Standard Isn’t as Solved as it Looks

The Standard Pro Tour looked all too familiar. Seeing so many Goblin Chainwhirlers and red decks running around made for some obvious questions.

“Is Standard broken again?”
“Why did they print Goblin Chainwhirler and ban Rampaging Ferocidon?”
“Why did U/W Control get stomped?”

I’m not trying to answer these particular questions. I chalk a fair bit of it up to Draft being a bit over a third of your record and the fact that the Pro Tour occurred so far after a set release. It feels like a good portion of the players simply took a deck they knew was a solid 55% against the field, streamlined it to 60%, and called it a day. Certainly not a bad decision for many, and the Constructed results pan this out. But it oversells how effective these decks were and how much the real metagame has followed along with Magic Online.

If the Magic Online metagame is any indication, after the success of R/B and Mono-Red at the Pro Tour, we’ll be seeing a lot more U/B, Esper, and Gift decks in the short-term. I can tell you that while I’ve definitely been playing against more red decks, U/B has easily been the second biggest gainer. I’ve played Leagues where every match was against red or U/B (typically midrange), and people aren’t switching to U/B Midrange. Food for thought.

A few cards are on the rise, starting with Aethersphere Harvester. Not only does it do the usual brick wall impression against the creatures in the red deck, including Goblin Chainwhirler and Rekindling Phoenix, but black decks also don’t have an easy way to kill it off since they aren’t going to Vraska’s Contempt it very often. Obviously it can still get taken down when combined with a removal spell, and Abrade doesn’t care at all, so it isn’t a complete catch-all. But it helps solves many of the issues faced by creature decks in this format and plays well with Shalai, which can keep it safe from a Disintegration or Shock after first strike damage.

Shalai is another card that feels completely overlooked in the wake of the Pro Tour results. While it’s at its best against Settle the Wreckage, Shalai dodges everything besides Disintegration out of red-black in game 1,  and post-board they gain only a handful of Fight with Fire or possibly Doomfall. Considering that it can keep cards like Wildgrowth Walker, Aethersphere Harvester, or Lyra Dawnbringer alive, that’s not a bad trade-off. People sometimes forget that you can also block with Shalai and force the issue, which, when backed by Blossoming Defense, or countermagic can lead to a huge blowout. Even netting a 2-for-1 isn’t bad as long as you follow it up.

If you suspect a large swath of R/B and Mono-Red with everything else as a secondary concern, decks like these look a lot more appealing:

G/W Midrange

W/B Midrange

To beat the R/B and post-board red decks, your deck effectively needs to:

  1. Gain life or otherwise avoid dying to burn to stabilize on the draw against aggressive curves.
  2. Deal with recurring or difficult-to-kill threats such as Scrapheap Scrounger, Rekindling Phoenix, and Hazoret the Fervent.
  3. Be able to pivot into killing the opponent so you aren’t buried by cards like Arguel’s Blood Fast, Chandra, and Karn post-sideboard.

This is a lot to cover, and 2 and 3 overlap, since if your deck is good enough at racing then you don’t need to worry about dealing with their threats permanently.

Another majorly overlooked strategy is God-Pharaoh’s Gift decks. While the U/R and Mono-Red versions fell by the wayside, the base U/G shell and U/W Refurbish versions remain respectable choices. Very few decks have good ways to deal with even a single Gift trigger, and plan B for both decks has to be respected. Here’s the best performing version from the Pro Tour:

God-Pharaoh’s Gift

Jason Chung’s list has most of what’s necessary, but lacks one important ingredient. It cannot effectively turn the game around against red decks (and aggro in general) if it falls behind. Bringing back a Multani to try to win in two attacks is the best possible method and that often just isn’t enough. No, what you need to do is stick with the card that brought you to the dance in the first place.

You know what does a really good job of absolutely demolishing red and green decks? A 6/6 vigilant Baneslayer Angel. Not only is it difficult for red decks to deal with, even getting in one attack and having it back on defense can end the game on the spot. Even if they manage to Abrade your Gift and trade multiple cards to deal with your Angel, they’ve lost so much that you can win the game anyway. You typically only lose if you never resolve a single trigger, or if they have a way to negate the life gain such as Disintegration or Pia Nalaar to sacrifice a blocker and clear the way.

The big addition from green is all the explore creatures, which is not only better against control decks but allows you to play Wildgrowth Walker. This card can single-handedly delete red decks if they don’t deal with it immediately. It also combos well with Gift when you don’t have an Angel in the graveyard and are low on life, since depending on your hand you can get back a planeswalker or explore creature and then play the other from your hand.

Even if you never plan on hard casting Angel of Invention, I feel strongly about its inclusion in pretty much every single Gift shell. It was the best card in Jeskai, it was the best card in U/G, and the best card in Bant. Just play this card and win a lot of games.

If you want to play the U/G deck with Angels then slash Multani, Gearhulks, and Glint-Nest Crane for the fourth Minister of Inquiries, four Angel of Invention, and 1-2 Chart a Course. You can also run Servant of the Conduit, which has frequently been solid on the draw against red decks (since one of the main ways you win game 1 is a turn-4 Gift trigger). If you want to hard cast Angel of Invention you need to add Servant, Sunpetal Grove, and possibly a Scattered Groves. For what it’s worth, the actual Bant Gift deck is very strong against U/W and red decks, and a bit soft to G/B Snake.

All I’m saying is that even if you aren’t playing the RPTQ where everyone is locked into only one red deck, the format hasn’t magically become Mono-Red and R/B vs. everything else. We aren’t in a Temur Energy situation—even if Goblin Chainwhirler was a mistake.

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