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Sultai in Standard

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Hey everyone!

I'm here today to talk about the top deck in Standard - Sultai. Temur Adventures was putting up weaker results against Sultai as the last week progressed; I posted a 2-4 finish in the SCG Qualifier. My four losses were to Sultai. That's a problem. While that was not a reasonable sample of the matchup, I want to play a deck that has a fighting chance - the mirror.

While the Standard metagame looks stale on the surface already there are two types of Sultai decks to choose: Flash or planeswalkers.

The first approach leans on flash threats popularized by Alexander Gordon-Brown. He took down the SCG Qualifier on August 15:


Looking at the list it's clear Gordon-Brown intended on fighting plenty of Sultai mirrors. He sacrificed the aggressive matchups in Game 1 by putting all of the Extinction Events in the sideboard. Brazen Borrower also took three maindeck slots over Eliminate and Heartless Act. The saving grace is Aether Gust's splash damage against Mono-Green and Mono-Red.

The other popular take made the finals of the same event piloted by Koutarou Ishibashi. His plan was to stick a mirror-breaker in Narset, Parter of Veils and find Nissa and Shark Typhoon to close the game.

Here's his list:


Ishibashi's Narset strategy allows a synergistic reason to play more maindeck removal. There's less incentive to play Narset if you cannot protect her. Four copies of Narset also enables you to play fewer copies of the expensive non-creature spells: Nissa, Casualties of War, and Extinction Event.

I had a chance to play an SCG Challenge with both takes on this deck. Let's talk about the flash approach first.

The flash approach only playing twenty-seven lands felt awkward to me. Brazen Borrower not trading one-for-one felt like I was flooding out more often. I can see the reason for playing one less land than the stock build, but the flash deck wants to hit every land drop for Shark Typhoon and Hydroid Krasis.

Another issue with the flash version was the large quantities of threats with high diminishing returns. There were multiple games where Nissa was the only threat I drew and wasn't strong enough to close. I also had a few games where decking was a concern.

I sometimes drew too many lands early which meant casting Krasis on turn four. The flash approach is worse at recovering from an early disadvantage. Instead of drawing removal the early interaction is bounce and counterspells.

The SCG Challenge I played featured me losing to the mirror and Rakdos Sacrifice while beating Temur Elementals. Not a strong showing.

Next, I played a Challenge using the Ishibashi approach of playing on my own turn.

I went 4-0 beating both styles of mirrors, Mardu Knights, and Esper Yorion. This is a fairly accurate representation of the Standard metagame where you face Sultai 50% of the time and not Sultai the other 50% of the time.

Twenty-eight lands combined with four Thought Erasure allowed me to have smooth draws throughout the tournament. I sometimes want to go to twenty-nine land, but the only reason Temur Reclamation could get away with such a high land count was due to playing multiple Castle Vantress.

Two Tamiyo and four Narset feels like too many card advantage planeswalkers in an open field. She also gets hit by both Aether Gust and Mystical Dispute. Tamiyo's high loyalty is a built-in defense, but I prefer a third Nissa. The static ability is great in the mirror since it prevents Thought Erasure from discarding a card, but not Agonizing Remorse from exiling.

Speaking of Mystical Dispute I was very disappointed by the popular counterspell. There were multiple games where Dispute rotted in my hand in the mirror. The opponent would see it from Thought Erasure and it then never found a target. Many games of the mirror have come down to sticking a meaningful threat because of the high land count.

The situational counterspells become powerful when there are many in the deck. For example, Negate is great when you leave up a kill spell because then you have numerous bases covered. If your goal is to tap out or leave up a single interactive spell it gets weaker because skipping your turn is a risk if the opponent plays around the counter.

Ishibashi's approach was built without Alex Gordon-Brown's in mind because that was the event it debuted. Moving forward the planeswalker build should have a more focused game plan. If you try to half-heartedly play a flash plan against the true flash deck you will lose. For this reason, I want to add a fifth discard spell to the maindeck to poke holes in the interaction.

Aether Gust is the preferred interaction in the Planeswalker build because it can answer a threat on the stack or the battlefield. I can also use my discard spells to leave the opponent with just a Nissa to walk into my Aether Gust.

Ishibashi's sideboard is pretty good, but I would swap Elder Gargaroth for Enter the God-Eternals. Black aggressive decks are already playing Noxious Grasp and it doesn't immediately affect the board. I also don't want my anti-aggro haymaker to simply die to Primal Might the following turn against Mono-Green.

Here's my current list:


I was impressed by Casualties of War in the mirror. The opponent would have to take my earlier interaction, but it was in the back of their mind running out a Nissa was a bad idea. This is an important effect to have in the tapout version of the deck because Nissa will resolve often.

Many Sultai lists are skimping on maindeck Extinction Event because it requires some work to be good in the mirror. The only way to exile creatures in the mirror are to make them extinct which means you need to be playing Eat to Extinction to deal with Uro instead.

I've seen Cry of the Carnarium replace an Extinction Event in the sideboard. I have gone against this trend because I play eight 2-drop spot removal spells. The more expensive sweeper has less of a downside when you can spend the second and third turn interacting with creatures.

I'm a big fan of Eliminate because it kills all of the threats in the mirror. It feels free to play three copies as it kills lands animated by Nissa, Uro, Hydroid Krasis, Shark tokens, Narset, and Brazen Borrower. It's able to kill pesky creatures with counters against Mono-Green Aggro, too.

The single Castle Vantress is there to mitigate flooding in the mirror match. I play fifteen Islands and four Fabled Passage which makes it likely to enter the battlefield untapped. The only major downside to playing Castle over the fifth Island is I can't Thought Erasure on turn two with Fabled Passage searching for Swamp.

There are a maximum of two copies of Casualties of War in the planeswalker Sultai builds and zero in the flash version. This makes the castles less vulnerable compared to a few weeks ago where every Sultai deck played two or three Casualties of War.

I don't want to play Teferi, Master of Time in this metagame because his +1 makes you discard a card when Narset is on the battlefield. Early results this week indicate the planeswalker build of Sultai is still popular.

A single Cultivate is a consideration, but I already tap out on turn three for Narset. I don't want two Cultivate because I might run out of lands to fetch and it makes me more prone to flooding.

I'm happy with just two Hydroid Krasis because it's a miss with Narset and the ability is negated by Narset's static ability. Shark Typhoon has really impressed me, but the fourth is the best once I have more instant-speed interaction for the matchup after board.

Thought Distortion is a potential option in the mirror match. The issue is it's mediocre against the planeswalker build and costs 6 mana. If you play a single Casualties of War I wouldn't mind one Distortion to find with Narset as a second 6-drop.

Now that we have talked about the card choices let's get to sideboarding!

Sultai Mirror

I sideboard the same way against both versions:

Out:

In:

I don't need to sideboard much for the mirror because the maindeck is already heavily skewed. This means my sideboard can be used to transform into a pile of removal against aggressive decks.

Mono-Red

Out:

In:

Mono Green

Out:

In:

Temur Adventures

Out:

In:

It seems weird to board out Aether Gust, but it's really not a good spell against Temur Adventures. It barely disrupts Edgewall Innkeeper so I would rather bring in more permanent answers to threats. Since Adventures is good at grinding I can't simply bring in a bunch of interaction otherwise I would flood out.

Rakdos Sacrifice

In:

Out:

I'm going to be playing this deck for the foreseeable future. It's not broken, but is quite good when tailored for the metagame.

Thanks for reading!

-Kyle

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