Top Decks of Standard

The Standard Metagame

The Standard metagame has been diverse and competitive since rotation. There have been top decks, but nothing at Delver’s level of dominance last year. Several different deck archetypes have taken a turn at the top, claiming the title of “best deck” for a few weeks before being replaced by another. There have always been multiple good options to take to a major tournament, however, and Top 16 fields have been diverse.

In this article, I’m going to examine four of the top deck archetypes in the metagame today. I’ll review their statistics of success: the number of Top 16 appearances in the last month, the Top 16 trends over recent major tournaments, and the percentage share of 4–0 and 3–1 decks in Magic Online Daily events over the last two weeks. I’ll also provide a look at what cards are played in the Top 16 decks of each archetype and how frequently to give you an idea of what to play or to be prepared to play against.

Let’s start with a glance at the decks with the most Top 16 appearances in major Standard tournaments over the last month.

Reanimator has officially taken lead from Jund Midrange, a trend that has been quite clearly developing for several weeks. I’ll take a deeper dive into some of these decks, starting at the top.

The Deck to Beat

Reanimator has been a contender in Standard off and on since rotation. It saw a strong resurgence the weekend of March 9 with six total Top 16 appearances in three major tournaments: Grand Prix: Verona, Grand Prix: Rio, and StarCityGames Open: Indy. The trend has continued upward from there.

Reanimation is plan A for the deck. The idea is simple: Filter through your library using Mulch and Grisly Salvage, discard Unburial Rites and a big, powerful, and usually quite expensive creature, and then flash back Unburial Rites to bring said creature to the battlefield several turns early.

Plan B is the Junk Midrange option. The deck plays effective midgame creatures such as Thragtusk and Restoration Angel and plenty of mana-producing creatures to bring them out a turn or two early. Many Reanimator pilots sideboard into Plan B if they smell graveyard hate coming in Game 2, making an opponent’s Rest in Peace or Ground Seal fairly useless.

Here is an example of a recent Top 16 Junk Reanimator list:

The Cards

The following charts include every card played in Top 16 Reanimator decks over the last month. The % Decks column indicates how frequently the card is included.

Creatures (Main)

Card % Decks Avg Main
Restoration Angel 100% 3.0
Angel of Serenity 100% 3.1
Craterhoof Behemoth 95% 1.8
Avacyn's Pilgrim 95% 3.8
Thragtusk 95% 3.9
Centaur Healer 95% 2.2
Obzedat, Ghost Council 81% 0.8
Arbor Elf 67% 2.5
Lotleth Troll 62% 2.5
Griselbrand 19% 1.3
Somberwald Sage 10% 3.5
Loxodon Smiter 10% 3.0
Disciple of Bolas 5% 1.0
Sylvan Primordial 5% 1.0
Armada Wurm 5% 1.0

Angel of Serenity and Craterhoof Behemoth are the reanimation targets of choice with the occasional Griselbrand included. We’ve seen a couple Gatecrash Primordials take a turn as well: Sepulchral and Sylvan. Lotleth Troll is gaining in popularity as a blocker for Burning-Tree Emissary and other early aggressive creatures, and it’s also a reasonable threat against slower decks.

Other Spells (Main)

Card % Decks Avg Main
Grisly Salvage 100% 3.9
Unburial Rites 100% 4.0
Mulch 95% 3.1
Lingering Souls 71% 2.6
Undying Evil 5% 1.0

To Lingering Souls or not is the main question. The card is frequently boarded out when switching to the midrange plan, and some pilots elect to skip it all together.

This MTGO deck played a pair of Garruk Relentless in the main. This allows you to beat Garruk, Primal Hunter onto the table when playing Jund Midrange, forcing the opponent to remove it or trade Garruks by playing his own. Plus, you make a Wolf out of the deal. It’s also reasonable removal against many of the aggro decks in the metagame and helps clog up the board and stall if needed.

