Skip to main content Download External Link Facebook Facebook Twitter Instagram Twitch Youtube Youtube Discord Left Arrow Right Arrow Search Lock Wreath icon-no-eye caret-down Add to Calendar download Arena copyText Info Close

Metagame Mentor: Everything You Need to Win Your Early 2024 Standard RCQ

January 04, 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. This weekend, the next cycle of Regional Championship Qualifiers will start, featuring Standard as the Constructed format for in-store events. 2024 will also bring back other enticing Standard events at various levels, including a weekly Standard play program at local WPN game stores.

To get you up to speed on Standard, today's article provides an overview of the format. I will provide a snapshot of the Magic Online metagame and walk you through the top 8 Standard archetypes right now. Let's dive in!

The Standard Metagame

Standard is a rotating 60-card format that currently allows expansion sets from Innistrad: Midnight Hunt forward. It's the most popular format on MTG Arena, and a selection of six-win Standard decklists in high Ranked play are published every week. While these publications can provide inspiration and show varied deckbuilding options, the underlying selection process impedes a determination of the most prominent decks.

Magic Online, however, does publish the full results of scheduled Standard tournaments. Since early December, all decklists from Magic Online Challenges have been published, rather than just the Top 32. Accordingly, I analyzed all 549 Magic Online decklists from scheduled Standard events held from December 8 through December 31. Now that all decklists are published, there's additional data for metagame analysis, and there are various ways to break it all down.

One option is to simply tally the starting metagame share for each archetype. If 8 players registered Mono-Red Aggro in a 100-player Magic Online event, then the starting metagame share for Mono-Red Aggro would be 8%. This is simple and insightful, and it's something we never had access to before. However, it only measures popularity, not performance. To understand performance, we could consider the Top 8 metagame. For example, if the Top 8 of this 100-player event would feature one Mono-Red Aggro deck, then its Top 8 metagame share would be 12.5%, representing an improvement over its starting metagame share.

My preferred metric is similar to the Top 8 metagame, though in a more fine-grained way: For each deck, I award a number of points equal to its estimated rectified number of net wins. "Net wins" represent the number of a deck's match wins minus losses, while "rectified" sets negative values to zero. So, a deck that went 6-1 in the Swiss, won the quarterfinals, and lost the semifinals gets 6 points. A deck that went 4-2-1 gets 2 points, and a deck that went 1-3-drop gets 0 points. Each archetype's share of total rectified net wins is then interpreted as its share of the winner's metagame, also known as record-weighted metagame.

A justification for my rectification approach is that Magic Online only publishes the total number of match points for each deck, not the round-by-round results. While it's reasonable to assume that players with positive net wins played all rounds, this is not the case for players with negative net wins: If someone ends up with 3 points, I don't know if they went 1-2-drop, 1-3-drop, or perhaps 0-6 with one bye. As a result, it's difficult to obtain reliable win rates or record weighting from the additionally published Magic Online decklists. However, a comparison between the starting metagame share and the winner's metagame share can be useful, as it can indicate which decks are underperforming or underperforming in the current metagame.

Archetype Starting Metagame Share Winner's Metagame Share
1. Domain Ramp 17.9% 27.2%
2. Esper Midrange 13.7% 12.0%
3. Rakdos Discover 8.9% 7.7%
4. Mono-Red Aggro 7.7% 6.1%
5. Golgari Midrange 6.6% 8.0%
6. Azorius Soldiers 6.6% 7.7%
7. Dimir Midrange 3.8% 3.1%
8. Orzhov Midrange 3.3% 3.1%
9. Rakdos Midrange 3.1% 3.1%
10. Azorius Tokens 2.9% 3.7%
11. Rakdos Control 2.9% 2.8%
12. Azorius Craft 2.6% 2.4%
13. Azorius Midrange 2.4% 1.9%
14. Bant Toxic 2.0% 4.0%
15. Esper Mentor 1.6% 2.1%
16. Invasion of Alara 1.3% 0.7%
17. Boros Convoke 1.3% 0.5%
18. Selesnya Enchantments 0.7% 0.9%
19. Boros Humans 0.7% 0.5%
20. Gruul Aggro 0.7% 0.0%
21. Jund Midrange 0.7% 0.2%
22. Boros Control 0.5% 0.5%
23. Dimir Bloodletter 0.4% 0.5%
23. Other 7.7% 1.6%

Over the past month, the Standard metagame on Magic Online featured dozens of different archetypes, including aggro, midrange, control, ramp, combo, and plenty of spice. The most notable development compared to my November metagame snapshot after the first weeks of The Lost Caverns of Ixalan Standard is that Domain Ramp and Esper Midrange have swapped places. Esper Midrange dominated in late November, but Domain Ramp has become the most prominent strategy in December. In addition, other decks like Golgari Midrange, Rakdos Discover, and Bant Toxic have ticked up, whereas the novel Azorius Midrange and Boros Humans decks turned out to be a flash in the pan.

