Sweeping Ice and Other Important Topics – The Best Deck to Play in Standard


I kind of wanted to write about something different this week. I wanted to write about Polymorph. It’s a sweet deck, has some good matchups, that sort of thing, but I just can’t justify writing about a deck that I feel is, at best, second best. I’ve been spending a lot of time the last few weeks working on the Naya deck — learning the weaknesses and attacking them in a way that correlates with the strengths of the deck. The way I see it, the most important problems are solved. The way I see it, Naya is the best deck to play in standard. And I don’t think it’s remotely close. Sorry Emrakul and the Gang, you’ll just have to wait.

Positioning is incredibly important in tournament magic. It is a concept that so many people simply dismiss, or do not understand properly. The days of High Tide and Tinker are over. No longer can you show up to a tournament with a deck that is so powerful you can only lose to the mirror. Reading a metagame, and developing strategies that attack weaknesses in it can lead to as many tournament victories (if not more) as just jamming the “best deck” in the dark.

There are three decks that command major attention in Standard right now: Jund, Blue/White/x, and Mythic. Getting a read on which versions are doing well, and why, will give you a lot of information for choosing the right deck. Mythic is quickly becoming the most popular of the three, and has the highest conversion rate among top8 appearances between these three decks.

It is also Naya’s best matchup.

Mythic is the best deck in standard. It has favorable matchups against Blue/White and most Jund builds, and can out combo the combo decks. Ask almost any Time Sieve or Polymorph player. Mythic is scary. The percentages and results don’t lie. There’s a reason the general response to a turn two Lotus Cobra is almost always a heavy sigh and a roll of the eyes. “Here we go again,” you say. “EVERY TIME,” you say.

I wouldn’t play Mythic, though. The mirror is an absolute flip, and I can’t think of an actual trump. Sure, Linvala, Keeper of Silence stops their Knights of the Reliquary and mana guys, as well as Naya’s Cunning Sparkmages, but it does nothing against the best draws in the mirror: Lotus Cobra into Baneslayer Angel into Sovereigns of Lost Alara. That is a sweet 3/4 flyer you got there, bro. That’s not to say Mythic shouldn’t play Linvala. It’s just not trumping the important stuff.

If you can’t join’em, beat’em.

Naya is the best deck to play. The worst matchup (Time Sieve) is basically a non-deck, due to its inability to beat Mythic or Jund on a regular basis. Sure, the Jund matchup is probably close to a flip, but if you aren’t positive against at least two of the top three, you are probably doing it wrong. Blue/White is also declining in popularity overall, so the main reason to sleeve up the Borderposts isn’t even as enticing as it used to be.

Mythic is your best matchup, as I said before. If you know they are Mythic before the match starts, then it gets even better. They can’t beat Cunning Sparkmage/Basilisk Collar game one, nor can they beat a Sparkmage on the play with a clock. They can theoretically set up a game state with Jace, the Mind Sculptor and Sovereigns of Lost Alara where they can bounce your pinger before combat, but it’s pretty rare, and also requires them to have significant board presence before Sparkmage is online. I would mulligan any hand that doesn’t contain a Sparkmage, Gideon Jura, or significant action and a Mystic. Take a hand like:


While this is an autokeep against Jund and Blue/White, is an insta-ship against Mythic. Keeping hands that look good curve-wise, but don’t contain any matchup relevant spells, is how some players lose their edge in the matchup, and is Mythic’s best shot at winning game one.

-4 Vengevine, -3 Elspeth, Knight-Errant, -1 Behemoth Sledge, -1 Bloodbraid Elf, +2 Chandra Nalaar, +2 Oblivion Ring, +4 Path to Exile, +1 Basilisk Collar.

After sideboarding, you are pretty firmly the control in the matchup. With Gideon, Chandra, Oblivion Ring, and Path to Exile as answers to their maximum two Linvala, your Sparkmage combo should easily be able to get online. The second Collar is a pre-emptive strike for their Qasali Pridemages and Oblivion Rings which are assuredly coming in. Don’t expose your Sparkmage to Gideon if you don’t have to, and save your Paths and Oblivion Rings for creatures that matter (Knight of the Reliquary, Linvala, Baneslayer, Sovereigns). Everything else in their deck is pretty weak. I kind of want a [card]Tectonic Edge[/card], because Celestial Colonnade can get kind of annoying.

