What’s up with Standard?


Standard is in quite an interesting place, there are playable decks of all flavours and there has been no clear “best deck,” at least until this past week! 

At this past weekend’s $100k DreamHack Arena event 8 of the top 16 decks were Azorius Control, which is a staggering stat for a format that’s looked so wide open. The overall field consisted of 28% Azorius Control, 21% Jeskai Fires, 18% Mono-Red and all other decks made up <5%. 

It looks like PV’s worlds win may have really kickstarted the collective opinion that Azorius is not only the deck to beat, but the deck to play. However, the call that Standard was “solved” may have been a bit hasty because neither of the final two decks at DreamHack were Azorius. And despite winning Worlds, the deck’s record was merely 9-8 with PV being pushed right to the edge in the tournament’s grand finals.

Players choosing Azorius as their weapon of choice this past weekend used lists quite similar to our new world champion, though many added additional cards for the mirror like  the fourth Castle Aredenvale and Spectral Sailor sometimes replaced PV’s choice of Commence the Endgame in the sideboard. These cards both slip under counter-magic while providing continuous card advantage. Other than a handful of slots the deck is fairly locked in at this point and anyone making more than a few changes to this archetype (such as adding another colour) are likely making a mistake.

At the other end of the spectrum we have Mono-Red, which was the only other deck at Worlds with a winning record (17-14). In this case it was buoyed by the only statistically significant matchup result of 8-2 vs Temur Reclamation. The rest of the matchups were only within one or two match results and displayed both the impact of a small sample size and what feels like a mostly balanced format.

I believe the general consensus has been that Azorius beats Mono-Red, but I’d like to offer some caution here that I only believe this is true with specific configurations of Azorius. The more Dovin’s Vetos and Narsets that find their way into maindecks the worse the matchup will become. Mono-Red provides an important check on the format to ensure players don’t get too greedy in their deck construction — as many unfortunate Temur Reclamation player’s have found out.

Again we have a fairly standardized list which I believe is just about exactly where you want to be. In particular, the four Robber of the Rich have recently become fairly stock, given that it’s an excellent threat both against Azorius as well as being able to really push an advantage in the red mirror. I’d really only be looking at some minor changes to the sideboard as the metagame continues to adapt. I’d look to add something like another experimental frenzy to give you an extra threat against the Azorius decks. Another version of red attempting to push Cavalcade of Calamity along with a smattering of one-drops also exists, but this more well-rounded list has generally become the variant of choice. Cavalcade was something I was a bit of a fan of four or five months ago in the Golos + Field of the Dead metagame, however this is currently not the meta for it and the one braze soul playing it in Anaheim made a quick exit. 

Between these two extremes we have a smattering of various midrange and ramp decks. The ramp decks like Simic Ramp and Temur Reclamation attempt to gain huge mana advantage and land overwhelming haymakers — as any good ramp deck does.While these ramp decks can be tuned to have respectable matchups against Azorius, doing so really leaves them quite vulnerable to the Mono-Red threat — as the Temur Reclamation players at Worlds showed with their combined 2-8 result. These decks have fallen in popularity for the moment, but if Mono-Red begins to decline we could see these decks — particularly Temur Reclamation — come back with a vengeance.

The most competitive midrange decks include decks like Jund Food, Jeskai Fires and Temur Adventure. Jund food continues pushing the familiar Witch’s Oven plus Cauldron Familiar combination. Jeskai fires attempting to cast a turn four Fires of Invention plus any creature into a quick win from Cavalier of Flames plus any other creature plus two activations allowing players to attack for 20+ damage in a single turn. Temur Adventures was the real breakout deck of the weekend play by Aaron Gertler taking advantage of Lucky Clover, Edgewall Innkeeper and a bevy of adventure creatures as he showed off his ability to mow through a field full of Azorius decks.

This deck was a joy to watch on stream as it allowed Aaron to pick apart his Azorius opponents beating them all six times he faced this matchup as well as winning the five times he played the Jeskai fires matchup. However his stellar 14-1 record contains zero matches against Mono-Red despite it being nearly 1/5th of the field. While this deck has all the tools to crush control and midrange opponents, this deck appears like it should be fairly easy pickings for the red fun police. An interesting part of this deck is its tool box nature making it a dream of tuners and builders — while I’ve mentioned there isn’t much room to edit some of the other decks, I’m sure there are still iterations to come for this.

Finally on to my own personal choice for playing on the Arena ladder as of late. I really love Canadian Mani Davoudi’s take on the Fires on Invention archetype, which appears to take inspiration from Gabriel Nassif’s fourth place Worlds take on the deck. Where Marcio Carvalho’s second place list appeared to be a bit more tuned for beating Mono-Red with main deck Aether Gusts and Dream Trawlers instead we see Mani’s version being tuned for the menace of the past week – Azorius Control. Despite Marcio’s suboptimal configuration for beating control he still managed to push PV to the edge in the Worlds Grand Finals which should stand as a testament to the deck’s power.

The three Brazen Borrowers Mani and Gab had in his World’s list, along with the four Bonecrusher Giant, provide an important point of interaction on turns two and three while also being available to help Cavaliers burst down your opponent for quick turn five kills. I believe Mani’s key innovation was moving two Elspeth Conquers Death into his main deck, something I really like as I’ve been playing two in my sideboard and seem to bring them in against almost every matchup. 

The God-Eternal Oketra seems pretty cute, but I’m not sure I’m completely sold on it – I’ll need to give it a try. One change I would like to see is a couple Legion Warboss in the sideboard — I believe they are a very effective army-in-a-can against control opponents and force a quick response which allows you to take advantage of the opening to land your bigger threats. With that said, Mani’s choice of Veto in this slot is also quite effective. When sideboarding against Azorius you are frequently trimming some Fires of Invention and moving into more of a tempo oriented game plan around your Borrowers and Robbers. I believe as more Fires players take this approach to the matchup Azorius players won’t be feeling as good about their fires matchups.

This Standard format is certainly still in a place of flux and I’m interested to see if any new innovations, particularly in the midrange decks, can find ways to take advantage of this more clearly defined metagame.

I look forward to continuing to toy with standard, both as I push into Mythic this month and prepare for Grand Prix Detroit coming up in a few weeks. It will be my first event since November, due to the birth of my daughter, and I look forward to getting back into the fray!