Comparing the starting metagame share to the winner's metagame share in the table above, the performance of Domain Ramp stands out. It's not only the most popular deck—it's also the one with the best records. One way to interpret the numbers is that if you pick a random player in round 1, you're 17.9% to get a Domain Ramp player. But if you were to pick a random player from the top tables near the end of the tournament, in accordance with my weights, then you'd be 27.2% to get a Domain Ramp player. In other words, most of the Domain Ramp pilots were making deep runs, cementing Domain Ramp as the clear Deck to Beat at the start of the Standard RCQ cycle.

Deep-Cavern Bat 583687 540880 Make Disappear 574569

The most-played non-land cards across all main decks of all archetypes were Deep-Cavern Bat, Go for the Throat, Wedding Announcement, Make Disappear, and Cut Down. These are the defining staples of Standard that you will face in a large variety of matchups. Although Cut Down is a questionable main deck inclusion when Domain Ramp is dominant, the collection of five staples show that most competitive Standard decks revolve around efficient interaction and card advantage.

Deep-Cavern Bat, a relatively new addition from The Lost Caverns of Ixalan, is the most-played non-basic card overall, so the latest set has had a considerable impact on the format. Deep-Cavern Bat disrupts the opponent, gives you an edge in a damage race, and is simply one of the best turn-two plays available in Standard. It's particularly potent when it curves into beneficial triggers from Gix, Yawgmoth Praetor or Raffine, Scheming Seer, but it slots into every black midrange deck.

The Decks to Defeat

To take a closer look at the eight archetypes with the highest winner's metagame share in descending order, I've used a decklist aggregation algorithm that considers the popularity and performance of individual card choices.

As mentioned, Domain Ramp is the clear Deck to beat in Standard right now, with a dominating share of the top-table metagame. The deck uses Topiary Stomper and Invasion of Zendikar to ramp into a quick Atraxa, Grand Unifier or kicked Archangel of Wrath. A domain mana base heavy on tri-lands enables Herd Migration and Leyline Binding, allowing Domain Ramp to go over the top of opposing midrange decks. The deck's formidable late game power is amplified by Up the Beanstalk. However, all this comes with an exploitable weakness: the deck is slow. Due to its large number of tapped lands and expensive spells, it can stumble in the early turns. So, early aggression plus well-timed disruption can defeat them before they have a chance to cast all of their haymakers.

636994 602726 574483

Countermagic used to be one of the most effective ways to beat Domain Ramp, but after The Lost Caverns of Ixalan introduced Cavern of Souls, you can no longer rely on Disdainful Stroke or Make Disappear to counter their Angels. Nevertheless, pressuring with aggressive creatures and countering their Depopulate or Sunfall remains an effective strategy. An aggro deck or an aggressively minded midrange deck can also go under them with high-powered creatures, supported by discard and/or sweeper-proof threats. Between 4 Sunfall and 2 Depopulate in the aggregate Domain Ramp list, Domain Ramp players will have a sweeper by turn five over two-thirds of the time, so it's important to have a plan against that. Don't overcommit unnecessarily, and make sure that your deck features sweeper-proof threats such as Subterranean Schooner, Mishra's Foundry, Liliana of the Veil, or Urabrask's Forge. Flash creatures and haste creatures also help to lessen the impact of their sweepers. In any case, make sure to lower your curve so you can reliably go under them. For example, add Tenacious Underdog to your black midrange decks. And since you can't beat them in the late game, the risk associated with flooding is lower, so it's prudent to add a land to your deck. Small tweaks like these can go a long way to improve your matchup against Domain Ramp.

