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Metagame Mentor: Everything to Know About Standard to Win Your RCQ

January 12, 2023
Frank Karsten

Hello and welcome back to Metagame Mentor, the weekly column in which I highlight the decks to beat and the latest Constructed developments on the path to the Pro Tour. While it's exciting to see the return of the Pro Tour at MagicCon: Philadelphia in five weeks, most competitive Magic journeys start at local stores with Regional Championship Qualifiers.

The possible formats for RCQs are Limited, Modern, Pioneer, and Standard. If you are eager to participate in a Standard RCQ but are unsure what to expect in that format, this article can act as your one-stop shop to help you get started!

To find RCQs nearby, check the Store & Event Locator or your regional organizer's website. Through April 3, players can earn a qualification for the third cycle of Regional Championships, which will be held in May, June, or July (depending on your region) and will feed the Pro Tour at MagicCon: Europe in July.

The Standard Metagame

Standard is a 60-card format that rotates every fall. Currently, it allows expansion sets from Innistrad: Midnight Hunt forward. It's the most popular way to play Constructed on MTG Arena, and it's the format for the second cycle of Regional Championships, which will be held in March and April (depending on your region).

To grasp the latest Standard developments, I analyzed 376 decklists from large competitive events over the past few weeks. Specifically, I used all available Magic Online decklists from Standard Challenge and Super Qualifier events held from December 13, 2022 through January 9, 2023. In addition, I used Top 8 decklists from three Standard events in Tokyo—the Premier RCQ, Area RCQ, and The Last Sun—as well as all MTG Melee decklists with net positive wins from the Cool Spot Year Finale and The Pizza Box: Standard Slice. I chose these events because they either provide an indirect path toward the Pro Tour or because they act as a barometer for the format.

To provide a metagame snapshot that combines popularity and performance, I assigned an archetype label to each deck and awarded a number of points equal to the deck's net wins, i.e., its number of match wins minus losses. For example, a deck that went 5–1 in the Swiss followed by a loss in the quarterfinals was assigned three points. The sum of these numbers for every archetype yields its record-weighted metagame share, which represents its share of total net wins. It may be interpreted as a winner's metagame that you can expect to see at the top tables.

Archetype Record-Weighted Metagame Share
1. Grixis Midrange 24.2% ↓↓
2. Azorius Soldiers 13.0% ↑↑
3. Esper Midrange 11.1% ↑↑
4. Mono-White Midrange 10.0%
5. Mono-Red Aggro 8.6%
6. Izzet Powerstones 6.4% ↑↑
7. Rakdos Midrange 4.3%
8. Mono-Blue Tempo 4.0%
9. Mardu Midrange 3.9%
10. Boros Midrange 2.1%
11. Mono-Black Aggro 1.8%
12. Esper Legends 1.5%
13. Azorius Midrange 1.3%
14. Mardu Angels 0.9%
15. Jeskai Powerstones 0.9%
16. Esper Control 0.7%
17. Naya Reanimator 0.6%
18. Other 4.5%

In this table, each archetype name hyperlinks to a well-performing, representative decklist, and the arrows represent the biggest changes compared to my metagame roundup from early December. The "Other" category, continuing the descending order, includes Boros Aggro, Mono-White Aggro, Jund Midrange, Jund Sacrifice, Mono-White Soldiers, Azorius Aggro, Izzet Tempo, Grixis Powerstones, Boros Reanimator, Naya Enchantments, Orzhov Midrange, Mono-White Angels, and more.

The most-played non-basic cards across all main decks and sideboards were Reckoner Bankbuster, Fable of the Mirror-Breaker, Abrade, Cut Down, Go for the Throat, Make Disappear, Bloodtithe Harvester, and Wedding Announcement. These are the defining staples of the format that you will face in a large variety of matchups. As these cards suggest, most competitive Standard decks are good-stuff midrange strategies.

The breakout metagame development over the past month is the emergence of Izzet Powerstones. This archetype, which I'll cover in more detail later, is capable of going over the top of Grixis Midrange, even though it struggles with aggro decks. This has led to a downtick in Grixis Midrange and an uptick in Azorius Soldiers. Izzet Powerstones has become the premier artifact-based deck in Standard, which has led to the disappearance of Grixis Sacrifice.

The Top 10 Standard Deck Archetypes

To take a closer look at the 10 archetypes with the highest record-weighted metagame share, I've used a decklist aggregation algorithm that takes into account the popularity and performance of individual card choices.

