Standard: Back in Blue-Black (and Probably Red for Good Measure)

If today’s article was a tacky ’70s sitcom about my begrudging return to playing Standard, I would licence the rights to the Welcome Back, Kotter theme song to run during the opening credits.

Welcome back, your dreams were your ticket out.
Welcome back, to that same old place that you laughed about.

I’ve been critical of Standard recently. In fact, I had planned on just giving it up cold-turkey and playing other formats I find more enjoyable, but life has a funny way of throwing a monkey wrench into my unrealistic, knee-jerk reaction plans!

I’m a huge fan of Team events and there are several on the horizon. My teammates have been deep in the tank with their Legacy and Modern decks for a while, so it made sense for me to take up the Standard mantle. And so, here we are…

To be fair, Standard is in a better place than it was before the banning. No single deck or decks have risen to dominance so far. Mono-Red appears to be the most popular single deck by winner’s metagame percentage, but various flavors of midrange have become the format defining characteristic of post-ban Standard.

Here’s what you need to know about Standard:

  • Red Aggro and other beatdown decks – 25%
  • Various flavors of blue-based control – 25%
  • Various flavors of midrange aggro – 50%

The red decks are strong. The blue control decks are as well. But midrange decks are strongest, and unsurprisingly the most popular strategy in the format.

The good news is that there are several flavors of midrange to choose from: Grixis, Mardu, Temur, Golgari, Sultai, and Tokens. So there is a lot more variation among decks than was present last season, which is refreshing.

I’ve tinkered around with several decks, and the one I gravitated toward is Grixis Energy. The deck is powerful, flexible, and has a ton of play to it.

Grixis Energy

Brian DeMars

I love the list I’ve been playing.

Tactical Positioning

The most encouraging aspect of this deck has been its position in the metagame.

Aside from the hardcore blue control decks, Grixis Energy will take on the control role in basically every other matchup. It has lots of juicy threats, so it can technically race, but the deck is most effective when grinding people out and turning the corner.

It clearly has the tools to grind!

The deck also has the necessary means to survive Mono-Red’s strong draws:

These early game spells come at a price. The price is playing a 3-color deck as opposed to straight Dimir Midrange. There is a strong argument for moving the deck into 2-color territory, but I’m not quite there yet.

In my experience so far, the red cards are all important against Mono-Red, from the removal to the Virtuosos and right down to the sideboard cards.

Grixis appears favored against red decks. It appears favored against most of the midrange decks (since it is on the more controlling side). I don’t feel favored against the control decks, but the matchup is still close.

The reason I said “favored against most of the midrange decks” is because I feel unfavored against a version of the deck that cuts the red “anti-aggro” suite in favor of being more controlling in the midrange mirror. So if you see Red Deck Win’s piece of the pie shrink, then it might be time to cut the red cards in favor of a straight Dimir build:

Dimir Midrange

Corey Baumeister, Top 16 at GP Memphis

Corey’s deck is able to replace those early interaction slots with reasonable answers.

And gets to add some saucy midrange grinders:

I do like the fact that Gifted Aetherborn is a threat against pure control decks, rather than a duck like extra Magma Sprays, but the red spells are enough better against aggro that I’m inclined to sleeve them up for now.

I also respect the heck out of the fact that the deck has room for 3 Field of Rune to strip out any enchantments that have flipped over into land mode.

There are clearly things to like about both versions of the deck (with or without red). In my experience, there are enough reasons to be Grixis that I’m planting my flag on that deck for now, but if the midrange decks start to encroach on pure aggro territory I’ll likely switch sides and drop the third color.

All things considered, I do expect to see the metagame trend in the direction I’ve speculated, but I’m not going to skip to level 2 until the trend becomes better defined.


Sideboarding in Standard is pretty straightforward because there will be three specific types of matchups to sideboard for: control, midrange, and aggro.

There are different flavors of each archetype but that won’t dramatically change the types of cards that you want to bring in, or out. These are just basic guidelines, rather than hard and fast rules.




Obviously, you want to board out removal for more permission, disruption, and threats. Certain control decks are likely to board in creatures or planeswalkers, so you’ll want to leave some removal in for those. Abrade is great against God-Pharaoh’s Gift.

But typically, you’ll be looking to strike a balance between taking out removal for better interaction.


I’m fairly geared up for the midrange mirror. But you’ll look to get a little bit more grindy:



Midrange is the most difficult matchup to sideboard for because what comes in or out depends on what the most important threats are. Obviously, it is important to kill Siphoner and The Scarab God. But it is also important to slay Winding Constrictors against B/G or Heart of Kiran against Mardu.

I’ve found Virtuoso to be at its weakest in these midrange slog-fests and so I’ll typically side a few out alongside whatever the worst positioned removal spell is.

Duress and Negate are also options depending upon how likely a planeswalker plan is, but don’t go overboard. Midrange matchups are largely about gaining traction and not transforming into an old school “draw-go” deck. Impacting the board is so important. That is another reason why I’ll often board out Glimmer of Genius, despite the fact that it can be quite good in certain kinds of games.




If the game goes long and you can answer red’s threats you are going to win a lot of games. I’m less focused on escalating the late game than I am on simply reaching that point. I want to get leaner and more nimble so that I don’t fall behind. My powerful cards will do the job once I get there.

To simplify:

Vs. Control: Take out dead removal for spells that interact with their hand and spells on the stack.

Vs. Midrange: Take out the least effective threats, removal, and spells that don’t gain traction on the board for grindy, board presence threats.

Vs. Aggro: Take out expensive endgame cards for more cheap interaction to insulate you from getting run over in the first four turns.

Easy game.

Grixis Midrange is the real deal. It does multiple things well and doesn’t appear to have many bad matchups. It is funny that one of the worst matchups for the deck is just the mirror dropping a color.

If you haven’t selected a weapon for Standard yet, Grixis or Dimir are great decks to jump in on. You’re basically in 90% of the games and have solid tools to work with. I can’t ask for much more than that out of a Standard deck!


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