Pro Tour Kaladesh last weekend has re-painted our picture of Standard. Formerly defined by aggressive white and red vehicles, the metagame at the Pro Tour pushed back and set the Standard ship on a new course. The primary reaction to these aggressive decks were Aetherworks Marvel combo decks, which operate with impunity against aggressive decks lacking meaningful disruption. Blue and red-based control decks powered by Torrential Gearhulk went a step further, putting the brakes on vehicles like Smuggler's Copter by using a swath of creature removal and using a slew of counterspells to contain Aetherworks Marvel. It was ultimately these control decks that dominated the tournament coverage and conversation, and their storylines, like Shota's undefeated run into Day 2 and eventual victory with Grixis Control, and Carlos Ramao's mastery over his first three Sunday matches with Jeskai Control, that will be remembered.

Underneath the surface of the Top 8 decks there was much more going on in Honolulu, and the full list of winning-record decklists shows that Standard isn't solved yet by any stretch. While Joey Manner's White-Blue Flash deck fell in the first match of the Top 8, his 9-1 Standard run was matched by three other players wielding very similar white-blue decks, something no other archetype achieved. What's more impressive is that there was no more than a handful of players using it to begin with, approximately 10 if you combine the six White-Blue Flash and four White-Blue Midrange decks listed in the Day 1 metagame breakdown. In addition to the four 9-1 finishes, white-blue also earned an 8-2, a 7-3 and a pair of 6-4 finishes, so that leaves room for at most two players who earned a mediocre finish. The deck isn't as high profile as the control decks of the Pro Tour, but it definitely needs to be explored.

Understanding the Deck

White-Blue Flash is a classic Magic archetype, the quintessential aggro-control deck. In the planeswalker era these decks have mostly evolved into what we typically call "midrange' decks, which have a similar gameplan but operate mostly at sorcery speed, and this deck has elements of the modern midrange deck combined with classic-style instants to create a potent package.

The defining factor of the aggro-control or midrange deck is its ability to seamlessly shift between roles over the course of the game, meaning it's capable of playing the aggressor and ending the game quickly, but it's also comfortable slowing down and grinding out the opponent.

Outmaneuvering the opponent is the name of the game, and aggro-control seeks to always stay one step ahead of its opponent. It accomplishes this by using the most efficient creatures possible, creatures that stand well on their own and don't require any specific synergy, which means the deck isn't particularly vulnerable to opposing disruption. Supporting these threats are the disruptive spells that define midrange decks, and it's specifically counterspells that makes this a true aggro-control deck with ability to disrupt on its own terms anything the opponent can present.

White-Blue Flash operates in the same realm as Faeries, CawBlade and Delver of Secrets decks, and that's good company. Playing this style of deck is as much an art as it is a science, but the general strategy is to go tit-for-tat with the opponent while maintaining the upper hand the entire time with your tempo elements. Ideally the goal is to minimize the value of your opponent's cards by playing around them as much as possible, while maximizing the impact of your own. Generate value any way you can get it, whether that is chipping in for damage, generating better card quality with loots, generating tokens with Gideon, Ally of Zendikar, or countering removal spells with Archangel Avacyn.

White-Blue Flash combines elements from the best decks of the past year into a new package built around Smuggler's Copter. It starts with the top-end of Archangel Avacyn and Gideon, Ally of Zendikar, formerly used by Green-White Tokens, to overpower the majority of the format. These are supported by tempo package of Reflector Mage, Spell Queller, and Selfless Spirit, which is taken straight from the best deck before rotation, Bant Company. There's something to be said for simply playing the best cards, and the early success of White-Blue Flash indicates that it might be the best strategy in this new environment. I've broken down how each individual card contributes to the deck's overall strategy:

Smuggler's Copter defines this deck. It fills the role of an extremely effective two-mana creature worth building a game plan upon, which the metagame lost with the rotation of Hangarback Walker and Jace, Vryn's Prodigy. As a vehicle, it pushes the deck towards creatures and aggression, which make it a natural pairing with the disruptive creatures that define this deck.

Thraben Inspector goes hand-in-hand with Smuggler's Copter in any white deck, even without Toolcraft Exemplar to make use of the Clue artifact token. It instead makes great use of the Clue as a source of value, either smoothing draws early or providing a bank to cash in later when the fuel runs out. It's also a great way to chip in damage, chump block — especially for protecting planeswalkers — or trigger Archangel Avacyn to flip.

