This past week I shifted my focus from Ravnica Allegiance Limited to Ravnica Allegiance Standard. I spent a small amount of time with a lot of decks, as opposed to a ton of time on a single deck. I’m going to run down my first impressions of the decks I tried, and how I feel about them moving forward.
I was the least impressed with this deck. Rakdos Midrange felt like it was jumping through too many hoops to play Goblin Chainwhirler, leaving itself vulnerable to planeswalkers and decks going over the top of it like Nexus of Fate decks.
While I didn’t find many cards that impressed me in this deck, I found plenty I was unimpressed with.
Carnival // Carnage underperformed. In a world with so many Search for Azcanta, Hydroid Krasis, and Teferi, Hero of Dominaria, the Carnage mode simply didn’t do enough. If you could get the last two cards in an opponent’s hand and make them play off the top of their deck it might be a fine spell, but even leaving the opponent with a single card that can snowball such as Hydroid Krasis or Teferi, Hero of Dominaria would usually end up in disaster. The Carnival half of the card is fine at the moment with decks like White Weenie, Mono-Blue Tempo, and Llanowar Elves running around, but since the Carnage half was suboptimal I don’t like this card much. While it’s better against control than Shock, Shock kills 2-toughness creatures, and there’s enough of those running around that I’d prefer plain old Shock.
Rix Maadi Reveler looked incredible to me on the spoiler, but so far I’ve been unimpressed. Even in Limited I’ve found it to fall short. Triggering spectacle with 4 open mana isn’t as easy as it seems in any format, and there are times it’s simply not ideal to cast with spectacle because you have a hand full of cards. The sources of this damage are soft unless you can stick a Rekindling Phoenix and start swinging in, which usually means that you’re in good enough shape. As a 2-drop we’re getting a Feral Maaka with a rummage effect. While this is a “fine” 2-drop, it’s not giving this deck enough to push it into the top tier.
Lastly, the version I tried had Banefire. Banefire is simply horrible right now. Almost every deck in the format has some form of incidental life gain. Between Absorb and Hydroid Krasis, decks can often get out of range quickly and you end up using Banefire as a very expensive piece of sorcery speed removal.
Overall this deck didn’t feel right to me. The control matchup was difficult. I’ve heard others claim to have success against control, and I believe this deck has the tools to beat up on decks like White Aggro and Mono-Blue Tempo, so if you expect a lot of those decks this one might be okay, but I have an extremely low impression of this deck after my experiences.
This was the deck I was most excited to battle with. I loved last season’s versions of U/R Drakes, and the addition of Pteramander over Arclight Phoenix to allow for more reactive spells like Spell Pierce and Dive Down had me even more excited. You couldn’t play too many reactive spells before because you wanted most of your spells to set up Arclight Phoenix recursion.
After playing with this deck some and expecting a solid Sultai matchup, I actually found the contrary to be true. Sultai’s addition of Hydroid Krasis put this deck on a serious timer to close out the game before Hydroid Krasis chains started coming. Krasis provided a life buffer and a big blocker for various Drakes. Backed up by efficient removal, the matchup, while close, felt much more difficult than I expected.
Pteramander was great when I’d draw a single copy, but multiple copies felt underpowered. While there were times I could adapt for 1 or 2 mana, it was normally 3 or 4, and this meant adapting multiples was too slow. I did like how I could attack and trigger raid on Chart a Course on turn 2 so I didn’t have to discard. While discarding was an added benefit with Arclight Phoenix in the deck, without it you only want the raw card advantage.
Out of the sideboard, Entrancing Melody got much better than it normally is because of Hydroid Krasis. Since Sultai has both that and Wildgrowth Walker there are multiple high-value targets to steal for 4 mana. It’s possible you’d like to main deck this card moving forward, potentially over a copy of Lava Coil or Beacon Bolt, and maybe as many as two. The card is just so high impact when it’s relevant.
Overall this deck did not feel very well positioned despite its good matchup against Mono-Blue. The Arclight Phoenix package gave the deck a lot of reach in the last Standard format, but in this Standard format decks are going so big so quickly that U/R Drakes is just playing small-ball.
Here’s the list I found on Oliver Tomajko’s Twitter (@OliverTomajko) with a sideboard guide:
This deck came out in force at a recent Open, and I was interested to see how good it was. The deck looked as solid as control decks have been in recent memory, and with the inclusion of a 4-mana sweeper in Kaya’s Wrath, it seemed like the real deal.
The mana in the deck worked reasonably well, but I did have an issue with so many lands that come into play tapped in my opening hand. While my sample was small, I played multiple games where my opening hand contained three lands and four spells but the lands were something like Isolated Chapel, Glacial Fortress, and a Drowned Catacomb. While this should be rare, these kinds of hands can cost you a game.
The basic lands were often punishing as well. Sometimes I’d draw the basic Swamp and have Absorb in my hand, or the basic Island and not be able to cast my Kaya’s Wrath. I’d likely max out on dual lands if I played the deck again.
