War of the Spark Standard Update

Standard is a unique format, changing drastically from set to set as new cards begin to take over. With War of the Spark balancing out the power levels across colors, a wide variety of archetypes have risen to the top of this threat dense format. Easy access to colors and redundant mana ramp have led to a format with more late-game options than just Hydroid Krasis, giving the format a true revolving door feel as players try to counter the hottest archetypes. With that in mind, success at the highest levels is rooted in both a strong foundation of the Standard format, as well as an awareness of format priorities — cards to beat, decks to answer, and tech cards to beat. In this article, we’ll be presenting the five best decks in the metagame following the recent competitive events, as well as specific cards and strategies that are most effective against each specific archetype.

Simic Mass Manipulation

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Holding steady as a top deck for days is a staggering accomplishment in the ever-shifting landscape of High Mythic. Simic Mass Manipulation lives up to this accomplishment, putting up consistent results in the highest echelon of competitive Arena play, and making the transition to paper. With multiple copies Top 8ing recent MCQs, Simic Mass Manipulation is an archetype living up to the hype. At its core, Simic Mass Manip is a ramp deck, designed to use a suite of ramp creatures to power out large plays in the midgame. Hydroid Krasis and Nissa, Who Shakes the World are the core of this shell, and four copies of each make the deck remarkably consistent. Shoring up this top end is Frilled Mystic and Chemister’s Insight, supporting the deck’s ability to convert mana into card advantage.

As with most ramp strategies, managing the board while ramping is a difficult task, and Mass Manip uses its namesake card — Mass Manipulation — to decimate opposing midrange decks. Entrancing Melody and Incubation Druid are other midgame plays that can invalidate most creatures, but wide board states backed up by cheap removal cause Mass Manip to struggle. Thorn Lieutenant occupies sideboard space almost entirely due to the vulnerability to Mono Red, and a Brontodon + Negate package is necessary against Nexus of Fate or 4 Color Dreadhorde. As players board in sweepers for mana creatures or counterspells for ramp payoffs, Nissa and Krasis can mitigate the impact of any specific card. To counter Mass Manip, bring Nexus of Fate or Mono Red, but even small adjustments can be beneficial — Trostani or Shalai in Green/White decks can drastically improve a Mass Manip matchup.

Weaknesses: Mono Red, Nexus of Fate, Legion Warboss.

Esper Midwalkers

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As long as we’ve had the mana to support them, Teferi, Hero of Dominaria and Thought Erasure have been best friends. While most iterations of Esper pair planeswalkers with Kaya’s Wrath, as seen here, this version deviates from this paradigm by pairing them with creatures. Hero of Precinct One and Thought Erasure are proactive Turn 2 plays that curve perfectly into a powerful planeswalker and the removal suite enables enough hits off of Narset to snowball early advantages. With the current iteration largely rising to popularity in the face of a growing Mono Red presence, a positive Dreadhorde matchup justifies Esper Midwalkers’ inclusion into this list. While boasting a less than stellar Simic Mass Manip matchup can be risky, the necessary tools to fight Nissa and powerful noncreature plays are available.

Fighting against Esper Midwalkers requires more awareness of timing than against ordinary Esper Planeswalkers, and individually powerful sideboard cards are less effective than normal. Gruul continues to be a good choice against Esper decks, as Rekindling Phoenix and Chainwhirler line up well against cheap planeswalkers. The Elderspell is likewise an important tool against Esper Midwalkers, as the deck lacks many creature threats in postboard games.

Weaknesses: Gruul, Rekindling Phoenix, The Elderspell.

4-Color Dreadhorde

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Similarly to Mono Red, 4-Color Dreadhorde failed to have a great weekend, but decent results and a heavy Arena presence warrant discussion nonetheless. By utilizing the mana fixing of Interplanar Beacon and Paradise Druid, Command the Dreadhorde decks can snowball through most opponents. With the Explore package to smooth out draws and buffer life total, this deck is able to trade resources early and set up a huge, game-ending play. While vulnerable to decks with limited interaction, 4-Color Dreadhorde is capable of adapting to nearly any metagame by shifting focus between a variety of sideboard options.

With a big target on its back, 4-Color Dreadhorde will need to adapt to fight a variety of counter-strategies. Mass Manipulation, in particular, is a powerful card against this deck, as it can undo the advantage generated by a resolved Command. Additionally, aggressive decks and mana denial can prove beneficial, as the deck relies on long, drawn-out games and has few catch-up mechanisms. Configuring a build that can reduce the ability of decks to go over the top of Command is necessary against a metagame of Simic Mass Manipulation and Esper Midrange decks with Command.

Weaknesses: Field of Ruin, Assassin’s Trophy, Arclight Phoenix, Nissa.

Mono Red

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As discussed in both our deck tech and prior metagame breakdown, Mono Red is an aggressive deck utilizes mana efficient threats and a suite of burn spells to overpower most defenses. While Mono Red had a less than spectacular performance online, it did take down an MCQ and put one player into the Top 16 of the Arena Qualifier Weekend. While most decks have adapted to its presence, Mono Red still boasts a variety of positive matchups, like Mass Manip, Arclight, and Dreadhorde decks. Jeskai and Esper planeswalker deck have proven to be good choices against Mono Red, but the unforgiving nature of Chainwhirler and Experimental Frenzy leaves many decks struggling to keep up.

Mono Red has a variety of weaknesses, primarily with incidental life gain, but most can be combatted in sideboard games. Lyra and Enter the God-Eternals can be slowed down with Tibalt, and cheap removal can be overcome by the card advantage of Chandra or Experimental Frenzy. Keep these threats in mind when sideboarding, and don’t be afraid to hedge against cards you haven’t seen — a proactive game plan with just a single piece of disruption is better than many of the redundant creatures.

Weaknesses: Large Creatures, Lyra Dawnbringer, Life gain, cheap removal.

Gruul Aggro

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Largely entering the scene off of the back of a highly favored Mono Red matchup, Gruul Aggro, or Gruul Warriors depending on the specific list, seeks to use aggressive creatures to pressure both planeswalkers and life totals alike. Adopting the innovative Unclaimed Territory tech from Ravnica Allegiance standard, this Gruul Spellbreaker variant is able to play powerful Green cards alongside efficient removal spells like Shock and Lightning Strike. The planeswalker suite allows Gruul to push an advantage harder than most decks while grinding out control decks. With difficult to block creatures and a bevy of burn spells, Gruul is a great choice in a Mono Red and Esper infested metagame, boasting positive win rates against both of these decks.

Additionally, Gruul is well positioned to fight the rise of Mass Manip, as a quick clock and cheap removal stunt their mana development. Warboss and Domri snowball quickly, while Chainwhirler and Spellbreaker can outclass the threats generated by Nissa, and enough burn to kill on large Mass Manip turns makes this a positive matchup for Gruul.

Weaknesses: Lyra, Despark, Life gain, Wildgrowth Walker.


Thanks for checking out our Mid-Season Metagame Update, 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 Standard content, as well as playtesting brews and new Modern lists.

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