Standard Operating Procedure

Posted in Feature on April 24, 2008

By Mike Flores

Michael Flores is the author of Deckade and The Official Miser's Guide; the designer of numerous State, Regional, Grand Prix, National, and Pro Tour–winning decks; and the onetime editor-in-chief of The Magic Dojo. He'd claim allegiance to Dimir (if such a Guild existed)… but instead will just shrug "Simic."

Part I: The City Champs Top 8 Transplant

How does this chart work?

At the far left, we name the deck (for example Faeries or Merfolk); the boxes in aggregate show how many times decks fitting a particular description appeared in the City Championships Top 8s based on our information.

Blue boxes indicate City Championships wins; white boxes indicate "mere" Top 8 appearances. Blue boxes, similar to their purpose in describing PTQ Top 8s, show us where an invitation occurs, as City Champions get to play in their respective U.S. or Canadian National Championships; Top 8 players get byes at Regionals later this spring.

Blue-Black Faeries
Green-Red(-X) Big Mana
Elves variants
Red Burn
Blue-White Wizards
Blue-White(-X) Lark-Blink variants
Black-Green Midrange
Previous Level Blue
Red Deck Wins variants
White Weenie variants
Knoll Dragonstorm
Rogues variants
Black-Green Mannequin
Black-Red Husk
Blue-Black Mannequin
Mono-Green Gauntlet
Green-Red Aggro
Mono-Green Aggro
Blue-Red Snow
Snow Red
Blink Riders
Swath Burn
Black-Blue Mannequin
Red Shamans

Part II: All About the Decks!

Partly because we haven't covered Standard in some time and partly because there are so many different sorts of decks to cover, we're going to jump right in.

Where to start but the unconditional king of the current Standard, Blue-Black Faeries?


Faeries didn't quite claim more City Championships wins than every other archetype put together, but the little black and blue guys and gals did their best to get there, picking up nearly half the available blue boxes, not to mention logging more total Top 8 appearances than any other sort of deck. Here is an example of what the undisputed champ looks like in pre-Shadowmoor Standard:

Daniel Garmon

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How does this deck work?

Faeries is a classic CounterSliver deck. Rather than trying to control the game with its permission spells and winning on card advantage, CounterSliver (or aggro-control) decks clock like beatdown decks, but protect their tempo, life, and positional leads with permission.

Historically the aggro-control decks have been great against control and combo, generally failing against other beatdown due to their creatures being out-classed on the ground; modern Faeries has many advantages...
  1. Bitterblossom – We will see over many decks that Bitterblossom may have overtaken Tarmogoyf as the most ubiquitous and maybe overall best two drop in Standard. Of all the decks that can play Bitterblossom, Faeries arguably plays it best because Bitterblossom produces Faerie creature tokens, which work perfectly with Scion of Oona and Mistbind Clique
  2. Flash – Many Faerie creatures have Flash, so Faeries can approximate draw-go play like a control deck, choosing to play threats on the opponent's turn, during combat, when value can be extricated, when targeted spells are on the stack, or when it looks like Bitterblossom might kill its master. What in the name of Oona, Queen of the Fae am I talking about? Imagine someone is planning to nuke the Sower of Temptation you have in play to get back their Tarmogoyf... Can you imagine a better play than Scion of Oona in response? What if you are dipping precariously below 10 life and the Red Deck across the table is about to hit that critical three-mana position after stalling on land drops for a turn or two? Might Mistbind Clique championing Bitterblossom itself (check that type line) be a nice response given that Red is historically lousy against 4/4s (especially when mana is tight for the other guy)? What about any troublesome spell (cheap ones work best) at any time? Welcome to Spellstutter Sprite-ville; population, you.
  3. Sower of Temptation – Many decks play this more tempo-oriented Control Magic, but none so well as Faeries (for the same reasons they make a best Bitterblossom).
  4. Racing – Mistbind Clique and Cryptic Command can keep the opponent from taking the one big turn or making that one crucial attack necessary to win a race; otherwise, Faeries all fly and can largely be played at will. Don't blink, or the Wachowski brothers might make a film about Vendilion Clique!


Right behind Faeries—with less than half that deck's City Championships wins, truth be told—are the other little blue tribe, Merfolk. Merfolk represent a very similar strategy to Faeries, that of tempo-oriented aggro-control, but with a different set of incentives.

