You Have 3 Options in the Standard Metagame

To give you an idea of where we currently stand in the metagame, let me give you some context. After every Pro Tour, I reflect on how the Standard format will develop, to understand what went wrong or right during testing, learn from it, and stay ahead of the curve the following weekend—like the Magic Online Championship Quartley Qualifiers.

So while I was in the midst of trying to recover from the Pro Tour and doing research on how the metagame would develop, I realized that a well tuned B/G Delirium deck would be absolutley insane in the coming week. With Aetherworks Marvel being a big part of the Pro Tour metagame, but at the same time getting their ass handed to them off and on camera by various blue control decks—especially the ones with pressure and Spell Queller—there was a high chance they would decrease in popularity.

That means that the deck that had Aetherworks Marvel as its worst matchup—namely BG Delirium—would be unshackled. Not only would its largest enemy gone but it checked all the other boxes. Is it beating all the decks in the Top 8 of the Pro Tour? Check! Will the deck that beats up on its bad matchup—in this example U/W Midrange—continue to be popular because of its sweet gameplay and powerful midrange plan? Check! Do we beat up on U/W Midrange? Check! Does it do all of the aforementioned things consistently, and never really lose to itself? Check! I’d struck gold.

But the story doesn’t end as happily as it starts. Thanks to the almighty jetlag gods, I slept from 4 a.m. to 6 p.m. the day the tournament was held, which is 5 minutes before the tournament started. Without cards yet for the deck I was going to play, I felt robbed. Many hours later, Lukas Blohon won the Magic Online Championship Qualifier with B/G Delirium. A few hours after that, it was featured in a mirror match in the finals of GP Providence. In an attempt to rectify what happened, I managed to get the cards online to test for the weekend after, which was GP Warsaw. The deck still felt completely busted, so even with the cat out the bag, I decided to play it.

At GP Warsaw, a lot more people had caught on to how the metagame was developing.

I can’t remember the last time a GP was so dominated by two decks. U/W Flash won Warsaw, but 6 B/G Delirium, 2 of which were the aggressive version, reached the Top 8, which was an absurd number. I ended up in the Top 32 with an 11-2-2 record, where the matches I lost were to ridiculous circumstances. I felt favored in every situation, because I felt confident in my list as well as the mirror match and U/W matchup. Even if we narrow it down to the smaller numbers, U/W Flash and G/B Delirium are the clear winners. Out of the Top 64 decks, 25 of them were B/G Delirium and 23 of them were U/W Flash. That’s ~39% G/B Delirium and ~36% U/W Flash, which is an edge to G/B Delirium, but ever so slight.

So what makes these archetypes so powerful and dominant so far?

  1. They are currently the 2 archetypes that are the best shells for the most powerful cards in Standard. Usually, I prefer not to discuss cards as being strong as in a vaccum, but rather always dependable in a certain metagame, something which is becoming less and less true. Lately, a few sets of cards, instead of a series of cards, have been designed to be more powerful to shine light on the story and mechanics of the new set release. That means they are incredibly powerful and are not trying to be subtle in any way. Some of the cards I’m talking about are Torrential Gearhulk, Emrakul, the Promised End, Ishkanah, Grafwidow, Liliana, the Last Hope, Gideon, Ally of Zendikar, Smuggler’s Copter, and Archangel Avacyn.
  2. U/W Flash and G/B Delirium are almost evenly matched, but they also watch each other’s backs against the rest of the metagame. The reason I believed G/B Delirium would become a great choice in the first place was because blue decks were pushing out the unfair decks such as Metalwork Colossus or Aetherworks Marvel that usually punish it. The same thing is true in the other direction, where G/B Delirium has a great matchup against a deck like R/B Zombies, which could otherwise help push out U/W Flash because of its rough matchup against it. Playing R/B Zombies or Aetherworks Marvel in a field where 30% of Day 2 consists of your bad matchup seems like a pretty poor choice to me, which is the way they protect each other.