Jund is another favorable matchup. Ironically, this is the matchup I lost at the last PTQ playing for Top 8. They pretty much have to sideboard out the best card in their deck (Blightning) because if they cast it, there is a high likelihood that they are just dead. Sparkmage/Collar is surprisingly effective against them, especially game one, because their removal is overloaded by Knights, Vengevines and planeswalkers. If they don’t have a fast Putrid Leech draw to go with their removal, you should have plenty of time to start racing with Vengevine. Sparkmage is also stellar against the newer versions that are almost all creatures. It kills Plated Geopede on sight, and combined with a collar can decimate any hope of racing they might muster. I’ve only lost to Mythic once.

-2 Elspeth, Knight Errant, -1 Cunning Sparkmage, +2 Thornling, +1 Behemoth Sledge

I was boarding in Chandra at the PTQ, but that was probably wrong. You don’t really want to draw multiple Sparkmages, even though they protect themselves from Maelstrom Pulse, so one comes out. We started by boarding out the Elspeths altogether, but the first Elspeth is definitely better than the fourth Sparkmage. The Sparkmage combo is also less likely to get online, because Mystic is always searching for Sledge. The second [card]Sejiri Steppe[/card] is also very helpful in this matchup, and can lead to a couple blowouts if you get the opportunity. On the ride up to the PTQ, our driver (who was playing Jund) told us that the scariest card we could possibly play against him was Behemoth Sledge. Sold! That is all I needed to hear. [card]Thornling[/card] is also, pretty obviously, a beating. I was going to play it even before I was told it only costs 3GG. I thought it was 4GG.

Blue/White. The enemy. If it wasn’t for Baneslayer Angel, this matchup would be a blowout. An absolute blowout. As it stands, though, Naya is a decently-sized ‘dog game one. We were, however, able to get the post board games in our favor. Game one you kind of have to hope to draw well, and hope they don’t draw two Paths. Elspeth is also usually a game-winner if she sticks.

-4 Cunning Sparkmage, -1 Basilisk Collar, -4 Lotus Cobra, -1 Stoneforge Mystic, +3 Path to Exile, +2 Oblivion Ring, +2 Chandra Nalaar, +2 Thornling, +1 Behemoth Sledge

It’s possible that boarding Chandra in and Cobra out is a bad combination with all their Spreading Seas, but I’m greedy. Noble Hierarch is a more consistent source of mana, and helps Bloodbraid Elf punch through Wall of Omens, and helps Thornling race a Baneslayer if we didn’t draw a way to kill one. 4 accelerators definitely come out, considering the postboard games are an absolute grind, and increasing threat density is important. This is another matchup where Tectonic Edge would be beneficial. Overall, Blue/White is about as close to 50-50 as it gets. And I hate Baneslayer Angel.

Those are the big three. Know your format. Study it. Learn its strengths, its weaknesses. Attack them from angles they aren’t prepared to defend. It will give you the best chance to win the tournament.

In order to win any tournament, you are going to have to get a little lucky, or run above expected value, as they say. But you also have to put yourself in a position to make that happen. Even a deck that is 60-40 against everything isn’t a guarantee to win a PTQ.

Sometimes, you have to take a shot, and when your best matchup is the most played deck, and your worst matchup is barely four percent of the field, you’re going to be on target more often than not.

Steven Birklid
aka Alaska
[email protected]
Business_Socks on MODO.

Also, for those wondering: Red is pretty favorable but a little draw dependant, Polymorph is favorable but not a blowout like most people think, Time Sieve is horrendous, Brilliant Ultimatum is pretty unwinnable now that we’ve switched away from Duress, and Naya Allies is difficult, but slightly favorable. I’ve also played against a bunch of Eldrazi Monument decks randomly online, and had a very hard time beating them, so take that for what it’s worth. I don’t mean to ignore these matchups, but their depth is not nearly as valuable as discussions on UW, Jund and Mythic.

