Third Ban’s the Charm

Aetherworks Marvel
So, it’s come to this. Smuggler’s Copter. Emrakul, the Promised End. Reflector Mage. Felidar Guardian. Aetherworks Marvel. Three bans, five cards, six months. To be honest, emotions should be mixed here. Finally, Standard appears to be a format not in the grips of a single dominant strategy. It’s not like Standard was ever a true one-deck metagame, with only one actual viable deck, but even a format where every deck must necessarily warp to try and shore up one overwhelming matchup quickly becomes stale and unfun. The most charitable narrative of the recent Standard debacle takes that into account, understanding that Wizards had their hands tied by the recent development mistakes, and as bad as repeated amputations are, they are preferable to the whole format going down in a Marvel-fueled fire.

Of course, there’s the other narrative here, the one pushed by jaded, salty players who feel disenfranchised and unhappy after a string of (not unexpected!) bans repeatedly burned a few hundred dollars of their collection by destroying the value of their Standard decks. For them, the first ban was refreshing, if incomplete. The second ban was unfortunately timed, as it could have been pre-emptive and saved a Standard format, and the third ban was just salt in the wound. If Wizards had been a bit more proactive and aggressive with their banning the first time around (hitting Marvel and Guardian at the same time as Emrakul, Reflector Mage, and Copter), none of this repeated agony would have been necessary. I sympathize with these players, as Wizards’ diffidence in the face of a crumbling Standard cost these folks money. And for those who argue that “they should have seen this coming”, part of the problem is that players still need a deck to play at their local FNMs, PPTQs, IQs, and the like. Asking people to play a suboptimal deck at their competitive events in order to hedge against having that deck castrated by a ban is kind of missing the point. Players shouldn’t have to worry about losing their investment because they are playing the best cards. Magic is not (and should not be) the stock market, where the highest risk investments yield the highest rewards. Of the two narratives, I prefer the first one (and personally find it more in line with my mentality about recent events) but recognize the reality of the second one for many players.

But enough whining and bellyaching about the Standard that should have been for the last six months. We’ve got a Standard right here and now that we get to enjoy for the next six, and I’ll be damned if I don’t try to make the most of it. Plus, without some of the more oppressive parts of Standard holding the rest of the cards hostage, a few underappreciated rogue strategies might have what it takes to be the next big thing.

There are a few obvious decks that get meaningfully more powerful with the loss of Aetherworks Marvel, and a few not-so-obvious ones. Of the former category, we have Mardu Vehicles and a whole swath of {B}{G} decks. Of the latter category, we have some {U}{R}{X} control decks that can now adapt and target the metagame better, Zombies (which can now focus on beating Mardu and{B}{G}{X} ), various {U}{R} Emerge strategies, and a few super-spicy numbers at the end of the article. A preliminary taste of the metagame at the SCG Invitational in a few weeks might look like the following:


This is very close to Andrew Jessup’s winning deck from the first Open this season, updated a bit to handle the onrush of Zombies that may fill the void with Marvel leaving. A few more Radiant Flames, a heavier Archangel Avacyn + Walking Ballista component, and the same Fumigate + Planeswalker sideboard package that we’ve known and loved for quite some time now all come together to provide the immediate big litmus test for the rest of the format. Just promise me we won’t see a Gideon banning . . . 

In all seriousness, the other busted four-mana mythic is likely to be a focal point of many, many Standard games going forward, and proper sequencing to stick your Gideon in the mirror match will make or break your win percentage if you do choose to play the level-zero deck. However, if you’re looking to try to attack the metagame, you could do worse than{B}{G}.


