Kumagoro42's picture
By: Kumagoro42, Gianluca Aicardi
Mar 30 2022 11:47am

 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!


 If the release of Crimson Vow had been relatively uneventful for Standard, the same didn't apply to Kamigawa: Neon Dynasty. But first of all, the quarter saw the return of the banhammer for the format, something that hadn't happened for the entirety of 2021. In fact, of the cards affected by the previous instance of a Standard banning, only Omnath, Locus of Creation is even still legal. On January 25, the four-colored Elemental was joined by three new offenders that have been frequent sights in Standard decks: game-closer Alrund's Epiphany and tempo-gainer Divide by Zero off the blue control lists, as well as Faceless Haven, the creature land of choice for all Snow-based aggro decks, particularly the Monowhite and Monogreen varieties.


 On top of that, the addition of Neon Dynasty to the pool didn't go unnoticed. It's rare that a new archetype based on a set's mechanic translate well in the competitive world (last time it happened was with the cycling deck of Ikoria, which didn't even really reached the top tiers of the meta), but the new, long-awaited iteration of Kamigawa managed to hit the spot in that regard. And not through the much-promoted cyberpunk Ninjas element, as the old Rogue deck didn't pick up any new steam from those; it was instead the more traditional, green-centered "enchantments matter" side of Kamigawa to prove robust enough to tackle the meta at any level. It actually took different forms, with Naya Runes being the most successful enchantment-based archetype, especially in Arena-friendly best-of-one Standard, where it immediately established itself as the new deck to beat.


 It's at its core a joint venture between Kaldheim's cantripping Runes and Neon Dynasty's extremely cheap enchantment payoffs, namely the ever-returning Kami of Transience and the one-drop Generous Visitor, which can grow any creature in the deck, not just itself. The combination of the list's two discounters, Runeforge Champion and Jukai Naturalist, make it possible for all Runes to be deployed for no cost, thus creating a storm-like level of explosiveness.


Most of the times, the Runes aren't even used to actually improve an attacker (an exception is Rune of Speed, which might just help close the game out of nowhere); since they can be placed on any permanent, it's safe to enchant a land with them, in order to prevent an opposing removal spell to eliminate the target in response and negate the redraw. The deck is all card advantage, all the time, with diggers like Commune with Spirits and Showdown of the Skalds to complete its amazing access to the library, further cementing the collaboration between the Viking set and the Kami set. The one card that doesn't hail from Kaldheim or Kamigawa is the centerpiece finisher Hallowed Haunting, in the role that in "enchantress" decks of the past (since the combo between Runes and discounters essentially amounts to an Argothian Enchantress effect) was filled by Sigil of the Empty Throne. Felidar Retreat covers the same function during faster matchups.


 Another approach to the theme is the more straightforward Selesnya Enchantments, which drops the runic angle and doubles down on the payoffs by including Katilda, Dawnhart Martyr and Michiko's Reign of Truth. Spirited Companion provides a little bit of the self-replacement that characterizes the Runes list, while the vacant room is filled with tactical boosters in enchantment form, like Ranger Class and Wedding Announcement.


 But if new decks emerged, most of the pre-Kamigawa dominators didn't disappear. In fact, Monowhite Aggro, which wasn't targeted too heavily by the last round of bans, is still one of the kings of this exceedingly varied Standard meta.


 It's mostly the exact same killer curve machine that it was before, with plenty of alternative creature lands to replace the void left by Faceless Haven's ban. What the list gained from Neon Dynasty is a new utility land that supplies extra removal capabilities without diluting the creature count, and a versatile curve-topper in the form of the excellent The Wandering Emperor.


 Some of the white lists have also started to experiment with hybridizations and splashes. The addition of red gives access to two efficient one-drops from Neon Dynasty, Rabbit Battery and Kumano Faces Kakkazan, considerably speeding up the deck's pace. Red also rewards with card advantage through Showdown of the Skalds (currently one of the best drawing engines in the format), and the brutal one-two finishing blow of Angelfire Ignition. It's becoming not unusual to also splash green for the sheer hitting power of Halana and Alena, Partners.


