Standard was the first Constructed format to be played by the 24 competitors in the 2016 Magic World Championship. Even more importantly, it is the format for the Top 4 playoffs on Sunday.
Recent Grand Prix events and Magic Online Leagues indicated that the deck to beat in Standard was Bant Company. While the deck is undeniably powerful, it also had a giant target on its head. Despite that, the majority of the field is still playing Bant-colored decks with Collected Company—although there are plenty of innovations and differences between the lists.
All Standard decklists can be found here. The metagame breaks down as follows:
|Archetype||Number of Players||Combined Record|
|Bant Company||7||12-16 (43%)|
|Bant Humans||5||8-12 (40%)|
|Temur Emerge||4||9-7 (56%)|
|Turbo Emrakul||3||7-4-1 (64%)|
|Jund Delirium||2||5-3 (63%)|
|Black-Green Delirium||1||1-3 (25%)|
|Green-Blue Crush||1||2-1-1 (67%)|
|Bant Spirits||1||3-1 (75%)|
Seven players were playing the "best deck" in the format: No. 12-ranked Andrea Mengucci, Niels Noorlander, No. 1-ranked Owen Turtenwald, No. 22-ranked Ryoichi Tamada, No. 8-ranked Shota Yasooka, Thiago Saporito, and Márcio Carvalho. They are hoping to curve out with Sylvan Advocate on turn two, Reflector Mage on turn three, and Collected Company on turn four.
For some players, their deck choice was not a surprise. Mengucci and Yasooka, for instance, each recently piloted Bant Company to Top 16 and Top 8 finishes respectively at Grand Prix Rimini, so it was natural that they ran it back. Both also had Learn from the Past as "tech" against delirium and Emrakul decks.
For Owen Turtenwald, however, Bant Company came across as a more surprising choice, especially given that he had finished second with Temur Emerge at Pro Tour Eldritch Moon. "Temur Emerge was my other choice, but it felt inconsistent and didn't have a good record versus Bant Company online," Turtenwald explained. "Bant Company felt good when I tested it."
Márcio Carvalho and Thiago Saporito ended up on a list featuring Elder Deep-Fiend and Noose Constrictor. "We expected the mirror match and delirium decks, and Elder Deep-Fiend is good against both," Saporito said. Noose Constrictor is a great two-drop versus Blue-Red Fevered Visions, doesn't die to Kozilek's Return the first time and has several additional benefits. "Since we have so few spells now—we're cutting Dromoka's Command—Jace, Vryn's Prodigy became worse," Carvalho said. "So I replaced it with Noose Constrictor. Conveniently, it's good against Seth Manfield's Bant Spirits deck."
Speaking of Dromoka's Command, that card is definitely on the decline.
"People were cutting it down from four [copies] to three, and then two. Now I'm playing with one and some today are playing with none," Saporito said. Owen Turtenwald was the player who played none, inspired by Paul Rietzl's list from the Top 8 of Grand Prix Portland. "It makes sure that your Collected Company is better. Even with 28 creatures, it can be a bit fickle at times, getting only one creature, and I just want good hits," Turtenwald explained.
The most unique Bant Company list was registered by Ryoichi Tamada, who had 4 Foul Emissarys and 4 Elder Deep-Fiends in his main deck. As he told me, he aimed to shorten the game in the Bant Company mirror. "With Foul Emissary and Elder Deep-Fiend, it can be a short game. Win or lose, the game is over quickly." Although Tamada went 1-3, it's still an interesting innovation.
Four months ago, No. 19-ranked Yuuya Watanabe introduced Bant Humans to the world. Featuring Lambholt Pacifist and Thalia's Lieutenant, it is a little faster than regular Bant Company. Although Spell Queller from Eldritch Moon is not a good fit for the deck because it doesn't trigger Thalia's Lieutenant, Watanabe stuck with his trusty Bant Humans.
What's more, the four-man testing group of No. 14-ranked Brad Nelson, Brian Braun-Duin, No. 7-ranked Martin Müller, and No. 9-ranked Joel Larsson all chose Bant Humans as well. "The deck did really well in testing," Nelson explained. "We thought the metagame would be Bant Company, which is unfavorable for us but winnable, and a lot of anti-Company decks, which we have a good matchup against." They were happy with their metagame call when I talked to them earlier today, but the Standard rounds did not work out well for them—except for Braun-Duin.
Two standout cards in the list from that quartet were Tamiyo, Field Researcher and Day's Undoing. "Tamiyo is good against almost every deck. It taps down Ishkanah, Grafwidow and is good in the Company mirror, where it provides early value," Brian Braun-Duin explained. "And Day's Undoing from the sideboard is very well set up for this event. Temur Emerge spends turns spinning its wheels and putting cards in the graveyard, so after a Day's Undoing they have to spend two turns reassembling their graveyard, while you can win quickly."
6-1 and tied for the lead in #MTGChamp after a 4-0 run with Bant Humans. Brad Nelson nailed it. Still a lot of Magic left to be played.— Brian Braun-Duin (@BraunDuinIt) September 2, 2016
The testing team of No. 4-ranked Luis Scott-Vargas, No. 9-ranked Samuel Pardee, No. 14-rankedMike Sigrist, and No. 14-ranked Paulo Vitor Damo da Rosa all chose the deck, and they posted a positive win percentage altogether. "In the mirror match, Deep-Fiending [your opponent] over and over is better than Emrakuling them," Pardee said when I asked about their deck choice. "Eldrazi Obligator from the sideboard fits that plan as well. We played a lot of games with it, and found that Primal Druid kind of sucks and that Gnarlwood Dryad and Nissa, Vastwood Seer are great."
