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Metagame Mentor: Murders at Karlov Manor Standard at MagicCon: Chicago

February 29, 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 past weekend, we closed the case on MagicCon: Chicago, where Seth Manfield ripped the Pro Tour trophy with the breakout Rakdos Vampires deck and Rei "ctfsoc" Zhang took down the $75K Standard Open with an innovative Sultai Ramp brew.

To support the current cycle of Regional Championship Qualifiers, today's article will focus on Standard, analyzing the lessons from Chicago and the impact of Murders at Karlov Manor on the format. I'll be back next week to cover the top Pioneer stories from the Pro Tour.

The Standard Metagame in Chicago

Standard is a rotating 60-card format that currently allows expansion sets from Innistrad: Midnight Hunt forward. It was the format of choice for several new competitive events at MagicCon: Chicago. The headliner was the $75K Standard Open, a massive multi-day event with a prize pool of $75,000, as well as eight invites to Pro Tour Thunder Junction. In addition, there was the Standard Cup, a smaller single-day event where the prizes included exclusive playmats and a coveted trophy, won by Sean Burke.

Combining both events, I analyzed 568 decks. For my breakdown, I set the archetypes myself, ignoring potentially inconsistent labels on Melee. For each archetype, I determined its raw metagame share and win rate in non-mirror, non-bye, non-draw matches. The results are shown in the following table, where each archetype name hyperlinks to a well-performing decklist close to its aggregate.

Archetype Percentage of Field Match Win Rate
1. Esper Midrange 15.5% 50.9%
2. Boros Convoke ↑↑ 13.0% 53.2%
3. Domain Ramp ↓↓ 11.3% 51.6%
4. Azorius Control ↑↑ 8.8% 54.9%
5. Dimir Midrange 5.6% 55.7%
6. Bant Toxic 4.9% 42.2%
7. Golgari Midrange 3.9% 50.0%
8. Mono-Red Aggro ↓↓ 3.7% 48.0%
9. Rakdos Midrange ↓↓ 3.3% 50.0%
10. Azorius Mentor 2.3% 47.0%
11. Four-Color Legends 1.9% 49.2%
12. Azorius Midrange 1.6% 56.5%
13. Gruul Aggro 1.6% 41.5%
14. Sultai Reanimator 1.2% 61.2%
15. Simic Artifacts 1.1% 50.0%
16. Esper Control 1.1% 42.9%
17. Boros Control 1.1% 51.2%
18. Rakdos Control ↓↓ 0.9% 48.3%
19. Dimir Reanimator 0.9% 52.8%
20. Orzhov Control 0.7% 52.2%
21. Azorius Soldiers ↓↓ 0.7% 16.7%
22. Other 15.0% 42.5%

The "Other" category included such deck archetypes as Grixis Hidetsugu and Kairi, Abzan Midrange, Boros Aggro, Jeskai Convoke, Sultai Cauldron, Esper Legends, Jund Midrange, Rakdos Sacrifice, Gruul Dinosaurs, Gruul Counters, Mono-Black Aggro, Poison Ivy, Sultai Midrange, Azorius Craft, Selesnya Toxic, Naya Counters, Jeskai Prowess, Bant Control, Selesnya Enchantments, Grixis Reanimator, Izzet Pirates, Sultai Ramp, Golgari Mill, Abzan Caves, Mono-Black Midrange, Azorius Convoke, and Mono-Blue Tempo, and more.

Compared to my last metagame snapshots from January 4 and January 11, which I provided when the RCQ cycle was just starting, the most important developments come from the release of Murders at Karlov Manor. After the new set provided Novice Inspector for Boros Convoke and No More Lies for Azorius Control, these two decks quickly rose in the ranks. The uptick of Boros Convoke came at the expense of Mono-Red Aggro and Azorius Soldiers, while the rise of Azorius Control led to the drop of Rakdos Control and Domain Ramp.

