Fournier’s Take: Standard at Worlds


No more need for wanton speculation—the first weekend of Ixalan Standard events is behind us, and we’ve all had some time to play with the new cards in, admittedly, old decks. Between a Magic Online PTQ and an SCG Open in Dallas with its accompanying Classic, we have ourselves a pretty accurate snapshot of the Standard metagame going into this weekend’s World Championship. Janna, Cho’gath, Kog’maw, and Ryze are setting themselves up as must-ban champions as TSM plays the Flash Wolves tonight—wait, which game’s Worlds are we talking about here?

Fortunately for my productivity, League of Legends Worlds seems to be taking place in the middle of the night EST, so I guess I’ll just have to skip it and watch Magic Worlds instead. Much like in League, we have ourselves a very defined set of four tier 1 decks that the pros will be working with for the weekend’s festivities. If, like me, you’re deep into your preparation for the following weekend’s Nationals, I’d strongly recommend limiting your testing to these decks on top of anything the Worlds competitors come up with. As fun as brewing is, nothing has demonstrated a real ability to tangle with the power level of these four decks. I recognize that through the last year or so of bannings, Standard has seen a massive decline in popularity as a competitive format in the area, so today we’re going to go over the basics of this metagame. Not only should this seriously improve the Worlds viewing experience, but should serve as a nice place to start your tuning for Nationals! In no particular order, we’ll be looking at Temur Energy, Sultai Energy, Hazoret Red, and U/W Approach.

Temur Energy by Edgar Magalhaes – MTGO PTQ, 1st place

Disturbingly-moustachio’d local Edgar Magalhaes of Amulet Titan fame took down Saturday’s online PTQ with a staggering 11-0 record with this list. As he loves to do, he took the stock list, added a bit of spice with a maindeck Hostage Taker, and changed the online metagame by including Hour of Glory and Cartouche of Ambition in his sideboard. Along with Red, this deck was considered by many to be an obvious favourite going into Ixalan Standard, and it has not disappointed so far.

What does this deck try to do?

Temur Energy is a fairly straightforward midrange deck. It has a high creature count, including many that grant some form of card advantage, like Glorybringer, Hostage Taker, or Rogue Refiner. The absurdly powerful and consistent set of energy cards from Kaladesh form the core of this deck. Energy synergies give the deck a Terminate in the form of Harnessed Lightning, perfect mana from Attune with Aether and Servant of the Conduit, and payoff cards in Longtusk Cub, Whirler Virtuoso and Bristling Hydra. Expect this deck to flood the board with the best creatures in the format through the mid-game while maintaining control with 7-8 removal spells, then eventually go over-the-top with cards like Glorybringer and The Scarab God. Sometimes an early Longtusk Cub or Bristling Hydra gets out of hand and quickly takes over a game. This deck’s strength lies in its reliability. While most of its creatures are tied together by the energy mechanic, they’re not individually weak like in many other strategies. This makes even the most medium of Temur draws still operate at an acceptable level.

How are its matchups?

Vs Hazoret Red: Between a wide suite of removal spells and the brick wall that is Whirler Virtuoso, Temur has a fairly easy time maintaining a high life total against Red. All that matters after that is figuring out a way to beat Hazoret, the Fervent, to which there are only two hard answers in Edgar’s maindeck. Temur typically finds a way, however, and is solidly favoured in this matchup.

Vs Sultai Energy: On first inspection, this matchup looked like it could be rough for Temur. They play the full suite of Hostage Takers, and are able to protect their linear gameplan through Blossoming Defense. However, they are easily disrupted with a critical mass of removal spells, and can struggle to beat Glorybringer and Bristling Hydra. When my lovely editor, Keith, asked Andrew Jessup, the man who built this deck, how it played out, he explained that he felt like Temur was favoured. I would tend to agree.

Vs U/W Approach: Up until now, I’ve been painting a really rosy picture of Temur – a strong deck with no bad matchups, like Amulet Titan. This, unfortunately, is where it all falls apart. Game 1 is practically unwinnable. They play so much mass removal, Settle the Wreckage is a beating, and we can’t really interact with Approach of the Second Sun. Post-board, you’d assume that it would get much better with so many copies of Negate and Spell Pierce, but I found that it didn’t get much better than even. That leaves us looking to get lucky to win the match. Whoops.

Hazoret Red by Ted Macaraeg – SCG Dallas Open, 2nd place

Ted Macaraeg—which is a sick name—made it all the way to the finals of the Open with this tight Hazoret Red list, and there’s absolutely no shame in losing the finals of these events. It’s actually impossible to win the last round of an SCG event. Trust me. I would know. Red players, Ted included, came to their senses about the one-drop situation, and decided to just drop Rigging Runner rather than play terrible cards in their deck.

What does this deck try to do?

Kill them, and quickly. With an aggressive curve, lots of burn, and the ability to punch through an absurd amount of damage with eight Falter-style effects, this deck doesn’t always need its absurd reach mechanics to win the game. When it does, however, Ramunap Ruins and Hazoret the Fervent are there to do the last six points of damage, no questions asked. In addition to being a powerful aggro deck, Red’s sideboard is one of its strongest assets. With access to a full set of Chandra, Torch of Defiance and Glorybringer in post-board games, this deck can transform to play a more midrange role in matchups where its aggro plan can get hated-out. That’s exceptionally powerful.

How are its matchups?

Vs Temur Energy: I explained earlier how Red has a hard time punching through damage against Temur, but there are definitely some key cards in the matchup. Hazoret is, of course, almost impossible to deal with and frequently plays the role of a massive Moat that slowly burns them out. Post-board, they can actually struggle to deal with Glorybringers, assuming their Harnessed Lightnings were taxed earlier by your creatures.

