Magic players love to argue about all sorts of inconsequential nonsense, and something that really fires us up is the debate over the best decks ever from throughout Magic’s history. It’s a difficult question to properly settle – each deck is a product of its respective environment – but it’s still possible to try to figure out which one is the most powerful in objective terms. Today, we’re going to count down the five decks that I believe to be the be objectively the most powerful Standard decks in the history of the game. It’s a tough question to answer and I fully expect people to disagree, but you can’t deny these five decks definitely have to be in the conversation (although the consensus on number one seems to be pretty solid). Let’s get to it!
Omnath, Locus of Creation lasted about two and a half weeks in Standard before it was banned. It was one of the swiftest bans in Magic’s history, and with good reason – the card was broken in half, as it turned out that it wasn’t difficult at all to trigger Omnath multiple times in the same turn. The card was so good that the one major tournament while it was Standard-legal saw almost 60 percent of the field playing it.
Four Color Omnath by Austin Bursavich
Between Fabled Passage and Escape to the Wilds (Escape would also go on to be banned), getting three landfall triggers from Omnath was a lot easier than anticipated. The fact that it replaced itself, stabilized your life total and added mana for just four mana made this card an unstoppable force, and it was banned very quickly as a result.
Omnath burnt hot and bright – it went on to be banned in Historic as well, while its Modern career was cut short by the banning of Uro, Titan of Nature’s Wrath. Still, for those two and a half weeks in Standard, Omnath was the headline act for one of the most unbelievably powerful decks ever seen in Magic’s history.
Caw Blade started off in life as a deck called “Caw-Go”, a play on the classic control gameplay pattern of draw-go. It played Squadron Hawk and Jace, the Mind Sculptor, and was a classic control deck with permission, interaction, sweepers and card draw. Then, once the Scars of Mirrodin block brought powerful Equipment like Batterskull and Sword of Feast and Famine, the deck added Stoneforge Mystic and became Caw Blade.
Caw Blade by Ben Stark
This deck was so utterly dominant at the time that it drove people away from the game. GP numbers dropped, attendance at tournaments everywhere was affected because people were so sick of this deck. It got to the point that it was 60 percent of the field – as the saying went, you either played Caw-Blade or you lost to Caw-Blade.
Both Jace and Stoneforge Mystic were banned in mid-2011 as a result, and in August of that year they were both grandfathered onto the Modern ban list when it began as a format. Caw-Blade left such a mark in people’s minds that Jace and Stoneforge weren’t unbanned until 2018 and 2019 respectively, and it remains one of the most infamously powerful decks in Magic’s history.
More recently, Oko, Thief of Crowns usurped the title of best planeswalker ever printed from the likes of Jace, and in time was banned in almost every format under the sun. Before these bans, however, Oko ran roughshod over essentially every relevant Constructed format – most notably Standard, where its oppressive impact was felt most strongly in November 2019, at Mythic Championship VI.
Simic Food by Ondrej Strasky
The deck made ridiculous amounts of mana with Nissa, Who Shakes the World, had a nigh-unkillable Nekrataal with Wicked Wolf, was absurdly consistent with Once Upon a Time and used Oko not only to fuel its Wolves and Geese, but also to deal with… everything. There was no point playing any sweet creatures in this format, as Oko would just turn them into 3/3 Elks. You can see how inbred the format had become, with main deck Aether Gusts as well as massive, clunky spells like Mass Manipulation.
Oko decks made up around 70 percent of the tournament, a level of popularity that had never been seen before (even with the decks at numbers one and two on this list!). Shortly after Mythic Championship VI, Oko was banned in Standard, and quickly followed suit in other formats in the following months. Today, Oko has been relegated to Vintage and Commander, but his legacy as the most powerful planeswalker ever printed lives on in people’s minds. Or nightmares, really.
The original Mirrodin block created a lot of problems. In 2004, Skullclamp was banned – which won’t surprise many these days, as it, just like Oko, is only legal in Vintage and Commander. But that wasn’t the only busted artifact to come from Mirrodin. Oh no. At its height, Ravager Affinity was so powerful and popular that Standard (and even Extended!) decks essentially just looked like Mirrodin block decks – cards from other sets just weren’t played.
Affinity by Masahiko Morita
This deck could spew its entire hand onto the battlefield on turns one and two, much like Modern Affinity used to, getting off to such an impossibly fast start that other decks simply couldn’t deal with. As Aaron Forsythe pointed out, people hated the deck so much that Magic stopped feeling fun to play, and so R&D was forced to make a huge ban announcement – one of the biggest in Magic’s history.
Eight cards were banned, making it very clear that this wasn’t a bit of pruning done for maintenance – this was the deck being nuked from orbit. Wizards wanted to kill Affinity in Standard for good, and they did so – although Arcbound Ravager continued to ravage away as one of the mainstays in Modern Affinity until Mox Opal was banned in January 2020, almost 50 years ago.
Magic players don’t agree on much, but when it comes to the most powerful Standard deck in the history of the game, not many people disagree: it was the Tolarian Academy decks that brought about the Combo Winter of 1998/1999. None of the decks that we’ve talked about today come close to Academy decks that were more than capable of winning the game on the spot within the opening turns. As @Supreme_Kitteh put it on Twitter: “The early game was the die roll, the midgame was the mulligans, the late game was T1 when you combo’ed off.”
This deck won by landing Mind Over Matter with Tolarian Academy as early as turn one, tapping and untapping the Academy for a billion mana while refilling the hand with wheel effects like Windfall. Then, Stroke of Genius would draw your deck, which you could use with Mind Over Matter for more mana, before a final Stroke of Genius pointed at the opponent would win the game then and there.
Tolarian Academy was banned in December 1998, but it wasn’t long before Wizards had to act again on another degenerate artifact-based combo. Memory Jar was emergency banned in March 1999 – a very few weeks after it was released – because of how it could be used fast mana, card draw and Megrim to combo off on the spot.
Wizards immediately banned Memory Jar in both Standard and Extended to bring an end to Combo Winter, but it has lived long in the memory, and anyone who was around at the time will tell you Academy decks (and the Memory Jar lists that followed them) were the most powerful any Standard format had ever seen. This claim holds up, too, I think – Oko is all well and good, but it’s pretty irrelevant if you’re dead before you can cast it!
While arguments about the power levels of decks like these (and more besides) will rage on, these five decks represent the most powerful Standard lists in, I believe, absolute terms. What do you think? Is there a list you think I missed? Let me know in the comments, or on Twitter!