Looking over the win rates, considering the sample size, most archetypes were nearly indistinguishable from 50% against the field. Azorius Control and Dimir Midrange have a favorable matchup against Boros Convoke, leading to solid results overall, but it's hard to draw strong conclusions from the available data. I will say, however, that Bant Toxic underperformed significantly. Bant Toxic struggles against Boros Convoke, and it has less Domain Ramp to prey upon than last month. Moreover, many control decks have now added Temporary Lockdown to their main decks, which not only keeps Boros Convoke in check but also makes Bant Toxic poorly positioned.

The Most-Played Cards from Murders at Karlov Manor

Murders of Karlov Manor had a substantial impact on Standard. The following table reveals the 20 most-played new-to-Standard cards across the decklists registered for the two premier Standard tournaments at MagicCon: Chicago last weekend.

Card Name Total Copies Main Deck Sideboard
1. No More Lies 497 491 6
2. Novice Inspector 342 342 0
3. Case of the Gateway Express 250 247 3
4. Doorkeeper Thrull 178 30 148
5. Deduce 169 169 0
5. Warleader's Call 164 150 14
6. Cryptic Coat 162 85 77
7. Long Goodbye 136 57 79
8. Meticulous Archive 86 86 0
9. Lightning Helix 63 56 7
10. Fugitive Codebreaker 58 56 2
11. Underground Mortuary 57 57 0
12. Pick Your Poison 49 2 47
13. Undercity Sewers 44 44 0
14. Case of the Crimson Pulse 40 27 13
15. Lazav, Wearer of Faces 37 32 5
16. Sharp-Eyed Rookie 32 32 0
17. Assassin's Trophy 30 17 13
18. Deadly Cover-Up 29 15 14
19. Ezrim, Agency Chief 29 14 15
20. Shadowy Backstreet 26 25 1

Many of these cards slotted into existing top-tier archetypes that were already popular before the release of Murders at Karlov Manor. For example:

  • No More Lies was an upgrade over Make Disappear for Esper Midrange. The new Mana Leak was the most-played new card in Chicago, both in Pioneer and Standard.
  • Doorkeeper Thrull stops the triggers of Deep-Cavern Bat, Knight-Errant of Eos, and Atraxa, Grand Unifier. Most Esper Midrange players added Doorkeeper Thrull to their sideboard, and some even put it in their main deck, cutting Deep-Cavern Bat.
  • Cryptic Coat and Lazav, Wearer of Faces provided Dimir Midrange with grinding power against spot removal spells and potentially unblockable creatures to trigger Gix, Yawgmoth Praetor.
  • Long Goodbye, which was adopted in various black midrange decks, is the first instant-speed removal spell in Standard that singlehandedly kills Raffine, Scheming Seer; Gix, Yawgmoth Praetor; or Subterranean Schooner for two mana or less.
  • Fugitive Codebreaker and Case of the Crimson Pulse have provided Mono-Red Aggro with additional staying power and card draw in longer games, allowing them to dig for the final points of burn.
  • Underground Mortuary and Sharp-Eyed Rookie were added to various Golgari Midrange decks, supporting their creature suite and mana base.

Besides these additions to existing top-tier archetypes, Murders at Karlov Manor also provided essential support to elevate fringe archetypes and enable brand new strategies. Let's zoom in on the hottest, most innovative new decks and developments.

Sultai Ramp with Aftermath Analyst

Rei "cftsoc" Zhang is one of the best deck designers in the game right now, and I'm always excited to see their innovative combo decks. They've previously unveiled brews like Naya Fury, Jeskai Storm, RataBlade Combo, Archfiend Alteration, Spelunking Scapeshift, and Four-Color Legends, and they didn't disappoint this past weekend. Cftsoc won the $75K Standard Open with a deck that no one saw coming, earning an invite to Pro Tour Thunder Junction. I can't wait to see what Standard deck they'll bring there.

