Standard Evolution: The Origins, Ascent, and Survival of the Fittest

Posted in GRAND PRIX LONDON 2015 on August 15, 2015

By Craig Jones

One of the interesting things about the Standard format over the past year is how the metagame has evolved on a week-to-week basis. It's no longer a case of finding the "best" deck and plugging away with it until the results follow. There might not even be a "best" deck, and even if there is it's only on a temporary measure depending on the expected opposition. There are predators and prey in a complicated cycle and the challenge for most players is to find the right combination of 60 cards plus sideboard to put them in the "predator" role for the day's tournament.

Take a look back to the release of Dragons of Tarkir earlier in the year. At the Pro Tour it was Martin Dang's aggressive red deck splashing green for Atarka's Command that ran away with the trophy. Yet a week later, with the control decks having a better idea of what to aim at, Esper Dragons was the talk of the town. And after that it was green with Collected Company and the durability of megamorphs like Den Protector and Deathmist Raptor.

Now, we're post-Magic Origins. This has added a new cycle of planeswalkers, some very tasty red spells in the form of Abbot of Keral Keep and Exquisite Firecraft, and the incredibly versatile Hangarback Walker.

And once again the evolution is happening.

At Pro Tour Magic Origins the buzz was about a newer, burn-oriented version of the red deck and a brutally fast blue-red artifacts deck with Ensoul Artifact as the centerpiece. Here is Player of the Year Mike Sigrist's version of the Ensoul Artifact deck that took him to second place at Pro Tour Magic Origins.

Mike Sigrist's Blue-Red Ensoul Artifact – Pro Tour Magic Origins

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Ensoul Artifact has been around for a while, but previously lacked the depth to make it consistent enough. Magic Origins offered up the tools it needed. An aggressive-but-fragile Plan A of turn one artifact, turn two Ensoul it and bash face for five until opponent falls over gained a sturdier Plan B of swarming an opponent with Thopters pumped up by Chief of the Foundry. Not only does Magic Origins draft all-star Whirler Rogue generate Thopters, it also provides a way to slip any Ghostfire Blade-equipped, Ensouled monsters through annoying screens of Goblin tokens, Elves, and other nuisances to deal the killing blow. With Shrapnel Blast threatening to rip out the last quarter of an opponent's life total at any moment the deck is undisputedly very powerful and competitors this weekend at Grand Prix London will need to be aware of it.

Joel Larsson's Red Aggro – Pro Tour Magic Origins

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This is back to the heady burn-heavy days of Red Deck Wins. It's built more on classic lines—little guys to nip in for 8–10 damage, then a full suite of twenty burn spells to finish the job. Exquisite Firecraft is a fantastic addition from Magic Origins, not only is it 4 damage for a mana-efficient three mana, by the late game it's likely going to be uncounterable as well. The deck even has a little late-game card advantage provided by another new Magic Origins addition, Abbot of Keral Keep.

These two decks were the talk of Pro Tour Magic Origins, but a week is a long time in Magic. Fastforward to Grand Prix San Diego and the buzz is all about the Green-White Megamorph listing that took Brian Kibler to a 9-1 record in the Standard portion of Pro Tour Magic Origins.

Brian Kibler's Green-White Megamorph – Pro Tour Magic Origins

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While this does follow the time-honored green-white strategy of bashing face with tough, mana-efficient critters, the megamorph package of Deathmist Raptor and Den Protector gives the deck a durable late-game plan as well.

At Grand Prix San Diego this deck became the weapon of choice for most of top pros.

So, it's the same story as before: Red decks and Ensoul Artifact decks smashed face at the Pro Tour, only to fall prey to the green-white decks that came out a week later to clean up at Grand Prix San Diego.

Well, not exactly ...

Every deck is some other deck's prey, and it was Michael Major's crazy blue-red milling deck centered on Sphinx's Tutelage that ended up top of the food chain.

Michael Major's Blue-Red Tutelage – Grand Prix San Diego

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Sideboard (15)
1 Whelming Wave 4 Fiery Impulse 1 Seismic Rupture 4 Negate 1 1 Encase in Ice 1 Disperse 3 Annul

First played by Andrew Cuneo at Pro Tour Magic Origins, the deck might look like a joke at first ... until you see it in action. With a Tutelage (or two) on the battlefield, the deck can easily burn through twenty cards or more of an opponent's library in a single turn. Some decks simply can't race it. Those thinking the deck is just a joke will certainly be in for a rude awakening if they run into it unprepared this weekend.

Major's deck was not the only predator that weekend. Artur Villela took the runner-up honors at Grand Prix San Diego with Theros Block also-ran, Constellation.

Artur Villela's Abzan Constellation – Grand Prix San Diego

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Other decks might have picked up flashier additions from Magic Origins, but Constellation didn't do so badly either with Herald of the Pantheon and the late-game inevitability of Starfield of Nyx. Will this show up in greater numbers this weekend in London?

These are not the only options either. The Siege Rhinos of both control- and aggro-flavored Abzan haven't gone away. Neither have the Dragonlord Ojutais and Silumgars of Esper Dragons. Nor have the Dragonlord Atarkas and Genesis Hydras of Green-Red Devotion.

This all makes for a fascinating, diverse Standard field. Where will the metagame dial turn this weekend? Which decks will be predator, and which prey? Follow this space here as we track how Grand Prix London unfurls.