Welcome back to Perilous Research, DailyMTG.com's exclusive Magic Online column. Khans of Tarkir Standard has had about a month to sink in at this point, and the format's dominant archetypes are beginning to establish footing. Players have found the right mix of aggression and control to optimally approach the new format. Today, we'll be discussing the current state of Standard and taking a look at some of the most successful decks from the last week's Magic Online events.
When we first entered the world of Khans of Tarkir Standard, green-based decks including four copies of Sylvan Caryatid and Courser of Kruphix were widely expected to be the most successful strategies. These decks did decently in the early weeks, but they quickly found themselves dying in the air to cards like Mantis Rider. Since then, Abzan decks that take advantage of the impressive Siege Rhino have planted themselves in tier 1 with efficient removal and creatures that allow them to operate as both aggressive and controlling decks, depending on the situation.
The current Standard rewards players for having options. Usually, we want our decks to be streamlined. Our aggressive deck should do very well when playing the aggro game, and any defensive cards will only soften the aggressive plan, making our deck worse. Oddly enough, we're at a place in the current Standard where choosing one's role at a given moment is extremely valuable. As a result, the green Sylvan Caryatid/Courser of Kruphix strategies that were expected to be so strong when we first ventured into this format have finally come to power and established themselves as the decks to beat.
Let's take a look at the decks that have been winning on Magic Online. Afterward, we'll discuss the implications of the new format and discuss which decks will likely be best positioned for the coming week's Standard events.
Abzan has established itself as a tier-1 deck. This aggressive version of the Abzan deck is designed to prey on the mirror and other green strategies. Herald of Torment is exceptional in the current Standard because of how strong flying is right now. The deck eschews playing Sylvan Caryatid in favor of two-drops that are strong topdecks at any stage of the game. By playing four copies of Fleecemane Lion and Rakshasa Deathdealer, the deck's Sorin, Solemn Visitor is significantly stronger and the topdeck potential of all nonland cards is premium throughout the mid-end game.
Mardu Tokens was popularized by Brad Nelson, the king of Hordeling Outburst. The deck has enough of an air force to punish most green strategies with some draws, but its true strength is against the Jeskai decks. Hordeling Outburst is particularly strong against the other Goblin Rabblemaster decks. It's common for the player on the draw to leave open mana on turn two to take out a high-power three-drop like Mantis Rider or Goblin Rabblemaster; by playing Hordeling Outburst, you put the opponent in an awkward spot where his or her removal spell is unimpressive and, with enough removal, it's easy to pressure Planeswalkers and life totals with the tokens.
Temur is an aggressively bent green strategy that aims to get fatties on the table faster than the other green decks. The deck maintains aggression by countering the opponent's big creatures/board sweepers once it's ahead on the board. The deck can end games out of nowhere by using Crater's Claws. The deck is better against decks with reach than other green strategies because of its natural speed and countermagic, but it tends to struggle against the most streamlined green decks. Some versions of the deck play Ashcloud Phoenix to improve the green matchups. We can expect this deck to become more popular and better if the format moves to a place where more people try to play control decks.
Green Devotion plays like a combo deck in a lot of situations and the newest versions, once again, include Arbor Colossus and burn spells as a nod to the more aggressive decks in the format. The deck's endgame is the most powerful in the format, but surviving the early turns where it's trying to build a board can be difficult, especially on the draw. As other strategies have slowed down to improve other matchups, the Green Devotion deck has grown increasingly more powerful and is currently one of the decks to beat in Standard.
The straightforward Abzan decks often struggle against the good draws from other green decks and Jeskai opponents. This version of the Abzan deck goes slightly bigger to take advantage of cards like Doomwake Giant, Whip of Erebos, and Eidolon of Blossoms. The combination of these cards let the deck win long games against decks, like Green Devotion, that traditionally win when games go beyond turn eight or nine. The variety of cards leads to some lackluster draws and make the deck not mulligan well, but this is likely the most powerful deck in the current format when it starts on seven cards.
Jeskai decks were once the most feared strategy in Khans of Tarkir Standard, but as players have learned the matchup and adjusted their decks to handle the reach presented by most Jeskai strategies, the deck has waned in success and popularity. Some Jeskai players have reacted by making the deck a more controlling entity. Most players still approach the matchup as if they're playing defense and before they're even aware that they're up against a control deck, they'll find themselves with a stunted board—and this version of Jeskai can go very big. If everyone is playing a pile of creatures, then End Hostilities/Dig Through Time strategies are likely to be in a very good place right now.
By going big with the Abzan deck with cards like Ajani, Mentor of Heroes and Elspeth, Sun's Champion, the deck is less prone to getting blown out by End Hostilities or the midgame of the green decks. Not having access to Herald of Torment makes it hard to apply pressure around turn four or five in a lot of matchups, but the sheer power level of this deck's cards make it a force to be reckoned with regardless of the format's texture.
Looking at these decks, there are two strategies that seem particularly strong for the current Standard metagame. Blue-White Heroic preys on green strategies by forcing them to leave mana open or use their turns inefficiently and Blue-Black Control seems like it has the card advantage/removal to weather the storm and come out on top against the midrange green decks. Ashiok, Nightmare Weaver seems particularly strong in the current metagame. Going forward, we can expect Blue-White Heroic and Blue-Black Control to be great choices in the Standard events of this upcoming weekend.
Standard continues to evolve and we've already seen tier-1 decks get pushed out of the winner's circle in the first month. In the coming weeks, we'll continue following Standard and the other formats on Magic Online.
Knowledge is power!