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Brand-New Standard in December

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Who could have thought that Standard would undergo such an earthquake. Two weeks ago, it looked like BG Delirium and U/W Flash were dominating the format to the point that only a new set could bring some fresh ideas into Standard again. BG seemed to be the best deck at consistently using Emrakul, the most powerful card in the format, and U/W was the deck that kept Marvel in check, while having a decent fighting chance against the rest of the field. All other decks just seemed outclassed.

However, one week ago, two GPs took place, one in Madrid and the other one in Denver. Two U/W Flash decks made it into the top 8 of each of these two tournaments, but in total, there were exactly zero B/G Delirium decks. Zero copies of what looked like the best deck in Standard just last week. Instead, among the two top 8s, the combined sixteen best decks of the two tournaments, we saw stuff like U/R Zombie Emerge, R/B aggro, six R/G-based Marvel Decks and Seth Manfield's sweet U/W Panharmonicon deck. So the question obviously is: what on earth happened? Was everyone so bored with playing B/G that they decided to bring tier 2 decks to the GP, despite knowing they would hurt their chances to win? Did people come without Grim Flayers and then couldn't get them at the site? Was this all just variance, with the B/G players being unlucky this weekend and failing to make it to the top tables? I don't think any of the above mentioned options is real. Instead, the Standard metagame seems to be a lot more diverse than most of us originally thought and apparently - and especially when everybody is focused on beating B/G and U/W - there are other strategies that work. So today, I'd like to analyze these "newcomers" and try to figure out whether they are just flukes that spiked at a single tournament or if these innovations are here to stay with us.

Let's start with team East-West Bowl's U/W Panharmonicon brew, which helped Seth Manfield reach the top 8 at GP Denver. Here's his list:

U/W Panharmonicon by Seth Manfield

Top 8 at GP Denver

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Panharmonicon
Versions:
Kaladesh (Foil)

The "dream draw" of this deck goes something like this: turn two Smuggler's Copter, turn three Eldrazi Displacer, turn four Panharmonicon, turn five... all hell breaks loose. With a Panharmonicon in play, this deck can do insane things and generate so much value that it can outmatch even Marvel or Delirium decks "doing their things". With twenty-one artifacts and creatures that have enters-the-battlefield abilities, you should soon be able to lock the board with Reflector Mages, Drowner of Hope and Skysovereigns, while drawing huge chunks of your library with Thraben Inspectors, Glint-Nest Cranes and Cloublazers. Eldrazi Displacer is there to provide additional value for your ETB effects, but also to give you some sort of advantage should you fail to draw one of your four Panharmonicons (which can certainly happen). Also, once you get Panharmonicon online, there's actually an infinite combo of Eldrazi Displacer + Drowner of Hope: by blinking the Drowner, you get four Scions, three of which can be used to pay for another blink effect, generating an infinite number of Scions and also infinite colorless mana.

As an interesting side-note, since the departure of pain-lands, it's been much harder to find the right colorless lands to support Eldrazi creatures like Eldrazi Displacer and Thought-Knot Seer in Standard, which can clearly be seen from Manfield's manabase. Evolving Wilds + Wastes is the most simple, if a bit inelegant solution, but the deck needs more, which is where Aether Hubs come in. If you've heard the piece of advice that says "don't play Aether Hubs in two-color decks, you'll be stuck with colorless lands for most of the game", that's actually what this deck wants - a simple colorless land that could - as a bonus - produce colored mana. It's a desperate solution, but still better than running something like Crumbling Vestige.

So we have a "value" deck that does broken things when it can successfully resolve its namesake artifact and a little less broken things when it doesn't find it, but the question is: what's its gameplan against decks that ramp into Emrakul? There are no ways in this list how to stop the flying monster and it's not nearly fast enough to kill before the opponent gets to cast it, so clearly, there has to be some catch, right? As surprising as it might be, the catch is simply that you "out-value" Emrakul. Sure, the opponent will force you to chump-attack your best creature into the 13/13 monster and likely do some other nasty things, but there are not that many cards in your own deck that could actively hurt you when you're under the "Mindslaver" - Stasis Snare, Reflector Mage and even Skysovereign can only damage the opponent - and most of your deck is just random creatures with triggers that the opponent can't even voluntarily miss. So, unlike in the B/G mirror, where the owner of Emrakul usually burns most of the opponent's resources, you can actually often afford to get Mindslavered, since the deck does run some cards that get rid of a resolved Emrakul (Reflector Mage, Stasis Snare, Drowner of Hope) and you should often be able to kill the opponent even after they control your turn. It's hard to imagine beating Emrakul that way, but this deck can actually do that pretty reliably.

