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Metagame Mentor: The Best Standard Decks Before Wilds of Eldraine

August 31, 2023
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 month, I'm taking you on a grand tour of Constructed formats. After covering Pioneer, Modern, and Legacy in previous articles, it's time to dive into Standard. Today, I'll provide a Standard metagame snapshot and highlight the most exciting additions from Wilds of Eldraine.

Standard Metagame Update

Standard is a 60-card format that currently uses expansion sets from Innistrad: Midnight Hunt forward. As announced in the May 7, 2023 article entitled "Revitalizing Standard" sets will rotate out every three years rather than every two years, starting with the current Standard environment. This means that with the release of Wilds of Eldraine, there will be no Standard rotation for this year only. In other words, Innistrad: Midnight Hunt, Innistrad: Crimson Vow, Kamigawa: Neon Dynasty, and Streets of New Capenna will remain legal until Fall 2024.

As a result, the current Standard metagame lays down the groundwork for the post-Wilds of Eldraine environment. This format will be featured in less than a month at World Championship XXIX, the most prestigious event of the year. It's been several months since Standard was featured on the big stage: The last premier Standard events (Pro Tour March of the Machine and Arena Championship 3) were held in May, after which Fable of the Mirror-Breaker, Invoke Despair, and Reckoner Bankbuster were banned.

So what happened since then?

To understand this, I analyzed over 800 decklists from competitive events over the past two months. I gathered all available Magic Online decklists from scheduled Standard events held in June and August, and I added all MTG Melee decklists from the July Pizza Box Open, August Pizza Box Open, and the VML Championship 2023 where Heathe Butler and Owa Hughes earned Pro Tour invites. Combining popularity and performance, I awarded a number of points to each deck equal to its number of match wins minus losses. Each archetype's resulting share of total net wins can be interpreted as its share of the winner's metagame.

Archetype Winner's Metagame Share
1. Dimir Midrange 26.5%
2. Esper Control 14.0%
3. Mono-Black Midrange 11.8%
4. Domain Ramp 11.0%
5. Azorius Soldiers 6.7%
6. Selesnya Enchantments 4.6%
7. Azorius Midrange 4.1%
8. Esper Midrange 3.7%
9. Orzhov Midrange 3.4%
10. Mono-Red Aggro 3.2%
11. Mono-White Humans 2.0%
12. Mono-White Midrange 1.6%
13. Esper Legends 1.5%
14. Azorius Control 1.1%
15. Bant Toxic 0.8%
16. Rakdos Midrange 0.6%
17. Golgari Midrange 0.5%
18. Golgari Festival 0.5%
19. Jeskai Dragons 0.4%
20. Izzet Powerstones 0.4%
21. Rakdos Breach 0.3%
22. Rakdos Powerstones 0.3%
Other 1.0%

Black remains the dominant color in Standard: the most-played non-land cards across all main decks and sideboards were Cut Down; Make Disappear; Duress; Sheoldred, the Apocalypse; and Go for the Throat. These format staples have seen a lot of play over the past year, but the bans have forced them to relocate: while Rakdos Midrange and Grixis Midrange dominated the metagame at Pro Tour March of the Machine and Arena Championship 3, now Dimir Midrange, Esper Control, and Mono-Black Midrange are the decks to beat in post-ban Standard.

The Top 10 Standard Decks

Let's take a closer look at the ten most prominent Standard archetypes. For this, I've used a decklist aggregation algorithm that considers the popularity and performance of individual card choices. Along the way, I'll highlight Wilds of Eldraine cards that have stood out to me so far. The new set is brimming with potential, offering the chance for brand new adventures.

At 26.5% of the winner's metagame, the newly spawned Dimir Midrange archetype is the deck to beat in Standard right now. It can be considered the spiritual heir to Rakdos Midrange, embracing countermagic and flash threats instead of Fable of the Mirror-Breaker. Dimir Midrange combines the most efficient creatures, planeswalkers, and instant-speed interaction available in its colors, giving it a well-rounded game against everything.

Two open mana represents Evolved Sleeper activations, Go for the Throat, Make Disappear, and Faerie Mastermind. This provides reactivity and adaptability: You can answer your opponent's cards if you like, but if your opponent passes the turn in fear of a counterspell, then you can spend your mana on a proactive creature instead. In addition, the synergy between Faerie Mastermind's activated ability and Sheoldred, the Apocalypse can quickly win games as well.

From Wilds of Eldraine, I would consider a few copies of Virtue of Persistence, at least as a sideboard card against aggressive decks. As the original Throne of Eldraine taught us, adventure spells provide card advantage and flexibility, and Virtue of Persistence is good in all stages of the game. It's a decent removal spell in the early game that turns into a formidable enchantment in the late game, so I see potential.

