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April Standard Deck Compendium: Know Your Enemy

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The letter H!ello and welcome to Perilous Research, DailyMTG.com's exclusive Magic Online column. Over the course of the last week I played more than seventy-five matches of Standard on Magic Online. I played with every deck I deemed tier one in an effort to understand each archetype's strengths and weaknesses. With massive preparation under my belt, I traveled to Philadelphia to try my luck in the PTQ. There, 226 players showed up to battle with their favorite Standard decks and I managed to go undefeated throughout the entire day and secure a spot at Pro Tour Theros, which will be my first Pro Tour since 2010. Knowledge is power.

Today, I'm going to talk about the current state of Standard in an effort to arm my readers with the same knowledge I used to take down the PTQ. In my opinion, there are six tier-one decks in Standard right now: Aristocrats, Junk Rites, Red-White-Blue, Esper, Naya Blitz, and Red-Green. Last Sunday's Magic Online Standard Premier Events give us an excellent snapshot of the current state of Standard. Let's dive right in and take a look at some decklists.

Junk Rites

Junk Rites is the current boogeyman of the format. The deck plays like a midrange deck, but the endgame is nothing short of spectacular. Thragtusks and Lingering Souls create an impenetrable board state that can be broken wide open with Angel of Serenity or Craterhoof Behemoth. The two-pronged attack that Junk Rites brings to the table is difficult for most decks to deal with, especially in Game 1. I like bringing in a bit of graveyard hate and board sweepers to deal with Junk Rites' engines. They can easily ramp into their Angel of Serenity or Thragtusk, so it's unwise to overload on graveyard hate, but two or three copies of Tormod's Crypt, Rest in Peace, or Purify the Grave should be in heavy consideration when playing against this matchup. The Junk Rites deck also plays little in the way of spot removal, even post-board, so high-power two-drops that are weak to spot removal like Skirsdag High Priest are extremely well positioned in this matchup. I played against Junk Rites three times in the Swiss of the PTQ, but I had friends who had to face the matchup as many as five times over the course of the day. This is the most important matchup to test going forward.


Initial versions of the deck have been evolving. It's becoming common for cards like Obzedat, Ghost Council or Lotleth Troll to be given main-deck consideration. Loxodon Smiter makes an appearance in some lists for his power against Red-White-Blue, Esper, and Naya Blitz. I like saving my spot removal against Junk Rites and not just firing it off at the first mana creature I see. Here are up-to-date versions of Junk Rites that Top 8ed Standard Premier Events on Magic Online last Sunday.


infamousvko's Junk Rites
Standard – Top 8, Magic Online Premier, March 31


kuchinawa's Junk Rites
Standard – Top 8, Magic Online Premier, March 31



aarongulevich's Junk Rites
Standard – Top 8, Magic Online Premier, March 31


Red-White-Blue Control

Red-White-Blue decks have been an integral part of the Standard metagame for some time. The deck is reasonably well positioned against green decks, especially the more aggressive varieties. Some versions of the deck still have access to Boros Reckoner/Blasphemous Act, one of the most potent tools for defeating the Junk Rites deck. The deck struggles a lot against Esper control, which can make it a dangerous choice for a larger event. However, players able to dodge the Esper match should be rewarded for playing with the best-positioned control strategy in the current format.


The deck has evolved over time and now some versions have traded in their Thundermaw Hellkites for Aurelia, the Warleader. Aurelia gives the deck the endgame punch it needs to close games quickly and reliably. Here is an up-to-date version of Red-White-Blue that Top 8ed a Standard Premier Event on Magic Online last Sunday.


robgladiator90's UWR
Standard – Winner, Magic Online Premier, March 31


Bant Delver

Bant Delver is a bit of an oddity. The deck was relatively unknown last week, but it's quickly picking up steam and becoming one of the more popular strategies. The deck uses Delver of Secrets and Cloudfin Raptor to get an early advantage on board. Cards like Call of the Conclave and Selesnya Charm allow the deck to keep its instant/sorcery count high enough for Delver of Secrets, while simultaneously allowing the deck to play enough creatures for the Cloudfin Raptor to be relevant. Once the deck is ahead on the board, it uses a flurry of pump spells and tempo cards to offset the opponent and end the game quickly.

