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Standard is Legacy


There is a phenomenon as formats get larger, where the decks start to mush together into a continuum of possible strategies that seamlessly blend from one to another depending on small individual card choices and specific matchup tweaks. This is significantly less visible in small formats defined by a “best deck”, or a triumvirate of “rock-paper-scissors” decks that own the metagame, but this Standard is so fresh and so workable that there are just too many reasonable options out there. On the eve of Pro Tour Hour of Devastation, we are witnessing the most dynamic, healthiest Standard that we’ve seen in years, one where a few polarizing archetypes define what you must prepare for, while in the middle there are dozens of noticeably different decks that attempt to cover all their bases in different ways. This is Legacy-lite, the phenomenon of poles and a mushy middle of the format. It’s truly mind-melting to test for the PT in this format, but it is a brewer’s paradise out there. Today we have a decklist dump, with a huge pile of decks that comprise the hard stops on the format as well as the middle-of-the-road decks that try to carve out a space for themselves in between.

The first deck is Mono-Red Aggro. This deck is super-popular online, and it stands to be one of the most played decks at PT Hour of Devastation. This is the biggest pole in the format right now, and for good reason. The deck plays solid aggressive creatures, a super-low curve, and enough reach in Ramunap Ruins, Sunscorched Desert, Hazoret the Fervent, and a smattering of four to eight burn spells to close things out. Whether you’re rocking a Bushwhacker version, Consuming Fervor, heavier sideboard plan with Chandra or Glorybringer, a Black splash for Scrapheap Scrounger, or even a few Eldrazi, the deck has a solid base and enough customizability that it pays off to work through the options.

Tom Ross’s list from last week’s StarCityGames Open should be a great starting point for anyone interested in a dirt-cheap deck to bash the expensive piles other folks are bringing to the table:

Like any Ross list, Tom’s Red deck has a few interesting choices. Harsh Mentor? Blazing Volley? Invigorated Rampage? Come on, Tom. Those are just all over the place. There is value in getting creative, having a huge array of possible tricks and traps for your opponent to fret over, but this may be going too far. If you are going to play the Red deck this weekend, start here and don’t be afraid to tinker to your heart’s content. Be aware, though, folks will be gunning for you hard from the start. The best mainstream cards in the format against Red are Kozilek's Return, Fatal Push, Magma Spray, Aethersphere Harvester, and the bg 2-drops, but there are a ton of options if you want to go deep. Speaking of going deep, there’s another piece of this format, a Gift, if you will, that bookends Mono-Red as the other linear that you need to beat if you want to succeed.

Olivetti’s list from the MTGO PTQ is not even close to tuned, but the shell is powerful and unexpected enough that it came out of left field to dominate an event. Strategic Planning is too “do-nothing-y”, and Cataclysmic Gearhulk is so much worse than Angel of Sanctions it isn’t even funny. Play more Declaration in Stone maindeck, and consider playing Authority of the Consuls in the sideboard to attack Mono-Red. This deck also needs a better sideboard juke plan to dodge hate in the form of Crook of Condemnation and Scavenger Grounds. I’d recommend boarding a few Planeswalkers, possibly maindecking a few Spell Quellers and putting some number of Wharf Infiltrator back in there, or even playing Walking Ballista and Glint-Nest Crane. Play more interaction, don’t just rely on the power of your top end combo to pull you back from the brink of defeat.

Speaking of decks that should be playing more interaction rather than praying that their top end gets there . . . 

Hour of Promise
Andrew’s list is interesting, but ultimately too full of ramp spells to catch up to aggressive decks like Mono-Red. Gerry Thompson himself has mentioned the need to play as many interactive spells as possible, rather than hoping that you can skip turn after turn and catch up right before you would die via a big Ulamog on an unstable board. As he put it, an Ulamog on an unstable board on turn five may not be enough to win. An Ulamog on a stable board on turn eight is certainly enough to win. Curving a few interactive spells into an Hour of Promise into an Ulamog is better than racing with Beneath the Sands, hoping to string together the perfect curve. Hell, against Mono-Red Aggro, you’ll slam down that Ulamog just in time to get hit with an Ahn-Crop Crasher and six points of Incendiary Flows to the face. Like almost every list in the format thus far, this Ramp deck is a bit untuned, but it makes up the third pole of the format, pushing the control and midrange decks from yet another angle.