It used to be difficult for control decks to answer Reckoner Bankbuster and Fable of the Mirror-Breaker with one-for-one removal spells. But now that they are gone, control is back!

Esper Control, at 14.0% of the winner's metagame, is a purely interactive deck that combines sweepers, spot removal, countermagic, and card draw. Winning is an afterthought, with not a single creature to be seen. Instead, every single card tries to counter, destroy, and take control of the game. Eventually, tokens from The Wandering Emperor, Sunfall, and/or Mirrex can close it out.

From Wilds of Eldraine, Horned Loch-Whale could be an option if control players would be interested to add a win condition while retaining the same density of reactive spells. However, I'm even more interested in Restless Fortress. Creature lands are awesome and have always seen a lot of play in Standard staples whenever they were legal. The new cycle of Restless lands protect against flooding, give you something to do with your mana in the late game, and fix your mana early on. I expect that any enemy-color deck benefits from adding a few Restless lands.

Mono-Black Midrange, at 11.8% of the winner's metagame, was the third-most prominent deck at the top tables of Standard tournaments over the past two months. Featuring proactive threats and interaction to clear the way, it's a well-rounded strategy. The pristine mono-color mana base allows you to cast Evolved Sleeper consistently on turn one and allows for the exploitation of Mishra's Foundry. As a result, Mono-Black Midrange can come out of the gates faster than most other midrange deck.

From Wilds of Eldraine, Gumdrop Poisoner and Lord Skitter, Sewer King provide additional options for the three-drop slot. I would also be interested in splashing a color, as the Restless lands provide an excellent alternative to Mishra's Foundry. For example, by adding Restless Cottage and a handful of green-black dual lands, you would gain access to a bigger creature land in the late game, and Mosswood Dreadknight could make for an appealing splash.

Domain Ramp was already strong before the bans, carrying David Olsen all the way to the Top 4 of Pro Tour March of the Machine. The deck uses Topiary Stomper and Invasion of Zendikar to ramp into a quick Atraxa, Grand Unifier. A domain mana base heavy on tri-lands enables Herd Migration and Leyline Binding, allowing the deck to go over the top of most midrange decks.

From Wilds of Eldraine, Up the Beanstalk may be a consideration because it can be triggered by Leyline Binding, and The Goose Mother can honk at any point of the game. But I'm even more excited about The Irencrag. The Irencrag is the first unconditional, untapped two-mana rock to be added to Standard in 13 years. The last ones were Worldwake's Everflowing Chalice (2010) and Tenth Edition's Mind Stone (2007). The triggered ability on The Irencrag is a "may" effect, so it's all upside. While you probably don't want four copies of the legend, it might replace the two copies of Courier's Briefcase. The Irencrag into Invasion of Zendikar enables Atraxa, Grand Unifier as early as turn four, which is pretty absurd.

Azorius Soldiers is the top aggro deck in Standard. The deck features a low mana curve, disruptive countermagic, and typal synergy. In particular, Valiant Veteran; Harbin, Vanguard Aviator; and Skystrike Officer are awesome payoffs for focusing on Soldiers. And in the late game, Zephyr Sentinel can return Knight-Errant of Eos, providing staying power and card advantage to overwhelm your opponent.

In Wilds of Eldraine, the only Soldiers are Frostbridge Guard, Icewrought Sentry, and Beluna's Gatekeeper. All of them look slightly underpowered for Standard, so Azorius Soldiers doesn't stand to gain much from the new set.

Filled to the brim with enchantment synergies, Selesnya Enchantments combines early-game pressure with late-game staying power. You can leverage Generous Visitor and Jukai Naturalist in the early game to get ahead in the damage race, and you can dominate the battlefield with Katilda, Dawnhart Martyr and Hallowed Haunting in the late game. Without Invoke Despair to punish enchantments, most opponents lack proper answers to this strategy.

From Wilds of Eldraine, I have my eye on some of the new Role cards, as they can boost Katilda, Dawnhart Martyr, count towards Hallowed Haunting, and encourage the return of Calix, Guided by Fate. In particular, Royal Treatment is a protection spell that leaves an enchantment around, which could be a good fit for the archetype. In addition, beyond the various Role cards, it may be worth to give The Huntsman's Redemption; Yenna, Redtooth Regent; Elvish Archivist; and/or Regal Bunnicorn a try. They may not effortlessly slot into current builds of Selesnya Enchantments, but they provide a multitude of options for new versions of the deck.

