For the weeks ahead of GPs Madrid and Denver, Standard was labeled a 2-deck format: B/G Delirium and U/W Flash. A key feature of this metagame is that the one deck that preys on B/G Delirium—Aetherworks Marvel—was assumed to fold completely to U/W, which, being the most popular deck, completely drove it out of the metagame. This resulted in a scenario where B/G was the clear best deck to play.
The assumption that Marvel simply folded to U/W was correct, for the most part. Marvel decks of old relied on Aether Meltdown for removal and had no intermediate game plan, so if you dealt with Marvel they were as good as dead, which made it very vulnerable to counterspells and in particular Spell Queller.
Now, however, Marvel lists have evolved. They are not nearly as all-in, running intermediate cards such as Chandra and Ishkanah, and they also have many more ways to deal with Spell Queller (Harnessed Lightning and Chandra). As a result, the assumption that “U/W smashes Marvel” has been challenged.
The day of the GP, Paul Cheon posted the following Twitter poll:
Had Paul posted this a month ago, I believe the answer would have been overwhelmingly in favor of U/W, but nowadays it seems to be pretty even. As for myself, I actually think the matchup is in favor of R/G, though U/W improves with good sideboarding.
This is a radical change in paradigm, but what does it mean in practical terms? Who are the winners and losers from last week’s GP results?
What it means for Marvel is that it now has two good matchups (or one good and one even one, depending on who you talk to) in the two most popular decks in the format. Clearly that’s a great position to be in, so Marvel did extremely well in both tournaments. This is the winning list from GP Denver:
It’s very simple—straight R/G. Some others dabble in blue and white splashes. It has 5 Eldrazi in it, which has become standard (though some people, such as Steve Rubin, played 4, and some, like Corey Burkhart, played 6).
It also has the standard 3 Chandras, which are amazing in this deck—they give you cards in a deck that’s desperate to mitigate flooding, they kill problematic creatures such as Spell Queller and Grim Flayer, they add 2 mana to hardcast your Eldrazis, and they count as an extra type in the graveyard for Emrakul.
The extra resiliency does not come free. As Marvel decks become better against decks that interact with them, they become worse at goldfishing. For as good as the Marvel decks are right now, they would be very, very bad against the U/G/r Marvel decks of PT Kaladesh because they’d simply be doing the same thing more slowly and less efficiently. The U/G/r Marvel deck, however, can’t beat U/W Flash, and U/W Flash is currently the most played deck in the format, so I doubt this will become a concern.
The key is that even though you’re worse at goldfishing, you’re still good enough at goldfishing to beat the decks that don’t pressure you. If you’re playing versus B/G Delirium, you don’t need an Emrakul on turn 4. In fact, you often don’t need an Emrakul at all. Playing B/G versus Marvel is depressing because even if they fizzle, you still lose—they can find Marvel on turn 6, spin it for a Vessel, spin it again for Ishkanah, then spin it again for Ulamog and that’s still good enough to beat you. So yes, you lose some percentage points in some matchups by going for a more resilient approach, but you are still a big favorite in those matchups, whereas you gain so much more in the other matchups. You basically go from being 90% versus B/G and 10% versus U/W to being 75% versus B/G and 55% versus U/W, which is an enormous improvement.
In my mind, Marvel is the new best deck in the format. Everyone is going to have to adapt to it or die, which might make it disappear again for a couple of weeks until everyone changes their sideboards again, which will make it emerge again as the top contender, and so on. As far as versions go, I like the Whirler Virtuoso version the most (I like having another outlet for all your energy, and it’s also a good energy provider), followed by the straight R/G version, followed by the white splash.
Loser: U/W Flash
With the emergence of the new Marvel builds, it’s not clear to me what U/W Flash actually beats. Some people think it beats B/G Delirium, and some people think it still beats Marvel, but even if you agree (which I do not), your margins are razor thin, and you’re not the best against the super aggressive decks. Flash is still a viable deck, of course (because even if you’re a dog to those two decks, I don’t think it’s by much), so if you’re a legacy Flash player you can keep playing it without worrying, but I would not say that it’s the “solution to the metagame” that it might have been a month ago.
Panharmonicon has been on the fringe of playability for a long while, but unless you followed WotC editor Blake Rasmussen on Twitter, you might not have considered it a competitive deck. We actually tested it quite a bit on our team, but we had some problems with the fact that its early game was clunky, and you’d often start playing on turn 3.
Enter Seth Manfield’s version:
This version looks super clean to me, and I’ve been very impressed by it. The Thraben Inspector/Glint-Nest Crane/Smuggler’s Copter combination gives you something meaningful to do early, and all those cards work with each other and even with Panharmonicon and Eldrazi Displacer. By having Cloudblazers, Panharmonicon, Displacers, Drowners, and Westvale Abbeys, you guarantee that you’re going to be able to compete in the late game, so cheap plays that advance your game on top of that are perfect.
This deck looks like it’d be bad against Emrakul, but that’s actually not true. You have several cards that deal with Emrakul but cannot profitably be used on your permanents (Displacer, Reflector Mage, Drowner to a lesser extent) and there aren’t many ways your opponent can cause you mayhem by taking your turn, since your deck is a collection of permanents. The one thing that is annoying is Emrakul + Kozilek’s Return, but that’s pretty rare now, and even that is beatable by just playing carefully.
What it is bad against are super aggressive decks. Even though you have some cheap cards now, the core of your deck is still expensive, and takes a while to get going. If you expect a lot of aggro decks, I would not play Panharmonicon, but in a format of Spell Quellers and Emrakuls I think this is a tier-1 deck that you should see a lot more of in the future.
Loser: B/G Delirium
If U/W gets worse due to Marvel now being better against it, B/G is in even more trouble because its worst matchup is now way more popular. Before the GPs, I would have told you to play B/G Delirium for sure, but right now I don’t think I can justify it because there are too many matches that you can’t win compared to matches you can’t lose. I’d stay away from it for the foreseeable future.
Winner: Fragmentize and Appetite for the Unnatural
With the raised stock of 4-mana artifacts such as Marvel and Panharmonicon, there’s also more interest in artifact removal spells that, you know, actually remove them (as well as Skysovereign in the case of Appetite). Long gone are the days of 3 Natural States in the sideboard—you should expect to see many more Fragmentizes and Appetites from now on.
Loser: Natural State
The same things that make Appetite and Fragmentize better make Natural State worse. There’s a limit to how many Disenchants you want to play in your sideboard, and with U/W decks often cutting Smuggler’s Copter versus B/G, that limit is not very high. Natural State is still playable (it is better than Appetite against Mardu and U/W for sure), but you certainly don’t want 3 of them. You might want 1-2 and then Appetites for the remaining slots.
Check back later this week when I break down 5 more winners and losers from GPs Denver and Madrid!