Yes, Merfolk also top up on Cryptic Command, that rascal of a Dismiss that can also help race another fast strategy, but instead of the raw power of Mistbind Clique and the neverending flyers of Bitterblossom (and everyone, actually), Merfolk are built for two things: slender speed and islandwalk.

Chris Mascioli

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Merfolk are card-for-card the faster tribe. They monopolize the critical two-spot, and with cards like Silvergill Adept, cash in on their card advantage more rapidly. With both Lord of Atlantis and Merrow Reegery, Merfolk can apply offensive pressure with a near-White Weenie clip. So what is the deal with islandwalk? Obviously it's a solid ability against control, but the real macro value is against Faeries. Faeries is a blue deck that plans to race. They might be slower to start, but they produce a never-ending string of chump blockers. What happens when they can't block? Exactly!

Green-Red Big Mana

Jeff Santoro

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Into the North
Green-Red Big Mana is just what it sounds like: a (predominantly) green and red monster built to ramp up mana and deploy awesome threats.

How does this deck work?

These green-red decks typically run Search for Tomorrow and Into the North as well as Wall of Roots to accelerate; Into the North gives them a natural "in" to the snow theme, so Mouth of Ronom and Skred become almost automatic tools to help in creature suppression.

Santoro's splash is black for main deck and sideboard Void, plus some Extirpates (presumably for Reveillark, but probably lots of stuff), though you will also see blue splashes for Aeon Chronicler, combinations of both, or straight green-red with access to neither.

The green-red decks have numerous powerful cards, expensive spells that they can justify due to the large investment in mana. Tarmogoyf of course plays a big game for not much cost, but Siege-Gang Commander and Cloudthresher actually need the mana lift help (Faeries needs help against the latter). The only thing between Cloudthresher and a nearly automatic victory over Faeries is Bitterblossm.


Jeremiah Wilson

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Ohran Viper
The Standard Doran deck mingles many compelling elements. While Doran doesn't have quite the mana base it was able to command in Extended (certainly no Shizo, Death's Storehouse), it nevertheless has one of the most elegant mana bases in the Standard environment (Murmuring Bosk is a Forest!). Speaking of mana, the Doran decks with Ohran Viper (or, I suppose, different versions with, say Hypnotic Specter) have many Fires of Yavimaya-like openings where Birds of Paradise or Llanowar Elves is followed up on the second turn with a great three-mana threat... In fact, those three-mana threats are friends with each other!

Doran plus Ohran Viper? A "3/3" Ophidian if ever there was one... And Tarmogoyf? Better than without Doran in play, certainly. Both creatures benefit from Loxodon Warhammer in play, particularly Ohran Viper, who can use it to draw cards (almost like one of the blue decks that finished nearer the top of the page), not just smite the opponent like a typical green mage.

Plus, Doran is a fair Bitterblossom deck!


I was really excited to see the various burn decks peppering these Top 8 standings. Near the bottom of the page, one of them actually won!

Chris Eng

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The burn deck borrows greatly from a similar Extended strategy (Shard Volley and Keldon Marauders mostly); its goal is to reduce the opponent from 20 to 0 life without undue effort in The Red Zone, mostly via a number of direct damage spells.

Note, creature removal is quite poor against this deck. Most of the deck's creatures are either completely disposable, or have a built-in shelf life (like Keldon Marauders). One of the advantages—especially in a world where many of the top decks are starting Sower of Temptation even off-tribe—is that Sower is pretty weak against the burn deck, even though it does a fair amount of damage via creatures.

Blue-White Wizards

Kyle Sanchez

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Kyle's deck is just so darn different; plus, with wizardcycling, it has a kind of Silver Bullet theme that allows him to get creature defense, countermagic, or even hand disruption... Definitely worth watching.

Check out Brian David-Marshall's interviews with these and other City Championships winners to see what they had to say about these decks and the unique elements in each.

Part III: A Sample of the Best of the Rest


Gregory Havlik

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This Green-Red Snow beatdown deck packs a little special something. Almost all of its creatures have the same job, Warrior. As such, Obsidian Battle-Axe can play Fires of Yavimaya, giving every creature through the middle turns haste.

