To make the most sense of what’s happening in the Standard metagame, let’s first take a look at Worlds 2020 from two weeks ago, the first big Standard tournament since Theros Beyond Death came out.
We saw 25% of the field show up with Temur Reclamation, which many people thought was at that time the best deck in Standard. Another 25% showed up with Mono-Red with four Anax for protection from sweepers, intending to beat up on Temur Reclamation because they were simply too fast for it. The other half of the field brought Jeskai Fires and Azorius Control, intending to play close matchups with everything, and hoping they had a well-tuned version of their deck for the event.
In the end, we saw U/W Control, Fires, and Mono-Red succeed and place 1st, 2nd, and 3rd. Temur Reclamation just had too big a target on its back and got destroyed.
Paulo Vitor ended up winning the whole thing with his take on U/W Control.
Blue-White Control (Standard)
What I liked about Paulo’s version were the Archons of Sun’s Grace. At first sight, this card looks worse than a Dream Trawler, but there are so many enchantments in the deck that it functions as a sort of equivalent to Legion Warboss. Paulo also showed us how to play against Jeskai Fires by boarding out most of his counterspells and becoming a tap-out style of deck with Archons.
If you played at all on the MTG Arena ladder during the last two weeks, you would probably remember running into these three decks over and over and over. Mono-Red was the most popular deck, with U/W as close second.
This weekend featured the MTG Arena Open at Dreamhack Anaheim and showed us how beautiful Magic can be when there is room for metagaming.
Yet again, the three most played decks by far were U/W Control (29%), Fires (21%) and Mono-Red (18%). The next most played deck was Simic Ramp at 4%. Exactly the perfect kind of metagame to exploit if you put in some work.
First of all, U/W Control dominated all the Mono-Red decks. Most people just copied Paulo’s list, including all the 2-drop interactive spells against Red. Four Aether Gust, two Cerulean Drake, one Glass Casket, two Archon of Sun’s Grace. A lot of people added some Devout Decrees on top of that. Anax is a great addition to red against U/W, but this is just too much. I don’t think we saw Mono-Red win a single match on camera, and there was exactly one copy of Mono-Red in the Top 16.
Azorius Control - Austin Bursavich
Austin chose to play four maindeck copies of Castle Ardenvale, four Mystical Dispute, and two Spectral Sailor in the sideboard to win the mirror matches and it worked out for him, as I believe he went 7-0 in the mirror over the course of the weekend.
All the Fires decks also looked pretty much the same, but they all focused on beating U/W post board by lowering their curve and bringing in cheap creatures like Robber of the Rich, Tithe Taker, and Legion Warboss.
Jeskai Fires - Mani “Zapgaze” Davoudi
All of this was to be expected. U/W won Worlds so it was obviously the most popular deck. Fires and Red still looked good. Everyone tried to fight each other with Mystical Dispute and Elspeth Conquers Death. Everyone focused on these three decks and no one really tried to exploit the metagame instead.
Except for one guy. Aaron Gertler absolutely dominated the event with Temur Adventures, a deck that wasn’t on anyone’s radar.
Temur Clover - Aaron “littlebeep” Gertler
If you look at this deck, it doesn’t really even have any new cards. Three Temples over Fabled Passage is hardly a noticeable improvement. The only other Theros Beyond Death cards in the list are three silver bullets in the sideboard to grab with Fae of Wishes.
So how did Aaron do it so easily?
Look at the three other decks. Last season, U/W Control played Planar Cleansing to beat up on all the Jund Sacrifice decks. Those Sacrifice decks are now almost gone from the metagame and U/W is all about its own enchantments and Dream Trawler instead. No more Planar Cleansing.
Jeskai Fires can be pretty slow, which is exactly the kind of deck against which Brazen Borrower shines, especially if you copy it a few times with Lucky Clover. Mono-Red got Anax, but that’s mostly an anti-sweeper technology, rather than something that would make the deck faster. Lovestruck Beast is still very effective against red and Borrower is now actively good against them, because it bounces expensive cards like Anax, Torbran, or Embercleave.
The best card in Standard right now is probably Elspeth Conquers Death. Everyone has 3-4 copies in their U/W and Fires decks and they are exiling each others ECD’s, Fires of Inventions, and Anaxes.
Teferi is a huge part of everyone’s game plan, stopping your opponent’s counterspells and bouncing ECD back to your hand so you can get even more value. As a result, everyone goes up to four Mystical Dispute after sideboard.
