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By: Kumagoro42, Gianluca Aicardi
Oct 14 2021 12:03pm

 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. They'll analyze the meta roughly one month after each set's release.

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


 Rotation happened and World Championship XXVII followed suit! After the showdown between Jean-Emmanuel Depraz's Gruul Dragons and Yūta Takahashi's Izzet Dragons, the Standard Year of the Dragon has been officially ignited! It's only fitting after Magic had its first Dungeons & Dragons crossover. Though there was a definite lack of dungeons at the World Championship. Not to mention, none of the legendaries from Strixhaven and Forgotten Realms, as even Galazeth Prismari lost its spot to the literal new kid on the block, Smoldering Egg.


 The last stretch of the previous Standard cycle ended last summer with the Sultai Ultimatum decks on top, but that's ancient history now. Emergent Ultimatum is no more, big ramp has fallen out of fashion for the time being, but two archetypes that emerged in that period have consolidated themselves in this new era. The major one to beat going into the World Championship was, surprisingly, Monogreen Aggro.


 Even reigning world champion Paulo Vitor Damo da Rosa was confident enough in the power of nature's beating to pick the deck as his horse to hopefully ride into a second, back-to-back title. The same goes for two high-profile U.S. players like Seth Manfield and Sam Pardee. Unfortunately, the green expedition ended up failing against the Dragons (their total wins in the Standard portion of the event amount to a mere six). But a caveat is necessary here: the World Championship is a peculiar field where a small number of pro players made deckbuilding choices based on calculated expectations and their attempts to guess each other's strategy. What transpired will surely influence the meta at large, but it's not guaranteed to reflect its composition in any accurate manner. This is to say, monogreen is still a beast of a deck, boasting te incredible two-three-four curve of Werewolf Pack Leader into Old-Growth Troll into Esika's Chariot. All of which are much more than simple beaters: they draw cards, return from the graveyard, and generate tokens, respectively. Add the versatility of Ranger Class, which confidently replaced The Great Henge as late-game advantage engine, while also being a body early on, and board advantage in the mi-game. Further add what's arguably the best green removal spells ever printed in Blizzard Brawl (it doesn't just kill stuff, it makes attacking easier); plus two different manlands to beat control with; plus the largest token to populate via Chariot thanks to Wrenn and Seven (the only planeswalker to see play at Worlds). And that's just to mention the highlights!


 To give an idea of the amount of options available in green right now, Seth Manfield's list ran two copies of Lair of the Hydra over Faceless Haven (better for the Troll, worse for the Brawl); Lotus Cobra over Sculptor of Winter as accelerator (and some lists even dispense with the mana dorks entirely); Briarbridge Tracker over Primal Adversary as additional three-drop with value; Toski, Bearer of Secrets over Froghemoth as sideboard alternative against control; Ashaya, Soul of the Wild over Tovolar's Huntmaster as over-the-top finisher; and even a maindeck copy of Unnatural Growth!


 The other most prominent beatdown deck of this era is Monowhite Aggro. It was the World Championship choice of a group of three Japanese players (Yoshihiko Ikawa, Rei Sato, and Noriyuki Mori, who tried a version incorporating blue for some tempo plays). It was supposed to have a good matchup agaisnt Epiphany decks, killing them quicker than they could combo off. Much like with Monogreen, though, this plan ultimately didn't bear fruits, with all white players closing the tournament with a negative Standard score. On top of not being ultimately fast enough to prevent the Epiphany gameplan from happening, Monowhite also tends to struggle against the larger creatures and superior late game of its green counterpart, even with Reidane slowing down opposing Snow builds.


 It's still a powerful, popular list that can disrupt the opponent's plan with Elite Spellbinder or boost its own board state via Luminarch Aspirant, Intrepid Adversary and Adeline. It can play a more control-oriented game after sideboarding in Skyclave Apparition and Brutal Cathar to complement an already strong removal suite composed by Fateful Absence and Portable Hole.


 But it's time to stop talking of the decks that disappointed and start looking into those that had a great run at the World Championship. Which means it's time to bring out the Dragons.


 Jean-Emmanuel Depraz was the only one who picked this color combination, which was officially branded Temur Treasures, but for my money it's just a Gruul list with a tiny splash of blue for two copies of Negate – turning them into Disdainful Stroke in the matchups featuring key expensive creatures. Minus the counterspells, the archetype is the direct descendant of a deck that was running around before rotation, originated the very moment the winning interaction between Jaspera Sentinel and Magda, Brazen Outlaw was recognized. Prosperous Innkeeper later becomes a natural addition to the team, creating a ramp structure that's able to power out early threats, namely two of the most powerful cards in the current format: Goldspan Dragon and Esika's Chariot. A pairing that puts Gruul Dragons at the ideal intersection between Izzet Dragons and Monogreen Aggro, taking the best from both worlds.


 There are many little interactions in the decks. The Chariot can copy Treasures or tap Magda without putting her in harm's way, just like the Sentinel does. The Dwarf can, in turn, either generate enough extra mana to cast a Dragon off the hand, or fetch it directly from the library. The creature token production synergizes with the Innkeeper, extending the life total of a considerable amount. Ranger Class is still there to act as glue, while Midnight Hunt added Moonveil Regent, providing extra card advantage in a deck that's bound to unload its entire hand in a few turns, and the hasty swings of Reckless Stormseeker, crucial against control. Red gives access to efficient removal in Dragon's Fire, which is essentially tribal-based, and Burning Hands, an excellent weapon against green.


