The Standard Metagame is Starting to Settle

We’re two weeks into the new Standard format and things are looking cheery. Magic Online Leagues continue to show a wide variety of decks (despite the forced variety in the 5-0 lists, I rarely play against an archetype more than once per League). The other thing is that none of the decks feel particularly oppressive in terms of power level. Of course there is a front-runner if you’ve been following the MTGO PTQ results, which you can see in their full glory here.)

Golgari Midrange has been by far the more successful and popular high placing deck two weekends in a row. What stands out more is that all the lists trend differently, though some common links are beginning to stand out. What we’re seeing right now is a play style that’s highly effective against many of the early frontrunners in the metagame.

What these decks all have in common is a lot of ways to net 2-for-1s and have efficient answers to every type of permanent in the format. Many of the cheap explore creatures are seeing consistent play now that early stats aren’t the most important thing in the world and they can actually block opposing creatures. Combined with Wildgrowth Walker in the main or sideboard, red decks have a natural predator they can’t easily race.

Let’s take a look at the winning deck list from the PTQ from this weekend.


Tixis, 1st place at MTGO PTQ 10/13/18

Tixis had one of the more divisive builds in the Top 32 with a full playset of Doom Whisperer in the main deck. This card was practically non-existent in the Top 32 (it only showed up in the 12th place list, which was effectively a copy of the winner) and is decidedly weak in the mirror match. From all accounts, a card that doesn’t trade well into Ravenous Chupacabra or Vraska, Relic Seeker isn’t exactly an all-star. But without seeing the games play out, people can only speculate.

Golgari mirrors tend to be long, drawn-out affairs that end one of two ways: One player pressures for most of the game and the opponent either flips it (usually off The Eldest Reborn or Find // Finality) and becomes the aggressor, or they get snowballed in a non-game. Usually the biggest factors are whether one player curves into Vraska or a huge Izoni comes down and the opponent lacks a sweeper.

Doom Whisperer may be there for other matchups, but it also looks interesting from the aggressor’s perspective. You must deal with it if you fall behind at all because you cannot let them set up their topdecks and get clobbered for 6 a turn. As the player with Doom Whisperer, the more removal you force out of them, the better your Vraskas become. Other midrange decks also don’t have that many ways to actually deal with a 6/6 besides the traditional 4 mana catch-alls and Justice Strike. Still, it’s a questionable decision if we see a lot of mirrors.

Meanwhile, in 4th place, we have a build by Arianne that looks much more suited for a future of all midrange and control games.


Arianne, 4th place at MTGO PTQ 10/13/18

By reducing the creature count considerably, Arianne made room for a bunch of noncreature card advantage cards. Maindecking Blood Fast is a big game, as is upping the planeswalker and Find count. Meanwhile in the sideboard, we see Phyrexian Scriptures as a board sweeper and graveyard hoser that can also be bought back by Findbroker. If the metagame follows the PTQ trend and we see noticeable upticks in both Golgari and control decks gunning for it, then we could see this concession to early game decks happen more and more.

Aggro in general has many issues with cheap trades and Ravenous Chupacabra. It is a significant challenge to go under Chupacabra, and if you try to minimize the damage of it by going wide, you often play straight into Find // Finality or Golden Demise. Even if you don’t get wiped, you need quite a few creatures to make a real dent and a single Izoni, Thousand-Eyed can brickwall your entire board.

The best aggro deck, Mono-Red Frenzy, saw a lot of success week 1 and proceeded not to even make a blip on the radar in the PTQs. These decks just aren’t difficult to beat if you can trade early, kill Frenzy, and gain life. That is exceedingly simple for any of the Golgari decks. While still performing well in Leagues, red will need an overhaul if it’s going to have any success in the most competitive online tournaments.

Other aggro decks have fallen off as they don’t do well enough to justify themselves. The two exceptions thus far have been the Fish deck and Mono-White, of all things. I’ve already gone over why blue has continued to stick around (besides the fact that it’s dirt cheap), but WW has been a bit of a mystery until now. YoungProdigy came in 3rd with this take on the classic aggro deck:

Mono-White Aggro

YoungProdigy, 3rd place at MTGO PTQ 10/13/18

One aspect that stands out is that the WW deck goes wide early in the game whereas GW Tokens takes until turn 4 or 5 to get going. WW can have 4-5 creatures by turn 3 with their best draws and an average one will still see three threats pushed out there. It also is one of the decks least punished by Ravenous Chupacabra and able to win the turn before Golgari decks turn the corner.

This is an aggro shell I could see making an impact and forcing some changes. Notably, the 2-drops get a major upgrade over other decks. Remorseful Cleric is another cheap, evasive threat that can disrupt the grindiest aspects of the Golgari deck. Meanwhile, Tocatli Honor Guard shuts off nearly everything the Golgari deck wants to do.

If this deck stumbles at all it typically gets brickwalled and dies, but it has a lot more early game pressure than red, and Conclave Tribunal is a cheap way to take out a Wildgrowth Walker that has grown into a 3/5 or larger, something red struggles with. This deck doesn’t care about reach, instead focusing on a strong start and keeping that board initiative.

Let’s forget about aggro for a moment, though. Why not just play a Teferi deck and outgrind the Golgari deck? Well, on the control front, while you can easily plow G/B in the early game and keep them in line for a while, control decks are not good at turning the corner against this iteration of midrange. G/B can just keep slamming their card advantage and continue to pressure with explore creatures, Golgari Findbroker, Memorial to Folly, both Vraska, Find // Finality, and so on. With discard post-board it can also be difficult to protect your planeswalkers from a well-timed Assassin’s Trophy or Vraska’s Contempt.

Since none of the control decks, save perhaps Crackling Drake Jeskai, turn the corner with actual board pressure, the Golgari decks can be content to let you draw a handful of extra cards. Sure, eventually they need to take care of Teferi or end the game before Expansion // Explosion really gets going, but there’s a lot more time to play and sculpt a game plan. There’s no The Scarab God level threat that dictates the pace of play.

Meanwhile, other midrange decks suffer from a lack of card advantage engines that are respectable compared to The Eldest Reborn or Find. Though this may be more of a consequence of how they’re currently constructed because “the format doesn’t have midrange besides G/B.” As an example, Rekindling Phoenix seems like a card that should be seeing more play considering how few exile effects decks are running. It sucks against Lyra Dawnbringer, which is quite popular, but if G/B starts running those decks out of town then it makes sense to switch over.

In fact, W/R Angels is a good example of a deck that isn’t positioned that poorly against G/B but has suboptimal choices if the winning field is heavily Golgari based. Some cheap flyers backed by Aurelia and Phoenix can effectively pressure against a ground-based deck and you have enough cheap removal to fight the easy answer of Kraul Harpooner.

Right now the top decks seem to be Golgari Midrange, Jeskai and Izzet Control, W/W, and then a whole bunch of other decks popping up here or there. Golgari Midrange may end up as the rock deck of the format that everyone has to measure up to, but it also doesn’t feel overwhelming to play or metagame against. If the format starts to split into variations trying to one-up each other, then we could also see much more obvious avenues of attack open up. For now we’re still waiting to see if this is where the Standard metagame settles.

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