Another issue was that I’d put itself in a winning position, but I’d be missing Teferi and then lose to a topdecked Hydroid Krasis, which snowballed the game out of control. With Hydroid Krasis in the format, it’s really tough to cover all your bases by having a counterspell or two in hand with a removal spell. Krasis’s ability to draw a card is uncounterable, and combined with a lack of pressure from Esper, made games I felt like I would win ones I lost easily.
Thief of Sanity is an incredible angle for this deck to produce out of the sideboard. Unfortunately, it’s also a well-known angle of attack at this point and most players are prepared and leave some removal for the Thieves.
While this deck felt good to me, it was lacking in its ability to close, making it a deck that needs some more work but has potential. Where is The Scarab God when we need it?
While I didn’t actually play with it, I streamed as the enemy for Matt Nass, who played this deck against a gauntlet.
Here’s the list Matt battled with that we got from John Johnson’s fourth place finish at the SCG Open in Dallas last weekend:
This is a broken deck. Is it too-good-for-the-format broken? Probably not. Is it broken in that it will warp the way the format works? I believe so. This deck punishes midrange and control strategies by being so consistent and smooth. If you can’t present pressure and disruption this deck can grind out any deck in the format.
I thought Wilderness Reclamation was a broken card when I saw it. I had never considered how broken it was with Azcanta, the Sunken Ruin in play. Each copy of Wilderness Reclamation allows for an additional activation for Azcanta, and usually some extra mana on top of that. Four copies of Search for Azcanta is mandatory for this deck. Playing less would be like playing less Wilderness Reclamations. It’s just out of the question.
One issue I thought this deck might have was that it’s too one-dimensional. Once an opponent brought in Duress and Negate, and backed it up with a little pressure, the house of cards would fall down. Then I played some post-board games against the deck, and kept losing to Biogenic Ooze. Biogenic Ooze is such a natural threat to pair with Wilderness Reclamation. It feels like it was designed for this specific deck’s transformational sideboard plan.
Frilled Mystic seemed only OK in the main deck, but once we got to sideboard games Frilled Mystic made a lot more sense. Frilled Mystic is a counterspell that can’t be Negated, Duressed, or Spell Pierced, and can add a little to your more proactive game plan.
Carnage Tyrant seemed rather weak as this deck doesn’t back it up with a bunch of pressure so other decks can hold it off fairly easily.
Hydroid Krasis was a nice cross between a win condition and card engine.
One card I’d like to try in small numbers as a 1- or 2-of is Precognitive Perception. It gets extremely deep into the deck, for 1 more mana than Chemister’s Insight, but it doesn’t play as well naturally with Wilderness Reclamation because you can’t cast it on turn 4 after you’ve put the enchantment into play.
This deck reminds me a lot of Jeskai Saheeli from back when Saheeli Rai and Felidar Guardian were legal in Standard. Midrange strategies without closing speed will be forced into a position where once they tap out the opponent can just slam a Wilderness Reclamation and take every turn for the rest of the game. Wilderness Reclamation is one of the most broken cards we’ve seen in Standard in a long time, and the existence of Nexus of Fate makes building around the card easy. While Nexus of Fate should likely be banned in Standard much like KCI was in Modern because of the “fun factor,” Wilderness Reclamation may end up being the bigger problem, as the card is just too powerful. It’s essentially a 0-mana card that doubles your mana every turn for the rest of the game, and with Search for Azcanta in your deck, actually draws you cards in the process. I know I’ve said it a lot, but this card is dangerous.
While this deck is great, it’s got some bad matchups against Mono-Blue Tempo and Azorius Aggro, and plays close enough against other decks that it’s likely not too good for Standard. But if it’s played in high numbers, other midrange decks will likely be pushed out of the format because of poor matchups against this deck, and this deck’s spoiler, Mono-Blue Tempo. That kind of squeeze makes formats unhealthy, so I’m hoping for the best but preparing for the worst. If I were WotC I’d ban Nexus of Fate. Obviously it’s too late to do so for Mythic Championship Cleveland, but I firmly believe Nexus of Fate should not be legal in Standard. If not Nexus, then Wilderness Reclamation, as it may lead to other problems down the road.
I’ve played a few iterations of this deck, but here’s the one I played in the MOCS last weekend to a less-than-stellar record:
This deck is a carryover from last format’s best deck Golgari Midrange. With the addition of Breeding Pool and Hydroid Krasis this deck got taken to a new level. It’s now close to flood-proof with the addition of Hydroid Krasis, and very good at playing long games with its interaction, refueling with Hydroid Krasis, and eventually chaining them.
Vivien Reid makes sure to find the first Krasis to start the chain, and since this deck can consistently do this, it got rid of the rest of its top end so that it’s playing efficient removal and controlling the battlefield as often as necessary so that you’re not left with a bunch of clunky cards in your hand.