46 thoughts on “Sweeping Ice and Other Important Topics – The Best Deck to Play in Standard”

  1. Just messed around with this thing on MWS… I feel slightly unclean right now. T1 Hierarch, T2 Cobra, evolving wilds, Cobra, T3 so far ahead I can’t possibly lose… It boggles the mind. This deck is amazing.

  2. Thomas ”Tuffy” Maggio (I'm an idiot)

    Isn’t Next Level Bant just better? Has an amazing UW and Jund matchup and not so bad mythic matchup either. I dont know if it is just the midwest but it seems like mythic has definately fallen out of popularity recently. The new BIG Jund decks just roflstomp mythic as well ”see Owen T’s Jund”. Also, the new BIG Jund decks also have a favorable Naya matchup. It may be good to play in some areas but I think the trend of UW and Jund being the top2 decks will emerge all over soon.

    EDIT: Please don’t imitate other people. Thanks.

  3. Thomas ”Tuffy” Maggio

    Now for my rant………I am horrible at this game.

  4. been experimenting with this deck + realm razer in the sb..if you can get some threats out vs control and they tap out..gg

  5. While I appreciate Steven’s effort, the data simply contradict most of his theories. Naya’s observed win percentage for this current metagame trails all of the regularly played decks in Standard except for Esper Control. Moreover, these results are statistically significant for comparisons with UWr Control and Mythic; that is, it is extremely improbable that UWr Control and Mythic are worse than Naya and the data are just deceiving us.

    The other thing is that UWr Control’s win percentage is whooping everything else in the format, including Mythic. So UWr Control is the “the best deck,” not Mythic.

  6. Honestly William, do you have any actual opinions on stuff, or do you just number crunch for everything?

  7. @Gerry: you might be on to something regionally. As for the next level bant deck I haven’t been impressed with it so far. Could be that I’m not playing it optimally but it just doesn’t wow me in any way. I’ve also found that the jund decks that load up on bit blast still feel fine to me, from the naya side. They are undoubtedly harder, but I still feel comfortable playing them.

    @William: I’m not sure if you are using daily events or whatever on modo to gather your data, but most naya decks have awful sideboards that include garbage like manabarbs. Similarly I know most people don’t board out vengevines against mythic or red decks, which is a contributig factor to their losses. they are also probably still playing the ranger of eos package which is pretty weak across the entire board. People play bad decks in daily events, so good numbers for a consistent control deck don’t surprise me. But Magic online daily events are not real world ptqs. I don’t really know how else to say it other than I think your system for gathering data is flawed in terms of trying to attack specifics, and that I don’t really take it seriously. If I’m beating blue white with naya, then I don’t really care that people with bad lists aren’t. I’m sure your system is fine at taking a big picture snapshot of the online metagame, but again, that’s a different animal.

  8. Vampire Weak Knights

    Yeah that Next Level Bant deck is tearing up the dailies online. It’s like u/w control mixed with the best creatures of Naya/Mythic. Also, Realm Razor can be a major beating against U/W.

  9. It’s funny; starting to play Jund, the cliche about “my deck’s about 50% versus Jund” is so true. (Big) Jund has so many dimensions of attack, many of which are overwhelmingly powerful. Sledge might be a scary card some games, but might be a mulligan others, if they start only killing your relevant creatures.

    The big 3 are all capable of fundamentally powerful, scary effects. I’m not yet convinced Naya isn’t somehow the worst of two worlds… the flakiness of Mythic (i.e. potential to more or less fold to aggro and spot removal), or just being an underpowered Jund deck (cascade into Hierarch). Maybe it’s a Tier 1 deck yet but I’m not convinced yet.

    What may be a necessary characteristic of deck analysis in the ‘Tier 2 mid-range design ethos’ era is the robustness of the sum of their dimensions… many decks are ‘good’ now… how do their variety of attacks compare? It’s by this consideration that I think Jund really excels, which may be why people often underestimate it.

  10. @Kengy: I don’t value opinions as much as facts. Magic writers present a billion opinions a day, and half of them are mutually exclusive with the other half. That isn’t a good recipe if we want to learn anything.

