Select Standard Standouts

Posted in Top Decks on August 23, 2012

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."

The inaugural World Magic Cup is in the books and Chinese Taipei are our first champions. Huzzah for them!

Paul Renie, Yu Min Yang, Tzu-Ching Kuo, Tung-Yi Cheng

For players at home—Magic Online grinders, PTQ aspirants, or Friday Night Magicians—the best thing about that next big event... besides the now-many great matches under the lights... is the chance to try something new and exciting! Pros from around the world have put together many great lists you might not have seen before, and the World Magic Cup did not disappoint on that front.

This week, we are going to pluck out some of the successful decks from the Standard portion of the World Magic Cup and highlight what makes them different; interesting; and possibly a good, different, and engaging choice for you.

Let's start with the deck I thought was most exciting:

Alexander Hayne's Green-Blue Delver

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Hayne's teammate Lucas Siow did an expansive deck tech with Brian David-Marshall on this deck and you could almost see BDM jumping out of his socks with every question. I know from firsthand experience that the Pro Tour Historian's all-time favorite deck was an aggressive tempo deck we made almost ten years ago, and the green-blue features that deck's signature—and one of Brian's favorite—cards, Quirion Dryad! Since the days of Miracle Grow, Quirion Dryad has lived and thrived on playing with a lot of cheap blue deck manipulation... and neither Miracle Grow nor BDM's old fave ever had access to Gitaxian Probe.

The general structure of Hayne's deck is similar to the more traditional White-Blue Delver decks. The difference is that in lieu of a white bomb like Geist of Saint Traft or Blade Splicer, Green-Blue Delver packs Dryad main and Thragtusk in the sideboard as potential heavy hitters.

Quirion Dryad, as a two-drop, is often faster than a Mana Leak; once down, you have every opportunity to boost the little Dryad with all manner of cheap card-draw or actually free Phyrexian cards. Gut Shot and Mental Misstep pair well with Gitaxian Probe (which can in fact dig for more and more options), and are not just great with Quirion Dryad, but can combo well with Talrand, Sky Summoner. You might have seen Mutagenic Growth played in decks (recently) as a potential Talrand security system in the past... that is, one player taps out for Talrand, the other player sees the open and points a Galvanic Blast or Pillar of Flame. Whoops! Mutagenic Growth! Talrand lives to summon skies another day, and in the process brings along a new friend.

Quirion Dryad
Mutagenic Growth

One of the things I like best about Hayne's deck is how it can so effortlessly play two so drastically disparate games. Quirion Dryad gives green-blue "another" wicked tempo opening, akin to and sometimes even more suffocating than a turn-one Delver of Secrets (although perhaps less soul-crushing than Insectile Aberration flipping on a blind Mana Leak)... and the same cards that pump Dryad make for a seamless main-deck adoption of one of the three generally-in-contention Delver four-drop options. Obviously, color considerations make Restoration Angel a stretch and Hero of Bladehold wholly inappropriate, but I like how much Talrand actually "fits" this deck, and how it stretches the floor given the redundant tempo game, forcing the opponent to be able to deal with both fast-yet-imposing creatures as well as a volume of less impressive (if evasive) ones. As Whipflare and Go for the Throat are two very different cards, this diversity in offense—especially given their inherent crossover synergy—can be quite valuable.

Go for the Throat

Now, while we are on the subject of Delver of Secrets decks, I wanted to do a quick shout-out to the country of my birth, the Philippines!

Andrew Cantillana proved a top Standard performer with his White-Blue Delver deck, and helped the Philippines to their first Pro Tour-level Top 8. Here is Andrew's deck:

Andrew Cantillana's UW Delver

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For the most part, this is a "defensive" Delver of Secrets build. With Blade Splicer (and later Blade Splicer + Restoration Angel) tricks, Andrew was playing the kind of Delver deck that other Delver decks so often hate to attack into. No Vapor Snag? Your Geist of Saint Traft isn't really going to serve into a first-striking Blade Splicer Golem now is it? Golem attacks? Are you going to risk an attack into four open mana on the other side?

