What do you do when you want to learn about a format?
Do you read up on it? Do you efficiently contemplate the nuances of the interactions between known strategies?
Of course you don't. You stay up all night on Arena jamming games like me! That other stuff is for grown ups, and it's lame (except when it comes to reading my articles, which are awesome).
Here's what I learned about Standard from playing games over and over again throughout last night. It should serve as a good check-in after my initial rundown when the format was first birthed unto us.
Mono-Red Aggro is Once Again the Delver of Magic Arena
So in case you weren't there, something weird happened when Innistrad was a Standard-legal Magic set.
The notorious Delver decks of the era utilized low land counts, precise ratios of creature and non-creature spells, and a really efficient curve to great effect as the consistently best strategy in the format to carry with it "free-ish" wins via incomparable blowout starts.
So while obnoxious, it never came particularly close to other top predators in tepid Standard formats of the past. Why?
Because in a lot of games Delver of Secrets just sat on his ass and never flipped. Even the best versions of the archetype couldn't completely keep it from a fail condition where you ended up out of sync with the top of the library and just got run over (most joyously when by another Delver player).
Even so, if you wanted to win the tournament, you still had to accept that this archetype overwhelmingly gave you the best chance to do so a lot of the time.
So am I basically saying Fervent Champion is the second coming of this kind of tempo-dominant Delver degeneracy?
No, you fool! Stop making leaps.
The important thing to focus on here isn't the deck's share of the metagame based on the risk/reward of the deck's performance in a given tournament - times have changed - here, in the context of the Magic Arena ladder, the Red deck is so much faster, win or lose, and so generally reliable that if it's purely your goal to ascend in that line of competition, there's actually no incentive to not play Red.
And yes, I know that Red being the default favorite for these reasons on the Arena ladder is nothing new, but there's a big philosophical difference between an archetype you choose to save time on the grind at the cost of other factors versus an archetype that you can't logically justify passing on for that same task.
Our world with Arena continues to evolve.
Note also that this issue is sort of a branching root off of the generally problematic "Red is too ridiculous in big Standard formats" axiom we're always living with when a Standard gets about this size in card pool. As much as it's getting more color pie flexibility, Red's best stuff is still at around the same relative power as it always is, which means it's probably blatantly good in an unsavory way again.
Oh well. Power to the ladder hardcores.
Fun the Old-Fashioned Way
The good news is that you can decide to play things other than Red if either best-of-one isn't your primary dedication; or even if it is, you simply don't care (a strategy I both recommend and practice).
At that point, there's a wealth of options; however, the most all-out fun one is pretty obviously this again:
Jeskai Fires | THB Standard | Jfamous
- Creatures (16)
- 2 Cavalier of Gales
- 2 Dream Trawler
- 2 Kenrith, the Returned King
- 3 Bonecrusher Giant
- 3 Cavalier of Flame
- 4 Sphinx of Foresight
- Planeswalkers (4)
- 4 Teferi, Time Raveler
- Enchantments (4)
- 4 Fires of Invention
- Artifacts (2)
- 2 Glass Casket
- Lands (27)
- 1 Plains
- 2 Island
- 2 Mountain
- 2 Sacred Foundry
- 3 Castle Vantress
- 3 Fabled Passage
- 3 Temple of Epiphany
- 3 Temple of Triumph
- 4 Hallowed Fountain
- 4 Steam Vents
Jeskai Fires is basically a Commander deck that doesn't care it's in the wrong format.
Even if this format ends up being somewhat narrow at the top end of the competitive diversity, I think you can make a compelling argument that as long as Fires of Invention is a viable option that the format is perfectly fine.
The Food is Rotting
The ascent of Azorius Control to the top has made for a complete recession for the engine decks that recur Cauldron Familiar in conjunction with Trail of Crumbs and/or Mayhem Devil before finishing up with Korvold, Fae-Cursed King.
Much to my disappointment the stock of this strategy is on the downswing. My many reps with the deck have begun going to waste as I'm buried beneath more efficient value spells and tons of tempo timing afforded by the Blue time bomb duo of Teferi and Narset.
