With Ravnica Allegiance hitting Standard early on digital platforms, much of the information on successful decks are available to players. By utilizing Reddit posts and metagame trackers, navigating the Diamond and Mythic landscapes is easier than ever. This emerging data indicates that Mono Red is the most popular deck on Arena. In response to this, decks are primarily polarized into the extremes — fast aggro, or Teferi control. Among the aggressive decks, the two archetypes to pay attention to are Boros Aggro and Mono Red. With Light Up the Stage and Skewer the Critics, Mono Red has the card quality to outpace many of the decks in the format, while gaining a level of consistency rivaling that of Izzet Drakes and Golgari Midrange. Boros Aggro gained an important resilience versus sweepers with Tithe Taker and Unbreakable Formation.
Ordinarily, aggressive decks prey on Control, as card draw spells and countermagic are weak to onboard threats. The printing of the remaining Shocklands allows Control decks to leverage their life total to play more powerful answers. With this mana comes the ability to play multiple forms of incremental life gain. Winning a matchup against a deck that plays Moment or Craving, Vraska’s Contempt and Absorb is a tough task when they also are able to sweep your board. When Control is favored against aggressive decks, Midrange suffers. No longer able to rely on strong board presence, Midrange shells have to rely on strong sideboard plans. Much of the power of the Golgari lists is the ability to sideboard for any matchup. This aspect is missing from Best of One, and contributes to this Aggro versus Control metagame.
On Magic Online, Best of Three is the norm. As such, we see a dominance of Hydroid Krasis and Incubation Druid decks, while still encountering successful aggressive strategies. With Golgari being the de facto deck to beat for much of the prior Standard season, it seems a logical progression of the format to simply modify the existing shell. Much of the weaknesses of Golgari are shored up by cards from Ravnica Allegiance and incorporating these cards is facilitated by smooth three-color mana bases. I’ll be highlighting the Week One changes to Golgari and the list I am planning on playing this Friday.
Green based midrange has lacked a powerful proactive threat in the two drop slot, relying mostly on defensive threats like Wildgrowth Walker or the card selection from Merfolk Branchwalker. While Growth-Chamber Guardian lacks the ability to hit land drops, it compensates by being a powerful threat that finds more copies of itself. This shift towards aggression allows cards like Hadana’s Climb or Zegana, Utopian Speaker to push through extra damage. Some lists go so far as to play Frilled Mystic to capitalize on this early pressure.
Growth-Chamber Guardian also fills a defensive role. In Standard, it is especially important to be interacting or progressing your board in the early turns. Growth-Chamber Guardian ensures you always have something to do in the early stages of the game while chaining threats in the late game. Prior to Ravnica Allegiance, most of the Golgari lists only had Vivien and occasionally Doom Whisperer at five mana. Midrange decks are best suited to utilizing mana every turn and a card that ensures you have mana efficiency can be quite powerful.
With Growth-Chamber Guardian making a push towards aggression, the need for more acceleration is important. Incubation Druid is a perfect addition to either aggressive Green decks, or more traditional Carnage Tyrant versions. Fixing mana for Vraska’s Contempt in the early game, and turning into a reasonable threat in the midgame, Incubation Druid can make up for land light draws. With Vivien and a myriad of card selection, using all of your mana in a turn is commonplace for these decks, especially with added mana sinks for all of the adapt creatures. The interaction with Hadana’s Climb is quite powerful, threatening six or seven mana on Turn 4. Incubation Druid also shows promise in other Green decks, as accelerating into Skarrgan Hellkite or Lyra Dawnbringer can close out games quickly.
One of the under the radar Mythics of the set, Biogenic Ooze is eerily reminiscent of Broodmate Dragon or Ishkanah, Grafwidow. Making multiple midsized bodies is a strong rate for five mana, but Biogenic Ooze threatens to grow out of control every turn it stays on board. With the ability to make more creatures, most decks will only have one turn to answer the Ooze before it runs away with a game. Carnage Tyrant is often considered to be the premier way to break board stalls. Biogenic Ooze puts similar power on board earlier than Carnage Tyrant, and can quickly outpace it if left unchecked. It also plays quite well with both removal spells and mana accelerants, as playing an Ooze on an empty board leaves the opponent unable to capitalize on your lack of interaction.
