Do you want to know how it feels to play B/G Delirium?
“I can only imagine this is how playing Black Devotion felt. Every time they aren’t playing the mirror, it’s like why are they even bothering?”
I received these messages from Jeff Hoogland last weekend as he was starting 7-0 at SCG Knoxville. I can’t fault him at all for this observation. Standard has ground down to a very stagnant three-deck format. While this could be a problem, it’s easy to see how something like this comes to exist.
Think of how many outlets, including this one, have article about decks daily. Think about how many tournaments large, small, and even digital happen each day. Think about the Pro Tour, and how slow rotation is in Standard now. Things will be “solved” fairly quickly, and I’m here to explain the pillars of the format to you, as I’ve done a lion’s share of testing with all of these decks, as well as some outliers.
Rock: GB Delirium
Scissors: UW Flash
Paper: Mardu Vehicles
Rock: Let’s begin with public enemy number one, BG Delirium, which by no coincidence won the Standard Open in Knoxville in the very capable hands of Brad Nelson this past weekend.
Planeswalkers4 x Liliana, the Last Hope
Sideboard3 x Natural State2 x Pick the Brain2 x To the Slaughter2 x Transgress the Mind2 x Dead Weight1 x Emrakul, the Promised End1 x Tireless Tracker1 x Kalitas, Traitor of Ghet1 x Ob Nixilis Reignited
What can I say about this deck? It’s head and shoulders above everything else I’ve played this season. If you have the mental endurance to play this over the course of a long tournament, you will be rewarded. It has many decision points, and it out grinds the rest of the field with obnoxious cards such as Grapple with the Past, and Liliana, the Last Hope. When you’ve finally dealt with one of the impressive threats the deck plays, they return them from the graveyard, and the rest of your deck means very little.
The other unreal part of this deck is how synergistic and value based all of the threats are. Starting the curve with Grim Flayer (a Modern staple, mind you) just gives you a measly little 2/2, right? Boy have we come a long way since Squire. This is easily the best enabler in the deck. I referred to this guy connecting as Ponder, but in reality it’s much better than that in this deck. It enables itself being 4/4 as early as turn 3, while fueling your Lilianas and Grapples for future turns, oh, and that Emrakul alien thing too, I suppose.
“But Mat, Smuggler’s Copter is the best card in the format and doesn’t care about your puny ground threats.” You know what, you’re 100 percent right for once, so somebody much smarter than myself decided to play this card we all laughed at.
Sure, this card looks bad against Reflector Mage (we’ll get to that), but the damage is done when this card hits the field. Speaking of value, does it get much better than four bodies, six power and 11 toughness, with more text, for five mana? Ishkanah, Grafwidow is just a beating. Watching the wind come out of your opponent’s sails when you land this beautiful lady is just one of my favorite feelings in all of Standard right now. Ishkanah allows you to turtle up and set up shop when you need to, or be aggressive and end the game by attacking and activating.
Verdict: This deck gains most of its power by being one of the most synergistic decks in recent memory, while also being able to take on roles as a control deck or aggressive deck based upon whatever you run into in the format. The threats line up very well against U/W Flash, which makes it my frontrunner for best deck in the format.
Scissors: If Rock beats Scissors, then that will bring us to U/W Flash. Emma Handy was dispatched by eventual winner Brad Nelson using this list over the weekend.
Planeswalkers4 x Gideon, Ally of Zendikar
Artifacts4 x Smuggler’s Copter
Enchantments4 x Stasis Snare – Game Day Promo
Sideboard2 x Gisela, the Broken Blade // Brisela, Voice of Nightmares2 x Jace, Unraveler of Secrets2 x Declaration in Stone2 x Spell Shrivel2 x Fragmentize1 x Ceremonious Rejection1 x Always Watching1 x Linvala, the Preserver1 x Scatter to the Winds1 x Negate
Blue-White Flash is easily the second best deck in the format. Not being able to consistently beat B/G is a problem, and one of the main reasons this deck is in the No. 2slot. But this is the best deck to bring to an “unknown” field, which is interesting. The reasoning for this is that it does the same thing each and every game just like B/G does, but it has an aggressive game plan also, which pounds people trying to do cute things like Aetherworks Marvel and the likes.
Blue-White Flash isn’t even really a flash deck at this point, it’s moved towards a Midrange Tempo deck. If you’re able to stick a Smuggler’s Copter and a friend your opponent is at the mercy of Revolutionary Rebuff, Spell Queller, and Archangel Avacyn + Selfless Spirit combo. If you pair these things with objectively the most powerful four-drop in Standard — Gideon, Ally of Zendikar — your gameplan just crushes fringe decks. The natural progression of this deck leads me to believe that they will be adding more counterspells to better combat B/G, but only testing will tell if that cripples them against other decks, and if it is worth it to be better prepared for B/G.
