The expression “missing the forest for the trees” finds a great home in the world of Magic. This is my longest stretch without competing in a Standard Grand Prix in recent memory, and it’s funny how my perspective on a format can be so different—and in some ways so much better—than when I’m grinding day in and day out.
While I haven’t been playing nonstop, I’ve also never been out of the game. I practiced hard for the Pro Tour and played a Magic Online Championship event a few weeks later. I’ve kept up my research, reading, and discussion about the format so that I could stay sharp for commentary and content production. But the bottom line is that it’s been much different from the binge of Magic Online Leagues I sometimes engage in.
In short, I’ve taken a step back to watch what my colleagues and competitors have done with Standard, instead of struggling to do everything myself (as I’m sometimes guilty of). The result, at least in my own opinion, is that I’ve developed a much clearer and healthier big-picture view of the format. I might not be able to tell you the exact, perfect sideboard configuration for “when you’re on the draw for game 3 of the B/G Midrange vs. U/R Control matchup after seeing Thing in the Ice in game 2.” (Sometimes I can). But I believe that I’m much better equipped to comment on a wide variety of decks, and answer a question such as, “what deck should I choose if I expect to face Temur, Mono-Red, and Zombies?”
Going Into the Pro Tour
It took a while for players to properly adjust to the release of Hour of Devastation. Despite people trying the new cards, U/W Monument was a holdover from the old format, and looked to be the deck to beat for a while. I believe the printing of Abrade and the creation of the God-Pharaoh’s Gift combo deck eventually started to hold Monument in check.
As an aside, the deck is far from extinct. Gregory Michel made the Top 8 of Grand Prix Denver with U/W Monument.
Gregory Michel, Top 8 at GP Denver
A week before the PT, we all faced a brief moment of panic as a U/W God-Pharaoh’s Gift combo deck won a Magic Online PTQ. My teammates and I put our noses to the grindstone and spent about 36 hours learning everything we could about the deck. Our conclusion at the time was that it was an amazing deck if people weren’t gunning for it, but didn’t have a great plan for fighting through one or two pieces of hate.
God-Pharaoh’s Gift didn’t prove to be a major player at the PT, but has been significantly improved by shifting toward U/R instead of U/W. Cathartic Reunion and Insolent Neonate increase the consistency of the main deck, and Chandra, Torch of Defiance and Glorybringer constitute an effective sideboard plan against control or against hate cards.
Jeskai God-Pharaoh’s Gift
Corey Burkhart, 11th place at GP Denver
It’s worth noting that Edwin Eng and combo-master Zac Elsik both held strong with U/W God-Pharaoh’s Gift and placed in the Top 32 of Grand Prix Denver.
Another category of decks that was reasonably popular before God-Pharaoh’s Gift were Kozilek’s-Return-plus-Elder-Deep-Fiend decks. This could mean classic Temurge or a variety of Prized Amalgam graveyard decks. I liked this strategy a fair bit, but it also fell off the map after the Gift deck broke out. Presumably the combination of incidental graveyard hate and a bad matchup against the Gift deck itself was too much to overcome.
After two weeks of practicing and wading through a shifting metagame, my prediction going into the PT was that Mono-Red and Zombies would be the decks to beat, with God-Pharaoh’s Gift, Mardu Vehicles, B/G, Temur, and U/R Control also being out there.
I had a Temur Energy/Planeswalker deck that I liked, although it wasn’t particularly exciting. I felt advantaged against Mono-Red due to Whirler Virtuoso being extremely good in the matchup, and about even against everything else.
Despite ranking it as the number one deck to beat, it still turned out that I underestimated Mono-Red and overestimated most everything else.
Paulo Vitor Damo Da Rosa, 1st place at Pro Tour Hour of Devastation
Mono-Red put 6 players into the Top 8 and won the tournament in the hands of Player of the Year Paulo Vitor Damo da Rosa. Meanwhile, I had a fair result of 6-4 with my Temur deck, losing twice to Zombies, a deck that put up good numbers at the PT.
