The Best Standard Has to Offer

Posted in Top Decks on November 20, 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).

A few months into every Standard format, I try and do a rundown of the archetypes (aggro, control, combo, midrange, and ramp, to name a few), just to make sure there's something for everyone. It's the sign of a well-rounded format when there are multiple viable decks in each category, and like a Mantis Rider, this format passes that test with flying colors.

I like doing this rundown because it forces me to articulate why I think each deck is the best in its category. Having to lay out reasons to play a deck gives me a better idea of why each deck is good, which simplifies the decision of which deck to play and helps when trying to beat each of these decks. Additionally, it lets me know which decks I should be focusing on beating, if you assume I'm not too far off the mark when evaluating them. Now that I've sold you on this being a great idea, let's take a look at some decks!

Aggro

When I say "aggro," I mean it. There are plenty of midrange decks that pretend to be aggressive, but I feel like those belong in their own category, even if one of them is named "Abzan Aggro." I'm not fooled, and neither should you be. If your deck has twelve-plus cards that cost four or more mana, you aren't playing aggro.

That leaves us with two possibilities for the most aggressive deck in the format:

Both these decks are very similar, but I have to give the nod to Atarka Red. I'd rather go wide with tokens than play undercosted 3/3s and 4/4s, and I like the consistency of being basically monocolored instead of being evenly split.

Winner: Atarka Red

AlfredoTorres's Atarka Red—Magic Online Standard Championship

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As promised, this deck attacks early and often. It's got the normal start of playing one-drop, two-drop, three-drop, and from there it has multiple paths to victory. Atarka's Command is one, and frequently represents 6-plus damage thanks to the token makers. The most exciting way to finish games is the Temur Battle Rage plus Become Immense/Titan's Strength combo, which also happens to give this deck way more reach than the mono-red deck normally has. Temur Battle Rage can frequently deal 18-plus damage out of nowhere, and consequently, this deck can win games it has no business winning.

Strengths: Consistently applies pressure while having a bonus combo kill.

Weaknesses: Can be hated out by cards like Radiant Flames and cheap removal.

Wants to See: A field full of Esper and/or midrange green decks, with as little Jeskai as possible.

Midrange

This is the most hotly-contested category, as many of Standard's best decks can be classified as midrange. In a past life, I wrote an article talking about how bad it was to be midrange (seriously—this is now six years old, and has some broken card links as a result), but I'm willing to argue the opposite side now. Midrange decks are awesome in current Standard, as the cards they have access to are just so powerful that you aren't really paying for the flexibility. When your deck is full of cards like Kolaghan's Command, Ojutai's Command, Den Protector, Siege Rhino, and Abzan Charm, you are well-suited to play any role required—and all of the decks in this category are filled to the brim with such cards.

Contenders:

  • Abzan Midrange—The former king of Standard, Siege Rhino, is now just one of many good options, as is the deck that plays it.
  • Dark Jeskai—This is the most controlling of the midrange decks, and the only one that uses Jace, Vryn's Prodigy (which is still the best card in the format).
  • Green-White Megamorph—Basically Abzan Lite, Green-White Megamorph cuts Siege Rhino for a better mana base, and has cards like Gideon and Wingmate Roc to make sure that there's not much of a power downgrade.

All of these decks are great, and you can't go wrong playing any of them. That being said, I like where Abzan is positioned right now. Last weekend, three Rally the Ancestors decks made Top 8 at Grand Prix Brussels, alongside two copies of Esper Control. Given that, I like having access to Anafenza, the Foremost, Infinite Obliteration, and Duress—none of which green-white gets to play. Jeskai is a solid choice, too, but Anafenza is the single best card you can play against the Rally deck.

Winner: Abzan Midrange

Bart Van Etten's Abzan Midrange—Top 8, GP Brussels

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The combination of Anafenza, Siege Rhino, and Abzan Charm has been good ever since Khans of Tarkir, and that hasn't changed with the release of Battle for Zendikar. The current iteration of the deck uses Warden of the First Tree and Heir of the Wilds for additional pressure, alongside Den Protector, Gideon, and Dromoka's Command for mid-to-late-game power.

This deck is classic midrange, even if it's closer to the beatdown end of the spectrum. It can easily play an attrition game, and even the nominally aggressive cards like Warden or Heir can play defense quite well.

Strengths: Very high overall card quality, and no truly terrible matchups.

