Week one of standard is upon us, and the week leading into it on Magic Online and especially on Magic Arena has shown us an incredibly diverse format with some very powerful players. Many old archetypes got incredible new tools, and many new archetypes have spawned in the wake of Ravnica Allegiance. While I don’t think I could tell you what to play to win the tournament in an unsettled metagame with this wide a variety of deck choices, I do think there are 5 key archetypes you need to respect this weekend.
You Must Be This Tall to Play Standard
Mono Red Aggro is incredibly fast and serves as the litmus test of this format. It’s also incredibly popular, which means that if your deck cannot handle Mono Red Aggro,then you should immediately head back to the drawing board to address that. Ravnica Allegiance has given this deck incredible new tools in Skewer the Critics and Light Up the Stage, allowing this deck to go just a bit faster and hang in the games for just a bit longer. Risk Factor and Runaway Steam-Kin in particular benefit from additional burn and additional cheap spells that help lower the curve. This particular 75 I’ve crafted plays a 21st mountain and an Experimental Frenzy main to support the sideboard in best of 3 matches. You need to have access to some card advantage engines in the 75, and cards like Fight with Fire and Banefire are still potent tools so long as you continue to make land drops. Dire Fleet Daredevil has a full 3 copies because the pirate is so incredibly powerful in mirror matches with Skewer the Critics and Light Up the Stage as potent new targets.
The Other Fast Decks
The other speed check in the format are the creature based aggressive decks. I chose Mardumans specifically because it represents the overlap between Judith, the Scourge Diva based aggro and white based aggro. While I don’t expect this macro archetype to be as popular as Mono Red, I do think there will be consequences if you ignore these decks. Benalish Marshal, Judith, the Scourge Diva, Hero of Precinct One, Heroic Reinforcements. These are the main cards that will punish you for not interacting with the opposing board early, and these decks are just as capable of killing you on turn 4 as Mono Red is. Cards like Ritual of Soot, Cry of the Carnarium, Fiery Cannonade, and Deafening Clarion are key ways to keep these decks down, and if your deck doesn’t have access to these or more powerful sweepers, your deck needs to be capable of contesting the board in other ways. This specific 75 has been updated with sweepers and fog effects in mind, using Boros Challenger to both dodge the -2-2 effects and to increase the clock speed against the Wilderness Reclamation decks. From the Mardumans side of the table, make sure not to over-board. Your main gameplan doesn’t change postboard, and it can be easy to get carried away bringing cards in. In most matchups you should only be bringing in 3-6 cards, and if you’re swapping more than that you should re-evaluate.
The Elephant in the Room
Wilderness Reclamation is incredibly powerful, and I would be remiss if I did not mention this archetype. This specific build is essentially Autumn Burchett’s 60 with a new sideboard. Uncomfortable chill is almost a fog that also cantrips at instant speed, and I have been quite impressed with the consistency of the deck. Expansion//Explosion is the finisher chosen for week 1 because of its potency when going off “halfway” compared to Teferi, and for its ability to help win counterspell wars postboard with the Expansion half. The sideboard here is loaded with counterspells, including Frilled Mystic as a counterspell that cannot be Negated or Expansion’d in Nexus of Fate Mirrors or control matchups, with Growth-Chamber Guardian as an alternate threat and Star of Extinction to help against the blue midrange decks. The key to beating these decks is to never let them get an untap step with Wilderness Reclamation in play, and if you’re a counterspell deck in game 1 you can actually reasonably win by countering every Explosion they attempt to cast, with the caveat that they can save 2 mana to expansion your counterspell.