Everything revolves around Elspeth Conquers Death and Teferi, Time Raveler.
Now look at the Temur Adventure deck.
Its two card advantage engines are Edgewall Innkeeper and Lucky Clover, which cost 1 and 2 mana. U/W doesn’t have a great answer to either of those cards. You don’t want to have to Shatter the Sky an Innkeeper on turn 4, but you pretty much have to because otherwise your opponent will bury you with card advantage.
Elspeth Conquers Death is embarrassing against this deck. It’s a 5-mana time walk for your opponent. The only reason why you might have to keep 1-2 copies after sideboard is because it’s your only answer to Chandra, Awakened Inferno out of their sideboard.
Teferi is absolutely ineffective against Temur Adventures because bouncing their Innkeeper or Clover means they can just replay it for 1 or 2 mana. Teferi shines when it bounces something that your opponent has to invest more mana into than you spent for Teferi. You don’t want to bounce their Adventure cards and let them get even more value out of their Innkeeper and Clover either.
Counters are also not very effective against the Clover deck, because they are doing a lot of little things every turn, instead of trying to resolve one big card like Fires of Invention. They don’t do one thing extremely well, they do a lot of small things that annoy you, but it adds up.
Aaron absolutely slaughtered all the U/W Control decks that weekend. And we are talking players like Shuhei Nakamura, Allen Wu, Austin Bursavich—all absolute masters. Go ahead and watch any of the VOD on twitch.tv/magic. The only games where U/W even has a slight chance are the games where they have turn 6 Dream Trawler, but for that you have Sorcerous Spyglass or Shadowspear. U/W Control is effectively a bye for this deck, at least the way it is currently built.
Fires is a close matchup and Red is favorable as long as you draw Lucky Clover.
Aaron didn’t reinvent the wheel, he just recognized what the metagame was weak against and took advantage of it.
Now what does all of this mean for next weekend?
In my opinion, we will see Temur Adventures become very popular because it’s a cool new thing and everyone who is sick of losing to U/W Control will want to jump on the train. Red will be on the decline because of how badly it lost last weekend. As long as every U/W deck brings in 7-10 more cards after sideboard, Red will just not win the matchup.
U/W based decks should play 3-4 Dream Trawler maindeck because that’s the way to beat Clover. It also gives you more percentage points against Red, allowing you to cut some of the sideboard cards and focus more on beating Clover with cards like Heliod’s Intervention.
Fires will still be a popular deck because it has a solid game against everything, but I wouldn’t expect it to be at the top.
Nissa will make a comeback and people will try to break the format with decks like Bant with maindeck Knight of Autumns, but they will lose to the aggressive decks. A deck that only starts affecting the board on turn 3-4 just cannot have a good matchup vs. a red deck with Embercleave that keeps a reasonable hand.
You will not succeed if your expensive win conditions run straight into Elspeth Conquers Death. You need to bring something new that people don’t expect now.
I’m looking at Jund Sacrifice with maindeck Casualties of War. It’s absolutely about time to bring that card back. Fires of Invention, Lucky Clover, Banishing Light. There are so many juicy targets right now.
The last deck that I think should make a comeback is some form of R/B aggro, whether it’s Knights with Embercleave or some other version with Dreadhorde Butcher. Rotting Regisaur is still a hell of a Magic card that puts opponents on a very fast clock and does not die to Bonecrusher Giant.
When there are only a handful of decks in a metagame, it’s easy to exploit it. Think about what the most powerful cards are and try to present threats that don’t care about those cards. Attack the metagame from a different angle.
Is Temur broken? Far from it. It just happened to be excellent this weekend because everyone tried to fight each other with Teferi and Elspeth Conquers Death. Will it be still so great this weekend? I believe it will, because it will take a while for everyone to adapt. But the week after and at Grand Prix Detroit, we might be looking at a completely different metagame again.
If you want to see whether or not I’ll be able to exploit the current new metagame with Jund Sacrifice with Casualties of War, U/G and U/R Flash or R/B with Regisaur and Embercleave, you will find me on my stream at twitch.tv/martinjuza pretty much every day. I even gave myself a nice #1 Mythic challenge, so let’s see if I can deliver.
I don’t have concrete deck lists for these decks for you right now, but you will find them on my streamdecker in the upcoming days. If the Temur Clover deck is what you are after, I will have a deck guide and sideboard guide for you in the next few days as well!