For today, we are going to take a look at the current state of standard, as set by the recent big events in Pro Tour Amonkhet and the Montreal and Santiago Grand Prix. We will start by taking a look at what the metagame was and how some of the changes have brought us to where we are now.
Standard Looking For Life
Recently, Standard has been a bit of a mess. While Standard is always the key topic of blame and ridicule for Magic players, the metagame had been dominated by single archetypes that were not fun to play against, and stifled any ability to brew up new decks. There was Copy Cat Combo (Saheeli Rai copying Felidar Guardian for infinite 1/4 Cats for only two cards) along with the (still chugging) Mardu Vehicles.
In response to players disdain for the format (and possibly shaped by the anecdotal retellings of flagging interest in Standard at local gaming stores), Wizards thought they’d fix it all with Amonkhet. They printed Manglehorn which would bring us away from the Cat domination and allow new archetypes to flourish.
What actually happened was a little different. The new Amonkhet cards were released early on Magic Online, and Wizards announced no new bans in Standard. After only a couple days of online competitive league results, Wizards issued an “emergency ban” of Felidar Guardian, thus killing Copy Cat.
While the whole ban announcement process could have its own post, the emergency move was generally regarded as bad process, good result. We were free from Copy Cat oppression! However, everyone laid narrowed eyes on the other boogeyman – Mardu Vehicles.
Pro Tour Saves the Format
In the SCG Standard event, held days after the emergency ban, Mardu Vehicles took multiple top 8 slots and looked to be the natural successor as the go-to Tier 1 deck. Everything was upended after the Pro’s got their crack at an open metagame.
Gerry Thompson went rampaging through the Pro Tour with a Mono Black Zombies build, utilizing the cross-set synergies with the new cards in Amonkhet. Further, we saw the re-emergence of Marvel decks, although this time they were spinning for Ulamogs instead of Emrakuls. We also saw some interesting builds of New Perspectives, GB decks, and some Control attempts.
Marvelous Grand Prix
With the Era of Copy Cat ended, and the shortlived Age of Mardu coming to a close, people were gunning for the exposed Zombies decks that quickly became popular by being both affordable and flavor-appealing.
In response, the overwhelming deck of the format became Marvel. The do-everything, come-back-from-any-board-state combo deck was a large slice of the metagame at both of the Grand Prix events, and won both of them to boot. The big decisions came down to how to win the mirror.
While the rumblings of a ban to Marvel have murmured, it appears we are stuck with the energy-fueled machine for at least the next year due to the new rotation rules. With that in mind, here is a quick look at the current Standard metagame:
Zombies are a causal favorite, and the decks play-style matches the theme well: play some small Zombie creatures and follow that up with increasing synergy between the support cards and abilities. Eventually, a shambling horde of Zombie tokens will overwhelm an opponent, despite their sweepers.
The deck has split into two variants: a straight mono black version maximizing tempo with Swamps, and the augmented white-black version that adds a bit of tech.
The base list for mono black starts with the Pro Tour winning list here. An early Cryptbreaker can build card advantage early, then add value with chucking extra lands later. Relentless Dead is a tough block, and can resurrect itself or (most likely) Cryptbreakers to build card advantage against 1 for 1 trades.
Diregraf Colossus gives the deck some beef with a large body while adding threats to the board in further turns. In my opinion, the key to the deck is actually Liliana’s Mastery, which immediately adds at least 6 power to the board, and sticks around to help the other Zombies.
All of these synergies are present in the white-black, a good example can be found here. The white splash gives Shambling Vent for an uncounterable threat, Wayward Servant to close out games, and Anguished Unmaking which is a main deck answer to Ulamog.
Zombie decks are starting to get hated-out with the inclusion of Sweltering Suns in both Marvel and UR Control, but the recursive elements allow for some comebacks. While mono black may be more consistent, I think a splash of some kind (maybe even blue?) will help the archetype compete with all the Marvel running around.
While Sultai Marvel has been tried, its the Temur variant that is winning all the events, the current build found here.
Marvel’s basic game plan is to quickly build energy, drop a Marvel, and then cheat an Ulamog into play to exile lands and then just finish off the opponent. As a plan B, Marvel can also grind out some games with Whirler Virtuoso, creating some flying tokens and going wide.
Marvel is currently the strongest deck in the format. Despite getting behind in any matchup, getting a 10/10 indestructible with an immediate exiling effect is more than most Standard decks can currently handle. The deck also packs Chandra, Flamecaller to clear boards (like Zombies) and gain a different advantage that can also close out games.
While many players are frustrated with Marvel and the “RNG” style, the deck is beatable and each spin is not a guaranteed win. It would set a strange precedent if Wizards went on to ban Marvel, so we are stuck with turn 4 Ulamog’s until the rotation in the Fall.
In response to the Marvel menace, many players have looked for combo’s nemesis – control. Control has not received a lot of love in any of the formats, with Wizards moving away from powering Blue and its associated counterspells (play Legacy if you need your fill though).
However, control typically rewards seasoned players, and the printing of Censor, Magma Spray, and Pull From Tomorrow have allowed a draw-go-ish UR build to emerge, example here.
The basic gameplan is to counter or remove all the early threats, and sweep away any wide board with Sweltering Suns. After cycling or dropping instants into the graveyard, an end of turn Torrential Gearhulk should get you way ahead on cards, and also serve alongside Wandering Fumarole as a close-out beater.
While UR Control has begun to get some love, a certain 75 is still very much a work in progress. It remains difficult to counter a Marvel, and even harder to counter Ulamog AND his exiling effect, let alone a resolved Ulamog. On the other hand, the deck should survive post-rotation.
Standard needed a jolt after an extended period of stagnation. The ban of Guardian along with Amonkhet have at least been efforts to correct a boring format. While the innovation seems to be dwindling, and Marvel consolidating power, it might take Hour of Devastation to really bring in some parity to a still lopsided format.