Standard Metagame Breakdown

Posted in Event Coverage on August 28, 2015

By Adam Styborski

Stybs has played Magic the world over, writing and drafting as part of the event coverage team and slinging Commander everywhere his decks will fit.

As with yesterday's breakdown of the archetypes players brought for Modern, the decisions of a few players can radically skew the field into a few ways.

Standard turned out to be a tighter cluster of choices for the World Championship:

Standard Archetype Players % of Field
Jeskai 7 29%
Abzan Control 5 21%
Esper Dragons 5 21%
Hangarback Abzan 3 13%
Atarka Red 2 8%
Red-Green Dragons 1 4%
White Devotion 1 4%
TOTAL 24 100%

On top at nearly a third of the field, Jeskai is a powerful deck that's been growing in popularity since Pro Tour Magic Origins. Unlike the Blue-Red Ensoul Artifact and Red Aggro decks that stole the finals spotlight in Vancouver, Jeskai presents similarly efficient threats but backed up with a wider range of flexibility. Soulfire Grand Master can "go infinite" with casting spells. Goblin Rabblemaster, Mantis Rider and Stormbreath Dragon are creatures that can be problematic for some decks to deal with. Dig Through Time keeps the deck's inertia rolling late in the game as Jeskai Charm, Stoke the Flames, or other burn spells finish opponents off. There's even Jace, Vryn's Prodigy to make the most of every spell that gets cast.

Jeskai, featuring some of the best white, blue, and red cards in the format, was the most popular choice among competitors today.

A cadre of contenders chose this option: collaborators Pro Tour Hall of Fame elect 1st-ranked Eric Froehlich and reigning World Champion 13th-ranked Shahar Shenhar. 19th-ranked Alexander Hayne, Pro Tour Magic Origins finalist 2nd-ranked Mike Sigrist, and 6th-ranked Jacob Wilson all also came to the same conclusion. Solo performers 14th-ranked Shaun McLaren and 12th-ranked Yuuya Watanabe are playing Plains, Mountains, and Islands too.

The second deck of the field is no surprise to anyone that's played Standard since Pro Tour Khans of Tarkir: Abzan Control. Piled up with removal and sweepers—Abzan Charm, Hero's Downfall, Bile Blight, Ultimate Price, Tragic Arrogance, Languish—with waves of Siege Rhinos and Elspeth, Sun's Champions or Ugin, the Spirit Dragons to follow behind, it's a deck that stymies and stabilizes until it wrests total control of the game to its side.

Siege Rhino and his expensive, Planeswalker buddies are also a force here at the 2015 World Championship.

20% of the players brought Abzan Control to bear, including the team up of Pro Tour Khans of Tarkir winner 7th-ranked Ari Lax, 4th-ranked Seth Manfield, Standard specialist 9th-ranked Brad Nelson and 17th-ranked Steve Rubin, as well as 10th-ranked Owen Turtenwald.

Another 20% of competitors chose a different controlling strategy: Esper Dragons. While similar in some ways to Abzan Control (the removal and sweeper suite works in both), Esper Dragons layers on countermagic with Silumgar's Scorn and Dissolve, with some combination of Dragonlord Silumgar, Dragonlord Ojutai, and Silumgar, the Drifting Death to providing the finishing power against opponent. Dig Through Time appears here as well, letting the deck one-for-one opponents' threats until they're out of steam and the Esper Dragons rule the roost.

Esper Dragons is an equal force with Abzan Control at this tournament.

The Esper Dragons block of players was headlined by Pro Tour Hall of Fame 5th-ranked Paulo Vitor Damo Da Rosa, who had success with the deck at both his Top 8 at Grand Prix Krakow and victory as Grand Prix São Paulo earlier this year. Those that joined him included Pro Tour Magic Origins finalist 15th-ranked Joel Larsson, Martin Müller, Thiago Saporito, and Ondřej Stráský.

The next archetype in count was Hangarback Abzan, the evolution of Abzan Aggro and appeared in force at Grand Prix London. Adding Hangarback Walker to the mix of Fleecemane Lion, Anafenza, the Foremost, Den Protector, and Siege Rhinos gave the deck an additional edge against control—Hangarback Walker with several +1/+1 counters on it is tough to answer—while providing immediate pressure against opponents. 12th-ranked Lee Shi Tian, Pro Tour Hall of Famer and 21st-ranked Paul Rietzl, and 24th-ranked Antonio Del Moral León all went with this aggressive approach.

Hangarback Walker saw a ton of play at the last Standard Grand Prix, and three players showed up with the Hangarback-enchanced Abzan deck.

The final three decks of Standard were spread across four players. The potent Atarka Red, an aggressive red deck filled with one- and two-drops like Monastery Swiftspear, Abbot of Keral Keep, and Dragon Fodder, splashed just enough green to cast Atarka's Command. That technology was good enough for Martin Dang to win Pro Tour Dragons of Tarkir, and for Magic Online Champion Magnus Lantto to join in the Mountain-based aggressive angle again here this weekend.

Both Martin Dang and Magnus Lantto decided to pummel opponents with Atarka's Command.

25th-ranked Kentaro Yamamoto was the sole player with Red-Green Dragons, and in a form that was clearly tuned through his extensive Magic Online play. With both the megamorph package—Deathmist Raptor and Den Protector—and mana accelerators like Rattleclaw Mystic to leap into Thunderbreak Regent or Stormbreath Dragon, Yamamoto looked to curve out into deadly threats every game. Crater's Claws and Draconic Roar promised to end games in a flash of flames.

Only Kentaro Yamamoto showed up with Red-Green Dragons this weekend.

The final deck to make an appearance was the most unique to appear. Similar to the deck Craig Wescoe took to the Top 8 of a World Magic Cup qualifier the weekend prior, 8th-ranked Samuel Black had a deck built on a mana base of Plains and Nykthos, Shrine to Nyx. Curing out aggressively with Soldier of the Pantheon, Knight of the White Orchid and Brimaz, King of Oreskos, the deck topped out with both Wingmate Roc and Archangel of Tithes.

Perhaps the most unique deck on display today is the White Devotion deck that Samuel Black brought to battle.

Of course, Hangarback Walker made the cut too alongside Kytheon, Hero of Akros. Both cards are aggressive early with ample applications in slower games. With so many ways to present threats, and then generate mana for larger ones off Nykthos, Shrine to Nyx, Black hedged his payoffs further with Mastery of the Unseen—a card unseen since Green-White Devotion fell out of favor with Dragons of Tarkir. With even more goodies in this sideboard to pivot his plan around slower approaches—Elspeth, Sun's Champion and Tragic Arrogance aren't aggressive cards—Black was poised to demonstrate why he was one of the premier deck builders in the world.

Just four rounds of Standard will determine who sits in the fated Top 4 chairs on Sunday, and who will have to begin planning to battle their way back to compete in the World Championship again next year.

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