time!
- Riley Knight