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January Standard Metagame Update


Standard season is upon us, and I’ve been keeping myself busying poring over all kinds of decklists (amongst many other things). The format has evolved considerably since my last review, although Mono-Black Devotion and Mono-Blue Devotion still reign supreme through sheer numbers. New challengers have arisen; in particular, Esper Humans and Orzhov Control have been taking up larger shares of the metagame. Let’s look at a snapshot of the Top 16 decks from the first couple weeks of Magic Online Premier Events in January along with the last two StarCityGames Opens.

If you’ve been reading my column for a while, you know that I lump decks into general categories. Here, “Black Devotion” refers to both Mono-Black Devotion and the version of the deck that splashes green. “Blue Control” refers to W/U Control, Esper Control, and R/W/U Control (basically any Sphinx's Revelation deck). The other categories follow along in the same manner, though if you’d like me to clarify anything, feel free to leave me a comment.

I won’t bore you with the details of Mono-Blue Devotion and Mono-Black Devotion. Both of those decks have been discussed ad infinitum, including by yours truly. I’m more interested in looking at recent movers and shakers. Before I delve into that, I’d like to note the near disappearance of green devotion decks from the metagame. I discussed before how abysmal its results were in elimination rounds, and it does seem that only the most diehard fans of the deck are continuing to play it. I think I saw more white-based devotion decks than green ones when looking over the lists. The three decks that have gained the most in terms of their metagame share in the past three weeks are Esper Humans, Orzhov Control, and Selesnya Aggro.

I’ll begin with Esper Humans. First brought to the world’s attention at Grand Prix Shizuoka, it has quickly become among the most popular non-devotion decks on Magic Online. Here’s a list that won a recent Premier Event:

Playing two copies of Mutavault seems insane to me in a deck that wants to cast Lyev Skyknight on turn three, Desecration Demon on turn four, and Obzedat, Ghost Council on turn five. It works with Xathrid Necromancer, and having eight scry lands helps a lot with fixing your mana I suppose. It also seems insane to me that this deck doesn’t play Thoughtseize, but when you’re paying 2 life for half of your lands, you can’t really afford to. I’ve seen some versions of this deck play Soul Ransom, which has a cute interaction with Cartel Aristocrat. If your opponent discards two cards to gain her creature back, you can simply sacrifice it and draw two cards. If you’re going to go that route, I’d recommend playing more sacrifice outlets. I wouldn’t suggest running Domestication instead since this list has fewer blue sources and doesn’t care about devotion.

Soul Ransom
The removal package works quite well against most threats in the format. Esper Humans is among the few decks that Pack Rat isn’t great against since it has both Detention Sphere and Supreme Verdict to remove any number of tokens. Despite the fact that this deck can curve out, it’s more of a midrange deck than anything else. It definitely has a lot of aggressive cards in it, but it is perfectly capable of switching gears when the situation calls for it.

The matchup against Mono-Black Devotion seems pretty interesting. I have a feeling that it’s very draw-dependent, as both sides have a large number of relevant cards. Lyev Skyknight and Imposing Sovereign make it very difficult for a mono-black player to ever block anything. The former can even trade with Nightveil Specter. However, Mono-Black Devotion often has a full set of Pharika's Cure after sideboarding, and those kill every creature in the deck costing less than 4 mana. Dark Betrayal is another efficient removal spell that both sides have access to. I’d be willing to bet that the matchup is a lot closer than what the data suggests, as we’ll see later.

I’m not a huge fan of this deck, mostly because of the mana. But if you’re looking for the spiritual successor to last year’s The Aristocrats deck, this is it.

Next up is Orzhov control. It took a while for it to catch on online, but it has now become among the more successful decks. Here’s a recent list:

Blood Baron of Vizkopa
_Batutinha_, or Carlos Alexandre as he’s also known, is someone whose ideas I respect when it comes to Constructed. I ran his Modern deck card for card at Grand Prix Detroit, which went pretty well for me. I’d be comfortable running that back in Standard with this hot little number. With four copies of Blood Baron of Vizkopa, this deck isn’t messing around. The only way Mono-Black Devotion can get rid of one that has hit the battlefield is with Devour Flesh, which is problematic against a deck that also has four copies of Mutavault to take one for the team. In fact, there are very few removal spells that can actually kill it. Mizzium Mortars is the best answer, which does jack squat against Desecration Demon. And, oh yeah, Pack Rat can steal a lot of wins, too.