At 24.2% of the winner's metagame, Grixis Midrange continues its domination of Standard. The deck won last year's World Championship in the hands of Nathan Steuer, and its popularity has skyrocketed since then. Grixis has the best threats, interaction, and card advantage across blue, black, and red, and there are various ways to build it. But all versions aim to have higher individual card quality than opposing decks. You can control the early game with Make Disappear and Bloodtithe Harvester, pull ahead on card advantage with Fable of the Mirror-Breaker and Corpse Appraiser, and lock up the late game with Invoke Despair.

When playing with or against this deck, it's important to recognize the interplay between Make Disappear and Fable of the Mirror-Breaker. Fable of the Mirror-Breaker is one of the most powerful cards in Standard, and Make Disappear is one of the cleanest ways to answer it. When you can counter their turn-three Fable, then untap and resolve yours, then that's a great way to break serve. So when you're on the draw on turn two, consider passing with Make Disappear mana rather than casting Bloodtithe Harvester or Reckoner Bankbuster. And when you're on the play without a potent three-drop, don't waste Make Disappear on their two-drop. If you can destroy their turn-two play with Abrade and hold Make Disappear for a potential turn-three Fable, then that's usually better.

Azorius Soldiers, at 13.0% of the winner's metagame, has become the second-most popular archetype in The Brothers' War Standard. The deck has a great mana curve that can put a lot of pressure on your opponent right from the start. You could start with Recruitment Officer or Yotian Frontliner on turn one; Harbin, Vanguard Aviator or Valiant Veteran on turn two; and Skystrike Officer or Siege Veteran on turn three. Fortified Beachhead solidifies your mana consistency and provides inherent flood protection.

When playing against this deck, remember that they have various ways to give their Soldiers +1/+1 at instant speed. If they attack a 2/2 Soldier into your 2/3, then check if they can activate Fortified Beachhead or if there's Valiant Veteran in their graveyard. Another thing to keep in mind is that many recent Azorius Soldiers versions have slimmed down on three-drops like Brutal Cathar and In the Trenches and have added more instant-speed interaction like Slip Out the Back and Zephyr Sentinel. These can counter your spot removal spells, so watch out for that.

Esper Midrange, at 11.1% of the record-weighted metagame, has the best threats and interaction across blue, black, and white. The curve of turn two Dennick, Pious Apprentice; turn three Raffine, Scheming Seer; turn four Sheoldred, the Apocalypse can be deadly—you'll be attacking with an enormous lifelinker while getting multiple Sheoldred triggers! Even though the matchup against Grixis Midrange tends to be slightly unfavorable, the individual card quality in the Esper shard remains amazing and is capable of overpowering many Standard decks.

When playing against Esper Midrange, don't forget about the static ability on Dennick, Pious Apprentice. It will stop the triggered abilities on Corpse Appraiser, Graveyard Trespasser, Extraction Specialist, Bloodthirsty Adversary, and so on. To extract maximum value from these creatures, destroy Dennick beforehand. Dennick also shuts down the reflexive trigger from the second chapter of The Restoration of Eiganjo, so don't discard when your opponent controls Dennick.

Mono-White Midrange, at 10.0% of the winner's metagame, is arguably the most consistent midrange deck in Standard, as it sticks to a single color and has two-mana creatures that help find land drops. The deck has access to Wedding Announcement and The Wandering Emperor—two of the most powerful cards in Standard—and the mono-color mana base allows you to exploit Lay Down Arms from The Brothers' War. The versions that have been most successful in recent weeks have replaced Anointed Peacekeeper by Loran of the Third Path, which effectively trades for Fable of the Mirror-Breaker or Wedding Announcement, and they have favored Roadside Reliquary over Mishra's Foundry.

When playing against this deck, consider boarding out most of your spot removal spells. Cut Down has no juicy targets, as destroying Ambitious Farmhand, Spirited Companion, or Loran of the Third Path results in card disadvantage. Go for the Throat has very few good targets as well, as it cannot target Steel Seraph or Reckoner Bankbuster, and it merely removes a single shield counter from Sanctuary Warden. Soul Transfer is a great answer, though.

Mono-Red Aggro, at 8.6% of the record-weighted metagame, is a fast, aggressive deck that aims to take the opponent down to zero life as quickly as possible. While Mono-Red Aggro is mostly about haste creatures and burn spells, the prowess mechanic is important as well. To reliably trigger Monastery Swiftspear and Jaya, Fiery Negotiator's tokens, the deck uses a playset of Reckless Impulse. Feldon, Ronom Excavator and Atsushi, the Blazing Sky keep the cards flowing as well. By focusing on card advantage rather than single-mindedly aggressive creatures like Phoenix Chick, these latest incarnations of Mono-Red Aggro have decent staying power in a long game.