One of the first ways I'd look at keeping this archetype alive would be via a bit of an aggro conversion. It is very common to have no pressure going toward the 3cmc planeswalkers for turns on end, and they are far too integral to the Azorius deck's building blocks being set up to just let them hang out for no benefit.
And in this same spirit of lousy play pattern matchups, I think it's safe to say Mayhem Devil has worn out its welcome. Winning with straight up combo stuff is getting more and more rare, and the rate just isn't worth it. Centaur Courser is insufficient for winning Standard games. This is unlikely to change in our time.
This archetype can probably find its footing if enough players are willing to work on it, but one thing is for certain: going with the same 60 or 75 that you had around the holidays give or take some Agonizing Remorse is not going to get it done.
Other Archetypes Nervously Sitting in the Waiting Room
Before or right around the time Theros Beyond Death came onto the Standard scene, there were some other decks sitting comfortably near the top of the metagame data, as well as a few more that seemed on the verge of a big breakout showing; however, with the new influx of cards, the prospects of long-term success for some very good-looking strategies may have gone out the window.
The decks I'm seeing lose the most amount of share right now are the flash-oriented Simic decks, Mono-White Life, and Mono-Black Devotion. Can a single new piece of information come through the format and change my point of view on these archetypes overnight? Of course. These decks are more than capable of putting up enough wins in a row to get you some prize money, but to do that, you're going to have to really mind your deck construction and card choices, as these are the strategies that right now, as is, seem to be playing from behind too often.
Temur Reclamation and Rakdos Aristocrats should also be on your radar, though I've yet to run into them enough in the wild to give any useful details. Either way, it's plain to see that both archetypes are reasonable at making trophy runs, but just like the rest of this format, the critical thinking about the details of your build (rather than simply identifying and embracing whichever archetype you end up playing) is going to make a world of difference to those that are comfortable making such adjustments throughout the season.
What's the Exchange Rate on the Uro?
One last deck I want to draw some attention to is this monster, currently being tinkered with and advocated by Pro Magic Guerilla mainstay Mindmage:
Sultai Uro | THB Standard | Mindmage
- Creatures (23)
- 2 Brazen Borrower
- 2 Murderous Rider
- 3 Embodiment of Agonies
- 3 Mire Triton
- 3 Paradise Druid
- 3 Thassa's Oracle
- 3 Uro, Titan of Nature's Wrath
- 4 Glowspore Shaman
- Instants (2)
- 2 Tyrant's Scorn
- Sorceries (4)
- 4 Discovery // Dispersal
The thing about this decklist right now isn't that it's great; it's that it isn't, but there's still enough substance in the strategy inherently to where it will win lots of games anyway. If someone can get this archetype optimized, it's possible we're looking at the next relevant top end archetype. The substance is there.
Reminder that Oko, Thief of Crowns existed.
Standard for People in a Hurry: A Review
Azorius Control is obviously an excellent deck for this exact moment, but it doesn't have any sort of dangerous or degenerate components to keep it that much better than most of the rest of the reasonable strategies in the format.
Good news, Frank Lepore: The engine-based Food decks might be in freefall unless they can adapt.
Magic Arena has kind of a "Delver" logic problem on the ranked ladder with Mono-Red being the obvious choice for getting the maximum number of winnable games in the least amount of time. Personally, I'll probably try to build a deck that tries to make the Red deck hang out for long periods of time doing nothing, but that's me.
Temur Reclamation and Rakdos Aristocrats are in the mix, and the latter is probably a great call for people who want to send aggro up the best-of-one ladder but don't want to be so boring about it.
Fires of Invention decks get my vote for the best combination of fun and viable. It was good before, and now it has less natural predators. The one caveat is that we're still early on, and at the end of the day, it's a deck built around a goofy four-mana enchantment. I wouldn't allow any life insurance policies to be processed on this one.
Decks that I'm soft on right now: Mono-Black Devotion, White Heliod Aggro decks, and Simic Flash.
If you want to explore something a little different, get to work on the Sultai deck.
The Indestructible Danny West