Standard through Mono-Colored Lenses
There’s something brewing in Standard right now. It’s not exactly an upwelling of rebellion, but a cautious, easy transition that could portent a future full of Forests . . . and Plains, Mountains, and Swamps. Maybe Islands.
I wouldn’t call it a metagame shift or a changing of the guards or even much of a trend just yet, but over the last several weeks, we’ve been seeing quite a bit of basic-land love.
As anyone who follows the Magic Pro Tour Twitter account might know, my partner-in-Calgary Josh Bennett went a little nuts on Twitter expressing his excitement at the deck Gaudenis Vidugiris was playing (he would ultimately finish forty-fifty). Part of that excitement was due in no small part to the significant number of basic lands being played.
But it wasn’t just Vidugiris. Two mono-colored decks made the Top 8 of StarCityGames Open Richmond. Two more (well, one was nearly mono-colored) made the Top 8 of Grand Prix Calgary—and in two different colors than what did well in Richmond! And then, a nearly mono-colored deck and a fully monochromatic build made the Top 8 of the Standard Open in New Jersey, too.
It’s Imperiosaur’s world. We’re just living in it.
You would think that, on the eve of losing the mountains of mana-fixing we’ve enjoyed since Gatecrash, players would be clamoring to continue using their Innistrad and Core Set dual lands, but the size of the Standard card pool, plus the addition of a few key cards, have actually incentivized going the other way.
The two biggest and best reasons to abandon four other colors are readily apparent:
Mutavault is a pretty subtle push toward limiting your colors, but the fact that it makes colorless mana and the fact that it helps push through damage make it inviting, and more effective, in decks that can be aggressive and rely on their mana being good.
Burning Earth, on the other hand, is anything but subtle. Its presence in the format does give some reason to abandon nonbasic lands if you’re not playing red, but conversely, the presence of so many dual lands in the format actually heavily incentivizes playing Burning Earth for yourself.
So, let’s run through the five colors and check out their recent successes ignoring (or nearly ignoring) the other guys, starting with, of course, the most obvious home of both Mutavault and Burning Earth.
Since the days of Ironclaw Orcs, mono-red has been the aggressive choice for many a certain type of mage. Wizards has shown that they’re almost always willing to make the deck viable, at times even among the best decks. While we don’t have a Goblin Guide–type creature in the format, the size of the card pool when Standard is at its apex every summer almost ensures a critical mass of cheap burn and creatures.
Take, for example, Eric Cieszynski’s deck from the SCG Standard Open in New Jersey.
It’s pretty much right out of the burn player’s guidebook—cheap, sometimes hasty creatures, the most efficient burn possible, and a light land count. At other times in the game’s history, Rakdos Cackler has been Jackal Pup or Mogg Conscripts or Goblin Guide or whatever. The deck is relatively straightforward and basically hasn’t changed since the beginning of time.
It does, however, make the best use of Burning Earth. Those three copies in the sideboard come in against . . . well, they probably come in against a lot of things—like, basically everything, or nearly so.
So, if you’re going to go the mono-red route, why not cut out the middleman and just play Burning Earth main?
"Adam Laforest – Grand Prix Calgary"
When I asked Adam about his deck in the Top 8, he actually referred to it as “mono-red control,” which I suppose has some merit, but isn’t really accurate. It’s more of a Big Red deck, with a curve that starts at 3 for anything outside removal and a whopping twenty-five lands.
The point of the deck, it turned out, was to completely lock decks under Burning Earth by clearing their boards with removal (and Bonfires) and then just sitting back and casting a few spells to finish things off, all while your opponents pay dearly for each and every spell.
Laforest lost in the quarterfinals to a Jund deck—ostensibly the deck’s best matchup—but won the one and only game where he had Burning Earth by turn four.
If we’re going to call it control and try to lock our opponents out, there are probably a few changes I’d make to the deck. Chandra, Pyromaster seems tailor-made for this kind of strategy, picking off small creatures or combining with burn to kill larger ones, drawing cards, and ticking away at someone locked under a Burning Earth, all while building to an ultimate that, in a deck like this, probably just means you win.
"Richard Nguyen – 3rd SCG Richmond"
This is the deck Richard Nguyen took to third place at the SCG Open in Richmond, and the mana base is a dream for anyone who has to type in decklists for a living (trust me): “18 Forest, 4 Mutavault.”