 On its part, Monogreen Aggro has tried not to lose too much relevance, although its heyday is slightly fading. The loss of Faceless Haven had minimal impact (which doesn't speak well for the soundness of that ban), since Lair of the Hydra was already a favorite. The Snow-Covered mana base is still present, for Sculptor of Winter and Blizzard Brawl purposes. The main tool the archetype acquired through Neon Dynasty is Invoke the Ancients, which replaced Wrenn and Seven as the list's new token-making curve-topper. What Wrenn did was to provide a couple of big tokens with reach for Esika's Chariot to copy. The two Ancients have more or less the same function; they're smaller than Wrenn's Treefolk but they're both online right away and can wear a more versatile set of keywords. More notably, they can be made as tramplers, which becomes relevant when their power is doubled by Unnatural Growth.


 The black decks are having a better time. The Orzhov Sacrifices lists running Deadly Dispute, Shambling Ghast and Eyetwitch are still going strong. Neon Dynasty gifted them with a new self-replacing piece of fodder in Spirited Companion, plus efficient removal like March of Wretched Sorrow and Invoke Despair, to complement the still undisputed sweeper supreme, The Meathook Massacre.


 White started as a splash in these lists, but gained traction thanks at first to the usefulness of dual-color removal spells like Vanishing Verse and Rite of Oblivion, then also the card-drawing from Welcoming Vampire and Wedding Announcement. The same suite is found in the wilder Orzhov Control variant. Both builds are enjoying an extraordinary amount of success at the end of the quarter.


 The two main versions of the Orzhov lists blend to a high extent. The main element that sets them apart is that those that often go under the label of Orzhov Midrange run the Deadly Dispute package, whereas Orhov Control lists are more centered around planeswalkers, with The Wandering Emperor as the new member of a superfriends team that already included Kaya the Inexorable, Lolth, Spider Queen, and Sorin the Mirthless. Kaito Shizuki is also sometimes present in brews that splash blue to turn into an Esper Control of sort.


 The list above features a surprisingly large number of creatures, borrowing Luminarch Aspirant from the aggro lists and Welcoming Vampire from the midrange lists. Other versions of the deck run only Spirited Companion in the creature department, relying entirely on the planeswalkers for value and on creature lands and creature Sagas like The Restoration of Eiganjo to get the job done. Those lists might double down on the sweepers, with the quick Doomskar and the potentially one-sided Farewell joining the fight, either starting from the main or the side. Even more variations involve quirky cards like Reckoner Bankbuster, Tribute to Horobi or Concealing Curtains; others run Liesa, Forgotten Archangel or Legion Angel. It's a very vivid archetype with wide room for experimentation.


 As for the former Epiphany decks, either Izzet- or Jeskai-flavored, they regrouped around their surviving stars: Lier, Disciple of the Drowned, Goldspan Dragon, Expressive Iteration, and Prismari Command. The power level of these cards is high enough for a deck built around their interactions to remain a top contender in the meta. Some lists tried to replace the Epiphany with the decidedly inferior Alchemist's Gambit. They also acquired some minor tools in Voltage Surge and March of Swirling Mist. A spicy variant incorporates the combo between Hinata, Dawn-Crowned and Magma Opus.


 Finally (although the Standard meta is really enormously diverse right now), a mention to Selesnya Ramp, the only major archetype that's attempting to cast big spells, now that Hullbreaker Horror has fallen out of favor. It already existed during Crimson Vow quarter, and it's losing ground to Selesnya builds that are more or less just Monowhite Aggro with Prosperous Innkeeper and Esika's Chariot, but it's nice to know there's still a place in the meta for ramping into things like Starnheim Unleashed and Storm the Festival.


 Currently 7 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), Innistrad: Crimson Vow (Fall 2.2), Kamigawa: Neon Dynasty (Winter 2).

 Next: 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: January 25, 2022

 Total banned cards: 4 (of which 1 from Zendikar Rising, 2 from Kaldheim, 1 from Strixhaven)

 See you one month after we'll have experienced Capenna's demonic neo-noir extravaganza!