The next deck up is the first in a long chain of smear-together decks. ur Emerge is powerful, but inconsistent, and suffers from “do-nothing” syndrome as much as (if not more than) wu God-Pharaoh's Gift. It’s not a deck I predict will see much play in this format, but it deserves a spot on this metagame analysis specifically because it belongs on one end of a continuum of decks that stretches all the way through various emerge shells, through Delirium, and down to bg Energy. Confused? Try to follow the thread here.


This ur Emerge deck is about as all-in on its emerge plan coming together as a deck can be. It suffers from being basically a worse deck than wu God-Pharaoh's Gift, as it is susceptible to the same interaction and hate while being less consistent and easier for a control deck to contain. Disallow is annoying against wu God-Pharaoh's Gift, but there is a high density of must-counter spells in the deck. Disallow can be absolutely backbreaking for ur Emerge, countering a Skaab activation and buying at least two turns for the control deck to assemble a Gearhulk to flash it back. This is aside from the fact that Cathartic Reunion is about as bad against countermagic as possible. Zan Syed recognized this fact, and he tweaked and tuned a four-color version of Emerge to the tune of back to back SCG Open Top 8 finishes in the last two weeks.

Zan’s most recent list, with updates:

Grim Flayer
Festering Mummy is a pretty nice one against Mono-Red, but other than that this list is consistent, powerful, and resilient. Unlike the ur version of Emerge, this deck has a relevant 2-drop in Grim Flayer, a card that can hold the ground, apply pressure, filter draws, and achieve Delirium. Playing cards like Strategic Planning is a recipe for disaster, as this format is punishing and fast. You have no time to waste casting cantrips on the key second turn, you have to put something on the board in order to not get killed. Remember Jace, Vryn's Prodigy in old Emerge decks? This is as close as we’re ever going to get to the old Four-Color Emerge deck that I used to win an RPTQ during the Bant Company season, with Grim Flayer and Champion of Wits attempting to work together to replace ol’ Jace, and when it works, the deck is beautiful. To be sure, though, some inconsistencies are there, and there’s a healthy vulnerability to graveyard hate. I would have happily registered this deck for the PT, but the Red matchup was still shaky even with a number of adjustments to try to improve it. You can, if you’re so inclined, cut the Green and end up with a Grixis or even ub Zombie Emerge list, both of which will be options for tournaments this season. However, if you want to gear down and go more consistent at the expense of raw power, a Magic Online player by the name of Ooter37 might have the answer for you.

Ooter’s list is consistent, to be sure, but without a metagame to attack, it’s hard to play a midrange pile like this knowing that some players are going to go above or under you, and there’s little you can do about it. Next week, or the week after, look for a well-tuned midrange Delirium list (or a four-color Emerge list with options of boarding into a Delirium midrange deck) to dominate the format.

For our team, the solution was to stay low to the ground and aggressive, which led me to register bg Energy (or as we started calling it for fun, “A Green and Black Aggression-based Strategy with both Energy and Counters sub-themes”, which kind of sounds like a description you might find on a Japanese restaurant menu). Here’s the list!

Aggressive, powerful, consistent, just the way I like my Pro Tour decks. The thinking here is that bg Energy is the most overall strong deck that also sports a solidly favorable matchup against the Mono-Red menace, which stands to be the most popular deck at the event. Sure, Mardu, Zombies, and wu Monument were also strong considerations that could be just as powerful in the hands of the right players, but in the end, time pressures won out and the simplest aggressive deck is the one that we’re hoping will carry me to the first PT Top 8 of my career. Wish me luck this weekend, as I’m going to need it!

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