It seems these days you can show up to a Standard event with any number of archetypes and succeed with tight play, the right matchups, and a pinch of luck. In fact, there's a pretty good case to be made that players should be playing what they know rather than what they think is "best."
But it also means that tweaks and variations on archetypes can make a big difference. And, as we've seen in recent weeks, the most popular decks are all sprouting branches off their family trees. Mono Blue Devotion gave birth to a white splash, Mono Black dipped in to white or red, and WU Control decks started splashing, well, everything at some point.
So to better understand the format, we're going to explore four of the large macro archetypes—WUx Control, Black midrange, Blue Devotion, and RGx Monsters—and their several variations, as well as the reasons to play any one version over the other. Every type has someone in the room playing it today, so a full picture of Standard isn't compete until you understand all of these archetype nooks and crannies.
There are four variations on the UW deck, but two are clearly most popular: WU Control and Esper Control.
These two grinder winning decklists are mostly typical of the archetypes , though Baylock goes a little deeper with main-deck Thoughtseize and Obzedat, Ghost Council. Still, you can start to see a core of:
4 Sphinx's Revelation
4 Supreme Verdict
4 Detention Sphere
4 Jace, Architect of Thought
2-3 Elspeth, Sun's Champion
This was the core Chris Pikula pointed to when he said that the variations on the deck didn't actually vary all that much.
"I don't think there's much difference [between the variations]. The decks are built around the 4-ofs and Elspeth," Pikula said. "The rest of the cards just don't matter that much."
Pikula was oversimplifying a little bit, because he himself moved from the straight UW list to Esper based on some of the rest of those cards that turn out to matter quite a bit in certain matchups. Noticing he was losing mostly Stormbreath Dragon and large green creatures—including both losses in a 6-2 PTQ performance—Pikula looked to Doom Blade and Ultimate Price as answer.
The other addition is Thoughtseize, a card Pikula isn't terribly fond of but which, he said, ends games faster, something that's important in a room full of mirror matches or near mirrors.
"Sometimes you just get to seven mana, know the coast is clear, and slam Ætherling," he said.
Brian Kibler, who is not playing any kind of control deck, pointed out that the removal was the strongest aspect of the Black splash. He noted that, even before Born of the Gods, players were playing black Temples and using them just to play Dark Betrayal and Doom Blade out of the sideboard. Now, with access to all three Temples, the splash feels pretty much free.
Don't' be surprised to see different flavors of WUx Control decks fighting it out all weekend.
However, he cautions that it's not completely free. The 12-Temples version of Esper, which is the version most advocate, slows the deck down considerably. Kibler said that noted Red mage Patrick Sullivan hopes everyone plays 12 Temples. That, Kibler said, is what has given rise to the Red Burn decks capable of punishing such slow starts.
"I think people are overdoing it."
One place they can't overdo it on Temples, because they don't all exist yet, is the WUR variant. Red has a few things going for it—mostly Assemble the Legion, Warleader's Helix and Counterflux—but it loses points against Esper because it doesn't have a Thoughtseize equivalent and additional points against Monsters because it still doesn't have a great answer to Stormbreath Dragon outside Turn & Burn.
In fact, most of the variations in these control lists are due in large part to the rise of the GR-based Monster decks, which we'll explore later in the day.