The second deck that I want to mention is Temur Energy control played by Paul Dean in Denver to a very respectable 15th place finish. Here's the list:

Temur Energy Control by Paul Dean

15th place at GP Denver

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Dynavolt Tower
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Kaladesh (Foil)

We've seen the "U/R Dynavolt Control" decks before - Pierre Dagen finished in the top 8 of PT Kaladesh with this deck and ever since, the Dynavolt decks have been on the forefront of the short list of control decks available in Standard. Paul Dean's list is essentially this deck that added several cards that fit perfectly into this strategy: Tireless Tracker, Attune with Aether and Springsage Ritual in the main and a couple more green disenchants and Trackers in the sideboard. And while these might look like minor changes, I actually think they improve the deck by quite a bit.

Splashing mana fixing that doesn't even ramp might look crazy, but it actually makes perfect sense here. Attune is not here mainly to fix your mana, but to give you more energy and provide additional cheap spells. Dynavolt Tower can do powerful things, but it can also sit in play not doing much if you don't draw enough spells. Attune allows you to lower your land count, but at the same time to give you "free spells". The difference between having an Attune or Island in hand with a Dynavolt Tower is four energy, so almost one full charge, meaning one dead creature. Tireless Tracker is in the deck for a similar reason: despite this being a control deck, there are not many spells that would directly give you card advantage. Glimmer of Genius is no Sphinx's Revelation and Tracker, especially with Evolving Wilds, is actually much better at providing card advantage than any blue card could be. It feels strange to splash a green card in a blue deck because you need card advantage, but that's the world we live in right now.

As for the Springsage Ritual in the main and Natural State / Appetite for the Unnatural in the board, having disenchant-type effects is very important right now and again, green comes to help where red and blue fail. Without green, the deck simply folded to a resolved Aetherworks Marvel, while now you have at least some chance. Also, beating Smuggler's Copters (or Panharmonicons) is much easier now with the green splash.

Are all these options worth worsening the manabase with Evolving Wilds, Lumbering Falls and Fastlands? That's hard to say, but I'm inclined to say yes, since it is true that these splashed cards help solve a lot of problems the deck couldn't deal with before. A resolved Gideon or Aetherworks Marvel is still a big problem, but apart from that, the deck has tools to get out of most tricky spots in Standard and I like it quite a bit. If you like blue control strategies in Standard (as I do), you should also check out Bobby Fortanely's U/B Metallurgic Summonings from Denver, where he finished 11th. Here's the list:

U/B Summonings by Bobby Fortanely

11th place at GP Denver

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The last deck that I want to talk about today is Valentin Roman's Jund Aggro that he finished 22nd with in Madrid:

Jund Aggro by Valentin Roman

Metallurgic Summonings
Versions:
Kaladesh (Foil)

We haven't seen many "bigger" aggro decks in the format so far. White or W/G human decks are fairly popular now, but most non-human aggro decks aim lower than this one, typically pairing red with white for stuff like Toolcraft Exemplar and Gideon or black for Bloodhall Priest and Unlicensed Disintegration. Roman's deck is a bit slower, but the card quality is also higher, with card advantage machines like Tireless Tracker, Goblin Dark-Dwellers and Chandra, Torch of Defiance. The game plan against other aggro decks and U/W flash should be to use your superior removal to take out the most troublesome creatures on the other side of the board and then have more impactful creatures on the battlefield. However, against decks with more inevitability, like B/G Delirium or various Marvel decks, this plan doesn't sound so great. That's why Valentin's deck runs a couple of cards that can break through Iskhanah or Emrakul and finish the opponent even once they have stabilized: Key to the City is incredible at dealing the last points of damage and so is the relatively high amount of burn in Fiery Temper and Unlicensed Disintegration. I still don't think this deck wants to play against Delirium and Marvel all day long, but as long as the metagame shifts more to midrange decks and U/W Flash, this deck could be a very interesting choice - as Jund always has been against midrange decks.

These are some of the interesting new decks that have popped up at the two most recent Standard GPs. It seems that Standard still has a clearly defined trio of the most powerful strategies in B/G Delirium, U/W Flash and the Marvel decks. However, the balance between these three tends to change from one tournament to another and various "tier 2" decks can benefit from these changes. Perhaps they can't compete with the "big three" in terms of raw power, but they definitely can use the space created by other decks when the general "what to beat" momentum seems to be focused in another way. Each of the decks I looked at today uses a different weakness that the metagame has at different points of its cycle. Standard often tends to be about reading the metagame cycles correctly and these decks are some of the weapons you can use when you have a very clear picture of which way the metagame bends one week or another. If you're not certain, I would probably trust one of the decks with the higher power level, but since the Standard pool is not that big and guessing the metagame correctly is much easier here than in Modern, for example, picking one of the above mentioned decks can be a very smart choice.

That's it from me for today. Thanks for reading and see you next time!

Adam

Adam Koska
Adam Koska

About Adam Koska

Adam is an experienced player from the Czech Republic who has a number of high-profile finishes under his belt:

  • 14th at Pro Tour Portland 2014
  • 9th at Worlds 2009
  • 9th at Pro Tour Kyoto 2009
  • 64 Lifetime Pro Points
  • Three times Czech Nationals Top 8
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