The Three Ghosts of Standard

I haven’t written an article in a few weeks, not because I have taken time away from Magic quite the opposite.  Since the release of Amonkhet my store has been inundated with new players and new Magic initiatives that I have simply not found the time between my occupational duties and being deep in the team testing tank. I have also been doing some promo stuff with WOTC which you can check out here. This has however meant I have had a lot of things knocking about in my head without an outlet. What I’d like to talk about this week is the standard format since the Felidar Guardian banning; where it’s been, the Pro Tour, where it is now and where I think it’s heading. Let’s embark on this Dickensian-esque dissection of the format.

THE GHOULS OF STANDARD PAST

The banning of Felidar Guardian was a truly exciting time to be a magic player. The Wizards had dropped a house on The Wicked Witch of the Far East  (and her little cat too!) and the format felt like it was truly wide open again and we had a tonne of new Amonkhet cards to brew with.  I immediately set about doing what I do every time we have a rotation TRY TO TAKE OVER THE WORLD… using Forests and Swamps….  I tried a bunch of different shells but unfortunately couldn’t find anything new and compelling that included any new strategies from Amonkhet, well at least nothing that could consistently win in our gauntlet of Mardu, UR control, Zombies and GW tokens.  The list I ended up settling on was a revamped version of last standards GB Delirium this time abusing the power of Gonti.

GB Lets Party Like its 2016 by Kevin Pass

Creatures

4 Grim Flayer
2 Walking Ballista
2 Tireless Tracker
1 Manglehorn
2 Gonti, Lord of Luxury
1 Kalitas, Traitor of Ghet
2 Ishkanah, Grafwidow
1 Noxious Gearhulk

Spells

3 Fatal Push
4 Traverse the Ulvenwald
3 Vessel of Nascency
1 Dissenter’s Deliverance
3 Grasp of Darkness
2 To The Slaughter
2 Never /// Return
3 Liliana, the Last Hope
1 Ob Nixilis Reignited

Lands

4 Hissing Quagmire
4 Blooming Marsh
1 Evolving Wilds
8 Swamp
6 Forest

Sideboard

2 Kalitas, Traitor of Ghet
2 Transgress the Mind
2 Dispossess
2 Never // Return
1 Manglehorn
1 Dissenter’s Deliverance
1 Tireless Tracker
1 Scarab Feast
1 Distended Mindbender
1 Appetite for the Unnatural

Anyone who knows me will not be surprised that I had a total blast playing and tuning this list.  My favourite thing to do in Magic is to play a fair game and grind my opponent out with sweet value. I was very happy with this list and attended a PPTQ which I placed 9th in.  At this event though I was beginning to see the rise in popularity of Aetherworks Marvel decks that had begun cropping up on MTGO.  They hadn’t been part of our in store testing gauntlet but the match up sounded miserable to me.  And it was!

THE GHOULS OF STANDARD PRESENT

The problem I have been repeatedly finding with standard recently is that I like fair Magic but the format has grown very hostile to people trying to play fair strategies; Marvel is cheating 10 mana creatures into play on turn 4, the zombie decks are presenting boards of 7/8 creatures in a similar time frame and Mardu vehicles can even offer some seemingly unfair draws (Toolcraft Exemplar > Toolcraft Exemplar, Thraben Inspector > Unlicensed Disintegration > Gideon, Ally of Zendikar). So the Thursday before the Pro Tour, I swallowed my pride and started tuning a zombie list.

I was very pleased to see that many of my favourite pro’s had agreed with my line of thinking that you can’t feasibly fight inherent unfairness with fair cards and had also elected to play the Brain Gobbling Horde.  After making a few changes based on Martin Juza’s list after Day 1 of the Pro Tour I played the following list in back to back PPTQs during Pro Tour weekend.

Mono Black Brain Dead by Kevin Pass

Creatures

4 Dread Wanderer
4 Cryptbreaker
4 Relentless Dead
4 Metallic Mimic
4 Lord of the Accursed
4 Diregraf Colossus

Spells

3 Fatal Push
3 Grasp of Darkness
3 Dark Salvation
2 Liliana’s Mastery
1 Ob Nixilis Reignited

Sideboard

3 Scrapheap Scrounger
2 Lost Legacy
2 Kalitas, Traitor of Ghet
2 Transgress the Mind
2 Never // Return
2 Gonti, Lord of Luxury
1 Distended Mindbender
1 Dispossess

I really enjoyed playing this list as I feel it has a fantastic  match up against both Control and Mardu and is 50/50 with stock Marvel, as such I would recommend this list when approaching an unknown metagame such as a PPTQ or FNM. I managed to pilot the deck to the Semi-Finals in both PPTQs I brought it to. I went 3-1-1 in the swiss on Saturday taking down 3 Mardu decks only losing to GB Constrictor which then subsequently beat me in the semis. On the Sunday I went 3-0-2 defeating UR Control, UR spells and Marvel. In the Top 8 I defeated Marvel, and then was knocked out by teammate and the man who brings you Leveling Up Your Plays, Brandon Balfour (gotta stop meeting this guy in Top 8s).  I don’t want to steal Brandon’s thunder by talking about this match too much as I’m sure he will write about his PPTQ win shortly but he was playing a version of Marvel tuned to beat zombies.

THE GHOULS OF STANDARD YET TO COME

Which brings me neatly to my last point as anyone watching the Pro Tour will notice we now have two new decks on top Aetherworks Marvel and Zombies.  This is pretty much to be expected as we have the same paradigm as we had pre banning. The combo deck and a deck that can beats it while having a decent match up against the rest of the field, where we once had Saheeli-Cat and Mardu we now have Aetherworks Marvel and Zombies respectively. Mardu’s fall from grace should not have come as a surprise to anyone as its two best match ups have left the format and the two new dogs on the block have been tooled to beat it.

So is that it, are we stuck with another two deck metagame again?

Not exactly! Like I previously mentioned, Brandon tooled his Marvel deck to beat Zombies and turned a 50/50 into his drastically in his favour. The format can easily adapt to Zombies. The issue I foresee for Zombies is that the list is so tight and linear it will be difficult for the deck to adapt to a shifting metagame and stay ahead of decks targeting it.  I think the likely outcome for the near future of standard is that the metagame adapts to defeat the deck that one that pro tour, while zombies finds it difficult to adapt to the rising number of Chandra, Flamecaller and Sweltering Suns and slides into tier 1.5, in a similar spot to where GB Constrictor decks existed in the Saheeli/Mardu format we have just left

What do I think will take its place at tier 1?

I pondered the question ‘What deck can have a positive Zombies and Aetherwork Marvel matchup?’.  The answer I came to was a WB, or maybe Mardu, control deck that features mainboard hand attack to strip Aetherworks Marvel of its win cons and mainboard wrath effects to keep the Zombies and GB aggressive decks at bay. Instead of leaving you some half-baked idea of what this might look like I’m instead going to go to the drawing board this week and jam BWr control against Zombies and Marvel and report back next week.

I hope I have been an entertaining guide on this journey through what is a relatively short but alarmingly complex moment in standards history. If you have any questions about decklists or have suggestions for the control deck I’m about to build I would love to hear them.

Until next week, Merry Brewing!!

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