Blade Splicer
Restoration Angel

The one thing I wanted to point out in Andrew's deck is (maybe) the reason he went with an older model mana base (twenty-one lands), rather than the twenty or even nineteen lands we have seen in some more recent Phyrexian-exploiting/cantrip-driven ones: Sleep (i.e., Rookie of the Year Hayne's deck, which we just looked at).




Sleep costs four mana. Sleep ain't cheap. Why Sleep?

Sleep is like a blue Bonfire of the Damned. No, really! People think of Bonfire of the Damned as this horrendous game-ender. A minute ago you had creatures and life total; now you don't.

Delver is good at a lot of things. Among those things is the ability to gain and seize the initiative. And it can do enough damage—and quickly—that it can end the game with evasive 3/2s or assaults from a Runechanter's Pike or an overwhelming number of 1/1 or 2/2 token creatures. Despite one build in the World Magic Cup's winning decklists playing Day of Judgment in the sideboard (and a general presence of Mana Leaks), Delver is no kind of legitimate control deck, and barring a Timely Reinforcements or so, it ain't great at "coming back" in games where it is being tempoed out.

Sleep does a lot of things for Delver. It lets Delver win races where it starts off a bit behind. Just look at Andew's choice of build... Blade Splicer into Restoration Angel. Naya can do the same plan a turn faster with Avacyn's Pilgrim. Sleep can buy some important time if you are planning to smash face and end it on the free turn or so.

Maybe the biggest thing Sleep does is save you from Thragtusk. Never in the short history of Delver of Secrets has there been such an evil bastard as Thragtusk. Cavern of Souls makes it impossible to Mana Leak. We just got done saying that Delver is good at gaining the initiative and a lead but not great at catching up... well, 5 free (and often un-counter-able) life attached to a monstrous offensive body is the definition of "you just fell behind." And are you going to Vapor Snag it? Sure, sometimes you have no choice; the reality is, that sucks. Not only does your opponent get another open to more life, but it leaves behind a baby Beastling.


Sleep solves many Thragtusk-related problems. It gives you a way to catch up against a Thragtusk—and any number of Thragtusk droppings, mind you—for the low, low price of "not triggering any more effects." And again, when you have the potential for a big swing—or maybe a Snapcaster Mage in grip—this can be a compelling point of flexibility.

While I was most excited by UG Delver (and BDM loved those Quirion Dryads), the Pro Tour Historian told me that his on-site "eye test" said to watch out for Mono-Green Infect. This was an impressive deck!

Grgur Petric Maretic's Mono-Green Infect

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So how does this deck work?

You will see over the course of this article that Standard—at least at the World Magic Cup—was/is largely aggressive strategies, whether they are straight creature decks, aggro-control like Delver, or aggro-combo like this one (Infect is obviously an attacking deck, but like Hatred or Ghost Husk in times past, has an explosive capability to win immediately, combo-like).

The mix of cards like Apostle's Blessing and various pump spells give Infect a kind of Aggro-control-esque counterspell quality (albeit limited to defending permanents rather than answering threats... unless they cost exactly one mana). This build of Mono-Green Infect has a minor—yet compelling—Rock-like toolbox flavor, able to call up a solo Viridian Corrupter (which by the way is also a poisoner itself). Green Sun's Zenith's primary role here is obviously one of setup redundancy.

Of the many buff spells, two stand out as most important: Rancor and Wild Defiance.

One thing is clear: Rancor has made Infect strategies rich.

Imagine a powerful, if pedestrian, Rancor draw of turn-one Glistener Elf, turn-two Rancor with a Forest up. You have Apostle's Blessing mana open and hit for three poison.

You play another land... this time it is a Cathedral of War. Now you can hit for four poison, have trample to go over the top of a potential blocker, and still have Apostle's Blessing up.

Apostle's Blessing

The reality is, you can tap out; you might not even have to tap mana or use Apostle's Blessing even if you have access. What if your opponent wants to Tragic Slip or Whipflare? It might benefit you to pay zero mana for a Mutagenic Growth to keep Hope (our Glistener Elf in this case is named "Hope") alive.

It's got to be pretty obvious that turn-one Glistener Elf, turn-two Titanic Growth is half the opponent's life total. Do that again? Maybe with Rancor to ensure trample + overload? This is a thing.

