A New Standard

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On Monday, Wizards made the surprising decision to not only ban the core of the Energy decks, but also execute Ramunap Ruins and Rampaging Ferocidon, taking a bunch of the oomph out of the red decks. We’ve had a few days to think about the impact of the ban, and some results on MTGOleagues have been creeping out. We have ourselves the bedrock of a new metagame, and today we’re going to look at the major strategies left viable in the wake of this aggressive set of changes.

I don’t want to go too deep into my opinions on the bannings, but I’ll just say that the format is irreparably damaged every time a card is banned. Players lose confidence in their investments, and Standard is far too expensive, with a significant upkeep cost, to justify honestly marginal format integrity over a player knowing that they’re safe in buying into that format. The crown prince of 4c Saheeli had some more to say here. Selfishly, I enjoy exploring new formats, even though it’s ultimately bad for my competitive success to take away my vested experience. Anyways, without further ado, let’s dive in to yet another brave new world.

Grixis Energy (list by Spicychicken420)

This wild deck, initially Rob Lombardi’s design, if I’m not mistaken, was more or less competitive in the midrange world of Temur Energy decks, and certainly only had a lot to gain with its more robust counterparts being banned-out. This deck has the rare luxury of in-no-way relying on the banned green cards, and can instead look elsewhere for the midrange value that we expect out of energy cards. Of course, Whirler Virtuoso is not nearly as powerful in this deck as it was in Temur thanks to the stifled energy generation, but Glint-Sleeve Siphoner is still great, and this deck actively embraces a lot of the control cards available to it.

The top ends of these decks vary pretty significantly. This build from Magic Online embraces the double red, with Chandras and Glorybringers packing an aggressive midrange punch. Others choose to go along a more controlling route, with Hostage Takers and Torrential Gearhulks trying to go one step deeper. We’ll have to see how the format pans out to know which approach is eventually stronger. I, unsurprisingly, hope that I get to play more Gearhulks.

With a versatile sideboard that gets access to all the strongest answers in the format, Grixis is without a doubt a significant contender in these opening weeks, and likely to be the midrange all-star going forward.

Control Decks (list by katoriarch123)

I’m going to lump together all these various blue-based control decks, as while they have different paths to victory, their positions in the metagame are all loosely the same. While Drake Haven-based cycling decks were strong at the end of the Temur metagame, that was largely due to their odd ability to out-muscle Temur at many points in the game. With the need to go hilariously over the top of a midrange situation out of the way, it leaves room for either Approach of the Second Sun or a more traditional Torrential Gearhulk/The Scarab God plan to dominate.

Search for Azcanta is an undeniably powerful card, and the success of these strategies will invariably hinge on how welcoming the format is to a deck full of answers and powerful inevitability. With one of its natural predators in red aggressive decks significantly nerfed, blue control decks look to be a huge winner in this new metagame, but risk being dwarfed in card advantage by crafty midrange players exploiting certain holes in the designs of control decks. For instance, a U/B/x midrange deck can play high concentrations of cards like Dreamstealer and Champion of Wits, creating significant card advantage. Couple that with some attrition in Duress and their own counterspells, and suddenly we have an archetype that’s traditionally a dog to control being able to out-maneuver it at every turn.

Though on the flip-side, if the format ends up with a lot of Winding Constrictor and various creature decks, then Fumigate and Settle the Wreckage seem pretty obscene.

Hazoret Decks (list by me – originally from Pedro Carvalho)

Ramunap Red, despite its terrible name, was by far the consensus best Hazoret deck before its namesake met its timely demise. Without the significant reach afforded by Ramunap Ruins and Rampaging Ferocidon, the doors are once again opened for the other Hazoret strategies to compete for the top spot. People are playing mono-red still, sometimes splashing for Path of Mettle, but I feel that the black Hazoret deck of Pedro Carvalho’s design duels with Mardu Vehicles for alpha wolf status.

