It’s been a couple weeks since Return to Ravnica went on sale on Magic: the Gathering Online, so it seems like a great time to check in on the new MTGO Standard metagame. In this article, I will provide analysis and observations similar to those in my “Standard Analysis” column devoted to the SCG Open Series. The big difference is that, rather than looking at the top 16 decks of a single tournament, this article is based on the 337 decks that finished 3-1 or 4-0 in a Standard Daily event held from 10/16/2012 to 10/29/2012, which covers most of Return to Ravnica Standard to date.
Let’s start by examining the decks. Paper or digital, midrange strategies are dominating the Standard metagame. The most successful deck on MTGO has been BGR Jund Midrange by a hefty margin: 22% of the 337 decks. Reanimator (typically BGW) and UWR Midrange are tied for second at 11% each. From there we have five other deck archetypes in the 7-9% range.
The following pie chart is worth at least five hundred more words on the subject:
Aggressive strategies account for 30% of the top decks. Zombies, the early favorite for Return to Ravnica Standard, is just one of four aggressive decks represented at 7% and has faced a huge drop off post-rotation. It seems clear that the digital walking dead aren’t faring a whole lot better against midrange opponents than their paper brethren.
With that background established, let’s get into the cards played in these decks, starting with creatures.
Guess what? Thragtusk is good online too! You probably knew that. But did you know exactly how good? To put it into perspective here are some stats… bullet style:
- 675 total copies were played in 176 decks (52% of successful decks).
- 650 were played maindeck (3.9 average) and 25 sideboard (1.7 average).
- 100% of the BGR Midrange decks, 100% of the Reanimator decks, 77% of the Selesnya Aggro decks, and 72% of the Bant decks played Thragtusk.
- The next most played creature, Restoration Angel, is significantly behind with 413 copies played (35% of successful decks).
For even more perspective, consider that Delver of Secrets did not achieve these numbers. Delver decks were consistently around 30-35% of successful decks, and they all played four copies, but everybody’s favorite human wizard turned insect thing didn’t appear in many other decks.
Here are more of the most played creatures:
The top graph shows the total number of each creature played, and the bottom graph shows the average number of copies played. The percentage of decks playing the card is listed in parentheses after the card name at the bottom of each graph.
These creatures appear consistently in the top deck archetypes:
- Restoration Angel: UWR Midrange (100%), Reanimator (84%)
- Huntmaster of the Fells: BGR Midrange (98%)
- Geist of Saint Traft: UWR Midrange (100%)
- Angel of Serenity: Reanimator (100%)
- Olivia Voldaren: BGR Midrange (93%)
Centaur Healer and Knight of Glory are the only creatures on this list played more as a sideboard card than in the maindeck. Centaur Healer appears in Reanimator (100%) and Bant (72%). Knight of Glory is played in Azorius Aggro (95%), Selesnya Aggro (40%), UWR Midrange (36%), and BUW Tokens (35%).
Lingering Souls, not technically a creature but functioning as one, has had 214 copies appear in 19% of the decks, primarily BUW Tokens (100%) and Reanimator (81%).
Let’s move now to an examination of the most played removal on MTGO:
Again, the MTGO metagame mirrors what we’ve seen in the SCG Open Series with Pillar of Flame being the most played removal card with 618 copies. That’s 48% of the decks. Pillar is heavily played in Mono-Red (100%), UWR Midrange (94%), BGR Midrange (93%), and Zombies (45%). It is very good against aggressive decks, in particular Zombies, and against Huntmaster of the Fells and Avacyn’s Pilgrim.
Sever the Bloodline is played in nearly as many decks (45%), though fewer copies are played overall because of its low mana cost and ability to get a second application through flashback. Sever is split more evenly between the maindeck and sideboard and appears in BGR Midrange (98%), Reanimator (89%), Zombies (50%), and BUW Tokens (66%). It’s very useful “catch all” creature removal and is great against Zombies and Reanimator decks because it exiles the target. It also acts as a sweeper against tokens.
Abrupt Decay, though not on this list, is seeing quite a bit more play in successful MTGO decks than in top-16 SCG Open decks. A total of 135 copies have been played in 20% of these decks. It has appeared primarily in BGR Midrange (62%) and Reanimator (34%).
The most played proactive measures, which are cards used to prevent a threat from resolving or entering the battlefield to begin with (generally counter spells and discard), are as follows:
The top decks playing blue have made good use of counter magic:
- Negate: UWR Midrange (91%), Bant (93%), Azorius Aggro (82%), and BUW Tokens (85%)
- Dissipate: UWR Midrange (100%), Bant (86%), BUW Tokens (85%)
- Syncopate: UWR Midrange (77%), Bant (72%), Azorius Aggro (26%), BUW Tokens (50%)
Black based decks are using discard:
- Duress: Zombies (79%), BUW Tokens (57%), BGR Midrange (36%)
- Appetite for Brains: Reanimator (71%), BGR Midrange (48%)
Not many decks are playing Cavern of Souls; there are only 127 copies in 14% of these decks. The only top decks making use of it are Azorius Aggro (86%) and Zombies (54%). That makes this an ideal time to use not only Syncopate and Dissipate, but also creature-specific counters like Essence Scatter to manage Thragtusk, Restoration Angel, Huntmaster of the Fells, and other creatures you just don’t want resolving.
