For all the issues affecting paper Standard’s popularity, you can’t say it’s because of a stale metagame. Our current timeline looks like this:
Worlds: The top three decks are Jeskai Fires, Mono-Red, and Azorius Control with Temur Reclamation performing poorly and the metagame seemingly solved.
Two weeks ago: Littlebeep wins DreamHack with Temur Clover and Mono-Red Aggro is already receding.
Last week: Azorius Control has mostly fallen out of the metagame because Temur Clover smashes it, and both Bant and Sultai Ramp look promising.
This week: GP Lyon won by Mono-Red Aggro, with Rakdos Sacrifice making a big splash in the Top 8. Meanwhile, the Top 32 is full of Bant/Sultai with Temur Reclamation and Clover both performing well.
Some pretty wild swings to see in a Standard format after seven weeks. So where do we go for this weekend? While people will continue to debate just how bad Azorius Control is, one thing it did reasonably well was keep Ramp and Red in check. With that out the window, and Temur Clover filling the role of best midrange deck, Bant Ramp has dragged the Simic base from the ashes to start its climb toward the top of Standard. So what exactly happened in Lyon? Why did Mono-Red take it down?
Mono-Red Aggro (Standard) - Biagio Ruocco
Both Bant Ramp and Temur Reclamation showed up in force and beat up on Temur Clover and Azorius Control which gave Mono Red the green light in the form of favorable matchups. Top 4 finisher Matthew Garnham, who was on Mono-Red, beat Bant Ramp five times on Day 2. Clearly, as the metagame shifts away from the previous predators of Red, the better it looks for a larger open field. That didn’t seem to be the case for U/W Control, however.
Speaking of Azorius Control, that deck definitely ranks as the worst choice of the weekend and was a disaster for all of its pilots. Only one Azorius Control player even cracked the top 100 and it was the 4th most popular deck on Day 1 of Lyon. On Monday following the tournament, a handful of pros were puzzled as to why Blue-White performed so poorly, which felt like a fundamental disconnect from what was happening in the format elsewhere.
Azorius Control (Standard) - Andrea Dorigo
For one thing, the majority of players playing Azorius Control are simply going to perform worse in close matchups than they would if they had played a different deck. This is for a number of reasons, but the simplest is that the real-world clock punishes slower players more than MTG Arena. The other reason is that the majority of players I run into are still on stock lists from Worlds and haven’t even tried to adapt to a metagame of Temur Clover and Bant Ramp. (And, if you haven’t seen the matchup, both decks absolutely clown Azorius Control if they can execute their game plan).
Looking at the Day 2 metagame from Lyon, there are very few matchups you’d actually want to play against manifesting themselves in these charts.
Adopting a secondary threat could give the deck a boost. Options include Archon of Sun’s Grace, Brazen Borrower, or even Nadir Kraken. While Kraken falters against an opposing Teferi it does have a number of unique advantages. Kraken gives you something relevant to do early, can play offense or defense, can’t be Stomped, pressures planeswalkers and gives you something to do with your mana when holding up countermagic. The biggest drawback of course is that it takes time to get going, and effectively has an upkeep cost if you want to keep it threatening. If, instead, you want something more impactful for the late game, a fourth ECD and a singleton Dance of the Manse should fit the bill. Buying back a bunch of 4/4s and getting a fresh ECD is an underrated way to end the game.
Besides Bant and Mono-Red, Rakdos Sacrifice was the other clear winner from the weekend. This deck followed the Temur Clover arc from effectively no metagame share just a few weeks ago to putting up two copies in the Top 8 and more in the Top 32. This is why tracking the metagame shifts in this type of a Standard format are so valuable, as I would’ve thought this deck to be unplayable against Jeskai Fires. Instead, we have a Day 2 metagame with Mono-Red, slower ramp strategies, and Temur Clover, all of which it has a clear game plan against. I’ll also repeat my previous plea to stop playing Kroxa on turn 2 and building your deck in such a way that this isn’t a common play. Seriously, it’s for your own benefit.
As for the two other Throne-era decks which continue to perform in that 3-5% metagame range, both Jeskai Fires and Jund Food present playable but unexciting options. My opinion on Jeskai Fires has quickly soured from the top tier deck that felt slightly favored in every matchup to one that has serious challenges with Bant Ramp. Uro, Elspeth Conquers Death, and Nissa match your own haymakers and play a faster game. Not to mention, some are packing maindeck Knight of Autumn, meaning there’s a real possibility you’ll lose your first Fires of Invention without them needing to commit an ECD to it.
The flipside to this dichotomy is that if Mono-Red and Rakdos both pick up more metagame share than Bant Ramp, you come out way ahead in the exchange. Sure Bant Ramp takes up Azorius Control’s former space, but the good red deck matchups will almost certainly outweigh the negatives. Meanwhile, you also have one of the few slightly favorable matchups against Temur Clover.
If I were going to play this weekend, this is the Jeskai Fires list I’d play:
Jeskai Fires (Standard)
If I expected anywhere near the amount of Temur Reclamation as you see in the EU or APAC regions, I’d stick with the Brazen Borrower. For North America, I’m sticking with anti-aggro options and running Fae of Wishes again. It’s more relevant as a blocker against the red decks and Brazen Borrower while not being complete garbage when you draw it with Fires of Invention in play. You have a minimalist wishboard because frankly it’s always going to be Devout Decree, Wrath, or Elspeth Conquers Death with the occasional wish for Lucky Clover removal.
Jund Food feels good if you think the bulk of the metagame will be Rakdos, Temur Clover, and some ramp. Your ramp matchup ranges from medium to terrible depending on their exact configuration, and Mono-Red can still run you down. This is one of those decks I wouldn’t recommend unless you’re already experienced with it and are familiar with the common matchups. It feels like Temur Clover before it got popular—a niche deck with a ton of micro decisions.
If I was going to recommend the best deck for this weekend, you can’t go wrong with Temur Clover or Rakdos Sacrifice. While they both have weaknesses, they seem to have the fewest bad matchups overall and have hands that just win you the game even against other decks’ best starts. The key difference here is that Clover may have already knocked out its best matchup from the metagame, and Rakdos Sacrifice actively wants to get paired with Clover.
I’d love to recommend Mono-Red still, but I just can’t unless you’re already well versed in the deck and want to play some matchup lottery. Your Temur Clover matchup is bad, your Rakdos Sacrifice matchup is even-to-unfavorable depending on the build, and you just scoop to Jeskai Fires. If you do pick the deck up, I highly recommend leaning into your race elements rather than attrition.
Of the remaining decks, Bant Ramp is also a reasonable choice, but may eat some splash damage with Mono-Red winning Lyon and Rakdos Sacrifice picking up. While I’m not real familiar with how Rakdos vs. Bant plays out, the Red win at Lyon makes me less confident than I would have been in this deck. If you tweak it to line up better against the small aggro strategies with a few extra Shatter the Sky/Knight of Autumn main and Devout Decree in the sideboard, it should settle.
Do you think we’ll continue to see a continuation of the metagame shifts that came before? Standard may simply end up in a revolving door of 8-10 playable decks until Ikoria hits, which may be unprecedented in a world of MTG Arena and Magic Online. I’m honestly befuddled that Standard either ended up balanced in such a way that all these decks are viable on different weekends or we simply haven’t been able to solve the format. If nothing else, it’s a nice problem to have for a change.