Land

Card % Decks Avg Main
Woodland Cemetery 100% 3.8
Temple Garden 100% 3.9
Godless Shrine 100% 2.0
Overgrown Tomb 100% 4.0
Forest 95% 2.3
Sunpetal Grove 95% 3.2
Cavern of Souls 71% 1.5
Isolated Chapel 71% 2.0
Vault of the Archangel 62% 1.0
Gavony Township 62% 1.4
Swamp 29% 1.5
Plains 24% 1.0

Sideboard

Card % Decks Avg Side
Acidic Slime 95% 2.5
Deathrite Shaman 95% 2.4
Abrupt Decay 90% 2.4
Centaur Healer 95% 0.9
Obzedat, Ghost Council 81% 0.9
Rhox Faithmender 76% 2.3
Sever the Bloodline 57% 1.3
Tragic Slip 43% 2.4
Duress 38% 2.1
Sepulchral Primordial 19% 1.3
Garruk, Primal Hunter 19% 1.8
Liliana of the Veil 19% 1.0
Slayer of the Wicked 14% 1.0
Orzhov Charm 14% 1.0
Oblivion Ring 10% 1.0
Purify the Grave 10% 1.5
Selesnya Charm 5% 2.0
Witchbane Orb 5% 2.0
Blind Obedience 5% 1.0
Curse of Death's Hold 5% 2.0
Nevermore 5% 2.0
Tormod's Crypt 5% 2.0
Ray of Revelation 5% 1.0
Appetite for Brains 5% 3.0
Vraska the Unseen 5% 1.0

Sepulchral Primordial is only 19%, but it’s on its way up. It is worth noting that three Reanimator decks played one to two copies each in their sideboards in Orlando, and it’s a fine option against other Reanimator decks. The only thing better then depriving an opponent of being able to reanimate his Angel of Serenity is to steal it from him altogether!

The Former Champ

Jund Midrange is another deck that’s been around since the early stages of the metagame. It surged back to prominence at GP: Atlantic City in mid-January with four Top 16 appearances, it had five in SCG Open: Atlanta in early February, it had six in Quebec City later that month, and then it had five at GP: Verona a few weeks back. It has since passed the torch to Reanimator, but is still a contender.

Here is a sample deck:

The Cards

Creatures (Main)

Card % Decks Avg Main
Huntmaster of the Fells 100% 4.0
Thragtusk 100% 3.9
Olivia Voldaren 100% 2.7
Arbor Elf 87% 2.1
Deathrite Shaman 27% 0.8
Thundermaw Hellkite 20% 1.0
Vampire Nighthawk 7% 2.0

Arbor Elf is closer to 100% for the most recent tournaments, acting as Farseek numbers five and six. Vampire Nighthawk is a great defender against aggro and gets along well in the Cavern of Souls with Olivia, though it has seen less play now that Reanimator is the deck to beat.

Other Spells (Main)

Card % Decks Avg Main
Tragic Slip 100% 2.1
Murder 100% 1.3
Abrupt Decay 100% 2.1
Dreadbore 100% 1.7
Rakdos's Return 100% 1.8
Farseek 100% 4.0
Garruk, Primal Hunter 100% 2.0
Liliana of the Veil 100% 2.7
Bonfire of the Damned 93% 2.9
Mizzium Mortars 73% 1.3
Ultimate Price 27% 1.0
Victim of Night 13% 1.0
Devil's Play 7% 1.0

A trend on MTGO, where Reanimator is the dominant archetype, is to move one to two Ground Seal to the main deck—see this deck as an example. It shuts down Unburial Rites and Snapcaster Mage and limits the effectiveness of Angel of Serenity, so it has applications against several decks in the metagame. It’s also a cantrip, so it replaces itself. I’m not sure it is main-deck-worthy, however; that probably depends on how much Reanimator you expect to face.

