Day Two Team Unified Standard Metagame Breakdown

Posted in 2015 WORLD MAGIC CUP on December 12, 2015

By Frank Karsten

The World Magic Cup is a unique tournament, and one of the things that make it stand out are the formats. We've also seen Unified Standard yesterday, and the tournament will shift back to that format for the second round of pool play and the Top 8.

Deck Construction Rules

In this format, each team must construct three Standard-legal decks and assign them to players A, B, and C. Then every round, one country is paired against another country, so Player A of one country plays a best-of-three-match against Player A of the other country, and so on, and the country who wins at least two matches wins the round. But there's a quirk. Among all three decks and sideboards combined, there can be no more than four copies of any card (except for basic lands).

The Main Challenge is Overlap in Fetch Lands

As already discussed in yesterday's format primer, the key challenge in the current Unified Standard is to avoid the overlap that arises from fetch lands. Many established Standard decks rely on 12 fetch lands, but there are simply not enough of them to go around, which means that you have to get creative.

The basic configuration to beat was Eldrazi Ramp, Atarka Red, and Esper Dragons, three established Standard archetypes with no overlap at all. But since this was common knowledge, teams could try to "next-level" the metagame with a configuration that would match up well against these three decks. All in all, the Team Unified Standard format led to a challenging puzzle.

The Breakdown

Below, you can find a structured overview of the Standard deck configurations chosen by the 32 teams who made it to Day Two. Each row represents one country, and the deck that was assigned to player B in the middle seat is bolded.

Wooded Foothills Deck Flooded Strand / Jace Deck Third Deck Team
Atarka Red Esper Dragons Temur Megamorph Brazil (2-1-1)
Atarka Red Esper Dragons Temur Megamorph Italy (5-1-1)
Atarka Red Esper Dragons Abzan Aggro Paraguay (3-2-2)
Atarka Red Esper Dragons Abzan Elves Serbia (2-4-1)
Atarka Red Esper Dragons Abzan Megamorph Japan (4-2-1)
Atarka Red Esper Dragons Abzan Midrange Thailand (4-1-2)
Atarka Red Esper Dragons Abzan Tokens Malta (2-1-1)
Atarka Red Esper Dragons G/W Eldrazi Ramp Philippines (3-3-1)
Atarka Red Esper Dragons Mono-green Eldrazi Ramp Argentina (3-1)
Atarka Red Esper Dragons Mardu Midrange France (6-0-1)
Atarka Red 4-color Rally W/B Tokens Australia (3-1)
Atarka Red 4-color Rally W/B Tokens Germany (3-0-1)
Atarka Red 4-color Rally W/B Tokens Denmark (3-2-2)
Atarka Red 4-color Rally W/B Tokens New Zealand (3-3-1)
Atarka Red 4-color Rally W/B Tokens Sweden (2-1-1)
Atarka Red 4-color Rally W/B Warriors Greece (3-4)
Atarka Red 4-color Rally W/B Strangler Turkey (1-2-1)
Atarka Red 4-color Rally Abzan Control Netherlands (2-1-1)
Atarka Red 4-color Rally G/R Eldrazi Ramp Macedonia (2-0-2)
Atarka Red 4-color Rally B/R Dragons Hong Kong (2-0-2)
Atarka Red Esper Tokens G/U Eldrazi Ramp Chile (3-1)
Atarka Red Esper Tokens G/U Eldrazi Ramp Chinese Taipei (3-1)
Atarka Red Esper Control B/R Dragons Guatemala (3-2-2)
Atarka Red Abzan Aggro Mono-green Eldrazi Ramp Mexico (2-1-1)
Bant Megamorph Esper Dragons Mardu Midrange Austria (5-0-2)
Abzan Aggro Esper Dragons Mardu Midrange Ukraine (4-2-1)
Abzan Aggro Esper Dragons Naya Eldrazi Ramp Belarus (3-2-2)
Abzan Aggro 4-color Rally Mono-red Singapore (1-2-1)
Abzan Aggro Dark Jeskai G/R Eldrazi Ramp Latvia (3-3-1)
Abzan Aggro Jeskai B/R Dragons Scotland (4-3)
Dark Temur W/B Tokens G/R Eldrazi Ramp Iceland (2-1-1)
Mardu Tokens Bant Megamorph G/U Eldrazi Ramp Poland (1-2-1)

Although there was a lot of variety across the team configurations, one common thread connected all of them: Every team ran a Wooded Foothills deck, a deck with Flooded Strand and/or Jace, and a third deck that typically contained few or no fetch lands.

The Wooded Foothills Deck

This card was a dividing point for most teams, because it meant that you had to make a choice between Atarka Red (the premier aggro deck in the format, which needs the fetch land to fix its mana and to fuel delve for Become Immense) and Abzan Aggro (which needs Wooded Foothills to fetch Canopy Vista, Smoldering Marsh, or a basic Forest for a turn one Warden of the First Tree).

Both are excellent Standard decks with solid matchups across the board, but almost none of the Top 32 teams attempted to run both because that would wreck the mana base of one of those two decks. The majority of teams chose to put Atarka Red in this spot, which makes sense because it takes away fewer cards from the other decks than Abzan Aggro. Two outlier choices for the Wooded Foothills slot were Dark Temur and Mardu Tokens.

The Flooded Strand / Jace Deck

Every team's second deck was based around Flooded Strand and/or Jace, Vryn's Prodigy; typically both. The most common choices for this slot were Esper Dragons and 4-color Rally, which need a similar collection of cards except for two lands. Esper Dragons wants Shambling Vent but no Windswept Heath, which opened up the possibility of pairing Esper Dragons with Abzan or Temur as the third deck. Those three-color decks could then fix their mana with Windswept Heath and tri-lands. Conversely, 4-color Rally uses Windswept Heath but no Shambling Vent, which typically allowed the corresponding third deck to be white-black with a mana base relying on that creature land.

Besides Esper Dragons and 4-color Rally, there were alternatives such as Esper Tokens or Jeskai, but these choices were not as prevalent, possibly because teams felt that Esper Dragons and four-color Rally would have better matchups against the expected field of Atarka Red and Eldrazi Ramp.

The Third Deck

The third deck was a source of much debate. Often, but not always, this deck included Hangarback Walker, but no fetch lands. Several teams stuck with the "obvious" choice of Eldrazi Ramp, but many teams tried to avoid this archetype because the metagame (which would likely be filled with Atarka Red, the worst matchup, and opponents who would be prepared with Infinite Obliteration) would likely be hostile toward it.

That's where the above-mentioned Abzan, Temur, and W/B Token decks came in as good alternatives. These versions don't need as many fetch lands, and it was nice to see how the restrictions of Unified Standard bred creativity. The Mardu Midrange and B/R Dragon decks—-especially the list of team Hong Kong with 4 Thopter Engineer in the main deck—-added some final variety to the mix.

The Question of the Middle Seat

After deciding on their three-deck configuration, each team had one final matter to settle: Which deck to assign player B in the middle seat. This player was in a good position to give advice to their teammates on to their left and right, so it would make sense to put a deck that would be piloted by a good multi-tasker in that spot. But teams could also try to figure out what that deck would be and metagame against that.

As it turned out, the most frequent choices were to put either Atarka Red (8/32 teams) or the "third" deck (15/32 teams) in the middle seat. One explanation came from Marco Cammilluzzi, captain of the Italian team: "We expected many teams to put Atarka Red in the middle because that match will often be over soon, and then that player can help the remaining players. But we put Temur Megamorph in the B seat because it has a good matchup against Atarka Red."