The release of War of the Spark brought with it a diverse Standard metagame, smashing numerous midrange and control decks into each other. As these decks vie for control, aggressive decks came to the forefront, as demonstrated by the first competitive Standard event of the season — the Starcitygames Open in Richmond. Understanding the role of each deck in the metagame, as well as the counterplay for each archetype is important for navigating the second week of Standard. Learning from the lessons of SCG Richmond, listed below are changes to popular archetypes already in force on Magic Online or shifts in flex slots in recognition of an aggressive metagame.

Esper Control

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Heralding in a theme of modified decks from the prior format, Esper Control stands near the top of the current selection of decks. Completely pivoting the poor Simic Nexus matchup, Esper gained quality cards against a variety of archetypes. Augur of Bolas and Tyrant’s Scorn serve as additional early mana plays that are never dead, while Dovin’s Veto serves as an important defensive tool against Mono Blue and Nexus. Teferi, Time Raveler earns its price tag as a silver bullet against both Reclamation decks and opposing control decks. The ability to cash in onboard Augur of Bolas and act as an additional answer to troublesome enchantments gives this Teferi additional utility alongside Thought Erasure. This resounding theme of always active cards improves the already efficient card quality of Esper, cementing it as a safe option for Week One control decks.

Beating Esper: Discard spells, diversifying threats. Esper can answer nearly any permanent type, so a wide variety of threats is more important than a singular difficult threat.

Boros Feather

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Spawning a new archetype is bound to earn hype, and War of the Spark is no slouch in this department. Earning the name Boros Heroic as a nod to one of the marquis mechanics from Theros Block, this deck uses cheap pump spells alongside creatures that care about casting spells to quickly run over the opponent. While some versions may splash blue for Beamsplitter Mage or green for Collision/Colossus, the straight Boros version is the most consistent variant. Sacrificing powerful sideboard cards is a real cost, and as such the diversity of options is lower in the Boros version — Tocatli Honor Guard and Demystify do the heavy lifting in specific matchups, as opposed to more varied answers like Teferi or Spell Pierce.

Beating Feather: Cheap removal, aggressive creatures, Wildgrowth Walker and Wilderness Reclamation. Feather typically preys on midrange decks with little interaction, but value engines like Wildgrowth Walker and Wilderness Reclamation are difficult to fight through, due to both presenting a clock while stabilizing. Feather normally packs a slew of sideboard cards to fight these strategies, so backing these effects up with removal may prove effective.

Simic Nexus

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One of the defining decks of Ravnica Allegiance Standard, Simic Nexus’ dominance has been stymied by a variety of aggressive decks. While having a win rate exceptionally buoyed by a favorable midrange and control matchup. Having to resort to Murmuring Mystic and Kraul Harpooner to fight aggressive strategies served as a credible drawback in the wake of a perceptive metagame, and as players adapted for Nexus it became less and less appealing. The time for adjustment is over, as Nexus gained substantial upgrades with War of the Spark. Blast Zone gives the deck access to maindeckable removal, an uncounterable sweeper against aggressive decks, and an answer to the almost unbeatable Teferi, Time Raveler. By functioning as a land, few decks can prevent Nexus from cobbling together enough resources to fight through hate, making a quick clock even more important. Tamiyo is the second great pickup, acting as a flipped Search for Azcanta that can fight through both hand disruption and enchantment removal. Tamiyo also serves as additional copies of Root Snare, preventing even the most aggressive decks from securing a win. In the win condition department, Callous Dismissal and Commence the Endgame get the nod, as they create a token and are attached to effects the deck would already want.

Beating Nexus: Fast clock, hand disruption, disruptive permanents (Teferi, Time Raveler, Cindervines, and Narset), Burn Spells (Shock, Lightning Strike). With no access to removal, Simic Nexus relies on blocking and casting Root Snare to avoid being run over too quickly, though Blast Zone gives the deck an option against decks that go wide. Backing up a clock with a small amount of disruption is effective (Demystify, Duress, etc).

Azorius Aggro

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Representing an under the radar deck near the end of Ravnica Allegiance Standard, Azorius Aggro is an archetype that developed quickly after the introduction of Hallowed Fountain into Standard. Less talked about than most decks, Azorius Aggro gained two significant upgrades for the main deck and diversified sideboard options. Law-Rune Enforcer is an additional one drop that survives Goblin Chainwhirler and can act as an additional piece of interaction against otherwise problematic creatures like Rekindling Phoenix or Lyra Dawnbringer. Gideon Blackblade gives Azorius Aggro an additional sweeper resistant threat, while quickly closing games out on its own. Activating his -6 is a common occurrence against problematic permanents, like Wildgrowth Walker or Wilderness Reclamation. Moving into the sideboard, Azorius Aggro likely will be the default choice, due to the printing of both Dovin’s Veto and Teferi, Time Raveler. Dovin’s Veto is a solid answer to Kaya’s Wrath, and the uncounterable nature allows for a solid defense against Wilderness Reclamation. Teferi serves as an additional answer to Reclamation, but can similarly bounce opposing midrange creatures.

Beating Azorius Aggro: Sweepers, cheap removal, Wildgrowth Walker/Goblin Chainwhirler. Azorius Aggro is vulnerable to both single target and mass removal and lacks much interaction. Affecting the early is the most effective way to beat Azorius Aggro.

Mono Red

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Editor Update: This list is William Pulliam’s 1st place list from SCG Richmond.

Preying on an unprepared metagame is a hallmark of early Mono Red lists, and in a greedy three color infested Standard format Mono Red rises to the top. Showcasing a powerful new addition to the archetype, Chandra, Fire Artisan marks a departure from the stock Experimental Frenzy lists, trading raw card advantage for a quicker clock and additional points of burn. Notably different than Experimental Frenzy oriented red is the presence of Risk Factor and additional expensive threats. Chandra provides an important advantage in both the Wildgrowth Walker and the Esper matchups, as vulnerability to Vraska’s Contempt is met with an ultimate that mitigates life gain. In addition to the powerful ultimate, Chandra’s passive makes her a powerhouse in midrange matchups. Most creature decks will have to attack Chandra in order to prevent the ultimate, resulting in large amounts of incremental damage. The second major tool gained in War of the Spark is Tibalt, Rakish Instigator. Preventing incidental life gain makes Moment of Craving and Vraska’s Contempt into embarrassing removal spells, and the ability to creature threats ensures that Tibalt pushes through at least minor amounts of damage.

Beating Mono Red: As with prior formats, incidental life gain is an effective means against most of Mono Red, but a quick clock backed by cheap removal is the most important. Leveraging an onboard advantage mitigates the effectiveness of Tibalt and Chandra. Duress and lifelink effects (like Sorin) are also effective.

With a handful of other competitive archetypes, War of the Spark Standard is proving itself to be a deep format filled with a multitude of sideboard options. While I’ve only covered five decks here, the potential of archetypes like Esper Midrange and Sultai Explore is deep, and many other decks have put up results last weekend. Keeping these in mind, I would recommend adjusting aggressively for Mono Red. Playing Wildgrowth Walker, Augur of Bolas, or Enter the God-Eternals alongside Sorin are adaptations likely to succeed.