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The Flow of Standard

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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.

The Flow of Standard

Standard is very dynamic. This is the main reason people cite for both loving and hating the format, and it is easy to understand both groups. Dynamic in Magic means you can't have a pet deck for long,  that you have to invest money in new cards every few months (often even more frequently than that) and that you need to spend more time tuning and adapting to the ever-shifting metagame. It is understandable that some players might not like that or are not willing to invest the needed money and time. On the other hand, dynamic also means that the format never gets boring or stale (at least not for long). Such changes are preferred by players who get bored quickly and need new challenges and puzzles to overcome. Wizards are leaning towards the latter group with their policies, and that is the only logical thing to do, since that group is the one that is spending more money on the product. Two years ago, Wizards changed the Standard rotation from once a year (fall) to twice a year (spring and fall) making the Standard format even more dynamic and even less accessible for new and/or non-competitive players. Just recently, Wizards decided that move wasn't really smart and decided to undo the change so the Standard format is back to once-a-year rotations. This was due to the negative reaction from the player base and the fact that the change negatively reflected on the popularity of Standard. Reverting to the old system was a natural decision, but one that tells us a lot about Wizards and their policies. Since Hasbro took over WotC, we saw Magic grow immensely. Hasbro is a huge, profit driven business that cares about players as long as that increases the numbers and that is something that is both good and bad, but not something we can do a whole lot about. This means that we will be facing more changes on a regular basis. Stagnation is not something Hasbro is willing to tolerate, so buckle up for a rough ride. Rough, but far from unexciting.

Smuggler's Copter
Versions:
Kaladesh (Foil)

These changes have no immediate effect on the format to be fair - we know some sets will be around longer than we initially thought, but that doesn't really affect the metagame in any way. It might slightly affect card prices in the long run, but I don't think any major earthquakes await us in the near future. I am worried that some Kaladesh cards might be a bit too strong and too prominent in the Standard format at the moment, and since Kaladesh isn't rotating anytime soon, we might get sick of Smuggler's Copter after a while. I sure hope the next set is bringing some tools to mitigate the issue.

Talking about Copter, how has he been doing since my last article? Rather well I'd say, posting great numbers in all recent big tournaments.

The Pro Tour brought us a very diverse metagame, and while there were two control decks in the finals, I believe that fact might be a bit deceptive. Control decks were well positioned to battle Aetherworks Marvel decks (which were the most popular deck of the tournament) as well as red based aggro decks, but the metagame shifted a couple of times in the past few weeks and control decks can't keep that pace easily. The biggest story from the Pro Tour was the U/W tempo variants which posted amazing numbers. The only reason this deck didn't dominate the tournament was the fact that its pilots mostly did pretty badly at the Limited portion of the tournament. Regardless, U/W didn't stay under the radar and people quickly realized that it is the deck to beat. Just last weekend we had two big Standard GPs that are a great example of how Standard is shifting.

First, we had GP Kuala Lumpur which had six U/W tempo decks in the top 8 - this is a huge number for such a diverse metagame and it is a direct effect of how good the deck performed at the Pro Tour. It is worth noticing that every single top 8 list in Kuala Lumpur had a full set of Smuggler's Copter. *Cough, Skullclamp, Cough*  On the same weekend, there was another Standard GP in Providence which had only sixteen Copters and only one U/W tempo deck in the top 8. What does this tell us? Very little to be fair, so I delved in a bit deeper and found twenty more U/W tempo decks in the top 9-64 of GP Providence as well as 46 playsets of Smuggler's Copter out of those 56 decklists. So, how come that a relatively small number of those ended up in the top 8 then? The answer lies in the top 8 iteslf - it sports four Black-Green Delirium lists.

B/G Delirium had a pretty bad showing at the Pro Tour. Even though it was the second most popular deck at the PT, it only brought a bit more than half of its pilots to day two. In day two, it had more success and I believe this is the key fact that tells us where B/G Delirium lies. On day one, when Delirium was fighting through a field full of Aetherworks Marvel decks, it did poorly, since it is not well equipped to fight the Marvel decks, but then, when Delirium pilots fought their way to day two, where they found more control, U/W tempo and R based aggressive decks, Iskanah and company shined and posted good results. This trend continued at GP Providence as well - B/G Delirium players either fell off early or rode all the way, six of them to the top 8. U/W tempo decks were mostly stopped just a step before the top 8 - my guess would be mostly by either mirror matches or B/G delirium.

