Return to Normalcy

Standard has been, or at least was, Magic’s flagship competitive, Constructed format for quite some time. But as of late, Standard has been taking the back seat to Modern and even some more fringe, fan supported formats. This result was the culmination of a multitude of issues, but Wizards has been attempting to right the ship, and I think everything is finally back on course. For the first time in a while, I’m optimistic about the future of Standard.

While I don’t support banning cards with the intent of keeping a format fresh, I recognize that it is, at times, necessary, and I’m pleased with the result in this case. If the current format is any indication of what we can expect going forward, Standard is poised for a massive resurgence. At the moment, solving the format doesn’t seem to be as simple as finding the most flexible green based deck, or just building around some overly-pushed mythic on the cover of a pack. Jadelight Ranger is good but not Rogue Refiner/Tireless Tracker-good, and The Scarab God and Hazoret the Fervent are great but not Gideon, Ally of Zendikar/Emrakul, the Promised End-great. I know it’s still early, but things actually feel balanced.

At this point in time, there’s at least a dozen decks I could foresee being the best choice for a specific weekend, and I fully expect this to remain the norm throughout the majority of the season. Staying on top of the format is going to require some work, but I’m happy to help in that department.

While I was deep in the trenches during the release week of format, I haven’t played a Standard league since SCG Dallas, so I’m not as on top of the Magic Online metagame as I normally would be. Fortunately, Jaberwocki recorded a list of his last 100 matchups over the past week, so we still have a lot of data to work with. I’m also way too lazy to bother recording results while playing, so having this to use as a reference is more valuable anyway.

The initial results look great. The only thing that’s even slightly worrying is +20% Hazoret decks, but there is plenty of variation among them, and people always tend to gravitate toward proven aggro strategies in the early stages of formats.

While Mardu Vehicles has seen more success at the SCG Tour Team Trios events, Mono-Red is continuing to see more play online, and rightfully so. There is more incentive to splash without Ramunap Ruins, but you have to draw the line somewhere. The Mardu shell certainly contains some powerful cards, but butchering your mana base in order to play them isn’t worth it. As my pal, Peter Ingram, would say, “the juice is not worth the squeeze.” I’m still not entirely sure what that means, as I’ve never heard anyone else use the phrase, but it seems like it applies here. If I were to play a Hazoret deck anytime in the near future, I would want to keep the deck as lean and consistent as possible.


I’m really big on incorporating the pirate package, and placing an emphasis on getting people dead. Doing so will give you a significant edge against the other Red decks. Contrary to popular belief, in a true aggro mirror, the leaner deck tends to be the favorite. When a deck is aggressive to the extent that it can’t realistically assume a controlling role, your plan basically always involves getting under the opponent. So, in a match between two hyper aggressive decks, the deck that can get underneath the other one and create more favorable mana exchanges is the favorite. The other, and arguably more important, reason to build the deck in this manner is the fact that Hazoret has a big target on its back at the moment. Without Ramunap Ruins to capitalize on early chip damage, the current iterations of Red really rely on Hazoret to close out games. And with Hazoret and The Scarab God being the premier threats of the format, exile removal is showing up in large numbers. Because of this, moving to a more potent aggressive plan seems like an important step. By lowering the curve of the deck, you’re less likely to need to stick a Hazoret to win, and you’re more likely to be able to both play and attack with Hazoret on curve, therefore mitigating the effectiveness of removal against it.

In addition to Hazoret, The Scarab God has emerged as the other pillar of the format. The Scarab God is simply the best thing you can be doing in midrange mirrors, and it’s not even that bad against Red. Early results indicate that Grixis is the best home for The Scarab God, but I’m skeptical of the deck in general.


I mentioned this deck in my last article, and I had it as my frontrunner to become the best deck in the format. Apparently, I was both right and wrong. Grixis has been putting up more results than any other deck, but the deck has been pretty mediocre in my experience. You have the tools to beat the aggressive decks, but you’re still going to lose to stumbling a non-negligible percentage of the time. Whirler Virtuoso has a precedent of beating up on aggro decks, but now that producing energy isn’t as easy as breathing, it’s nothing more than a speed bump. In the 20ish matches I played with the deck, I only made more than one token on a few occasions. In addition to a questionable aggro matchup, the deck is also a dog to any control deck. Game 1 is basically unwinnable, and the deck does improve after boarding, but it’s still close at that point. I do like the Angrath, the Flame-Chained in this list. I’m not particularly high on the card in general, but a reasonably costed haymaker against control that can’t be Essence Scattered is exactly what the deck wants in the matchup.


