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Week in Review – 3 Lessons from Fate Reforged Standard

While this weekend featured a Standard Grand Prix, the entire format will be different in two weeks, which makes going over the results of that a little pointless. Instead today will be a retrospective on Fate Reforged Standard as a whole and where the format ended up. For the most part, Fate Reforged followed the path of most Standard formats, week to week you were trying to think of a new angle or deck to attack the metagame with. Aggro and control ebbed and flowed, midrange was always good, but only for one or two weekends was it assuredly the best choice.

The key difference with FTR Standard is that the metagame has kept changing and moving around even now. Part of this could be due to the condensed nature of everything this year. There are so many sets coming out and barely any time to breathe. In six months we’ll have a Standard rotation and a return to Zendikar, in two weeks we finish out Khans block and in between we have Modern Masters 2015 and Magic: Origins. We simply won’t have the time to fully nail down the metagame without a #1 deck in the format.

Here’s what I can tell you so far.

#1: Incremental advantage is huge, and for once it isn’t planeswalker-based

Over the past few seasons incremental advantage and card engines largely came from planeswalkers. Raw card advantage was largely left to the spells, notably Sphinx’s Revelation. In this format, it’s enchantment-based.

The three most recent and prominent examples are Outpost Siege, which singlehandedly revamped RW Aggro, Jeskai Ascendancy, and Mastery of the Unseen. Mastery itself is an interesting corner case where it looked like it had potential, but required a lot of time and mana to actually be good. Once the metagame slowed down with more midrange and control decks, suddenly an enchantment offering incremental board advantage and life gain looked really impressive.

Mastery of the Unseen’s success in a slower format follows the Pack Rat principle. Players that can’t remove it in a timely fashion simply get buried under a heap of creatures, only Mastery leans toward longer games while Pack Rat’s strength was that it shortened them. Two sides of the same coin.

Even without these enchantments, we’ve seen a trend of quality over quantity from card draw spells. Abzan Midrange uses Abzan Charm and Read the Bones, UBx Control decks all run Dig Through Time before Treasure Cruise or Jace’s Ingenuity, and even green decks rely on 2-for-1 creatures without a Domri Rade around to supplement them.

As we’ve seen, if your deck lacks a good incremental card engine, it probably isn’t viable. If it is, then it’s week to week, like Mono-Red, where it can go under and win before these engines really get going. Once that’s a known quantity, though, players adjust and make sure you can’t get under them before the engines start firing. Then once red leaves people go back to trying to go over the top of each other and it opens the possibility of going underneath again.

Whatever you are building with Dragons of Tarkir, it needs a solid way to deal with these incremental engines—run one of your own to keep up, go underneath, or pack better game-one answers without compromising your strategy.

#2: The best decks are ephemeral

There’s no Mono-Black Control, Jund, Delver, or Caw-Blade to dominate like we’ve seen in past Standard formats. Right now there’s only a number of strong choices that wax and wane in terms of success and popularity and Dragons may only makes that muddier the first few weeks. Whip decks completely left the metagame due to Ugin, the Spirit Dragon and Mono-Red was only amazing until people tightened their decks up. Jeskai never stopped being playable, but it was a complete non-factor for over a month!

At GP Miami we had a pair of GW Devotion decks in the finals, a deck that barely existed until two weeks ago. Meanwhile, alongside those in the Top 8 were a pair of Mono-Red Aggro decks. Just whiffing on the Top 8, Osyp Lebedowicz came in 9th with a variation of the barely-Mardu deck I talked about last week. None of these were being pumped up as the big thing going into the tournament, but all had results alongside the usual suspects.

Barring something making Jeskai Ascendancy truly busted, I doubt we’ll even have a defined metagame for the first month of Dragons of Tarkir. If we’re lucky then we’ll have two months like we did with Fate Reforged. Don’t try to have the best deck, just play a deck that plays strong cards or embraces strong synergies and get good with sequencing and sideboarding.

#3: Focus on an existing deck and what it gains from Dragons if you play week-one Standard

Cards that Strengthen Existing Archetypes

Sidisi, Undead Vizier (Whip)
Anticipate (Ux Control/Jeskai Ascendancy Combo)
Shorecrasher Elemental (Mono-Blue Devotion)
Dragon Whisperer (Red Devotion/Rx Aggro)
Dragonlord Atarka (Whip/GRx Ramp)
Narset Transcendent (UWx Control)
Dragon Fodder (Token-based decks/Jeskai Tokens)
Radiant Purge (Abzan Control/UWx Control/Jeskai)
Surge of Righteousness (UWx Control/Jeskai)

This isn’t meant to be a complete list, these are just a few of the cards that stood out to me as reinforcing fringe strategies or filling holes in the current top decks. Realistically any maindeckable enchantment removal would top this list if we see any in Dragons. It’s worth looking out for cards that may make older decks playable once again, but you need to make sure you aren’t going too deep. Abzan or Sultai Control may not be nearly as dominating as past decks, but they do a good job of being the fun police. GW Devotion may join them as it catches on, since Mastery of the Unseen with enough mana can make some truly absurd board states.

Deck of the Week

GW Devotion by Daniel Cecchetti

What else were you expecting? The deck that won Grand Prix Miami is a real beauty for Johnny deckbuilders. The deck does tons of things that are too cute to normally wor, held together wonderfully by the amount of life gain possible through Mastery of the Unseen. The fact that it doubles as the best card against control strategies as well is why this deck could have a lasting impact instead of just being a flash in the pan.

With that said, let’s not freak out about this ending the Standard format as we know it. The GW mirrors were hilarious caricatures of Battlecruiser Magic and what people fear Magic will turn into one day. It’s worth noting though that this is precisely why having ways to interact are so important. Once control decks lose meta share or midrange decks become too much about being proactive (essentially being Big Aggro) it allows these types of decks to shine. Without good ways to stop the opponent from just doing what you are doing, it shouldn’t come as a shock that the battlefield looks like someone sorting out their collection or that gaining 400 life isn’t just possible but commonplace in the mirror.

Regardless, the majority of you will have a couple of weeks to figure out how not to lose to this. Maybe Atarka’s Command as Skullcrack has more merit than I first thought in Standard.

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