When playing against this deck, it's important to recognize that Mono-Red has a lot of burn spells that can target players. If you've stabilized at a dangerously low life total, consider exiling one of your own creatures with The Wandering Emperor or Lay Down Arms to ensure you won't lose to a topdecked Lightning Strike.

Izzet Powerstones is the new hotness in Standard, made possible by The Brothers' War. The game plan is to use Powerstones to ramp into Cityscape Leveler and Skitterbeam Battalion ahead of the curve. These eight-mana and nine-mana creatures can easily go over the top of midrange opponents. It's really hard for them to beat the curve of turn three Stern Lesson, turn four The Mightstone and Weakstone, and turn five Cityscape Leveler. Even if Cityscape Leveler gets countered, you still get to destroy a permanent and unearth it later, which means that Make Disappear is not a clean answer either. Overall, Izzet Powerstones seems well-positioned when midrange decks are dominating the tournaments.

When playing against this deck, you'll usually be at a disadvantage if the game goes long, so you'll want to quickly end the game before they can cast their heavy-hitters. However, keep in mind that they can sweep the board with Brotherhood's End. While you shouldn't let your foot off the gas completely, you should manage your sequencing and sizing with the 3-damage sweeper in mind. For example, use Siege Veteran to get a key threat to 4 toughness, and think twice before adding another tiny creature to the battlefield on the turn where your Fable of the Mirror-Breaker transforms.

Rakdos Midrange is basically Grixis Midrange without the blue splash. This results in a superior mana base, and the in-color replacements like Graveyard Trespasser and Duress are not that much worse than Corpse Appraiser and Make Disappear. However, the vast majority of Standard players believe that swapping out several basic Swamp and Mountain for Shipwreck Marsh and Shivan Reef is a small cost that is worth paying to gain access to the powerful blue options. Accordingly, Rakdos Midrange remains a fringe option.

Mono-Blue Tempo contains an enormous amount of instant and sorcery spells to boost Haughty Djinn and reduce Tolarian Terror's cost. Spells like Fading Hope and Slip Out the Back provide mana-efficient ways to net a temporary battlefield advantage, which is what a tempo strategy is all about. The deck clings to a large number of basic Islands to refill with Thirst for Discovery and Flow of Knowledge.

When playing against this deck, keep jamming your creatures into open mana because they don't have that many ways to counter them, and even if they do, it means they can't spend their mana on Impulse or Thirst for Discovery. When it comes to interactive spells, however, remember that they have Spell Pierce, Negate, and Slip Out the Back to protect their creatures, which means that tapping out for a removal spell might play right into their cards. While every situation is different, you may be better off by spending your mana on creatures and entering a damage race instead.

Mardu Midrange has access to both Wedding Announcement and Fable of the Mirror-Breaker, which is appealing even if Mardu doesn't have a tri-land. The color combination also unlocks the full power of Archangel of Wrath. Due to the high density of powerful cards available in the Mardu colors, there's a high degree of customizability to the archetype, and every version can look different.

When playing against this deck, be aware of the capabilities of Fable of the Mirror-Breaker. Once it transforms into Reflection of Kiki-Jiki, it can copy Bloodtithe Harvester to effectively create a removal effect, but they can't pay the kicker cost on a copied Archangel of Wrath and they can't copy Loran of the Third Path because it's legendary. Another interaction to keep in mind is when they've cast Fable via Serra Paragon: When they exile it to the third chapter, it returns as a new permanent with no memory, which means that it loses the exile clause and it can be replayed after it dies.

Boros Midrange is basically Mono-White Midrange splashing for Fable of the Mirror-Breaker. This provides access to one of the most powerful cards in the format, but it comes at the cost of a weaker mana base. While the number of sources of each color is perfectly fine, you're making substantial sacrifices to Lay Down Arms. Sundown Pass and Mountain don't power up the sorcery, while Jetmir's Garden and Sacred Peaks can get in the way of smooth curve-outs. Due to these issues, Boros Midrange remains a fringe option.

Looking Ahead

While I covered the top ten deck archetypes in Standard, many other strategies are competitive viable as well, and the metagame keeps on developing. Nevertheless, it's always good to be aware of the Decks to Beat at the moment, as this knowledge helps you enter a Standard RCQ with confidence. Pick your favorite deck or construct your own, then set out for battle!

In the coming weeks, other Constructed formats are on the docket as well. This weekend, January 14-15, competitive play is kicking off with a bang, as the weekend features several large tabletop events where players may earn Regional Championship invites, reunite with fellow competitors, or reach impressive new accomplishments:

I'm looking forward to dive into Modern next week, especially when the 8-player Magic Online Champions Showcase on January 21 will also feature the format. I'm excited to see what competitive Magic will have in store for us in 2023!

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