Standard Just Might Have a Best Deck

We had our first Standard Grand Prix of the season, and depending on your outlook, it was either proof that we have a best deck for the format, or that everyone grabbed what was running hot on Magic Online at the time. I think the truth is somewhere in the middle. B/R Vehicles (or aggro since it only runs a handful of Heart of Kiran) is easily a tier 1 strategy at the moment. Of course, now that it’s a known quantity and we know that it preys on small-ball creature decks, the metagame should adjust accordingly. The deck isn’t doing anything broken and it isn’t abusing massive synergies—it’s just a well-built deck with a better sideboard than most.

Still, a look at the numbers indicates quite an impressive run:

Top 8 Archetypes

  • 6 B/R Aggro/Vehicles
  • 1 U/W Control (Gearhulkless, Pull, Teferi/Gideon decking win-con)
  • 1 G/B Snake

Top 9-32 Archetypes

  • 10 B/R Aggro/Vehicles
  • 3 W/U Control
  • 3 W/B Vehicles
  • 2 Mono-Red Aggro
  • 2 Grixis Midrange/Control
  • 1 G/B Snake
  • 1 W/U Gift
  • 1 U/B Midrange
  • 1 Green Aggro (Scrapheap splash)

What this does mean for the immediate aftermath is that suddenly x/1 creatures are even more of a liability than before. You can easily argue that 1/1s on turn 1 are still fine—trading with a Walking Ballista is reasonable, you can still get two shots in with a Toolcraft Exemplar, or get your 3 out early with a Llanowar Elves before it’s cleaned up by Goblin Chainwhirler. A card like Toolcraft can also be used later to crew Heart of Kiran, making it not such an atrocious topdeck.

What becomes harder to justify is a card like Glint-Sleeve Siphoner that can easily die before it does anything of value. Paying 2 mana for an energy is not remotely good enough, and the games where you’ll run away with it seem fewer and farther between. Go-wide strategies are also getting thrown out the window unless they have a very good hedge against Chainwhirler. Sorry B/W and G/W Tokens fans—it was a fun two-week run you had.

Fatal Push, Abrade, Gifted Aetherborn, Vraska, and artifact destruction all get a bump. I wouldn’t be surprised to see more Teferis popping up in midrange or tri-color control decks, along with a slight decline in Seal Away compared to Gideon’s Reproach or even maindeck artifact destruction in U/W. Many other aggro decks may get pushed out as a result of having weak matchups against B/R.

U/W Control

Leo Lahonen, 2nd place at GP Birmingham

B/R Vehicles

Simon Nielsen, 1st place at GP Birmingham

Watching the U/W versus B/R matchups from Birmingham showcased was how badly B/R lined up game 1. It turns out that when you run actual 7-10 dead cards and a handful more that look pretty pathetic (Soul-Scar Mage), you have a very hard time beating a coherent strategy! On the flip side, games 2 and 3 are real games of Magic. Your opponent can board into a respectable midrange variant with a bunch of discard and still pressure you effectively with Heart of Kiran, Pia Nalaar, and planeswalkers.

Sorcerous Spyglass is a great piece of tech that has been gaining in popularity, but really was on full display this weekend in Birmingham. Unfortunately, now that the cat is out of the bag, people may be leaving in artifact removal to ensure that their planeswalkers and Hearts go unimpeded. So the real question becomes, if you have a good matchup game 1 against the Vehicles strategies, does that make up for getting farmed in games 2 and 3 where you can lose to a simple pair of discard spells and minor land flood?

One of the big issues with the U/W no win-con deck is that there is no middle ground for the mana. The number of games where you get stuck on 4 (or the 5th land enters tapped) and cry looking at your Teferis or a weak Pull from Tomorrow was too high for my liking. Pull is amazing if you trade 1-for-1 for a while and cast it for 7 mana. Pull is less amazing if you take a turn off to develop at all or dig for mana at any point before then. Suddenly, Glimmer looks a whole lot better.

The other thing that stuck out to me immediately was just how strong this Teferi deck is. This entire deck is all about living and protecting Teferi as it enables you to snowball a victory in short-order. It simply beats other planeswalkers and means that you essentially always have a mana advantage. Search for Azcanta flipping is the secondary way to get ahead without a nice grip of mana on the table. Obviously, in the late game, Pull can effectively end the game on the spot, but post-board that’s probably not happening very often.

Torrential Gearhulk is really weak to the B/R deck, and not even that strong in general in U/W. Without Vraska’s Contempt, you don’t get nearly as much out of it. Rarely are people going to run into Settle the Wreckage, and your Gearhulks die to Abrade and Disintegration. Even if you dislike the “no win-con” approach, let’s not pretend Torrential Gearhulk is great here—it’s mediocre at best.

Maybe you can pull the audible post-board if they take out Disintegration, but you do not want them game 1. Lyra runs into the same issue, though the upside if she lives is obviously much higher. The simple answer is Regal Caracal. It’s lower impact but harder to clean up and better at attacking planeswalkers. Angel of Sanctions is also worth a look, but Doomfall nullifies a lot of the advantage from that switch-up.

As for the B/R Vehicles deck, the formula is simple: it has a lot of solid cards and is designed to dunk on other small decks. Goblin Chainwhirler demolishes decks with too many x/1s, and Disintegration hedges well against cards like Ghalta, which can single-handedly beat this style of deck. It also does a much better job of siding into an anti-control deck with a smattering of discard and a bunch of relevant planeswalkers.

I haven’t played with the deck all that much, and I haven’t tested the newer builds with which Matthew Foulkes ran all over Birmingham. I have played against the deck plenty over the past week, so I at least understand it from the opposite side of the table.

It also makes me think that the Bomat Courier builds are better in a world not defined by Chainwhirler mirrors. Despite being another creature that gets bricked early and eaten by Goblin Chainwhirler, Bomat’s upside against decks like U/W or even green is hard to overstate. In other matchups your removal is good enough to clear the way, and when a Bomat eats a removal spell it’s a big win. You don’t need it to actually draw a fat stack of cards to win the game. When you do, however, all those early 1-for-1s come out massively in your favor.

Actually, one of the scariest things if you want to beat the B/R deck is to note that it isn’t reliant on creatures and planeswalkers. Cards like Treasure Map and The Eldest Reborn can end up running away with the game. If you’ve never gotten back an opponent’s Teferi that you forced an opponent to sacrifice and used it to ultimate and win the game, you should give it a shot. You’re actually not far off from jamming a Yawgmoth’s Vile Offering here, and that is easily one of the best cards against other midrange decks.

The Big Takeaways

  1. You need a very good reason to run 1-toughness creatures right now.
  2. Answersto planeswalkers are once again a major priority, specifically for Karn, Chandra, and Teferi.
  3. Just because B/R did well does not mean that everyone will be playing that deck. In my last 10 matches on Magic Online, I played against the deck twice. There’s been a minor uptick among streamers, but not the skew you might have expected, since B/R Vehicles was already a known quantity on there.

That’s the first major event in the books! This weekend is Toronto, and we will see whether players opt for the safe option in Standard, or if it features a more diverse lineup.


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