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Make Standard Great Again!

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You might have noticed that there aren't too many articles about Standard lately, both on Blackborder and other Magic-related sites. This isn't much of an surprise really, since Standard is going through the post-PT pre-release-of-the-new-set phase where it gets somewhat boring and stale, or at least predictable (some people would call it stable). This is my least favorite time to play Standard since the 'best' decks have usually already been found out and there is very little room for innovation and 'breaking' the metagame. I won't say it isn't possible, just unlikely. Despite that, Standard GPs are still rolling and are drawing fair numbers as per usual. A week ago, we had Standard GPs in Denver, Colorado and in Madrid, Spain. I would love to tell you that something super exciting happened there, but that would be a blatant lie.

GP Weekend

Denver and Madrid were won by different decks, but the general results aren't really very different. The metagame took a bit of a shift with the rising popularity of U/W flash, so the designated Iskanah deck wasn't B/G delirium, but the Aetherworks variants which have much better game versus U/W. Aetherworks appeared in high numbers at both GPs, in many different color combinations - mainly green/red, but also black/green , Temur, Naya and Jund. It is hard to say which one is best for a metagame that mainly consisted of mirror matches and U/W flash, but I really like the Naya version that runs Nahiri over Chandra for the mirror matches. How it fares against U/W is harder to anticipate, but I would guess it is still a positive matchup.
I did mention that B/G delirium fell out of favor a bit since its U/W matchup just wasn't getting over 50% while it also fell prey to some faster decks from time to time. This really showed in Denver where we had exactly zero B/G delirium decks in the top 32. The situation was a bit better in Madrid, where six players managed a top 32 finish with the delirium deck. Some of these were very strong players like Strasky and Larsson, who would undoubtedly post a decent finish with most decks, so we need to take that into consideration as well. This is a shift anticipated by many, especially since the new Aetherworks lists look far more solid than they were when the deck first appeared. If the trend of U/W versus Aetherworks continues, and U/W starts adapting more to the Aetherworks heavy metagame we might soon see very aggressive decks thrive before the new set hits the shelf.
There were also some interesting non-tier1 decks that appeared at the GPs, but more about that at the end of the article.

Aether Revolt and What Standard Is Missing

New set spoilers are always an exciting thing and I am not immune to the spoiler season fever. At the time of writing this article, there are only ten Aether Revolt cards spoiled and it is hard to decipher what the theme of the set is and what it will bring. The only new ability that is known so far is Improvise - an ability that allows your artifacts to help with casting a spell by tapping for mana. This ability is very interesting since it allows playing some cards that would normally just be a bit too bad for constructed play outside some very specific deck. With Improvise, cards like Prophetic Prism suddenly look very playable and appealing. Improvise is certainly an ability that smells like control or combo and I couldn't be more excited. For some time, Standard was a battle of midrange and aggro decks, with a control deck sprouting here and there but not nearly as often as we were used to in the past. With Improvise, we might get a very solid base for (blue/black) artifact-based control decks. With that, Standard ought to become a far more interesting and challenging format. This notion is further reinforced with cards like Yahenni's Expertise, which looks like a very interesting design and very well suited for a control deck.  Control being able to play a removal and a card draw in the same turn is winning the game, and this interesting design coming out of Aether Revolt is made to enable that.

The most interesting card spoiled so far is certainly Heart of Kiran. Even though Smuggler's Copter made a big mess in Standard, Wizards decided to print another 2-mana vehicle that certainly looks very strong at the first glance. Crew 3 might sound steep at first, but realistically, this shouldn't be much of an issue for aggressive decks, and control decks can always use the alternate cost to activate it. I would say this card would certainly be played in Standard if it wasn't for Smuggler's Copter, but for now, I just feel that the Copter is superior due to its ability to filter cards and fill the graveyard. Some sort of planeswalker control decks could certainly use Heart of Kiran as a clock as well as a very strong blocker to protect the Planeswalkers, since you can activate its ability even on your opponent's turn. Aether Revolt is certainly planeswalker-focused so it will be interesting to see what new planeswalkers we are getting and how they will impact Standard.
This brings us to the real problem - printing any number of very strong 2-mana vehicles wouldn't be a problem if there were enough good solutions for them. Many decks resort to Harnessed Lightning to solve the Copter menace, since red has no good Shatter effects in an artifact set. Green has Natural State and white has Fragmentize that are good at dealing with Smuggler's Copter, but a bit limited otherwise. It is very odd that red (which is the main artifact killing color) has no good Shatter, but I believe Wizards recognized this and that Aether Revolt will bring us a new Shatter for red and fill that gap Standard has.
Personally, I was always a huge fan of combo decks, my favorite standard decks were Reveillark combo in Lorwyn/Time Spiral and Dragonstorm combo in Time Spiral/Ravnica, but it has been a long time since we had a real combo deck in Standard and here is to hoping that will change. I sense that Aether Revolt might be bringing us some interesting artifact pieces that just might enable a combo or at least a semi-combo deck in Standard. Some of you might argue that Aetherworks is a combo deck, but realistically it is closer to ramp or even reanimator (in a way) than to a real combo deck.
With a combo-ish and a strong control deck (even possibly one and the same!) this Standard would gain a new dimension and would hardly ever be as stale as it was the last couple of weeks.