The reason Wild Defiance is so important is that it almost invalidates red removal. You can wait until turn four to play a guy against red decks. Put down Wild Defiance first, and any time your opponent aims a Pillar of Flame for 2 at your 1/1, all of a sudden your opponent is shooting 2 at a 4. This doesn't get any better for your opponent by stacking more and more burn spells. Only cards like Whipflare, Slagstorm, or Bonfire of the Damned are going to be any good for red (as they don't directly target your creatures), meaning a large chunk of the opponent's planned defense no longer does much defending.

Bonfire of the Damned

As you can see, Mono-Green Infect is a much more cerebral and layered deck than you might assume given its brute-force capabilities; certainly worthy of the highlight suggested by the Pro Tour Historian.

Another "mono"-green deck of surprising nuance is Jaoa Andrade's Elf hybrid.

Jaoa Andrade's Elf

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Jaoa played four Razorverge Thickets and four Gavony Townships... but didn't necessarily get his white from his lands. Avacyn's Pilgrim and Birds of Paradise help out there.

This deck needs a critical mass of basic Forests to make Arbor Elf work, with Arbor Elf, Avacyn's Pilgrim, Birds of Paradise, and Llanowar Elves all holding hands to ramp into turn-two Elvish Archdruid.

The deck has relatively few "spells." Just Swords for the busted turn-one accelerator/turn-two Sword draws, and Green Sun's Zenith for redundancy and bullets. What makes it more interesting than the average Elf deck is the ability go, go Palladium Myr into Primeval Titan, more-or-less the most powerful play in Standard (if not always "the best" one).

Palladium Myr
Primeval Titan

This one-two attack, both fast Elves and the capability of going very big, make Andrade's deck difficult to react to. It has two distinctly different angles of offense, even if both of them are creature-based. His Titans don't have the self-contained win of Wolf Run, but Jaoa can gain a ton of life in a race with four Glimmervoids, and the ability to action multiple Gavony Townships per turn with multiple creatures in play probably puts him in a stronger position on that front than the historical tokens Township team.

In addition to having a strong Plan A and a maybe stronger Plan B, the Green Sun's Zenith package in this deck gives Andrade one particularly interesting trump: Melira, Sylvok Outcast.

Melira, Sylvok Outcast

The Infect deck we looked at is not really very good at playing fair, and Melira makes it play fair. Outclassed by Titans and outnumbered by Elves, Infect is hard pressed to win facing this particular legend.

One thing I noticed going over all these decks was how aggressive the format is for the most part; much more aggressive than it started and much more single-minded than you typically see on Magic Online. There were something like three Solar Flare decks with winning records, so Day of Judgment was thin. What most qualified as playing the control in biggest numbers was probably RUG Ramp/Miracles... and that deck wants to attack as much as any. If you know the format is looking a certain way going in, that should be empowering as you choose a deck.

Trading Post is one of the most talked about cards to come out of Magic 2013, but there was only one Trading Post deck among the winning performers.

Jung Ga Ram's Mono-Black Trading Post

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Jung Ga Ram played a Mono-Black build. Is Mono-Black the only Trading Post you can play? Probably not. But black gives you value on Nihil Spellbomb, and Nihil Spellbomb is good at slowing down other big-spell decks (for example, it can break up another Trading Post deck's artifact loops).

Trading Post
Nihil Spellbomb

Three biggies that black has that others don't are (1) Curse of Death's Hold, (2) Mutilate, and (3) Griselbrand.

Curse of Death's Hold: Really good at killing lots and lots of small creatures; if you can get it down, it will murder every Blade Splicer, Delver of Secrets, Snapcaster Mage, and Birds of Paradise before they even hit the table. In a world with so many attacking decks... this can be a valuable tool.

Mutilate: It's the Day of Judgment that can kill Thrun, the Last Troll!

Griselbrand: This card is the veritable higher power. Bigger and potentially higher-impact than even a Primeval Titan, getting Griselbrand online puts black Trading Post decks on a totally different power level relative to most of the rest of the format (even Ramp decks).

Plus, I don't know if you've actually played any Trading Post in Standard... it's more-or-less the funnest kind of deck (just one man's opinion).


First World Magic Cup in the history books.

Lots of new decks to try tomorrow night at FNM.

Two cups of knowledge: Most people will be attacking.

What's it going to be?

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