In a few weeks, I will be competing in the World Championship in Honolulu, Hawaii, where the majority of the tournament will be Standard. With Theros Beyond Death being newly introduced to the format, I've been pouring my focus into analyzing the impact it has had. We are familiar with what the metagame was a month ago, but without a ton of results yet, I am going to do my best to break down some of the decks that have impressed me so far.
Simic-Based Ramp has been the most popular deck I have played against over the past few days. It's also the deck I have been having the most success with. Control decks have a really tough time beating all the value creatures plus Nissa, Who Shakes the World. This is of course not a completely new deck, and is very similar to the version Andrea Mengucci used to make Top 8 of Mythic Championship VII. The key addition is Uro, Titan of Nature's Wrath.
Uro, Titan of Nature's Wrath gives the deck a new axis to fight on. You can play it from the graveyard, which means you really don't need Quasiduplicate anymore. As great as that card can be, sometimes you don't want to cast it on turn three—but you're always happy to cast Uro. Uro works great alongside Cavalier of Thorns, as it ramps you to Cavalier mana and Cavalier's self-mill turns on Uro's escape.
The other really nice part about playing Uro in this deck is that it's great against Hushbringer. One of the most popular sideboard cards against Elementals decks is Hushbringer, but with Hushbringer in play, you don't have to sacrifice Uro. Instead, you get a three-mana 6/6, which can win the game on its own.
The other notable addition is Thassa, Deep-Dwelling. Thassa has been very impressive alongside enters-the-battlefield effects. While this is the list I have been testing, I am going to add a copy of Agent of Treachery moving forward. Having powerful tutor targets with Finale of Devastation is very important, and Thassa plus Agent of Treachery is basically unbeatable.
There are a few different variations of this same strategy. I am lumping the Simic-based ramp decks together, even though splashing or playing a different set of ramp effects is perfectly viable. It's also possible to leave Uro out and try to abuse Thassa more. This is the Temur Elementals list of Crokeyz has been playing:
With the addition of Omnath, Locus of the Roil and The Akroan War there are now additional ways to abuse Thassa, Deep-Dwelling. If you steal an opponent's creature with The Akroan War and then flicker it out with Thassa you can permanently gain control of it. Omnath can actually get rid of opposing permanents each time it enters the battlefield, which is quite valuable. The power level of this deck is quite high, though I do believe it is more vulnerable to Hushbringer compared to Simic Ramp, as currently constructed. The manabase also gets worse once you add the red. Right now, between these two decks I lean toward Simic, but this deck does abuse Thassa way better.
The most hype going into the release of Theros Beyond Death centered around devotion decks in Standard. These are more or less completely new decks, compared to Simic Ramp-style decks, that are more of a spin-off of previous archetypes. Right now, my favorite devotion deck is Mono-Black. There are a few different ways to actually build it. It's clear your payoff card is Gray Merchant of Asphodel, but the question becomes how to best support it.
There's the Mono-Black Beatdown plan that uses Gray Merchant of Asphodel as a way to simply do the last few points of damage, or you can play a version that is more midrange, and creature-sacrifice oriented. The list I have liked the most is one I caught Wyatt Darby playing recently.
This build isn't all-in on aggression, which means sweeper effects and removal in general isn't going to be as effective against you. By incorporating Witch's Oven plus Cauldron Familiar into the deck, you also give yourself an instant-speed sacrifice outlet. Having the ability to sacrifice your own creatures is a big deal in a deck with Nightmare Shepherd. Essentially this can allow you to get a second Gray Merchant of Asphodel trigger by sacrificing the original copy, for more of a combo finish. This happens surprisingly often. Nightmare Shepherd plays really well alongside Witch's Oven.
One card I want to highlight here is Treacherous Blessing. This card has a very high upside in that it is a three-mana way to draw three cards. That's quite a good deal. The drawback is life loss, and while you can't actually get Treacherous Blessing off the board, there is plenty of life gain in the deck to counteract it. Gray Merchant of Asphodel and Cauldron Familiar do a nice job of keeping your life total high. Treacherous Blessing reminds me a lot of Underworld Connections in the old Mono-Black Devotion decks. You need ways to gas up your hand, and this is a good way to do that.
Agonizing Remorse is a useful piece of disruption, as black decks that don't play blue can still maindeck a good hand disruption spell. This card is nothing flashy, but being able to exile something like Uro can be really nice. This version of Mono-Black Devotion is more controlling, so you need disruptive cards like Agonizing Remorse. The amount of spot removal to play maindeck is tricky, since you want as many permanents in play as possible to fuel the devotion count. A couple Drag to the Underworld is fine, to go alongside the Murderous Riders.
There is definitely something here. I'm still not sold on Leyline of the Void in the sideboard because of how high variance it is, but I like where the list is going. If you are a single-color deck capable of grinding a long game out versus control that's a good thing, and I believe this deck can do that. Getting to play Castle Locthwain is also really nice.
The last strategy I do want to talk about now is control-based white-blue decks. Going straight Azorius or Esper is very viable, and there are a ton of options in those colors. The card that is in every list, though, is Dream Trawler.
This has been a huge overperformer, and provides an easy way for these decks to close out games. The Sagas also fit well into these strategies. Here is a look at straight Azorius:
This deck has a lot of new cards in it. Perhaps the most important one is Temple of Enlightenment. Having an on-color scry land means the mana isn't a mess, and that was a large part of why Azorius Control hasn't been popular until now.
In terms of the two-mana slot, we have two new enchantments here with Omen of the Sea and The Birth of Meletis. I had been playing a version with Medomai's Prophecy, but Omen of the Sea having flash is very valuable. Regardless, the deck now has two-mana plays that add value to the deck, and that's a big deal.
Since this is a control deck you want all of your cards to get you slightly ahead as the game progresses. That is exactly what the two-mana enchantments provide: a resource advantage. The goal is to not fall too far behind, and you can find yourself passing the turn with open mana. This leaves the opponent with a decision of trying to play around countermagic, but you also can draw cards with Thirst for Meaning or activate a Castle if the opponent doesn't do anything.
One reason you don't necessarily need black in the deck is there is a four-mana wrath available now in these colors called Shatter the Sky. The card can be a little awkward because it allows the opponent to potentially draw a card, but in general it is an upgrade to Time Wipe. The deck is actually primarily cards from Theros Beyond Death, with some Interventions and Banishing Lights to round out the deck. Honestly, playing against this deck is so annoying because it is almost impossible to try to play around any one card, and then you can always simply play a Dream Trawler to clean things up later.
Both Elspeth Conquers Death and Elspeth, Sun's Nemesis are cards you could make an argument for maindeck, but I understand wanting to have as many cards you can play at instant speed as possible. However, they work well together so I would often bring them in as a package, as Elspeth Conquers Death wants planeswalkers in the graveyard to be able to reanimate. Whirlwind Denial is another card I think is important, and we may want more copies than just the one in the sideboard. This is the best answer to Hydroid Krasis because it stops the cast trigger and counters the spell.
That's it for today! As my testing for Worlds continues, the lists will start to become a bit more tuned once the metagame becomes more established. On the flipside, brewing up decks right now is very fun since it really is a wide open format. I'm expecting players to start to head back to old favorites like Jeskai Fires, Rakdos Knights, Simic Flash and Jund Sacrifice soon though.
Seth Manfield is a professional Magic player and member of both the Magic Hall of Fame and the 2020 Magic Pro League.
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