Land

Card % Decks Avg Main
Blood Crypt 100% 3.9
Stomping Ground 100% 3.9
Rootbound Crag 100% 2.1
Dragonskull Summit 100% 3.1
Woodland Cemetery 100% 4.0
Kessig Wolf Run 100% 2.0
Overgrown Tomb 100% 4.0
Forest 93% 1.9
Swamp 7% 1.0

Sideboard

Card % Decks Avg Side
Tragic Slip 100% 1.0
Rakdos's Return 100% 1.1
Acidic Slime 93% 1.5
Slaughter Games 87% 2.0
Underworld Connections 87% 1.8
Duress 80% 2.2
Pillar of Flame 73% 1.6
Staff of Nin 67% 0.7
Grafdigger's Cage 40% 1.8
Deathrite Shaman 27% 1.5
Ground Seal 27% 1.0
Rakdos Charm 27% 1.5
Witchbane Orb 13% 1.5
Garruk Relentless 13% 0.5
Gloom Surgeon 13% 2.0
Dead Weight 13% 1.0
Vraska the Unseen 7% 1.0
Triumph of Cruelty 7% 1.0
Appetite for Brains 7% 2.0
Sever the Bloodline 7% 1.0
Rain of Thorns 7% 1.0
Curse of Death's Hold 7% 1.0
Zealous Conscripts 7% 1.0
Golgari Charm 7% 1.0
Tormod's Crypt 7% 1.0
Rolling Temblor 7% 2.0

Other Contenders

There are several archetypes that have had multiple Top 16 appearances recently. I’ll take a closer look at two of them.

Esper has replaced Bant as the most successful control deck since the release of Gatecrash. The deck aims to stall using its control elements and eventually restock and stabilize with Sphinx's Revelation. A primary win condition is through mill with Nephalia Drownyard and sometimes Jace, Memory Adept. Esper Control decks sometimes play Restoration Angel, Obzedat, Ghost Council, and Jace, Architect of Thought as additional win conditions. For more Esper analysis, check out Max Sjöblom’s maximum control version in his article from last week.

Here is a sample deck:

The Cards

Creatures (Main)

Card % Decks Avg Main
Snapcaster Mage 100% 1.3
Augur of Bolas 89% 3.6
Obzedat, Ghost Council 78% 0.9
Restoration Angel 56% 2.6

The deck plays very few creatures. Snapcaster Mage and Augur of Bolas are effectively “other spells” that can block and sometimes grind an opponent’s life total down if mill doesn’t get there first. Obzedat, Ghost Council is another win condition option. This deck on MTGO included a single copy of Drogskol Reaver as a finisher.

Other Spells (Main)

Card % Decks Avg Main
Sphinx's Revelation 100% 3.6
Supreme Verdict 100% 3.6
Azorius Charm 100% 4.0
Devour Flesh 89% 1.6
Think Twice 78% 3.0
Dissipate 78% 2.0
Ultimate Price 78% 1.3
Syncopate 67% 1.8
Jace, Memory Adept 67% 1.0
Jace, Architect of Thought 44% 2.3
Tribute to Hunger 33% 2.0
Terminus 33% 3.7
Sorin, Lord of Innistrad 33% 3.0
Planar Cleansing 33% 1.7
Murder 22% 2.0
Lingering Souls 22% 4.0
Dimir Charm 22% 1.0
Forbidden Alchemy 11% 2.0
Tamiyo, the Moon Sage 11% 1.0
Liliana of the Veil 11% 2.0
Psychic Strike 11% 2.0
Trading Post 11% 1.0

There is a high degree of variability in Esper Control spells, and pilots choose removal and countermagic that best suits their expected metagames; thus, there is a long list of spells in the 20% to 80% range.