If you’re looking to play something outside the counter-magic norm, consider Rewind. You’d be fairly original in doing so, as only one deck played it, but it does present some interesting options for a midrange or control deck. Sure it’s 2UU for a Counterspell, but you get to untap four lands, and keeping four mana open is less of a problem for a UWR deck playing cards like Restoration Angel, Snapcaster Mage, Searing Spear, and Izzet Charm. It’s also worth consideration in decks that play Midnight Haunting, Think Twice, Forbidden Alchemy, and Nephalia Drownyard.
Azorius Aggro seems well positioned against the MTGO field. It plays mostly humans, making Cavern of Souls a relatively easy inclusion. The deck has access to counter magic to deal with problematic cards. It can apply early pressure with Champion of the Parish, War Falcon, Precinct Captain, and the evasive and very aggressive Lyev Skynight. It plays Geist of Saint Traft and allows him to get the beats in using tempo cards like Feeling of Dread, Azorius Charm, and Azorius Arrester. Silverblade Paladin can scale the deck’s threats upwards in the middle and later game. I also like New Prahv Guildmage to grant Geist flight and detain your opponent’s biggest threat with excess mana later in the game.
Mono-Red decks have been putting up more and more 4-0 results in recent days. The deck can have some explosive starts with its super aggressive one- and two-drops: Rakdos Cackler, Stromkirk Noble, Gore-House Chainwalker, and Ash Zealot. Pyreheart Wolf has been played in 26% of successful Red Deck Wins as a way to get past the bloated battlefields of midrange decks, and Hellrider provides a closer and reach in 84%. Pillar of Flame and Searing Spear are able to take out most of the creatures played in the first three turns. I like Brimstone Volley a lot in this deck and have seen Thunderous Wrath in a couple of them. I’m not sure if that’s good, but I sure like to see it!
Reckless Waif is really interesting out of the sideboard in Mono-Red, particularly on the play versus BGR Jund Midrange. Pillar of Flame is the only 1 CMC card in their maindeck, and unless they bring in a discard spell or Deathrite Shaman, your Waif can pretty easily wolf out to be a 3/2 on turn two. I also like Flames of the Firebrand against other aggro decks, and Volcanic Strength has potential against aggro and midrange decks playing Mountains (or Blood Crypt).
Also, this deck is cheap, usually in the neighborhood of 30 tickets.
Blood Artist was a staple of Zombies decks before rotation and the topic of some debate after: should it be included or not? For the record, Blood Artist makes an appearance in 39% of successful Zombies decks on MTGO. Perhaps a path toward more successful brain consumption in the Standard metagame is more totally gross works of art, not to mention the reach and lifegain that the vampire artisan provides?
There are a couple of cards I’ve seen in some of the Zombie sideboards that synergize really well with Blood Artist. Blasphemous Act, for example, is an effective sweeper with a Blood Artist, maybe a Gravecrawler or Geralf’s Messenger, and a battlefield full of midrange creatures. Not only does the card get cheap in a hurry and clean up a stalled board, but it can do a solid chunk of damage to your opponent.
Another interesting option is Rakdos, Lord of Riots. Don’t get me wrong, this card makes you do some work. You need BBRR and you need your opponent to lose life, but with burn and a bunch of zombies that’s not too hard, right? Again, Blood Artist can help. You just need something, really anything, to die and then “BAM” 6/6 flying with trample! Talk about a closer! As a bonus, your next Blood Artist only costs B.
Ultimate Price Check:
Ultimate Price is Return to Ravnica’s version of the 1B “destroy target creature unless” removal card. In this case, the restriction is that the creature has to be monocolored, so not gold (more than one color) or brown (an artifact, no color). So is this card good in Standard? Let’s take a look at the creatures it can and can’t target that are played in 15% or more of the successful decks:
- YES: Thragtusk (52%), Restoration Angel (35%), Angel of Serenity (23%), Avacyn’s Pilgrim (21%), Snapcaster Mage (18%), Arbor Elf (18%), Thundermaw Hellkite (16%), and Silverblade Paladin (15%)
- NO: Centaur Healer (27%), Huntmaster of the Fells (24%), Deathrite Shaman (24%), Olivia Voldaren (23%), Rakdos Cackler (17%)
- Invalid Target for other reasons: Geist of Saint Traft (22%), Knight of Glory (19%)
Based on this list, Ultimate Price seems like reasonable removal against UWR Midrange, Selesnya Aggro, Bant UGW, Mono-Red, Azorius Aggro, and Zombies. It hits some key creatures in Reanimator but is probably not worth running against Jund BGR Midrange.
I’d like to give a big thanks to Decked Studios for providing the data to crunch for this article. They maintain an awesome site called MTGO-Stats.com, where you can find even more information on the metagame, review successful decks, and check card and deck prices. Decked Studios is also the creator of the Decked Builder app, which is great for building decks, checking card prices, and ordering cards. You can view and edit these 3-1 and 4-0 decks right in the app.
Thanks for reading and please leave any feedback in the comments or let me know on Twitter.
Nick Vigabool (@MrVigabool)