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By: Kumagoro42, Gianluca Aicardi
Jun 20 2023 11:17am
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 Hello and welcome back to the State of Standard, our periodical rendez-vous with all things Standard, to make sure you know everything that's happening in the format. Since, for the time being, the premier releases have switched to a September-November-February-April format, the updates will be linked to the sets rather than the seasons of the Northern Hemisphere.

 The series archive is here.
 Let's start a new ride!


 THE CURRENT META

 Standard has been revolutionized! This Spring has seen quite the radical change for good ole Type 2 , both to the current meta as well as the structure of the format itself. It all stemmed from a concern on Wizards of the Coast's part: paper Standard is kind of a dying format. Or, to put it less dramatically, it's far from being the flagship format it once used to be. After all, it's been conveyed many times that paper Magic is still mostly played as "cards I own", followed by Limited and Commander. These three modes of play reportedly amount to an overwhelming percentage (perhaps even more than 90%) of all the tabletop Magic games that take place worldwide. Regardless of the actual figures, all the 60-card official Constructed formats feel at the tail-end in the ranking of what's played today, and it's safe to think that, outside of Arena, Standard is only more popular than prohibitively expensive, hardcore formats like Legacy and Vintage.

 

 So here comes an allegedly multi-step plan to "revitalize Standard". Step 1 is already very controversial: from now on, Standard sets will stay in the format for three years rather than two. And that's effective immediately, which means the upcoming release of Wilds of Eldraine in September will NOT trigger a rotation. Innistrad: Midnight Hunt, Innistrad: Crimson Vow, Kamigawa: Neon Dynasty, and Streets of New Capenna will remain legal until fall of 2024. The announcement contains some contradictory statements. Apparently, stores have complained that paper Standard play has died out, while their customers mostly play Commander, Modern, and Pioneer. And first of all, why should the stores care what their customers are playing, as long as they keep spending their money in Magic products? And how is it suprising that Commander, Modern and Pioneer are booming, considering Wizards of the Coast's enormous commitment to push those very formats with a plethora of dedicated releases?

  

 They keep talking of how Standard is important for the health of the game, while also communicating how much the game is enjoying an unprecedented success. It's like, we don't want this era of peak Magic to not include Standard as well? It's hard to grasp what the concern is here, exactly, aside from some understandable affection for one of the older ways of playing Magic. This first phase of intervention has also been received with some skepticism. The stated goals, as exposed in the announcement, are: 1. Have Standard cards remain in the format for longer, and 2. Allow the designers to better work with themes and mechanics across sets, now that blocks aren't a thing anymore. Notably, point 2 isn't going to be perceptible right away, since they admitted that the sets that should have been rotating come September weren't designed to share Standard with at least the two upcoming sets, Wilds of Eldraine and The Lost Caverns of Ixalan. Which raises even more questions as to why they chose to enact the change this year already, as opposed to starting 2024, when the design teams would have had a chance to take advantage of the new synergy. It's also unclear how a larger Standard will act as a replacement for the block system, considering that system was operating under a two-year Standard paradigm. Why not just design back to back sets that interact well with each other? Didn't they even already do that with the MDFC theme carrying over from Zendikar Rising to Kaldheim and Strixhaven? Was that considered a failure?

  

 The idea that archetypes will solidify more in Standard if they're given more time to stew is questionable in itself. The announcement namechecks toxic, for instance. What are the chances that a parasitic mechanic of that kind will find more blood if granted an extra year of Standard lifespan? We'll have to wait and see, I guess, but in the meantime, having any chase card's time in Standard extended will also mean it'll remain pricey on the secondary market for longer, which will hurt budget players of other formats. Not to mention what feels like probably the worst misjudgment in this whole deal: if a power card is allowed to stay around, it sets the bar higher for similar cards to be played in its place, as they'll have to be more efficient of the current best spells in order to earn a spot in the top decks. And that's true of strategies and mechanics as well. Plus, isn't Standard everchanging feel its signature strength, if not its very raison d'être? Why should we want to "stabilize" Standard? How can it become "fresher" by being prevented from changing at a reasonably quick pace?

  

 Speaking of which, they at least immediately addressed the issue of keeping for another year in the meta some of the current format breakers from the sets that were expected to rotate. This obvious consideration led to the ban of three Kamigawa: Neon Dynasty powerhouses: Fable of the Mirror-Breaker, Invoke Despair, and Reckoner Bankbuster. This was just a first taste, though, as the May 29 banned and restricted announcement also revealed that from now on, there will only be one yearly appointment for bannings, plus an emergency window of about three weeks after every set (the third Monday post release, to be precise). The 2023 "Banning Day" is set for August 7, so we can expect to see more cards leave Standard at that point. It'll be either that, or hold our peace and be prepared for another 15 months of Bloodtithe Harvester and Wedding Announcement.

