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Metagame Mentor: 10 Spicy Standard Decks for Your January 2024 RCQ

January 11, 2024
Frank Karsten

Hello and welcome back to Metagame Mentor, your weekly guide to the top decks and latest Constructed developments on the path to the Pro Tour. The new year has introduced a new cycle of Regional Championship Qualifiers in the Standard format, which runs from January 6 through March 24. This series of RCQs contributes towards revitalizing tabletop Standard, heightening its importance in the competitive scene.

Last week, I provided a Standard format primer, going over the eight most prominent decks to defeat right now. However, Standard is wide open, and a lot of innovative decks have appeared in recent weeks. So as a complementary follow-up, today's article will dive deeper into the diversity of the format by highlighting ten additional decks that have put up decent results in recent events.

The Standard Metagame

Standard is a rotating 60-card format that currently allows expansion sets from Innistrad: Midnight Hunt forward. To grasp the latest developments since last week's format primer, I analyzed over 400 successful decklists from competitive events held since January 1. Specifically, I used the Standard Qualifier, Standard Preliminary, Standard Challenge 32, and Standard Challenge 64 on Magic Online, as well as the ReCQ at SCG CON Cincinnati and the 2023 NRG Championship.

To each deck, I assigned an archetype label and awarded a number of points equal to its rectified number of net wins (i.e., its number of match wins minus losses if positive and zero otherwise). I discussed this metric in more detail last week. Since round-by-round data from the 2023 NRG Championship was not readily available, I simply awarded two points to each Standard deck from that event. Each archetype's share of total rectified net wins can be interpreted as its share of the winner's metagame.

Archetype Winner's Metagame Share
1. Domain Ramp 15.0%
2. Esper Midrange 12.0%
3. Mono-Red Aggro 10.3%
4. Bant Toxic 8.8%
5. Rakdos Discover 8.0%
6. Rakdos Control 7.0%
7. Dimir Midrange 6.3%
8. Azorius Soldiers 6.1%
9. Golgari Midrange 5.3%
10. Rakdos Midrange 3.2%
11. Four-Color Legends 3.0%
12. Azorius Craft 2.1%
13. Gruul Aggro 1.9%
14. Esper Mentor 1.5%
15. Mono-White Toxic 1.3%
16. Esper Control 1.0%
17. Soul Cauldron Combo 1.0%
18. Azorius Midrange 0.8%
19. Orzhov Midrange 0.8%
20. Invasion of Alara 0.8%
21. Other 3.8%

In last week's format primer, I introduced the eight most prominent decks to defeat in Standard based on Magic Online data from December: Domain Ramp, Esper Midrange, Golgari Midrange, Rakdos Discover, Azorius Soldiers, Mono-Red Aggro, Bant Toxic, and Azorius Tokens. Although Azorius Tokens did not put up notable results in the first week of January, Domain Ramp has remained the number one deck, with Esper Midrange a close second. Hence, last week's article remains a useful introduction to the format, especially for newcomers to Standard.

Monastery Swiftspear Crawling Chorus

The big story over the past week is the rise of aggro decks. Exploiting the large metagame share of the slow Domain Ramp strategy, Mono-Red Aggro and Bant Toxic put up excellent numbers. Last weekend on Magic Online, Razzleflabben won the Standard Challenge 32 with Bant Toxic, while Merses won the Standard Challenge 64 with Mono-Red Aggro. These aggro decks can win as early as turn four, and since Domain Ramp has zero interactive spells with a mana value lower than four, well-constructed aggro decks tend to crush Domain Ramp. In addition, an innovative Mono-White Toxic deck appeared to exploit Lay Down Arms and Ossification while using Crawling Chorus and Jawbone Duelist for fast aggro starts. As a result of these developments, Domain Ramp's share of the winner's metagame dropped from 27.2% in December to 15.0% in the first week of January.

In related metagame developments, many Esper Midrange players shaved cards that excel against aggro or midrange strategies (such as Dennick, Pious Apprentice and/or Wedding Announcement) to make room for cards that are superior against Domain Ramp (such as Faerie Mastermind; Gix, Yawgmoth Praetor; and/or Ertai Ressurected). Furthermore, many successful Azorius Soldiers players cut Virtue of Loyalty in favor of Invasion of Gobakhan, providing a way to delay Sunfall or Atraxa, Grand Unifier. All in all, the Standard metagame in January is successfully adapting to the dominance of Domain Ramp in December, moving to a diverse and balanced spot.