    @Steven: This is a common criticism leveled at my statistical methodology, but I know many UWr and Mythic players would say the same thing about their decks–some of the UWr and Mythic decks out there are not “optimal,” and thus they should be rated higher. It’s a bit of a runaround, but this response does not quite answer the discrepancy. Perhaps Naya players disproportionately play bad decks, but I wouldn’t bank a 25% difference in win percentage on it.

  11. the ‘new level bant’ doesn’t have a favorable match up verse jund from the testing I have done today. It’s amazing verse other control decks but it’s not something I’m comfortable taking to an event where I’ll most likely play against a bunch of jund.

    I don’t think that I’ll ever be sold on naya or mytic as it just seems to hit or miss to me. The format is still pretty open innovation wise. I’m looking forward to the next best deck

  12. The best deck is 5 color aggro with Leatherback Baloth, Ball Lightning, Devout Lightcaster, Jace, Vampire hexmage, and 4 tectonic edges.

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  14. @ffgamer72: “the ‘new level bant’ doesn’t have a favorable match up verse jund from the testing I have done today.”:

    A whole day of testing? 🙂

    I have played that deck for a couple of weeks, and I have faced Jund maybe 20 times and won well over half those matches. It’s a good matchup. Blightning is worse against you than against any other deck because of Vengevine (which they have no way of handling in the long game) and you produce so many blockers, that you get to the late game with your life total relatively intact, which is exactly where a deck with Vengevines and planeswalkers wants to be.

    In my opinion, the problem cards in this matchup are:

    – Lotus Cobra into Siege-Gang Commander
    – Siege-Gang Commander if you take too many hits early
    – Sarkhan the Mad if you are on the defense

    All other cards are pretty mediocre against you. On the other hand, the cards that own Jund are:

    – Vengevine (obv)
    – Ranger of Eos
    – non-Jace planeswalkers

    Stock Jund is much easier to handle than the Lotus Cobra version, but all in all I really like the matchup. I’m having problems with Conscription Mythic’s nut draw though (again – Lotus Cobra is the culprit here) and the all-in Red deck.

  15. To be comepletely honest, I don’t think you can consider a deck “the best deck” unless it has Jace, the Mind Sculptor in it…period. It’s the best card in standard bar none. The best deck has this card, and can play this card on turn 3. Not saying Mythic is the best deck, but it is one of the decks that has the most powerful play. When you build a deck that can maximize Jace’s blowout power then I believe it will be the best deck, The closest thing I’ve seen is Adam P’s U/G deck/Next Level Bant.

  16. dowjonzechemical

    yeah Cimos…that deck sounds pretty er…awesome..

    “definitely” definitely doesn’t have any ‘a’s. Good writers/orthographers know this, aka smart people who know how to spell check. Like Tim Aten.

  17. “@Steven: This is a common criticism leveled at my statistical methodology, but I know many UWr and Mythic players would say the same thing about their decks–some of the UWr and Mythic decks out there are not "optimal," and thus they should be rated higher. It's a bit of a runaround, but this response does not quite answer the discrepancy. Perhaps Naya players disproportionately play bad decks, but I wouldn't bank a 25% difference in win percentage on it.”

    Are you familiar with probit models? You could calculate it if you really wanted to. You’re probably doing simple regressions on wins, right? That data isn’t even useful.

    Incidentally, no one really cares about matchup numbers as played out by random morons online. I believe you when you say that UWR has beaten Mythic more often than not. I would also cheerfully play Mythic’s side for money.

  18. I said that UWr wins more often overall; I did not comment on the matchup between it and Mythic. (There isn’t enough data to make any comment as it turns out.)

    To say that “no one really cares” is silly. Really, really silly. YOU might not care, and that’s a shame, but there are a whole lot of people who do. They are the ones who realize you can glean much more useful information by using statistics.

    Wait, never mind. Stats? Hah! Who needs stats, when we have anecdotes!

  19. @William: Max actually pretty much nailed what I was going to say. Your numbers are not significant at all for people actually putting in games themselves. I also wouldn’t be surprised at all at a 25% difference in the Naya decks people are playing and the list Ive presented here. Ranger and Manabarbs are that bad, and the planeswalkers and thornling are that good. The BlueWhite matchup in particular went from being a 2-1 dog to a slight favorite, thats 20%.

