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% DecksAvg Main
Restoration Angel100%3.0
Angel of Serenity100%3.1
Craterhoof Behemoth95%1.8
Avacyn's Pilgrim95%3.8
Thragtusk95%3.9
Centaur Healer95%2.2
Obzedat, Ghost Council81%0.8
Arbor Elf67%2.5
Lotleth Troll62%2.5
Griselbrand19%1.3
Somberwald Sage10%3.5
Loxodon Smiter10%3.0
Disciple of Bolas5%1.0
Sylvan Primordial5%1.0
Armada Wurm5%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% DecksAvg Main
Grisly Salvage100%3.9
Unburial Rites100%4.0
Mulch95%3.1
Lingering Souls71%2.6
Undying Evil5%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% DecksAvg Main
Woodland Cemetery100%3.8
Temple Garden100%3.9
Godless Shrine100%2.0
Overgrown Tomb100%4.0
Forest95%2.3
Sunpetal Grove95%3.2
Cavern of Souls71%1.5
Isolated Chapel71%2.0
Vault of the Archangel62%1.0
Gavony Township62%1.4
Swamp29%1.5
Plains24%1.0

Sideboard

Card% DecksAvg Side
Acidic Slime95%2.5
Deathrite Shaman95%2.4
Abrupt Decay90%2.4
Centaur Healer95%0.9
Obzedat, Ghost Council81%0.9
Rhox Faithmender76%2.3
Sever the Bloodline57%1.3
Tragic Slip43%2.4
Duress38%2.1
Sepulchral Primordial19%1.3
Garruk, Primal Hunter19%1.8
Liliana of the Veil19%1.0
Slayer of the Wicked14%1.0
Orzhov Charm14%1.0
Oblivion Ring10%1.0
Purify the Grave10%1.5
Selesnya Charm5%2.0
Witchbane Orb5%2.0
Blind Obedience5%1.0
Curse of Death's Hold5%2.0
Nevermore5%2.0
Tormod's Crypt5%2.0
Ray of Revelation5%1.0
Appetite for Brains5%3.0
Vraska the Unseen5%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% DecksAvg Main
Huntmaster of the Fells100%4.0
Thragtusk100%3.9
Olivia Voldaren100%2.7
Arbor Elf87%2.1
Deathrite Shaman27%0.8
Thundermaw Hellkite20%1.0
Vampire Nighthawk7%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% DecksAvg Main
Tragic Slip100%2.1
Murder100%1.3
Abrupt Decay100%2.1
Dreadbore100%1.7
Rakdos's Return100%1.8
Farseek100%4.0
Garruk, Primal Hunter100%2.0
Liliana of the Veil100%2.7
Bonfire of the Damned93%2.9
Mizzium Mortars73%1.3
Ultimate Price27%1.0
Victim of Night13%1.0
Devil's Play7%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% DecksAvg Main
Blood Crypt100%3.9
Stomping Ground100%3.9
Rootbound Crag100%2.1
Dragonskull Summit100%3.1
Woodland Cemetery100%4.0
Kessig Wolf Run100%2.0
Overgrown Tomb100%4.0
Forest93%1.9
Swamp7%1.0

Sideboard

Card% DecksAvg Side
Tragic Slip100%1.0
Rakdos's Return100%1.1
Acidic Slime93%1.5
Slaughter Games87%2.0
Underworld Connections87%1.8
Duress80%2.2
Pillar of Flame73%1.6
Staff of Nin67%0.7
Grafdigger's Cage40%1.8
Deathrite Shaman27%1.5
Ground Seal27%1.0
Rakdos Charm27%1.5
Witchbane Orb13%1.5
Garruk Relentless13%0.5
Gloom Surgeon13%2.0
Dead Weight13%1.0
Vraska the Unseen7%1.0
Triumph of Cruelty7%1.0
Appetite for Brains7%2.0
Sever the Bloodline7%1.0
Rain of Thorns7%1.0
Curse of Death's Hold7%1.0
Zealous Conscripts7%1.0
Golgari Charm7%1.0
Tormod's Crypt7%1.0
Rolling Temblor7%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% DecksAvg Main
Snapcaster Mage100%1.3
Augur of Bolas89%3.6
Obzedat, Ghost Council78%0.9
Restoration Angel56%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% DecksAvg Main
Sphinx's Revelation100%3.6
Supreme Verdict100%3.6
Azorius Charm100%4.0
Devour Flesh89%1.6
Think Twice78%3.0
Dissipate78%2.0
Ultimate Price78%1.3
Syncopate67%1.8
Jace, Memory Adept67%1.0
Jace, Architect of Thought44%2.3
Tribute to Hunger33%2.0
Terminus33%3.7
Sorin, Lord of Innistrad33%3.0
Planar Cleansing33%1.7
Murder22%2.0
Lingering Souls22%4.0
Dimir Charm22%1.0
Forbidden Alchemy11%2.0
Tamiyo, the Moon Sage11%1.0
Liliana of the Veil11%2.0
Psychic Strike11%2.0
Trading Post11%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% DecksAvg Main
Drowned Catacomb100%4.0
Nephalia Drownyard100%3.2
Isolated Chapel100%3.6
Glacial Fortress100%4.0
Godless Shrine100%2.8
Hallowed Fountain100%3.9
Watery Grave89%3.5
Island78%1.1
Plains44%1.0
Overgrown Tomb11%3.0
Ghost Quarter11%2.0
Vault of the Archangel11%2.0

Sideboard

Card% DecksAvg Side
Negate89%2.1
Duress78%1.7
Rest in Peace78%2.7
Obzedat, Ghost Council78%0.9
Tragic Slip67%1.8
Detention Sphere67%0.8
Jace, Memory Adept67%0.8
Witchbane Orb44%2.0
Dispel33%1.0
Psychic Spiral33%1.0
Blind Obedience22%2.0
Purify the Grave22%2.5
Rhox Faithmender22%2.0
Oblivion Ring22%1.0
Curse of Death's Hold11%1.0
Sundering Growth11%2.0
Pithing Needle11%1.0
Gideon, Champion of Justice11%1.0
Appetite for Brains11%4.0
Gloom Surgeon11%2.0
Evil Twin11%2.0
Human Frailty11%1.0
Angel of Serenity11%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% DecksAvg Main
Lightning Mauler100%4.0
Frontline Medic100%4.0
Thalia, Guardian of Thraben100%3.0
Burning-Tree Emissary100%4.0
Ghor-Clan Rampager100%1.0
Champion of the Parish100%4.0
Mayor of Avabruck100%4.0
Experiment One100%4.0
Boros Elite100%4.0
Flinthoof Boar100%4.0

Other Spells (Main)

Card% DecksAvg Main
Searing Spear100%4.0

Land

Card% DecksAvg Main
Cavern of Souls100%4.0
Sunpetal Grove100%2.0
Stomping Ground100%4.0
Clifftop Retreat100%1.0
Temple Garden100%4.0
Rootbound Crag100%1.0
Sacred Foundry100%4.0

Sideboard

Card% DecksAvg Side
Boros Charm100%3.3
Pacifism100%2.7
Nearheath Pilgrim100%2.0
Boros Reckoner100%2.0
Fiend Hunter100%2.3
Flames of the Firebrand100%1.7
War Priest of Thune33%1.0
Gruul Charm33%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