Today, I’d like to talk about my thoughts on both Standard and Historic. I’m writing this before the last League Weekend decklists are published, so things might change a little after that event concludes.
The way I see it, Standard has been evolving around the card 《Emergent Ultimatum》 for a while.
We’ve seen decks like Rogues or Mono Red emerge (!) to beat 《Emergent Ultimatum》, only have the 80-card 《Yorion, Sky Nomad》 deck adapt against them enough to put a fair fight. After that, we’ve seen new decks like Izzet Dragons packed with countermagic beat Sultai for a few weeks only to see how Sultai can do the same against them.
So, is Sultai simply the best deck?
First of all, every player joining a Standard event will have a plan against Sultai Ultimatum. That also means most of the slow decks that used to lose to it are simply not there anymore because they know they are likely going to play against Sultai multiple times.
On the other side, the biggest issue beating Sultai is that you can’t have a good matchup against them if they care enough about your archetype to play the specific setup of cards they need to beat you. Therefore, as a Sultai player, you simply need to decide which matchups you will care about.
Let’s take a look at a sample Sultai:
In this case, we can see a version that cares about 《Goldspan Dragon》 playing cards like 《Soul Shatter》 while still trying to have a reasonable defense against aggro decks by playing a bunch of 《Elder Gargaroth》.
Some noticeable concessions were made. For example, the deck plays 0 copies of 《Elspeth’s Nightmare》, a card once adopted to be the answer to the rise of Jeskai Cycling. Not playing 《Elspeth’s Nightmare》 dramatically affects the Cycling matchup, but it also affects other matchups like Rogues or Mono Red.
The more different decks around, the hardest it is to present a Sultai Ultimatum that has a decent matchup against everything.
Jeskai Mutate is the newest deck in Standard and it packs a very high count of cards that are good against the card 《Emergent Ultimatum》.
This deck is way better than what it looks and I think it might take Izzet Dragons’ spot on the metagame, since they have some similarities. Izzet Dragons is much better against creature decks thanks to cards like 《Frost Bite》 and 《Bonecrusher Giant》, but if the metagame is slow enough, cards like 《Unsubstantiate》 become stronger. The reason why I think Jeskai Mutate has legs is because it basically has inevitability in every matchup thanks to the mutate creatures. This means all archetypes, including Sultai, often need to be the aggressor against Jeskai Mutate.
The best creature decks in Standard play Red. Thank you, 《Bonecrusher Giant》.
Among the creature decks in Standard, Naya Adventures is king. What Naya does better than any other deck in Standard is preying on Izzet Dragons while having an actual good answer against 《Elder Gargaroth》 in form of 《Giant Killer》. The other Red decks struggle against the huge green monster, because cards that deal with it like 《The Akroan War》 are actually very awkward when Sultai doesn’t draw the 《Elder Gargaroth》. 《Giant Killer》 covers that angle while being a strong card in other matchups.
Even though they have answers to the 《Elder Gargaroth》, Naya Adventures still struggles against Sultai Ultimatum. Or at least, it does until they start playing too many counterspells on the maindeck, which leads to…
A Balanced Standard
I think counterspell decks (Mutate/Dragons) and Red decks (Naya/Mono Red/Gruul) create an interesting squeeze for Sultai Ultimatum, where the cards against group are extremely bad against the other. Think of 《Mystical Dispute》 and 《Shadows’ Verdict》.
The better the Blue decks become, the more 《Mystical Dispute》 Sultai will play, and that will make the Red decks better. I don’t think this trend will change much until Eldraine, 《Emergent Ultimatum》 and the rest rotate out of Standard. Maybe Adventures in the Forgotten Realms changes everything!
Meanwhile, Historic has been changing quite a bit. After 《Thassa’s Oracle》 ban, a few weeks ago we also said goodbye to 《Time Warp》, meaning the 《Velomachus Lorehold》 Taking Turns deck is effectively gone.
Taking Turns was arguably the best deck in Historic so it left a new landscape.
Izzet Phoenix was a close second, so it initially looked like it will simply dominate the format but so far that hasn’t been the case. One big reason for this is is that there are many decks than can be problematic for Izzet Phoenix like 《Niv-Mizzet Reborn》, Auras, or even Jeskai Control, and those archetypes are very common. We can also see that decks that were relatively weak to Izzet Phoenix like Gruul are becoming less common.
However, I don’t necessarily think it has to be Izzet Phoenix. We’ve seen some 《Indomitable Creativity》 combo decks featuring either 《Sage of the Falls》/《The Locust God》 combo or simply 《Koma, Cosmos Serpent》.
Combo decks like this one get extra value of their 《Brainstorm》 because they have cards that they actively want on the top of their deck.
My personal bet for the potential best deck in Historic is Jeskai Control since it is a very flexible deck that can have efficient answers to pretty much all the most played threats in the format. I wouldn’t be surprised if we get to see some refined version of this deck do extremely well in the League Weekend, since these decks tend to perform particularly well in hands of expert players. Jeskai has some weak points, but most of them can be solved once they are established in the metagame.
《Adanto Vanguard》 is one of them.
Currently, 《Adanto Vanguard》 is one of the best threats aggro decks can present in the format and one of the reasons why Auras good, but I expect reactive decks to adapt to it which puts Auras in a tricky metagame position going forward.
The other creature deck that seems to be fairly consistent is Selesnya Company. While being weak to Jeskai, Company is one of those decks that has a decent matchup against Izzet Phoenix while maintaining a proactive plan everywhere else. I think it is the best non-blue archetype.
The big question mark for me is Five-color Niv-Mizzet.
However, I found its creature matchups to be really bad since taplands can hurt a lot there and 《Drown in the Loch》 doesn’t exactly shine on turn2. I think this archetype has a lot of potentials and even though I didn’t get there, I think there might be a build that’s good enough against creatures to make this an excellent deck overall.
This is where I am in the different formats right now. I love how in Magic, we keep having metagames where decks try to adapt against each other. I can’t wait to see if some of the competitors on the League Weekend will bring something new to shake the formats!
Thanks for reading.