    @Mirror Sideboarding Strategy: -4 Vengevine, -3 Elspeth, -1 Sledge, -1 plains, -4 cobra, +2 thornling, +2 chandra, +4 path, +2 oblivion ring, +1 collar, +1 bog, +1 pridemage

  20. Gaws, gets on my nerves all the H8Rs out there…jeesh!
    Anyway, I run 3 momentous falls in my Naya deck, and against Mythic and U/W they seem money, almost like cheating when I sac a Vengvine in response to a Path, then draw four or five (with exalted triggs) and get to recur him the next turn with my full grip! It does seem a little weak against Jund in testing, but I side them out for removal (two more Paths, and a Purge) Does this seem sound, I see this card in nobodys list, but my results are really good, and I play FNM against several 1800-1900 players. Can everyone give me an opinion of this card and its playabilty??

  21. “The days of High Tide and Tinker are over. No longer can you show up to a tournament with a deck that is so powerful you can only lose to the mirror.”

    “Naya is the best deck to play”

    0-o LOL?

    I think u might getting a little cute about this deck. just my oppinion, I have to agree with gerryT mythic is not quite so played as jund and u/w. Again just my oppinion, I could be wrong….or not

  22. How is u/w declining in popularity??? UWR maybe but not uw. 2nd most played deck online next to jund.

  23. “-2 elspeth vs. jund”

    i don’t think this is correct. elspeth is single-handly one of the best card against jund, espeically when jund has to spend pulses on your kotr and other big drops. also, i don’t think sparkmage is even good in this match up when jund plays so many removals against naya and the mage won’t do anything if you don’t have collar.

  24. lol @ willy spaniel getting decimated by people who actually do well at tournaments. It’s easy to claim stats help all these randoms a lot when there’s no way to see if it does or doesn’t. You just claim they do.

  25. Anon: Actually, there is no way of seeing if non-rigorous methodology works…unless you use data to verify it. (Oops.) That being said, I would like to note that I was on a soap box saying UW Control was really good during the Worldwake season. I got lynched for it. Then UW Control won three consecutive MTGO PTQs, and that quieted down. This season, I have been on UWr’s soap box. If you look at how well UWr did at the National Qualifiers compared to the percentage of players running it, you will again see that my prediction was right.

    Using data is not a be-all, end-all system. But it works, and it works far better than anything else we have going for us.

    Me: Steven actually nailed this one. Although you are correct that UW is the second most played deck after Jund, its numbers are declining. I’d say that there are data to show this, but I’m not sure how far that would get me here.

  26. Claiming that you were right all along after Jund had won the previous infi tournaments to that point seemed a bit… off. And last I checked you were still being put on blast for every article you’ve written to this point for harping on the same points over and over.

  27. I’m pretty sure the majority of this matchup is just wrong. As a Jund player I actually look forward to playing the two “midrangey” creature decks of the format: Naya and Mythic. Against Naya you can usually just play 1 or 2 threats and kill all their relevant guys before they can really put any pressure on you. And the sparkmage-collar plan seems pretty terrible against Jund as well-even if it sticks, you’re not guaranteed a win through thrinaxes and siege-gangs, but I was also under the impression that stoneforge mystic gets sided out in that matchup, due to how bad equipment is against the “kill all creatures” plan, making it even less likely to work. At DC i played against Naya four times, and none of the games were close, especially not the one where my opponent timewalked himself with sledge.

    And Mythic being Nayas “best” matchup is a pretty bold statement too, because I know several mythic players that feel it’s a fine matchup, and some who say it’s in their favor. I don’t personally know, as I don’t play the deck often enough to tell, but it really seems like if you don’t have collar sparkmage turn 4 you dont have a prayer of chance.

    But what do I know? Maybe you’re right.

  28. Feels like you can use stats to support anything you feel like.

    UW could easily have the best matchup win % because the better players like that kind of deck not because it is the best deck. Just using pure numbers you have no way of telling if this is true or not.

    Sort of on this subject I really wonder why people think mythic>UW This matchup is planeswalkers and men vs wraths and planeswalker how is that a bad matchup? Maybe my UW deck is a bit different but I have no clue how it can swing that much.

