Unified Standard at the World Magic Cup

Posted in Perilous Research on December 10, 2015

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

"Such then is the human condition, that to wish greatness for one's country is to wish harm to one's neighbors."

—Voltaire

Welcome back to Perilous Research! Tomorrow, 73 countries' teams will descend on Barcelona, Spain, for an opportunity to compete in the World Magic Cup. The WMC offers up a one-of-a-kind tournament structure that makes for tons of excitement as we cheer on our country. We can join in the action by watching the tournament as it's streamed live all weekend long. The Swiss rounds of the tournament will be a mix between Team Limited and, my personal favorite, Unified Standard.

The easiest way to explain Unified Standard is to imagine a trade folder. In that folder are four copies of every card in Standard, and sitting beside the folder is a gigantic pile of basic lands. You have to build three complete 60-card decks (plus sideboards) for your team, using only the cards in that trade folder. We'll explore a little more about what that means later. Whichever member of the four-person team didn't play on Friday morning has to play on Friday afternoon, meaning that someone else rotates into the coaching slot.

Throughout Day One, each team is treated as if they were a single player. Matches are played best two-out-of-three, and two individual wins means the team wins the round. So, if your team has Player A win 2-0, Player B lose 2-1, and Player C win 2-1, that's a match win for your team and you score three points. If two of your players win quickly, the last individual matchup is irrelevant (and will often not be played, although teams sometimes choose to play on just for the fun of the game). In total, there are seven match wins available on Day One. If your country is one of the Top 32 teams, it will advance to Day Two.

We'll be seeing a lot of familiar cards throughout the weekend, but we'll likely be seeing them in very different configurations than what we've grown accustomed to.

There are countless competitive strategies for the new Standard, but most of the best decks have a lot of overlap, especially when it comes to the lands they're playing. Unified Standard offers up a unique puzzle this time around because we've found ourselves in a Standard environment where even Atarka Red and Jeskai strategies have significant overlap.

To compensate for this, we may end up seeing a lot more tri-lands, such as Sandsteppe Citadel or Nomad Outpost. Cards that we want to be playing alongside a lot of fetch lands, such as Snapping Gnarlid, Tasigur, the Golden Fang, and even Dig Through Time, will require a big commitment from the team as a whole.

So what can we expect to see in Unified Standard at the World Magic Cup? Decks that exceptionally abuse specific cards like Deathmist Raptor, Rally the Ancestors, or Jeskai Ascendancy will retain their power level without stepping on the toes of teammates in most cases; Jeskai Ascendancy seems like a particularly big winner, because there will suddenly be a less than 25% chance that the opponent's deck will be playing with Dromoka's Command.

It's also pretty difficult to be extremely aggressive in Unified Standard. This means that the format's best card draw will be better than ever because players will have more time to cast all the cards in their hand before the game ends. Painful Truths seems like a big winner in that department.

There's a lot to take into consideration when teams approach Unified Standard. Before we can start applying game theory to Standard in an attempt to reduce archetypes to four different schemes that don't overlap, we need to have a solid understanding of the current state of Standard in its more traditional form.

Let's take a look at some of the decks that have gone undefeated in recent Standard Leagues on Magic Online and discuss how they might be ported into a Unified Standard environment!

Segal's Mardu

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Mardu has been slowly rising up through the ranks of Standard deck tiers. Over the last week, Mardu has been the most successful Standard strategy on Magic Online. It may seem like the deck has a lot of overlap with other Standard strategies, but Hangarback Walker isn't that good right now, and Abbot of Keral Keep and Fiery Impulse have to get gobbled up by some strategy or another. Perhaps the biggest draw to Mardu in Unified Standard is the fact that its mana base can lean on individually powerful cards such as Shambling Vent and Nomad Outpost without straining the fetch land requirements of our teammates other decks.

uwmystic420's Atarka Red

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Atarka Red variants are, once again, a major presence in Standard. The deck has always been explosive, but now it gets to prey on people who are cutting inexpensive removal for card draw like Painful Truths. In Unified Standard, the major issue with Atarka Red, especially the landfall versions, is the heavy fetch land requirement that's necessary to fuel early Become Immense combo kills. One of the most interesting parts about Unified Standard this coming weekend will likely be the underrepresentation of Atarka Red.

Carlosnasif's Abzan

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It seems likely that we'll see exactly one Abzan variant in each team's lineup. Siege Rhino seems like a very powerful card to leave on the sidelines when we're looking for 300 Constructed cards between four people. One of the most interesting card-overlap problems to arise in current Unified Standard is between Green-White Megamorph and Abzan variants. Megamorph is one of the best decks in the format in terms of pure power level, and it doesn't step on any non-Abzan toes. It seems possible that some teams may choose to have a megamorph deck and use Siege Rhino for a deck that goes bigger with things like Bring to Light in an effort to abuse the slower format.

Thekid's Four-Color Rally

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Decks built around Rally the Ancestors have also had a lot of success recently. These decks may struggle to share pieces of their mana base, and Jace, Vryn's Prodigy may be a hot commodity, but many versions have fared quite well even without the blue planeswalker. And it seems likely that the deck could be very good in a slower environment.

Longfoe's Rakdos Aggro

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The newest aggressive strategy on the block is Rakdos Aggro, which conveniently only requires two colors from the unified pool of cards. This deck can operate as intended alongside many of the best decks in Standard, because there are so many easy analogs for the mana base available in the current Standard.

PIYOHIKO's Dark Jeskai

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Dark Jeskai may be the highest mean power level of any deck in Standard right now, but the deck's power means that it's using a lot of tools that other decks want a piece of—right down to its mana base.

crewmanwilson's Dark Temur

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Temur decks seem strong in the same way that Mardu decks do for the Unified Standard format. The color combination gets to lean on Lumbering Falls and Frontier Bivouac while playing powerful cards such as Savage Knuckleblade and Sarkhan Unbroken that aren't really desired by any of the other decks in Standard. Temur may be one of the breakout strategies for Unified Standard in Barcelona this weekend.

Other decks that have also done well recently include Ramp and Esper Dragons, both of which seem like reasonable options for Unified Standard. Be sure to tune in tomorrow to find out what all your favorite players have chosen to sleeve up for the most exciting Constructed format in recent memory.

The World Magic Cup is one of the most anticipated events of the year. Grab some popcorn and a seat in front of a screen! It's time to cheer for nations and bear witness to fantastic innovation and skill!

Knowledge is power!

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