The black deck has a bunch of significant upsides to it. Thanks to having a massive host of powerful one-drops, it can deploy its hand very quickly, making early Hazorets extremely threatening. It has a lot of staying power on the board thanks to Dread Wanderer, Scrapheap Scrounger, and Glint-Sleeve Siphoner all helping to ensure that you have a steady stream of threats. Black sideboard cards are very powerful, and the unique interaction between Bontu’s Last Reckoning and Yahenni, Undying Partisan, not to mention Hazoret, is nothing to scoff at. It has awkward mana at times, however, with Pedro himself admitting to the fact that Aethersphere Harvester and Glint-Sleeve Siphoner are frequently relegated to the role of mana fixing in hands that rely on Aether Hub. It can also easily stall-out on board, and doesn’t have much reach beyond just attacking or activating Hazoret.

Mardu replaces the smooth curve and lasting board presence of the black deck with significantly more powerful, if fragile, cards. Toolcraft Exemplar is the gold standard of a powerful creature, and Heart of Kiran is immensely powerful. Mardu fell out of favour initially thanks to the rise of Abrade, and with Fatal Push looking to be very popular in this format, this deck, relying on Heart of Kiran to provide a lot of its punch and artifact synergy, might be lacking in the metagame.

Regardless, it’s not like Hazoret is any less absurd of a card as it was before the bannings, so finding the best shell for her will definitely be important early on in this format.

BG Constrictor (list by nathansteuer)

I’m glad to see this deck stick around. While it lost a lot of aggressive power in the Attune with Aether into Longtusk Cub plan, it got some new tools in Rivals of Ixalan. We finally have an excuse to use Merfolk Branchwalker as the midrange curve filler we always hoped it could be, and Jadelight Ranger is a hell of a combo with Winding Constrictor. I’m not much of a fan of Ravenous Chupacabra, but it’s not like it’s a bad card or anything. Otherwise this deck just relies on the old synergies with Winding Constrictor — a bunch of reasonable cards that are pushed into overdrive when they get Doubling Season’d by a 2-drop.

I love the return to Verdurous Gearhulk, as well, though I’d like to see some more Gontis in this deck as the ultimate midrange trump card, with Vizier of Many Faces unceremoniously removed from contention in the format.

Abzan Tokens (list by CNewman)

Tokens relies on the synergy of a series of individually poor, clunky non-creature spells to overwhelm the board in a long game. Every deck we’ve featured so far has a bunch of Duress in their sideboard. I can’t in good conscience recommend playing Anointed Procession right now, even if the card is very powerful.

Merfolk (list by Graciasportanto)

Let’s just start this off by saying that I’ll never understand decks like these. It reminds me of Blue Devotion back in Theros Standard. You could register a bunch of individually unplayable draft cards that, combined with each other, formed a semi-coherent deck that occasionally looked extremely embarrassing when dissected by interaction. You could also register Thoughtseize and Pack Rat, or in this case The Scarab God.

I understand that this kind of deck is exactly what Wizards wanted to popularize by banning the boogeymen of the format. It’s a tribal creature deck, which casual players love passionately, despite Merfolk being the worst tribe in the history of Magic, by far. It shows off cool cards from Rivals of Ixalan to help sell packs, and there’s no doubt that Kumena, Tyrant of Orazca, is a pretty swell dude.

But why would you roll up to a constructed tournament with Crashing Tide and Jade Bearer in your deck? Who hurt you? Do you know how much pain it causes me every time I see someone Unsummon their one-drop to save it from a Fumigate? I firmly believe that regardless of how cool and synergistic creature strategies in Standard can be, you should operate on the power level of the format you’re playing, not on the power level of the associated limited format. Merfolk is a hard pass for me.

U/W Gift (list by tmoney846)

This list hasn’t changed much since its Pro Tour finals appearance in the hands of Pascal Maynard, and why should it? It was hated out for most of the format by a critical mass of Abrades from both Temur Energy and the red deck – but with all this artifact removal suddenly out of the format, a spot for God-Pharaoh’s Gift suddenly reappears. It’s certainly one of the more powerful applications of the key card Search for Azcanta, and is one of the few decks in the format, alongside Tokens, that operates on a truly unfair angle.

I would be hesitant putting too much stock in this deck, however, as it does have a significant fail rate, and can easily be pushed out of contention on any given weekend by a random density of Abrades or even Scavenger Grounds. If that’s the case, then the more versatile Esper versions of Gift might be more viable, with The Scarab God and Hostage Taker providing a powerful midrange plan.

Well, that just about covers the grand majority of this nascent and yet still-familiar format. Join me again in the coming weeks as we look to see what directions players choose to take!

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