After the results of Grand Prix Pittsburgh this weekend and Pro Tour Aether Revolt last weekend, the metagame appears to be very defined. Perhaps even more defined that we have ever seen it in the past few years. There appear to be 3 clear tier 1 strategies: Mardu Vehicles, B/G Constrictor, and Copycat Combo. While each of these strategies contain different, fairly unique archetypes within them, the 3 overall strategies undoubtedly define the makeup of the format. The top 32 decks at the Grand Prix were all (yes, every single one) one of these three decks, meaning that our Standard metagame is firmly defined until something drastic changes. In this article, I’ll be going over each strategy, it’s matchup against the two other main viable strategies, and then finally some conclusions about the format as a whole.
Let’s start with the deck that ended up dominating the Pro Tour top 8. Due to the new Pro Tour top 8 structure which disincentives intentional draws into top 8, there’s a round where all 8 players remain, then 6, then 4, then 2, then 1. Both of the non-Vehicles decks in the top 8 were in the bottom half of top 8 seeding, and had to play the first round of top 8. Both lost. As a result, all 6 of the remaining decks were Mardu Vehicles. Needless to say, going into Grand Prix Pittsburgh, Mardu Vehicles was the deck to beat.
As the tournament progressed, it was clear that Mardu Vehicles was not just a one-week wonder. It put up strong showings on camera throughout the weekend, but certainly did not look unstoppable. Here is the list that Bronson Gervasi piloted to a 2nd place finish, after barely sneaking into top 8 in the 8th seed.
Mardu Vehicles by Bronson Gervasi at Grand Prix Pittsburgh – 2nd
1 Needle Spires
1 Fatal Push
2 Release the Gremlins
2 Selfless Spirit
1 Skywhaler’s Shot
2 Chandra, Torch of Defiance
1 Archangel Avacyn
1 Skysovereign, Consul Flagship
After an incredible back-and-forth game 3 in the finals of Grand Prix Pittsburgh, Bronson had to settle for second place, but with his finish he showed that Mardu Vehicles is definitely here to stay. He was also not the only Mardu Vehicles player in top 8, as Matt Long was also able to pilot Heart of Kiran to a semifinals appearance. In this apparent three deck metagame that we live in, Mardu has one positive matchup, one negative matchup, and one 50/50 matchup (the mirror match).
Vs. B/G Constrictor
Against B/G Constrictor (all variants), Mardu Vehicles has a tough time overpowering the synergies that Winding Constrictor has with cards like Rishkar, Peema Renegade and Walking Ballista. Frequently, attacking on the ground is a no-go in this matchup, as B/G’s creatures tend to get larger than Mardu’s. In the air, Heart of Kiran is actually quite good, as their only “creature” that can block it well is Aethersphere Harvester. Mardu’s own copies of the 3/5 flying vehicle can also be extremely effective against B/G, as neither removal spell that every B/G list plays (Fatal Push and Grasp of Darkness) kill it. Killing a Harvester from B/G requires revolt for Fatal Push or another type of removal spell like To the Slaughter or Murder.
After sideboard, Mardu can transform itself into an odd Planeswalker Control deck that aims to play some sticky threats that stretch B/G’s removal as far as it goes. Gideon, Ally of Zendikar and Chandra, Torch of Defiance are both excellent in this strategy, and the sideboard copies of Fumigate further this strategy in games 2 and 3.
All in all, this matchup is under 50% for Mardu Vehicles, but not by as much as everyone thinks it is. Board control is crucial in this matchup, and Mardu’s copies of Unlicensed Disintegration are stretched. However, the right combination of evasive threats and removal sees Mardu win this matchup more than it is generally perceived.
