Last look at Dominaria Standard before Modern PPTQs

Hi all, Modern PPTQs are on the horizon soon in your local PPTQ stores, but just before, I thought it would be worth giving Standard a last look as it’s been a while since I provided some perspectives on the format. In this article I’ll venture through what we’ve seen at the Pro Tour, Grand Prix events, UK PPTQs and also give an account of my experience at the Team Unified Standard RPTQ hosted by Axion Now just over a week ago.

Pro Tour Dominaria

Black-red midrange exploded at GP Birmingham and powered through being well represented alongside it’s slightly more aggressive cousin and plain and simple monored. The three archetypes made up over a third of the day one metagame and, with high conversion rates into day two, comprised over 40% of the day two metagame. It’s therefore unsurprising that seven out of the eight decks in the elimination rounds came from one of these three archetypes with mono-red eventually clinching the title.

Let’s put some thoughts behind red’s huge showing using the red-black midrange deck as a starting point.

  • Consensus wisdom would say that being a bigger outfit than its aggressive cousin or Mono-red gives it a head-start.
  • A high concentration of planeswalkers and haymaker threats such as Rekindling Phoenix and Glorybringer allow it to maintain either a controlling role, or to simply fly over for victory against green decks.
  • Having said this, the deck is not particularly well set up to play against a control deck. Without cards like Bomat Courier or Kari-Zev, Skyship Raider it’s a bit harder to apply pressure in the early game against a control deck like white/blue or Esper, meaning they are more likely to be able to deal with your more powerful cards with Disallow. You rely very heavily on Heart of Kiran.
  • It’s possible that with enough Duress and Arguel’s Blood Fast from the sideboard, these decks could ‘out-grind’ the control decks but this would come at the expense of cards like would require quite a few sideboard slots likely at the expense of cards like Chandra’s Defeat, relying on the overlap effect of cards like Doomfall to prevail in both the mirror and against Control.
  • The aggressive cousin admittedly doesn’t want to have cards like Bomat Courier and Earthshaker Khenra against the midrange version, but those are very easy ‘board outs’ to facilitate the deck’s ability to ‘go bigger’ in pretty much all matchups for games two and three.
  • When you factor in the fact that the aggressive versions don’t need as many slots against control AND can pack more Chandra’s Defeat in the sideboard, there might not be a lot in it between the two during the post-board games!

While the aggressive versions might give up some percentage in game one against opposing Goblin Chainwhirlers, its ability to have a better control matchup and a more Chandra’s Defeat against other red decks likely makes it a better option than the midrange version from GP Birmingham against the field as a whole.

Standard Grand Prix Events

Copenhagen

With three monored decks, three black/red aggo decks in the Top 8, it seems like little moved on from the Pro Tour. The inclusion of two white/blue control decks making the Top 8 as well as one each of Esper, white/blue, white/black and blue/black (midrange) in the Top 16 is a strong indication that Llanowar Elves and green decks might be being pushed out of the format entirely, be it by Goblin Chainwhirlers or dedicated creature-removal strategies.

I thought Javier Dominguez’s deck running two Approach of the Second Sun was a good innovation for white/blue control. This built on the work of Team Genesis (who I believe played it at the Pro Tour). Pretty much every deck is looking to play a grindier game against you post-board, trying to turn the tables on your card advantage game. Approach allows you to apply a real clock on them and doesn’t require you to engage in card advantage battles assuming you can cast it.

White/blue Approach by Javier Dominguez – Top 8

Maindeck (60)
Field of Ruin
Glacial Fortress
Ipnu Rivulet
Irrigated Farmland
Island
Memorial to Genius
Plains
Approach of the Second Sun
Fumigate
Blink of an Eye
Disallow
Essence Scatter
Glimmer of Genius
Negate
Settle the Wreckage
Syncopate
Cast Out
Seal Away
Search for Azcanta
Teferi, Hero of Dominaria
Sideboard (15)
Glimmer of Genius
Negate
History of Benalia
Invoke the Divine
Lyra Dawnbringer
Sorcerous Spyglass
Torrential Gearhulk
Walking Ballista

Another interesting development was The Flame of Keld build of mono-red trying to go even faster than before. Go hard or go home!