Mana Dorks and Mythics
This macro archetype is more commonly known as “Monsters,” but MTGO grinder and current standard trophy leader VTCLA affectionately gave it this new nickname. These decks want to just cast giant threats ahead of the curve every turn until you cave in to the sheer pressure. These decks are nothing new to those who have been playing for a long time, but this time around cards like Rhythm of the Wild and Hadana’s Climb can really amplify the closing speed of these decks. I personally believe that Hadana’s Climb is the better option of the two, because Rhythm can exacerbate the traditional monsters archetype’s problem of drawing cards in the wrong order, or simply running out of threats. Hadana’s climb gives you as much or more closing power while also being incredibly synergistic with Growth-Chamber Guardian, Incubation Druid, Skarrgan Hellkite, and Zegana, Utopian Speaker. This deck also has the combination of Vivien, Hydroid Krasis, and Hadana’s Climb to go over the top of midrange matchups and maintain a steady stream of threats. The sideboard acknowledges that this deck is slower than the more aggressive decks and as a result needs to respect Wilderness Reclamation strategies more in postboard games, loading up on countermagic and additional threats that answer the problematic enchantment.
Three-Color Value Decks
Last, but definitely not least, are the three color value decks. Hydroid Krasis has taken the midrange world by storm and by force, and both Bant and Sultai are color combinations well suited to take advantage of it. Esper midrange is also in this category, despite lacking Krasises of its own. Why specifically work from last set’s Golgari Midrange? The answer is largely that it is a deck already well-suited to handling the aggressive decks, and the explore creatures are a good way to continue hitting land drops to make Hydroid Krasis into a top end threat that really shines. I’ve elected for Incubation Druid over Llanowar Elves for a couple of reasons. The first and foremost is that the adapt is both a mana sink and an excellent source of mana for Hydroid Krasis. Incubation Druid can also notably be made to survive Finality, and having more 2 drops with this ability is incredibly potent in ground stalls. Llanowar Elves’ main advantage over incubation druid is coming down a turn earlier, but this decks curve is not well suited to taking advantage of that, with only 3 6 drops, and the jump from 2 to 4 mana is far more meaningful here. Hostage Taker and River’s Rebuke I think are key cards to take on these Krasis-centric mirrors, allowing you to steal and recast opposing Hydroid Krasis or to completely reset your opponents board to take over the game.
Sideboarding Golgari Krasis
Since this is a week one article I’m going to do the sideboard guide a little differently. Instead of telling you which cards swap around for each matchup, I’m going to tell you the roles and purposes each card can serve. This will allow me to more completely prepare you for an event you choose to play this list in and lets you identify how to sideboard for any unexpected archetypes or specific builds of decks you may come across that warrant a different postboard plan.
Duress is for the matchups where we need to either deny key noncreature resources or to ensure our threats are able to resolve. You will want to bring this in if your opponent is playing a large number of counterspells, if your opponent is playing Wilderness Reclamation, or if you expect big swing cards like Star of Extinction, Kaya’s Wrath, and Expansion//Explosion.
Negate on the other hand is for denying opposing key spells on the stack. It is less good than Duress at resolving our own spells, being slightly more expensive, but can often work in tandem with Duress to dismantle opposing gameplans focused too heavily on noncreature spells. Negate is also excellent at protecting an existing board presence and maintaining your advantage while you finish them off. You will want to bring this in if your opponent has expensive or important noncreature spells, especially Wilderness Reclamation and mass removal.
Disdainful Stroke is the last piece of our disruption package. It is narrower than Negate in that it can only counter expensive spells, but in exchange it can counter creature spells. Disdainful stroke mostly functions as a “3rd Negate” that has some extra utility in midrange matchups. Disdainful stroke still excels against Wilderness Reclamation, but is less useful in a counter war against control. Disdainful stroke is especially potent against the Monsters and Three-Color Value archetypes, as it can counter a big creature, a potent planeswalker, or a potential sideboard haymaker like River’s Rebuke.
Arguel’s Blood Fast is for matchups where our life isn’t pressured and where additional resources really shine. It allows you to hold up mana for a counterspell (or dig for one) and keep a steady stream of threats and disruption from a permanent type not easily dealt with. Hydroid Krasis and Wildgrowth Walker allow us the life total to work with to use this card well beyond our starting 20 life. You will want to bring this in against reactive control decks, Wilderness Reclamation, and attrition heavy lists with slow clocks like Disinformation Campaign.