Orzhov Control really feels like a mono-black deck that’s pre-sideboarded for the mirror. You lose out on the devotion package, but you gain access to Blood Baron and Elspeth, Sun's Champion, two of the format’s most powerful cards. As much as I love playing Gray Merchant of Asphodel for an absurd amount, it can be very unimpressive in a lot of situations. Another benefit of playing white is gaining access to Last Breath, which is proving to be quite the versatile removal spell. The fact that it exiles the creature is relevant against cards such as Xathrid Necromancer and Voice of Resurgence (did you miss me?).

That brings us to the last deck I’ll be covering today: Selesnya Aggro. Here’s a version of the deck that runs Chronicler of Heroes.

Selesnya Aggro was the best-performing aggressive deck in the data, and it’s not hard to see why. Voice of Resurgence is a huge pain in the butt for most decks to deal with. Ajani, Caller of the Pride is incredibly threatening in a deck that also plays Boon Satyr. It’s not that uncommon to just kill your opponent out of nowhere. I mentioned Chronicler of Heroes before; while it isn’t anything mind-blowing, it is a nice value card in this deck. I think my favorite card in this list is actually Skylasher. By itself, it causes problems against Mono-Blue Devotion, as your opponent will often not be able to attack into it. Once you put a Boon Satyr or start piling on +1/+1 counters with Ajani, it can become a real monster. Mono-Blue Devotion’s only answer is an overloaded Cyclonic Rift. If that wasn’t enough, Mistcutter Hydra is another card mono-blue has a hard time beating, especially when you have Gyre Sage accelerating your mana.

If you just want to turn creatures sideways, this deck would be my recommendation.

Last, let’s look the win percentages of each deck in elimination rounds.

U-Dev. B-Dev. W/U/B Hum. W/B Con. Blue Con. R-Dev. G/W Agg. Red Agg. R/G Mons. W/B Agg. Total
U-Dev. 40% 75% 20% 100% 100% 50% 50% 50%
B-Dev. 60% 0% 0% 100% 100% 40% 40% 100% 54%
W/U/B Hum. 25% 100% 0% 50% 50% 45%
W/B Con. 80% 100% 100% 100% 100% 0% 80%
Blue Con. 0% 0% 50% 0% 100% 0% 100% 30%
R-Dev. 0% 0% 0% 0%
G/W Agg. 0% 60% 50% 100% 100% 0% 100% 58%
Red Agg. 50% 60% 0% 100% 0% 50%
R/G Mons. 50% 0% 100% 0% 100% 43%
W/B Agg. 0% 0%

Normal caveats about small sample sizes apply. A new feature this week is that I’ve denoted in bold cells results that I’m (very) loosely defining as “significant.” Most of the matchups only have one or two matches played, whereas the bolded ones have three or more. In other words, the bolded numbers are a little more reliable. As you can see, Orzhov Control was the best-performing deck by a wide margin. It dominated every matchup except for Selesnya Aggro, against which it failed to claim a victory. I would take this result with a grain of salt, but the strong showing against Mono-Blue Devotion is a convincing argument to play the deck.

Selesnya Aggro was one of two decks that had a favorable and “significant” win percentage against Mono-Black Devotion, with the other one being Red Aggro. Blue Control decks tended to underperform, but the big losers here were Red Devotion decks. Despite posting a fair number of copies into Top 16s, few of them made Top 8, and none of them advanced past the quarterfinals. If you were planning on playing Red Devotion in the near future, I would strongly advise you to reconsider.

If you’re just looking for a “TL;DR” recommendation for what to play, here are my thoughts: Both Mono-Black Devotion and Mono-Blue Devotion are still solid choices, Orzhov Control is definitely worth trying out, and if you’re an aggro player, Selesnya is the way to go.

That’s all I have this week. I’ll be PTQ’ing this weekend in Toronto, so if you see me there, feel free to say “hi”!

Until next time,

Nassim Ketita

arcticninja on Magic Online

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