Mono-red Flame by Joakim Stahle-Nilsson Top 8

Maindeck (60)
18 Mountain
Scavenger Grounds
Ghitu Lavarunner
Soul-Scar Mage
Fanatical Firebrand
Bomat Courier
Earthshaker Khenra
Kari Zev, Skyship Raider
Ahn-Crop Crasher
Shock
Lightning Strike
Wizard’s Lightning
The Flame of Keld
Sideboard (15)
Chandra’s Defeat
Squee, the Immortal
Magma Spray
Kari Zev’s Expertise
Aethersphere Harvester
Abrade
Chandra, Torch of Defiance

UK players David Calf and Usama Sajjad both made Top 16 of this event!

Singapore

Only half the Top 8 consisted of Goblin Chainwhirler aggro this time with white/blue God Pharaoh’s Gift clinching the title and Jeskai control, blue/black Midrange and Esper control rounding out the Top 8.

White/blue Gift by Yuuki Ichicawa – Top 8

Maindeck (60)
Field of Ruin
Glacial Fortress
Ipnu Rivulet
Irrigated Farmland
Island
Plains
Walking Ballista
Minister of Inquiries
Champion of Wits
Sunscourge Champion
Angel of Invention
Chart a Course
Strategic Planning
Refurbish
Fumigate
God-Pharaoh’s Gift
Search for Azcanta
Cast Out
Sideboard (15)
Search for Azcanta
Fumigate
Fairgrounds Warden
Lyra Dawnbringer
Authority of the Consuls
Jace’s Defeat
Negate
Teferi, Hero of Dominaria

I played this deck in the previous Standard PPTQ season, but was quite deterred to run it back this season due to Goblin Chainwhirler’s ability to eliminate a number of possible board-states when it entered the battlefield. The early lists I had seen simply replacing Sacred Cat with a set of Walking Ballista didn’t impress me particularly, but Sunscourge Champion looks like the missing piece of the puzzle, a ‘speed-bump’ that can discard GIfts through its Eternalize ability. With graveyard hate at an all-time low and the deck being well-positioned against creature decks the option seems nonetheless quite viable.

There were also rumblings of an interesting black/green ramp deck piloted by Ken Yukuhiro but unfortunately it only managed to place 33rd. Another way to go over the top of the traditional creature-based decks and packing a certain uncounterable, hexproof dinosaur to give control players nightmares!

Black/green Ramp by Ken Yukuhiro – Top 64

Maindeck (60)
Blooming Marsh
Ifnir Deadlands
Swamp
Woodland Cemetery
Forest
Hashep Oasis
Scavenger Grounds
Arch of Orazca
Evolving Wilds
Carnage Tyrant
Doomfall
Never // Return
Hour of Promise
Fatal Push
Cast Down
Dissenter’s Deliverance
Vraska’s Contempt
Arguel’s Blood Fast
Gift of Paradise
Karn, Scion of Urza
Vraska, Relic Seeker
Sideboard (15)
Vraska, Relic Seeker
Glint-Sleeve Siphoner
Thrashing Brontodon
Gonti, Lord of Luxury
Fungal Infection
Duress
Sorcerous Spyglass

Pittsburgh

In the battle of red versus blue, the blue mages were more represented in this Top 8 with Esper control, white/blue Gift, white/blue control, blue/black control, blue/black midrange outnumbering one mono-red aggro and two black-red aggro. Having said this, mono-red aggro bested all its opponents in the Top 8. The top 32 also demonstrated a strong continuation of the struggle for dominance between red aggressive decks and the blue mages supported by either Vraska’s Contempt or God Pharaoh’s Gift in favour of Settle the Wreckage.

A few weeks ago, The Scarab God was dubbed ‘unplayable’, but it seems that the blue/black midrange and Esper control are seeing more representation at the top tables than white/blue control. I think this is because these decks have the upper hand against the UW deck itself, particularly in sideboard games (once all the Fatal Pushes/Settle the Wreckage are gone). In terms of which is better against the creature decks, Settle and Fumigate help you ‘catch up’ easier than Push and Contempt. However a skilled opponent can mitigate the white cards with careful threat deployment and thoughtful attacks. It’s debatable whose removal suite is better placed against the Red decks when you consider that Vraska’s Contempt unconditionally deals with everything and can be repeated by a Torrential Gearhulk.

