The Evolution of Online Standard

Posted in Magic Digital on May 12, 2016

By Jacob Van Lunen

Jacob Van Lunen began playing Magic in 1995. He has participated in organized play at every level of competition and was a member of the winning team at Pro Tour San Diego in 2007, thanks to an innovative draft strategy. As a writer, Van Lunen has had more than three hundred Magic strategy pieces published

Pro Tour Shadows over Innistrad drastically changed the Standard landscape. Today, we'll be taking a look at the Standard format's evolution. We'll look at decks from before the Pro Tour and compare them to the decks that are currently dominating on Magic Online. What new and exciting strategies have recently been discovered? How have decks evolved to better combat the shifting metagame?

The Seasons Past

Before the Pro Tour, aggressive white Human decks and Bant decks that used Collected Company to great success were somewhat dominant. These decks attacked a fresh and new Standard format with a very high baseline power while applying pressure to newer strategies that might be overly ambitious with their goals. Let's take a look at what those decks looked like before the Pro Tour.

NatiMark's Humans

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Humans were a force to be reckoned with before Pro Tour Shadows over Innistrad. Aggressive decks tend to do better when a format is new and unexplored. Players try ambitious strategies and get punished by the deck that aims to win the game in the fewest turns. The Humans deck plays a shocking 22 one-mana creatures in an effort to always curve out perfectly. Throw in some one-mana Gryff's Boons and the deck has lot of games where it's already cast three cards on the second turn of the game. This deck also takes better advantage of Declaration in Stone than any other strategy. It's hard for opponents to find time to sacrifice a Clue when we're pummeling them to death with inexpensive creatures. The deck was beginning to suffer in a metagame dominated by Bant Collected Company decks before the Pro Tour. Bant decks are on the decline, and Humans still have some success on Magic Online. Unfortunately, the deck struggles to beat Green-White Tokens or the new Collected Company decks that can easily grind out an advantage with cards like Blisterpod and Zulaport Cutthroat.

ReidDukesBadHairDay's Bant Company

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Bant Company was the deck to beat going into the Pro Tour. The deck had just demolished a number of StarCityGames events, and a lot of players were even wondering if the format had just been cracked right away. The deck aims to use Collected Company to find the most powerful cards available in the current Standard. Reflector Mage and Bounding Krasis provide a huge tempo swing that allows the deck to pressure opponents quickly if they're trying to wall up with any sort of on-board defense. Duskwatch Recruiter helps solve mana issues that arise from playing too many cards that cost three while also being a reusable source of card advantage. While Bant Company may have been a force to be reckoned with before the Pro Tour, it has lost a lot of its power in a world where midrange strategies are flat-out trumped by bigger and more ambitious control decks. The deck isn't fast enough to punish Standard's best control strategies, and it can't contend with their late-game card advantage enough to win a longer game. We could see a day when aggressive decks are all the rage and Bant Company makes a big return to Standard, but today is probably not that day.

The Ongoing Investigation

After the Pro Tour, the format's landscape has drastically changed. Humans are still having some success by being low enough to the ground that they can steal wins from the more ambitious control decks, but Bant Company has been steadily declining in popularity as it and other midrange strategies are finding themselves outclassed by the format's new and improved top end. So, what's been winning recently on Magic Online?

Prae312's Green-White Tokens

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Steve Rubin won Pro Tour Shadows over Innistrad with Green-White Tokens. Since then, the deck has continued to do great things and is forcing a lot of players to include narrow cards like Virulent Plague in their sideboard. The deck plays all of the format's best inexpensive creatures and backs them up with enough planeswalker power to make opposing control decks struggle to get back on their feet. Control decks that might try to stabilize with a planeswalker are often punished by Archangel Avacyn or Secure the Wastes, both of which come down at instant speed, ready to attack planeswalkers before they can be cleaned up by whatever the opponent has in store. We can expect Green-White Tokens to be the premier aggressive strategy in the format for some time going forward.

Yuanji's Displacer Aristocrats

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Luis Scott-Vargas and his teammates changed everything with their Black-Green Aristocrats deck that used Cryptolith Rite to turbocharge the deck's output. The deck has since evolved to include Eldrazi Displacer and Brood Monitor. Eldrazi Displacer gives the deck a great defensive game plan against opponents that seek to split up the combo with spot removal and often leads to automatic wins when played alongside Brood Monitor, which is a fine top end all by itself in this deck. We can sacrifice the three Eldrazi Scions made by Brood Monitor to activate Eldrazi Displacer targeting Brood Monitor to get another three tokens. This creates an infinite loop that drains the opponent of all their remaining health when combined with Zulaport Cutthroat. The deck has a lot of fun tricks, and it makes combat a nightmare for opponents, especially when they aren't able to get Eldrazi Displacer off the table immediately.

CharLy's Black-Green-Blue Seasons Past

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Jon Finkel's Seasons Past control strategy caught a lot of attention at the Pro Tour, but the deck has continued to evolve over the last two weeks to include Jace, Vryn's Prodigy and a single copy of Dragonlord Silumgar as a Dark Petition target. The format has slowed down enough recently that the deck doesn't need to be as color-consistent as it was at the Pro Tour, and Jace, Vryn's Prodigy is about the best thing in the universe for this type of strategy. As the format continues to shift more and more in a controlling direction, we can expect control decks to play even fewer threats that don't affect the battlefield upon resolution. Seasons Past will continue to be one of the best sources of card advantage in the format, and a lot of control decks will continue using green mana to take advantage of it. More recently, the deck has had to contend with a lot of opposing planeswalkers that can make life difficult. Still, Seasons Past control strategies seem to have established a strong foothold in the current Standard format.

A lot of other control decks are also doing well right now. In fact, it seems like anyone can shove their favorite planeswalkers into an appropriate mana base and make things happen if they're able to play well enough.

World Breaker is definitely well-positioned right now. We can expect a variety of World Breaker decks to do well in the coming weeks, especially if those decks are also equipped to play a control game.

The most important thing in current Standard is having a plan for control opponents. Whether it's running them over before they have time to stabilize, grinding out an advantage with World Breaker, or some other long-term plan, we need to outsmart and outmaneuver opponents that seek to win long games with powerful spells.

The Standard format continues to evolve. The available card pool is such that there's no shortage of competitive decks that are capable of doing great things if played by the right pilot. Oftentimes, we wait for the Pro Tour to solve a new Standard format. There are usually a lot of crazy decks that find themselves invalidated after the big show. This time around, the format seemed very straightforward prior to the Pro Tour, and now it feels like we could win with anything our heart desires. Be sure to explore the latest Magic Online results here. What will you bring to battle on Magic Online this week?

Knowledge is power!

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