Unified Standard presents teams with a unique challenge: build three decks out of one play-set of Standard. Finding the best mix of strategies that don't overlap is no small feat. This year, the conventional wisdom has it that your decks are heavily influenced by two pairs of cards. First, you want a base-green deck that can take advantage of Sylvan Caryatid and Courser of Kruphix. Secondly you want a deck that makes the most out of Lightning Strike and Goblin Rabblemaster. I talked with a few teams to see how the results of their preparation measured up against this premise.
Team Italy, captained by Andrea Mengucci
Italy's Andrea Mengucci told me that their testing began with this concept in mind. "We started out with Abzan, Mardu, and Temur. This was pretty good, and you can play the Temur deck without Lightning Strikes. Really the most important thing is finding your third deck. White-Blue Heroic is the obvious choice, because it needs almost no cards other decks want, so I think there will be a lot of that here, but I didn't want to play that. I don't like having fragile decks. Last round I played Banishing Light on my opponent's Hero of Iroas and he never played another spell. Consistency is the most important thing. It's also important that you give your players a deck they are comfortable with."
Team Chinese Taipei, captained by Tzu Ching Kuo
Chinese Taipei's Huang Hao-Shan said that their testing lined up perfectly with the popular expectation. I asked if there was a clear best deck to use the green core of cards. "Actually in our testing we had many different possibilities and it was only until just yesterday that we decided things. Many different groups of decks. It was the deck played by Yuuya Watanabe that settled things. Tzu Ching Kuo is good friends with Yuuya and he always wants to plays what Yuuya thinks is best. Our other deck we had decided on early because we had to have our secret weapon. I can't say what it is, but ever since Cheng Tung-Yi defeated Brian Kibler we have a tradition for our Standard decks."
Team Brazil, captained by Willy Edel
Brazil's Willy Edel was on cloud nine following a 4-0 start today. "If you offered me a 2-1 record to start and let me skip Limited I would have said yes, and now here we are at 4-0!" After some celebrating I managed to ask him about Unified Standard. He said that the two cores were simply too good to ignore. I asked him to tell me about the Lightning Strike / Goblin Rabblemaster decks that his team had looked at for testing. "It's actually more just Lightning Strike decks, most of them play Rabblemaster but not all of them do. You have a lot of options. There's mono-red, Mardu, Temur, you can even do Red-Green Monsters. I don't like having Jeskai in that seat though, it makes it too hard to use all the format's best cards."
Team Czech Republic, captained by Stanislav Cifka
Chessmaster Stanislav Cifka, captain of Team Czech Republic agreed wholeheartedly. "If you build the two most obvious decks, Abzan and Jeskai, it is almost impossible to have a very good third deck. I don't like having a deck that's that much worse." I asked him what "third" decks were viable in his opinion. "I think mono-red will be the most popular. It's good and consistent. You can also do White-Blue Heroic or even Blue-Black Control." He went on to say that the format had a very important element that many teams were ignoring. "Some of these decks are very complicated: Sidisi Whip, Constellation, Blue-Black Control. In a regular match you have to play very fast to make sure you can complete three games. But this isn't a regular match, you often have to consult with your teammates, you know, do I mulligan this? Should I play around that? I think a lot of teams are going to get into time trouble in Constructed."
He was right. A lot of teams were going right up to time. Unfortunately this made it difficult to get interviews as players had to get ready for the next round. Looking at the deck choices for some of the top teams, however, you see the formula borne out again and again. For now there doesn't seem to be a clear "best three," but there's a lot of play yet to come. It will be interesting to see how things shake out on the road to the Top 8.