So where do we go from here? There are 3 possible options and they are all dependent on smart metagaming.

1. Play B/G Delirium

You can choose to play one of the best decks, B/G Delirium, but in that case you have to be ready for every small change in the metagame. The coming metagame, if it continues as it is, is similar to the Theros Standard metagame dominated by Blue Devotion, Black Devoltion, and Boros Burn. Back then, players were rewarded for seeing small differences in the metagame and reacting accordingly. The same goes for this metagame, and applies most of all if you play either one of “the best decks.”

This is how I would rebuild my old, very similar version from Warsaw. The main deck is built with U/W Flash and G/B Delirium in mind. Where Vessel of Nascency is more important to get delirium and a fast Ishkanah, Grafwidow versus U/W Flash, Grapple with the Past is better in the mirror match, which leads me to an even split. To the Slaughter has pushed out Murder from the main deck where the best cards against you both from G/B Delirium and U/W Flash are planeswalkers. Another unusual difference is no Kalitas, Traitor of Ghet in the main deck, mainly because it’s underwhelming against both G/B Delirium and U/W Flash.

2. Play U/W Flash

It’s important to see small differences in metagame shifts. With that being said, when the metagame shifts towards being dominated by the 2 big decks, U/W Flash and G/B Delirium, you can focus on devising a plan versus the card U/W Flash fears most, Ishkanah, Grafwidow. In a format based on an artifact set and one full of Vehicles, Metalwork Colossus, and Aetherworks Marvel, Revolutionary Rebuff has looked underwhelming, but might be the go-to card for U/W Flash in a new metagame to combat the Spider. While Thalia, Heretic Cathar helps, U/W Flash hasn’t had a clean answer to Ishkanah, Grafwidow on the stack or in play, meaning once it comes down on time with delirium, the game usually is over. With that advantage being removed and by a card that can’t be taken with Transgress the Mind, U/W Flash might start to close in on G/B Delirium once more.

This is how my list next week will look.

3. Brew

While the two best decks are very powerful and might be the best way to use the most powerful cards, there are two interesting ways to innovate. Either you can try to strike the metagame with a Mardu Vehicles deck that takes advantage of the Revolutionary Rebuff in U/W I’m advocating by playing more Vehicles, while at the same time hitting a G/B Delirium that is trying to go slower for the mirror match. The other way to brew for the situation is basically to just brew a new deck! I don’t believe that everything is solved in this Standard format and there are other powerful cards that don’t have their perfect home yet.

Here’s a brew that takes advantage of one these cards, Nahiri, the Harbinger.

This list is yet to be tuned, but the power is overflowing. The general idea is a delirium deck that tries to diminish its weaknessess and get ahead in the mirror. Had problems with planeswalkers? This has Anguished Unmaking and “5” Goblin Dark-Dwellers to bring it back. Need help dealing with multiple creatures? This has Radiant Flames and “5” Fumigates ready for you! Need to draw an Ishkanah, Grafwidow versus U/W Flash? Why not play “6” of them and 3 Traverse the Ulvenwald to get them? Aetherworks Marvel? You have blue mana for counterspells!

As much as greed is good, the mana base isn’t as good as G/B Delirium’s, but it isn’t as bad as it looks between cards like Traverse the Ulvenwald, Attune with Aether, Servant of the Conduit, Grapple with the Past, and Pilgrim’s Eye. Losing Liliana, the Last Hope is unfortunate, but if there’s something that’s even better than Liliana, the Last Hope in the delirium mirror match, it’s Nahiri, the Harbinger. Gideon, Ally of Zendikar is already quite good versus G/B Delirium, but is beateble with Ishkanah, Grafwidow to buy enough time to then win with Emrakul, the Promised End. Nahiri, the Harbinger, however, can’t be blocked in the same way Gideon, Ally of Zendikar can, and will spell doom quickly for a G/B Delirium opponent.

What are you preparing to do in this new dominant metagame?

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