So, what does this Sultai Ramp deck do? The standout new card is Aftermath Analyst, which synergizes with all the New Capenna fetch lands, such as Obscura Storefront and Brokers Hideout. These fetch lands trigger landfall on Nissa, Resurgent Animist, which in turn grabs Aftermath Analyst as an Elf. In the mid-game, Aftermath Analyst or Splendid Reclamation provide an enormous mana boost when you return all those fetch lands to the battlefield. And once you've seen enough of your deck, there's even an infinite combo!

616066 535038 548591 Aftermath Analyst Obscura Storefront Brokers Hideout Obscura Storefront

To go infinite, you need Nissa, Resurgent Animist; Slogurk, the Overslime; and Takenuma, Abandoned Mire on the battlefield, along with Aftermath Analyst and 10 New Cappena fetch lands in the graveyard. In hand, you need Takenuma, which you channel to return Aftermath Analyst, kickstarting the loop. Cast and sacrifice Aftermath Analyst, returning all lands to the battlefield, triggering Nissa to add 11 mana. You lose one Takenuma to the legend rule and have to sacrifice all the New Capenna fetch lands, putting a bunch of counters on Slogurk. Return Slogurk to hand, returning Takenuma in the process. Recast Slogurk, channel Takenuma—you have now spent 11 mana—and loop from the start to mill your deck. Once you've milled all of your lands, each loop becomes mana-positive, allowing you to add infinite mana. Eventually, you use Takenuma to return Jace, the Perfected Mind several times to mill out your opponent. This is genius-level deck building.

Note that 68 cards is not a decklist registration error. It actually makes sense to me. You need a critical mass of New Capenna fetch lands to combo off, but you also need enough fetchable basic lands to play a normal game. To obtain the desired numbers, you have to go over 60. It reminds me of Hall of Famer Makihito Mihara, who made Top 8 at Grand Prix Kobe 2011 with a 64-card Scapeshift deck. It was the only way to have at least 7 Mountains for Scapeshift while retaining a sufficient ratio of blue-producing sources for Cryptic Command. Likewise, Hall of Famer Ben Rubin made Top 8 at Grand Prix Oakland 2016 with a 64-card special. His reasoning was that he needed more than 60 cards to fit in all the fetchable lands. Rei Zhang's reasoning was probably similar to these all-time greats, and their victory is one for the ages.

Boros Convoke with Novice Inspector

Moving to decks that are more easily grokkable, Boros Convoke is the latest hotness in Standard. It was a fringe 1% of the metagame before Murders at Karlov Manor, but after the addition of several new cards, it rose to a whopping 13% in Chicago. Jacob Powell went 10-4 with the deck shown above, which has many similarities to the Pioneer version. 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.

There are three key new cards. The most important one is Novice Inspector, which finally allows us to run enough good artifact generators for Gleeful Demolition in Standard. Warleader's Call is another nice pickup—a mashup of Impact Tremors and Glorious Anthem, providing awesome synergy with Gleeful Demolition and Resolute Reinforcements. Finally, Case of the Gateway Express is awesome way to exploit the go-wide strategy, answering Deep-Cavern Bat or Sheoldred, the Apocalypse while adding a useful +1/+0 boost. With these additions, Boros Convoke brought Pioneer power to Standard tournaments.

Azorius Control with No More Lies

Thanks to Murders at Karlov Manor, Azorius Control has reemerged as a top-tier deck in Standard. It was not really a thing in January, but after gaining No More Lies, Deduce, and Meticulous Archive, it has established itself as a prime contender. Azorius Control was 8.8% of the Standard metagame in Chicago. Isaac Sears finished in second place at the $75K Standard Open with the list shown above, earning an invite to Pro Tour Thunder Junction.

Thanks to the new additions, Azorius Control in Standard now finally has a solid suite of spot removal, countermagic, card draw, sweepers, and planeswalkers. The deck appears well-positioned because, just like in Pioneer, it has a good matchup against Boros Convoke. Four main deck copies of Temporary Lockdown keep the token-based strategy in check and Azorius Control on top.

