You can tell the seasons are changing. Fall is in the air. And so is the warm fragrance of Pumpkin Spice lattes. We are into the third week of a fresh new Standard format and the meta is starting to really shape itself up. This week, Wizards failed to upload the Standard Competitive League 5-0 lists for Monday, so we only have the Thursday, October 18th Standard Competitive League 5-0 lists and the Star City Games Classic results to lean on. I think there is enough data in there to get some valuable insights to where the Standard meta is heading next.
From the Magic Online Competitive League 5-0 postings on we are seeing still another downward trend on the total number of decks published. Down to 40, a 5% change from last week, and with only 22 of the 40 decks repping Planeswalkers (another downward trend in terms of total meta percentage), this sounds to me like the “correct builds” of these decks are being figured out rather than a shift away from the powerful game-altering Mages. This is evidenced by the fact that 6 of the top-8 decks at the Star City Games Classic had a main-deck ‘Walker.
Looking at the breakdown of Planeswalkers, there is a DRASTIC dropoff in the number of Vivien Reid being played. Falling off by 64% from last week, down to only 6 main deck copies across 4 decks and 4 main deck archetypes from last week’s 13 copies main across 7 decks in 6 archetypes. Is our newly crowned Queen of GRN Standard already losing hold of her empire? Considering that Teferi, Hero of Dominaria has remained a stalwart of Mythic proportions (yes, MYTHIC…) with a consistent 26 copies across 7 decks and representing 5 separate archetypes in each of the first 3 weeks, I would say that he gives a much wider array of options to suit your deck building styles. Of the Teferi archetypes, I still assert that the Jeskai Control decks have the best chance at crafting a strategy to win through an unknown field. The deck might not have blistering starts or a powerful top-end creature package, but the answers seem to line up just right. I really like YUANJI’s list that leans in a little heavier on the white splash for powerful spot removal effects in Justice Strike and Deafening Clarion and the utility sweeper Cleansing Nova. Against the grindy midrange decks like Golgari, you definitely want your cards to be giving you 3- and 4-for-1 potential in order to out-value their constant stream of 2-for-1’s.
As good as this Jeskai list is, GOBERN’s Esper Control lists look like a picturesque representation of a control deck in its purest form. Tons of permission and removal followed up by a singular unanswerable threat (well, a singular CREATURE threat that is…let us not forget about Teferi). Chromium, the Mutable gives this deck a clock to close out the late games unlike any other deck. With 7 toughness it’s hard for the red based decks to damage out. And even if they could, all you have to do is give it hexproof in response. It has Flash so allows you to play the counter-based control magic that this archetype is known for; flashing it in on the opponent’s end-step means you are able to stay right on plan without missing a beat. And it can’t be countered, so in the control mirror, it is absolutely unstoppable.
Looking to the Star City Games Classic at Dallas tournament results for a clearer picture on how tournament Magic settles the “which deck is the best” question, you can see that Maxwell Jones’ winning Golgari list shows just how tough it can be to beat out a constant barrage of 2-for-1 effects that present BOTH removal AND threats at the same time. Ravenous Chupacabra is a real card, especially in a field full of big, dumb, slow creatures. Gone are the days of curving hasty red 1- through 4-drops (may you rest in peace, Hazoret the Fervent). And with 3 copies of Vivien Reid main in this dining list, you might understand the title of this article a little better. Even with a substantial dip in market share of total cards played AND number of decks represented, this 5-mana Swiss Army Knife was able to take down the whole thing, beating out a very tuned Mono-Red Experimental Frenzy list, complete with 2 copies of their own Planeswalker value engine Sarkhan, Fireblood. While not as versatile and here mostly for flood insurance, Sarkhan can also provide a massive start on the dream scenario of curving him into a kicked Verix Bladewing on turn 4. But in the end, it was Vivien and her compatriot Vraska, Relic Seeker and their Golgari Swarm that won it all and took 3 of the top-8 spots at this tournament, cementing it as the deck to beat and keeping Vivien Reid in possession of the title “Queen of GRN Standard” for one more week at least.
You can see the acknowledgment of the community that Planeswalkers are the predominant strategy this Standard season by the fact that The Immortal Sun has started popping up in the 5-0 lists. Golgari is the clear front runner for Tier 1 deck, so it makes sense to attempt to next level the competition by starting with the regular Golgari main deck value engine plan except eschewing the main deck ‘Walkers in favor of shutting off a major component of your competition’s plan with The Immortal Sun.
Considering the unequivocal advantage you get from an unanswered Planeswalker, I’m not so sure I would make the wholesale change to avoid playing them main. I think it just leaves you too vulnerable and without answer to some of the better Tier 1.5 and Tier 2 decks that you will inevitable run into during the course of an 8- or 15-round tournament. But including a copy or two in the side and bringing them in to combat the mirror does sound like a very solid plan.
Scouring the rest of the 5-0 lists for spice, something stood out in a major way. Nexus of Fate is back, baby! The boogeyman that “ruined” the last standard season, Turbo Fog, has popped back into the 5-0 conversation for the first time this season. In a world full of slow grindy slog-fests, a control deck that takes all the turns seems like a really good place to be. It took a little longer for this deck to figure out the right mix of answers, stall tactics, and progressing its own game plan than I had originally anticipated, but now that it is showing up on the winner’s roll, I fully expect another wave of players to adopt the archetype (and the subsequent “why isn’t this card available in packs?!?!?” outcry). The question is whether it can remain a viable strategy now that the rest of the meta has a chance to plan for it.
As week 3 presents us with solidified deck lists for the top tier creature based strategies, I expect the control decks to start rising to the top with the correct answers. The insurmountable advantage that an unanswered Teferi brings cannot be denied. However the Golgari decks are allowed to tune to beat a control meta too. As we look ahead to Pro Tour Guilds of Ravnica, there are two weeks of results left before the Pro’s get a chance to introduce the kind of technology the community doesn’t see. Is there room to iterate, or do the tier 1 decks require the amount of synergy currently present? I have a feeling that we are going to see a rogue brew pop up, but the real story is that we aren’t playing enough Doom Whisperer.
Eric has been an avid Magic fan and player since re-discovering the game in 2012. He is a Red mage at heart but likes to confuse himself with the varying decision trees presented by mid-range and control decks from time to time.
Eric plays mostly casually with his 9-year-old daughter, but manages to get out for every prerelease and a few FNM’s and GP’s every year.
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