Following the Pro Tour
It was clear that Mono-Red was a great deck, but it also had a huge target on its head, and players reacted. The week following the Pro Tour, many turned to Zombies, Temur, and B/G because these decks have favorable matchups against Mono-Red, and we had a new balance of power.
Temur Energy won a Magic Online Championship event, and Brad Nelson and Corey Baumeister made a double Top 8 at GP Minneapolis with B/G. Nevertheless, it seemed to me that the best performing deck of this period was Zombies. Steve Locke took the trophy at that very same Grand Prix. The next weekend, I did my best to follow in his footsteps in another Magic Online Championship event.
reiderrabbit, 8-0 in an MOCS
I believe that Zombies is favored (at least a little bit) over each of Mono-Red, Temur, and B/G. This is based on a combination of public opinion, my experience playing Zombies, my experience playing the other decks (especially Temur), and the matches that I’ve watched others play.
If Zombies did take the crown as deck to beat, the metagame adapted again. We began to see a lot more control decks, a lot more board sweepers, and a lot more Skysovereign, Consul Flagships, which is a nightmare card for Zombies.
Grand Prix Denver
I was one of the commentators in the booth at GP Denver. I started Day 1 by predicting a diverse metagame with plenty of fringe decks that might show up, and 5 decks that you’d see a lot. These were, as I predicted: Mono-Red, Zombies, Temur, B/G, and control.
I was most off-base on B/G, which hardly seemed to show up at all. Even players who had recent success with B/G like Sam Pardee, Brad Nelson, and Corey Baumeister switched to different decks.
After 10 rounds, two Zombies players topped the standings. God-Pharaoh’s Gift came back with a vengeance and wound up putting many players in the Top 32. Gregory Michel made the Top 8 with U/W Monument. Ramunap Red proved that it was still a great deck and could fight through a hostile field, putting 3 players into the Top 8.
But the real story of the tournament was Brad Nelson, Brian Braun-Duin, and Corey Baumeister placing 1st, 2nd, and 4th with identical copies of Temur Energy.
Brad Nelson, 1st place at GP Denver
Undeniably, this performance proved that Temur is a strong deck. But from where I was sitting, it felt to me that it was nothing more than a strong deck that gave 3 great players a way to navigate through close, complicated games. I thought the result was more about the players than about some unbeatable deck.
Looking To The Future
Standard is very diverse and very balanced. If one deck gets on top, small shifts in metagame and card choices can even the playing field. There are dozens of playable decks, and there’s nothing stopping you from bringing back a deck from last month, or from brewing something completely new.
Temur is the new deck to beat—that’s inevitable after such a dominant showing at a high-profile event.
Mono-Red is the second most important deck since it’s simple, powerful, and appealing (not to mention pretty affordable).
I pick Zombies as the third most important deck. It’s been consistently good, and is a particularly appealing choice in a field of Temur and Mono-Red.
Next comes control, although there’s no consensus on the best way to build it. Torrential Gearhulks, Scarab Gods, or Approach of the Second Sun? Maybe it’s the potential for innovation that draws so many players to control.
Don’t ignore God-Pharaoh’s Gift. The best way to combat it is with main deck Abrade and Scavenger Grounds, and with sideboard Dispossess. If you’re playing a creature deck and don’t come prepared with these cards, this deck is going to be a nightmare.
Beyond that, B/G, U/W Monument, Ramp, and nonblue control decks all remain playable, and there are too many fringe decks to name.
If you’re looking for a deck to play, Zombies comes with my highest recommendation. If you like doing sweet stuff that other players aren’t, then try out the God-Pharaoh’s Gift deck. If you prefer something safe that plays close games and has no awful matchups, then go with Temur.
I hope you enjoyed this walk down memory lane with Hour of Devastation Standard. Take the next few weeks to enjoy the most balanced format in recent memory. And let’s hope that Ixalan Standard brings us a similar level of potential.