Worlds has come and gone and we now have a pretty clear view of the Standard metagame, one that looks neatly divided into four top decks: Temur Reclamation, U/W Control, Mono-Red, and Jeskai Fires. Outside of the traditional midrange strategies every other archetype is represented here. We have a draw-go style control deck, aggro, combo-lite, and a control/combo deck. I’ll let you make your own judgments as to which best fits which description.
Here are some example decks from our Worlds competitors.
Temur Reclamation by Autumn Burchett
Mono-Red Aggro (Standard)
Jeskai Fires by Gabriel Nassif
U/W Control by Thoralf Severin
Three of these were basically a known quantity in their tier 1 status, and while Jeskai Fires isn’t a new deck, it was flying a bit under the radar. Turns out it was simply overshadowed by the fact that it gained very little from Theros Beyond Death while still maintaining many of the same strengths as before. Meanwhile the rise of red really helped it out matchup-wise as the deck lines up quite favorably between Deafening Clarion, cheap interaction, and Kenrith to slam the door shut. While you can still get run over with slower draws, the Fires deck is great at throwing roadblocks in the way and Cavaliers/Kenny are really hard to muscle through for the red deck.
Of course things aren’t all rosy for the Fires deck now, as one of best decks in Standard lines up quite well against it. Not only did U/W naturally have great answers at its disposal, but it also gained a cool little card called Elspeth Conquers Death. Turns out when the opposing strategy revolves around resolving 4- and 5-mana permanents at sorcery speed, ECD does a great job of punishing you for that game plan. Throw in the usual road bumps, and it turns out the matchup is pretty rough with Fires relying on a semi-transformational sideboard plan to smooth it out.
I don’t have a good bead on Temur Reclamation’s matchups, aside from Mono-Red. While I think Fires actually has the advantage based on personal experience, I know some that will argue with this. Everyone seems to debate U/W vs. Temur one way or the other in pretty “this is how it is” fashion. Recently Arena Decklists duo Gerry Thompson and Bryan Gottlieb ran a set of matches between the two. I’d recommend giving their podcast episode a listen, as it was quite insightful.
All your mana matters in this matchup, so any irrelevant or mistimed actions can cost you greatly and your land drops are multiplied in value (with Wilderness Reclamation being its own wild card). I think U/W Control has the edge, but it feels like something that could change week to week based on how much you want to skew your deck toward this particular matchup.
I happen to have a lot of experience with Mono-Red Aggro as of late, playing somewhere in the range of 120+ matches with it over the past month or so. The quick summary is that you’re favored against U/W and Temur game 1 and an underdog against Jeskai Fires. The Red mirror is largely determined by the exact builds being played as the simple existence of Bonecrusher Giant in one player’s deck alters it greatly. Having a Shock that doubles as a 4/3 (which itself is Shockproof) is a double whammy against the small red decks. On the plus side for small red is that Infuriate is superior to Rimrock Knight since Infuriate means winning a trade outright or blanking a removal spell.
Thankfully your game-1 matchup against the stock U/W builds is very good and any missteps with Shatter the Sky timing or Dream Trawler can be the end of the game. The biggest tip I can give on the red side is simply not to commit Embercleave unless the opponent has already spent some mana or you simply have no other way to win the game. The number of players throwing away Embercleave into an obvious counter when they could spend their mana on a Castle activation or simply do nothing is far too high. The point is to punish the opponent for having unspent mana and force them to have answers or lose, preventing them from getting full value from their situational cards.
For post-board matches I’d say you’re still the favorite against U/W unless they run a full playset of Cerulean Drake and Aether Gust, as one playset alone simply isn’t enough of a cushion. Archon of Sun’s Grace out of the board may swing it back toward them, since it forces Red to react or get buried. PV’s sideboard strategy has so many relevant cards that I’d be hard-pressed not to say they’re reasonably favored after sideboarding.
If U/W has a significant Red plan like that, then they gain a lot more from boarding than you do (as Unchained Berserker is the only major upgrade) and you’ll need to sneak a win out of the two post-board games. Also it should go without saying this is against a generic opponent, if your opponent is an expert on U/W then they get a heck of a lot more out of their cards than you do.
Other matchups aren’t nearly as bad, as Reclamation doesn’t see that same swing unless they bring in a large contingent of cards against you. Scorching Dragonfire and Aether Gust together can be a 1-2 punch that kills your best cards without getting punished by Anax or Embercleave. They still need to curve out reasonably well to win, but these options give the Rec player another few turns to find what they need compared to game one. One nice thing is that Claim is a legitimate turnaround card against them if they leave in Uro and Krasis.
As for decks not in the top tier right now, what happened to them? Simic Ramp quickly fell off despite a very strong foundation and some additions from THB. Uro wasn’t exactly the all-star people expected for the deck and the massive resurgence in both Mono-Red and Jeskai Fires has somewhat tempered its ability to shine in the metagame. It doesn’t help that Temur Reclamation is currently taking the same metagame share of being a bit of a controlling ramp strategy, except this one requires less setup, has a strong sweeper, and a better endgame.
Gruul Adventures/Aggro made some gains, but none of them were as big as the addition of Anax to Mono-Red and frankly there’s just no great reason to play Gruul over that deck at the moment. Your power level is roughly the same while adding mana problems to the mix, which makes it a hard sell. Originally, I would’ve said at least your sideboard improves, but most of the cards in those Gruul sideboards aren’t really any better than what red has access too.
Finally, we have the Jund and Golgari Food decks which failed to make the same leap that Jeskai Fires did. Elspeth Conquers Death and Dream Trawler is a hard duo to beat out of U/W Control, Jeskai Fires goes way over the top in most games, and Temur Reclamation does much the same. Mono-Red is probably the only place you’d be expected to hold an edge and even that isn’t a lock as Wicked Wolf no longer seems to fit into the main deck, making you lean heavily on Cat/Oven and Massacre Girl to pick up the slack. Typical midrange isn’t where you want to be right now, and that’s what Jund Food represents.
So what’s the best choice moving forward? Well if you have the stomach and patience for it, I’d probably go along with U/W Control as the deck that maximizes your chances. The gap between U/W and other decks isn’t very large, however, so this is one of those times I’d really recommend going with what you enjoy playing and have the most experience with. Knowing the insides and outs of these matches and having a good sideboard is likely worth more percentage points than picking the perfect known deck for a weekend.
Worlds Addendum: Congratulations to PV for winning Worlds! My one word of advice is that if you take PV’s approach to heart and battle with that build of U/W, you make sure you can actually finish games quickly and are ready for an exhausting day. As for the rest of the Top 4, I’m still a fan of Nassif’s Jeskai Fires deck which eschewed Cavalier of Gales for cheaper threats in Brazen Borrower. Considering the boost in Narset we’ve seen in U/W I’m not a huge fan of jamming a blank 5-drop.