Again, a few hedges towards Zombies (see all the Yahenni’s Expertises? Kalitas, Traitor of Ghet? Flaying Tendrils?) on a fairly stock-ish list and you have a decent starting point for a deck to attack Mardu Vehicles. Ishkanah, Grafwidow, as always, is a powerhouse against small White aggressive creatures, and the various Planeswalkers do a ton of heavy lifting for you. I do worry, however, about the deck’s matchup against {U}{R} Control. A few counterspells, a Glimmer of Genius, and a Torrential Gearhulk, and the game can quickly spiral out of your grasp. Perhaps a more aggressive slant, similar to Sam Pardee’s deck from Grand Prix Omaha, allows for a better matchup against any slower Glimmer of Genius-based decks.


Now this is a {B}{G} Delirium deck that actually hits hard! Winding Constrictor and Grim Flayer are the best and brightest {B}{G} 2-drops, forcing opponents to have an answer immediately or die quickly. If it isn’t Constrictors and Rishkar, Peema Renegade beating opponents silly on turn three, it’s a Grim Flayer as a 4/4 Trample for two that also filters draws. What more could you ask for? Sam Pardee designed a masterpiece, and with only a few tweaks to adjust to the increase in Zombies and the loss of Marvel, you have a ready-made deck to put opponents to the test quickly. {B}{G} Pardee-style midrange against Jessup-style Mardu Vehicles will likely be the marquee matchup of the new Standard, with multiple levels of play at every stage of the game, several sideboard jukes available to savvy players, and perpetual next-leveling opportunities in deck construction. This is what Standard is all about!

Well, except for the fact that I, like many people, am stuck in an outdated mindset. Maybe some new perspectives would be helpful for us to better analyze Standard . . . 


New Perspectives
Now this is a deck! Fun, interactive Magic, the way Richard Garfield intended, right? In all seriousness, New Perspectives is the Living End of Standard. An engine deck, with one key card that needs to resolve to actually win the game, but once it does, you’re almost guaranteed a win. A couple of sideboard jukes to allow the deck to win if the opponent attacks the single-mindedness of the starting sixty, and voila! A proven winner. If I don’t see at least a few people going off with New Perspectives in new Standard, I will be disappointed. Hell, it might even be time to buy the dirt-cheap deck on MTGO, and take advantage of a vulnerable metagame. If no one has countermagic, and few people are running maindeck discard, New Perspectives can win upwards of seventy percent of its Game 1s, and the sideboard plans can give upwards of forty percent for games two and three, resulting in an overall win percentage that is truly out of this world. The only problem is that New Perspectives is so narrow and singleminded that it will likely only be good for a short while, before others adapt to it with a few maindeck Negates and Transgress the Mind.

Of course, if we’re talking about new perspectives on Standard, there’s one mad scientist I’m always thrilled to consult. Sam Black, with his incredible Abzan Tokens deck, may have preemptively broken post-banning Standard in a pre-banning world. If Abzan Tokens was good enough to beat most non-Marvel decks pre-banning, then maybe in a world where no one expects it and the metagame becomes hyper-inbred, it will swing in to break things wide open. If we see a paucity of Anointer Priest Tokens in the SCG camera matches at the Invitational, you know who to blame!


Sacred Cat
Hot damn, this deck is cool! For a few minutes after PT Amonkhet, it seemed like maybe Sam Black had saved Standard, but Ulamog, the Ceaseless Hunger quickly cooled any of the hype surrounding this deck. Now that Ulamog can’t show up on turn four anymore, the most fun deck in Standard gets to show us the true meaning of ‘playtime’. You can slow down Mardu’s fastest draws with the noted Standard powerhouse Sacred Cat, clog the board with Anointed Procession and Hidden Stockpile, and win with an eventual Ormendahl or thirty or more creatures. Just remember to protect your precious Anointer Priests with a Gideon Emblem!

If there’s room in the same Standard for a degenerate combo deck that draws its whole deck before winning with one copy of Approach of the Second Sun, and room for a deck that gains multiple hundreds of life while drawing the game out with seven copies of Anointer Priest on the battlefield, then maybe this truly is the golden Standard that we’ve been waiting for since Kaladesh came out so long ago. In that case, I’m willing to forgive Wizards their transgressions, and get back to the format where you can cast a few Transgresses!


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