Whereas the previously mentioned four players were on Elder Deep-Fiend as their primary plan and Emrakul as their secondary, three players reversed those plans in importance with an archetype that we are dubbing Turbo Emrakul. With access to Nissa's Pilgrimage, Primal Druid, Shrine of the Forsaken Gods, more Vessel of Nascency, and more Emrakul, the 13/13 comes first. Given the combined 7-4-1 record, it was the best-performing deck with at least three pilots.
The first player who chose the deck was No. 14-ranked Oliver Tiu. His testing partner, No. 11-ranked Ondřej Stráský, had enough faith in the Constructed Master to copy his exact 75-card list. "I really wanted to play Bant, but when I was playtesting with Oliver he kept crushing me," Stráský said.
"I was trying out a bunch of Temur decks [for] which I could see the potential, but none of them were amazing," Tiu explained from his end. "I was losing to Bant more than I wanted to. Then I saw Michael Majors Top 8 a StarCityGames.com Invitational with an interesting Temur list, so I tried it and found that it beat Bant consistently, as long as they aren't on the play with lots of Spell Quellers. That's when I locked it in."
The third player on a Turbo Emrakul deck was Reid Duke. "I had a good experience with Red-Green Ramp at Pro Tour Eldritch Moon," he said. "This Temur deck has all I love about the archetype, but the emerge package gives you a better chance against Bant Company. You have to be able to sweep their board via Kozilek's Return, and Red-Green Ramp can't do that until you have seven lands in play. This Temur deck is a lot faster and has more ways to set up a winning board state by turn four or five."
Duke's list had a peculiar inclusion in Sarkhan Unbroken. "I like to board out the emerge package against anything besides super aggro, so I needed all-purpose solid cards. Sarkhan Unbroken in particular I like a lot because it plays well with the ramp strategy. If it weren't for its three-color mana cost, we would've seen it much more in Standard."
Jund Delirium is one of the most controlling decks in the format. There are some sweepers with Languish and Kozilek's Return, cheap interaction with Fiery Impulse, a delirium package to make Ishkanah, Grafwidow stall the board, and eventually Emrakul, the Promised End as the win condition.
Two players chose this deck: No. 3-ranked Lukas Blohon and Kazuyuki Takimura. Although Takimura faltered, Blohon posted a pristine 4-0 record in Standard with his version of the deck, which had main deck Transgress the Mind to improve against other emerge decks. "I think it has good matchups against everything, especially against Bant Company. Sometimes opening hands with Distended Mindbender can be a bit clunky, but the power level of the deck is pretty good," Blohon explained. "I played with it a lot and was happy with it."
Excited to go 4-0 with Jund after 1-2 draft. Hope I can do better in the second one tomorrow #MTGChamp— LukasBlohon (@LukasBlohon) September 2, 2016
"This deck makes me want to play Standard," Assistant Tournament Manager Jared Silva said after watching one of Rubin's games. As the deck aims to loop Crush of Tentacles with Den Protector or win by chaining turns with Part the Waterveil, it certainly does something exciting and unique.
"I saw that the deck came in ninth at Grand Prix Portland and that two different people went 7-1 or better at the StarCityGames.com Invitational," No. 5-ranked Steve Rubin told me. So then he gave it a try and liked the way the deck felt like a real combo deck. "I think it's really good versus other Emrakul decks, which I thought half the tournament would be on. The Bant Company matchup is slightly unfavorable, but it's close."
One peculiar choice was 3 Sylvan Advocates and zero Elvish Visionarys. "You kind of need blockers," Rubin explained. "Visionaries are cute with Crushes, but if you spend two mana to cycle then I'd rather just play a real card. Advocates block, narrow your combo window, and are much better at finishing opponents off." It was a case of déjà vu for Rubin, as the first change that he (and Brian Braun-Duin) made when testing Green-White Tokens for Pro Tour Shadows over Innistrad—the Pro Tour Rubin won—was to replace Elvish Visionary for Sylvan Advocate. Never change a Pro Tour–winning lesson
Jiachen Tao chose Black-Green Delirium, the deck that he played at Pro Tour Eldritch Moon and at Grand Prix Portland. With his choice, Tao favored familiarity over metagame positioning.
His list was similar to Michael Hantz's Black-Green Delirium deck from the Top 8 of Grand Prix Portland, most notably with Vessel of Nascency instead of Grim Flayer. "Grim Flayer is good when you're ahead, but very poor when you're behind," Tao said.
One of the most unexpected deck choices was Bant Spirits, played by none other than defending World Champion and No. 2-ranked Seth Manfield.
At Pro Tour Eldritch Moon, Jan Ksandr and some other players played the archetype (albeit with Duskwatch Recruiter instead of Ojutai's Command and Clash of Wills) but no one did better than 6-4 with the deck. Seth Manfield's team also had a Bant Spirits deck that was performing kind of well in testing for that event, but it was eventually set aside.
For the World Championship, after grinding over a hundred matches on Magic Online with various decks, Manfield felt that Bant Spirits was really good. "I found the deck last-minute on Wednesday morning. I'm not sure that the list is optimal, but it felt really good. A lot of the other decks, everyone knows about them, and I wanted to be coming with something different for this tournament, so I'm happy with my deck choice."
The metagame may have worked out in Manfield's favor, as Mono-White Humans ("the only weak matchup") didn't show up, and Liliana, the Last Veil decks weren't very popular either. "I don't even think that the matchup against Liliana decks is bad, because all of my cards are at instant speed and I have counterspells," Manfield added.
One surprising card in Manfield's sideboard is Spectral Shepherd. "One of my teammates found it and I was like, "Sure, I'll throw it in the board." It's pretty nice with Spell Queller." Indeed, it's a five-mana Counterspell every turn, which can be pretty sweet.
Manfield went 3-1 in Standard, showing that when it comes to deck calls for Magic events, the reigning World Champion is still one of the absolute best to trust.