Diverse Standard formats are a rare treat, as an unsolved format gives players an opportunity to play with nearly any powerful card they want to. War of the Spark Standard is one such format, thanks in part to the powerful three drops provided to slower decks. In addition to boasting powerful three drops, smoother mana and better sideboard options have given us a format full of three and four-color decks, while still providing a safe home for low-color aggressive strategies. With most players currently trying to go over the top of one another, we find ourselves caught in a new tension — between early game interaction and late game power. This tension has given rise to a variety of planeswalker focused decks, as Interplanar Beacon and three drop planeswalkers can buy enough time to cast five and six drops with regularity. Still, mana advantage is crucial in most matchups, and an increase in both Paradise Druid and Mox Amber has created a metagame ripe for aggressive strategies. Going under these synergy laden decks is possible, and quite encouraged, and a shift towards Saheeli and Nissa has reflected this sentiment. With that being said, here are the decks to beat going into the weekend, followed by my pick for the best off-meta deck to play.

The Decks to Beat

Jeskai Planeswalkers

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Winning an SCG Open is no small ask of any successful Standard deck, but placing three copies into the Top 8 shows an incredible consistency. While this deck has been a known entity for a while, the Lotus Box team smashed the SCG Circuit with some timely innovations to the archetype. Shifting away from the Fblthp + Dovin package of early board control to a Saheeli, Sublime Artificer + Karn, Scion of Urza midrange package, the newest iterations of Jeskai Walkers can pressure opposing planeswalker decks, while creating a swarm of bodies to race aggressive decks with it. The ability to both go wide and tall makes the lifelink mode on Deafening Clarion a significant upgrade to this power shell, and a faster clock makes Sarkhan curves significantly more powerful.

With Jeskai Planeswalkers the deck to beat heading into the weekend, a shift towards additional Spell Pierce and Mox Ambers is a change I would make. Accelerating out Sarkhans and generating extra board presence for Saheeli are two ways to break the mirror, and the additional countermagic buys time for your own threats. Legion Warboss is untouchable out of the sideboard, as it’s the most effective way to win the game against planeswalker decks. For this reason, it is necessary to leave in a couple copies of Deafening Clarion or other burn spells in the mirror. While not quite this exact list, you can check out our Jeskai Planeswalkers Deck Tech here for sideboarding strategies and general deck theory.

Weaknesses: Assassin’s Trophy, Field of Ruin, The Elderspell, Mono Red.

4 Color Command

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Another stand out from the weekend, 4 Color Command’s success mostly came off the backs of multiple MCQ Top 8s, as well as a dominant presence in the Mythic ranks of Arena. This archetype, mostly propagated by the European Professional scene, uses the explore package of Wildgrowth Walker and Jadelight Ranger to control the early game, before snowballing into an unbeatable late game off of the back of Command the Dreadhorde and Tamiyo, Collector of Tales. These engine pieces can continually recur creatures and planeswalkers to bury the opponent in card advantage, before ending the game with a few huge Wildgrowth Walkers. While this strategy may seem flimsy at first, the tempo oriented planeswalkers like Teferi, Time Raveler, and Vraska, Golgari Queen can ensure 4 Color Command stays ahead and keeps the pressure on. This crucial pair of planeswalkers gives 4 Color Command decent game against most planeswalker decks.

Recent innovations to the archetype include Hydroid Krasis as an additional top end threat, and Sorin, Vengeful Bloodlord as a means to racing problematic decks like Arclight Phoenix or Mono Red. Additionally, Hydroid Krasis and Sorin supplement the midrange back up plan, as both are threats that can pressure the opponent. Ugin and Liliana, Dreadhorde General are seeing a resurgence among 4 Color Command lists, as Bond of Flourishing makes it easier to cast late game cards. Additionally, the number of copies of Paradise Druid has increased to three or four copies in most lists, as dropping an early Tamiyo or Teferi, Hero of Dominaria can be backbreaking in the mirror matches. Most mirrors are determined by the first person to cast Command the Dreadhorde, and a shift towards more Paradise Druid and Hydroid Krasis maximize the chances of a Turn 6 Command the Dreadhorde. For sideboarding advice and card choices, check out our Deck Tech here.

Weaknesses: Arclight Phoenix, The Elderspell, Mono Red, Nexus of Fate.

Esper Midrange

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Quickly rising to the top of 50/50 midrange decks after the legality of War of the Spark, Esper Midrange is a three-color deck seeking to utilize the disruption of Thought Erasure and Teferi, Time Raveler to slow opposing game plans. This lets the deck capitalize on an early threat like Thief of Sanity or Hero of Precinct One to snowball games quickly. A wide variety of both removal and planeswalkers are common in Esper Midrange lists, and a stock list proves difficult to find. In the current metagame, a focus on planeswalkers has proven successful, as both a way to grind out opposing planeswalkers and convert removal spells into substantial value. Likewise, Esper Midrange’s sideboard proves diverse, but the constant package involving Narset, The Elderspell, Duress, and Dovin’s Veto gives it a transformational game plan.