I've found that the best way to attack this deck is to aggressively one-for-one it with removal. Killing every Cloudfin Raptor/Delver of Secrets means the deck is just some vanilla creatures, pump spells, and Geist of Saint Traft. As long as you can throw enough blockers in front of the Geist you should be able to live through the pump spells. The deck also has no spot removal, so inexpensive powerhouses like Skirsdag High Priest are very good. Here is an up-to-date version of Bant Delver that Top 8ed a Standard Premier Event on Magic Online last Sunday.


KosherSammich's Bant Delver
Standard – Top 8, Magic Online Premier, March 31


Rakdos

Rakdos was the deck of choice for pre-Gatecrash Standard. The deck has evolved since then, but the general strategy remains the same. Gloom Surgeon makes an appearance thanks to his incredible power against Naya Blitz and Bant Delver. The deck punishes players who rely on Planeswalkers and goes over the top of many midrange decks in the format. Unfortunately, the deck suffers against Junk Rites, and that's not really where you want to be in this format right now. I could see Rakdos making a big comeback if Junk Rites loses its throne, but I think the deck will remain a gambit until Junk Rites is hated out of the format. Here is an up-to-date version of Rakdos that Top 8ed a Standard Premier Event on Magic Online last Sunday.



Naya Blitz

Naya Blitz is the best truly aggressive in Standard. The deck continually posts strong numbers and its best draws are some of the scariest to come from an aggro deck in the history of Standard. However, the deck accrues no card advantage if you can prevent Champion of the Parish from becoming an Abyss. I recommend using spot removal as aggressively as possible. Also, take any offered trade immediately; the deck loses a lot of power if it's unable to trigger battalion. By aggressively one-for-oneing your opponent you should find this matchup get a lot easier. Boros Reckoner and inexpensive spot removal are the best cards against Naya Blitz.


Some lists have gone a little bigger as of late in order to include Hellrider or Boros Reckoner. Other lists are taking advantage of the small amount of spot removal being played by including Mikaeus, the Lunarch. Here are up-to-date versions of Naya Blitz that Top 8ed Standard Premier Events on Magic Online last Sunday.


PauloCabral_Br's Naya Blitz
Standard – Top 8, Magic Online Premier, March 31



Bant Auras

The Ghost Pants deck, as its lovingly called by those who play it, is a metagame deck that has enjoyed scattered success since Jon Stern won Grand Prix Atlantic City with it just a few months ago. The deck punishes midrange decks, but it suffers against decks like Naya Blitz, Red-Green, and control decks using Supreme Verdict. There's a lot of midrange in Standard these days, which makes this an excellent choice for grinding Magic Online events. However, you can be sure that you'll have to battle against at least a couple Naya Blitz and Supreme Verdict decks over the course of a larger tournament like a PTQ and it might be risky sleeving this up if you're on the hunt for a Pro Tour invite. Here's a list that recently Top 8ed a Magic Online Premier event.


Kane49's Bant Enchantments
Standard – Top 8, Magic Online Premier, March 31


Jund Midrange

Jund has managed to take on all comers and stay in the realm of tier one. Reid Duke played the deck to an undefeated record at the Magic Online Championship, giving the archetype a boost in popularity and a stock list for players to build off of. Jund performs well against aggressive and control strategies, but it can often get out-powered by midrange decks like Junk Rites. The deck has a surprising amount of game in any matchup, though, and I think it's an excellent choice for players looking to grind the remainder of the Standard season with a single deck. Lingering Souls in conjunction with Sorin, Lord of Innistrad gives Jund fits and the deck does have issues with Aristocrats in general. We'll have to see if Aristocrats picks up popularity in the coming week, but I assume Jund will remain a force to be reckoned with going forward. Here's a list that Top 8ed a Magic Online Standard Premier Event last Sunday.


ARO78's Jund Midrange
Standard – Top 8, Magic Online Premier, March 31


Bant Wolf Run

The Bant Wolf Run deck that Melissa DeTora piloted all the way to the Top 8 at Pro Tour Gatecrash is getting a new breath of life in a format where things are becoming increasingly focused on midrange strategies. The deck can get run over by Naya Blitz, but that deck is decreasing in popularity. The deck's ability to fight the midrange war effectively, even against Junk Rites in some cases, makes it an attractive choice for current Standard players. The deck performs very well against Aristocrats and Jund and I could see this becoming one of the most popular archetypes going forward. Here's a list from the Top 8 of a Magic Online Standard Premier event last Sunday.


