Today I’m going to break down each of the tier 1 decks in Standard to get you ready for GP Oakland.
This is the deck that Todd and Brad played at the same tournament. It’s a much more complex deck than, say, Eldrazi, and most of your games are super grindy. This deck does not have a single haymaker like Ojutai or Ugin in it—it relies on a sequence of 3-for-1s or 2-for-1s to get ahead and eventually win.
This deck is quite powerful, but you can build it in many different ways, depending on what you expect. The biggest decision right now seems to be Mantis Rider or Monastery Mentor, and I think I like Mentor a bit more, but Mantis Rider is quite good too (and you could theoretically play both if you really wanted).
With the right draws, I think this deck can beat anything. It can also lose to anything. It’s not an easy deck to play, and it kills very slowly, so you’re going to go to time a lot if you do not play quickly. I would play this deck on power level alone, and I recommend it if you’re an experienced player, but if you’ve never played it before then I don’t think you should pick it up for GP Oakland. If you do decide to play it, I’d like to add one power card in the main deck or in the sideboard, such as a Dragonlord Silumgar or an Ugin—something that can get you back in a game you were losing. I also believe Ultimate Price is well positioned because of Mentor, and I would fit some in. Oh, and I also think you need at least some Clerics in the board.
Esper Dragons is the same as it has always been, except now it has 4 Duresses in it. You have two different game plans: stop their early development and win with Ojutai, or go for the long game and win with Dig Through Time. Depending on what you’re playing against, you want to adapt.
I think this deck is very good, and this is almost certainly the deck I will play at the tournament (possibly with a few sideboard changes, but likely to remain almost the same). I think you have game against everything and, outside of Mono-Red, I don’t feel unfavored versus any deck game 1 or game 2. I do believe you’re a small favorite versus everything (55%ish), so it’s not like this deck crushes the metagame and can never lose, but that’s good enough for me.
This deck is not easy to play properly, but it’s less demanding than the Jeskai deck—you have powerful cards like Silumgar, Ojutai, Crux, and Dig to bail you out of bad situations, so it’s more forgiving. I definitely recommend it.
This is the deck Jim Davis used to win the SCG Players’ Championship a couple of weeks ago. This deck’s plan is very straightforward—you spend the early turns accelerating, and then you play some big spells and hope they’re enough to win the game. Against most people, Ugin is your primary plan and Ulamog is your secondary plan. Against Esper, however, Ulamog is your primary plan, since Ugin is easier for them to deal with. Jim Davis’s version is tuned to beat Mono-Red as much as it can be, with 4 Jaddi Offshoot in the main deck, but I believe that you’re not going to beat it game 1 regardless, so you might as well make your deck better against everyone else. I’d certainly run the 3rd and 4th Sylvan Scrying over them, for example.
The recent unpopularity of Mantis Rider is good for this deck, since pressuring it was one of the best ways to beat it, but the rise of Monastery Mentor is problematic for the same reason. And Infinite Obliteration, which doubles as a good card against Rally, is probably the best card against you. Duress is also more common now, both in Jeskai and in Esper, and that card is great against you as well.
Overall, I do not like this deck and do not recommend it. I think your deck is fundamentally inconsistent, and it can lose to the things you were supposed to beat by virtue of a fast draw or you simply bricking. You also get worse against everyone that is not Mono-Red after game 1 (though Rending Volley is a very good sideboard card in this deck).
I’ve been a fan of Mono-Red for months, and I remain one. You can beat anything because your deck is so explosive, and a lot of your good matchups are really good, especially game 1 (such as Eldrazi or Rally). Jeskai is a problem, but now that they are playing a bunch of Painful Truths, no Tasigurs or Mantis Riders, and no Clerics in the board, so it got a little bit better for you.
Mono-Red is not a hard deck to play, but it’s a hard deck to master. The key is to know when to be patient and when to just go for it. That said, you can definitely play it with 0 practice, just know that it won’t be optimal. This is the deck I’d play if Esper didn’t exist and I recommend it to players of all levels.