Vs Sultai Energy: I’m fairly certain that this matchup is why Red plays the full set of Abrades. There are just so many important targets that you need to remove lest their board get way out of hand. When you factor in the Blossoming Defenses and your creatures’ diminutive size, this matchup isn’t looking so hot. Hostage Taker is an outstanding answer to Hazoret, and a Winding Constrictor-fueled Walking Ballista can be a real problem. Verdict: bad!

Vs U/W Approach: This is where the red deck shines. We come out of the gate blisteringly fast, doing a ton of damage, and it’s not like they’re able to get ahead on board if we stumble. Just be careful to play around Settle the Wreckage with your Hazorets, and burn them out before they can Approach you out.

Sultai Energy by Andrew Jessup – SCG Dallas Open, 1st place

The Better Jessup took down Ixalan’s inaugural tournament, beating his brother The Worse Jessup in the semifinals. Much like Brad Nelson and his brother Corey Baumeister dominate the Standard GP circuit, the Jessups dominate the Little League of the SCG circuit. This week, they took the classic GB Energy shell and paired it with the powerful new Hostage Taker and the classic Rogue Refiner, which wasn’t quite worth it to splash on its own, to make for a very powerful aggressive The Scarab God deck.

What does this deck try to do?

Get ahead on board and cards, then stay that way. Winding Constrictor, while more or less a blank on its own, has a way of making the rest of the cards in your deck into absurd powerhouses. Between Longtusk Cub, Glint-Sleeve Siphoner, Walking Ballista, and Rishkar, this deck is able to develop an explosive board in the first few turns, protecting it with the full set of Blossoming Defense. It’s then able to keep things going in the mid and late game through Rogue Refiner, Hostage Taker, and The Scarab God. While Hostage Taker is fragile in theory, it’s important to remember that removal is overtaxed by the linear 2-drops, allowing you to protect it with Blossoming Defense to gain an overwhelming advantage.

How are its matchups?

Vs Temur Energy: While they have all the tools necessary to disrupt us and get to play the almighty Glorybringer, we still have the ability to take over the game with an uncontested Hostage Taker. If we can’t overwhelm them with our two-drops, then we have to get ahead before they can go over us with the dragon. Remember that with The Scarab God in play, Hostage Takers in graveyards function as instant-speed removal, beating a top-decked Glorybringer.

Vs Hazoret Red: Get ahead. Stay ahead. Draw Blossoming Defense to make sure you can’t lose. Easy. Their removal is stretched so thin that Deathgorge Scavenger might even be great here, letting you race while maintaining a high life total.

Vs U/W Approach: B/G strategies were historically very soft to mass removal, and this deck has even more mass removal than ever. However, with it relying on Settle the Wreckage to effectively clear boards, we have paths to victory in Glint-Sleeve Siphoner staying back and drawing us multiple cards a turn, or Hostage Taker targeting our own creature to have them survive a Fumigate. Post-board, Duress and some Negates help this plan out considerably. I can’t imagine this matchup being all that terrible for Sultai, but I doubt it’s easy.

U/W Approach by Jim Davis – SCG Dallas Open, 5th place

SCG circuit stalwart Jim Davis reached the elimination rounds of the Open with this deck that is truly close to my heart. Why, you ask? There are no creatures in the maindeck. That brings a tear to my eye. At last, Magic as Richard Garfield intended. Pure, unadulterated fun. No filthy creatures to get in the way of our beautiful blue spells. Approach gained some new tools with Ixalan, namely the absurd Settle the Wreckage and Search for Azcanta. Both of these cards do pretty much everything this deck could possibly want a card to do, and the Opt reprint is always nice.

What does this deck try to do?

At this point in its life cycle, U/W Approach is truly a control deck, albeit one with a combo finish. It’s got counterspells, card advantage, mass removal, and a win-condition that takes up very few slots. Its sole objective is to not die until it can cast Approach of the Second Sun twice, and with Settle the Wreckage, Fumigate, and Aether Meltdown, it does a great job of surviving until seven mana. Then, the extremely high density of cycling cards and cantrips, alongside the self-mill effect of Ipnu Rivulet, let you race through those top six cards and find the buried Approach. Then, well, you win.

How are its matchups?

Vs Temur Energy: Our first objective, not dying, is typically quite easy in preboard scenarios, as they can’t really deal with our Fumigates very well. Cast Out and Disallow answer the occasional Chandra, and we’re off to the sideboard, where we have to fight through Negates. Luckily for us, we have our own, and their Negates can’t counter our Torrential Gearhulks. We have to be patient with our Approaches in these games, as we don’t want them to get Spell Pierced.

Vs Sultai Energy: If Wraths were good against Temur, they’re outstanding here. We likely have to save Cast Out to deal with problematic non-attacking permanents like The Scarab God and Glint-Sleeve Siphoner. Much like with the Temur matchup, where Negate can’t beat Torrential Gerahulk, Duress also can’t make you discard it. They have the tools to disrupt us and beat us down, but control strategies typically shine against this sort of plan.

Vs Hazoret Red: Pray you draw Authority of the Consuls in your opening hand.

With everything said and done, this looks like it’s going to be a very healthy Standard format. There are aggressive decks, control decks, and a wide variety of midrange decks, and none of them are obviously better than the others. There’s always a bad matchup, always a solution to the problem. As far as I’m concerned, that’s what makes Standard great. Worlds starts at 9am EST this Friday, and I can’t wait to watch it. Try one of these decks at this Sunday’s Standard Showdown at Face to Face Games Toronto!