Cards, Not Decks: The New Standard

Cards have undergone a change these last few years: power creep—a term we use to describe the process of cards becoming slightly better over time. Why does this happen? There are many reasons, but one way to make new cards exciting is to increase their power level. In doing so, more of the new cards conveniently appear in older formats as well, making the new cards interesting to an even larger player base. Kaladesh may have been the most influential block for older formats since Urza’s block! With the new lore design planned around the Gatewatch (the planeswalkers, basically) combating planar villains, it’s the proactive cards, creatures and planeswalkers—not spells, that get a boost.

R&D also wants to shine a light on new mechanics, making at least some of the cards so powerful that you’d be a fool not to play with them: Smuggler’s Copter with crew, or Aetherworks Marvel with energy. Before, cards had a lower power level. So when proactive cards, especially creatures, weren’t as powerful, it took more creativity to find the synergies and combinations that made a deck. Right now it can be glaringly obvious—what many call “Battlecruiser Magic.”


Battlecruiser Magic—or what I like to call it, “‘Who wore it best’ Standard”—means that there are some cards or combinations of cards that are obviously above the power level of contemporaneous cards. Not only are they more powerful, but they also snowball—when they aren’t dealt with properly, they can’t be stopped. As Mike Sigrist explained, that means being on the draw or being unable to answer your opponent’s threats properly leads to a quick defeat. Because of the new way cards are designed, trying to find new, interesting interactions between whacky cards becomes harder, and new cards have to be viewed through a different lens.

Who wore it best

So what’s the “it” in “‘who wore it best’ Standard”?

Failing to play these cards won’t result in many wins. Naturally, you could think of even more cards such as Tireless Tracker or Rishkar, Peema Renegade, but these are the ones that set the rules the format. Center your strategy around making some of these cards as good as possible, and you will have a fine Standard deck.

When you narrow it down this far, the discussion is not about a new deck or certain strategy, but rather which cards you should be playing, and in this way we create a new kind of metagaming.

For example: versions of B/G have been the deck to beat. Because of this, the metagame has evolved around it. The B/G decks are readying for the mirror, and Mardu Vehicles is preparing a number of different transformative game plans with Fumigate. Where does this lead? Cards that are good against the aggressive version and midrange versions of B/G aren’t great against control, and I haven’t seen a Metallic Rebuke in a Mardu Vehicles sideboard for a while.

What was Metallic Rebuke especially good against? Torrential Gearhulk.

Once you have concluded which card interests you for the current metagame, you can determine who wore it best. Currently, there are a few viable shells for Torrential Gearhulk.

Jeskai Saheeli

Anaturaldeath85, 5-0 in a Competitive Standard League 02/18/2017


  • The combo
  • Spell Queller
  • Fumigate


  • The combo
  • Slow

As the utmost classic of the Torrential Gearhulk decks, Jeskai Saheeli is trying to assemble the combo within a Torrential Gearhulk deck. So what does this do to the deck? First it gives you an edge in control matchups because your opponent can never tap out. Even if your opponent manages to make you deal with something on your end step, such as a Glimmer of Genius or Torrential Gearhulk, they can never fully tap out for a powerful card because of the chance of just being combo’d.

But this edge in control matchups is not what you’re looking for in the current B/G and Mardu metagame. Putting pressure on the Jeskai Saheeli player also exposes its greatest flaw—it’s a clumsy deck when it doesn’t have time to cast its filter spells, and they often often just have to go for it if they are under pressure, if they even have it in the first place. Spell Queller also isn’t nearly as much of a pro against B/G or Mardu Vehicles, it’s better in matchups that try to resolve threats with Dispel as a backup, such as 4c Saheeli. For these reasons, Jeskai Saheeli falls short of what we are looking for in this metagame.

Grixis Control


  • Best removal suite
  • Powerful sideboard


  • Only reactive
  • Bad mana base

Grixis Control came out of our testing between ChannelFireball Ice and Team Face to Face. The idea is to use the best reactive spells while relying on Torrential Gearhulk to win you the game. Dynavolt Tower is a fine win condition, but isn’t as good as it could be because you have few ways to actually gain energy aside from instant and sorceries, and only 4 Anticipates to filter.

A lot of great removal seems good against the aggro decks, but when you’re too reactive it puts too much pressure on you to answer everything perfectly. In the face of removal for your Torrential Gearhulk, the games can go on for a long time and if something falls through the cracks, it’s hard to answer it.

Another issue is that the mana isn’t great. With a lot of tapped lands in the early turns and few ways to help you come back, being as reactive as you are is a flaw that’s exacerbated against the aggro decks. Next contestant!

U/R Control

Kerrick_, 5-0 in a Competitive Standard League 02-13-2017


  • Great mana
  • Low curve


  • Two colors

U/R Control’s downside is also its strength. With only two colors, it can have a low curve and reliably cast its spells on time to keep up with the fast format. But being limited to two colors also means it’s harder to have flexible cards in every slot, which means that every answer has to line up better. Shock in particular isn’t great against B/G Aggro, since it doesn’t kill their early drops, which puts too much pressure on Thing in the Ice and Harnessed Lightning to carry the load. Thing in the Ice isn’t at its best with people already targeting 4-toughness creatures thanks to Greenbelt Rampager and Heart of Kiran. Falling behind with this may be too much for this deck to handle.

Temur Energy Control


  • Great mana
  • Proactive


  • Worse against control

This deck was originally built by Shoota Yasooka, but refined between me, Petr Sochurek and Ondrej Stráský. This deck checks all the boxes for the current metagame.

First, it has great mana in the early turns, meaning that it can keep up with the aggressive decks. The deck also has a proactive element between Dynavolt Tower and Rogue Refiner. Because of Attune with Aether especially, but the other energy cards as well, Dynavolt becomes proactive in a way that you can rely on using it every turn. With Dynavolt Tower being at its best in this deck, it also plays well in the format. 3 is a good number in an aggressive format, killing most creatures and the planeswalkers that back them up. It also makes it easier for you to control the value cards other sideboards have that usually involve splash damage on the control decks, but actually is for other decks like Chandra, Torch of Defiance, Tireless Tracker, or Ob Nixilis, Reignited.

Because Dynavolt Tower helps you net a fair amount of energy, it turns on one of the better cards against Scrapheap Scrounger, Shielded Aether Thief, into a real card. Together with Incendiary Flow, Natural Obsolescence, and sometimes Dynavolt Tower, it’s possible to keep scrounger at bay, usually the bane of control decks. The energy part of the deck also enables one of the best cards versus B/G in the sideboard, Confiscation Coup. Not only is it a solid 2-for-1 that takes their best creature, but you also have to worry less about something like Lifecrafter’s Bestiary, which is an issue otherwise.

Because Temur Energy Control’s great mana helps you keep up, controls Scrapheap Scrounger, and has enough of a proactive game plan to solve problems, it houses Torrential Gearhulk the best for this format! I hope this has helped you think differently about approaching new cards and metagaming in “Battlecruiser Standard.” Remember that there are a lot of viable decks being played in the format, but not a lot of viable cards. Try to figure out the right cards for each weekend, and what wears those cards best and you will be rewarded. If you have any questions, don’t hesitate to ask in the comments.



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