While all the focus has been on Modern as of late, with the Magic Online Championship and the deluge of Modern StarCityGames Opens, Standard has quietly developed into one of the best formats in recent memory. While aggressive decks have been struggling as of late, we still have ourselves a surprisingly diverse format with interesting games to be played, despite there being a bit of a boogeyman. Anyone familiar with the format post-Aetherworks Marvel is acutely aware of how obscenely good The Scarab God is and how impactful it is to the way we build midrange decks. It’s a trump card that must be answered before it generates overwhelming advantage, which has led the metagame’s reactive decks to be overloaded with the format’s few effective answers.
Removal in this format can easily be split into two categories: efficient cards like Magma Spray that deal with small threats like Scrapheap Scrounger, and big bulky answers like Vraska’s Contempt or Ixalan’s Binding to midrange threats such as The Scarab God or Rekindling Phoenix. The former are rather rare in this format, hurt by the absence of aggressive decks in the online metagame, and are found mostly in red as Abrade and Magma Spray, with Fatal Push likely being the worst of the bunch. Big catch-all answers are almost only found in white and black, with blue mages being forced to play mediocre cards like Commit // Memory to fill the gaps.
The format has now progressed to a point where everyone is as prepared for The Scarab God as they possibly can be. Most white decks are stacked with Ixalan’s Binding, and the U/B decks are playing Commit // Memory to react in turn. Black decks play a bunch of Doomfalls on top of their other answers to ensure that they’re never left staring down the erstwhile legend.
There’s a bit of a problem, however. There are a lot of powerful midrange threats in this format, and there are no decks that, were you to choose to play a high density of them, would have a sufficient number of answers. Vraska’s Contempt decks almost never play Ixalan’s Binding, and Doomfall loses a lot of its lustre when you’re put under pressure. U/B Midrange, generally accepted at this point as being the best home for The Scarab God, struggles to apply any amount of pressure, and has no other cards that threaten to end the game quickly. It’s truly a reactive deck, but powerful threats are at their best in a proactive stance, and the best proactive midrange strategy is, in my not-so-humble opinion, in black-red.
B/R Midrange- Daniel Fournier
You can probably tell from the curve and threat distribution that this deck truly isn’t very different from the Scarab God decks in terms of its gameplan. It seeks to maintain board control while deploying threats of its own, as any good midrange deck would, switching roles as needed. Where it shines, however, are in its threats. The early proactive plays all moonlight as powerful mana-sinks or sources of advantage in the late game. Pumping a bunch of mana into a Pia Nalaar is quite often lethal in a deck with a supporting cast, for instance. We use the pressure provided by our proactive plays and effective cheap removal to then maximize the power of our midrange spells, making it more likely that Doomfall can connect with a valuable creature and not lose you tempo, or setting up a powerful Glorybringer attack or Chandra activation.
As I went over earlier, one of this deck’s greatest strengths is its ability to quickly overload your opponent’s ability to react. While in a U/B mirror, only Glint-Sleeve Siphoner presents an urgent threat in early turns, we have significantly more game on this axis. When it comes time to rain down your four and five-drops, they’re more likely to have exhausted their supply of the format’s rare answers to these cards, after dealing with your pressure. There’s an intangible edge to playing red decks as well, as I’ve found opponents are much more likely to stack up on cards like Moment of Craving against us, which don’t actually lineup very well against our overall strategy in post-board games.
Let’s go over some individual cards:
Dire Fleet Daredevil: This is a very unique card that’s legitimately hard to evaluate. In a metagame stacked with powerful and important spells, a two-drop that can generate significant value and versatility in the late game seems rather potent. Keep an eye on this card, and don’t sleep on it.
Walking Ballista: Sram’s Expertise tokens decks are quietly gaining a lot of market share as of late, and Ballista is the format’s natural hedge. It helps to have extra answers to Siphoner too, of course, and it fits in the deck’s theme of early creatures that are powerful mana sinks.
Pia Nalaar: While Whirler Virtuoso wins in a heads up fight, it lost a lot of power with energy enablers being banned, and Pia Nalaar does a good impression of a neutered Virtuoso. It also gets in for a ton of damage very quickly if you’re willing to put some mana into it.
3 Chandra/3 Rekindling Phoenix: This deck has access to a lot of powerful 4-drops, and finding a good split of them is rather difficult. I have to say that stacking up on Chandras is likely optimal in this format where you’re probably going to run into more Doomfalls than Bomat Couriers. If you wanted to go hard down the midrange value path, then this deck is also not an unreasonable home for Gonti or even Chupacabra, assuming your metagame is full of creature decks.
Fiery Cannonade: Decks like this one — flush with removal — tend to struggle with the aforementioned Sram’s Expertise decks and their propensity to overload your removal. You, obviously, solve this by playing sweepers. This one happens to also be excellent against mono-red and is always castable despite our awkward two-colour manabase. Bad Kozilek’s Return is nothing to laugh at.
Arguel’s Blood Fast: This might be one of the most important cards in the format right now. It trumps midrange mirrors as well as control, offering an insurmountable amount of card advantage and eventually a land that lets you protect The Scarab God (or Rekindling Phoenix in our case) from exile effects. Jam through a bunch of Duress to compound your advantage and watch your endless stream of threats take over the game.
Scrapheap Scrounger: This deck is admittedly bad against control, and can struggle against Hour of Promise strategies thanks to its lack of aggressive starts. Our old stalwart here can give us a resilient early threat that gets enough damage in to ensure our dragons can finish the job. All the effective answers to this card are overloaded by our more important threats.
I’ve also been working on a cool mono-white Sram’s Expertise deck in anticipation of some powerful cards out of Dominaria, but that exciting brew will have to wait for next week. Let me know if you give black-red a chance and manage to knock the pesky Scarab God down a peg!