Team Unified Standard Metagame Breakdown

Posted in Event Coverage on December 11, 2015

By Frank Karsten

Unified Standard presents teams with a unique challenge: build three decks out of one playset of Standard. That is, each team must construct three Standard-legal decks, but among all three decks and sideboards, there can be no more than four copies of any card (other than a basic land).

It's About Overlap

Due to this team-wide restriction, you can't just show up with three Abzan decks. You need to split up your cards somehow, and the main challenge in Unified Standard is dealing with overlap.

This year, the pivotal overlap cards are the fetch lands. These lands, especially in combination with the battle lands, drive most of the Standard mana bases. With the fetch lands, you can run powerful gold cards, fuel delve, and have consistent mana. As a result, many regular Standard decks play as many as 12 fetch lands, but Unified Standard has a team-wide maximum of 4 Windswept Heath, 4 Flooded Strand, 4 Polluted Delta, 4 Bloodstained Mire, and 4 Wooded Foothills. So, there are not enough fetch lands to go around. As U.S. captain Mike Sigrist, currently ranked 8th in the Top 25 rankings, said: "The major overlap issue is the fetch lands, so one or more decks has to make a sacrifice and play more comes-into-play-tapped lands or restrict itself to less colors."

The fetch lands are not the only concern, as there are various other cards that can lead to deck incompatibility. Singaporean captain Chapman Sim gave a few examples: "Shambling Vent turned out to be important, since it's in Esper, Abzan and Mardu. There was also a lot of debate as to which Jace deck was the best, and we tussled between who should get the Hangarback Walkers."

Solving the Puzzle

So with all these overlap considerations in mind, what kind of compatible configurations are still available? "I believe the most common setup that comes to mind is Esper—Atarka Red—Ramp," Swedish captain and 24th-ranked player Joel Larsson told me. "There is no overlap and all the decks are good contenders in the current Standard metagame."

Nevertheless, Ramp—-the deck that aims to chain Nissa's Pilgrimage into Ulamog, the Ceaseless Hunger—-was a deck that Sweden and many other teams were trying to avoid if possible. Robin Dolar, the captain of Slovenia, was in this camp as well and presented a clear argument: "I think Ramp sucks for this tournament because everyone will be well prepared for it and Atarka Red (the worst matchup) is one of the most obvious choices."

Indeed, if everyone knows what the obvious choices are, then an opportunity to next-level the field arises. "Since it's so hard not to play Atarka Red + Ramp + any good deck, I've been brewing new decks trying to beat the first two," English captain and No. 22 Fabrizio Anteri told me, and he wasn't the only one trying to take such an approach. Slovakian captain Ivan Floch for instance told me that 4-color Rally has a good matchup against both Atarka Red and Eldrazi Ramp, which would mean that it's well-positioned for the expected metagame. But even if a team would be able to find such a deck, then they would still have to fit it in with two other decks!

The Breakdown

All things considered, the format is a captivating puzzle. So let's take a look at how the teams here in Barcelona eventually solved it. Below, I have both a raw archetype breakdown and a team-wide configuration breakdown.

Deck Archetype Number of Players Percentage of Players
Atarka Red 50 23%
Abzan 31 14%
Esper Dragons 31 14%
Green Eldrazi Ramp 30 14%
Rally the Ancestors 20 9%
W/B(/U) Tokens 14 6%
Jeskai 10 5%
Mardu 7 3%
Temur 7 3%
Other 19 9%

These archetypes are fairly broad and already "rolled up." If you want more specifics, then check these notes:

