The first couple weeks of a new Standard format usually involves results that can be a bit all over the place, and the results you draw become inconclusive. The metagame isn't set, which makes it much more difficult to pinpoint what decks will show up at tournaments. Now, after the conclusion of Grand Prix Birmingham, we have a better idea of what the top decks in the format are, and it's clear that Heart of Kiran has been revived in a huge way.
The number one deck to beat is Black-Red Vehicles. Okay, so Heart of Kiran is the only vehicle in the deck, so let's not get too caught up in the name, but having Heart of Kiran is an important distinction. That card means this is a very different deck than the black-red decks that we saw a month or two ago. Hazoret the Fervent has been so dominant in red-based aggressive decks that the idea of not playing it is in many ways illogical. Yet, if you can move away from the past and look at what is actually going on with the format right now, the decision starts to make sense. This is the deck Simon Nielsen took Birmingham down with.
This deck looks quite different from the red decks we are used to' Goblin Chainwhirler is one of the key additions. After Dominaria, the addition of Goblin Chainwhirler was the first step towards improving the red decks. The most obvious home for this card is in straight Mono-Red because of its casting cost, but what players didn't initially realize is that there are actually enough dual lands in the format to play Goblin Chainwhirler in a two-color deck.
Perhaps what's most interesting about the artifact suite for Spire of Industry is that it doesn't include Bomat Courier. Bomat Courier has long been thought of as the best one-drop in the red aggressive decks, yet now this deck has omitted it. The reason is that this version of the deck is more midrange-oriented, so you aren't going to want to sacrifice the Bomat Courier early in the game. The other factor is by cutting it you are now less vulnerable to opposing Goblin Chainwhirlers, which is a big deal considering where the format is at right now.
Alongside Heart of Kiran, we have Scrapheap Scrounger, Pia Nalaar and Walking Ballista as the artifacts, and to a certain extent Karn, Scion of Urza as well. Many times you want to be aggressive with Karn, Scion of Urza and immediately make a Construct – since there are other artifacts in the deck the Construct can hit a little harder. Pretty much any deck can play Walking Ballista these days, as this is a creature that is so versatile and generically good. There are very few situations where I am unhappy to have a Walking Ballista – unless I draw multiples and am constrained on mana, which is why there are only two copies.
The artifacts in the deck are actually tricky to answer. Having threats like Scrapheap Scrounger that return from the graveyard and Pia Nalaar that brings along a friend when entering play makes life difficult for the control decks. Karn, Scion of Urza is what brings everything together. Why has Heart of Kiran suddenly become so popular? The answer is Karn – Heart of Kiran works really well with high-loyalty planeswalkers, and the fact both of these spells are colorless mean they can go with any color pair. These days we often see both get played in the same deck.
Karn, Scion of Urza is in many ways more threatening in an aggro deck than anything else because you are generally already ahead on board when casting it. At that point, even if your opponent has a card like Cast Out of Vraska's Contempt, simply having a removal spell may not be good enough. With Karn, Scion of Urza you can immediately minus to try and close the game out, or plus and go for a longer game. This is one of the hottest cards in the format, and has the price tag to match.
The rest of the deck is pretty straightforward, with the biggest payoff to black being Unlicensed Disintegration. The initial answer the white decks brought to the table to counter red aggro was Lyra Dawnbringer, but now with Unlicensed Disintegration Lyra can be answered and there isn't as much need for actual burn spells like Lightning Strike. The popularity of Heart of Kiran causes Abrade to get the nod over Lightning Strike.
The sideboard has a variety of different options and is very well put together. Simon Nielsen and Martin Juza clearly put a lot of thought into the deck. There are more planeswalkers for control matchups, as well as discard so you can plan on playing a grindier game. Release the Gremlins is a nod towards mirror matchups, as artifacts are at an all-time high. We saw Simon make use of both Angrath, the Flame Chained and Cut // Ribbons to steal a key game in the quarterfinals, which helps show the impact the one-ofs can have.