Against the Copycat Combo variants, Mardu thrives. It has the perfect combination of pressure on the opposing life total and removal spells to be considered dominant in the matchup. Many pros at the Pro Tour identified Mardu Vehicles and Copycat variants as the best decks in the format, but decided that if other players came to the same conclusion, they wanted to be on the Mardu Vehicles side of the matchup. Both versions of Copycat, 4-Color and Jeskai Control, tend to want to avoid Mardu Vehicles, but the matchup isn’t necessarily unwinnable. Both have some very potent mainboard and sideboard cards that give them game against Vehicles. Not being completely reliant on the combo relieves some of the pressure that the deck would otherwise be under in this matchup.
Now let’s turn to the deck that most players who wanted to beat Mardu Vehicles picked up going into Grand Prix Pittsburgh. Following the Pro Tour, despite bowing out to Vehicles in the top 8, many people believed that B/G Constrictor was the logical answer to the Vehicles menace. However, the debate over optimal version continued up to and through GP Pittsburgh. The top 8 of the Grand Prix ended up featuring 5 copies of this deck, making it the most successful deck of the tournament. However, the sub-archetype makeup tells an interesting story. Each of these 5 decks were anywhere between fairly different and drastically different. There seem to be 3 distinct sub-archetypes of B/G Constrictor: Energy, Midrange, and Delirium, with the breakdown of top 8 decks being 1, 2, and 2 respectively. The Energy deck has a powerful package of Greenbelt Rampager, Glint-Sleeve Siphoner, and Longtusk Cub. If you want to read more about this deck, check out my article from last week. The Midrange version plays Sylvan Advocate and Oath of Nissa for a more traditional “The Rock” strategy. The Delirium version plays Traverse the Ulvenwald as a powerful late-game option that doubles as a slightly weak Attune with Aether early, and also enjoys the powerful draws that Grim Flayer can provide. All in all, it’s not clear which sub-archetype of B/G Constrictor is the best, but each of them function in similar ways, so it’s not really bad practice to lump them together for the sake of examining the format.
It’s hard to say which version is best at this point in time, so let’s just put the winning list here and see how the format develops.
B/G Constrictor by Ryan Hare at Grand Prix Pittsburgh – 1st
Vs. Mardu Vehicles
Against Mardu Vehicles, as discussed above, B/G Constrictor is great at gumming up the board. As long as you can manage to have enough creatures in play to effectively have a copy of Moat, the deck can take care of any pesky copies of Heart of Kiran or Aethersphere Harvester fairly easily. If you can’t find the cards to pick those flyers off, it’s very reasonable to simply race the Mardu Vehicles deck. Walking Ballista is your best friend here, as many of Mardu’s best creatures are X-1’s, and when you are racing, Ballista is the best card on the board almost 100% of the time. After sideboard, Mardu Vehicles transforms into a Planeswalker Control deck like I talked about above. This strategy is very potent against B/G Constrictor, but I believe that this past weekend in Pittsburgh will be the most effective that strategy will ever get. B/G will adapt to include a few more copies of Ruinous Path or To the Slaughter to effectively answer this strategy out of Mardu. It’s possible that it’s fairly reasonable to board out a few copies of Fatal Push after sideboard, as the 1 mana removal spell is great in the matchup, but the rest of the deck can certainly pick up the slack if you need to jam in a few copies of more effective cards like To the Slaughter.
Against Copycat decks, however, B/G can struggle. Both variants have good game against Snake & Friends. The 4-Color version does a good job of going larger and presenting powerful synergies (or combos) that must be disrupted quickly. B/G’s removal is frequently stretched, and the planeswalkers specifically can give Copycat a big edge. The Jeskai Control version is perhaps even better against B/G. At its core, B/G Constrictor is looking to out-advantage the opponent on several fronts. Those fronts are board presence (Winding Constrictor + Rishkar, Peema Renagade), card advantage (Walking Ballista, Fatal Push, Grasp of Darkness), and mana advantage (Rishkar, Peema Renegade). Against Jeskai Copycat Control, however, it can’t truly out-advantage it on any of these three fronts. Jeskai doesn’t need a board presence to thrive, it has a more potent card advantage system in Glimmer of Genius and Torrential Gearhulk, and its mana is very infrequently an issue. Dan Fournier did the best of any Copycat player this weekend, making top 8 before being dispatched by B/G Energy Constrictor. Despite this result, I would still consider Copycat to have a favorable matchup, and it’s unfortunate that the cameras didn’t catch the match, so we can’t see how it played out.