Paper: Oh Paper, always the choice I malign when playing games of Roshambo. But for some, it’s a way of life. It would seem that if U/W Flash falls behind early and G/B takes a bit to get set up, then an aggressive deck would become more of the meta. That brings us to Robert Graves, who missed Top 8 by a single match this weekend with Mardu Vehicles.
Planeswalkers2 x Gideon, Ally of Zendikar
While I do think this deck is the best of the aggressive strategies, it falls victim to some of what I mentioned above. When the U/W deck does NOT fall behind, it outgrows your threats, and you are simply at their mercy the entire game. When B/G curves Grim Flayer into removal spell, into Mindwrack Demon, you might as well pick your things up and leave. While you are certainly able to beat those draws sometimes, the inconsistency of doing just that clobbers you at times.
Things I want to point out in Robert’s list are the inclusion of Thalia, Heretic Cathar which I feel is ridiculously underplayed currently. It taxes people playing Copter and Ishkanah, which as we could see was well over 60 percent of the metagame. Having first strike is also not for nothing against the mirror, and as a possible blocker against the U/W deck. If I was playing this deck, I think I would try and find more room to feature burn spells as neither of the big two feature lifegain.
Where does that leave us?
Well, with the invitational coming up in a couple of weeks, I would be very surprised if U/W and B/G weren’t still the top decks in the format. There are a few notable outliers here that had solid finishes this week and should likely be on your radar in the coming weeks.
Deck building mastermind Andrew Tenjum upgraded his classic R/W Vehicles list to a more midrangey version:
Creatures4 x Fairgrounds Warden4 x Thraben Inspector3 x Veteran Motorist2 x Gisela, the Broken Blade // Brisela, Voice of Nightmares2 x Thalia’s Lancers2 x Archangel Avacyn // Avacyn, the Purifier1 x Bruna, the Fading Light // Brisela, Voice of Nightmares1 x Linvala, the Preserver
Planeswalkers4 x Nahiri, the Harbinger
Enchantments4 x Stasis Snare – Game Day Promo
Spells2 x Harnessed Lightning
I know a lot of us have talked about how good Bruna could be if fused with Gisela, but the question has always been “how do we get there?” Tenjum may have solved that riddle with his early aggressive slant, while also keeping the faster decks in check with his spot removal, which is attached to bodies and planeswalkers. I’ll likely give his list a spin to see how it performs against the gauntlet decks, but it definitely seems to have some promise, and he was able to play it to a 10th-place finish.
The other outlier here is the Jeskai Control variant that was the second half of the all-Brad finals at SCG Knoxville.
Creatures4 x Torrential Gearhulk
Spells4 x Glimmer of Genius4 x Harnessed Lightning3 x Void Shatter3 x Radiant Flames3 x Anticipate2 x Immolating Glare2 x Revolutionary Rebuff2 x Blessed Alliance1 x Fumigate1 x Scatter to the Winds1 x Negate1 x Quarantine Field
This list in theory should beat up on the GB decks with its exiling effects, punishing countermagic, Torrential Gearhulk to reuse those cards, and Nahiri, the Harbinger. My only problem with decks like these is the lack of win conditions, though Bradley Hill managed to win plenty even with minimal ways to end the game. Bradley had some mana issues in Game 2 of his finals match, which to be honest is expected in these three-color decks with a very high curve. I still feel like even in light of Bradley’s performance this deck is not the right choice, and is fairly inconsistent especially when you get behind.
This Standard season is fairly set in stone, but that doesn’t mean you can’t keep pushing the envelope with brews! I know I will be working on a couple things this week, but if they fail, it’s back to G/B or UW for me for the invitational. With Standard rotating less it’s either going to be great if you find a deck you like (I loved Black Devotion) or you will be in a constant state of searching for a deck that you like (last season I was everywhere). If you’ve found that you like one of the decks in the Big 3 I listed above, I suggest sticking to them, and finding ways every week to tune them up for mirrors, and updating them as new sets some out. If you have any sweet brews you want to share with me I am always available via Facebook and Twitter, so don’t hesitate to send me a message. Catch you at the Invitational in Atlanta, have a good holiday!
Thanks for stopping by,
Mat Bimonte first picked up the game during Theros block, but already has a Modern 5K championship under his belt, as well as a number of smaller Standard tournament wins. Based out of Bloomington, Ill., Mat is a regular on the SCG Tour, with future aspirations of qualifying for the Pro Tour.