Azorius Midrange can be described as Mono-White Midrange with a blue splash, using Raffine's Tower and Obscura Storefront to support Lay Down Arms. Lay Down Arms is the most efficient removal spell in Standard, dealing with Sheoldred, the Apocalypse for a single mana and providing a significant payoff for staying close to mono-white. The blue splash mainly provides Disdainful Stroke and Negate from the sideboard.

From Wilds of Eldraine, I would consider adding The Irencrag. Its ability to ramp into The Wandering Emperor as early as turn three is unique. Moreover, Expel the Interlopers could turn into a one-sided sweeper if you can keep your 1/1s and your opponent loses all of their larger creatures. I'm not sure if it would be better than Sunfall or The Eternal Wanderer, but Azorius Midrange often takes a control role, and new options to support that angle always deserve consideration.

Esper Midrange puts together the most efficient creatures, planeswalkers, and instant-speed interactive spells available in its colors, giving it a well-rounded game against everything. Compared to Dimir Midrange, the main reasons to add white are Wedding Announcement and Raffine, Scheming Seer. These are among the best three-drops in the format, providing more power at the expense of a less consistent mana base.

From Wilds of Eldraine, I would be most excited to try out the aforementioned Virtue of Persistence and Restless Fortress.

While there are also versions with Lay Down Arms that are merely splashing black, Orzhov Midrange builds with a heavier black core have been slightly more successful over the past two months. By giving up Lay Down Arms, you gain Liliana of the Veil, Go for the Throat, and Cut Down—a formidable interactive package.

From Wilds of Eldraine, at the risk of sounding like a broken record, but I would be excited to try out the aforementioned Virtue of Persistence and Restless Fortress. It's wild how many top-tier decks in Standard are playing white and black nowadays!

Mono-Red Aggro is the tenth and final Standard archetype on today's highlight reel. It's a fast deck that uses haste creatures and burn spells to take the opponent down to zero life as quickly as possible. If left unopposed, it can easily win on turn four.

Wilds of Eldraine introduces multiple new tools for Mono-Red Aggro. Goddric, Cloaked Reveler is an awesome turn-three play, especially when a turn-one Kumano Faces Kakkazan exiles itself and returns to the battlefield on turn three, enabling celebration with no additional effort. Embereth Veteran—the first uncommon 2/1 for R with no downside in the history of Magic—helps Goddric stay in Dragon form, and the flexible Charming Scoundrel and evasive Redcap Gutter-Dweller can keep the celebration going as well. I would be excited to try out this new creature base.

In addition, Witchstalker Frenzy potentially answers Sheoldred, the Apocalypse for a single mana, and Virtue of Courage could enable a more burn-focused build. Furthermore, splashing a color using Restless Spire or Restless Bivouac is an interesting option as well, as Mishra's Foundry is no longer the only creature land in Standard. All in all, there are a lot of new toys to try out.

Happily Ever After

Standard is dominated by midrange strategies in a variety of colors, but aggro, ramp, and control strategies are viable as well. Moreover, Wilds of Eldraine offers many exciting new cards that may shake up the metagame. In addition to the potential additions for existing archetypes—and let's not forget Sleight of Hand for Mono-Blue Tempo—the new set also introduces various new mechanics, types, and build-arounds that could enable brand new decks.

For example, I'm excited to try a Dimir Faeries deck with Obyra, Dreaming Duelist and the various Faerie-matters cards. I'll also surely build a Temur Adventures deck headlined by Beluna Grandsquall and a Bargain deck that curves Spiteful Hexmage into Lord Skitter's Blessing. A Naya Tokens deck with Pollen-Shield Hare into Song of Totentanz (pronounced close to "toe-tuhn-taunce") also seems exciting. There are options aplenty, and new sets are always a delight for brewers.

Wilds of Eldraine also introduces new infinite combos into Standard. For example, Blossoming Tortoise, a creature land, and Draconic Destiny provide infinite power. Moreover, Agatha's Soul Cauldron, Sleep-Cursed Faerie, and Kami of Whispered Hopes generate infinite mana. Beseech the Mirror is a potent tutor effect that could help assemble some of these new combos, as well as existing ones like Ob Nixilis, Captive Kingpin and All Will Be One. I'm curious to see if anyone will be able to break this?

To get a first glimpse of the new cards, check out the Streamer Event today! From Thursday, August 31 at 10 a.m. PT (17:00 UTC) until Friday, September 1 at 10 a.m., your favorite Twitch and YouTube Magic streamers will be giving you the first look at Wilds of Eldraine in action.

In addition, mark your calendars for September 22–24: Magic World Championship XXIX will take place live at MagicCon: Las Vegas, featuring brand new Standard and Draft formats with Wilds of Eldraine!

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