Boros Control with Lightning Helix

For control players, Azorius wasn't the only color pair that gained a lot from Murders at Karlov Manor: The reprint of Lighting Helix also enabled Boros Control. As a non-blue deck, it lacks countermagic and card draw, but it makes up for that with life-gaining direct damage spells. These not only help you stay alive but also give the ability to transition into an aggro role in matchups where the six main deck sweepers aren't good. The list shown above, which might benefit from additional sideboard slots against Azorius Control, went 9-4-1 at the $75K Standard Open.

This deck uses Quintorius Kand in the fair way, as Spark Double is not legal in Standard. Casting Heartflame Duelist or Virtue of Loyalty from the adventure zone triggers the planeswalker, allowing you to slowly drain the opponent. When playing against this deck, you should recognize that your own life total will be more important than against Azorius Control.

Sultai Reanimator with Steamcore Scholar

Besides combo, control, and aggro, Murders at Karlov Manor also enabled new reanimator strategies. In this Sultai deck, the main goal is to fill up the graveyard for Squirming Emergence, which eventually returns Atraxa, Grand Unifier or Titan of Industry to the battlefield. If you have descended enough, you can return even haymakers like One with the Multiverse or Portal to Phyrexia.

While all of these cards were available before, Standard deck builders were lacking a critical mass of cards that fill up your graveyard while digging for Squirming Emergence. Murders of Karlov Manor introduces Steamcore Scholar, which draws two cards while discarding Atraxa, Grand Unifier. In addition, the surveil lands (Hedge Maze, Underground Mortuary, and Undercity Sewers) are at their best in a reanimator strategy because they support fathomless descent while fixing your mana. Using the list shown above, Brian Zeng finished in fourth place at the $75K Standard Open, earning an invite to Pro Tour Thunder Junction.

Dimir Reanimator with Reenact the Crime

Instead of splashing green for Squirming Emergence, how about keeping a pristine blue-black mana base to exploit Beseech the Mirror and Reenact the Crime? That's exactly what former Rivals League member Zachary Kiihne did. Although he merely went 5-3 in the $75K Standard Open, there's a lot of potential in this new Dimir Reanimator strategy, which couldn't exist before Murders at Karlov Manor introduced Reenact the Crime.

The deck's main game plan is to lead with Collector's Vault on turn two, or alternatively Matzalantli, the Great Door or The Modern Age on turn three. Any of these options allow you to discard Atraxa, Grand Unifier or Breach the Multiverse on turn four, with four mana and bargain fodder available. This means that you can cast Reenact the Crime, possibly via Beseech the Mirror, to cast a free copy of one of those powerful seven-drops. The dream is to hit Conspiracy Unraveler off Breach the Multiverse, then collect evidence to a produce an unbeatable game state.

Grixis Hidetsugu and Kairi with Push // Pull

The final new deck that I wanted to highlight, which Wentong Zhang piloted to a 9-5 record at the $75K Standard Open, exploits the new split card Push // Pull. The Push half is a two-mana removal spell, befitting for a midrange strategy. The Pull half can return two creatures for a turn, which is quite powerful when targeting two copies of Trumpeting Carnosaur. Returning Bloodtithe Harvester or Corpse Appraiser is decent as well, as they can provide useful value before they have to be sacrificed.

The real highlight is the interaction with Hidetsugu and Kairi. The mana value of Push // Pull is 8, which means that if you reveal Push // Pull when Hidetsugu and Kairi dies, then your opponent loses 8 life while you get to cast a game-winning Pull. You'll return Hidetsugu and Kairi and another creature to the battlefield, swing in to put your opponent in low single-digits range, and sacrifice Hidetsugu and Kairi at end of turn to land the finishing blow. Push // Pull usually wins the game in the same way that Explosive Singularity did, but it doubles as an effective removal spell on turn two, making the deck far more versatile.

Take On The Competition!

Murders at Karlov Manor has infused Standard with powerful new strategies, including the incredible Sultai Ramp deck that won the $75K Standard Open. With an abundance of competitively viable strategies, Standard features something for every play style. Pick your favorite deck or construct your own, then set out for battle at a Standard Showdown or Regional Championship Qualifier!

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