I played a ton of Standard while preparing for last weekend’s World Championship. I found the format fun and balanced, and which deck to choose was never obvious. Here are five decks I liked and which I considered registering for the high-stakes event!
Standard Jund Reanimator by Reid Duke
I’ll start with the one that Jan Moritz-Merkel and I actually submitted, which was Jund Reanimator. I felt that this deck was about 50-50 against Esper, and tended to be a heavy favorite against anybody who didn’t come prepared with permission spells. It also features many of my favorite cards in the format including Duress, Liliana of the Veil, Riveteers Charm and The Cruelty of Gix.
I went 3-2 in the Standard portion, and have no regrets about choosing Jund. I just wrote a Deep Dive about the deck, which I suggest checking out!
Standard Esper Midrange by Logan Nettles
Esper was the deck to beat going into the event, and always represented a good back-up plan in case we couldn’t find a deck we loved. My cousin, Logan Nettles, did wind up registering Esper, and he had the best Standard record on our team at 4-1.
Esper is strong enough and well-rounded enough that it’s still a good choice in a metagame where everyone is gunning to beat it.
Standard Mardu Midrange by Yimin Zhi
Our fourth teammate, Zhi Yimin, went with a Mardu deck of his own creation. This wasn’t a case of “breaking the format,” but rather one of a very strong deckbuilder working hard to tune a list to perfection. His priority was to develop an effective plan against Esper for both the games where he was on the play and when he was on the draw.
My favorite aspects of Mardu include making good use of Rite of Oblivion and pairing Tainted Adversary with Wedding Announcement. Adversary is nice because when you’re on the draw, it can always successfully block the opponent’s two-drop, even if it’s bolstered by Raffine. Later on, the extra Zombie tokens really pack a punch, and can be sacrificed to Rite of Oblivion or used to crew Reckoner Bankbuster.
One reason I didn’t go with Mardu myself is that I was scared of the mana base. I already don’t love the mana in Standard’s three-color decks, and Mardu lacks a tri-land because it’s not one of Streets of New Capenna’s supported color combinations. The mana definitely works, and Mardu had good stats in our internal testing, but I guess it was still the tiebreaker that led me to go with Jund instead.
I do believe Mardu was the best deck we had for the Esper matchup in particular. With the hindsight that Esper was a full 70 percent of the Standard field, I wouldn’t be surprised if Zhi had the best deck in the whole tournament. I think he got a bit unlucky with his pairings (including losing to me with Jund Reanimator). However, if we were to replay things, I think I’d choose Mardu along with him.
Standard Mono-Blue Tempo by Jean-Emmanuel Depraz
We had a few days where we were loving Mono-Blue. Like Jean-Emmanuel Depraz, our version omitted Delver of Secrets, which meant making opposing Cut Downs and burn spells into dead cards. Since I also played Mono-Blue in the Explorer portion, this would’ve meant registering 40 basic Islands in the World Championship!
We eventually scrapped Mono-Blue after having a few losing sets in a row against Esper. Maybe we learned how to play against the deck or maybe our internal deck lists were a little more hateful for the matchup. I do have a tendency to add extra copies of Duress and Liliana of the Veil to any deck I play, which are among the best cards in the format against Mono-Blue.
Deep in my heart, what I really wanted was to play with Invoke Despair. I also wanted to do it with the cleanest mana base I could possibly build. This meant I liked Mono-Black the most, Rakdos and Orzhov the second-most and Jund and Grixis the third-most. In the end, I would’ve been happy with any deck that played Invoke Despair.
Standard Mono-Black by Reid Duke
The problem is that there were just so many possibilities that I had a hard time narrowing it down. As the deck submission deadline approached, I decided to go with something tried and true rather than guessing at which Invoke Despair shell would serve me best.
If I was to rewind the clock, I think a good approach to Standard would simply be to find the best Invoke Despair deck and run with it.
In short, I wasn’t sure what strategy to pick on the day deck lists were due. Even looking back with the benefit of hindsight, I’m still not sure what strategy I should’ve picked! I’d say that’s the sign of a pretty balanced format.