Two Standard GPs on either side of the Atlantic this weekend saw what these days counts as a shake-up of the format. At first glance, two very pleasingly diverse Top 8s in both Brussels and Orlando made it appears the stranglehold that Black-Red Aggro has on Standard is loosening somewhat – blue-based control decks were able to clinch the trophies in both tournaments, and a mixture of established archetypes and fresh concoctions rounded out the spots not taken by Teferi or Goblin Chainwhirler.
These poster-boy-esque Top 8s highlight diversity amongst archetypes, and a significant reduction in the presence of Goblin Chainwhirler, speaking to the health of a Standard format that is in the process of self-correction against a dominant archetype. When setting the data above against the results to emerge from previous GPs – where, for example, seven of the eight decks featured Chainwhirler – it's a marked improvement.
The problem is, this data isn't as representative as you might think. After 15 rounds of Swiss, the margins as to who does and does not make the cut to Top 8 are razor thin. There's no doubting that the decks above performed incredibly strongly, but had a few tiebreaker percentage points gone the other way these lists could look very different.
Examining the results from Sunday evening, you'd be forgiven for thinking Chainwhirler decks of all kinds have been reduced to just 25% of the format, while the controversial Turbo Fog deck is barely a blip on the radar. The wider picture, however, is staggeringly different. Team Coverage published the top 25 lists from Brussels and the top 32 from Orlando, and with these 57 lists, we're able to access a much clearer picture of the current metagame.
Would you look at that. Never mind the 25% we were throwing around before - Chainwhirler decks make up a fraction over half the Standard metagame! Turbo Fog, which only featured once across both Top 8s, is almost as much of a metagame force as the blue-based control decks that won both events. Clearly, there is a lot more to take away from the weekend's results than just the Top 8 headlines - let's break down what these numbers mean.
With more than half of the weekend's best decks playing Goblin Chainwhirler, it's abundantly clear that this deck is still the best in the format. You can't argue with numbers like this - even if it couldn't close on Top 8 slots as effectively as it might have, the sheer fact that you've got a 50/50 chance to sit down against a Chainwhirler deck in the late rounds of a GP cannot be ignored.
This number lumps together all the sub-archetypes that include Goblin Chainwhirler, which obviously inflates the numbers a little, but not much. Of all the Chainwhirler decks, only two played no black sources, while a further five were "Mostly-Red Aggro," playing black just for Scrapheap Scrounger (and, technically, Cut // Ribbons).
Even removing these from the equation leaves "proper" Black-Red Chainwhirler with a 39% share of the weekend's best decks, which is still an enormously high proportion in any language. Plan accordingly – if you intend to succeed while playing high-level Magic, you're going to have to play against Goblin Chainwhirler a lot.
It was a good weekend in the office for Teferi, Hero of Dominaria. While most of the successful Teferi decks favored a heavier black component rather than, for example, the purely white-blue list that helped Team Hotsauce win the recent Pro Tour, control strategies performed strongly across both tournaments and are became the second-most represented archetype amongst the weekend's top decks.
As I discussed several times throughout the weekend with my coverage co-host Simon Görtzen, this was principally fueled by Vraska's Contempt, and consequently Torrential Gearhulk. While white control decks rely on enchantment-based removal, a strong commitment to black allows you to play instants instead. This means Torrential Gearhulk can have a much bigger impact – and this has several knock-on consequences.
Firstly, it allows you to cast Vraska's Contempt more times than you would be able to otherwise. Casting Contempt five or six times, especially in a format Overrun by Chandra, Rekindling Phoenix, and Hazoret the Fervent, is an obscenely powerful way to win games. Secondly, the 5/6 body allows you to close out games much faster than a Teferi, Hero of Dominaria – crucial for staying out of the dreaded draw bracket, not to mention the conservation of mental energy across a two-day tournament.
This may be the sweet spot for control decks moving forward. Teferi is too good not to play, so it's unlikely that we'll see Blue-Black Control completely usurp Esper. By the same token, it's unlikely that white-blue will return to the top of the heap – the black removal suite offers top-notch disruption for the current Standard format.
This list, more than any other, is misrepresented by the Top 8 results. Coming in 9th and 10th position in Brussels, Turbo Fog performed very strongly before a poor showing in the late rounds of the tournament knocked it down a peg. The deck is now having to deal with a much more hostile environment but remains a natural predator to the big decks in Standard. With an overwhelmingly favorable matchup against creature strategies and a serviceable one against control, Turbo Fog might just be here to stay.