In the remainder of this article, I will showcase the format's variety, as the depth of Standard goes far deeper than the eight prominent decks I covered last week. I selected two alternative Standard decks for each of the five macro-archetypes: control, midrange, aggro, combo, and ramp. Some are spicier than others, but all of them scored more wins than losses in a recent competitive event, and these decks might enable you to dazzle at your next RCQ.

Control Decks: Rakdos Control and Azorius Craft

Rakdos Control has quickly risen in the ranks: it was only 2.8% of the winner's metagame in December, but it climbed to 7.0% in the first week of January. Using the list shown above, Melicard finished 7th at the 143-player Standard Qualifier on Magic Online, cementing the strategy's power. For the early game, the deck features Brotherhood's End, Burn Down the House, and spot removal spells to keep the battlefield under control. After stabilizing, various seven-drops will overpower the opponent. Etali, Primal Conqueror and Breach the Multiverse can singlehandedly win the game, and thanks to Big Score, it's possible to cast them as early as turn five! As a relatively recent addition, The Cruelty of Gix can reanimate a discarded Trumpeting Carnosaur, providing another path to victory.

Azorius Craft, which steadily hovers around 2%-3% of the winner's metagame, is a sweet option for players who like to combine control strategies and powerful synergies. Makoobi finished 17th at the 143-player Standard Qualifier with the list above, using Unstable Glyphbridge and Spring-Loaded Sawblades to keep the opponent at bay while ramping ahead with Fabrication Foundry and Thran Spider. Eventually, you'll use the craft abilities of your artifacts, ideally exiling Market Gnome, to bury your opponent in card advantage. With so many artifacts lying around on the battlefield, you can create enormous Gnome Soldier tokens with Thousand Moons Smithy as well. As an additional bonus, Cut Down and Go for the Throat are pretty much useless against this artifact-based deck.

Midrange Decks: Dimir Midrange and Esper Mentor

Dimir Midrange doubled to 6.3% of the winner's metagame after Mogged won the Standard Qualifier on January 1, earning an invitation to the next Regional Championship. His list features Faerie Mastermind, Preacher of the Schism, and Ertai Resurrected, and he described it as "a worse version of Esper that performs well in this specific metagame." Indeed, instead of Raffine, Scheming Seer and Destroy Evil, Dimir Midrange runs Spyglass Siren and Tishana's Tidebinder, enabling a nimbler strategy. More importantly, the superior two-color mana base has fewer tapped lands, resulting in a faster draws overall. Especially when everyone is ready for Raffine, Scheming Seer with Cut Down and Lithomantic Barrage, Dimir Midrange is proving to be an excellent alternative.

There's only one card that is legal in Standard but restricted in Vintage: Monastery Mentor. Of course, there are no Moxen in Standard, so the context is a bit different, but this Esper Mentor deck that Zendikatt took to a 2nd place finish at a 74-player Standard Challenge shouldn't be underestimated. Featuring as many as 18 one-mana noncreature spells, most of which draw additional cards, the deck can trigger Monastery Mentor consistently, overwhelming the opponent with an army of Monks. The dream is to put Monastery Mentor into the graveyard with Consider, Otherworldly Gaze, Picklock Prankster, or Bitter Triumph and then return it with Helping Hand for a single mana. When you do that on turn two or three, you have mana up to trigger it right away and get the party started.

Aggro Decks: Gruul Aggro and Boros Convoke

Gruul Aggro is not your typical aggro strategy. This deck, which Janisss took to 29th place at the 143-player Standard Qualifier, runs a full playset of Giant Growth—one of the few cards from the original Alpha that are currently legal in Standard—and aims to one-shot opponents with a single creature. For example, a turn-two Picnic Ruiner could be followed by Audacity, Monstrous Rage, and Giant Growth on turn three, building a lethal 10-power double striker. Cacophony Scamp and a similar suite of pump spells can also win the game on turn three. When playing against this deck, you're usually better off casting Cut Down on your own turn because if you wait till their attack, then they may respond with Giant Growth, causing you to take far more damage.

