While I did play the Legacy event at Grand Prix Richmond, my intention was always to play the Standard event. Playing Legacy was merely a freeroll. I’d receive an appearance fee as a Platinum player, and if I made a good run I could stay in.
The time I can spend playing Magic during the day in my everyday life now is less than it once was, and with many competitors at the World Championships this year, they will go as hard as they can up until the day of the event. For this reason, I wanted to play the Standard GP as it’s the best practice you can get. Every player will be playing to win, and you can really get a feel for how good a deck is.
To try something new, I played a deck that’s had some recent success: U/B Midrange. I played a few Magic Online Leagues before the event, but the Magic Online metagame mostly consisted of Mono-Red Wizards, and since I hadn’t gotten around to focused testing with the deck, I decided I’d give U/B Midrange a spin to see how it lined up against the field.
I’ve had a lot of people ask me to write a deck guide for their Nationals this upcoming weekend, so I decided to write my swan song article about Standard with Kaladesh cards.
The deck is like Jund. You have good cards and bad cards in almost every matchup game 1, and figuring out what they are and how to best replace them in sideboard games is where you can get your edge. Mediocre game 1s often turn into favorable matchups post-board because you get to replace bricks with some of your best cards.
Your removal spells are often uncastable against control, and Champion of Wits and Glint-Sleeve Siphoner have little-to-no impact on games against red decks. Champion of Wits is the better of the two as getting it into your graveyard gives you inevitability as the game prolongs.
R/B Aggro is obviously the most popular matchup, for good reason. It’s the best deck in the format. Your primary goal is to control the battlefield and win with The Scarab God. Sometimes, you can simply grind them out with card advantage from Arguel’s Blood Fast, Champion of Wits, or Torrential Gearhulk, but you will often need The Scarab God to show up.
By keeping the battlefield clear, ideally with a high life total, you give yourself the opportunity to play The Scarab God and take over. They will often have cards like Abrade or Unlicensed Disintegration stuck in their hands so you occasionally need to play The Scarab God twice, and having a padded life total helps with that.
One thing that’s important in this matchup is to almost never cast Glint-Sleeve Siphoner. Given the option, you should aim to hold up a counterspell or removal spell, and react to the battlefield. It’s rarely worth the risk of deploying Glint-Sleeve Siphoner into a Goblin Chainwhirler. If neither of you use your mana, that’s to your advantage. In rare cases where you are on the play with an Aether Hub, you may want to play Glint-Sleeve Siphoner, but at that point I almost never attack with it if there’s a way I can trade after getting my extra card. In general, hold Glint-Sleeve Siphoner for when you cast Champion of Wits to discard to it.
Champion of Wits is another last resort card I generally cast on an empty battlefield to dig for more answers. You should trade it off as soon as possible so that you have something to do when you’ve stabilized later with 7 mana. Overall, you’re the control player, and you aim to go over the top of their leftover threats with The Scarab God. Arguel’s Blood Fast allows you to do that, at a low life total, as a good source of life gain when you flip it.
Post-board, the games still play out similarly, but you’re often better equipped to fight their threats, and they’re better at managing The Scarab God and using cards like Duress to make sure that their threats stick.
If you have extra cards to bring in, Champion of Wits is the next to go. I’ve toyed with the idea of Search for Azcanta coming in on the play over a Champion of Wits, tried it several times throughout the tournament, and kept changing my mind. Ultimately I decided to keep all of the Champions in. Some people advocate for Hostage Taker in this matchup, but it’s just too big of a liability against Chandra, Torch of Defiance or Glorybringer if you cast it without immediately casting the card you hit. Even then, stealing a Scrapheap Scrounger or resetting a Bomat isn’t what I want out of a 4-mana sorcery speed card. For this reason it always gets clogged in my hand, and I’d much prefer it be a lower variance spell.
This is definitely the most popular matchup on Magic Online in the few Leagues I played, and while I thought at first that it might be more difficult than B/R Aggro since it’s faster, it turns out that I like the matchups quite a bit. Their top decks are often worse, and there’s a bigger emphasis on keeping your life total high and reacting to their threats. The Flame of Keld can produce a ton of damage when it gets to chapter 3, and your goal is to make sure you can withstand a couple of burn spells or that their creatures won’t be able to connect on that turn.
