The Standard metagame has been evolving continually, and the question of "What is the best deck to play right now?" has been on many players' minds as the Grand Prix weekend approached. In this article, I'll provide a recap of how the format has shifted from week to week lately, and I'll gather the thoughts of several pros on how to tackle the current state of the format.
Three weeks ago: Pro Tour Dragons of Tarkir
In Brussels (http://magic.wizards.com/en/events/coverage/ptdtk), diversity was the name of the game. In the Standard portion of the competition, we saw all kinds of decks, ranging from Red Aggro, U/B(/W) Control, Abzan Aggro, Abzan Control, Green Devotion, Jeskai Tokens, Sidisi-Whip, and many, many others.
As Hall of Famer Paulo Vitor Damo da Rosa put it: "There was no deck that was clearly the best at the PT; people were playing decks all over the place."
Two weeks ago: Grand Prix Kraków
After the Pro Tour, several pros stayed for a week in Europe to catch the Grand Prix in Poland (http://magic.wizards.com/en/events/coverage/gpkra15). The main story coming out of that event was the breakout performance of Esper Dragons. Red Aggro, Abzan Aggro, and Red/Green Devotion were also popular choices on Sunday, but Esper Dragons dominated the tournament, with five copies in the Top 8 and the finals being decided by an Esper Dragons mirror match.
"In Kraków, people used decklists from the Pro Tour," No. 24 Martin Jůza explained. "Esper Dragons and Abzan Aggro put many people at 8-2 or better Standard records, Red/Green Devotion put two people in the Top 8, and Atarka Red won the Pro Tour, so those four decks were the biggest in Kraków. But the results in Kraków showed that Esper Dragons is by far the best, especially if people are underprepared for it."
One week ago: The Regional Pro Tour Qualifiers
Last weekend, we had the Regional Pro Tour Qualifiers all over the world (http://magic.wizards.com/en/articles/archive/organized-play/rptqs-and-mo...). I took the effort of looking over all the lists and determined the weighted metagame (giving 4 points to place 1-4 finishers and 3 points to places 5-8, to combine both performance and popularity in one metric) as follows:
|Red Aggro (with or without Atarka's Command)||21.4|
There are two main things to note here. First, the fall of Green Devotion. Second, the rise of Megamorph decks featuring Deathmist Raptor and Den Protector. As No. 22 Willy Edel pointed out, "Green Devotion has a natural bad matchup against Blue/Black Control and Esper Dragons, so it is getting removed from the metagame. On the other hand, green decks with Deathmist and Den Protector have been huge last weekend."
This weekend marks a dual Standard Grand Prix in both Toronto and São Paulo. With the Standard metagame shaped by the results of the previous weeks, where are we at right now? Who better to ask than the four players in the entire event with three byes?
From left to right: Martin Jůza, Willy Edel, Paulo Vitor Damo Da Rosa, and Thiago Saporito
Martin Jůza stressed how people have noticed that the morph synergy is really good against control. "At the RPTQs, many people transformed their green decks to support Deathmist Raptor and Den Protector, and I think that's also what's going to happen here. We're going to see a lot of morphs. But this has a cascading effect on card choices. For example, Ashiok, Nightmare Weaver is good against Esper Dragons and Deathmist Raptor, so many Esper Dragons have added that card, even maindeck, which in turn makes Hero's Downfall in Abzan Aggro better."
Willy Edel highlighted the regional differences. "In Kraków we had Pro Tour winners playing the best deck in Esper Dragons, but people in Brazil like green decks over counterspells and they favor the deck they are more comfortable with. I also expect many players to be ready for Dragonlord Ojutai with cards like Crackling Doom. For those reasons, I think Esper won't be played a lot here. Some really good players like Paulo will play it, and they will do well with it, but there won't be a huge turnout. I expect more Deathmist Raptor decks. At the Pro Tour, with only two weeks to playtest, many players couldn't go too deep, and we didn't see any good morph deck there yet. But people have had enough time to perfect their builds now."
According to Paulo Vitor Damo Da Rosa, we are at the point where everyone knows what's good and what's not, so people will either play those decks or tune their decks to beat those decks. "So any time you see an Abzan Aggro deck, it will be tuned against Esper Dragons. And every Esper Dragons deck will have a sideboard against Mono-Red. This is different from the Pro Tour, where there were like 20 decks and no one had any idea what was best."
Finally, Pro Tour Khans of Tarkir Top 8 competitor Thiago Saporito gave his metagame prediction. "I think there will be a lot of Mono Red and Esper, and I think playing a deck that can beat both of those decks is important. I don't expect too much Abzan; it's probably going to be the third most popular deck. Deathmist Raptor is a good way to beat Esper Dragons because they cannot permanently deal with it except for Ugin."
The key take-away
The main lesson overall seems to be that the Deathmist Raptor / Den Protector engine is well suited for fighting Esper Dragons. So maybe this will be a weekend dominated by the morphs? Then again, perhaps the people who anticipate this metagame shift and have shown up with cards like Anafenza, the Foremost; Anger of the Gods; Silence the Believers; Abzan Charm; Icefall Regent; Wingmate Roc; or Elspeth, Sun's Champion can prey on the graveyard engine or defeat Deathmist Raptor by going over the top. The Standard metagame is marching ever onwards, and it shows no sign of slowing down.
More on Sunday, when we'll have a detailed breakdown of all Day 2 decklists for you!