You’ll also start noticing a trend that mono-colored decks tend to be aggressive decks, but we’ll come back to that.
Mutavault was a powerhouse the first time around mostly because it resided in a tribal block where it actually mattered that it had every relevant creature type. These days, there are fewer tribal effects, but those that do exist give the ’Vault a strong boost, Elvish Archdruid included. Combine the Archdruid with a bunch of mana dorks (we now have twelve available to us in Standard), and you have a ton of explosive mana. It’s perfect for Garruk, Writer of Beast Sonnets.
Why even bother with another color?
Well, remember that deck I mentioned Gaudenis Vidugiris was playing? Turns out it was something he had picked up from the rest of the StarCityGames crew.
"William Jensen – 2nd SCG Open New Jersey"
William Jensen took this very-nearly-mono-green list to second place in the Standard Open in New Jersey, and it perfectly demonstrates why it’s so easy and tempting to splash in this format.
Jensen/Vidugiris dumped Mutavault in favor of Gavony Township, correctly deciding that a deck full of tiny creatures didn’t need more tiny creatures . . . it needed to maximize the creatures it had. The white splash can barely even be called that, as Loxodon Smiter was the only card with white mana in its casting cost. Gavony Township was the real reward for adopting a second color.
Once again, Elvish Archdruid provides much of the ability to grow big, but even then, just chaining a bunch of mana Elves together into Garruk, Animal Wrangler to go find more mana Elves (and possibly Craterhoof Behemoth) is a pretty attractive thing to do.
Beyond Ooze and Garruk, Zookeeper, there aren’t a ton of reasons to stick to mono-green, so if this is your kind of thing, one of these directions seems like the way to go.
Like mono-red, White Weenie is among the earliest archetypes in Magic’s history. Unlike mono-red, it’s not always viable.
Sure, there are always small white creatures running around, but they aren’t always tournament-worthy. But thanks to the Human tribe (which has always been and will remain weird to write) and the powerful but niche role that Brave the Elements can play, it is actually moderately viable now.
"Joshua Everly – 8th place, SCG Richmond"
Everly’s deck isn’t anything terribly groundbreaking. Mutavault is here, and so is newbie Imposing Sovereign. The deck, unlike mono-green and mono-red, doesn’t actually gain all of that much (besides Brave the Elements) from eschewing a splash. In fact, the deck could probably benefit from a light black splash for Xathrid Necromancer. The W/B deck can still support Mutavault, and it’s not as though Precinct Captain and Ajani, Caller of the Pride—the only
Really, the biggest thing it gains is tolerance to Burning Earth, which isn’t much an issue for an aggressive white deck.
Mono-black control has been a thing pretty much exactly once in the history of Magic—during a time when Wizards printed an entire set dedicated to making mono-black control a thing. And yet, thanks to that brief period in time, people still keep trying to make fetch happen.
It’s not going to happen.
But that doesn’t mean we can’t come close.
At Grand Prix Calgary, I had the “honor” of going through every single decklist for the metagame report. I looked at and considered more than six hundred decks ranging from stock Jund lists to these-are-the-cards-I-drafted decks. In between those were some mono-black decks and, more interestingly, some nearly-mono-black decks.
Apparently, that something is green.
"Trent Douglas – Grand Prix Calgary Top 8"
Douglas and his deck were no slouch, dispatching Melissa DeTora and Jacob Wilson in back-to-back rounds on his way to the Top 8 (where he lost in the quarterfinals). If you want to read more about the deck, I did a full deck tech on it that you can read here.
Which brings us to Blue. As the best color in Magic, surely this is the best mono-colored deck, right?
. . .
Blue is, oddly enough, the only color that doesn’t really lend itself to a single-colored strategy at the moment.
The reality is that you can’t build a mono-colored control deck at the moment, especially not with blue. The incentive to add white for, at minimum, Sphinx’s Revelation and Azorius Charm, is too great. Once you’re there, you might as well add all the sweet Azorius cards at your disposal.
If we want to be aggressive, I supposed we could do something like this:
I have no idea if that’s even playable, let alone good. But even this deck wants Azorius Charm or Doom Blade or Scavenging Ooze or, or, or, or . . . Like white, I just don’t see the incentive here to stick to just blue.
Things I Think I’m Thinking About . . . Other Names for Garruk
- Beast Whisperer
- Veteran Veterinarian
- Ranch Hand
- Beautician of the Beast
- Architect of Beast
- Beast Sculptor