The New Standard Metagame and The Decks to Beat

Last weekend marked the first time that we got to play Constructed with Fate Reforged, and the new toys have left their impression. There were two high-profile events with Standard playoffs in the Top 8: the Super Sunday series, which was held at the Wizards of the Coast headquarters, and the SCG Standard Open, which attracted 507 players.

The Metagame

The Top 8s of these events feature interesting decks, but there is an abundance of additional deck lists, breakdowns, and standings available. Based on all that data, I’ll provide the “winner’s metagame.” Basically, I’ll assign points to every deck archetype based on both popularity and performance, heavily rewarding decks that have won more matches than others. I expect that this “winner’s metagame” will give a reasonable forecast of what you will see at the top tables next weekend.

The exact methodology is as follows: For the Super Sunday series, I awarded 1 point in total to any deck for which its pilot’s Standard record was unknown, and I awarded 1 point per match win in the Standard rounds (both Swiss and Top 8) if the deck archetype could be inferred from the text coverage. For any deck that finished in the Top 64 of the SCG Open, I awarded 1 point per match won (both Swiss and Top 8) and subtracted 1 point per match lost in the Swiss rounds. So, for example, a player who went 10-5 got 5 points and a player who went 12-3 got 9 points. Afterwards, I added up all the points for every archetype and got the following Top 20 breakdown:

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Abzan Midrange is on top, mainly on the back of good records, not just popularity.

Looking at just the numbers, the biggest changes since a few weekends ago are that Abzan Whip has gotten less popular while R/W Aggro and U/B Control have risen in popularity. But the numbers are only one part of the story. Fate Reforged also introduced a lot of new tools for existing decks that change the way the games are played. Next up is an overview of the decks to beat.

The Decks to Beat

I selected representative lists for the top six archetypes. Together, these six comprise just over half of the field and would make for a good, varied Standard gauntlet.

Abzan Midrange (12.7%) by Dan Musser, 12-3 followed by a quarterfinal loss at the SCG Open

Starting with Abzan Midrange may not the best way to showcase the impact of Fate Reforged. Sure, there are Tasigur and Ugin as nice 1-of additions that can make the late game play out a little differently than with a five-mana planeswalker, and other players tried out Whisperwood Elemental in those slots as well, but these are not redefining changes—the deck is still pretty much the same as three months ago.

Except for one thing: Dan Musser’s build has no Sylvan Caryatid!

He cut them all, adding a 26th land in the process. He was not alone in this change. Steve Rubin went 11-4 at the SCG Open and Daniel Fournier went undefeated at the Super Sunday Series with Caryatid-less Abzan Midrange decks.

Without Caryatid, you can play multiple End Hostilities in the main deck and have better late-game topdecks in grindy matchups. Although the deck will become slightly slower, less consistent with regard to colored mana, and weaker to aggressive two-power creatures, it might just be the right call. Especially now that Fate Reforged has introduced Crux of Fate, the time may have come to get rid of Sylvan Caryatid.

R/W Aggro (11.1%) by Ken Yukuhiro, 2-1 at the Super Sunday Series

(The list that was posted on the event coverage page contained 59 cards. I took the liberty of guessing that the missing card was the 9th Mountain.)

Overall, R/W had a great weekend. Luis Salvotto won the Super Sunday Series and Danny Goldstein finished 2nd at the SCG Open. I chose to feature Gold-level pro Ken Yukuhiro’s deck for the simple reason that I like his build the best.

I love how well Soulfire Grand Master and Monastery Mentor synergize with Wild Slash.

As an illustration: you could spend one card (and, admittedly, six mana) to take out a Courser of Kruphix, gain 4 life, get two prowess tokens, and give +2/+2 to your Monastery Mentor. It all works nicely together. As a result of these synergies, I like Soulfire Grand Master over Raise the Alarm, I like Wild Slash over Magma Jet, and I like Monastery Mentor over Brimaz, King of Oreskos or Hordeling Outburst. I’m also happy to see that Yukuhiro added 2 Gods Willing to protect his Monastery Mentor.

The final new piece, which was played by surprisingly few R/W Aggro decks, is Outpost Siege.

On Khans, it can provide the same card advantage as Chandra, Pyromaster, but it is non-legendary and more difficult to get rid of. On Dragons, it can close out games, especially when combined with any of the 3-drop token makers.

I’m not 100% sure that Outpost Siege is better than Stormbreath Dragon, which has risen in stock with the introduction of Crux of Fate and Valorous Stance, but I can see that you want a card that synergizes with Monastery Mentor and that doesn’t easily die to Hero’s Downfall in this slot.

