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Has Standard Become a Failed Experiment?

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The title of this article is a question I've been asking myself for every set release for as long as I can imagine. It's not an easy question to answer, nor is it an easy question to ask. When I knew that the Ravnica block rotation was coming, along with some of the more problematic and unfun cards it contained, I was excited. I couldn't wait to add Zendikar Rising to the mix and see what the new set, and the new Standard format, had to offer. But we're not even a week in, and things aren't looking great.

I know for the past few months that things have been rocky. In real life we have a pandemic, political parties are more polarized than ever, and we have a veritable civil rights movement taking place before our very eyes, in our lifetime. Life is more stressful for me now than it has been in my entire life, I think. I'm not sure if that says something about my life, specifically, but considering how everyone else is feeling during this time frame, I don't think so; I think it's a reasonable feeling.

The problem is that a lot of us use Magic: The Gathering as kind of an escape. I know for me personally, I've spent hours analyzing how one single game could keep my attention for as long as it has, for over two decades. The conclusion I came to is that Magic is essentially a different game every three months. It's brand new. The draft format is different. The Standard format is different. Even older formats change and evolve. When FNM used to be a thing, I would play a different deck every single week, and I never ran out. Sometimes if I really liked a particular deck, I would play it twice.

To get back on course, while Magic is used by many as an escape, I feel a lot of us have been looking for an escape from it. For the past year or so, since the first banning of Field of the Dead on October 21st, 2019, I've felt like Standard had changed indefinitely. I say indefinitely because even as of writing this article, I have no idea when the format will right itself.

And Standard hasn't always been like this! Sure, there were problematic formats, like Affinity, but there were a ton of great formats as well. One of my favorites was Lorwyn/Shadowmoor Standard. You had things like Cruel Control, Kithkin, Faeries. Heck, I remember playing bant Merfolk to the Top 8 of a PTQ! The format even had a sweet persist/evoke deck. I don't remember a single time during that format where I felt like any one to three cards were defining the entire format.

Another time I remember was when the worst card in a format was Siege Rhino. Despite the fact that Khans of Tarkir Standard made it extremely easy to splash the Abzan rhino, the format was still extremely diverse. The Khans of Tarkir Pro Tour had things like ub Control, Jeskai Wins, Abzan Midrange, and Abzan Aggro. There was even a Jeskai Ascendancy combo deck. The format was diverse, and no one or two cards felt extremely dominant. Comparing Siege Rhino to Omnath, Locus of Creation, however... well, then you start to get an idea of how far things have gone.

I sincerely hate to keep harping on Standard, especially this early into a new format, but if you want to see what an inbred format looks like, I direct you to the Top 32 decks in the most recent Standard Challenge that took place on September 20th.

  1. Four-Color Omnath
  2. Mono-Red Aggro
  3. Sultai Midrange
  4. Four-Color Omnath
  5. Mono-Red Aggro
  6. Four-Color Omnath
  7. Four-Color Omnath
  8. Temur Adventures
  9. Four-Color Yorion Control
  10. Mono-Red Aggro
  11. Four-Color Omnath
  12. Four-Color Omnath
  13. Four-Color Omnath
  14. Four-Color Omnath
  15. Four-Color Omnath
  16. Four-Color Omnath
  17. Four-Color Omnath
  18. Sultai Midrange
  19. Four-Color Omnath
  20. Four-Color Omnath
  21. Four-Color Omnath
  22. Four-Color Omnath
  23. Mono-Red Aggro
  24. Four-Color Omnath
  25. Temur Adventures
  26. Dimir Midrange
  27. Mono-Red Aggro
  28. Mono-Red Aggro
  29. Four-Color Omnath
  30. Four-Color Omnath Adventures
  31. Temur Adventures
  32. Four-Color Omnath

  • 19 coopies of Omnath-based decks
  • 6 copies of Mono-Red Aggro
  • 3 copies of Temur Adventures
  • 2 copies of Sultai Midrange
  • 1 copy of Dimir Midrange
  • 1 Copy of Four-Color Yorion Control

For those who aren't math experts out there, that means an incredible 59.38% of the decks in this event were Omnath decks. This is further evidenced by the following card breakdown of the event:

  1. Uro, Titan of Nature's Wrath (78) - 65.62%
  2. Escape to the Wilds (78) - 65.62%
  3. Omnath, Locus of Creation (74) - 59.38%
  4. Lotus Cobra (72) - 56.25%
  5. Mystical Dispute (63) - 62.50%
  6. Spikefield Hazard (59) - 56.25%
  7. Redcap Melee (58) - 75.00%
  8. Bonecrusher Giant (57) - 50.00%
  9. Genesis Ultimatum (56) - 53.12%
  10. Negate (38) - 62.50%

Just as we said, 74 copies of Omnath were played in the event, a card that was only outshined by both Escape to the Wilds and Uro, Titan of Nature's Wrath who each comprised 65.62% of the event.

