The start of any format is interesting and this Standard is no exception. Many accomplished players have wildly differing opinions on the foundations of the format, which is a positive sign for its health and potential for development. The two top archetypes of the format are Jeskai and Abzan. Each faction can be slanted toward either aggro or control—however they are always headed by their de facto leaders: Mantis Rider and Siege Rhino.
At one end of the spectrum there lies 18-land Mono-Red which goes under the popular decks before they have time to cast their relatively more powerful spells. At the other end of the spectrum is Green Devotion which often wins or loses in a dominant fashion. Jeskai Ascendancy filled people with fear of a broken combo deck. In reality Jeskai Ascendancy regularly requires five turns to assemble its combo, which is plenty of time for anyone who is prepared to beat it.
At Pro Tour Khans of Tarkir and Grand Prix Los Angeles I chose to play Abzan Aggro. The same deck managed to Top 8 each event and I had a respectable personal win rate. Nonetheless I think that the current metagame is hostile toward Abzan Aggro with few positive matchups. My favorite deck to emerge from recent events is Lukas Blohon’s Green/Black Whip:
The vast majority of decks in this format contain several interactive spells (discard, removal, counterspells). In Eternal formats you will often play against a linear deck aiming to do its own thing. In Standard you should be prepared for your opponent to repeatedly disrupt your plan of attack. Because of the nature of the format Lukas’s deck is well designed and positioned.
Every creature in the deck matches up favorably against Hero’s Downfall and Banishing Light. GB Whip makes some sacrifices in pure power in exchange for resilience, making it a metagame deck. This means that right now GB Whip is well positioned, but as the metagame inevitably evolves this deck will need to keep up.
One notable difference from traditional green devotion decks is a lack of Polukranos, World Eater. Spending more mana on a threat than an opponent spends on its answer is never a fight you want to pick.
And the most noteworthy contrast between Devotion and Lukas’s deck is the full four Murderous Cut. Mana ramp decks traditionally have not played any removal spells because of a need to balance ramp and threats. This deck has a high enough threat density that it can afford to play the extraordinarily powerful Murderous Cut. With enablers like Satyr Wayfinder and Commune with the Gods, Murderous Cut is often Swords to Plowshares.
Commune with the Gods adds versatility to the deck by giving you access to situationally powerful cards without playing the full four copies (Brain Maggot, Pharika, Whip of Erebos, Doomwake Giant, Hornet Queen). As the need arises, this deck could easily include silver bullets like Reclamation Sage. This style parallels one of my favorite decks, Modern Birthing Pod—resilience to removal, interactivity, and a strength against creature decks. I am also a fan of the sideboard which contains specialized, potent cards for each common archetype and whenever your sideboard contains four Thoughtseize you can never be caught with your pants down.
In most game ones you should take the control role backed up by the inevitability of Whip of Erebos and the constellation creatures, Eidolon of Blossoms and Doomwake Giant, which will generate an insurmountable advantage in any lengthy game. If you have reached twenty or so cards in library and do not have a Whip of Erebos in play you should likely not cast any Satyr Wayfinders—decking yourself is a real possibility.
Against control decks that have sweepers like End Hostilities and Perilous Vault you will not have the same inevitability that you do in every other matchup. Unfortunately, you will have to take an aggressive role in these matchups, which this deck is ill-suited for.
Abzan is the most popular archetype and the best matchup for GB Whip—how convenient. Of course, Abzan has the potential to win in any matchup given the versatility of its cards, which is a key reason for its success.
The most important card in this matchup is Hornet Queen. Hornet Queen and her Insects do a fantastic job of trading with expensive creatures such as Siege Rhino and Wingmate Roc, in addition to threatening planeswalkers. In game one Abzan will have no way to deal with Hornet Queen at parity. If you suspect that your opponent may have Bile Blight to take away your Insects, try to leave up Murderous Cut to kill the target in response.
In the same vein, Whip of Erebos is a key card in conjunction with the Queen. Pharika, God of Affliction shines in this matchup as it is comparable to Hornet Queen—just keep a potential Whip of Erebos in mind when choosing which of your own creatures to exile.
After sideboarding, Abzan is likely to bring in sweeper effects including Drown in Sorrow and End Hostilities. These sweepers represent the most probable way of losing this matchup—fortunately we have access to Thoughtseize. Consider waiting until the turn before your opponent has five mana to cast Thoughtseize; doing so will increase your chances of hitting a potential End Hostilities. A turn one Thoughtseize can often be the most difficult to resolve properly because the game has yet to develop.
In game one you should approach Jeskai as a burn deck and preserve your life total at all costs. The inclusion of Murderous Cut really helps in this matchup to kill Mantis Rider which Green Devotion decks can have issues with. After sideboarding this matchup can become quite complex. In game two/three Jeskai aims to pressure your life total, yet has access to Anger of the Gods and End Hostilities. Other cards to keep in mind are Disdainful Stroke and Dissolve. Arbor Colossus is effective against all of Jeskai’s threats and impossible to kill with a singular burn spell, if you ever manage to resolve its monstrosity ability it should be game over.
Doomwake Giant is an all-star against Mono-Red. Do not be afraid to chump-block early and often in order to survive to the point where you are able to cast Doomwake Giant. If you suspect that Mono-Red will be popular, Nylea’s Disciple would serve you well in the sideboard.
This matchup can be discouraging. Disdainful Stroke and Dissolve are efficient answers to our deck’s expensive threats—not to mention Perilous Vault, which is nearly impossible to beat. If you anticipate an increase in UB Control’s prevalence add Nissa, Worldwaker to your sideboard. Nissa has always been incredible against control decks and interacts well against Perilous Vault (“nonland permanents”).
During Pro Tour testing in Hawaii whenever someone was feeling down we would let them play a few games of Ascendancy combo against a green deck. This matchup is laughably impossible for GB Whip game one. Unfortunately, even in sideboarded games GB Whip lacks a quick enough clock to back up Thoughtseize. Currently Ascendancy is not particularly popular and not a strong cause for concern.
This deck is similar to Abzan in that it plays several removal spells and efficient threats. Mardu’s threats are what differentiate it most from Abzan—they are cheaper and token-based. The key cards in this matchup are Doomwake Giant and Hornet Queen. After sideboarding Mardu has access to Anger of the Gods and End Hostilities which can be troublesome.
You may have noticed that Thoughtseize is often added in sideboarded games. So why not maindeck it, you may ask? Well most decks do not contain cards that we are particularly afraid of game one, but do have access to plenty of them in their sideboards.
Thank you for reading