A lot has been written here on Spellsnare.com by me and other writers about the powerful two-card combo that the release of Aether Revolt enabled, so I’ll keep the summaries of the deck brief, as the introductory information is readily available here and here. It was quickly discovered that there were two very viable shells for this deck, Control (Jeskai) and Value (4-Color). As mentioned above, one player, Dan Fournier, was able to top 8 with Jeskai Copycat Control, but the top 32 was littered with Saheeli Rai and her cats. The Jeskai Copycat Control version that Dan played aims to control the board and out-card advantage the opponent until the combo can either be protected or ignored completely in favor of Torrential Gearhulk beatdown. The 4-Color version does a fantastic job of presenting difficult threats to answer to the opponent, and it fully takes advantage of Felidar Guardian and Saheeli Rai as individual cards. One Oath of Nissa and enough mana can easily end the game through flicker effects, and cards like Rogue Refiner and Whirler Virtuoso are also excellent targets for Saheeli or her cat. Here is Dan Fournier’s list that he made top 8 with:
Jeskai Copycat Control by Dan Fournier at Grand Prix Pittsburgh – 6th
Vs. Mardu Vehicles
As I mentioned above, many pros decided that Copycat and Vehicles were the two best decks going into the Pro Tour, but (as clearly seen by the makeup of the Pro Tour top 8) most of them chose to be on the Mardu Vehicles side of that matchup. Pressure + disruption is the time-tested strategy against combo decks, and this matchup is no different. Sneaking in spells under counters is fairly easy for Mardu and the reach that it has is excellent at closing the game out. Normally, one would think that more copies of Fumigate would be a good answer to a deck that floods the board with creatures. However, Vehicles has enough, you guessed it, vehicles that it can recover from a Fumigate with little effort at all. The board wipe is also particularly poor against Gideon, Ally of Zendikar, which we’re seeing Vehicles play more and more of. Some changes to Jeskai Copycat Control and a few impactful sideboard cards allow the deck to be more competitive in the matchup, but I would certainly not call it 50/50.
Vs. B/G Constrictor
Against B/G Constrictor, however, all of the mediocre cards against Vehicles shine. B/G’s deck makeup encourages it play creatures to the board to gain an advantage against opposing creatures, but those cards become ineffectual quickly when the opponent’s cards are just removal spells and draw spells. That’s not really an axis that B/G can fight on well. Additionally, the threat of the Copycat combo itself is great in this matchup, as it forces B/G to not use the mana advantage that cards like Rishkar, Peema Renegade provide it. Glimmer of Genius into Torrential Gearhulk is game over almost every single time against Snake and Company. The 4-Color Copycat variant also provides a similar engine of card advantage that B/G Constrictor struggles to keep up with, so I would consider this matchup positive for either variant of Copycat.
In summary, Mardu Vehicles is positive against Copycat but negative against B/G, B/G is positive against Vehicles but negative against Copycat, and Copycat is positive against B/G but negative against Vehicles. Rock, paper, scissors baby! Woohoo! It seems like we may have a healthy(-ish) format on our hands. Of course, a rock, paper, scissors format is not ideal, and I’m sure we all hope to see more archetypes than these three put up good results in the future of this format, but it sure does feel good to see some checks and balances in this format, especially after the exaggerated dominance of Mardu Vehicles at the Pro Tour.
Moving forward, expect to see these three decks and only these three decks for a little while, while people continue to innovate new archetypes that can maybe, just maybe, be good against 2 of these 3 pillars. We’ll just have to wait and see what that ends up being.
Until next time.
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