Another way to get an edge against Domain Ramp is by modifying your removal suite. Destroy Evil, Get Lost, Extract the Truth, and Tear Asunder are excellent against them, as they deal with Leyline Binding or Atraxa, Grand Unifier. Cut Down and Anoint with Affliction, on the other hand, are useless. In any case, they will always hold an edge if the game goes long, so you can't just try to answer their cards one-for-one. You need to pair a damage clock with disruption. Elesh Norn, Mother of Machines is a card to keep in mind as well. It stops the triggers on Archangel of Wrath, Atraxa, Grand Unifier, Topiary Stomper, Invasion of Zendikar, and Leyline Binding, effectively shutting down most of their deck. Faerie Mastermind is another card worth highlighting as it's one of the best answers to Up the Beanstalk. Ideas like these would drive my deck building for the current Standard.

All in all, if you want to win an RCQ, then you will probably have to beat Domain Ramp along the way. Based on the data I analyzed, the average Magic Online player may not have come equipped with the right tools to beat them in December. However, proper answers are available in Standard, so make sure you choose the right deck and tune it with the goal of beating Domain Ramp in mind.

The other deck to beat in Standard is Esper Midrange. Although it was surpassed by Domain Ramp in December, it held the number one spot in November, and we shouldn't forget that the finals of Magic World Championship XXIX featured two Esper decks as well. Esper Midrange puts together the best threats and interaction across blue, black, and white, giving it a well-rounded game against everything. The individual card quality is amazing, and Wedding Announcement and Raffine, Scheming Seer are among the best three-drops in the format.

While Esper Legends used to be more popular, the midrange version has overtaken it, especially after it gained Virtue of Loyalty, Deep-Cavern Bat, and Subterranean Schooner from recent sets. These cards provide enough non-legendary two-drops to curve into Raffine, reducing the need to focus on Plaza of Heroes. If you expect to face a lot of Esper Midrange in your local events, then make sure to include Lithomantic Barrage in your sideboard if possible. It's one of the best answers against them because it deals with Raffine, Scheming Seer for a single mana while dodging the ward tax.

Golgari Midrange is the third-most-prominent Standard deck according to the winner's metagame metric, at 8.0% of the top-table field. Powered by the multicolored goodness of Mosswood Dreadknight, Glissa Sunslayer, and Restless Cottage, it combines all of the best value cards in black and green. Newly added high-toughness creatures like Sentinel of the Nameless City and Preacher of the Schism give it an additional edge against low-to-the-ground aggro decks.

Like Esper Midrange, it adopted Deep-Cavern Bat from The Lost Caverns of Ixalan, shoring up the early game while disrupting the opponent in the process. The Bat is the real deal. With so much text on their creatures, it can be easy to forget about some of their static abilities, especially in tabletop Magic. Just remember that if Blossoming Tortoise is on the battlefield, then their Restless Cottage is a 5/5 and their Mishra's Foundry is a 3/3.

Rakdos Discover, at 7.7% of the winner's metagame, is the newest variation of Rakdos Midrange. It exploits Geological Appraiser and Trumpeting Carnosaur, but there's no immediate game-winning combo involving clone effects—they are simply used as fair value creatures to generate card advantage. That said, you can discard Trumpeting Carnosaur to get rid of an opposing threat early on and subsequently reanimate it on turn five with The Cruelty of Gix. This strategy is reminiscent of Rakdos Reanimator, albeit without Atraxa, Grand Unifier or Etali, Primal Conqueror to return from the graveyard. Nevertheless, if Trumpeting Carnosaur discovers Geological Appraiser, which in turn discovers Preacher of the Schism, then the dinosaur's impact is on par with one of those seven-drops.

Preacher of the Schism, by the way, is getting more and more popular, and it has replaced Graveyard Trespasser in most black decks. One thing to remember is that if life totals are tied, then Preacher of the Schism yields the benefit of both triggers. So if you play against Preacher of the Schism while life totals are equal at 20-20, look for opportunities to deal damage to yourself before your opponent declares Preacher of the Schism as an attacker. For example, you can tap your Underground River for colored mana even when you don't need to.

During and after World Championship XXIX, Azorius Soldiers established itself as the best aggro deck in Standard, now sitting at 7.7% of the winner's metagame. The deck features a low mana curve, countermagic, and typal synergy. While the deck no longer uses Skystrike Officer or Valiant Veteran, a minor Soldier theme with Zephyr Sentinel; Harbin, Vanguard Aviator; and Fortified Beachhead remains. The deck can also convoke Knight-Errant of Eos on turn three and return it with Zephyr Sentinel later, providing overwhelming staying power.