Much like against B/R Aggro, you don’t really want to cast Glint-Sleeve Siphoner. It’s too big a liability to spend your mana this way to have it get Chainwhirlered away and find yourself behind on board. The temptation is higher here because there are more creatures it can trade with, but not getting snowballed early is the way you win this matchup. If you have no other way to use your mana, by all means take the risk, but mostly just discard it to Champion of Wits and keep your life total high.
It’s easier to close out against Mono-Red Wizards because their topdecks end up being quite anemic later in the game, while you can just run them over with a single Torrential Gearhulk after you’ve stabilized with a couple of extra cards in your hand.
Post-board it gets much easier. Their cards don’t get much better, and you get cards like Essence Extraction and lower curve removal. Fungal Infection has potential to be a blowout as well. Hostage Taker is actively good here because they have so many 1-drops you can take and immediately play, and they often all trade for each other so it’s fairly close to a 3-for-1 in the right spots. In the end, they’re a kind of burn deck, and you have a bunch of removal with gain life attached to them, so it’s difficult for them to close out games.
Steel Leaf Stompy
Steel Leaf Stompy is a matchup I was dreading in the event, and was one of my two Swiss losses. I played against the deck twice, once B/G and once with the blue splash.
Unlike with the Chainwhirler decks, Glint-Sleeve Siphoner is actually a source of card advantage that you can cast and use profitably. It’s not your best card, but it’s fine. You still want to make sure that you don’t fall behind on board, but using Siphoner to draw cards and slowly grind their life total is a possibility. The green decks have very few sources of card advantage to gain traction, so it’s easier to slow them down early than it is with R/B. Vine Mare however, is one of the most troublesome cards in the format for you. You’re not equipped to remove it from the battlefield, and you only have Champion of Wits to block it early.
Torrential Gearhulk and Essence Scatter are your best means for fighting Vine Mare, so try to hold onto Essence Scatters early and prioritize using other removal like Fatal Push and Cast Down if possible.
Post-board, you don’t do much with your deck, but add Vizier of Many Faces to copy and block opposing Vine Mares. If you want more cards for this matchup, I strongly suggest another copy of this card, or potentially Yahenni’s Expertise.
On the draw cut the second Arguel’s Blood Fast for Fungal Infection. If they’re G/B with Scrounger and Heart of Kiran, bring in an Infernal Reckoning for the second Blood Fast. I was definitely short a card or two for this matchup, but I didn’t expect it to be very popular.
Both U/W and Esper are where I’m focused here, and they’re both fairly similar. I have no experience with Turbo Fog, but I assume plays out much like games against U/W Control.
The matchup goes from being a nightmare game 1 to fairly favorable post-board. Your removal is mostly all dead, and ideally you’re able to discard it to Champion of Wits when you do draw it. The game is generally decided in the first couple of turns. You need to stick an Arguel’s Blood Fast or Glint-Sleeve Siphoner on the early turns and ride out the card advantage. Siphoner is much easier for them to deal with preboard than post, as they also have a bunch of removal in their deck.
Teferi, Hero of Dominaria is often a huge problem in game 1s. You can Vraska’s Contempt it, sure, but most of their cards have text while yours don’t and eventually if they stick this or an Azcanta, the Sunken Ruin, the game becomes unwinnable. You’ll lose a fairly high percentage of game 1s, but don’t panic—it gets much better.
Post-board you get to cut most of your bad removal and replace them with some of the best cards in your deck: Duress, Negate, and Jace’s Defeat. You get tools to fight back and protect your haymakers. Glint-Sleeve Siphoner is so much more effective because you can protect it better, and their deck struggles more to interact with it as they board out some of their removal.
Esper will often bring in their own Glint-Sleeve Siphoners as well. Most of the games I’ve lost to Esper have been because I couldn’t deal with an early Siphoner. This is where Walking Ballista comes in. Walking Ballista allows you to have a proactive threat you can topdeck, but it also can pick off a Siphoner on the draw, or even a pair of them sometimes. Control decks have also started to utilize this card to deal with your Siphoners as well, so keep that in mind as the game plays out.
Against U/W Control, your objective is just to keep Teferi off the board, and you’ll be able to grind them out with your card advantage more reliably. It’s important to hold Field of Ruin in your hand when possible against both control decks so that you can deal with Azcanta, the Sunken Ruin. You don’t want to lose your Field of Ruin to theirs.