Selfless Spirit is a perfect tactical tool combined with Smuggler's Copter, crewing it and then protecting it from removal spells. Selfless Spirit is especially good when the opponent's plan is to kill Smuggler's Copter before it attacks with something like Harnessed Lightning, leaving them defenseless. It's also important insurance against board sweepers like Radiant Flames and Fumigate that control plays in the maindeck. Selfless Spirit also has fantastic synergy with Archangel Avacyn, either sacrificing to trigger it to flip, or sacrificing to protect other creatures from its flip trigger.

Rattlechains is an extra creature to crew Smuggler's Copter, and instant speed makes it more effective than sorcery speed options in a deck that likes to play on its opponent's turn. It also provides spirit synergy, protecting both Selfless Spirit, which often finds itself a target of removal, and Spell Queller, which is especially vulnerable to creature removal.

What was once the best card in Standard has become nothing but a role-player in one deck, but its tempo-generating potential makes it a perfect fit in this deck - it exemplifies the "one step ahead" philosophy. It crews Smuggler's Copter, so the body is useful, and it's a robust defensive tool. This deck can struggle if it falls too far behind, and this helps prevent that against the fastest decks like Red-White Vehicles.

Spell Queller is the deck's primary disruptive element, a creature combined with a Counterspell is the perfect tempo card and represents the entire aggro-control strategy distilled into one card. It does all-purpose disruptive work against most anything the opponent plays, but it's critical for stopping otherwise impossible to deal with cards against combo-style decks, notably Aetherworks Marvel and Bristling Hydra.

Archangel Avacyn is an all-star in this deck, where it shines as a flash play that's a perfect fit into the gameplan. It's primarily a potent source of board presence offensively and defensively, and it even combines with Selfless Spirit sacrificing on-demand for a flip trigger. The come-into-play ability is especially strong in a deck filled with creatures that opponents are dead-set on killing in Spell Queller and Smuggler's Copter, so it often generates card advantage and tempo as a Guardian Angel.

In a deck designed to get ahead and stay ahead, planeswalkers have breathing room to operate and take over a game. Gideon, Ally of Zendikar is a fast threat that represents a huge amount of damage, and playing it on any advantageous board state where you can protect it to untap is very likely to translate into a win. Maintain parity with the opponent over the first three turns, resolve Gideon, Ally of Zendikar and win is the primary plan of this deck, and it's better than ever against a metagame defined by blue control decks.

Disruption against the opponent is necessary, and while Reflector Mage does most of the heavy lifting against creatures, it's important to have more concrete removal for creatures, especially at instant speed to stop Smuggler's Copter and Torrential Gearhulk, and Stasis Snare accomplishes that as one of the finest removal spells in a format without Dromoka's Command hosing enchantments.

White-blue Flash looks strong in the new metagame. It has all of the necessary tools to beat control because it can back up its pressure with Counterspells, and it's tailor-made to dismantle combo decks. The most aggressive decks, like Red-White Tokens with Servo Exhibition, could prove challenging, but Reflector Mage and Archangel Avacyn do go a long way, and Flash has strong sideboard options.

Playing the Deck

With Grand Prix Providence on the horizon, I immediately set out to test my theories about the deck on Magic Online. I was learning sideboarding as I went, and I realized it was a great opportunity to share my thoughts with others who were interested. I've written down my sideboarding plans in all of my matches, and in the process have created a comprehensive sideboarding guide against the most popular decks in the metagame. I've accompanied each plan with my thoughts on the matchup as a miniature strategy guide.

Matchup Guide

Torrential Gearhulk Control (Grixis, Jeskai)

-4 Reflector Mage
-1 Declaration in Stone
-1 Rattlechains

+2 Summary Dismissal
+2 Jace, Unraveler of Secrets
+2 Negate

White-Blue Flash can go toe-to-toe with the card advantage of Torrential Gearhulk control decks, especially after sideboarding, but it requires living the plan of getting the most from your cards. For example, you typically want to save Archangel Avacyn until it can respond to a removal spell, essentially countering it and generating a card. Spell Queller is best against situational spells, ideally Radiant Flames, or cards like Immolating Glare, Blessed Alliance, or counterspells which won't always prove valuable if Spell Queller is destroyed. Gideon, Ally of Zendikar is the best card, but be careful because making a token leaves the planeswalker at four loyalty and vulnerable to a lethal counterattack from a creature if they destroy the token, so against a creature land and untapped mana often the best line is to immediately +1 and pass the turn.

You want to be as aggressive as possible, but you're in no particular rush, especially after sideboard when you have counterspells to stop Torrential Gearhulk outright, so carefully plan a route that leaves you coming out ahead.