Blue/black Midrange by Oliver Tiu – Top 8

Maindeck (60)
Aether Hub
Drowned Catacomb
Fetid Pools
Field of Ruin
Island
Swamp
Champion of Wits
Glint-Sleeve Siphoner
Ravenous Chupacabra
The Scarab God
Torrential Gearhulk
Doomfall
Never // Return
Cast Down
Commit // Memory
Essence Scatter
Fatal Push
Vraska’s Contempt
Arguel’s Blood Fast
Liliana, Death’s Majesty
Sideboard (15)
Duress
Essence Extraction
Gifted Aetherborn
Negate
Search for Azcanta
Sorcerous Spyglass
Yahenni’s Expertise

Your local PPTQs

Have PPTQs in the UK reflected the ripples made by the PT and Standard Grand Prix events around the world? Jack Patten and Simeon Beever at Standard Intelligence have done some great work collecting decklists from all our local events. Based on the lists they have collected at the time of writing this, here is a picture of what is being played across the UK in PPTQs since GP Birmingham.

Archetypes with 3 or more UK PPTQ Top 8s between 19/05/18 and 17/06/18 (11 events)

  • Black/red aggro: 24
  • Mono-red aggro: 6
  • Black/green constrictor: 6
  • White/black Benalia: 5
  • White/blue control: 5
  • White/blue Gift: 4
  • Steel Stompy: 4
  • Esper control: 4
  • Blue/black control: 3
  • Blue/black Gift: 3

Winning archetypes

  • Black/red aggro: 4
  • Mono-red aggro: 2
  • White/blue Gift: 2
  • White/blue control: 1
  • White/black Benalia: 1
  • UG Hadana’s Climb: 1

Results from the GP circuit and PT are always going to influence local scenes, but it’s interesting to see that a number of players are still faithful to the Black/green constrictor deck. While not particularly well-represented at the top tables as premier events, you’re likely to see a lot of this still rear its head at local events. I’m firmly of the belief that it’s quite difficult to truly ‘play the metagame’ at local events. This is because a bunch of people taking part might just play their ‘favourite’ or ‘only’ deck regardless of its metagame position or merits. Considering local events are usually attended by between 20 and 40 players, the portion of the field defaulting to these options could easily be 10%+.

Jack and Simeon host a regular Podcast touching on Standard-related topics. I featured on an episode alongside Rob Catton after GP Birmingham. David Calf also reflected on his Top 16 in Copenhagen.

Standard Intelligence

Team Unified Standard

Team Unified Standard has been my focus since GP Birmingham as it was the upcoming RPTQ format, providing the opportunity to win a place at the Team Pro Tour to celebrate Magic’s 25th Anniversary. The unified format provides challenges or opportunities (depending on which way you want to look at it) for deckbuilding and deck selection. This is because (other than basic lands) only one player per team may play a copy of a card. So if I run a Walking Ballista, it can’t appear in the other decks on my team. Therefore, it’s a bit more nuanced than simply jamming the ‘best three decks’ or your ‘three favourite decks’ as you have to consider cards that overlap.

Minimising colour overlap

The most intuitive option is to play a red deck, a green deck and a blue deck and have only one of these decks play black cards and/or white cards. This means the only cards the decks will likely fight over will be colourless cards like Walking Ballista, Heart of Kiran and Aethersphere Harvester. Black/red aggro, Mono-green aggro and White/blue control is a configuration that exemplifies this principle, but it might not be the strongest three decks you can play. This is why we aren’t simply stopping here.

Next level thinking

But some people might just stop at the above! What beats those three decks? If that assumption is true then you can tweak your configuration to beat what you think your opponent’s most likely configuration will be. This is like taking a specific deck to an individual Standard event that you think will be well positioned against what your opponents will bring to the table. Here are a couple of examples offering an additional layer of complexity.

