The interesting thing about Standard is that it never really stays the same.
During the period leading into Shadows over Innistrad, the perceived "best decks" to the general public were Mono White Humans and Bant Company. Since then, the little white men have dwindled in numbers, and Bant Company didn't quite live up to expectations despite having so many pilots at the Pro Tour.
New archetypes emerged, such as Black-Green Seasons Past, Black-Green Aristocrats, Red-Green Goggles Ramp, among others. After Steve Rubin showed the world that White-Green Tokens was the way to go, players picked up on that trend as evidenced by the results of Grand Prix Toronto last week. It was also there that White-Black Control and Grixis Control saw a steady rise to prominence, while other decks faded into memory.
The past three weeks have been a roller coaster ride, quite literally. With Standard being so diverse, and perhaps volatile, and there is always a metagame void that you can exploit.
This is exactly what Raymond Tan is betting on this weekend.
The two-time Malaysia National Champion is a member of DE Cards, one of the premier teams in this country. His claim to fame and most memorable achievement would be winning Grand Prix Kitakyushu in 2013, which makes him one of the few non-Japanese players to have ever won a Grand Prix in Japan.
Advancing to Day 2 with an excellent 8-1 record, Tan was hunting for his third Grand Prix Top 8 with a deck that he has carefully selected to combat the metagame. Once again, the angle of attack is finding a void to exploit.
"Atarka Red hasn't really been popular because of how popular White Weenie was in the beginning. It is a really bad matchup, since you cannot race it fast enough. They have creatures starting from turn 1 like I do, but their creatures are bigger and can even grow. This is why Atarka Red has never seen the light of day."
True enough, this is the first time we are seeing Atarka Red since Shadows over Innistrad entered the fray. It's popularity peaked during Pro Tour Dragons of Tarkir and Pro Tour Magic Origins, with Joel Larsson and Martin Dang winning those events respectively. With the rotation of key staples such as Hordeling Outburst, Become Immense, and Temur Battle Rage, it would seem that the archetype went from hero to zero.
Most players would agree that the one-drops are the most crucial part of a Red aggro deck, since you need to start applying pressure while everyone else is setting up their mana and fumbling with their tapped lands. Monastery Swiftspear's departure hurt the archetype a lot, but Tan briefly considered Village Messenger as the replacement. Not quite reliable, he eventually decided on Falkenrath Gorger instead.
"It's just the usual stuff. A bunch of one-drops, Abbot of the Keral Keep and Reckless Bushwhacker. Titan's Strength will provide some burst damage and Atarka's Command is still the best card in the deck. The deck isn't revolutionary, it's simply forgotten. And this weekend is the best opportunity to play it."
8-1 in Day 1, and still going strong!
What did Tan expect the metagame to be in Tokyo?
"Judging from the results of Grand Prix Toronto and last week's StarCityGames events, it would seem like the control decks are on the rise. For example, I felt that White-Black Control, Black-Green Control, Grixis Control and White-Green or Naya Midrange decks to become popular. If this trend occurs, Ramp strategies will also pick up."
True enough, a lot of the best players in the room are playing control decks of this nature (or have chosen trump with Ramp). However the only card that really matters to Tan is Kalitas, Traitor of Ghet. Thankfully, he has it all thought out, which is why a certain burn spell is back in the mix.
"Oh yes, I put back Exquisite Firecraft too."
The previous incarnation of Atarka Red required us to devote at least seven to eight slots to house the deadly combo of Temur Battle Rage and Become Immense. These cards had a significantly higher "DPS" compared to the three-mana sorcery. Along with Roast and Act of Treason from the sideboard, Tan has plenty of answers to what he feels is the best card against him.
"The reason why I chose this deck for this particular weekend, is because it is a good time to play midrange, control and ramp. These are Atarka Red's best matchups. White-Green Tokens and Bant Company are beatable, but they won't occupy as high a percentage as before."
And how about Mono White Humans?
"Oh, I've haven't played a single one so far, probably because there are just not many. I don't believe there is one single deck that can beat everything and positioning is very important. You just need to pick a deck which is good against the bigger part of the metagame and hope to dodge your bad matchups."
Wise words indeed. As we speak, Tan has dispatched another opponent, advancing to 9-1. Will his burning streak continue?
More importantly, is Atarka Red here to stay or is it simply a shimmering mirage as the metagame continues to evolve again?