I’m still undecided how effective Walking Ballista is against U/W Control. I’ve noticed that I lose a lot of the games I end up casting Vraska’s Contempt against U/W because it means that my opponent was in the position to both cast and resolve a Teferi, Hero of Dominaria. Walking Ballista may help as a cheap threat that scales well into the game, but I’ve played mostly against Esper, where Walking Ballista is terrific at defending against Glint-Sleeve Siphoner. Currently, I think I’d rather have Ballistas against U/W, but could also see just having one and keeping the typical two Vraska’s Contempts in my deck as well.
U/B Midrange Mirror
The mirror is a tempo-oriented matchup that revolves around pressing early advantages and leveraging that advantage later to be the first one to stick and activate a The Scarab God or Liliana’s Death’s Majesty. Again, Glint-Sleeve Siphoner is an all-star here, and Arguel’s Blood Fast is even better because they can’t interact with it.
You want to play one of these two cards on turn 2, and use them to draw extra cards and make land drops while keeping the battlefield clean. Champion of Wits on turn 3 can often be a big advantage on an empty battlefield because there’s no big followup on turn 4. The Scarab God, Torrential Gearhulk, and Liliana’s Death’s Majesty are what swings the games in this matchup.
I’ll often discard my second copy of The Scarab God to Champion of Wits, despite it being one of the more important cards, because bring it back with Liliana’s Death’s Majesty is a way to get it into play through an Essence Scatter or in post-board games, Jace’s Defeat as well.
9 mana is the big goal in this matchup, as that’s when you can play The Scarab God and immediately activate it. If you have a Contempt in your hand and you have a lot of big threats, you can feel free to tap out as long as they aren’t threatening to have 9 mana. That’s when you need to make sure that you can counter The Scarab God. So don’t be afraid to eternalize a Champion of Wits when you get to 7 if you can interact with one of their big threats after it resolves.
Post-board games, again, are all about your two mana haymakers. Arguel’s Blood Fast, Glint-Sleeve Siphoner, and Search for Azcanta are how you can pull ahead early. People often bring in Duress and/or Negate in this matchup but I didn’t. The matchup comes down to draw go sometimes and having live topdecks is important. While Duress is fine in some games, it’ll be bad in others. The same goes for Negate. Jace’s Defeat can protect your threats from counters, while also countering almost all of the big threats in the matchup, but if I’m stuck with Negate when a lot of the important cards are expensive creatures, that’s not a great spot to be.
I’m not entirely sure that I’m right about how I’m approaching this matchup since I’m cutting cards others are bringing in, like Hostage Taker, but I want all of my cards to be relevant throughout the game in this matchup to allow me to press my early advantages and also to prevent me from falling behind. Hostage Taker, to me, is a way to deal with The Scarab God when it’s already too late. If my plan is to take The Scarab God hostage and they follow up with a removal spell of their own, it’s not a spot I want to be in. Duress and Negate are both cards I find poor from behind in this matchup as they won’t help me catch back up. They simply help me protect my lead.
Fungal Infection is an upgrade to Fatal Push for a few reasons. It can kill a Siphoner and leave you with a Saproling to slowly pick away at their life total while you trade resources, it can hit a Champion of Wits with the trigger on the stack, making the ability unprofitable, and it can also counter a Doomfall trying to exile The Scarab God.
Walking Ballista plays its role to deal with Glint-Sleeve Siphoner as usual here. It also gives you a way to punish Arguel’s Blood Fast. If your opponent leaves themselves too low on life, you can burn them out with an appropriately-sized Walking Ballista later in the game.
Play the games in a way that allows you to defend yourself from The Scarab God being activated, and be the first one to activate The Scarab God. This usually is a result of hitting the battlefield early with Siphoners, Champion of Wits, and Arguel’s Blood Fast, and by making your opponent react to you.
If your opponent is fond of the Hostage Taker plan it’s probably correct to leave a Cast Down in your deck over a Fungal Infection so that you can use that slot to deal with Siphoner and a potential Hostage Taker blowout.
This makes up all the decks I’ve played against with U/B Midrange, and a healthy portion of the remaining metagame in current Standard. While I had a good run with U/B Midrange, I’m still not sure what I’ll end up on in a few weeks competing in the World Championships. I think this deck is a great choice if you’re looking for something tier 1 and you’re tired of casting Goblin Chainwhirler. If you have some final Standard events to wrap up the format, I suggest giving this deck one last chance before you can no longer activate The Scarab God.