The first Grand Prix with Fate Reforged in Standard saw a diverse Top 8, featuring everything from the aggressive to the midrange to the eventual winner, Blue-Black Control. As players tested and tuned for Grand Prix Memphis, the question was: Is there a best deck in Standard?
“There's definitely not a best deck,” said Pro Tour Khans of Tarkir Semifinalist Mike Sigrist. After testing and discarding every other potentially viable archetype, he settled on a build of White-Red Aggro for the Grand Prix, where he's looking for a strong finish to earn the last three points he needs to secure Gold status in the wake of his Pro Tour finish.
In a format with no clear best option, Pro Tour Khans of Tarkir Semifinalist Mike Sigrist, focused on tuning his deck of choice, White-Red Aggro, for an open metagame.
“All the decks in the format are pretty close,” agreed Ross Merriam, who finished 54th in at the recent Pro Tour Fate Reforged and tested with Sigrist in preparation for today's Grand Prix. He joined Sigrist in sleeving up White-Red, as he shoots for a Top 8 finish to earn Silver status and another Pro Tour invite.
Following Red-Green Devotion's strong showing at Grand Prix Seville, Sigrist began his testing with the thought that he would follow suit and adopt that deck's strategy of accelerating out a large Genesis Hydra or Hornet Queen through the power of early mana dorks. While the deck had a decent match-up against some of the format's key players such as White-Red and Abzan, it ultimately proved too inconsistent, said Sigrist, reliant as it is on drawing just the right combination of mana ramp and threats.
Merriam has been playing White-Red for several weeks, and wanted to stick close to that strategy, though he briefly considered adding blue to his deck to gain access to Mantis Rider and a wider array of sideboard options. While both White-Red and Jeskai have a similar game plan, looking to supplement early threats like Seeker of the Way and Hordeling Outburst with a healthy dose of burn spells, Jeskai offers a less “polarized” approach to the metagame, said Merriam.
“White-Red's good match-ups tend to be slightly worse with Jeskai, while its bad match-ups get a bit better,” he said. In the end, Merriam decided that he wasn't impressed with Mantis Rider, and preferred the smoother two-color mana base that White-Red provided.
Having settled on White-Red, Sigrist and Merriam set about tuning their lists, preparing especially for the new Red-Green monster in the room. Since there is no clear best deck, “the key to this Standard format is sideboarding,” Merriam said.
In this Standard format, Merriam said learning to properly sideboard into an open metagame is of utmost importance.
They started by adding more copies of Fate Reforged's Valorous Stance, a flexible instant that could smite many of the high-toughness creatures out of devotion-based strategies. They also deduced that a likely ripple effect of Green-Red Devotion's rise would be a corresponding increase in controlling strategies, whose access to board-clearing spells like End Hostilities and Crux of Fate meant they had a strong match-up against devotion decks.
Armed with that knowledge, the duo weighed different sideboard options. Cards like Outpost Siege, Hammer of Purphoros, and Mastery of the Unseen were all on the table, as each enchantment offered a recurring source of card advantage while remaining impervious to removal spells such as Hero's Downfall.
“Outpost Siege has continued to impress,” Sigrist said, as he has gone up to the full four copies between his main deck and sideboard. They each also added copies of Mastery of the Unseen, a card able to churn out a constant stream of 2/2 manifest creatures to strain the removal suite of Blue-Black Control decks, and rebuild after a wrath.
With that match-up accounted for, they turned their attention to the other prominent archetypes in this open Standard metagame. Monastery Mentor became Brimaz, King of Oreskos, a stronger threat in the mirror match, while additional Valorous Stances provided insurance against the many Siege Rhinos trampling around amongst the many flavors of Abzan.
“White-Red is an interesting position, where half your cards are good against one half of the field, while the rest of your cards are good against the other,” Merriam said. For instance, decks with Sylvan Caryatid and Courser of Kruphix can easily block the 1/1 Goblin tokens from a Hordeling Outburst and white removal spells like Valorous Stance shine, he said, whereas against base White-Red decks, Hordeling Outburst is an all-star, while white removal is somewhat poor. But in an open metagame, with no true best archetype, those sorts of trade-offs are necessary, he said.
As the format continues to ebb and flow, are there any cards from Fate Reforged that have yet to make the impact that might at first have been anticipated?
“I was really high on Yasova Dragonclaw and Shaman of the Great Hunt,” Merriam said. However, since those creatures both have 2 toughness, they haven't been able to make their mark with so many Wild Slashes and Lightning Strikes at hand to efficiently burn them away, he said. But with so much deck variety and a format in constant flux, perhaps the pair of Temur 4/2s will eventually get their day in the sun.