With Pro Tour Aether Revolt right around the corner the same question is on everybody’s mind: Is the format solved already? If my repeatedly bashing my head against the wall (read: testing) is any indication, then we very well might be looking at a 2.5 deck metagame. GB Aggro, Jeskai Saheeli, and 4-Color Saheeli are the clear frontrunners and we’ll be looking to the pros to deliver us from this solved-before-breakfast format. To get a look at the potential answers let’s take a step back and look fundamentally at what makes these decks tick. Hopefully we can use this information to examine why these decks could potentially crowd the metagame and what chinks in the armor they may have.
Meet the Big Two
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What are we looking at? Jeskai Saheeli is a Combo-Control deck. This is a great place for a deck to be because it will typically have even, if not favorable matchups against most archetypes. History tells us control is good against midrange, but weak to aggro, while combo is good against aggro but weak to control. This should leave Jeskai Saheeli’s only unfavored matchups against better control decks and another hypothetical tempo deck. GB Aggro on the other hand leverages generic goodstuff like Grim Flayer and Mindwrack Demon, but the added synergy of Winding Constrictor and Walking Ballista has shown itself to be capable enough against the combo.
Because GB is bigger than a typical aggro deck it should also match up well against any of the other possible aggro deck like humans or spirits, (Again, history tells us that generally if both decks are looking to aggro each other out, the bigger deck will win) where Walking Ballista is a repeatable board wipe. GB might just be slow enough to be susceptible to a ramp strategy, which leaves us with a second potential trump. But for the most part this means that we have a metagame that is largely solved. GB Aggro should mop up any of Jeskai Saheeli’s bad matchups and Jeskai Saheeli should in return mop up any of GB Aggro’s bad matchups. They have each other backs the longer a tournament goes and naturally will drive each other to the top tables.
The reality of a two-deck format is that while you often should just play one of the two best decks, you can make adjustments within the archetypes themselves to trump the inevitable mirror and shore up other weaknesses . Sometimes this involves playing sub-par cards to help with an otherwise unwinnable matchup. For example, during INN-RTR Jund Midrange would main deck two copies of [mtg_card]Ground Seal[/mtg_card] because if they could manage the horrible Abzan Reanimator matchup they would be able to crush most metagames. Ground Seal also just cycled in matchups where it did nothing. A card I’ve found to very similar to ground seal is [mtg_card]Implement of Combustion[/mtg_card]. It’s a low cost card that you can use to respond to a [mtg_card]Saheeli Rai[/mtg_card] minus on [mtg_card]Felidar Guardian[/mtg_card] to “ping” Saheel Rai and finish her off. Tack on my favorite words to the end of this exchange, draw a card, and you have yourself a hate card that gets in below counter magic, shuts off the Saheeli Combo, and replaces itself.
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So what would these “metagamed” lists look like?
I recently took a list very similar to this to 5-0 in a competitive MTGO league and it
felt great. You can see we’ve “implemented” our Ground Seal idea with two implements of combustion. I mentioned earlier tuning the removal to fight against GB Aggro. A card that mostly fell victim to the era of [mtg_card]Reflector Mage[/mtg_card] is [mtg_card]Fairgrounds Warden[/mtg_card]. This effect has always been playable in standard and is especially potent against slower aggro decks like GB Aggro. It interacts wonderfully with Walking Ballista too, as even if they kill Warden, the Ballista comes back with no counters. Another plus is that it makes the deck a much better [mtg_card]Oath of Nissa[/mtg_card] deck. Oath of Nissa scales with the amount of permanents you have in the deck to find and as such fits better than additional copies of red burn spells. Also 4-Color Saheeli is much more reliable in the fair game mode and Fairgrounds Warden can be an excellent target for Saheeli Rai to clear a blocker and swing for lethal.
Is Tempo the Answer?
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I know I said earlier that the format might just be solved, but that doesn’t mean that I don’t have some promising ideas. Tempo decks, especially ones with fliers might be well positioned right now. The first deck that comes to mind is U/R Thermo-Alchemist.
