What’s good, Spirit Squad!

Today we’re going to talk a bit about the Standard format, and that’s territory we haven’t touched in quite some time (actually… never, as far as articles go!). The Standard format is super-relevant right now for a few reasons, all of which I enjoy in the context of the Magic life.

  • Standard happens to be the current Regional Championship format.
  • Standard has moved to a 3-year rotation, rather than 2, so more people are playing it IRL for events like Store Championships, Game Day events, and Regional Championship Qualifiers (RCQs).
  • This month happens to contain quite a few free Standard cash events, like the ManaTraders series, the Pizza Box tournament, and a few others.

That’s a lot of reasons to play Standard. But why is this new?

I don’t know that “new” is the first word I’d use to describe a format that’s more than a decade old, but it is true that Standard feels like one of those “new-to-me” formats all over again. Think thrift shop vibes. You know all of the stuff that’s there has been there before but exploring it for the first time in years feels like a brand-new experience again. Everything from the meta to knowing your cards are legal for three years instead of two, even the cheap price tags on (most) Standard cards is nice.

Speaking of the meta, let’s see what actually IS happening in Standard these days:

As we can see, there’s quite a few good decks in Standard right now, with the largest share of the meta belonging to 5-Color Domain, Esper Midrange, and Rakdos Midrange. There’s also a fairly healthy mix of other decks in the top 10 as well, with the largest portion (by far) being Mid-Range piles that are looking to either outlast what Mono-Red is doing or win the game before 5-Color Domain gets to do its thing.

So the format is just mono-Midrange. I already lived through 2013, no thank you.

Thankfully, there isn’t much similarity between now and the Thragtusk + Restoration Angel Standard we all know and probably yawn at just thinking about. While the format certainly has its slugfests and gummed-up board states, there’s enough going on in Standard to the point where you can play games that feel a lot more like they have a clearly defined end goal than whatever passed for tournament matches 10 years ago.

Let’s take a look at the two most popular mid-range decks of the format, Esper and Rakdos. Esper Midrange can take any of three forms right now:

Each of these three shells does something different from the others, but still manages to retain the ability to get games over with, unlike the Bant Midrange shell mentioned above. While that deck got to live forever with Thragtusk and Restoration Angel, backed up by card advantage from stuff like Sphinx’s Revelation, actually ending games wasn’t anywhere near as easy. 2024 Standard doesn’t have this problem at all. Just resolving a Sheoldred, the Apocalypse and having her not die is enough to end games a good portion of the time.

Rakdos Midrange. Again. Big whoop. Yay. Every format has that.

Rakdos Midrange is a strategy that really does the exact same thing in every format: discard, removal, resolve a threat and end the game with it. In Standard, Pioneer, and Modern, this is done with some mixture of Fable of the Mirror-Breaker or Sheoldred, the Apocalypse, and this strategy even exists in Legacy and Vintage! It just happens to be Dimir instead of Rakdos, since… well, Force of Will (and Lorien Revealed). But they do still end the game with Sheoldred (or Lurrus of the Dream-Den in Vintage)!

Hm. So it’s either Mid-Range, Swiftspear, or Atraxa. Got it.

Not necessarily! Those are definitely the pillars of the format, but since the format has a clearly-defined set of roles, this means we can finally construct a real Control deck to combat what the format’s doing!

See, Control generally thrives when pilots actually know what to deal with. As a general rule, when there’s a brand-new format you want to be attacking. But when the format is a lot more clearly defined, you can make a real plan and construct your deck to deal with what the format is doing. Knowing this, here’s what I’ve come up with to answer Standard:

Azorius Control

by SpiritSquadMTG




A good-old Azorius Control deck! I think a deck like this is fairly well-positioned in Standard for a few reasons:

  • First, when you’re playing a format like Standard that has relatively weak cards when compared to eternal formats, you should probably play the cards that are good enough to see play in eternal formats. Monastery Swiftspear, Sheoldred, the Apocalypse, and Atraxa, Grand Unifier fit this bill… but so does The Wandering Emperor!
  • Next is the benefit you get from being outside of the typical “rock-paper-scissors” format. Right now, the way I would like to battle Monastery Swiftspear and Sheoldred, the Apocalypse is by going way above what they’re trying to do to end games. As for Atraxa, I’ll be dealing with her using the power of Blue cards to prevent her from becoming a problem (and realizing that, as a Control deck, almost every other card in that matchup is irrelevant to me).
  • Lastly, one of the biggest points I’ve made throughout my tenure here at The Mana Base is that you pick up a lot of percentage points by sticking with what you know. It’s a lot of why I win so much when playing Spirits. Control is an archetype I’ve played for years, across multiple formats, and I like the idea of playing something I’m familiar with when trying to win tournaments.

A real shocker. Dre playing Blue and White cards. Again.

At least for now, this is definitely how I plan on playing the Standard format for the foreseeable future. The deck does things I’m familiar with, it attacks the format in a way that ignores the Rock-Paper-Scissors dynamic, and it plays some very powerful individual cards. All things I like. Hopefully today’s article helps to explain a bit of what’s going on in Standard-land and leads you to finding the deck that clicks with you! That’ll be it for today, and I’ll see y’all on the next one!

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