These are not healthy numbers, but we're actually just getting started. I want you to also take a look at some of the more obscure cards on that list and try and figure out why they're there.

5) Mystical Dispute (63) - 62.50%

We already knew Mystical Dispute was a busted Magic card, but now it also counters Omnath, Locus of Creation for one mana. That's a great explanation for why it's still seeing play in nearly 63% of the decks.

6) Spikefield Hazard (59) - 56.25%

This was one pretty surprising to me. Is this really the strongest and most represented modal double-faced card? In a vacuum, probably not, but in this Standard format? Yeah, likely by a long shot. It's one thing to be able to exile an Uro the first time your opponent casts it thanks to the "exile" clause on Spikefield Hazard. It's another thing entirely that this is a main deck way to kill Lotus Cobra, which is basically the entire engine with which Omnath is cast. This is the most efficient way for the deck to get its White mana.

Of course, the deck plays one Plains, some copies of Fabled Passage (and Evolving Wilds), and some copies of Branchloft Pathway, but you ideally want the legendary elemental on the battlefield on turn three. Lotus Cobra does that, and Spikefield Hazard prevents that. It's a sideboard card that has made the main deck in Omnath decks to combat other Omnath decks. In the first week of the format's existence. But we're not even done yet!

7) Redcap Melee (58) - 75.00%

Now we're talking. Redcap Melee is found in NUMEROUS sideboards, so much so that it has found a place in a ridiculous 75% of the Top 32 decks. 75%! Can you guess why? I mean, I'm sure you can. Redcap Melee deals exactly four damage, which is the same toughness as... you guessed it... Omnath! In addition, it only costs one mana, and it has zero drawback since Omnath is a Red creature.

The thing I'm trying to point out here is that there are three specific cards that are warping the entire metagame around them: Uro, Titan of Nature's Wrath, Omnath, Locus of Creation, and Lotus Cobra. There aren't empty claims I'm making, with some unfounded "the sky is falling" concern. These have verifiable statistics, with the numbers to back them up.

While I understand that Spikefield Hazard can also be played as a land, when was the last time a card like Hornet Sting was ever considered main deckable in the first week of a Standard format? And the problem isn't that other decks are successfully adopting these strategies to fight against the Omnath decks. It's the Omnath decks playing them in preparation for mirror match after mirror match! It's the epitome of an inbred format. There were more Omnath-based decks in this single event than every other kind of deck combined.

I would love to assume that this is a trend that is going to change as the format settles and becomes more figured out, but realistically, what are people going to be doing in this format that's better than Uro, Omnath, and Lotus Cobra? When has a card that was this dominant in the past year ever become less dominant because "the format evolved"? I don't think that's the age of Magic we're in anymore. I don't think the format can simply evolve around the cards being printed, because there are no other cards or strategies that are as powerful as casting Uro or Omnath. There are the strongest things you can be doing in Standard.

I, for one, miss the Standard formats of old. I remember when Cruel Ultimatum was one of the strongest things you could be doing in a format, and even that was a seven-mana sorcery that you cast by tapping seven lands. You could counter it with a Negate. As I mentioned, I remember when Siege Rhino was the strongest creature in the format, but he was completely reasonable. The cards we see today are just so much stronger than those cards, and I don't know the benefit of that. Thragtusk was the best in his class, and a card that still exists in numerous Cubes. Compare it to Omnath.

This is a topic I hate to have to keep discussing, but one that I would also love your thoughts on. Standard seems worrisome, and I wonder if I'm the only person who feels this way. Do you guys anticipate a ban coming up? Are these cards too strong? Do you think they can be "metagamed" out? Share your thoughts in the comments below, and remember to use promo code FRANK5 for all of your purchases. Thank you so much for reading, I love you all, stay safe, and I'll see you next week!

Frank Lepore

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