October 27, 2017

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Going for the Gold: Standard before Pro Tour Ixalan

Welcome back to Going for the Gold!

As promised last week, I'm going to give you an update on the current state of Standard.

But why is that important?

Well, the latest Pro Tour is coming up in Albuquerque next weekend, and that tournament will bring a bunch of pros both old school and new to New Mexico. This is the first Pro Tour that is being run a few months after the set release and it kind of feels like we are playing a "solved metagame".

We're deep enough into this format that everyone is at the tail end of their Ixalan drafts. In fact, I would be surprised if a Pro Tour competitor has any less than 30 Ixalan Drafts under their belt. Compare that to the previous Pro Tours, where you would have people being hurled into a tournament with little to no knowledge of either the Standard or the Limited format, and you have what will without a doubt be one of the toughest Pro Tours for someone like me, who is used to having much more preparation than the majority of my competition.

In such a world, it is no longer a disadvantage to share and talk about Standard, but a quick disclaimer...

I won't be sharing my exact decklist in this article, and I definitely won't be saying what I am leaning toward.

That said, there are really a couple ways you can choose to attack Standard at this point.

This was the defining deck of Standard since Pro Tour Kyoto, where it filled the majority of the Top 8 slots.

Recently this deck has been on the downturn with the prominent rise of Temur Energy. Currently Mono Red Aggro is worse in the metagame since it lost a lot of its tools with the most recent Standard rotation and Chandra's Defeat is a card that is played in the sideboards of many decks to trade favourably against this deck. Hazoret the Fervent is still the best card in Standard though, and our next list might be a better home for it.

I played RB Aggro at Pro Tour Dublin to a somewhat successful finish, but this is an entirely different flavor of the aggressive archetype.

We still have Scrapheap Scrounger, which has been a menace to deal with. It's balanced in a field of aggressive decks where it is only good when you're ahead. This deck also adds a lot of flexibility to a Hazoret shell as you dump your hand as fast as possible pre-board, and your creatures do great work at demolishing your opponent's life total. Vance's Blasting Cannons can be sideboarded in against control decks, where it does a great Outpost Siege imitation.

Temur Energy has been the other main stalwart of Standard, with the majority of World's competitors choosing to play the deck and Huey Jensen eventually taking down the title with it.

Not much has changed with this deck, except for Seth Manfield's addition of a maindeck Carnage Tyrant to sidestep the Vizier of Many Faces that so many decks are sideboarding. It's also nice to see Nissa, Steward of Elements in the mix as a way to deal 10 damage out of nowhere in the late game, or grind out a win starting on turn three.

However, if you like the energy mechanic, Temur isn't your only choice....

This deck has taken on a new form since the summer when GB Constrictor was one of the most played decks in Standard. By splashing for Rogue Refiner, The Scarab God, and Hostage Taker we finally have a deck that can compete vs the other Tier 1 decks. On top of that, Sultai Energy has sideboard options that allow it to be a real midrange deck in this format and one that can play deep in the late stages of a game even after sideboard.

Now that we have the aggressive and midrange decks out of the way, lets turn our focus to the three "control"-ish decks out there...

Approach Control has been the most popular form of the control deck prior to the printing of Search for Azcanta. Glimmer of Genius, Censor, Essence Scatter, and Torrential Gearhulk form the backbone of a great blue control deck and Approach of the Second Sun allows a control deck to trim its finishers. This deck is favoured against other control decks, but I never feel comfortable when I'm playing against a fast aggressive deck, or a midrange deck with counters in its sideboard. If I was to play control, this next one is more my kind...

A mix of great removal and great card draw make UB Control the premier control deck in this format. In fact, US Nationals was taken down by none other than wunderkind Oliver Tomajko who piloted the deck to a near flawless record.

Not only does this deck have a great engine, but The Scarab God allows this deck to turn the corner fast. Carnage Tyrant is the deck's biggest worry and there are two copies of Vizier of Many Faces in the sideboard to help prevent the Tyrant from stealing a game. Search for Azcanta is still a little suspect to me, but I have seen it do some incredible work.

The final deck that I wanted to highlight is the BW tokens deck that has risen to prominence on Magic Online.

Sam Pardee was able to take the above list to an 8-0 finish in the latest Magic Online Championship Series. This deck works by clearing the board before clogging it to keep most decks out of the match. Hidden Stockpile works great with Anointed Procession to provide an endless stream of creatures. Combine this with Legion's Landing and you have a recipe for success.

One of the best hate cards for this deck is Rampaging Ferocidon since it prevents life gain and domes your opponent everytime they have a creature enter the battlefield. This deck will do very well at the Pro Tour, so I'd suggest being ready for it with some enchantment hate at the very least.

So there you have it, there are so many options that are available to you if you want to play Standard. While there are many options, these are the ones that I would shortlist:

Aggro - B/R Aggro
Midrange - Sultai Energy
Control - U/B Control
"Control" - Tokens

Whatever you end up playing, make sure you run the deck through a couple leagues on Magic Online before your next tournament, as most of your opponents will have had enough practice with their decks of choice as well!

Until next week,