  • Mono-red aggro is stronger in the ‘red matchup’. It is faster and has more consistent mana than the Black/red deck;
  • Esper control is stronger in the ‘control matchup’. It has access to Duress AND counterspells. Its mana is a little less consistent which can matter against the creature decks, but Fatal Push and Vraska’s Contempt help compensate for this. You have to play Mono-red over Black/red for your red deck, but in light of the above point, you were probably doing this anyway;

Represent Standard’s all-stars

This is subjective depending on how you rate specific cards, but to exemplify the principle, let’s say that the cards you want to try your hardest to include in your three decks to achieve maximum power are:

Teferi, Hero of Dominaria, Negate, Torrential Gearhulk, Duress, Vraska’s Contempt, Arguel’s Blood Fast, Hazoret, the Fervant, Goblin Chainwhirler

If your team concludes that you get the most out of your configuration by making sure you equip yourselves with these cards, this can have more mileage if you ‘get it right’. The tricky part IS to ‘get it right’. In consideration of pursuing this line of logic for deckbuilding and deck selection for the teams, the following configurations immediately start to look more appealing.

  • Mono-red aggro, UW Control (playing Negate), UB Midrange (not playing Negate)
  • Mono-red aggro, Esper Control, Mono-green aggro OR White/green midrange
  • Mono-red aggro, Black/green Constrictor, White/blue control

I could go on taking you through further layers and thought processes for deck-selection however I’m going to pause here. I realise that this is likely only of value from a theoretical point of view because the future doesn’t hold much for Unified Standard events involving this Standard format, so I’m conscious that it has little potential application. I will leave the following Podcast Resources that discuss this topic further and in much more detail just in case you are interested.

Preparing for the RPTQ

I teamed up with Andy Devine and Levi Mochan for the RPTQ. We worked with a couple of other teams based in Leeds sharing deck ideas, arranging test sessions (live or online) and discussing things that might be relevant for the event itself such as team communication and seating order. For completeness:

Team communication

Teams are allowed to assist each other via communication. For example, you can ask your team-mates for a second opinion on a possible play, mulligan decision etc if you’re not sure. If you have a player on your team who is less confident, they can be supported by the other players. In my team, because the latter was not an issue, the approach we decided to take was to save team communication as a resource only for when it truly mattered, not for marginal value. For example, this meant we would generally trust each other to play out the games, saving communication only for the really tough decisions, often mulliganing and sideboarding decisions. This was mainly because we were averse to using match clock time on communication.

Seating order

If red decks are more likely to sit in seat A and my deck has a good matchup against red, I should sit in seat A! Flawless logic right? It turns out there’s no real ways of predicting which deck is likely to sit in which seat. In addition, matchups are rarely so lopsided in Standard unlike in Modern or Legacy) particularly after sideboarding that there’s often very little to be gained in this vein. We decided not to give this any consideration.

Our configuration for the event ended up being Mono-red aggro, White/green aggro and Blue/black midrange. The White/green deck was more a Steel-stompy deck splashing for Shalai, Voice of Plenty and Cast Out than the White/green midrange Angels deck popularised by Craig Wescoe’s build from Pro Tour Dominaria.

The event

This event was attended by over 100 teams, which is more than the number of players often featuring in an individual RPTQ in the UK. Several teams had made the effort to travel from overseas to this event.

Unfortunately, my team did not do well in the event at all. In round one the deciding game was on me, and I mulliganed to five, failed to apply any pressure whatsoever on my opponent who played a turn three Lifecrafter’s Bestiary and very shortly had more lands and creatures in play and more cards than I. In the second round I didn’t even need to finish my match as our team had already suffered two losses. Instead we cheered on our fellow teams from Leeds, one of whom made the Top 8, the other of which came very close to making the Top 8 and definitely won the award for best-dressed team!

I hope you enjoyed this final foray into Standard before I turn my head towards Modern for the next PPTQ Season. In my next article, I’ll likely bring you some coverage from a Modern PPTQ I attend (and hopefully do well in!).

You can find me on Facebook, Twitter (@Chris54154) or at most PPTQs in the North of England, RPTQs, GPs in England and some other large competitive events like Mega Modern and Legacy Masters that arise during the year. 

As always, thanks for reading, good luck and have fun in your next event!

In response...