When playing against Azorius Soldiers, it's important to realize that they have access to a large variety of instant-speed spells. Two open mana can entail Zephyr Sentinel, Make Disappear, or Resolute Reinforcements. And three mana additionally unlocks Werefox Bodyguard and Tishana's Tidebinder. Tishana's Tidebinder can strip all abilities off Sheoldred, the Apocalypse, including deathtouch, or it can turn The Wandering Emperor into a brick. However, it doesn't affect enchantments, so while you can profitably counter a trigger from Up the Beanstalk the enchantment will still keep triggering afterwards.

Mono-Red Aggro, at 6.1% of the winner's metagame, is one of the most perennial archetypes in the history of Standard. The strategy uses haste creatures and burn spells to take the opponent down to zero life as quickly as possible. Left unopposed, it can easily win on turn four. Given that Domain Ramp has zero interactive spells costing less than four mana, Mono-Red Aggro may be well-positioned right now. If I were to build the deck, I would prefer Monastery Swiftspear over Phoenix Chick, and I would shave several Charming Scoundrel to make room for additional three-drops or four-drops, but the core of the deck is definitely solid.

When playing against this deck, it's important to recognize that Mono-Red has a lot of burn spells. If you've stabilized at a dangerously low life total, consider exiling one of your own creatures with The Wandering Emperor to ensure you won't lose to a topdecked Lightning Strike. And if you're in a close damage race, it's sometimes worth attacking with one fewer creature so that they cannot cast Witchstalker Frenzy during your turn. This way, your Sheoldred, the Apocalypse may live for another turn, which can be the difference between winning and losing.

Bant Toxic combines cheap toxic creatures and proliferate spells to give the opponent 10 poison counters as quickly as possible. The deck was only 2.0% of the starting metagame, but it rose to 4.0% of the winner's metagame. Small differences between the two numbers don't say much, but a doubling is indicative of a well-positioned strategy with good results.

Compared to the Selesnya Toxic decks that did well during the Standard Regional Championships in 2023, the addition of blue leads to a deck with fewer creatures but with various powerful instants. Notably, the combo of Venerated Rotpriest and March of Swirling Mist can produce lethal out of nowhere, as it can dish out a poison counter for every creature you control. Experimental Augury can help to assemble this combo while proliferating the infection in the process. When playing against this deck, you should keep in mind that they have several bounce spells—Fading Hope and Serum Snare—so don't leave a single blocker behind and expect that will be enough.

The final deck that you should know about before heading into your Standard RCQs is Azorius Tokens, at 3.7% of the winner's metagame. As an offshoot of Azorius Midrange, the strategy features the usual flash-based removal, countermagic, planeswalkers, and token creators, but the standout feature is token creators alongside Warden of the Inner Sky and Regal Bunnicorn.

The dream draw involves the curve of turn-two Regal Bunnicorn into turn-three Invasion of Segovia. This turns Regal Bunnicorn into a 4/4 that immediately defeats the battle, transforming it into a 3/3 that grants your noncreature spells convoke. This means that on turn four, you could tap all of your creatures to convoke Virtue of Loyalty, playing both the adventure and the enchantment. You then add +1/+1 counters to all of your creatures, untap them, and use them to convoke Protect the Negotiators when your opponent casts Sunfall. If this deck is firing on all cylinders, it will snowball out of control quickly.

Looking Ahead

Armed with the knowledge of the eight Standard decks to defeat (based on the Magic Online data from December) you can now enter an RCQ with confidence. However, I emphasize that many other strategies are competitively viable as well, and the Standard metagame keeps on developing. Pick your favorite deck or construct your own, then set out for battle!

The final cycle of RCQs of the 2023-24 season runs from January 6 through March 24, and it will award invitations to a Regional Championship later that 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, then MagicCon: Chicago features the format at the $75K Standard Open. And if you'd like to watch some high-level Standard, then this weekend's 2023 NRG Series Championship utilizes Standard, Pioneer, and Modern to determine a winner, with full coverage broadcast on Twitch.

The Standard metagame will surely continue to evolve during the upcoming RCQ cycle. Although my column will also cover the upcoming cycle of Modern Regional Championships, which kicks off on January 27 in Brazil and Europe, I look forward to returning with the latest Standard updates and an analysis of the spiciest decks to find success.

Share Article