 Piloting this deck, Depraz had the second best Standard run of the tournament, with a 6-2 score in the Constructed portion (including the tie-breaker playoff). It wasn't enough to stop the eventual winner, though. And guess what, more Dragons incoming!


 Much like its Gruul cousin, Izzet Dragons was another outlier in the field, only picked by one of the sixteen competitors: Japanese Yūta Takahashi, formerly nickamed "King of the Faeries" for his streak of successes with the titular tribe in Modern (now that he's world champion, his name might be associated with a different type of flyers). Once again, the archetype was not exactly new, as decks featuring Goldspan Dragon and Galazeth Prismari were performing well before rotation. In the updated build, the Strixhaven college founder is replaced by Smoldering Egg, which turns into a win condition all by itself, as soon as it hatches into the shock-throwing Ashmouth Dragon. Enabling the Egg is pretty easy here, since this is a spellslinging list at its core, with Memory Deluge doubling on the already plentiful card selection and card advantage from the outstanding Expressive Iteration – alone reason enough to be Izzet in this era. A flashed back Deluge or an Alrund's Epiphany will place enough counters on the Egg to transform it in a fell swoop. Victory usually ensues.


 Takahashi's perfect 10-0 run with the list is mostly due to his skills, as well as the exceptional moment of grace he experienced during the World Championship weekend, when he just couldn't be beaten in Constructed (on the other hand, he didn't win a single match in Limited, but it ended up not mattering at all). Izzet Dragons was actually on the verge of being obsolete by a reworked version that dropped the creatures entirely, reconfiguring itself as more of a combo build. It's what most of the participants brought to the World Championship (eight total, if we also count the four that were running a similar version that splashes black). That includes the only player who qualified for the final day without losing a single match, the Czech Ondřej Stráský.


 Izzet Epiphany focuses on the titular spells, trying to survive long enough to reach the point when it can copy an Epiphany with Galvanic Iteration – whose printing in Midnight Hunt is what incited the creation of this variant to begin with. By doing so, the Izzet player will create four Bird tokens and take two extra turns, during which the Birds can start chipping at the opponent's life total, with the potential help of Hall of Storm Giants. But most importantly, Memory Deluge and the other Iteration, that of the Expressive variety, can use the additional turns to dig for a second copy of Epiphany, which Galvanic can further duplicate by flashing back from the graveyard. The play pattern of the deck often culminates in a complete reversal of fortune, with the Epiphany player suddenly taking hold of the game and winning from there, never giving the opponent a chance to take another turn.


 Overall, Team Izzet Epiphany didn't do so well at the World Championship, with most of its representatives ending at the bottom of the final rankings. Stráský himself, after winning the fist four Standard matches and moving directly to Day 3 in virtue of his immacolate Limited run, lost all of his matches in the final brackets. A better result was achieved by the players who were running a Grixis version of the deck, with black only there to get access to Duress (great against other Epiphanies, but also against Chariot lists) and more efficient spot removal, even with Power Word Kill being a dead card against Dragons. The other primary differences between Izzet Epiphany and Grixis Epiphany is the latter's reliance on Lier, Disciple of the Drowned to recycle all the cheap interactive spells out of the graveyard. The Celestus was also their ramp spell of choice over Unexpected Windfall, with its cyclical looting (with some added lifegain) more appealing in the long game over the Windfall's one-shot rummaging.


 German comeback player Jan Merkel (whose last major accomplishment dated back to 2006) piloted one of the four identical Grixis decks to an impressive third place. It's possible Grixis Epiphany won't translate into the meta at large, as it appears on the surface to be just a way to play into the World Championship's expected meta, preying on traditional Epiphany's lists. The quasi-mirror matchup generally favored the black-splashing version, while Malevolent Hermit also proved to be a key card.


 Speaking of the meta at large, the World Championship didn't represent some of the most popular lists out there, especially Monoblack Control, Orzhov Midrange, and Selesnya Midrange. The meta is now bound to reshape, though, and the imminent release of Crimson Vow will determine which of these will thrive until February, and which will quietly disappear. This new and experimental schedule (set to be repeated next year with the one-two September-November release of Dominaria United and The Brothers' War) will likely cause a Standard meta still in flux during the last quarter of each year – and that's not necessarily a bad thing.



 Currently 5 sets out of 8: Zendikar Rising (Fall 1), Kaldheim (Winter 1), Strixhaven: School of Mages (Spring 1), Dungeons & Dragons: Adventures in the Forgotten Realms (Summer 1), Innistrad: Midnight Hunt (Fall 2.1). Standard is at its nadir!

 Next: Innistrad: Crimson Vow (Fall 2.2) will release on November 19, 2021; Kamigawa: Neon Dynasty (Winter 2) will release in February 2022; Streets of New Capenna (Spring 2) will release in April 2022, concluding the 2021-2022 cycle (Standard won't have a summer set in 2022).


 Last revised: October 12, 2020

 Total banned cards: 1 (from Zendikar Rising)

 See you one month after Innistrad's vampire wedding!