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The beauty of Standard is in the carefully shifting metagame that seems to adjust at a rate far beyond simple comprehension. Players continually want to one-up one another, as a small adjustment in a sideboard can have far reaching implications in as grindy of a format as Standard. Last weekend was the paper release of Core 2020 and with it the first large Standard tournament of note. Players showed an awareness of the best performing decks on Arena, with some unique innovations and a tournament that resulted in few sideboard cards tailored for aggressive strategies. With most players leaning on the color hosing cycle from the Core Set, this meant that Mono Blue and Mono Red had to fight through only a narrow band of interactive spells on their way to the top.

In this article, I’ll be highlighting the Top 5 Decks or Strategies heading into the weekend, as well as recommended card changes to respond to the metagame. Keep in mind that this is merely a guideline to the important decks in Standard — some bigger players like Esper or Nexus are missing, as I’ve focused on the five decks I would consider well suited in the aggressive metagame. Esper deserves an Honorable Mention, as I think it is an incredibly powerful deck that should make waves soon. My only hesitation is that I am uncertain of how best to build either the main deck or the sideboard, as the color hosers are not an adequate adjustment on their own, and finding the right threats is difficult.


Our Recommendation: Sultai Scapeshift (or any Scapeshift variant)

 

With the printing of Core 2020 and the introduction of Field of the Dead into the format, ramp players finally got a shell worthy of their talents — Standard Scapeshift. A diverse suite of a lands and a huge ramp spell in the form of Circuitous Route give the archetype the consistency any other top tier contender in Standard. Hydroid Krasis and Growth Spiral are a ramp package we’ve seen be successful since Ravnica Allegiance, and the addition of Temple of Mystery give the deck access to lands that can sculpt your draws, gain life, and stabilize the ground.

We’ve covered our early version of Sultai Scapeshift here, and while Scapeshift had a moderate showing at the recent SCG Open, the shell looks to be in a good spot heading into the weekend. A fast combo kill gives the deck an ability to race even Mono Red, and a suite of value top end gives the deck a midrange style of game play. Control decks struggle against a horde of 2/2s every turn, while Aggro may find it difficult to fight through Hydroid Krasis and board wipes. If you’re looking for a deck that has game against everything, some sort of Scapeshift variant is our recommendation for Deck of the Week.

There are two main variants of the deck: Sultai and Bant, though Temur or Simic are fringier ones. Bant uses Teferi, Time Raveler to establish control in the midgame, while giving the deck access to instant speed Scapeshift for a kill even through board wipes. The deck also plays Elite Guardmage and Dovin’s Veto as tools against aggro and Control, showcasing the power of versatile cards.

Additionally, the deck passes the Mono Blue and Mono Red tests — with Krasis, Scapeshift, and Teferi the deck has a reasonable Game 1 against those decks, with substantial access to tools in postboard games. Veil of Summer, Aether Gust, Shifting Ceratops, and Knight of Autumn are all options that look strong heading into the weekend, but be wary of Chandra’s Spitfire — Lyra may be a good choice for the weekend.

Weak against: Nexus, Unmoored Ego

Runner Up: Gruul Monsters

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More appropriately named Gruul Dinosaurs, this updated take on a War of the Spark all star utilizes Marauding Raptor and a hose of Dinosaurs to quickly pressure opponents — killing on Turn 4 is quite easy with the Raptor, and this version gives Gruul and almost combo kill style of play. I would highly recommend Gruul in a metagame of Mono Blue and Mono Red, as a suite of cheap removal can stymie their board states. Aether Gust remains a problem, but having enough color hosers should compensate for this particular vulnerability.

The primary reason to play this deck is the Red removal. With aggressive decks dominating the first week of the SCG, the choice to play either Goblin Chainwhirler or Shifting Ceratops is a close one, with most players opting for the Green fatty. I like this decision, as this card is potent against Mono Blue and is still reasonable against Mono Red. While weaker against Elementals or Vampires, it likewise enables the gross draws from Marauding Raptor.

If Scapeshift or Esper become more popular, I would consider playing some grindier sideboard options like Chandra, Awakened Inferno or Nissa. Even a Vivien/Carnage Tyrant package is appealing, but Legion Warboss might just be enough on its own. I would consider replacing Regisaur with more copies of Monstrosaur, as it lines up better against planeswalkers.

Still, there are two problems Gruul needs to solve to be competitive this weekend — have an answer to Cavalier of Thorns, and find a way to mitigate sweepers. The deck also lacks powerful top end like Scapeshift or Command the Dreadhorde. My suggestion is to try out Temur Dinosaurs, and see if there’s a way to abuse Aether Gust’s unique position in the metagame. This also gives you access to a Scapeshift package out of the sideboard, though this is NOT recommended (there’s merit to decks transforming into Field + Scapeshift, but they’d need to have a specific reason to not be on that in Game 1).

