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Standard Machinations

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Stjepan Sučić
Stjepan Sucic

About Stjepan Sučić

Stjepan started his Magic career in 2003, and had some decent finishes over the years, including a World Magic Cup top 8, Pro Tour and Worlds top 32 finishes, and a GP top 8, with 61 pro points total.

During the summer months he is also a Magic Online grinder who you can easily find in the draft queues. Stjepan boasts a 74% win rate in his real life Magic career. When he is not playing Magic, Stjepan enjoys watching Starcraft and playing MOBA games.

Standard Machinations

Dragons are no more.

There are very few (sub) sets in Magic history that had such an impact on the Standard format as Dragons of Tarkir did. It might seem like an overstatement, but when you think about it, it really is true. Mostly I'm talking about Collected Company and how the card dominated the format for a long time, but also Dragonlord Ojutai, Dromoka's Command, Dragonlord Atarka, Atarka's Command, Kolaghan's Command, Den Protector and many other cards that were cornerstones of their respective archetypes.

Dragons of Tarkir rotating out would be a big deal by itself, but that is not all - Magic Origins rotated out of Standard as well. Origins was also a very influential set, maybe not so much as Dragons, but certainly had more than a few important cards like Jace, Vryn's Prodigy or Languish.

With these two sets out of the format, it was obvious that we would see a lot of change in Standard, almost all of the popular decks lost many key cards and some new decks had to be designed to take their place.

Filling those shoes would be quite a task for any single set and I was sure that the Standard format would have a huge drop in power level when these sets rotate out, no matter how good Kaladesh is.

After Kaladesh was spoiled, I wasn't so sure anymore. There is a big number of very strong constructed cards in Kaladesh, and it was obvious it will be a key player in the new Standard format. No hard feelings, Innistrad, but Kaladesh is definitely in the driver's seat. Literally.

Immediately I started concocting decks and ideas for the new set, and while most of the deck ideas I had ended up being dead ends, I did have some success in re-imagining an old favorite of mine. I will get into more detail on it a bit later in the article.

I am well aware that with just a few days until the Pro Tour it is not an easy job to predict the future of the metagame and that it would be much easier to just sit and wait a bit and then just check out the Pro Tour decklists, but I like the challenge. Also, after the PT, prices for particular cards will skyrocket, so it pays off to build your decks right away.

Depala, Pilot Exemplar
Versions:
Kaladesh (Foil)

With every new format, we have the usual pattern of archetype success rates - it is almost a rule that in a completely fresh format, very aggressive decks are winning the tournaments. Many, even recent PTs were won by mono red or similar aggressive strategy but that doesn't mean that mono red or aggressive decks are the best, just that being proactive is much easier (and/or better?) in an unknown field. You could have guessed some decks at your local standard tournament last weekend, but I presume the metagame was pretty random, since people are trying out their ideas and new cards. Bringing a reactive (control) deck in such a metagame would be ill-advised, since reactive decks are at their best when they know what they need to react to, so you can choose which answers to run in your deck. Just blindly jamming random removal and card advantage in your control(ish) deck on the first week of new Standard will rarely work out. On the other hand, if you just randomly jam a bunch of cards that are designed to kill your opponent very quickly while he is trying to assemble his wacky thopter/energy counter/servo/something seven card combo you are probably going places. At least until the metagame settles a bit, so control decks adapt to counter whatever you are slinging at their faces and then reign supreme until midrange appears and so on.. This cycle is something I regularly expect with every new set. It is not a rule, since there were a few exceptions, but first glances at the SCG open results tell us that Kaladesh isn't one of those exceptions. It is not like there are no reactive decks at all in the top finishing decklists, but those are definitely in a minority. Top 8 of the SCG Open had six very aggressive decks (five W/R one B/R)  and two moderately aggressive decks (G/B delirium, Grixis Emerge), but in total, I would say that all the decks in the top 8 are very proactive and do not bother running many reactive cards. Both G/B delirium and Grixis Emerge builds are very creature heavy and have a pretty low curve and really feel like aggro decks with a twist more than what we saw from similar decks in the recent Standard format.  The five W/R decklists aren't completely the same - three of them focus more on vehicles with Veteran Motorist and Depala, Pilot Exemplar, the fourth one is more of a Thalia's Lieutenant human based aggro deck and the fifth one is less about synergies and more about just bashing face. An influx of aggro decks was, as I said, expected and I am sure the situation will 'normalize' very soon. On the other hand, I wouldn't really call this metagame unhealthy - even though there are quite a few aggro decks, most of them are very different from one another and almost every deck has a couple of interesting unique ideas and approaches.

There are some similarities as well, and I feel this is one of the things that are interesting to discuss.

Smuggler's Copter
Versions:
Kaladesh (Foil)

I don't remember if there ever was a top 8 of a tournament this big that had all eight decks running a playset of the same card. No matter if this is a first time or not, this is certainly a huge red signal that this card is very strong. The card I am talking about is none other than Smuggler's Copter - a vehicle from Kaladesh. I mentioned this card as a very strong Limited player in my last article, but that didn't even scratch the surface it seems - Smuggler's Copter seems to be a beast in Standard as well! Considering flying creatures were pretty strong in Standard for a while now it is no big surprise a 3/3 flyer for two mana would be a pretty amazing addition to the format. Crewing might seem like a hindrance at first, but when you consider the fact that all of these decks run around twenty creatures and that the crew cost on Copter is only 1, it is obvious that crewing is rarely a problem. Smuggler's Copter is more than just a cheap, big flyer - it also has a very relevant ability - when it attacks or blocks it lets you loot (draw a card, then discard a card) once, which is obviously very good in every deck, since it lets you draw into more action while getting rid of some less useful cards or extra land. In some decks, like G/B delirium or Grixis Emerge, this ability gets even better, since your graveyard is a resource you actively use, so discarding a card is more than welcome. If I had to attribute the success of aggro decks in this tournament to one card, it would be Copter, hands down.

