Khans of Tarkir Standard Mayhem

Posted in Event Coverage on November 29, 2014

By Marc Calderaro

Since Pro Tour Khans of Tarkir, people have been waiting for the Standard format to "settle." Tons of websites, speculators, coverage personnel, and players alike have been making claims about the "pillars of Standard." But seemingly, each week something new crops up. It's easy to call each happening an outlier, but then the deck shows up the next week, along with a completely new deck in tow—or even some deck from the last Standard that pokes its head out of the ground, saying "Don't forget me!"

In the midst of the mayhem, what should people be preparing for? As much as I just mocked "pillars" there are certainly decks that are clear solid choices. The most consistent choice is Abzan Midrange. Siege Rhino was known to be a strong card well before it hit the shelves, and basing your strategy around it have worked out well. Grand Prix Los Angeles had two Abzan Midrange decks in the Top 8, Grand Prix Stockholm had one, and oh yeah, (6) Ari Lax took down the Pro Tour with it.

But even within the Abzan shell, it's unclear if Midrange is currently a better choice than the aggro variant, Abzan Aggro. There were two Grand Prix Los Angeles finishers who eschewed the Sylvan Caryatids and Coursers of Kruphix for more aggressive cards like Herald of Torment. Additionally, Mike Sigrist finished in the Top 8 of the Pro Tour with it.

Out of that Pro Tour, Jeskai builds seemed to be a consensus "best deck." Playing around 14-16 burns spells, backed up by aggressive creatures like Mantis Rider and Seeker of the Way, it seemed like the bee's knees. But there's much less scuttlebutt at the water cooler about it these days. Though it's still a tough match, if you know the right thing to kill, and know how and when to commit, it is very beatable. There is not one pro I talked to today running the deck. (Though, really, the same could be said for Abzan.) Which is ironic, considering Matej Zatlkaj just won Grand Prix Stockholm with a tricked-out version of the list, running Ashcloud Phoenix and Brimaz, King of Oreskos.

Here's a koan-like question with no answer: If none of the pros are playing the "best" deck, can it be the best deck?

Under those two pillars, decks have been popping up like gangbusters. The two players who really seem to have the pulse on the format are (21) Brad Nelson and Tom Ross. Nelson is too busy traveling to Nice, France for the World Championship to be battling halfway across the world here in Texas, but Tom Ross is strongly representing himself.

Nelson shows up at each event with a new color in his deck. He played his White-Red "MAC" deck at the Pro Tour, a three-color Mardu Midrange to Top 8 Grand Prix Los Angeles, then attended a StarCityGames event with a Four-Color Midrange, cruising to a fifth-place finish. If you're keeping tabs, expect a five-color deck soon.

Tom Ross, on the other hand, has invented two of the strongest aggro decks in the format. His Mono-Red build that tries to beat everyone before they can get their shoes on (pilots with Red put up three Top 8 finishes between the last two Standard Grand Prix), and an impressively innovative White-Blue Heroic deck featuring the likes of Ordeal of Thassa. Based on how few copies of Ordeal the vendors have left on site, it's safe to say his deck has caught on.

Ross has recently re-qualified for the Pro Tour after finishing in the finals of Grand Prix New Jersey (which was a Legacy format—this man isn't a one-format wonder), and it'll be exciting to see just what he brews up next. He just sat down to start slinging some cardboard, so we'll see if he can run back his results from just a Grand Prix ago.

Let's see, what else? Brian Kibler just missed Top 8 in LA with his Temur Aggro deck he's been running since the Pro Tour, and Einar Baldivinsson ran it back to finish in the Top 8 in Stockholm. Featuring every card that makes Crater's Claws better, the Temur deck can be a little inconsistent, but can be unstoppable with an Ashcloud Phoenix and a Savage Knuckleblade in play.

Black-Green Constellation decks with things like Brain Maggot and Eidolon of Blossoms (often backed up with the likes of Whip of Erebos, for extra hurt), snuck into the Top 8 at Stockholm, as did another Whip deck, Sidisi Whip. The Sultai-flavored deck has been played since the Pro Tour, but finally started putting up uncontestable results in the last few weeks. Apparently, Sidisi, Brood Tyrant making monsters and monsters is pretty darn good.

I've written 800 words now, and I haven't even touched older archetypes like Grand Prix–winning Red-Green Monsters. Everyone had been talking about how green-heavy decks were still good, but until Daniel Scheid took down LA, it hadn't really coalesced. Now it's back in full rotation.

Lastly, and maybe most importantly, is the limiting factor in the metagame—the control decks. Going into the Pro Tour, nobody thought control was possible, save a few stalwarts. One was (5) Ivan Floch, who finished in the Top 8. Since then, people have seen that it is indeed possible, and now we have Blue-Black decks, Blue-White decks, and even an Esper Control deck that finished high in a StarCityGames event last weekend.

Having seen Grand Prix New Jersey, and the vast amounts of deck choices available in Legacy, I can't help but compare the current Standard to it. When a very old deck like Landstill could make it into the Top 8, it's much like the Red-Green Monsters. Where an heir apparent like Blue-Red Delver shows up at the Top 8 tables in smaller numbers than expected, it's like Jeskai—both are amazingly good, but maybe not as amazingly good as everyone first thought.

Standard is a playground right now, and people are taking advantage of it. When I asked Brian Kibler what cards he wants to play in Standard that haven't found a home, he was confused. He said, "I play all the cards I want to play," then just laughed in my face.

What a wonderful world, indeed. All I can say for certain is that nothing in Standard is settled.

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