Nissa, Steward of Elements
If you’re trying to cast The Scarab God, my updated Sultai list is another possible option. When I was testing Grixis for SCG Dallas, I noticed that I won basically every game I played a copy of The Scarab God in a reasonable time frame. I didn’t like how clunky the rest of the deck was, so I focused my efforts on building the best shell to abuse The Scarab God. The entire deck revolves around clogging the ground up before eventually winning with The Scarab God. I won a ton in the two days I played it online, and had an insane record against everything but Merfolk. And while having a bad Merfolk matchup was incredibly frustrating, it wasn’t enough to deter me from handing the deck to my brother for Dallas. Dan had our best record in Dallas at 13-2, and the deck still seems good to me. I’ve made some changes like cutting the Bristling Hydras that were only really in the deck because the deck wanted a 4-drop, and I was afraid of playing any other one against opposing Ravenous Chupacabras and Glorybringers. I’m of the opinion that Ravenous Chupacabra is extremely overrated, but it’s still a good fit for the deck. It’s perfect for slowing the game down, and it’s the best card to bring back with The Scarab God. Also, being able to hit a removal spell off of a Nissa, Steward of Elements is nice. I’ve seen a lot of people talking negatively about the Nissas in the main deck, but I think it’s one of the best cards in the deck. It lets you attack control decks from a different angle, and by playing it with all the explore cards, you really up the consistency of the card.

I guess this the part where I defend Merfolk Branchwalker. I’ll start by saying that I don’t think Merfolk Branchwalker is a particularly good Magic card, but it’s perfectly fine in this deck. As I mentioned, the deck is built almost entirely around The Scarab God, so having a 2-drop that helps you hit land drops, digs for The Scarab God, and provides some fuel for the The Scarab God is exactly what you want. And by playing it with Nissa, you mitigate how poor of a draw it is later on in the game. If anyone can tell me another cheap creature that would be better in that spot, I’d be happy to listen, but I’ve found it to be the best fit.

Despite what this article has suggested up until this point, there are playable decks that don’t contain Hazoret or The Scarab God. It stands to reason that we’re seeing decks with the most individually powerful cards succeed early on. It’s going to take some time and effort to flesh out the rest of the format, but there are more than a few decks that have a lot of promise.


A few decks similar to this one have been putting up results online and in SCG events, and it has a lot going for it. Against the Red aggro decks, you can throw out some early chump blockers before you start bringing back 2-4 Sunscourge Champions at a time. Actual Vehicles could throw a wrench into this game plan, but I’d have to imagine that’s a fixable problem. The Red matchup seems favorable, and the Grixis matchup seems absolutely great. I can’t imagine losing to Grixis anyway besides an unchecked Scarab God, and it only takes one copy of Ixalan’s Binding to deal with all of them. The control matchup is likely abysmal, and my adorable sideboard plan of Adanto Vanguards and counterspells probably doesn’t do enough to fix that, but this is something to keep an eye on if Red and Grixis stay on top.


This is the other deck I can’t wait to put some work in to. I’ve been interested in building with Secrets of the Golden City since I wrote about it on the first day of spoilers. The fact that this deck is this rough looking, but someone was still able to 6-2 an event with it is a testament to how powerful this shell might be. If we’re targeting Red and Grixis, this deck seems insane. Against Red, you have access to a ton of cheap removal and plenty of ways to deal with Hazoret. As long as you even somewhat stymie their early aggression, stabilizing shouldn’t be too difficult with a full set of Regal Caracal in your deck. Against Grixis, the card advantage you gain from Secrets should be too much for them to overcome.

I genuinely enjoy this format at the moment, and it’s rare for me to enjoy anything. I’m just hoping it can hold up once events start popping up and the community at large turns their attention toward it. But until someone proves me wrong and snaps the format in half, I’m just happy to be playing a format that actually feels like Standard.


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