Land

Card % Decks Avg Main
Drowned Catacomb 100% 4.0
Nephalia Drownyard 100% 3.2
Isolated Chapel 100% 3.6
Glacial Fortress 100% 4.0
Godless Shrine 100% 2.8
Hallowed Fountain 100% 3.9
Watery Grave 89% 3.5
Island 78% 1.1
Plains 44% 1.0
Overgrown Tomb 11% 3.0
Ghost Quarter 11% 2.0
Vault of the Archangel 11% 2.0

Sideboard

Card % Decks Avg Side
Negate 89% 2.1
Duress 78% 1.7
Rest in Peace 78% 2.7
Obzedat, Ghost Council 78% 0.9
Tragic Slip 67% 1.8
Detention Sphere 67% 0.8
Jace, Memory Adept 67% 0.8
Witchbane Orb 44% 2.0
Dispel 33% 1.0
Psychic Spiral 33% 1.0
Blind Obedience 22% 2.0
Purify the Grave 22% 2.5
Rhox Faithmender 22% 2.0
Oblivion Ring 22% 1.0
Curse of Death's Hold 11% 1.0
Sundering Growth 11% 2.0
Pithing Needle 11% 1.0
Gideon, Champion of Justice 11% 1.0
Appetite for Brains 11% 4.0
Gloom Surgeon 11% 2.0
Evil Twin 11% 2.0
Human Frailty 11% 1.0
Angel of Serenity 11% 2.0

Esper Control sideboards have seen a bevy of additional control options along with some graveyard hate for Reanimator matchups. Psychic Spiral has taken Elixir of Immortality’s old job, making sure you aren’t milled out—or just run out of cards in a long game—and resetting your draws. It also has the benefit of helping out the mill plan.

Naya Blitz is a true aggro deck. It plays twenty lands, well over thirty cheap and aggressive creatures, and Searing Spear for burn. It has a low curve—the average mana cost of the main deck is 1.85—and it can get off to some very quick starts . . . not to mention finishes. The deck has not seen as many Top 16 finishes as the others on this list, but it is fairly prevalent on MTGO already, and its speed is something to take into consideration when planning and testing. Check out this example of the archetype.

The Cards

There isn’t much variation in cards played in the Top 16 Naya Blitz decks; most are at 100%, so we have to look to Magic Online to find some alternate ideas. This deck includes Fiend Hunter for additional removal and Brimstone Volley for more burn. This one plays Wolfbitten Captive over Flinthoof Boar (keeping Experiment One) as a better mid- to late-game play and place to sink mana. It also moves Thalia to the sideboard in favor of the more explosive Hamlet Captain. This deck includes Firefist Striker for more battalion fun.

Creatures (Main)

Card % Decks Avg Main
Lightning Mauler 100% 4.0
Frontline Medic 100% 4.0
Thalia, Guardian of Thraben 100% 3.0
Burning-Tree Emissary 100% 4.0
Ghor-Clan Rampager 100% 1.0
Champion of the Parish 100% 4.0
Mayor of Avabruck 100% 4.0
Experiment One 100% 4.0
Boros Elite 100% 4.0
Flinthoof Boar 100% 4.0

Other Spells (Main)

Card % Decks Avg Main
Searing Spear 100% 4.0

Land

Card % Decks Avg Main
Cavern of Souls 100% 4.0
Sunpetal Grove 100% 2.0
Stomping Ground 100% 4.0
Clifftop Retreat 100% 1.0
Temple Garden 100% 4.0
Rootbound Crag 100% 1.0
Sacred Foundry 100% 4.0

Sideboard

Card % Decks Avg Side
Boros Charm 100% 3.3
Pacifism 100% 2.7
Nearheath Pilgrim 100% 2.0
Boros Reckoner 100% 2.0
Fiend Hunter 100% 2.3
Flames of the Firebrand 100% 1.7
War Priest of Thune 33% 1.0
Gruul Charm 33% 2.0

The Close

There are a number of viable competitive decks in Standard; these are just four of them.

What deck do you think is the best?

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Best of luck brewing decks and playing games; I’ll be back next week with a look at the SCG Open and Invitational Standard decks in Atlanta. Thanks for reading!

Nick Vigabool
@MrVigabool