Bonus! Creative Lists from Standard GPs

First off, let's start with Madrid - in the sea of U/W flash and R/G Aetherworks it was a bit hard to dig out a really interesting list, but there was one, sitting in 22nd place, ran by Valentin Roman.

Scrapheap Scrounger
Versions:
Kaladesh (Foil)

There are two very known entities in Standard's aggressive decks and those are Scrapheap Scrounger and Smuggler's Copter. Both of those cards are super strong 2-drops and it is no real surprise that we see them in Roman's deck as well. These two cards have seen play in all color combinations, from the usual black/red aggro, to mono white aggro (splashing black) that is getting more and more popular lately. Valentin took these two pillars and decided to implement them in a decklist that coverage called Jund aggro, but I would argue that this is a midrange deck, running no 1-drops and running twenty-four lands says that clearly. Even though this deck isn't necessarily an aggro deck, it certainly has a similar game plan - hitting you with creatures. While an aggro deck might land more threats, Roman's Jund is playing for more card advantage with a full set of Tireless Tracker, two Chandras and three Goblin Dark-Dwellers. Most of this card advantage doubles up as damage in one way or another, so it serves to both lower your opponents life total, deal with threats and/or draw into more (incidental) damage. The synergies that this deck has make it rather potent on both early offense and the mid-game to late game card advantage battle. Direct damage gives the deck plenty of reach to close out the games and I am confident this deck can be a decent contender in the current metagame.
There are some concerns regarding the list, namely its defensive capabilities - most of the creatures in this deck aren't really great at blocking if they can block at all. There is a suite of removal to deal with threats, but even that is a bit limited and keeping mana open for removal means you are not deploying your threats. These things make me think that this deck might be rather dependent on the die roll and is far weaker on the draw than on the play.

The other interesting deck comes from Denver, where Bobby Fortanely piloted it to an 11th place finish.

Kaladesh U/B by Bobby Fortanely

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Metallurgic Summonings
Versions:
Kaladesh (Foil)

Now, this is something completely different! An (almost) all-spells U/B control deck is something we haven't seen in Standard for some time and I admit I am quite hyped to play a few games with this list. It might not be the best deck, but it sounds like a refreshing way to play Standard. This kind of deck might profit from Aether Revolt the most, and I believe we will be seeing more deck like this one in the months to come. With a suite of removal spells, it is well prepared to combat creature decks, but it also runs quite a few counterspells which is a problem for the Aetherworks deck. The bottom line is that this deck is actually well positioned in the current meta. It is not too different from Grixis control that won the Pro Tour, but is even more straightforward and stable than the Grixis version.
The weak side of the deck is certainly the aggro matchup. Without any form of mass removal, U/B really depends heavily on drawing great to stem the early pressure somewhat and then deploying Metallurgic Summonings to provide a steady stream of blockers. I wouldn't say it is not doable, but it is certainly a tall order. Beating an aggro deck on the draw certainly asks for quite a bit of luck. Yahenni's Expertise is a card that would mitigate that a bit, so it gives hope for the future of U/B spells control. The last question mark is why the deck only runs three Torrential Gearhulks since it seems like the best card in the deck, but I'll just guess that top of the curve is too heavy already or that Fortanely couldn't find the fourth for the tournament. If that is the case, even more respect for finishing 11th in a GP!

Conclusion

Even though Standard isn't super exciting at first glance, there are still many interesting new decks to be found among all of the U/W flash and other tier 1 decks. Aether Revolt is here in just about a month or so, so keep a close eye on spoilers and be ready for the changes that are undoubtedly coming to our most dynamic format!

Good luck and have fun!

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.

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