Standard is fun and close enough to balanced. There’s clearly a power drop off when you compare U/B Control and Temur Energy to the rest of the field, but it isn’t ridiculously uneven. The only real issue seems to be that the excitement factor isn’t there. The swing cards are boring, they’re straight power cards. There isn’t a whole lot of play to The Scarab God. You just jam it, and if it isn’t dealt with immediately, someone is going to be sad. Bristling Hydra is much the same for Temur Energy. It snowballs into a threat that’s going to end you if you didn’t have the decency to counter it or a considerable board advantage.
Considering we just came from a format where people were slamming Emrakul and Ulamog on the table, there’s no comparison. That’s probably why we aren’t hearing the same level of complaints: the recent past was just so much worse. Other end-game threats are good 2-for-1s, which is a lot easier to deal with both conceptually and in the real world. Red decks went from being able to easily go under everyone else to struggling to stay relevant in a world where your opponents bother packing Magma Spray and life gain.
Speaking of the Red deck, the newer builds are much more likely to not be hated out of the metagame. These adjustments—cutting Ahn-Crop Crasher and the main-deck inclusion of Rampaging Ferocidon championed by Fnoop (current Standard Trophies leader on Magic Online)—make the deck feel far better against Temur and Tokens. The majority of Red decks on paper are still two weeks behind where they should be and I suspect Grand Prix Atlanta and Portland will showcase better builds. Slowing the deck down to punish the common counters like Whirler Virtuoso and life gain is a good move.
Of course, you could just play a bunch of removal and countermagic backed by The Scarab God and Search for Azcanta and win that way. It does feel odd to discuss the U/B Control deck with such reverence when it is terrible against any deck that doesn’t play in its comfort zone. I played against U/B Control with Abzan Tokens twice and wondered if my opponents played any more Magic that week after being virtually out of the game by turn 4 and hanging around another 20 minutes. Hidden Stockpile is practically game by itself and any strong enchantment or artifact is going to give the deck a whole lot of problems.
U/B Control is a great on-curve control deck that is adept at answering other straightforward decks. Decks that go wide or have odd plans of attack make it completely fall apart. Don’t get me wrong—I think the deck is powerful. I brought it to a PPTQ and had the foolish belief that very few players would be playing it. I did not practice the mirror whatsoever, and promptly got destroyed in a pair of mirrors. I accept this punishment and recommend playing more Pot of Greed in the future because that card creates ridiculous snowball games. Looking at other recent events though doesn’t show a whole lot in the way of results for the deck, so it’s possible my event was simply an outlier in the grand scheme.
One of the few decks that got punished by the initial Red hate and higher quantity of Fatal Push decks was Vehicles. While I think Mardu Vehicles is garbage in its current form, both B/R and Mono-Black Heart of Kiran decks have been solid. With the number of Abrade in Temur at an all-time low, Heart of Kiran begins to look like a strong angle of attack. It’s terrible against Fatal Push, but if you’re playing an aggro deck, what isn’t?
You also fulfill the promise of having a solid 3-drop to play in these decks besides Disintegration (which has dropped considerably from its heyday). Both Ruin Raider and Rampaging Ferocidon are excellent on-curve plays and crew Heart of Kiran without skipping a beat. Without being able to rely on Toolcraft Exemplar, you absolutely need to run some solo creatures that crew on their own. This is what I’m currently testing online:
B/R Heart of Kiran
Heart of Kiran a transition if your small creatures get bricked and you don’t have a Fatal Push early. Any 1-2 start can crew Heart of Kiran and it gives Hazoret something to do on turn 4 if you haven’t dumped your hand yet (a common scenario with the B/R deck). It also gives you more room to play with and against Bontu’s Last Reckoning, which is one of the more powerful options for style of deck. Losing Dread Wanderer hurts on the play, but I’m not sad to be missing it on the draw, where it was by far the worst card in the deck.
If I was going to make a throwback Mardu deck, I’d take the Butakov version from the MOCS, up the Duress count, and go from there. It feels a lot more like the classic W/R predecessor to the Mardu Vehicles deck. I won’t lie—being able to cast Veteran Motorist with consistency feels pretty good.
Outside of the 1-of Ahn-Crop Crasher, everything else is pretty easy to nod your head along with. Cutting out Fatal Push is a bit brutal but it takes a lot of the pressure off of Spire of Industry and lets you get away with no Aether Hub. You can also sub out many of the cards that are weak to cheap removal, and Abrade in general, and swap in Dinos, Dragons, and Chandra. It isn’t as effective as the classic go-big strategy, but it’ll get the job done if they overboard against your aggro draws.
I’ll be looking forward to the upcoming Pro Tour to see if things shake up, or if putting the PT later in the schedule simply means that everyone will stick with known quantities.