My first impression of this deck was it might be like Temur Energy. A powerful midrange deck that can sideboard Negate at little cost is the type of deck that is incredibly difficult to beat both pre- and post-board. This deck, however, is more like Jund in Modern. It’s solid, but its matchups are all mostly close and I haven’t found it to truly dominate anything.
Wildgrowth Walker is a more polarizing choice. It’s quite bad against decks like Simic Nexus and Esper Control, but also good and almost mandatory against decks like Mono-Blue Tempo, Azorius Aggro, and Mono-Red. There’s going to be weeks where zero Wildgrowth Walker is correct, others where four in the main deck will be correct, and others where maybe you just want them in your sideboard.
Adding Thief of Sanity with Negates and Duresses gives the deck a good package against Nexus decks as well as control. Last season I remember relying on a well-timed Duress and Carnage Tyrant to hopefully be able to compete with control decks going way over the top.
Hostage Taker seemed a bit curious to me until I realized how good it is against Hydroid Krasis. Hostage Taker is one of the single most important cards in the mirror because Krasis has to be dealt with, and this not only deals with it, but threatens to cast it if the Hostage Taker itself isn’t dealt with immediately. If it is, you still give them back a 0/0 Krasis. The mirror games go very long because of this back and forth, and every decision is critical.
Sultai Midrange will be the format’s best midrange deck, as it still has tools to compete with everything, and sculpting it to beat specific decks on specific weeks will be what’s necessary for it to remain successful.
I didn’t get a chance to see Kraul Harpooner in action but the card seems incredibly well positioned to me. It’s great against Mono-Blue Tempo, solid against Drakes, and provides a split card removal spell or 3/2 reach when Esper brings in Thief of Sanity against you. While I haven’t gotten to play a lot with it the card seems excellent right now and I’m adding them to every deck’s sideboard that can cast them to figure out just how effective they’ll be.
Sultai needs to be fine-tuned for specific metagames, but I think it will be a popular and successful deck moving forward. Other midrange decks might be doomed to fail, but this one has potential. I’m excited to get to work tuning this deck for Mythic Championship Cleveland.
Here is the list I played. It is Alexander Hayne’s fine tuned list that he’s taken to the top spot on the Mythic leaderboard on MTG Arena (@InsayneHayne is his Twitter name if you want a sideboard guide):
Between both the positioning of the deck in the format and an additional 1-mana threat that turns into a giant threat to give the deck more power, this deck is a certified beast in Standard.
Pteramander has taken this deck to another level. You can win games without drawing Tempest Djinn now, just by boosting up that little Salamander into a huge threat and backing it up with a Dive Down or Spell Pierce to close out the game. Before Pteramander this deck needed Tempest Djinn or a a creature with Curious Obsession to survive until the end of the game. Now, even after those threats are dealt with, Pteramander is often left to close the game out in one big attack.
Blink of an Eye as a 1-of is likely part of the Alexander Hayne touch, but it’s a card I’ve been less than impressed with. It’s often just a Disperse and it can give you the tempo push you need to force through enough damage, but usually I’m wishing it was another copy of Essence Capture. I’m not going to argue too much with Alex’s card choices as he’s been very successful with the deck and I believe this exact list won the Open in Dallas.
Faerie Duelist is a new addition that gives you a reasonable amount of game against all of the 2/1 creatures Azorius Aggro is trying to beat you with. It can come down and pick one off, and then play defense against another on the following turn.
Again we see Entrancing Melody, a card that’s just skyrocketed in importance since the printing of Hydroid Krasis. Hydroid Krasis can give this deck problems as it can effectively block a lot of creatures in the deck even as a 2/2.
This deck’s success is largely due to beating up on midrange, control, and Nexus decks. It has some game against aggro decks but as those decks rise in popularity, I suspect we’ll see Mono-Blue Tempo taper off. If my theory is correct, and Simic Nexus and Mono-Blue are able to push midrange and control strategies out, I believe decks like Azorius Aggro and Mono-Red will be left to compete with Mono-Blue and Nexus, and these aggressive strategies will then dominate the format, potentially allowing decks like Sultai to have weeks where they’re the deck to play. Mono-Blue Tempo plays a huge part in both shaping and controlling this format at the moment, and it’s really cool to see a deck like this at the top of the metagame because we haven’t seen too many blue tempo decks do that since Delver of Secrets was legal in Standard.
While this deck is strong, it seems to be weak to decks playing Shock. Red decks appear to be a natural foil to this strategy, but right now they just aren’t very good. This explains a lot of the success of this deck to me, and is something to look for moving forward. If Shock starts showing up in more deck lists, it might be time to put this deck down.
Overall I’m enjoying my time playing Standard, but I’m worried about the effect Nexus of Fate and Wilderness Reclamation might have. A lot of sweet strategies may be held in check when Negate is one of the most important cards in the format. I’m really looking forward to what Mythic Championship Cleveland brings, and what everyone brings to the table because I think there’s a lot of under and unexplored options in this format.