What does this mean for the rest of the format? Well, better be ready to deal with it! There are few cards that are good enough to be played main deck that can reliably deal with Copter before it attacks, Harnessed Lightning and Fiery Temper come to mind. On the other hand, sideboard options are quite a few, but Fragmentize is probably on top of that heap.

The winning decklist from the SCG Open is capitalizing on the strength of Smuggler's Copter fully, with professional vehicle drivers:

W/R Vehicles

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Skysovereign, Consul Flagship
Versions:
Kaladesh (Foil)

Van Meter's deck has a whole lot of pretty fast starts, and some of the best of those for sure contain Smuggler's Copter, but the other vehicles aren't any less key in his deck. Fleetwheel Cruiser and Skysovereign, Consul Flagship are the perfect top of the curve for this deck, allowing for some impact as soon as they hit the battlefield, as well as having nice synergies with the dwarven brigade. I would say that despite all the synergies and possible interactions and options this deck isn't very hard to play, so it might be a good deck to build for all types of players. Not right away, of course, since the prices of these cards might be a bit inflated at the moment, but in a couple of weeks the dust from the PT should settle. How well will this deck be represented at the PT? My opinion is that variations of the R/W aggro deck should be among the most popular archetypes at the PT but might not run so hot since everyone will be more than ready to fight them.

Another deck from the SCG Open I would like to mention is Temur Aetherworks. Daniel Weiser finished in 25th place playing this deck list:

Temur Aetherworks

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Aetherworks Marvel
Versions:
Kaladesh (Foil)

This list is very similar to the list I was trying to build around Aetherworks Marvel, but just felt too clunky for me while not powerful enough. Weiser's list has gone one step further compared to what I had in mind and runs Kozilek's Return on top of the big colorless creatures so that the Marvel activation turn is even more of a 'boom' moment. I feel like Weiser's list still has some room for improvement, or at least a bit more adjustment to this aggro-heavy new metagame. All in all I think this is a great idea for a deck that can be built in more than one way and is still not fully explored.

Honestly, I didn't really spend much time trying to figure out the Aetherworks Marvel deck, since from the start I somewhat discarded the idea as a 'casual' deck since the card itself is just unreliable and not very easy to activate. Instead, I spent a lot more time trying to devise an Eldrazi Displacer deck. Even though Collected Company is gone, I still felt that this was one of the cards with the biggest potential of being very strong in the new Standard. There are still a lot of great enters-the-battlefield effects and I tried many combinations. The main problem I encountered is the fact that painlands rotated out with Magic Origins. Even though some decklists I made seemed pretty good at first, it took me a bit to realize there is no way for the mana to work. I was hoping that the SCG Open would bring at least one Eldrazi Displacer list I can build upon and it did:

Nick Gajary finished in 44th place with this list, and even though that isn't a very impressive result, I think his decklist is a fine starting point for an Eldrazi Displacer deck. What I originally intended to be a Bant deck should work just as fine in two colors. Some card choices in Gajary's list like Subjugator Angel or Arborback Stomper feel just too 'cute' for the main deck, and the whole list is somewhat odd with random one-ofs in both main deck and sideboard, but as I said, it should be a fine starting point. Think of it as an uncut diamond, or at least a pretty piece of rock waiting to be carved into something beautiful.

As usual, I saved the best for last - Alchemist burn is back! Not that it was gone at any point, but hey, it is different from what it was before. My pet deck only lost a few cards to the rotation, keeping all the key pieces. Even so, more than a few cards changed around during my testing which is still ongoing. As my list is still not where I want it, I will share the list that placed Corey Osoria in 23rd place at the SCG Open:

KLD U/R Alchemist Burn

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The core of the deck is more or less intact, but I feel Chandra isn't a main deck card, and I have no idea how Curious Homunculus ended up in the deck, but I wouldn't consider it, at least not in this build. Fevered Visions might be a liability now that everyone is running aggro, but it is still a very strong win condition and it is hard for me to cut it or try moving it to the sideboard. New cards that I've tried and liked in this deck are many, so I'll start with honorable mentions: Revolutionary Rebuff, Flame Lash, Aether Hub + Harnessed Lightning + Dynavolt Tower... yes, I have tried a few towers as a substitute for a few Fevered Visions and they performed decently in most cases. I wouldn't say they are better, but try them out, you might like it.

The best performing card from Kaladesh I have tried out so far is *drumroll* Spark of Creativity! This card is a gem, even though it is somewhat random, it is actually a pretty good cantrip that can randomly double up as a removal while often granting you an extra prowess/Alchemist trigger. The only downside is the fact that it is a sorcery so it has very little chance of killing vehicles. This deck is still very very budget friendly, with the main deck costing around 20 tickets and the sideboard costing a bit more if you are running Kozilek's Return, but you might as well replace it with Radiant Flames now that we have access to a third color of mana through Aether Hub.

Conclusion

Standard is going through a lot of changes right now, and the best is yet to come with the Pro Tour starting soon! I just gave you a few things to think about, but when the coverage starts, all the cards will be on the table and we will see the newborn Standard taking  its first steps. I hope you are as excited as I am!

Good luck and have fun!

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