Looking at the sideboard, Yukuhiro has a variety of creatures instead of reactive cards like Glare of Heresy. This allows him to switch up his game plan against, say, decks with Drown in Sorrow. All in all, I am a fan of Yukuhiro’s build.

Abzan Aggro (9.3%) by Hunter Nance, 12-3 followed by a semifinal exit at the SCG Open

There is a lot of variety in Abzan Aggro decks these days. In the Top 8 of the very same SCG Open, for example, you would also find Andrew Boswell’s Abzan Aggro deck, which was much more aggressive. Compared to Hunter Nance’s deck, Boswell had 4 Soldier of the Pantheon, 4 Warden of the First Tree, and 2 Boon Satyr instead of 3 Courser of Kruphix, 3 Wingmate Roc, 2 Tasigur, 1 Sorin, and a land. To fit the more aggressive theme, Boswell’s deck also had 2 additional Abzan Charm and 4 copies of Valorous Stance instead of 2 Thoughtseize and 4 Hero’s Downfall. Yet, both decks featured Fleecemane Lion, Rakshasa Deathdealer, and Anafenza.

The average Abzan Aggro deck is somewhat between these two lists. However, I would more readily take Nance’s more balanced build to a tournament. Soldier of the Pantheon, while great in the mirror match, doesn’t match up very well against Sylvan Caryatid, Courser of Kruphix, and various token makers, and I don’t think you want 4 Warden of the First Tree when you already have 8 mana sinks with Fleecemane Lion and Rakshasa Deathdealer.

The inclusion of Courser of Kruphix and Tasigur and the omission of Valorous Stance in Nance’s build is peculiar, but it allows the deck to play well from behind and to switch gears when necessary. And you still sometimes you get opponents with the perfect Lion-Anafenza-Rhino curve.

Jeskai Tokens (9.3%) by Tom Ross, 11-4 at the SCG Open

Having popularized Boss Sligh and U/W Heroic (among other decks) last year, Tom Ross has had big impacts on the Standard metagame, so we’d do well to pay attention to his deck choices.

The deck that he played last weekend is an update to the Jeskai Token deck that Yuuya Watanabe introduced at the World Championships. Monastery Mentor, Hordeling Outburst, and Goblin Rabblemaster are all great 3-drops, but you can’t run the full 12 without getting a bloated mana curve. Ross decided that Goblin Rabblemaster was the worst of the three. Jarvis Yu, who attained the same record with a similar build of the deck, agreed: he also cut Rabblemaster.

In contrast to Yu, however, Ross doesn’t have Seeker of the Way and has relatively few creatures overall. The disadvantage of this is that he is less capable of getting free wins if the opponent stumbles. The advantage of his creature-light version is that he can more readily transition into a control plan with End Hostilities and Dig Through Time.

Ross also has Wild Slash over Valorous Stance. Without the full complement of Soulfire Grand Master, I view this as a metagame choice: Wild Slash is good against cheap creatures like Goblin Rabblemaster and Seeker of the Way; Valorous Stance is best against Courser of Kruphix and Siege Rhino. There’s a lot of room for customization, and the optimal mix of removal spells will likely change from week to week.

Mardu Midrange (7.5%) by Richard Nguyen, 10-5 at the SCG Open

Mardu Midrange was present last weekend, even though it didn’t make it to any Top 8. The big new Fate Reforged addition, besides Soulfire Grand Master over Seeker of the Way, is Flamewake Phoenix.

It has replaced Hordeling Outburst, and alongside Butcher of the Horde and Ashcloud Phoenix the 2/2 flyer won’t stay dead. (Ashcloud Phoenix, by the way, has replaced Sorin because Richard added Flamewake Phoenix and cut Hordeling Outburst.).

Apart from these additions, Mardu is still Mardu. It’s still filled with the most hard-hitting creatures and the most efficient removal spells in these colors. I’ll just toss in one new idea, though, inspired by Michael Walewski’s deck from the SCG Open Top 8: maybe it’s time to replace Erase by Abzan Advantage in the sideboard? Hard to say no to a little bit of extra value.

U/B Control (5.9%) by Tomoharu Saito, 2-1 at the Super Sunday Series

I like the brutal efficiency of Saito’s build. Others still ran a few copies of Perilous Vault in the maindeck, but the five-time Pro Tour Top 5 competitor and notable deck builder focused exclusively on the new toys: Crux of Fate and Ugin, the Spirit Dragon. U/B Control was always looking for good sweepers, and these cards deliver. Who needs Perilous Vault when you have Crux of Fate and Ugin?

Few players had Ashiok in their maindecks, but I think it fits the new build of the deck quite well. Ashiok forces opponents to overcommit to be able to pressure the planeswalker, and then you can get them with Crux of Fate.

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