Jokerstars Bant Control
Standard – Top 8, Magic Online Premier, March 31


Glory's Rise Reanimator

Most people I talk to say things like, "The combo is cute, but I don't think it's better than Junk Rites," when asked about Angel of Glory's Rise Reanimator strategies. There's some truth in that statement, but the Junk Rites deck relies heavily on a stable board state to achieve victory while the Glory's Rise deck can simply win out of nowhere when the opponent taps out. Cards like Supreme Verdict and Blasphemous Act will contribute to the downfall of Junk Rites and players may begin cutting graveyard hate from their sideboards. The moment this happens, Glory's Rise Reanimator will likely be the best choice for the next PTQ.


I recommend learning this deck well so you're prepared to beat it by disrupting the combo with a timely spot removal spell on Fiend Hunter. Once you've learned it, you should keep your finger on Standard's pulse and be prepared to unleash the combo when no one is prepared for it. Here's a list that won a Magic Online Premier Event last Sunday.


rex51515's Glory's Rise Reanimator
Standard – Winner, Magic Online Premier, March 31


Borzhov Control

Sometimes I see a deck and I really don't know where to put it. This white-black-red control strategy reminds me of Jund in many ways, but it seems much more resistant to spot removal and much stronger against control and midrange decks. Unfortunately, the deck seems inconsistent and I fear that it may lose matches to itself more often than a pilot would like. I haven't had the opportunity to test this, but it's certainly interesting and the deck could become the newest cog in the metagame. Here's the list.



Esper Control

Esper Control is still the go-to control deck of the format. The deck can get run over by Naya Blitz, especially in Game 1, but it generally performs well against midrange with tight play. The major problem with Esper Control right now is Junk Rites. The Junk Rites deck usually brings in Acidic Slime after sideboard and the Esper Control deck will quickly fall behind if its lands start being destroyed. The deck leans on Sphinx's Revelation very hard, making Slaughter Games another problem card. I recommend playing Planeswalkers if you want to maximize your chances against Esper; the control deck has few ways to pressure opposing 'walkers and usually dies to the constant stream of card advantage provided by the Planeswalker. Here's a list that Top 8ed a Magic Online Standard Premier Event last Sunday.


chienmingjen's Esper Control
Standard – Top 8, Magic Online Premier, March 31


Aristocrats

Aristocrats is my weapon of choice in the current Standard format. I played the deck to a 10–0–1 record last weekend, defeating three Junk Rites decks, two Naya Blitz decks, one Esper deck, one Bant Wolf Run deck, one Four-Color Reanimator Deck, one Bant Delver Deck, one Red-Green deck, and one Nightshade Pingers deck. Skirsdag High Priest is incredibly well-positioned in the current format and I recommend playing more than just two like most lists have right now. Personally, I played four.


Next week, I'll post my decklist along with sideboarding plans. The deck has reasonable matchups across the board and simple changes can be made that drastically increase the favorability of the Junk Rites matchup. I may be biased, but I think Aristocrats is an excellent choice going forward. Here's a list that Top 8ed a Standard Premier Event on Magic Online last Sunday.


A strong understanding of the current Standard format gives you a huge edge on the competition in this PTQ season. Magic Online is the best practice tool available to players looking to sharpen up their skills in a given format. Remember to always come well-prepared and you'll notice a drastic change in your median finish at events. Be sure to join me next week when I reveal my PTQ-winning Aristocrats decklist with sideboarding plans and reveal a particularly exciting preview from Dragon's Maze. Grind away, young wizards! Battle awaits.

Knowledge is power!





 
Jacob Van Lunen
Jacob Van Lunen
@JVLTMS
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Jacob Van Lunen began playing Magic in 1995. He has participated in organized play at every level of competition and was a member of the winning team at Pro Tour San Diego in 2007, thanks to an innovative draft strategy. As a writer, Van Lunen has had more than three hundred Magic strategy pieces published.

 
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