You've recently started playing, you have some cards. You're building decks. You've got some grips on strategy. What next?
You're a returning player checking back into Magic, and you want to see what a lot of the newer sets are about. What's the thing to do?
You want to practice to go play on the Pro Tour someday, understanding Magic strategy and deck building at the highest level. What's the format to play?
No matter which of these is your situation, my answer for which Constructed format to play is always the same: Standard!
Standard is one of Magic's greatest formats. Whether you just want to play at your local store or you want to play Magic on the biggest stage possible, Standard is a format you're going to want to know well. And while it's true that the face of Standard changes constantly, a lot of the best practices and things to watch out for tend to remain the same.
Today, let's dive into talking about Standard, what it is, and some good ways to approach building decks for it.
First, just to make sure we're all on the same page here, let's recap what Standard is.
Magic boasts an overwhelmingly huge number of cards. Over 16,000 different cards have been printed, and while I love that Magic has that many options, it's an incredibly large amount to keep track of.
Additionally, if we were to play with every card ever, a lot of the best strategies would remain cemented forever. Yes, new cards can make a difference—but you wouldn't see major change.
Standard is a format that rotates. That means that sets come in and eventually fall out. This ensures nothing stays dominant for too long. And if you're relatively new, it's the cards you have—not the cards printed 20 years ago—that people are playing with.
It works like this: there are up to two years of sets—or eight sets total—in Standard at any one time, with years starting at the fall set. As soon as the third year's first set releases—the ninth set—then an entire year cycles out, leaving five sets in Standard. And the process begins anew.
For example, right now Standard is Battle for Zendikar, Oath of the Gatewatch, Shadows over Innistrad, Eldritch Moon, and Kaladesh. When Aether Revolt releases in January it will be added to this mix. Same for Amonkhet in spring and Hour of Devastation in summer. But then when the next fall set, codenamed "Ham," hits next year, Battle, Oath, Shadows, and Eldritch Moon will all cycle out to make for a brand-new play experience! Then the process begins anew.
It's a constant cycle of out with the old, in with the new!
If you've heard conflicting things at all, it's worth noting that this is a recent change from what you may have been taught. Now your cards stay legal for even longer!
Okay, so now that we've established what Standard is, what's some advice for building decks in Standard?
Keen question, my friend! Let's dive into three things you can expect from Standard.
1. The New Strategies Work
In a format where almost every card is legal, newer cards are less likely to make an impact as time goes on. Simply the more cards that exist, the more weight and scrutiny every new card has to hold up to compete with everything that has happened before it.
Standard is a place for the exciting new mechanics to hit!
With far fewer sets to compete with and a far more manageable environment, Standard lets the strategies that you see when you're drafting or looking through mechanics come into their own.
For example, let's take Kaladesh.
Kaladesh features some exciting new mechanics—like energy. Energy is something you'll see everywhere in Kaladesh packs, but because there aren't any other energy cards in Magic, Standard is where energy is going to show up the most.
If you like energy, and you want to build an energy deck, Standard is the place to do it! And indeed, that has borne out in the format so far as decks like Red-Green Energy Beatdown and even Aetherworks Marvel have shown to be strong contenders.
If you try and build a Standard deck, there's a good chance you can just look at things that should work well together, put them in a deck, and they will play reasonably well.
Not every mechanic is a build-around-me like energy is, but even something like fabricate tends to lead to a battle plan.
While there aren't cards that specifically call out to fabricate in the same way as Vehicles or energy, there are still cards that go along with them to help enhance the cards. For example, cards that make all of your creatures stronger are great with making lots of tokens.
In Standard, the new synergies you expect to work really do.
2. The Strong New Cards Get to Shine
With a lower number of cards in the format, it is easier for any individual card to really hit—which means that sweet rare you opened up has a pretty high likelihood of being strong here!
I love that when I see a new card I think looks awesome and I want to play with, there's a good chance it will actually work and be good in Standard.
Not only does synergy get to shine in Standard as I mentioned in the last point, but so do sweet new cards. A totally fine way of playing is to put a bunch of awesome cards in one deck, make sure your mana curve is reasonable, and then sit down and battle.
If you're trying to approach deck building for Standard as a new player, try this method. Take your favorite cards, make sure that you have some at a range of mana costs (so you're not just bulked up on five-drops...however tempting that may be!) and then play. The format tends to be a little slower, so you have time to make things happen—and let your favorite cards show up.
Is your first deck built this way going to win a Pro Tour? Well, probably not—but it should give you something good enough to play at Friday Night Magic and help you pick up your Standard legs.
3. Most Traditional Archetypes Work
Magic is a long and storied game with a complex deck-building history. With that said, a lot of fundamentally similar decks have shown up over the course of many years, time and time again. Blue Control. Green Ramp. White Aggro. Standard is a likely place for your favorite archetype to show up! (And to learn what they are!)
While not every archetype is necessarily the strongest at every point in time, if you have a deck type you like to play—or even one you want to learn—Standard is an environment where you can easily put together what you need and give it a try.
The first thing I do with every Standard format is start by building my favorite kinds of decks with whole new cards. What does a Blue-White Control deck look like here? Does Burn look strong enough right now? Which big creature should I accelerate into the quickest? Getting into the habit of building decks this way will not only get you to find strong decks to play, but make you a stronger deck builder as well.
Hopefully you enjoyed this take on Standard! Whether you're a new player or a veteran, make sure to give the current format a try.
Especially with the Standard Showdowns happening across the globe right now, it's a great time to be a Standard player!
Have any thoughts or questions? It's always great to hear from you! Feel free to reach out by sending me a tweet, asking me a question on my Tumblr, or e-mailing me in English at BeyondBasicsMagic@gmail.com.
I'll be back next week with some more Beyond the Basics. Talk with you again then!
Standard Showdown is four-week event celebrating all that is Standard, with local tournaments, cool prizes, and opportunities for bragging rights and brewing.
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