Similar to the Scarab God, Biogenic Ooze allows midrange decks to end the game quickly while burying the opponent in card advantage.
With all the contexts of Best of One in mind, there are important differences between how I would approach building Golgari Midrange for Best of Three. With sideboards, we can compensate for a weaker Game 1 versus control and aggro by playing sideboard cards. Duress, Negate, and Arguel’s Blood Fast handle the Control matchup, while Moment of Craving and Cry of the Carnarium shore up the aggressive matchups.
Negate is an important pick up for the midrange shells, as countering a Settle the Wreckage or a Kaya’s Wrath can cripple the stabilization of Control. Relying on a sideboard to fix certain matchups lets us play the full playset of Hydroid Krasis and some copies of Biogenic Ooze. I have opted to play without Growth-Chamber Guardian in favor of going a little bigger in the mirror match. Find//Finality gets a little worse when you play Ooze as it is easier to gain board control with tokens, and Krasis helps you dig through your deck to find more copies of itself.
Krasis also serves as an important tool in midrange shells as a catch-up card. Find//Finality is currently the go-to spell to cast when you are falling behind, but Hydroid Krasis serves as another card in this capacity. With a strong scaling body that outclasses most other creatures, Krasis rewards you for flooding out by converting extra lands into actionable resources. Krasis also serves as a way to slam the door shut when you are at parity, as the extra cards and huge body are impossible to interact with profitably.
Filling the same spot as Ravenous Chupacabra, Frilled Mystic allows Sultai decks to interact on an axis nonexistent in the prior format. While Chupacabra allows you the flexibility of sequencing, Frilled Mystic requires you to have the mana and the answer immediately. Typically for effects like this, the payoff is worth it as countering an opponent’s Settle the Wreckage or Teferi should mean a win. In these scenarios, Chupacabra would be ineffective.
With four mana available we now have the ability to represent a counterspell or a removal spell. Moreover, the primary difference between Chupacabra and Frilled Mystic lies not in mana cost, but optimal play patterns. With Frilled Mystic, you want to play more early game threats as the Mystic allows you to capitalize on pressure better than Chupacabra. Chupacabra wants you to focus less on ending the game early and more on cards that trade resources profitably. More consistent two for ones make each other better, and Chupacabra allows you to play a longer game by disincentivizing the opponent from attacking.
Why play Sultai?
Using data from Magic Online and Arena, the popular decks going into the weekend are Mono Red, Esper control, Bant Nexus, UGx Midrange, Temur/Gruul Monsters, and Golgari Midrange. With some of the best sideboard options in the format, Sultai Midrange has the ability to beat any deck on this list. Chupacabra versions are weaker to Bant Nexus and Esper Control, but better against Temur/Gruul and other Green Midrange decks. However, all variants are good versus the aggressive decks, with Sultai edging out an advantage against Mono Red. Incidental lifegain and huge game-ending threats contribute to this advantage. In the control matchups, the Frilled Mystic version is favored, while the Chupacabra version can run into difficulty in Game 1, but sideboarded games are favored. The defining characteristic of Golgari in GRN Standard was its ability to be 50/50 against the field. With diverse sideboard options, bad Game 1 matchups are fixed after sideboarding.
With Ravnica Allegiance officially releasing tomorrow, I am excited to play in my first Standard tournament with the new cards. While I have been testing a lot on Arena, Magic Online and in paper with proxies, playing for real carries with it an excitement rarely found in other outlets. This weekend I am planning on playing in the Magic Online MCQ (effectively a PTQ played on Magic Online), likely with this Sultai Midrange list. With so much uncertainty surrounding Frilled Mystic, it is unlikely I would make the switch unless it excels in many matchups.
This weekend is Draft Weekend, so look out for my Draft Guide, and if you have any thoughts or suggestions, let me know in the comments below.
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