Thomas Mechin put together a very impressive tournament at GP Brussels, bowing out in the semis to Giordano Fagioli's sideboarded Insult // Injury. Insult // Injury is the strongest evidence to suggest that Turbo Fog has earnt the respect of the Standard format (grudgingly or otherwise), as it has little application in other matchups.
It's unlikely we'll see Turbo Fog lists change too much. The deck just can't afford to muck around with its core cards – at best, it has about five "flex slots," but even then there is only a small range of cards that can be played in those slots. This is good news for those who don't like the deck – you have a very clear target to gun for, and one that isn't particularly agile or adaptable.
Big things were expected of Nicol Bolas, the Ravager, and he's finally beginning to chuck some punches around. Grixis Midrange is little more than a blue-black deck splashing for the mighty Elder Dragon, but it made its presence felt in the hands of powerful wizards such as Javier Dominguez.
I'm still not convinced by Grixis Midrange. Reanimating Bolas with The Scarab God is pretty hot, but so is reanimating… well, more or less anything else. Red removal isn't strictly necessary, and while I like how a 4/4 flyer with a free discard stapled onto it can close out games quickly, I was given further pause by a comment that famed Grixis enthusiast Corey Burkhart made on Twitter. If Burkhart can't be convinced to play Grixis, is it really the right call?
The only reason this deck isn't in the "other" category is to specifically draw attention to the demise of this once-mighty Standard powerhouse. Reduced to just a single copy in all 57 of the weekend's top decks, it looks like this particular dog has had its day. I'm not surprised – a questionable matchup against Goblin Chainwhirler in addition to having a horrific time against Turbo Fog has started to push green decks out of the format.
Speaking of green decks and how they're being pushed out of the format, let's have a look at this "other" category. The six decks that made up the remainder were:
- Sultai Midrange
- Sultai God-Pharaoh's Gift
- Red-Green Monsters
- Black-Green Constrictor
- Blue-Black Midrange
- Mono-Blue Storm
Four of these decks are green – even the Sultai lists are more or less base-green – and all this goes to show that Llanowar Elves is just not a viable strategy in a format Overrun by Goblin Chainwhirler. If you exclude Turbo Fog as a "green" deck – a justifiable position, as it's only really playing green for Fog and ramp effects, not a creature suite – it's clear that green is in a tough spot right now. With only five decks playing green creatures (yes yes, Carnage Tyrant, I know) amongst the weekend's top 57, green mages around the world have cause for concern.
Still, it's not the end of the world. The fact that these essentially previously-unseen Sultai lists spiked a GP Top 8 is meaningful enough and should give rogue deckbuilders a sense of optimism when seeking to attack the Standard format.
It seems plausible that for as long as Goblin Chainwhirler continues to be as strongly represented as it is these days, creature-based green decks will have a very difficult time in Standard. Turbo Fog is another nail in the coffin for anyone trying to rumble with big green monsters – the Standard format is extremely hostile to anyone seeking to curve out with green creatures.
Based on all this data and the analysis that can be drawn from it, there are some clear and actionable pieces of advice to keep in mind as we head into another huge weekend of Standard in both Providence and LA this weekend.
- If you expect to do well in a Standard tournament, you'll need to have a deck that can cope with being paired against Goblin Chainwhirler about half the time.
- Control decks are leaning on instants and Gearhulks more than enchantments and grindy Teferi wins. Abrade will no longer be dead against control.
- Turbo Fog looks to be here to stay, although it can't alter its core composition too meaningfully and therefore will have trouble bolstering key weaknesses.
- Grixis Midrange enjoyed a surge in popularity, but it's unlikely the deck is at its best yet. Have a plan to beat Nicol Bolas – for example, hold extra lands to discard to his trigger.
- Green decks are in an incredibly tough spot, and if you're thinking about rumbling with Llanowar Elves this weekend, you better have a good reason to do so – otherwise, reconsider your deck choice.
It'll be fascinating to look at the results from another double-GP weekend, and see how they stack up against what came out of Brussels and Orlando. What are your takeaways from what happened last weekend? How are you planning to attack Standard this weekend? Let me know what you make of this data!
- Riley Knight