A deck like this is poised for a comeback. Both of the main threats have evasion and [mtg_card]Thermo-Alchemist[/mtg_card]can mop up the Saheeli Combo. The matchup against GB Aggro might be a little rough, and this is what I was alluding to earlier when I said that the two top decks “protect” each other during a tournament. [mtg_card]Baral’s Expertise[/mtg_card] in the 60 might help against the GB matchup significantly, and UR actually has a lot of tools to help deal with most of the popular matchups, especially post sideboard. The deck also got a huge shot in the arm thanks to [mtg_card]Hungry Flames[/mtg_card]. While not a 4-of necessarily, having access to more of this effect means that the deck won’t have to sacrifice its burn plan too heavily when it needs to kill creatures.
The current go-to tempo strategy, Esper Aggro, is another great deck that might fall prey to GB Aggro. Unlike most traditional tempo decks this deck relies heavily on getting ground creatures through, a rough proposition against GB Aggro, now even more so with the banning of Reflector Mage. I have to say though that I love the [mtg_card]Mana Leak[/mtg_card] impression that [mtg_card]Metallic Rebuke[/mtg_card] does. The overall card quality in this deck is very high and if something comes a knocking at the Pro Tour look for this deck to be a contender.
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The other “weakness” for the top two archetypes is potentially a ramp deck. Now we won’t find any [mtg_card]Explosive Vegetations[/mtg_card] but Aether Revolt did bring us one of the most interesting mana rocks printed in recent years with [mtg_card]Inspiring Statuary[/mtg_card]. Inspiring Statuary has the potential to turn every artifact into a land drop. There are plenty of ways to turn this into a tron style of deck, where once we have statuary in play we access to tons of mana. I’ve played with quite a few ways to build this deck and the most promising so far looks like this:
This deck is built in a manner very consistent with a modern UW Tron style of deck. You essentially play a control game while assembling [mtg_card]Inspiring Statuary[/mtg_card]. Once you do you can start unloading Eldrazi. [mtg_card]Trophy Mage[/mtg_card] and [mtg_card]Elder-Deep Fiend[/mtg_card] play very well together. [mtg_card]Fumigate[/mtg_card] is a card that can straight up beat even the best GB Aggro Draws, and with a turn 3 statuary can be upgraded into a better [mtg_card]Wrath of God[/mtg_card]. With so many cast triggers this deck can theoretically hang with a control deck, but I’ve found disallow to be quite a nuisance. Giving them a choice of losing their permanents or facing down Ulamog is surprisingly relevant. Often I’ll get the [mtg_card]Ulamog, the Ceaseless Hunger[/mtg_card] trigger disallowed and the opponent will follow up with a stasis snare on my Ulamog! Another cute interaction I wanted to mention is [mtg_card]Confirm Suspicions[/mtg_card] and [mtg_card]Inspring Statuary[/mtg_card]. Essentially for UU you get, “counter target spell, get 3 [mtg_card]Mind Stone[/mtg_card]s”. This allows for sweet curves of turn three Statuary into turn four Confirm Suspicions into a chain of Eldrazi ending with a potential turn 5 or 6 Ulamog. Pretty busted stuff!
If you’re looking to beat both the top decks in standard maybe tempo or ramp are the places to start. It’s very likely though that the format is solved and the PT offers little in the way of innovation. It’s also important to remember that the PT metagame isn’t always indicative of what the future meta looks like.
Modern used to be about [mtg_card]Overgrown Tomb[/mtg_card] versus [mtg_card]Steam Vents[/mtg_card]. We might be entering the period of [mtg_card]Spirebluff Canal[/mtg_card] versus [mtg_card]Blooming Marsh[/mtg_card]. The last time this happened the format was dealt a banning in [mtg_card]Splinter Twin[/mtg_card] and I anticipate we might be in for a similar treat in a few weeks.
Catch you guys after the Pro Tour!