Standard Archetype Exemplars

Posted in Top Decks on August 28, 2015

By Luis Scott-Vargas

Luis Scott-Vargas plays, writes, and makes videos about Magic. He has played on the Pro Tour for almost a decade, and between that and producing content for ChannelFireball, often has his hands full (of cards).

One of the big selling points of Standard over the last year (ever since Khans of Tarkir) has been that there's a competitive deck you can play regardless of what your favorite archetype is. The field is quite diverse, and whether you want to beat down, control the game, play midrange, or ramp mana, the options are there. There are even combo decks floating around, and viable decks can be found in all of these categories. That's an impressive feat, and today I want to look at what I consider the frontrunners in each category.


For the aggressive-minded magician, there's nothing better than attacking early and often. As such, Mountains are by far the best option. I also have to note that despite the name, I don't like calling Abzan Aggro a purely aggressive deck. It was midrange to begin with, and has only moved more in that direction recently. The real competition is between White-Blue Heroic and Mono-Red, but I have to give Mono-Red the nod. It's too fast and consistent. If you want to play an attacking deck, it's where you want to be.

samtama's Mono-Red Aggro—Magic Online Standard Championship

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I like where the token-making cards such as Dragon Fodder and Hordeling Outburst are positioned right now, so I went with this version of Mono-Red. It is easy enough to play a token-less version, but given how many people are moving away from Drown in Sorrow and on to Pharika's Cure, I like where this list is.

Reasons to Play Mono-Red:

  • Speed
  • Consistency
  • The desire to light things on fire

Things to Watch Out For


Midrange is the most hotly-contested category. So many decks fall into this classification, mainly because it's the broadest. Basically, "midrange" means any deck that isn't too fast or too slow, and doesn't have a very defined game plan. I said Abzan Aggro wasn't really aggro before, and it's a perfect example: It's nominally trying to beat down, but it isn't the fastest, and it has flexible cards like Abzan Charm and Hangarback Walker that can definitely be used to control the game. It's certainly not a control deck, but calling it an aggro deck feels like a stretch. The main contenders for this category are Jeskai, Abzan Aggro, Green-White Megamorph, and Mardu/Black-Red Dragons, but I feel that Abzan Aggro is the current leader. The recent addition of Hangarback Walker has led to a ton of tournament success, and the deck is clearly hitting the right notes.

Fabrizio Anteri's Hangarback Abzan—Grand Prix London 2015

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I talked about Grand Prix London results in a previous column, but it's worth noting that Hangarback Abzan is still the gold standard when it comes to, well, Standard. I even had a chance to watch the Top 8 of the first US World Magic Cup Qualifier, and multiple copies of Hangarback Abzan did well there. It even won the Italian WMCQ in the hands of Andrea Mengucci, and he writes about his updates here.

One of the big advantages of midrange is that it can mold its game plan based on whatever it's facing. A Mono-Red deck or an Esper Control deck pretty much has to play one way—they are looking to beat down or control the game, respectively. A deck like Hangarback Abzan gets to see what it's playing against, and take either the control role or the aggressive role, depending on the matchup. Where that goes right is when you have access to cards that are flexible and powerful, cards such as Abzan Charm, Siege Rhino, and Fleecemane Lion. Failed midrange decks in the past have tried this strategy with less powerful cards, and they invariably ended up being jacks of all trades, masters of none. This Abzan deck does have the tools it needs, and especially given sideboarding, it can transform into exactly what it needs to look like.

Reasons to Play Hangarback Abzan

  • Every card is individually powerful
  • No truly bad matchups
  • With the right sideboard, it can be tuned to beat anything

Things to Watch Out For

  • Linear decks that attack from an unexpected angle (like Blue-Red Mill or Rally the Ancestors)
  • Midrange decks that go just slightly bigger


Over the course of this Standard, control has not been as blue as you'd expect. Abzan Control has been one of the most popular control decks, and it really wasn't until Dragons of Tarkir that blue-based control really started to make a resurgence. Still, despite the success of the Esper Dragons deck in that Pro Tour (and at subsequent Grand Prix), the control deck I like the most is decidedly light on Dragons. Magic Origins has brought with it another engine, one that you can say has flipped things around again: Jace, Vryn's Prodigy.

VonUber's Blue-Black Control—Magic Online Standard PTQ

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This list from a recent Magic Online PTQ is the deck I'd choose if I wanted to control the game. I like where Blue-Black Control is, and vastly prefer it to either Esper Dragons or Abzan Control. In a world of midrange, especially when that midrange pushes out decks like Mono-Red, Ashiok and Jace go a long way. I'd rather lean on those engines than Ojutai, and the printing of Languish has only made that preference stronger.

Despite the focused game plan (control the game at all costs), Blue-Black Control is more customizable than you might think. You have a ton of options when it comes to removal spells and interaction, and choosing the right ones is what really matters. Ultimate Price, Bile Blight, Clash of Wills, Silence the Believers—these are all viable options, and picking the cards that line up well against what you face is the real challenge. I like the choices made in this particular list, though note the four Pharika's Cures in the sideboard. Even though I think it's right for Blue-Black to play those, given the current mono-red lists, I'm also recommending that if you play mono-red, you adjust accordingly.

Reasons to Play Blue-Black

  • Takes advantage of a metagame with fewer aggro decks
  • Punishes decks with expensive cards or that are trying to assembly synergies
  • You've got a lot of time to kill
  • It's very consistent—its good matchups tend to be quite good

Things to Watch Out For

  • Blue-Red Thopters and Mono-Red, if they become popular again
  • Having the right removal suite—you need to keep a close eye on the metagame
  • What sideboard strategies are popular—having answers to cards that target control (like Outpost Siege) is critical


Finally, we are at the least represented of the major archetypes. The fact that there are multiple viable combo decks is what's really impressive, even if they are more metagame calls than decks you can always be sure are great.

The most focused combo deck has to be the Blue-Red Mill deck that Michael Majors won Grand Prix San Diego with. It hasn't exactly stood the test of time since, so even though it's incredibly sweet, I can't in good conscience recommend it. The Rally the Ancestors deck is another interesting one, but it too is getting knocked down—mainly because of how poorly all of its Fleshbag Marauders line up against the infestation of Hangarback Walkers. Instead, I chose an archetype I mentioned (and dismissed) earlier, in the conversation about aggro. That archetype is White-Blue Heroic, which I maintain can be considered a combo deck as well. It's got a lot of cards that do nothing by themselves, but when combined they do incredible amounts of work.

Here's the list Todd Anderson used to make Top 16 of Grand Prix London.

Todd Anderson's White-Blue Heroic—Top 16 Grand Prix London

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The game plan here is simple: Play creatures with heroic, and target them. Protect them as needed with your protection spells. It even has Hangarback Walker as a backup plan, which is especially funny given its synergy with Ordeals.

Reasons to Play White-Blue Heroic

  • Does well against midrange green decks
  • Punishes people for having slow removal spells
  • Takes advantage of the main sweeper being Languish instead of Crux of Fate or End Hostilities
  • You like playing Yahtzee

Things to Watch Out For

If you get anything out of this article, it should be that Standard has a ton of options. I presented the decks I liked best in each category, but by no means am I saying that these are the only decks that are good. They may be well-positioned right now, but that could easily change in a week, and there are a ton of other great options available. Of note is Green Devotion, which I didn't touch on, mainly because I think it needs to adjust to Tragic Arrogance (which is showing up everywhere). There are tons of other great decks too, and I'm being completely serious when I say that no matter what your play style is, there is a deck out there for you.


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