That's the top deck in the format right now. There are of course other Heart of Kiran decks that look more like the traditional Vehicles strategies as they have white in them, such as White-Black Vehicles.
This is the second-most popular Heart of Kiran deck right now. We still see Karn, Scion of Urza to go alongside Heart of Kiran; in fact, there are the full four copies. Toolcraft Exemplar has traditionally been what this deck wants in a one-drop to provide explosive starts. Knight of Malice is here to combat cards like Seal Away that come out of the White-Blue Control strategies. However, I think this deck loses in a heads-up fight with the Black-Red Vehicles deck. Unlicensed Disintegration is absurd in these sort of matchups, but if the opponent doesn't have one then Lyra Dawnbringer can win the game.
The three-mana threats work nicely with Knight of Malice as they are all white permanents that aren't easily answered. History of Benalia can spiral very easily as the third chapter comes quickly and allows for some big attacks. The card has been impressive, and drawing multiple copies allows the Knights to have even more significant bodies. This, of course, works well alongside Knight of Malice, which is also a Knight. Gideon of the Trials is another way to immediately crew a Heart of Kiran, and ups the planeswalker count.
This deck is a very solid and more straightforward take on playing with Heart of Kiran. And while most decks play Karn alongside Heart, Steel Leaf Stompy plays Heart of Kiran simply as a flying attacker that can help power out a Ghalta, Primal Hunger.
This deck is almost all green cards, but there is a small black splash to make room for Scrapheap Scrounger, a card that we seem to always see in the Heart of Kiran decks and might be the best two-mana, three-power creature in the format. This deck has all ground creatures other than Heart of Kiran, so having that flyer becomes pretty important. In fact, one of the important reasons for playing Heart of Kiran in this deck is so you can block an opposing Heart of Kiran, as that trade normally is beneficial for this deck. Heart of Kiran having four power also works nicely alongside Rhonas the Indomitable.
The format has literally come full circle, back to the days where Mardu Vehicles was dominant, even if the decks aren't Mardu colors anymore. Artifacts and cheap creatures with high power are doing well and when you combine them with a powerful curve topper like a planeswalker, the deck reaches another level. Mardu Vehicles at its peak had access to Gideon, Ally of Zendikar as the curve topper, and finally there is an adequate replacement in Karn, Scion of Urza.
Okay, so what if you don't want to join the Vehicles bandwagon? That's totally fair. The overall best deck right now that isn't Vehicles is probably White-Blue Control. The deck doesn't win the game quickly but is essentially the ultimate control deck – it doesn't even play creatures. By going this route you are able to strand dead cards in opponents' hands.
Relying heavily on Teferi, Hero of Dominaria is okay, as there are fewer removal spells like Vraska's Contempt at the moment. The deck can durdle around and try to use its removal to control the board, and eventually the card advantage should take over the game. I do believe this deck is a bit ahead of the red Vehicles decks, though the White-Black Vehicles deck is still pretty tough to beat. This is the best control deck in the format right now, but the biggest knock against it is how painful the mirror matches are.
Outside of specific strategies that are good against the new Vehicles decks, we can also turn to specific cards as answers. We have already seen some of Release the Gremlins, and I expect to see even more going forward. Being able to cast a Release the Gremlins for one or two can completely swing a game in your favor and shut down opposing Spire of Industry – the value of artifact removal has gone up again. A card like Natural Obsolescence can now start to creep back into player's sideboard.
Natural Obsolescence is perhaps the best way of answering either a Heart of Kiran or a Scrapheap Scrounger as early as turn two. Once we have a more defined metagame, it is cards like this that can start to shine, and once players start to make the necessary adjustments we may see Vehicles fall off. The other way to try to beat Vehicles decks is by going slightly bigger with cards like Skysovereign, Consul Flagship or something similar. Hopefully after the results from GP Birmingham players can make the adjustments in an attempt to knock Heart of Kiran down a notch.
Thanks for reading,