Pick Your Poison

Standard meta's really ramping up and there are all sorts of options out there. There are different flavors of aggro, a million ways to play around with midrange, and even a couple control decks nipping at the fringes. For us at Land Say Go, we love to brew and come at the established meta from unexpected angles most of the time, but even we indulge in some meta play every now and then. And with a Standard meta as diverse and healthy as this one, it can be difficult to figure out what lists or strategies you want to play with. In this article, I want to take a closer look at the lists we're seeing a lot of, break them down, and maybe help you find something you'll enjoy picking up yourself.

(lists are linked in the title deck name of their respective sections)

Bant Ramp

Category: Midrange

Pros: Very adaptive, consistent, rarely loses to itself

Cons: Slow, dependent on key pieces

The deck that was once known as Simic Mass Manipulation or Thief has undergone an evolution. Taking the power of Nissa, Who Shakes the World alongside Mass Manipulation and Hydroid Krasis and combining it with the tempo value and protection of Teferi, Time Raveler as well as Shalai, Voice of Plenty and Tolsimir, Friend to Wolves, Bant Ramp can pack a serious punch. There are several cards in this deck that simply end the game with Nissa and a few Forests out, but if it can't find those, the power of Shalai or a Krasis for 4 can either buy enough time to slam a finisher or whittle your opponent's health to 0 while they're still assembling their own plan.

While this deck can manipulate the tempo of the game quite well, it's also unfortunately vulnerable to tempo plays itself. A couple Frilled Mystics well-timed removal, or a protected Time Raveler from the opponent can cripple it within the early and middle turns. Also, given Bant Ramp really wants to be making big plays and multi-spelling as early as possible, knocking off their mana dorks or Nissas can keep their gameplan from ever coming together. And a deck like this that wants to play a 6-mana+ Mass Manipulation, against extreme aggro decks like Mono-red you can lose the game before you even have a chance.

I'd recommend this deck to anyone looking to make big, splashy plays. A huge MM or Krasis feels wonderful, as does a fleet 3/3s growing alongside a Shalai. It's also a very consistent deck, I've found, meaning that if you keep the right hands, you're rarely going to have games that you just don't participate in. It's good at executing.

Esper Superfriends

Category: Control

Pros: Goes over the top of almost every other deck, interactive, has answers in all matchups

Cons: Parts of Mainboard dead in certain matchups, not good from behind

Esper Superfriends is the answer to the question: "What if we just jammed as many Teferis as possible into one deck?" It turns out some pretty great things happen. Alongside the Teferis, you're running Narset, that often either finds you an answer or another Teferi, a plethora of removal and boardwipes like Cast Down and Kaya's Wrath, and then the cherry on top that ensures you're bringing the biggest hitters to the table: Command the Dreadhorde. Not to mention the taxing effects from Basilica Bell-Haunt and Oath of Kaya.

The drawback of having so many answers available to you, however, is the fact that you're not running as many threats. If your opponent is light on creatures (which most of the mainboard answers are meant for), or your draw is light on threats and the opponent is able to take them away, you're going to have a very rough game. In this TTR (Teferi, Time Raveler) heavy meta, instant-speed draw and counter effects are much less prevalent, meaning a control deck like this is going to have a harder time finding threats when them, as well as a catch-all answer like Absorb.

That said, this deck is extremely powerful. It picks out a few specific threats and devotes a lot to protecting them. I'd recommend this deck to anyone that enjoys slower play, controlling the board, having the right card for the situation and whittling your opponent down. If 8 Teferis sounds like heaven to you, this is your list.