  • The "Abzan" category contains 23 Abzan Aggro decks, 3 Abzan Control decks, 3 Red Abzan decks, 1 Blue Abzan deck, and 1 Abzan Megamorph deck. But all of them rely on Siege Rhino.
  • The "Green Eldrazi Ramp" category consists of 17 red-green variants, 7 green-blue variants, 2 mono-green lists, 1 green-white variant, 1 Jund version, 1 Naya version, and 1 Temur version. But all of them aim to ramp into Ulamog, the Ceaseless Hunger.
  • The "Rally the Ancestors" category consists of 17 four-color Rally decks and 3 Abzan Rally decks.
  • The "W/B(/U) Tokens" category is comprised of 9 white-black lists and 5 Esper lists.
  • The "Jeskai" category contains 8 Dark Jeskai decks, 1 Dragon-heavy variant, and 1 three-color version.
  • The "Mardu" category has 4 Dragon decks, 2 midrange decks, and 1 token deck.
  • The "Temur" category has 4 Megamorph/Flash versions, 2 versions with a splash of black, and 1 version built around the ferocious mechanic.
  • The "Other" category is comprised of 3 black-red Dragon decks, 3 mono-red decks, 3 white-black aggro decks, 2 Bant megamorph decks, 2 red-green landfall decks, 2 Elves decks, 1 Jeskai tokens deck, 1 Esper control deck, 1 Demonic Pact / The Great Aurora concoction, and 1 Abzan token list.

So, Atarka Red was the most popular choice, and a majority of their teams had such a deck with Monastery Swiftspear and Become Immense in their line-up. This came as no surprise to No. 6 Paulo Vitor Damo Da Rosa, the captain of the Brazilian team. "I think Atarka Red is almost a given, since it uses the least cards of any deck and is quite powerful," he said.

Now that you've seen the raw archetype breakdown, let's turn to a breakdown of the team-wide configurations.

Three-Deck Configuration Number of Teams
Atarka Red + 4-color Rally + W/B Tokens or Aggro 8
Atarka Red + Esper Dragons + Abzan 7
Atarka Red + Esper Dragons + Eldrazi Ramp 6
Eldrazi Ramp + Abzan + Jeskai 6
Atarka Red + Esper Dragons + Temur 4
Atarka Red + Eldrazi Ramp + 4-color Rally 4
Esper Dragons + Eldrazi Ramp + Abzan 4
Atarka Red + Esper Dragons + Abzan Rally 3
Atarka Red + Eldrazi Ramp + Abzan 3
Atarka Red + Eldrazi Ramp + Esper Tokens 3
Atarka Red + Esper Dragons + Elves 2
Atarka Red + 4-color Rally + Abzan 2
Esper Dragons + Abzan + Mono-red 2
Atarka Red + Esper Dragons + W/B Tokens 1
Atarka Red + Esper Dragons + Mardu 1
Atarka Red + Eldrazi Ramp + Jeskai 1
Atarka Red + Eldrazi Ramp + W/B Aggro 1
Atarka Red + 4-color Rally + Mardu 1
Atarka Red + 4-color Rally + B/R Dragons 1
Atarka Red + Abzan + Esper Tokens 1
Atarka Red + Abzan + Mardu 1
Atarka Red + Abzan + Jeskai 1
Esper Dragons + Bant Megamorph + Mardu 1
Esper Dragons + Abzan + Mardu 1
Eldrazi Ramp + W/B Tokens + Temur 1
Eldrazi Ramp + Mardu + Bant Megamorph 1
Abzan + Temur + Mardu 1
Abzan + Jeskai + B/R Dragons 1
Abzan + Rally + Mono-red 1
Abzan + Jeskai + B/G Aurora-Pact 1
W/B Tokens + Jeskai + Temur 1
R/G Landfall + B/R Dragons + Esper Control 1

As you can see, there were a lot of different solutions to the Unified Standard puzzle, but the most popular choice was to pair Atarka Red (which uses Wooded Foothills and Bloodstained Mire) with a 4-color Rally deck (which takes up the other fetch lands) and a white-black deck (whose mana base relies on Shambling Vent, Scoured Barrens, and Caves of Koilos).

The other popular choice was to pair Atarka Red (which still needs Wooded Foothills and Bloodstained Mire) with Esper Dragons (which uses Flooded Strand and Polluted Delta) and either an Abzan deck (which complements Windswept Heath with Sandsteppe Citadel and/or Llanowar Wastes) or a Temur deck (which can use Windswept Heath to fix all three of its colors).

So, going into this event, you may have had the impression that Standard was mainly about decks with 12 fetch lands in them, but restrictions breed creativity. The World Magic Cup shows us that there are numerous competitive Standard decks available that don't rely so much on fetch lands. If this metagame breakdown is any indication, then you will likely be able to find some cool new ideas for your next tournament in the top-performing decklists that will go up at the end of Saturday.

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