The Dust Settles (Standard in 2014)

Posted in Perilous Research on January 9, 2014

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

Welcome back to Perilous Research! It's a new year, but Standard has continued to evolve since we last visited the format at Grand Prix Dallas. Today, we'll be taking a look at the new face of Standard. Black and Blue Devotion strategies continue to enjoy success, but the other big decks of the format seem to change with the wind. We will examine and discuss the major players of the Standard format.

    Black Devotion

The first deck we need to be looking at is Black Devotion. Black Devotion strategies have been a dominant force in the new Standard since Brian Braun-Duin managed to pilot the archetype to victory at Grand Prix Louisville last October.

The deck plays a huge suite of spot removal that punishes opponents trying to cast big creatures like Polukranos, World Eater or Stormbreath Dragon. The spot removal suite also allows the deck to survive the early turns of the game against the most aggressive decks, especially when the Black Devotion deck gets to be on the play. The major change to the removal package recently is the increasing popularity of main-deck Pharika's Cure. A lot of players intend on running over the clunky Black Devotion deck with cheap and efficient creatures, Pharika's Cure gives the deck more of a fighting chance in these matchups.

Pack Rat allows the deck to pick up a lot of free wins, especially when it's used in conjunction with Mutavault, conveniently also a Rat. There are a good number of games where a post-Thoughtseized opponent reveales a slow draw without an answer to Pack Rat. It doesn't take many turns for Pack Rat to take over a game.

The rest of the creatures are deadly efficient for a single-colored deck. Desecration Demon is all kinds of unfair, Nightveil Specter grinds out card advantage while providing a huge boost to Gray Merchant of Asphodel, and Gray Merchant turns races around like no other card in the format.

Thoughtseize is still one of the most important cards in this deck. Disruption in combination with removal will make the game very difficult for a lot of people and prevent opponents from building game plans around big turns.

Let's take a look at Owen Turtenwald's Black Devotion list from last weekend. Turtenwald already won Grand Prix Albuquerque (he also won a Legacy Grand Prix the weekend before!) with a Black Devotion deck, and it looks like he has no intention of relenting after his recent victory in Indianapolis.

Owen Turtenwald's Black Devotion

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    Selesnya Aggro

Selesnya Aggro is a metagame deck that's designed to punish blue decks. The deck can have trouble with Black Devotion, which is certainly a problem, but the sheer aggression of the deck can let it pick up some wins there whenever the opponent stumbles a bit. The deck is absolutely fantastic against blue decks of all shapes and sizes.

We'll take a look at Andrew Shrout's Selesnya Aggro list. Shrout destroyed the tournament, making it all the way to the finals with this innovative metagame choice.

Andrew Shrout's Selesnya Aggro

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Gruul Monsters has been around since Pro Tour Theros where my roommate for the event, Brad Nelson, piloted the deck to 30th place. (Just one spot behind the most handsome wizard in the world.) The deck made it all the way to the finals of Grand Prix Louisville the following weekend in the hands of Jon Stern.

Gruul decks have access to a lot of powerful cards. Xenagos, the Reveler matches up very well against Black Devotion and the control decks, while Garruk, Caller of Beasts gives the deck longevity that will prove to be unbeatable if left unchecked for a few turns. Domri Rade acts as a removal spell that threatens to win the game if left unchecked to look at the top card over and over.

The deck plays a lot of mana creatures with the intention of sticking an early Polukranos, World Eater or Stormbreath Dragon to establish board control.

The most impressive finish available to this strategy is Flesh amp; Blood. This card hasn't been utilized much in competitive Constructed, but it packs one hell of a wallop when combined with Ghor-Clan Rampager. Here's some food for thought. A Gruul player has six lands and a 2/2 Scavenging Ooze in play with three cards in hand and no creatures in either graveyard. The Gruul player attacks and the tapped-out opponent waves the Ooze through. "Ghor-Clan Rampager, Ghor-Clan Rampager, Flesh amp; Blood." That's 20 points of damage completely out of nowhere.

Let's take a look at Brian Braun-Duin's Gruul deck that he used to make it all the way to the semifinals in Indianapolis last weekend.