Imperious PerfectObsidian Battle-Axe
Chameleon Colossus

Boreal Druid and Llanowar Elves are the exceptions that prove the rule, but they are important for getting the Battle-Axe in play on turn two in the first place. From there, it is an orgy of speedy slaughter. Down comes Imperious Perfect; haste. Open Snow-Covered Forest? The token gets haste too. Chameleon Colossus? Changeling means haste! Think about doubling this guy's power, facing Faeries and their annoying 1/1 black creatures, when the Colossus is carrying a Battle-Axe. Rah!

Gauntlet of Power

Gauntlet of Power
Capable of presenting an overwhelming amount of power turn after turn after turn, the Gauntlet of Power deck is in an offensive league of its own. Dauntless Dourbark is even bigger than you might think; another Treefolk in play will give it not only a size boost, but trample. Gauntlet of Power and Verdeloth at the same time is just too much power; the Saprolings are anything but saps. Cloudthresher and Hail Storm are invaluable tools for racing Bitterblossom, and Brooding Saurian helps to turn off Sower of Temptation, one of the format's most compelling threats.

And while you are rifling through your deck with Into the North or Summoner's Pact? Why not run out the free Panglacial Wurm? It's probably bigger than anything not on your side of the table.

Mannequin Decks

The Blue-Black Makeshift Mannequin decks were among the most successful to come out of Champs 2007. City Championships has given us a couple of new looks at Mannequin strategies, both black-blue, and surprisingly, black-green-blue!

Marcel Zafra

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We might not expect green to be a great compliment to Makeshift Mannequin, but the green cards actually have a lot in common with their black and blue counterparts... They do cool things when they come into play! As such, Civic Wayfinder is quite similar to Mulldrifter, and Cloudthresher is like a bigger and hairier Shriekmaw. This version doesn't have to be focused on the Mannequin strategy... Makeshift Mannequin is just a good spell in the mix. It can be a Terror, a Lay of the Land, an Inspiration, or a mini Hurricane, always putting a creature in play to mess up the opponent's attack (or just his face).

Civic WayfinderMakeshift Mannequin

Of course sometimes Mannequin is "just" a Tarmogoyf.

This deck is very solid on the fundamental metrics. While not exactly the fastest option in the format, it is chock full of two-for-ones, and with a strange eight pack of Bitterblossom and Damnation in the sideboard, has a tremendous amount of lasting power long game. On the way there, the black-green Mannequin is nothing but card advantage and, in Primal Command, card advantage looking for more card advantage.

Iain Cassels

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Here is a black-blue Mannequin deck... but not really one like we have ever seen before. In order to get creatures into the graveyard, Cassels didn't just evoke Mulldrifter but had Merfolk Looter and Oona's Prowler to start the process from turn two. Haakon, Stromgald Scourge is in particular a card that he might have wanted to hit the graveyard...


That's right: Nameless Inversion is a Knight!

Haakon, Stromgald Scourge
Nameless Inversion

Holy changeling!

With Haakon in play and a Nameless Inversion anywhere, you have a bona fide machine gun. Two mana is 3 toughness; rinse and repeat.

Izzit Snow?

Tim Sussino

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Phyrexian Ironfoot
Green isn't the only color that gets to play Skred (blue actually has some of the best incentives to playing snow); Tim Sussino's deck has got all sorts of snow interactions hybridized with a blue control deck...

Phyrexian Ironfoot and Rimefeather Owl are the obvious ones—these creatures thrive on snow, are really only good in snow decks...

But what about Stuffy Doll? Stuffy Doll at instant speed, dropped from on high by Teferi, Mage of Zhalfir in front of an unsuspecting Tarmogoyf? Ouch. Untap and ping for a point? Little boo boo. Drop a land and Skred the Doll? Next game!

Okay. Here's the crazy thing: There are probably more than thirty viable decks in pre-Shadowmoor Standard... but the lists just get better with the new set. Mono-Red, for example, gets Flame Javelin, and Green-Red Big Mana might consider Deus of Calamity (though thankfully, Faeries—already a world-class deck—doesn't get another Bitterblossom-class upgrade... in fact everybody else got Firespout). So what does that mean?

More decks.

More options.

More matchups.

And maybe, just maybe, more opportunity.

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