Gruul Midrange

Category: Aggro

Pros: Pound-for-pound the most powerful creatures in standard, a satisfying curve, fast pressure

Cons: Has to hit the proper number of lands to function, vulnerable to most one-for-one removal, can't do much outside the combat step

Outside of mono-red, this deck is the truest form of "turn 'em sideways" you can get. Between Llanowar Elves, Paradise Druid, and Growth-Chamber Guardian, you're almost always getting off to a fast start. True, a turn-3 TTR from your opponent can slow you down a touch, but this deck never stops laying down the hammer. Both Nullhide Ferox and Rekindling Phoenix are real beaters that are difficult to get off the board. Domri, Shock, and Lightning Strike keep the board clear or clean up planeswalkers so your creatures can keep beating face. The Skarrgan Hellkite topper can either end the game on the spot with haste or turn your freed-up mana to a ton of free kill spells.

With a meta full of Nissas (whose 3/3s match up horribly against 4/4 GCGs and Spellbreakers) and other planeswalkers vulnerable to attacks when you don't have burn in hand, this deck can play to keep the board clear as well. The power in it is that you have the choice: if their walkers don't bug you, you can ignore them and hit face. If they do, your creatures are bigger than any blocker they can put in your way.

However, this deck is almost entirely limited to working in combat. Yes, you will almost always decidedly win combat, but there are many things in Standard that are difficult to deal with. A large (5+) Krasis will stop most of our attackers cold. Command the Dreadhorde will put huge amounts of value on the field with a single spell and often resets our opponent's life total. If we don't have a Phoenix, the ground can quickly become clogged by tons of Hero of Precinct One tokens or Nissa's 3/3 lands. Decks with access to Kaya's Wrath can really punish us for trying to end the game fast and over-extending. Also, with Llanowar being our only mana dork and our curve topping at 5, we really need to hit land drops on our early turns, but at the same time, as an aggro deck, flooding can lose us games fast.

I think people that like to play in the combat step, like to punish slow starts, and want a deck that gives you a lot of choices on how to deploy your creatures (either via riot or the choice of what to attack) will enjoy this deck.

Izzet Phoenix

Category: Midrange

Pros: Consistent, proactive, efficient

Cons: Full of low-impact cards, low number of threats, little interaction

Phoenix has been an interesting little deck to me in this meta. I figured with the introduction of Cry of the Carnarium and Narset, this deck was all but dead. However, with careful attention to card choice and a very focused gameplan, Phoenix has stubbornly stuck around, posting decent results at many recent events. It's done that with a few tools. First: it's got big aerial threats that can end the game in one or two attack steps. That means your opponent may not have an answer to your threats and may not start actively looking for one through scrys and draws until its too late. Second: every single draw spell in the deck (and there are plenty), either work to activate a phoenix in the graveyard or work to get you to a phoenix and put it in the graveyard. Not to mention they also power up your Crackling Drakes to the point they can kill anything on a block or your opponent in a swing. Lastly: It runs a lot of burn spells, giving it the flexibility to take out key creatures or finish your opponent off when an attack doesn't quite do the trick.

There are a few things you do want to be careful about with this deck, however. It is quite vulnerable to exile effects on your phoenixes, including Cry of the Carnarium as well as Despark and Vraska's Contempt. Also, with so many cantrips, it's possible to just draw lands and cantrips without finding threats. Yes, you can eventually go through your deck, but eventually isn't often good enough. Finally, the interaction you have: Shock, Lightning Strike and Lava Coil, are all burn, which includes as many weaknesses as it does strengths. Nissa enters the battlefield with effectively 6 loyalty. Big Teferi ticks up to 5. Rekindling Phoenix takes 2 spells to kill. Nullhide Ferox has 6 toughness. In other words, pinging for 3 or 2 ranges from inefficient to completely useless in these situations.

I'd recommend this deck for anyone looking to always have something to do on their turn. With so many cantrips, it's hard to have dead turns. It's also quite difficult for the opponent to disrupt your gameplan. A Thought Erasure may take a Drake, but it can't do anything to a phoenix. Yes, you're vulnerable to exile, but anything short of it only delays the inevitable. It's pretty difficult for someone to take a phoenix deck completely out of the game.

That's all for this week. I hope I was able to explain these decks a bit more for you and, if you're looking to pick one up, help you make a choice. Until next time, this is Matt and I'll see ya soon.