Moment of Craving is an additional removal spell for aggressive matchups where our life total is under pressure. This slot could also be an additional Cast Down if you expect more matchups like Izzet Drakes, but this version of “Golgari” has an additional 6 shocklands and I wanted to make sure we have the tools to properly stabilize against Mono Red, Adanto Vanguard, and Judith, the Scourge Diva.
Cry of the Carnarium is our small boardwipe of choice. The extra clauses ensure that we don’t leave any Afterlife or Hunted Witness tokens lying around, and Judith, the Scourge Diva won’t get any death triggers. You will want to bring this in against token heavy strategies and decks with a high count of cheap small creatures. You notably will not want to bring this in against Mono Red unless you see or expect Legion Warboss or Siege-Gang Commander.
Ritual of Soot is our “3rd Cry of the Carnarium” with a few extra upsides. Ritual is able to wipe boards involving lords like Benalish Marshal or Merfolk Mistbinder, and is potent against the blue-green Hadana’s Climb decks since it will kill a vast majority of their threats including Hydroid Krasis, though I wouldn’t recommend it if they have additional threats higher up the curve like Skarrgan Hellkite. You will want to bring this in against the same decks you’d bring in Cry of the Carnarium, but you can also bring it in against Hydroid Krasis decks with no other top end threats and it is far more potent against something like merfolk where creatures can quickly grow too large for Cry of the Carnarium.
Vraska’s Contempt #3 is for matchups where we know there are planeswalkers or threats that demand exile based removal like Rekindling Phoenix. It also serves as removal with an extra life rider against decks like Mono Red or Izzet Drakes. You will want to bring this in against midrange decks with recursion and planeswalkers, Mono Red Aggro, and Monsters .
The Eldest Reborn is for taking care of large, singular threats in matchups where the card advantage aspect is also important. This is your Niv-Mizzet+Dive Down answer, this is how you kill Carnage Tyrant, this is how you bury Esper when they have a lone Teferi, Hero of Dominaria. You will want to bring this in against Izzet Drakes, Esper Control, Golgari Midrange without Krasis, and some of the greedier decks with high value targets deployed one at a time.
Vraska, Relic Seeker serves a few functions in this 75. She has an ultimate that ends the game from any life total in Hydroid Krasis mirrors, she’s a threat that cannot be answered with traditional board wipes, and she is a repeatable removal spell that also generates treasure tokens for powering out Hydroid Krasis. A sort of generic catchall sideboard threat for slower matchups, you will want to bring in Vraska, Relic seeker against Monsters strategies, Angels decks, midrange mirrors, and control decks with permanent based removal.
This is probably the spiciest card in the whole sideboard, and is a result of me pondering how we want to win Hydroid Krasis mirrors. Outside of trying to just cast more of them, when both players have a million cards in play and a high life total, resetting their side of the board is going to end a lot of games. While they can recast a big krasis, they have a limited number of cards in library and they will need to deploy more than one blocker in the face of a board stall that suddenly became a very short clock, if not lethal on the spot. You will want this in Hydroid Krasis based mirrors, some monsters decks, and Merfolk. When both sides of the board get bogged down, a one sided “board wipe” is a very good tool to have access to.
If you want to see any of the other numerous decks I have built this spoiler season you can find them here. If you have any questions or comments, as always you can reach out to me in the comments here or on twitter @yoman_5. This standard format is powerful and I can’t wait to play at SCG Indy!
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Adam “yoman5” Hernandez is an up-and-coming pro player, recently earning an invite to MC Cleveland with a top 8 finish at GP Milwaukee. He has a strong focus on figuring out key aspects of decks, matches, and gameplay, digging past the what to figure out the why. In addition to his written content, Adam regularly streams on Twitch.