Standard is rather daunting to jump into as a new or returning player right now. If you look to the format’s best players for advice, you’re going to run into a wall of people telling you that the only competitive strategy is to play four copies of The Scarab God, with some divergence of opinion on what the best supporting cast might be. They’re obviously more or less right, and Grixis and U/B Midrange are without a doubt the stars of the format — but this is Standard. There are always different approaches you can take to local events, whether they’re PPTQs or even FNM, and achieve success without breaking the bank on cards like Chandra or The Scarab God.
This isn’t just some budget Standard decks column, however — I legitimately think this week’s deck has legs, especially looking forward to Dominaria. Sram’s Expertise is an obscenely powerful card in terms of how it works to flip Legion’s Landing or get you a quick City’s Blessing. Coupled with Thopter Arrest or another random spell, it can also claw you out of a tempo-deficit with ease. I was always unimpressed with the G/W variants of Sram’s Expertise decks, relying on the fragile-but-powerful Appeal to Authority to punch through with their tokens. This mono-white deck is much more of a “pure” tokens strategy, playing anthems and Overrun effects to make giant alpha strikes in a format low on mass removal.
Daniel Fournier- Mono-White Tokens
While this looks like a reject draft deck, there’s actually a fair amount of theory that supports a strategy like this. Besides the fever dream I had about Sram’s Expertise being an outrageous enabler for Ascend, there was a weakness to the more aggressive Pride of Conquerors decks I had been playing: they folded to a single piece of mass removal — hard. Yeah sure, you could board into Heart of Kiran and Gideon, but I found that the post-board version of the deck lacked the punch of the go-wide strategy. The solution was to play as many token producers as possible and lean on powerful cards like Angel of Invention to repopulate the board after a rare sweeper. Angel and Shefet Dunes are “free” anthem effects, in so far as that they appear on cards that provide other utility, and between those two and the downright absurd Pride of Conquerors, your army of servos is oddly threatening.
There’s something to be said for mono-coloured decks in this format. The mana is doubtlessly bad, especially in enemy colours. You do lose a bit of punch by not having, say, Start to Finish in your deck, but the consistency of having your fifth land come into play untapped for Angel of Invention to give that nice anthem effect is well worth the price. Even two-colour decks get screwed on colours in this Standard thanks to their high basic counts, and converting that fail-rate into real games is valuable.
We’re also quite lucky that white, in this format, happens to have access to pretty much every axis upon which a midrange deck functions. We have resilient threats in token producers, we have some of the rare exile effects necessary to beat The Scarab God, Rekindling Phoenix and Hazoret, and we even have card advantage engines in Arch of Orazca, Treasure Map and The Immortal Sun. Unlike in Modern, however, white’s sideboard is a bit weaker. The best cards in post-board games in this format tend to be Negate and Duress, cards that let fair decks interact with both control strategies and linear decks like Gift or Approach. We don’t quite have the luxury of versatile answers to non-creature spells, so we have to use our sideboard slots a bit more ambitiously, with cards like Forsake the Worldly and Gideon’s Intervention. This big enchantment is doubtlessly a bad card, but it’s one of our few tools against Approach, which would otherwise be borderline un-winnable.
The last bit of lovely theory that went into the genesis of this wild deck is the idea that while Legion’s Landing is powerful as a recursive token producer, it’s downright absurd as a Rampant Growth effect. This deck flips the enchantment very easily by turn four or five, and while most Legion’s Landing decks aren’t too keen on casting big spells, we have Angel of Invention and The Immortal Sun to pump out. The amount of velocity that Legion’s Landing can generate in this deck is significant, and while it might not flip it as well as the aggressive Mardu Ascend decks, we certainly use the land much more effectively.
Now, I can’t in good conscience recommend this deck to someone trying to be as competitive as possible at the moment, and you should play The Scarab God if you’re trying to win an important event. That said, this deck might only be marginally worse than any given U/B/x list, and I think that’s definitely a feature of Standard at the moment. There are a lot of legitimately powerful strategies, and many of them might actually be able to compete with U/B/x on power level, but thanks to the lack of premier play in the format and the way Magic Online data is presented these days, we have no real conclusive evidence to support any of this. I play a lot of Standard online, and have found myself with similar win rates across insignificant sample sizes of pretty much every deck I try. The only trend is that I always seem to 5-0 whenever I roll up to a league with an untuned and particularly janky mono-coloured deck. With GP Seattle coming up this weekend, hopefully we’ll see more of the various reactions to the perceived supremacy of The Scarab God, but I’m not confident about it.
You might be asking at this point why I keep putting so much effort into this godforsaken Sram’s Expertise nonsense if I don’t even think it’s the most competitive deck. You see, there’s a little nugget buried deep in the Dominaria spoiler. This gem goes by the unassuming name of Benalish Marshal. With a scary WWW mana cost, this 3/3 just happens to be a walking Glorious Anthem that is nigh-uncastable in anything other than a mono-white deck, and is coincidentally best friends with Sram’s Expertise. Benalish Marshal just might be the piece that puts this deck over the top, making it legitimately competitive rather than a rogue pick meant to catch unwary opponents. The Marshal isn’t even the only piece of technology we gain in Dominaria, as History of Benalia and its beautiful art is a pretty solid upgrade to Glint-Sleeve Artisan, the most embarrassing card in our deck. The new Karn is also a decent sideboard card, replacing our weak Treasure Map card advantage engine.
But enough vague talk, let’s look at a preliminary post-Dominaria build of this wacky deck.
Daniel Fournier- Mono-White Tokens (Dominaria)
I find it very likely that there will be additional cards following the white tokens theme in Dominaria. They tend to push design around powerful mythics like History of Benalia, and there are still so many cards left to be spoiled. We’re specifically looking for something like a Raise the Alarm to replace Martyr of Dusk, which, despite being a totally reasonable card in the greater context of our deck, does a bad job of flipping Legion’s Landing and is just overall not on the power level of what we’re trying to do. It’s also worth keeping in mind that Dominaria features the enemy-coloured dual lands from Innistrad, and Isolated Chapel could go a long way towards making a Duress splash in our sideboard significantly more reasonable. I’m not sure just how feasible this is, but it’ll merit testing going forward.
Let me know what kind of experiences you’ve all had with Sram’s Expertise decks, and definitely hit me up if you’ve tried one of my lists here or from Twitter!