Weaknesses: Can be clunky. Doesn't have a very focused plan.

Wants to See: Anything but Eldrazi Ramp is fine.

Control

I almost threw Dark Jeskai into this category, but it really is a midrange deck. That leaves the control slot basically undisputed, as some flavor of Esper is going to be the pick.

Contenders:

  • Esper Dragons—It's like Esper, with Dragons.
  • Esper Non-Dragons—The name says it all.

I'd rather be wielding Ojutais and Silumgars these days, and as such I have to give the nod to Esper Dragons. Not only did it just win Grand Prix Brussels in the hands of the talented Lucas Blohon, Paulo Vitor Damo da Rosa wrote a very compelling article detailing why Esper Dragons is back. The main point is that Crackling Doom is fading in popularity, which is very good news for Dragon fans.

Winner: Esper Dragons

Lukas Blohon's Esper Dragons—Winner, GP Brussels

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Esper Dragons, as the name implies, gains a lot from the synergy between cards like Silumgar's Scorn and Foul-Tongue Invocation and the Dragons needed to power them. Dragonlords Ojutai and Silumgar are also just great cards in their own right, and the deck (built to kill everything the opponent plays) makes very good use of them. Additionally, this deck gets to play Jace, which gives an already-powerful deck even more juice.

Strengths: Crushes unprepared opponents, especially those playing midrange. Off-the-charts overall power level.

Weaknesses: Soft to aggro, and can be sideboarded against effectively (the combo of Mantis Rider plus Dispel is still a tough one).

Wants to See: Lots and lots of green-white and Rally the Ancestors decks, and as few Mountains as possible.

Combo

Sadly, this section isn't about a sick new Ulamog Rally deck; those are simply the two headliner cards of the decks in contention. Combo is a category that isn't always filled in Standard, and I've definitely written this column without any mention of it before. Right now we are lucky enough to have multiple options for those who want to do anything but play a fair game of Magic, and I think that's awesome. These decks aren't oppressive, just good, and having them be good widens the range of experiences available. I like it, and not just because these decks are sweet.

Contenders:

  • Rally the Ancestors—This deck fills its graveyard with all sorts of terrible creatures, and then casts the namesake card to bring them all back. Somehow the opponent dies during this process.
  • Eldrazi Ramp—As the name suggests, this deck is just trying to get tons of mana into play and cast Ulamog or Ugin, the Spirit Dragon. It's single-minded enough that I'm comfortable filing it under "combo" as opposed to something like "control."

Both these decks try to ignore the opponent until they can land a victory condition, and both decks do things you could easily identify as unfair—or at the very least uninteractive. I have Rally as my number-one combo (I'd like a #1 please), just because of how resilient it is. Funnily enough, both decks have trouble with Infinite Obliteration, but Rally is capable of winning the game enough different ways that I'm not too concerned.

Winner: Rally the Ancestors

Simon Nielsen's Rally the Ancestors—2nd place, GP Brussels

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Rally is a complicated deck to play, so I'd advise setting aside a good amount of time to practice with it if you are looking to take it into battle. The main goal is to use Jace and Collected Company to assemble a critical mass of creatures, even if most end up in the graveyard, at which point Rally the Ancestors brings them all back.

Nantuko Husk can devour them all, triggering Zulaport Cutthroat, Grim Haruspex, and Catacomb Sifter, at which point you drain the opponent for a bunch, draw a bunch of cards, and scry to your heart's content. If the opponent doesn't die from the first Rally, you can almost always find a second one with all the card manipulation, and opponents can rarely survive two.

Sidisi's Faithful offers additional interaction, particularly against Anafenza, the Foremost, and Elvish Visionary and Catacomb Sifter are mainly there to clog the ground and draw extra cards.

This deck is very streamlined, and just plays four of every card, which I like. It's been tuned to the point that it's a well-oiled machine, and I wouldn't change the main deck at all.

Strengths: Can ignore the opponent's interaction and go over the top of any deck.

Weaknesses: Is sometimes slow to set up, and can be outraced. Sideboard cards can be very effective against it.

Wants to see: Green-White Midrange.

Looking at the diversity that Standard offers makes me happy. No matter what archetype you enjoy playing, there are multiple decks to choose from, and the games I've been playing in Standard have been very interactive. I really like this Standard format, and look forward to playing more of it.

LSV

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