Lessons From Standard Going Into Weekend 3
Standard is a dynamic and fascinating format, mostly because no two are the same, and sometimes even just one format is barely recognizable from one week to the next. Never has that been more true than with our current standard, featuring the highly publicized and much beloved Return to Return to Ravnica (a.k.a. Guilds of Ravnica.) set. The meta seems to be wildly shifting day after day as the collective Magic hive mind tries to find out what archetypes have staying power and what those decks’ stock lists should look like. So, while normally this would be around the time I would write up a breakdown of what are the best decks in Standard right now, I genuinely don’t think that is possible as of this moment. Until we get a little more data from high level events, there is no real meta and with no meta there is no way to “attack the meta”. It’s all very confusing and circular, but that’s not to say there aren’t some things we know for sure about Standard, and that’s what I am going to be covering today. Through the testing done by myself and the rest of the Guildpact Gaming team as well as data gathered from pros and the many high level events over the last two weeks, I am confident saying that these things are undisputable facts regarding the standard format that will preoccupy the next few months.
#1) Experimental Frenzy is really, really good
So, if you haven’t yet, I strongly recommend playing an experimental frenzy deck as soon as you are able to. It almost doesn’t matter the rest of the list or the format, so long as it’s one where you are able to cast Experimental Frenzy. It’s not just that it’s outrageously powerful – allowing you to extend your turn and your deck’s reach for as long as you have mana and available land drops to play things off the top of your deck, essentially turning every deck into a wannabe Storm deck – it’s also outrageously fun. Once you start finding the ways to really abuse Frenzy (Wayward Swordtooth, Treasure Map, and Wand of Vertebrae are all good places to start) it becomes apparent to anyone watching that this card is going to be a player in standard (and potentially older formats) for as long as it is legal for. I personally have played several Experimental Frenzy brews ranging from mono-red to three color, and while I don’t think any version I have played or seen is “THE” list, I do believe it is only a matter of time before the correct combination of cards are found, and when that happens prepare for Frenzy to take over the format. In the meantime, you basically can’t go wrong jamming frenzy in almost any aggressively-oriented deck at this point, as the ability to essentially “refill your hand” in the late game against midrange or control is just invaluable and makes otherwise mediocre decks extraordinary.
#2) Golgari.dec is the safe choice
There’s about a thousand decklists running around online right now, half of them with decent finishes either on MTGO or in a paper event of one sort or another. Week after week, there is almost no consistency in what is the best thing to be doing, and the data is even more corrupted once you start playing lists and you get to see the flaws behind a deck that dominated last weekend or last event. One thing that remains consistent in results, testing, and theory is that Golgari decks are just a really solid choice for standard right now. In a format that is shifting from hyper aggro (mono-red week one) to tempo and control (UR Drakes and Jeskai/Esper Control Week 2) one of the best things you can be doing is just shoving a ton of removal, disruption, and resilient threats all in one deck, and that’s exactly what every Golgari deck aims to do. I don’t think any of the Golgari midrange lists stand out as particularly excellent, and there’s anywhere from a 2-20 card difference between lists depending on how they choose to approach the late-game, but the core principles are always the same: disrupt your opponent by killing their stuff and attacking their hand, then beat them down and keep bringing your dudes back from the graveyard until your opponent is dead. If you’re floundering in indecisiveness about what to play, and don’t want to spend money on a deck that will disappear by the time you sleeve it up, Golgari is what I would recommend. The deck has a ton of redundancy and the strategy has so many options that it should be able to continue adapting to the meta as it moves forward.
#3) Burn is back baby!
I don’t think most people realize how much burn is going on in standard right now, because honestly, it’s a fascinating trend. It’s not that there’s a dedicated burn deck showing up or standing out, but more that so many games of standard are being ended by burn. With Shock, Lighining Strike, Fight with Fire (kicked, of course), Banefire, and – the newest addition – Expansion//Explosion all being highly played, main deck cards combined with a grindy format, often times, decks that are planning to win one way are instead just casting a banefire for 15 to the opponent’s face, or comboing Shocks and Lightning Strikes off the top withExperimental Frenzy (remember that first point?) when the original plan was to beat down with fatties. It presents an interesting dilemma to the average player, as now they need to keep track of their opponent’s mana lest they die to uncounterable fire whilst they are at – what would normally be – a safe life total. I don’t know for certain how this will change how the format plays moving forward, but I do know that if you’re playing red and you aren’t running some combination of the cards above, you’re cheating yourself out of a nice backup plan for late-game.
#4) The Best Cards are… Unplayable?
Specifically: Nullhide Ferox and Doom Whisperer. What happened? These are two undercosted threats, one of which has hexproof and a “Wilt-leaf Liege” Clause, the other has evasion… make that double evasion… and is a mini-Griselbrand… kinda. So how is it these two cards went from maximum hype to slowly getting cut out of their respective decks? It’s an interesting question, the answer to which is unique to each card. For Nullhide Ferox, being a 6/6 is useless without trample in a format where tokens and decks that recycle creatures (see point #2) are everywhere, and it turns out that “no non-creature spells” clause is more harmful that it seemed at first glance, as Vraska(s) and Vivian Reid are cards you really want access to. In the case of Doom Whisperer, being an undercosted 6/6 flying trampler becomes less relevant when the format is so grindy and slow. On top of that, Doom Whisperer wants you to aggressively surveil using it’s pay 2 life ability, but with Banefire, Fight with Fire, and miscellaneous burn spells everywhere (see #3) you might just end up giving your opponent the easy win. Now, the headline was a bit misleading, because these cards aren’t actually unplayable, they just seem so much worse right now than their objective value in a vacuum would lead you to believe. Doom Whisperer still makes Lyra look like a joke, and Ferox is basically unbeatable for any deck playing Disinformation Campaign. But when these cards aren’t amazing, they are painfully mediocre, something that would have been hard to imagine when we saw their spoilers just a few weeks ago.
Standard is going to keep changing, and one of the worst things you can do is glue yourself to a particular archetype or deck when it hasn’t solidified itself yet as a concrete part of the meta going forward. What you can do, however, is try to learn what fundamental truths about the format exist so you can apply those to your deck building moving forward.