This is another list from the SCG Top 8. Abzan has remained largely unchanged in the past couple months, and it has game against everyone while not crushing anything, since a curve of Warden into Anafenza into Rhino or Gideon can be enough to beat any deck. This is a midrange deck, with aggressive starts and a good late game with planeswalkers, Rocs, and Den Protectors. You also improve against most people post-board because there’s simply nothing that anyone can board in that is very good against you. One change I would definitely make is to replace the Surge of Righteousness with a third Ultimate Price, I think it’s just a better card against Red and it can also be boarded against other decks.
This deck is not hard to play, and, though I would personally not play it, I think it’s a fine choice. In my mind it’s an easier Esper that has better game against Mono-Red but that is slightly worse against every other deck, particularly Eldrazi.
That’s the deck list Martin Müller and friends played at GP Brussels. This is a grindy deck that beats all the other grindy decks because it has a card that says “I win.” It’s often slow and clunky (it plays 4 colors and has a bunch of tapped lands and 3-mana cards that do not impact the board as much as other 3-mana cards in the format), but when it gets going it’s very hard to stop, as creatures dying will just lead to more scrys and more draws so you’ll eventually find Rally.
This deck has big problems with Red game 1, but it gets better post-board with Clerics and instant-speed ways to deal with the combo (game 1 the only thing you can do is Rally a Sidsi’s Faithful, which is not that realistic). It also has problems with Abzan, because Anafenza is very hard to beat. The Danish team that did well at the GP went a combined 23-3 against Abzan (or something ridiculous like that) but I honestly don’t know how they did it—I’ve found that the pressure combined with some disruption, removal, and 4 Anafenzas is quite hard to beat. Even if you have Sidsi’s Faithful and they do not have removal, it’s not like you win by bouncing Anafenza—you have to combo that turn, because Anafenza prevents you from filling your graveyard to begin with, so you need to have a board presence already, which is hard when they have an Anafenza attacking you.
I think this is a perfectly fine deck, and it requires a little specific experience, but not a tremendous knowledge of the format. It’s the kind of deck with which you will improve radically between your 1st game and your 15th, so you can just decide to play it and play those 15 games on Friday and you will be a lot more proficient with it. You should also keep in mind that Anafenza will not exile tokens, since they’re not cards, so you can still get Zulaport triggers by sacrificing Spawns, for example—this interaction is bugged on Magic Online and most people don’t know about it.
This list won an MTGO PTQ in the hands of Tulio Jaudy about a month ago, and since then, it’s been looming around the format. I think this deck is a cross between Abzan and Jeskai in that it has an aggressive component that can punish slow draws (Seekers, Abbots, Pia and Kiran) but it can also play the long game with Kolaghan’s Command, Abbot, Pia and Kiran, and planeswalkers. I’d say that it’s a bit more on the controlling side of the spectrum than Abzan, with less early pressure and more late game, but still less grindy than Jeskai (and with more pressure).
You can, of course, customize it to make it more or less aggressive. I’ve seen versions with two main-deck Kolaghans, for example, instead of Ob Nixilis and Sarkhan, and I’ve seen Pitiless Horde in the sideboard, which I think is quite good versus Esper. Regardless of the version you choose, I think you’re going to do well against Mono-Red, so that’s a good choice if you expect a lot of it. I don’t think this is a deck that demands particular knowledge of your deck or the metagame, so you can just pick it up today and play it tomorrow if you want. I don’t think I know enough about it to recommend it over Jeskai or Abzan, but I think it’s probably similarly good to Abzan with a different style.
There are other decks in Standard, of course, but I think they’re probably just worse versions of the decks I talked about. To reiterate, this is how I would rank the archetypes:
I could see myself playing Esper, Red, Jeskai, and Rally, and I don’t hate the idea of playing Abzan and Mardu. Eldrazi, however, is not a deck I like very much and I would not play it. Perhaps I have an unjustified bias against it and it’s just going to dominate the tournament, but in all my testing with and against it I’ve never found a reason to play the deck.