Brian Braun-Duin's Red-Green

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    Blue Devotion

Blue Devotion decks dominated Pro Tour Theros in Dublin and continue to post high-profile results.

The Blue Devotion deck focuses mostly on the power of Thassa, God of the Sea and Master of Waves. The rest of the cards in the deck are there to maximize the value of these two cards. Sure, it may seem a little bold to play a deck that can be that all-in on two cards, but the consistency and inexpensive nature of the deck allow it to win a lot of games where the opponent stumbles, even when it can't find a Master of Waves or Thassa, God of the Sea.

There has been some debate as to whether Bident of Thassa or Jace, Architect of Thought is the card-advantage, four-mana card of choice. Over time, it seems that a split of the two cards is probably correct. Bident of Thassa is huge against the decks that Blue Devotion can fly over, while Jace, Architect of Thought applies card pressure even when we're not attacking and significantly reduces the offensive potential of other Blue Devotion strategies and Human decks.

Here we see Raymond "futurepro" Perez's Blue Devotion deck that he made Top 8 in Indianapolis with last weekend.

Raymond Perez's Blue Devotion

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    Azorius Control

Esper Control had a bit of success in the early stages of the format, but the deck seems to stumble too much and its lack of success in recent events has led most control savants to switch to the more wholesome Azorius Control.

Azorius Control is the most reactive deck in the current Standard format. The deck only plays one win condition in Elspeth, Sun's Champion. If Elspeth, Sun's Champion is dealt with, the Azorius Control player can simply shuffle her back into the deck with Elixir of Immortality. If Elspeth, Sun's Champion gets exiled, then the Azorius Control deck can still win by decking its opponent by repeatedly looping Elixir of Immortality while firing off huge Sphinx's Revelations and Supreme Verdicts every turn.

We'll be taking a look at the Azorius Control list that William Jensen used to make it all the way to the finals of Grand Prix Dallas last month. Most Azorius Control decks have a few copies of Last Breath in the main deck these days, but Jensen's list is definitely the baseline for this archetype.

William Jensen's Azorius Control

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    Esper Midrange

Esper Human strategies have been quietly building a reputation over the last three weeks. These decks are tremendously well positioned in the current Standard format.

Xathrid Necromancer does a lot of work in a deck with this many Humans. Xathrid Necromancer is incredible against the Black Devotion strategies that are packing no less than four copies of Devour Flesh. It makes Supreme Verdict decks need a Detention Sphere if they don't want to get run over. Against creature-based strategies, the Esper midrange deck can win trades even against creatures that outclass it by double- or triple-blocking and picking up an army of Zombies.

Obzedat, Ghost Council may not be seeing a ton of play right now, but that card is completely insane. In fact, if I had to pick the best five-drop in Standard, I could easily and decisively pick out Obzedat, Ghost Council. It races everything and becomes a completely unstoppable force when the Esper Midrange player is able to find Whip of Erebos.

Detention Sphere is why the deck is splashing blue. The three-mana enchantment gives the deck an out to a Pack Rat that's capable of getting out of hand and opposing Planeswalkers, and it often picks up a two-for-one against the heavy-creature format that we're currently experiencing.

[card]Obzedat, Ghost Council[/card]

The deck is, however, quite weak to Blood Baron of Vizkopa, only packing a few Far amp; Away to deal with the board-dominating finisher.

Let's take a gander at Brandon Nelson's Esper Midrange list. This is the version of the deck that seems to have the most traction right now. You should play a few games against this deck if you're planning on playing in a PTQ this weekend.

Brandon Nelson's Esper Corgis

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Sideboard (15)
3 Doom Blade 1 Supreme Verdict 1 Blood Baron of Vizkopa 1 Far amp; Away 1 Glare of Heresy 2 Negate 1 Profit amp; Loss 3 Thoughtseize 2 Underworld Connections

We'll continue to watch the Standard metagame evolve in the coming weeks. Theros Standard has been marvelously dynamic and it should be interesting to see where the dust settles as we embark into a new world with Born of the Gods.

Knowledge is power!

Jacob Van LunenJacob Van Lunen
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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.

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