With an emphasis on flexible card choices, Esper Midrange seeks to dominate the mid-game in class midrange fashion — with 2-for-1s and the best card quality around. We can see this with planeswalkers like Sorin or creatures like Elite Guardmage. Both of these threats generate their own form of card advantage while offering small amounts of life gain when racing. This high average card quality, as well as a flexible game plan,  contributes to Esper Midrange’s presence near the top of the metagame, but with this flexibility comes a major cost — Arclight Phoenix. Recently seeing a resurgence due to a strong Esper Midrange matchup, Izzet Arclight is a deck that uses its unique late game presence to invalidate much of the work done by midrange decks. Without a difficult to remove early game threat like Paradise Druid, or an impossible to race one like Wildgrowth Walker, Esper Midrange is stuck with ineffective removal spells and fragile creatures. Solving this matchup is crucial for would be Esper Midrange players this weekend, as a stagnant performance by Izzet Phoenix leaves the metagame quite vulnerable to it. Packing extra Narsets or Kaya maybe be a beneficial move in the coming days.

Weaknesses: Arclight Phoenix, Hydroid Krasis, Mono Red.

Izzet Phoenix

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Earning its spot despite a relatively lackluster weekend, Arclight Phoenix rose to prominence after winning an MCQ and earning many pro players’ deck pick of the weekend. Nevertheless, Arclight Phoenix continues to be in an excellent spot in the emerging metagame, as an abundance of uninteractive Wildgrowth Walkers gives it the perfect home. While Jeskai Planeswalkers can prove to be a troublesome matchup at times, early interaction in the form of Lightning Strike or Shock can remove problematic cards like Teferi or Narset. Additionally, Finale of Promise and Saheeli give a combo kill package to the deck that can navigate through a variety of hate pieces. Saheeli combines with Crackling Drake to double up on the emblematic Izzet flyer while creating a back-up plan against Kaya and Ashiok.

While the deck can be soft to at least one of the top decks in the format, an incredibly strong Esper Midrange matchup bolsters its win percentage despite the number of Mono Red decks. Serving as the primary reason to play Izzet Phoenix, Esper Midrange is both a popular and safe deck choice in a planeswalker focused metagame like this. When building Arclight this weekend, additional copies of Lightning Strike may prove beneficial, as this iconic burn spell removes both Wildgrowth Walker and most early planeswalkers. Spell Pierce also gains stock, as it is the most impactful card in the Jeskai Planeswalkers matchup.

Weaknesses: Aggressive decks, Wildgrowth Walker, Narset, Chandra.


Off-Meta Pick of the Week

Sultai Midrange

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A deck I am quite familiar with, Sultai Midrange uses Hydroid Krasis and the explore package to manage early game threats while racing most decks. This package provides card advantage and pressures early planeswalkers and is one of the hallmarks of the current Standard. What separates Sultai Midrange from 4 Color Command is that the deck is primarily a midrange deck, and uses Command the Dreadhorde alongside Tamiyo to win the late game. Trading a playset of Teferi, Time Raveler for smoother mana and a corresponding playset of Assassin’s Trophy, Sultai is in a prime position to capitalize on a lack of basic lands present in the format. In both the 4 Color Command and Jeskai Planeswalkers matchups, Assassin’s Trophy is the most effective removal spell in the format, as neither of those decks plays any basic lands. Even against Arclight Phoenix, Assassin’s Trophy gives Sultai a cheap removal spell for Crackling Drake.

Ultimately, the reason to play Sultai over the grindier decks to beat is Nissa. This powerhouse planeswalker from War of the Spark has lacked a great home, but the combination of mana denial from Assassin’s Trophy and the pressure from a Turn 4 Nissa can quickly dispatch opposing planeswalker decks. By packing Llanowar Elves alongside Paradise Druid, Sultai Midrange can power out earlier Command the Dreadhordes or Hydroid Krasis than most other decks in the format, and smoother mana enables more powerful sideboard cards like Narset’s Reversal or even Narset herself. This aggressive take on Sultai does leave the deck more vulnerable to large creatures that would ordinarily be removed by Hostage Taker, Vraska’s Contempt, or Vivien Reid, but the proactive game plan is the perfect place to be in a planeswalker heavy metagame. Check out our Deck Tech on prior iterations of this deck here, where we take an in-depth look at most card choices.

Weaknesses: Arclight Phoenix, Mass Manipulation, Gruul Aggro.


Thanks for checking out this week’s metagame snapshot, and as always, let us know what you think in the comments below. You can follow me on Twitter at twitter.com/PariahPopular for more decklists as I travel to MCQs and journey through Mythic.

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