For Pioneer players, this deck will look very familiar. The curve of Voldaren Epicure into Gleeful Demolition allows you to convoke Knight-Errant of Eos as early as turn two, and a follow-up Imodane's Recruiter enables a massive burst of damage. You can also utilize the tokens with Warden of the Inner Sky or Regal Bunnicorn. Xfile used the list above to finish 14th at a 54-player Standard Challenge on Magic Online in December, but the main reason for showing the deck is that Murders of Karlov Manor will soon boost it with Novice Inspector—basically Thraben Inspector with a different name. By adding more Gleeful Demolition targets, the consistency of the deck will skyrocket in a few weeks. Murders of Karlov Manor prerelease events start on Friday February 2.

Combo Decks: Invasion of Alara and Soul Cauldron Combo

This combo deck, which Matsukasa10 piloted to a 20th place finish at an 86-player Standard Challenge, uses Invasion of Alara to hit a near-guaranteed Bramble Familiar. (Technically, there is a 1/15 chance of hitting both Chrome Host Seedshark and Huatli, Poet of Unity, but let's ignore that for now.) Due to the way the battle is worded, you're allowed to cast the Fetch Quest adventure side of Bramble Elemental, which can provide a game-winning effect. Ideally, you mill Cemetery Desecrator and a seven-drop, allowing you to immediately transform Invasion of Alara. Otherwise, The Lost Caverns of Ixalan provided Nurturing Bristleback and Trumpeting Carnosaur as good hits for Fetch Quest that can still provide useful effects in the early turns of the game.

Yokakenana finished 14th at the most recent Standard Qualifier on Magic Online with Soul Cauldron Combo. This Sultai build uses Agatha's Soul Cauldron to exile Sleep-Cursed Faerie, adding +1/+1 counters and an untap ability to Kami of Whispered Hopes. The Kami then taps and untaps to add infinite mana. Once it gains the ability of Likeness Looter, you can turn infinite mana into infinite loots, giving access to your entire library. Eventually, each copy of Jace, the Perfected Mind and Squirming Emergence mills your opponent for 15 cards, depleting their library. Although this strategy was already available at the World Championship several months ago, Wail of the Forgotten and Squirming Emergence from The Lost Caverns of Ixalan have added a novel descend angle to the deck.

Ramp Decks: Gruul Ramp and Four-Color Legends

Is ramping into Etali, Primal Conqueror or Tyrranax Rex better than ramping into Atraxa, Grand Unifier or Herd Migration? Perhaps not, but this Gruul Ramp deck can do it faster and more consistently. With Intrepid Paleontologist, The Irencrag, and Glimpse the Core on turn two followed by Invasion of Zendikar or Hulking Raptor on turn three, the ramp suite has incredible redundancy, yielding seven mana on turn four most of the time. This puts you several turns ahead. And once you reach eight mana, this deck offers the dream of casting Ghalta, Stampede Tyrant, letting out a thundering roar, and immediately swarming your opponent with three Tyrranax Rex. Using the list above, Xfile finished 10th at a 70-player Standard Challenge on Magic Online in December.

This Four-Color Legends deck, which Cftsoc3 took to an impressive 2nd place at last weekend's 104-player Standard Challenge on Magic Online, is hard to classify. It has elements of midrange and combo, but I ultimately put it in the "ramp" category because it features a whopping 33 mana sources, including four copies of Relic of Legends. The deck fuels all that mana into a powerful Slogurk, the Overslime engine: Slogurk grows whenever you discard a land to Rona, Herald of Invasion or Inti, Seneschal of the Sun—or whenever you activate the channel ability of Otawara, Soaring City or Takenuma, Abandoned Mire—making it easy to return it to your hand and loop for value. With three Otawara and enough mana, you can potentially bounce three opposing permanents every turn cycle!

Looking Ahead

In conclusion, Standard is pretty awesome right now. It features an abundance of competitively viable strategies, and there's something for every play style. Pick your favorite deck or construct your own, then set out for battle!

The first RCQ cycle of the 2024 calendar year is the final RCQ cycle of the 2023-24 premier season. It runs from January 6 through March 24, and it will award invitations to a Regional Championship later this year in the Standard format. You can find RCQs near you via the Store & Event Locator or your regional organizer's website. In addition, if you're looking for more high-level Standard action, MagicCon: Chicago features the format at the $75K Standard Open on February 23–25!

Fans of Pioneer or Modern can also look forward to high-level competitive events. Over the coming weeks, my column will focus on Modern (the format for this weekend's Magic Online Champions Showcase and the upcoming cycle of Regional Championships) and Pioneer (the format for Pro Tour Murders at Karlov Manor). However, I will keep my eye on Standard and look forward to seeing all the innovation coming out of the RCQs!

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