The Evolution of Standard

Posted in Event Coverage on December 3, 2016

By Hallie Santo

Nearly 1,600 players came to Denver this weekend to show off their skills in Standard, and many of them believe the format has been “solved.” For the last month, W/U Flash and B/G Delirium have been the twin titans of Standard: the former deck triumphed at Grand Prix Warsaw and Santiago, while the latter brought success for Wang Yichen in Providence. The two decks have saturated the tournament scene so completely that some are drawing comparisons to the post-Theros Standard season, when Mono-Black and Mono-Blue Devotion were ubiquitous.

However, many of the pros in attendance at Grand Prix Denver believe that we're in for a Standard shake-up. We spoke to Christian Calcano and sixth-ranked player Steve Rubin, both of whom believe there's room for innovation in the format and that some forgotten decks are poised to make comebacks. Let's review the past two months of Kaladesh Standard – they may offer some clues about where we're headed.

Chris VanMeter's R/W Vehicles – 1st Place, StarCityGames Standard Open, Indianapolis

As is often the case with new formats, Kaladesh Standard started out aggressive, with red artifact-based decks taking the lead. Chris VanMeter's win at StarCityGames's Indianapolis Open in October paved the way for R/W Vehicles, which became The Deck to Beat for the first few weeks of the season. Vehicles were appealing because they had a degree of haste – if an opponent killed your only creature, the next one you played could immediately get behind the wheel. Depala, Pilot Exemplar and the versatile Smuggler's Copter provided early aggression and an amount of card selection that often seem unthinkable for aggro decks.

Christian Calcano thinks that aggressive decks still have a place in the current Standard metagame. He rattled off a handful of archetypes that he thinks have potential: “Zombies is powerful. B/R Aggro is good. R/W Humans hasn't had a big finish yet.” Calcano is expecting to face plenty of aggressive decks today, but he's skeptical about whether Vehicles can return to their former glory.

Shota Yasooka's Grixis Control – 1st Place, Pro Tour Kaladesh

While many Vehicles decks appeared in the Top 8 of Pro Tour Kaladesh, the final match was a standoff between two control masters. Shota Yasooka's Grixis Control deck emerged victorious, and while we haven't seen much of it lately, both Calcano and Steve Rubin acknowledged the deck's inherent power.

“I like Jace, Unraveler of Secrets,” Rubin remarked when asked about some of the most underrated cards in Standard. “Unfortunately, planeswalkers just don't line up well against Vehicles and Emrakul.”

Calcano's a big fan of Torrential Gearhulk, which he called “the most powerful card that isn't being played right now.” He thinks the powerful artifact is best suited for U/R Energy decks, which have been making some small waves on Magic Online. Calcano didn't feel confident enough to bring U/R Energy to Denver, but he believes the deck is on the rise and has potential. “It's doing a lot of powerful things,” he says. “Dynavolt Tower is a hard card for a lot of decks to deal with.”

Matthew Nass's Temur Aetherworks – Top 8, Pro Tour Kaladesh

“I don't think any format is solved, but it's very clear what the top decks [in Standard] are right now,” says Rubin. But he believes there are more than just two major players in the format. Rather, Rubin thinks Standard has a “Rock-Paper-Scissors” dynamic – if U/W Flash is Paper and B/G Delirium is Scissors, Aetherworks Marvel decks represent the Rock that's due to hit Standard this weekend.

Rubin believes Aetherworks Marvel is the most powerful card in Standard right now, so he came to Denver armed with a Temur Marvel deck that hearkens back to Matt Nass's Top 8 list from Pro Tour Kaladesh. “B/G [Delirium] may be a more consistent deck, but you're advantaged because they can't disrupt you very much,” he says. Rubin was a bit concerned about W/U Flash coming into this weekend, but he feels his list is tuned to beat his worst match-up, as well as the Marvel mirror.

Most of all, Rubin looks forward to putting Emrakul into play early and often. “I like big, flashy Emrakul battles,” he says. “I love trying to prevent my opponent from taking a good turn for me.”

Calcano is also keenly aware of Aetherworks Marvel's resurgence. “People have moved away from sideboard cards like Ceremonious Rejection because Marvel disappeared after the Pro Tour,” he notes. “It's a good time for the deck to make a comeback.” Calcano also acknowledged that several flavors of Marvel are coming to the forefront: all-in combo versions and midrange decks with Marvel packages.

Standard is fairly stable right now, but it's far from solved. Dozens of decks have been popping up at Standard Showdowns in local game stores, and you're sure to find one that you enjoy.

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