Every year there are multiple shifts in the Standard format of Magic: The Gathering, none of which is more important than rotation. The most recent rotation came in on September 27, 2013 and with it came the loss of Innistrad and Magic 2013. The set released to stimulate this change: Theros. Even with the loss of several decks this is the most exciting time to be a Standard player as rotation has put everyone on a, more or less, equal playing field. Due to this shift some cards from the previous block, Return to Ravnica, may make a substantial impact that they would not have been able to do so before, but this is not about finding the gems of previous sets, it is about the significance of Theros and what it has done to the metagame. Theros Standard is encouraging the player to focus on one color as a contrast to Ravnica, which emphasizes multiple color interaction.
Upon its release, Theros has brought with it an uncertain turbulence due to the losing of several dual lands that made multicolor colors decks the norm. The release of the Scry lands has slowed the format down to the point where multicolor decks are risky to play with, and even then it comes at a price. These Scry lands all come into the battlefield tapped and thus require careful thought into just how many will be run in a deck.This alone creates a split in the type of decks available and how they will function. Those who play with multiple colors value information and mana fixing over consistency and attrition. The result of this debate over which is more important is identifiable by the past few weeks top decks in Standard. Among them are the following archetypes:
- Monoblue Devotion
- Esper control
- Red Deck Wins
- G/R Monsters
Monoblue Devotion was quite a surprise to see, as the last few times it was all multicolor decks topping the charts. It’s quite astounding to see how they work: normally you would expect counterspells or removal like Dissolve, Disperse or Swan Song controlling the field, but that’s not the case. Cards like Cloudfin Raptor and Judge’s Familiar net you early game aggression and evasive beatdowns, and Thassa can come out on turn three as both a free scry machine and a big beater. What makes Monoblue one of the most viable decks for Standard is Master of Waves, which if your board is left untouched, will punish your opponent if you don’t wipe the field.
Another deck new to see in Standard is G/R Monsters, a deck that focuses on ramping to bring out monstrous creatures and swing big. This deck is quite spectacular: G/R is characterized by fast aggression and early game finishes, something that this deck doesn’t do at all. Sylvan Carytid? Usually to ramp and defend, and used to manafix in multicolor decks. Ghor-Clan Rampager? Pump in some more damage to your already huge creatures. Ember Swallower? Now you’re starting to destroy their lands. Stormbreath Dragon and Polukranos? Big creatures for cheap that provide power and punish for a reasonable cost. Xenagos and Domni Rade help this deck immensely, giving you extra mana to pay for your creature’s monstrous abilities and increasing the odds of drawing your big guys. If you want to win big , this deck is one to play.
Esper control is similar to when Innistrad was in Standard, only now you can’t use Unburial Rites to reanimate anymore (though Whip of Erebos does something similar). With Hero’s Downfall and Doom Blade from Theros and Magic 2014, Esper has more removal than it can think of. Considering Sphinx’s Revelation is still legal in Standard, Esper is very hard to go against unless your deck can out race the plethora of Azorius Charms, Doom Blades or Supreme Verdicts it throws at you. If you give it time though, Elspeth, Sun’s Champion will hit board and now you’re faced with an army of soldier tokens with Aetherling hitting you. All the board wipes and draw power that Esper has is reason enough that it’s a solid deck to not only play, but to play against.
Red Deck Wins, the tried and true deck that spans all metas (and a personal favorite of mine) is back in full force. It lost cards such as Searing Spear, Vexing Devil and Hellrider from Magic 2013 and Innistrad, but Lightning Strike and Fanatic of Mogis are suitable replacements given how slow Standard is at the moment. Fanatic of Mogis is very powerful in RDW, with Burning-Tree Emissary, Chandra’s Phoenix and Ash Zealot feeding into his ability. Lightning Strike and Magma Jet help the deck immensely by burning away creatures and clearing space, which helps with the early aggression. If you’re worried about not hitting fast enough, Mutavault is extra damage for the deck, making sure you can finish the game before they can. Chandra, Pyromancer is another great card to add if you need more ways to break through lines with her +1 ability, albeit at the cost of warping the mana curve a bit.
There are other decks that are viable in Standard. Gruul and Selesnya Aggro are among the top, with the additions of Fleecemane Lion and Xenagos, Reveler. You also have Monogreen and B/W/R making headlines as well, where green can ramp up insanely fast while B/W/R has removal on par with Esper to take control of the field. Lastly there is Orzhov Midrange, a sleeper deck has potential to be on par with the rest. Taking in the removal from black and solid creature base from white, you get Desecration Demon and Precinct Captain hitting you in the face while gaining life from Blood Baron of Viskopa or Whip of Erebos. I for one am quite excited for the state of Standard with the addition of Theros. It will be interesting to see what will make up my FNM’s and future Pro tour games.