  29. @ William and @ Max – I actually find the statistics and data interesting here, and both of you are clearly qualified to actually discuss the nitty-gritty. William, I noticed you didn’t respond to Max’s point about probit models vs. simple linear regressions. Would either of you mind posting a link to the actual analysis/charts for those of us who care?

    Reason I’m asking:
    Max has a point that simple regressions on random deck lists is a little weak – there are substantial enough differences in the 75-card decks to throw off a normal confidence interval (.05 isn’t that hard to throw off). Given the variance in Naya/Jund builds as well, there is a relevant “categorization” question here. There are statistically relevant variations within categories that may overwhelm the variation between categories. Hence the probit issue.

  30. Play realmrazer and bolt/path it with its ability on the stack. May be a little to cute but with all the mana dorks and you SBing in removal against U/W seems like a decent path to victory against them.

  31. I think it is weird that you would say Red is pretty favorable – when I played Red, I felt like Naya was an easy match, and my opponent was siding in Ajanis, which are huge. Admitedly my sample was pretty small, but it felt like the matches were going the way they should; Maybe a different red version?

  32. A staggering amount of deck petting is going on in this page.

    I like Naya. I want it to be the best deck. I can think of ways it can beat every other deck in the format. Therefore, Naya is the best deck to play.

    I like UW. I want it to be the best deck. I can present numbers that show it has the best win percentage of all the decks included in my data. Therefore, UW is the best deck to play.

    The format is such right now that the ‘best deck’ does not exist. There are certainly tier 1 decks and others, but declaring a best deck is naive. Even if there is a best deck title to be given, the deck that should receive it will vary from day to day and tournament to tournament.

  33. Naya actually has problems with Jund and UW i think (but the Planeswalkers help a lot against UW), but especially when you have cards like Sparkmage do NOT help in the Jund or UW Matchup and i also would like to have an answer for Baneslayer Angel that does NOT die to Path or Day of Judgement. Sure, the deck is nuts, but it also gets beaten by its Manabase quite often or Jund bashes you with some kind of Aggro Draw or if they remove your Noble Hierarchs and Cobras.

    I also played this deck at a GP (which was before ROE) and did quite ok with some luck against the important matchups, but afterwards i was really feeling like “wow, this deck is just NOT the right choice for the format”

    btw. my result against mythic is also just 50-50 atm

    1. Taken care of Gerry. Tuffy was nice enough to have the same IP for all his comments.

  34. @PV: On Naya vs Red, Ive played on both sides of the match yesterday and didnt feel good on Red’s side. The only matches I won were on the back of all in Devastating Summons draws, but there werent many of these (it ended 12-3 for Naya).

    We were playing the Thoctar version of the deck, so when I was on the red side I really missed Flame Slash. Obv it really depends on the red deck list but I don feel very confident post sb either because I dont have that many cards against naya (Mark of Mutiny and thats it).

  35. Play what you know, know your gameplans against the big archetypes, win tournaments ^^

  36. Funny how mono red hardly even gets a mention in these discussions nowadays even though it puts up results. I suppose it’s still considered a nooby deck and the fact that it doesn’t cost an arm and a leg must mean that it’s bad. I would want to meet this “Naya” deck with RDW every round of a tournament, it depends so much on the mana accelerants which you just burn away. And the only sources of life gain are the equipments which are easy to play around.

  37. Ninjasmackdown

    It seems logical to me that Mythic and UWr would have a higher winning precentage online simply because you need a rather robust card collection to support either in their best form.

    If you look at the common Ranger of Eos Naya build versus the planeswalker heavy build that Steven is offering up above they are night and day.

    I don’t see any entry level online players sporting a real UWr walker or Mythic deck. If you have either, you have a nice card collection and are clearly leveraging it to build a power deck. Naya is a less popular frame for power cards in my opinion, so you see more players playing trash versions online.

  38. I was wondering (as someone on another site mentioned it) if you had thought about the applications of mageslayer as part of the stoneforge package. It seems good against wall of omens/denial and plainswalkers as it makes my veng a 8/3 thus killing gideon.

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