 But enough of that and let's see what Standard has looked like after the release of beloved event set March of the Machine (and, to a lesser extent, its novel micro set companion March of the Machine: The Aftermath). For one thing, on May 5-7, during MagicCon: Minneapolis, we had Pro Tour March of the Machine. The meta was roughly the same as we discussed after Phyrexia: All Will Be One: Rakdos Midrange, Grixis Midrange, Esper Legends, Atraxa Reanimator.

    

 Esper Legends has gained Rona, Herald of the Invasion from March of the Machine, but it still has lost steam, alongside Monowhite Midrange, due to the printing of Lithomantic Barrage, which is able to kill Raffine, Scheming Seer and The Wandering Emperor in one fell swoop, for one mana investment, underneath countermagic. Talk about a hoser. No wonder it ended up being the most played new card at the Pro Tour with a whopping 364 copies out of 252 decks, despite being a natural sideboard denizen.

 The Pro Tour was ultimately won by reigning World Champion Nathan Steuer with a very typical Rakdos list that included full playsets of all three soon-to-be-banned cards, and only a couple of maindeck Chandra, Hope's Beacon as post-MOM additions. The Top 8 decks saw five Rakdos builds among them, one of which, piloted by the runner-up Cain Rianhard, was of the Reanimator variety – which is mostly the same, except for a few copies of The Cruelty of Gix and some big targets, particularly the new reanimation star Etali, Primal Conqueror.

  

 Autumn Burchett reached the semi-finals running Orzhov Midrange with Sunfall and Breach the Multiverse, while white was represented also by Azorius Soldiers, using Invasion of Gobakhan as a replacement for Elite Spellbinder as well as the latest Player Spotlight card, Faerie Mastermind, depicting 2021 World Champion Yuta Takahashi (Steuer's own Spotlight is still to come).

   

 Most interesting list out of those Top 8 was Five-Color Ramp by the other semi-finalist, David Olsen. It also runs Etali as well as Atraxa, Grand Unifier as payoffs, but it doesn't plan to simply reanimate them, it actually manages to hardcast its haymakers by ramping out all that mana of different colors. The main engine to do that is chaining a turn-three Topiary Stomper into a turn-four Invasion of Zendikar, which allows the Stomper to attack the battle immediately (provided we didn't miss any land drop), and that gives us nine mana of any color by turn five. And it's essentially a domain deck, so Leyline Binding is a logical inclusion.

 

 A few other combos engendered by March of the Machine didn't translate into competitive Standard longterm. Among these, the high variance/high reward interaction of Hidetsugu and Kairi with Explosive Singularity, capable of the fabled 20-damage insta-kill; and the more practical convenience of having the activations of the Incubator tokens created by Chrome Host Seedshark (a card that feels like it should have found a successful home by now, but didn't) discounted down to zero by Tezzeret, Betrayer of Flesh, as well as the 4/4 token generated by the casting of Tezzeret himself permanently turned into a 8/8 by his second ability.

   

 A deck that was underepresented at the Pro Tour but is enjoying a high win rate at the moment is Monored Aggro. And if seeing Play with Fire alongside Nahiri's Warcrafting already feels weird, prepare for another year and a half of that feeling. In fact, get ready to see it increase more and more.


 THE STANDARD LEGALITY

 Currently 9 sets out of 13:

  1. Innistrad: Midnight Hunt (Fall 1.1)
  2. Innistrad: Crimson Vow (Fall 1.2)
  3. Kamigawa: Neon Dynasty (Winter 1)
  4. Streets of New Capenna (Spring 1)
  5. Dominaria United (Fall 2.1)
  6. The Brothers' War (Fall 2.2)
  7. Phyrexia: All Will Be One (Winter 2)
  8. March of the Machine (Spring 2.1)
  9. March of the Machine: The Aftermath (Spring 2.2)

 Next: 

  1. Wilds of Eldraine (Fall 3.1) will be released on September 8, 2023
  2. The Lost Caverns of Ixalan (Fall 3.2) will be released in November 2023

 THE STANDARD BAN LIST

 Last revised: May 29, 2023

 Total banned cards: 4 (1 from Innistrad: Midnight Hunt, 3 from Kamigawa: Neon Dynasty)


 See you after Standard will feel again like a fairy tale!