Ishkanah, Grafwidow
Versions:
Eldritch Moon (Foil)

Why does B/G Delirium beat U/W tempo? The answer is not a simple one since the matchup is very intricate and can play out in many different ways but mostly it is about pressure. B/G Delirium has a very strong late game plan involving Emrakul, the Promised End, which offers some sort of inevitability since the deck can play a very strong defensive game with Ishkanah, Grafwidow and/or Kalitas, Traitor of Ghet among other good creatures. On the other hand, U/W doesn't have that kind of inevitability and needs to close out the game before Emrakul wrecks its board and B/G's card advantage takes over the game. This is very hard to achieve with U/W due to all the defensive capabilities that B/G has, and the best card in the matchup is certainly Gideon, Ally of Zendikar since it provides much needed card advantage and pressure. The problem is the fact that B/G isn't without answers to Gideon, since both Grim Flayer and Mindwrack Demon can threaten to kill the planeswalker, and there are many lists that run To the Slaughter as a one or two-of as well. Considering all this, it is fair to say that the matchup is 60% in favor of B/G Delirium.

What does this mean for Standard? Since we had an insurgence of Aetherworks at the PT, then U/W, now B/G, we can see a pattern here and it is quite triangular. Each of these decks consistently beats one, and consistently loses to another one in this triangle.  How to deal with this situation? Build each of these three decks and then change between them on a weekly basis in the correct order? There are probably better options. Even though Standard is ever changing, my guess is that most people still prefer sticking to one archetype, or at least to some particular cards. If you have a playset of Avacyn, you probably want to continue playing your U/W even when Delirium is on the rise. To successfully do so, you need to do two things - Test the matchup and see what cards beat you - is it Emrakul? Add Summary Dismissal to the sideboard. Is it Ishkanah? Add Void Shatters or Declaration in Stone or something else. Maybe even try making changes to the main deck? There are rumors that Elder-Deep Fiend does wonders for U/W in the matchup. Try stuff out, and find an edge in the matchup, there are certainly cards that can improve it to the point where it is at least a fair fight.

If you don't feel like fighting the uphill battle there are other options as well - maybe attack the big trinity with something completely different? Mardu vehicles won GP Kuala Lumpur and sent two copies to the top 8 which tells us it certainly has game against U/W tempo, and we saw during the PT that it can reasonably combat Aetherworks as well. I am unsure how good it is against B/G Delirium, but with a good hand I believe that deck can beat anything. Even though vehicles might feel like a high risk/high reward deck, it is still a pretty good choice for any type of tournament.

It is also important not to forget about control - as soon as the metagame settles (and that should be rather soon) control will re-emerge. Even though Shouta Yasooka's list seemed super strong in the hands of the control master at the Pro Tour I would argue that Jeskai control might be a better shell to start off with. Fumigate and Torrential Gearhulk certainly won't stay idle for long, and I expect they will come out on top sooner than we might expect. Gearhulk's price is falling steadily and soon it might be a good idea to pick them up since I am pretty sure they will play a major role in the coming months. Online they can be found for less than 9 tickets, and that is certainly a bargain. The more tools they have, the stronger control decks get, and since Torrential Gearhulk isn't rotating out anytime soon, it will just become more and more potent and versatile and thus more expensive. Pick them up before they skyrocket again.

Bonus decklist:

For me, the best deck of the GP weekend is none of the top 8 finishing ones, but one that was very close, but just missed the cut - Julian Wildes' Four Color Aggro that finished tenth in Providence.

Tamiyo, Field Researcher
Versions:
Eldritch Moon (Foil)

This deck offers an interesting new take on the Energy aggro deck, running both white and blue without losing much in terms of mana stability and really getting the extra power with the infamous U/W duo - Spell Queller and Reflector Mage. Tamiyo, Field Researcher is also a great addition and in my opinion a very underrated card so far. The deck can go very wide and very big quickly and with so many trample creatures it is hard to effectively stop the onslaught. With Tamiyo, it won't run out of gas and since control decks with sweepers are out of favor right now, this is certainly a fine choice for PPTQs or some other Standard tournament you might be playing. The best thing about this deck is the fact that it is rather cheap, going for less than a hundred tickets online even if you have no cards for it. Real life it is closer to 200$, but that is still only half of what U/W costs right now.

Conclusion

Standard is an ever shifting enigma, a Rubik's cube that never stays the same and cracking it is a pleasure for some and a frustration for others. My advice is to stay flexible and keep an open mind when it comes to your sideboards. It might be hard to keep track of what is good and popular at the moment, but hey, at least you know it will play Smuggler's Copter! Jokes aside, even though Copter is very strong and fits many decks, it is still far from game breaking or unsolvable. Be prepared and it will be much less scary. If you don't know what decks to expect at a tournament you want to attend, I always use the oldest trick in the book - go for the fastest deck you can think of - something like R/W tokens played by Makis Matsoukas at the Pro Tour and make your opponent prepare for you, rather than vice versa.

Whatever you decide to run in the coming weeks, good luck and have fun!

Stjepan

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