Standard Might Be the Healthiest It’s Ever Been

We’re two GP events into the new Standard, and the format is looking healthy. Golgari had some impressive Day 2 numbers (40% of Lille!), but it was largely held in check by other decks in the winner’s metagame. While the Top 8* was diverse enough, a quick look into the top 37 reveals some trends.

  • *2 Golgari Midrange
  • 2 Jeskai Control
  • 1 Mono-Red (Winner)
  • 1 Mono-Blue Skies
  • 1 Izzet Phoenix
  • 1 Selesnya Tokens

While Golgari Midrange put up solid results, there were six Izzet Phoenix decks hiding just out of Top 8, preying on the Golgari and Jeskai decks. Meanwhile, over in New Jersey, we got another Day 2 archetype breakdown over on the Magic Pro Tour Twitter account:

That’s a lot of Izzet Phoenix decks. Again, it’s mostly the numbers that are a surprise. While the deck sees plenty of play on Magic Online, I would’ve never expected it to be the second-most popular Day 2 deck even though it has a favorable spread of matchups. It turns out that creature combo decks continue to be popular regardless of format!

Right now, the three major pillars of the metagame seem to be Golgari Midrange, Jeskai Control, and Izzet Phoenix, with aggro decks (such as mono-red) still a factor. So what does this mean in the short term? Aggro decks get a minor bump since they love playing against the Phoenix decks, Golgari will adjust to be better against flyers and graveyards, and Jeskai decks may take a page out of Izzet and maindeck actual threats like Rekindling Phoenix and Crackling Drake.

Speaking of the Phoenix deck, while the initial builds were a bit too cute and depended too much on Chart a Course, we’re starting to see them become more refined. It helps that the most popular deck is soft to recurring flyers and that Vraska’s Contempt is so expensive, making Spell Pierce and Dive Down especially effective against them. The primary variation of the Izzet deck seems to be what number of Drakes (Enigma and Crackling) is correct, or if any are necessary at all! Goblin Electromancer has shown itself to be just as effective as a Standard storm enabler and I’d be surprised not to see playsets in all builds moving forward.

Meanwhile, Niv-Mizzet, Parun is an easy way to beat up on Jeskai Control and win Izzet mirrors. With the amount of card selection and draw in the deck, hitting six land drops is surprisingly easy and none of these decks have clean answers to Niv. Even if they take care of it before you untap, they’ve often 3- or 4-for-1’d themselves in the process.

Moving forward, I want to start with Renato Spinelli’s take on the deck.

Izzet Phoenix

Whenever I start with a deck along these lines I tend to go with the one with the cleanest numbers. While playing a bunch of 2- or 3-ofs does allow for more flexibility, I really just want to see how the core of the deck functions. The older lists I played with and against were a little too focused around Drakes for my taste, but this looks like a nice compromise with comboish elements, removal, and the pair of Dive Down. Though I must admit that The Mirari Conjecture looks pretty sweet…

Mono-Red Aggro

Mono-Red winning Lille wasn’t a fluke, but with a look at the other winning decks in Lille and New Jersey you’ll see that it’s hardly the dominant performances shared by red decks of old. Expect an uptick to counterbalance some of the Izzet Phoenix decks, but unless there’s a major shift it just doesn’t hold the same appeal when Golgari Midrange has so many options to brickwall you (Wildgrowth Walker being the most effective).

To give some credit, the ability to shift into a slower midrange game plan with Treasure Map and removal is a nice touch. I do want the other two Rekindling Phoenix in here though, and I think the deck suffers as a whole by having so many bad 1-drops. It could still be that the curve-out draws are worthwhile, but there are so many decks capable of blocking early and that makes them liabilities post-board. Being stone cold against all the midrange decks in the format is not where I’d want to be.

As for other decks in the same boat, we’ve seen Boros split between low-to-the-ground aggressive decks going wide and abusing Experimental Frenzy, and rebuilds of the Boros Angels deck taking full advantage of Rekindling Phoenix and Toctali Honor Guard strongly positioned in the current meta. If more small aggro decks like Mono-Red and Mono-Blue pop up, then it’ll encourage more people to go this route. Both WW and Boros base-white aggro mirrors often have better midrange sideboard options for board-focused matchups.

*As I was finishing this article, New Jersey lists were posted with some Boros decks that provide great examples. Brad Nelson and team Peach Garden Oath jammed Boros Angels with those aforementioned creatures, along with plenty of exile removal, and performed well. The shell of R/W midrange creatures is solid in general. It’s just a matter of adapting it for a given meta.

For control, there’s only one obvious option and that’s to continue with the Jeskai shell. It has been the only consistent finisher both on and offline while having the advantages of U/W, such as packing better sweepers and better endgame answers (Star of Extinction!).

Jeskai Control

Eli Kassis took down New Jersey with a very interesting Jeskai build that included pretty much every unique card choice under the sun. The sideboard is either grotesque or a masterpiece depending on who you ask. I absolutely love the idea of boarding into The Immortal Sun against durdly planeswalker decks and moreso if it bricks the common cards that are used to fight Teferi. It also gives you a ton of different options against other control decks with such a variety of threats.

While I doubt every Jeskai list will be quite as out there, it does showcase the versatility of the base shell. It also makes life miserable for opponents with slower decks as it only increases the difficulty of making a plan against it.

Finally there’s Golgari, which told the tale of two metagames from the weekend. GP Lille had a truckload of Golgari Midrange with 13 in the top 37 (11-3-1 or better). Meanwhile, New Jersey only had five, and none finished in the Top 8. Golgari Midrange was a worthwhile boogeyman for the format, and a good test to see if it could adapt. The answer we’ve seen is clearly “yes.” but the Golgari deck is easy to shift, so expect newer builds to be explored (ironically by dropping some of the explore package).

Right now, Standard looks the healthiest its been in some time. I’m already looking forward to what the Pro Tour brings!

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