W/R Vehicles

-4 Gideon, Ally of Zendikar
-3 Rattlechains

+1 Fumigate
+1 Declaration in Stone
+1 Linvala, the Preserver
+2 Fragmentize
+2 Blessed Alliance

Flash assumes the control role in this matchup, but it aggressively seeks to turn the tide and assume the role of the aggressor when possible, especially with Smuggler's Copter and when on the play. Games will be close, and often come down to races, so be aggressive because playing too conservatively will lead to missing out on damage. They can use Depala, Pilot Exemplar to grind you out, so always work on killing the opponent. Their Smuggler's Copter will usually be larger, so don't plan on blocking it. They don't have burn to finish off the game, so use your life total as a resource while working to establish control of the battlefield. Archangel Avacyn can be a nightmare for them to navigate and can easily steal a game, so work to set up situations where they are unable to penetrate it.

Aetherworks Marvel

-4 Reflector Mage
-3 Stasis Snare
-1 Declaration in Stone

+2 Fragmentize
+2 Ceremonious Rejection
+2 Negate
+2 Summary Dismissal

The plan against Aetherworks Marvel decks is to simply apply as much pressure as possible, and retain Spell Queller and counterspells to stop Aetherworks Marvel. There's typically nothing else that should be countered, but after sideboard when you have extras built up it's worth stopping their enablers to stop them winning with a quick Emrakul, the Promised End. If they try to shift gears by getting aggressive, retain Reflector Mage and beat them at their own game.

R/G Stompy

-4 Gideon, Ally of Zendikar
-3 Rattlechains

+2 Blessed Alliance
+2 Negate
+1 Fumigate
+1 Declaration in Stone
+1 Linvala, the Preserver

The plan against Red-Green Electrostatic Pummeler Energy decks is to kill their creatures, especially Electrostatic Pummeler, whenever you have the opportunity. Spell Queller is great here, and it's the only answer to Bristling Hydra, which must otherwise be raced in the air while chump blocked on the ground. Their creatures are difficult to stop, so a good plan is to counter their critical pump spells and leave them just short of killing you. Archangel Avacyn is great against them, and Selfless Spirit can be important as a way to protect creatures and earn extra chump blocks. Blessed Alliance is an all-star after sideboard.

B/R Aggro

-4 Gideon, Ally of Zendikar
-3 Rattlechains

+1 Fumigate
+1 Declaration in Stone
+1 Linvala, the Preserver
+2 Fragmentize
+2 Blessed Alliance

I haven't played against Black-Red Aggro yet, but the gameplan should be similar to the Red-White Vehicles strategy of wrestling for battlefield control while killing them as soon as possible; Key to the City gives them superior card quality over the longest games, but will prove too slow if you put them on the backfoot.

B/G Delirium

-4 Selfless Spirit
-3 Rattlechains

+1 Declaration in Stone
+1 Fumigate
+1 Linvala, the Preserver
+2 Summary Dismissal
+2 Jace, Unraveler of Secrets

Black-Green Delirium looks to be a tough matchup, with Liliana, the Last Hope wrecking with its -2/-1 ability, and more importantly Ishkanah, Grafwidow getting around Spell Queller and containing all of the flying threats, even Archangel Avacyn. Otherwise our deck is in decent shape, and Reflector Mage will be especially effective against this midrange creature deck. Gideon, Ally of Zendikar is your best tool, often simply as an attacker, but its emblem will be great here as a way to counteract Liliana, the Last Hope and push through Ishkanah, Grafwidow and its spiderlings.

Metalwork Colossus

-4 Reflector Mage
-3 Rattlechains

+2 Fragmentize
+2 Ceremonious Rejection
+2 Negate
+1 Declaration in Stone

The Metalwork Colossus decks presents a combo matchup in the same vein as Aetherworks Marvel, and while it's not as all-in and more capable of playing fair, the combination of aggression and disruption will prove effective against it, especially after counterspells come in after sideboard. Metalwork Colossus is contained by Declaration in Stone and Stasis Snare.

Grixis Zombies

-3 Rattlechains

+1 Declaration in Stone
+1 Fumigate
+1 Linvala, the Preserver

My most crushing loss has come at the hands of Grixis Zombies, which enacted a graveyard strategy and put tons of creatures into play, which is directly at odds with the tempo gameplan of White-Blue Flash and bypasses its typical disruption, which made the matchup feel very difficult. The one-mana Cryptbreaker is also a must-answer or it will generate too much value. The best way to approach this matchup seems to be using creature removal from the sideboard to buy enough time to race them in the skies.

Do you have any questions about other matchups or W/U Flash in general? What are your thoughts on the deck?

-Adam