Weak against: Scapeshift, Sweepers

Naya Feather

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Feather looked to be in an excellent spot over the weekend, though a dicey Nexus matchup likely stunted the otherwise strong showing. While most versions are the traditional Boros variant, the Naya version has been making waves in Mythic this week. I would be hesitant to recommend Feather for Magic Fest Denver, as it is a known entity and can struggle against other decks, but this fragility is made up for with powerful interactions.

Season of Growth is the singular reason to play Green, as it represents a weird hybrid of Experimental Frenzy and Feather, the Redeemed. Creating an endless supply of threats and spells is a unique effect to have, but this comes at the cost of including four relatively “do nothing” cards with respect to board state. Season only generates cards if you already have spells and creatures, but it makes these draws more potent.

One change we’ve made that most lists are not on is the decision to play Tocatli Honor Guard in the main deck. While Legion Warboss is excellent against many decks, the abundance of large ground creatures makes me hesitant to register Warboss in the main deck. Instead I play a couple of copies in the sideboard for when you’re on the play, or when you want that extra threat.

Tocatli Honor Guard singlehandedly shuts down Elementals, as they have few ways Game 1 to remove it, and Wildgrowth Walker is a difficult card to overcome. While also a 1/3, this matters less in an era with Chandra’s Spitfire and Ember Hauler, but the relevant body makes it able to interact favorably with most of Mono Red. The final reason to play Tocatli is that it’s a two drop in a deck with a desire to play more early creatures.

Weak against: Nexus, Cavalier of Thorns

Vampires

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One of the more hyped Tribal decks out of Core 2020, Vampires put up two copies into the Top 8 of the recent SCG Open. This is a notable feat, and it is even more telling when you look at the field. Decks certainly weren’t lacking for removal, though the exact configuration of sideboards may have led to a metagame filled with players trying to go over the top.

Esper was an uncommon choice, and this meant that Vampires had only two axes to compete on: Racing, and board control. Most versions opted for Cast Down in the maindeck alongside Vona — supplementing Sorin as ways to remove difficult threats and manage the board. All of these were recogitions of Temur Elementals, while still being flexible against Mono Red.

Still, the common sentiment among sideboards shows a lack of both Tocatli Honor Guard and Cast Down — leaving Vampires quite vulnerable to Mono Red and Mono Blue, and relying on removal to handle Wildgrowth Walker. I would recommend adopting some copies of Tocatli Honor Guard in the sideboard, as well as cards like Cast Down or Fungal Infection against Mono Blue/Mono Red. You want cards that can slow them down, as it lets you buy time for Champion of Dusk or Vona to end the game.

Lyra is also a consideration, but it gets hit by Fry and is not a vampire, making it difficult to play. If you’re looking to play Vampires this weekend, you need to focus on fighting against one drops and Teferi. It may also be time to experiment with different versions — Vampire of the Dire Moon and Bloodthirsty Aerialist give the deck an evasive engine that leaves you less vulnerable to sweepers, and can fly over even the likes of Hydroid Krasis.

Weak against: Sweepers, Mono Red, Esper

Temur Elementals

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The defining Midrange deck of last weekend, the Elemental package of Omnath and Risen Reef is too much value for most decks to fight through on a fair axis. Still, players were prepared for the Green menace, as a host of Aether Gust and Cast Downs showed up in force, with the occasional Simic Nexus player going way over the top. Elementals is still in a decent spot this weekend, though as both a known entity and uniquely vulnerable to huge top end plays, Elemental players need to critically evaluate the lists going forward.

The demise of Elementals and the rise of aggro make three important distinctions rise to the top for prepared players this weekend. Firstly, additional removal is needed. Whether in the form of Red kill spells, or a threat like Voracious Hydra, some interaction is necessary. Secondly, Wildgrowth Walker is better than ever in a metagame filled with Mono Blue and Mono Red. Creatures are traditionally difficult for Mono Blue to deal with, and a creature that can race most board states is exceptionally good. Try to find room for the Explore package, or for strong sideboard cards like Shifting Ceratops and Flame Sweep.

Finally, Elementals needs to adapt to potential Command the Dreadhorde and Scapeshift decks, as these archetypes can completely invalidate the value oriented plan of Elementals, and are well suited at managing board states with Nissa. Try to pack some extra countermagic, but be careful of Veil of Summer. Look to Core 2020 for most of your sideboard choices, as a Mono Red, Mono Blue, and Green heavy metagame puts Temur in a unique position to abuse Fry, Shifting Ceratops, and Aether Gust.

While the explore package is less popular than other variants, I recommend it primarily due to the clock it presents. With an aggressive slant, the explore package allows Elementals to play a tempo game post board — instead of having to resolve a four or five drop, you can sit behind a Jadelight Ranger and some counterspells. Keep this play pattern in mind when heading into the weekend, and try to balance the need for synergy with the need for removal.

Weak against: Scapeshift, Nexus


That does it for this week’s Top 5 Decks, and if all goes well we’ll be back next week with our lessons learned from Magic Fest Denver.