It has now been just about a week since M21 was released by WotC across its digital platforms, Arena and MTGO. And believe it or not, it looks like the winds of change might be blowing after all. Packed with powerful reprints (
Ugin, the Spirit Dragon,
Azusa, Lost but Seeking,
Solemn Simulacrum), new build-around cards (
Village Rites) and a new-yet-still-very-likely-busted version of Teferi in
Teferi, Master of Time, this edition of the Core set has felt promising during the entire spoiler season. So, even though it is very early, I wanted to have a look at the builds that have shown the most potential so far, from the updates to existing strategies down to the new archetypes - some being nicknamed after former Standard powerhouses even!
The Top Tier
This is the build that was probably hyped the most in terms of how many new cards it could host from Day One:
Ugin, the Spirit Dragon,
Jolrael, Mwonvuli Recluse,
Teferi, Master of Time and
Solemn Simulacrum all have a legitimate claim to some of the 75 slots in that build. Unsurprisingly, the best performing version of this archetype over the weekend was the one that managed to pack as many of those cards as possible: Michael "Lampalot" Bonde's MTGO build (initially Stephen "Crokeyz" Croke's), that claimed 3rd in the Saturday Standard Challenge.
In a non-Yorion build, each slot becomes more expensive so it is not that surprising to see the limited amount of copies of each M21 card, with only 10 cards out of the 75 (7 main, 3 side). At this point in the Standard season, this archetype is a well-oiled machine and did not require any pressing changes anyway, but Lampalot still managed to find room for 4
Teferi, Time Raveler along with 2
Teferi, Master of Time. And to maximize the benefits of all that additional card draw,
Jolrael, Mwonvuli Recluse is also part of the fun - because yes, we do live in a world where Green draws all the cards anyway. One of the nicer inclusions in the main deck is
Scavenging Ooze which gives some much needed breathing room and countermeasure against the Sacrifice decks (which are covered later on in this article).
During this past weekend's CFB Pro Showdown, Reid Duke was standing as the Final Boss of the tournament, facing the winner for a chance at doubling the gains of the entire Top 8 - and Duke picked a more control oriented version of Bant Ramp. Both versions have their merits, and deciding between them, or a hybrid version even, will most likely depend on how the metagame evolves over time. One thing for sure, this archetype is here to stay for as long as
Growth Spiral, Uro and T3feri are legal.
This build had a late resurgence in the weeks prior to M21 release thanks in part to Yuuki Ichikawa's performance at the helm of the
Bolas's Citadel variation. Then it was
Korvold, Fae-Cursed King that came back into the limelight, and it seems like a consensus has formed around the Dragon Noble as the better top-end. M21 looks to have brought its lot of new toys for the deck, as it is Jund Sacrifice that took home the hardware at the CFB Pro Showdown, piloted by Roque Bracamontes.
Here again, the M21 upgrades are minimal with just 2 copies each of
Solemn Simulacrum and
Village Rites, plus a bonus singleton
Fungal Rebirth which is a 3-for-1 of sorts in a Sacrifice build. Having another 1-mana, instant speed sacrifice outlet in
Village Rites is a welcome addition, and supplements
Trail of Crumbs very well in the card drawing department. Out of the sideboard,
Scavenging Ooze is nearly a must and can be used on your own graveyard if you are looking for lifegain and are low on Food;
Sparkhunter Masticore is an interesting choice too, as it provides an efficient solution to the likes of
Teferi, Time Raveler and
Narset, Parter of Veils, the latter of which getting in the way of the additional card draw from Rites and Korvold.
Arguably the best deck in the format prior to M21 release, Temur Reclamation is (for now) the list that has changed the least since the new Core set has become available. Zach Dubin finished in the Top 8 of the CFB Pro Showdown (one of two Temur Reclamation decks in that Top 8) and his only change from the stock list is swapping
Opt out in favor of
One of the only downsides to that idea is that there are now more incentives to keep the played copies in the graveyard, taking away from the Escape cost of
Uro, Titan of Nature's Wrath. Most times, I am expecting Uro to take precedence though, as it draws card on its own. Curiously there are no copies of
Scavenging Ooze in the Sideboard, which I would have expected considering the relevance of Sacrifice strategies. Another card I was expecting to show up in Temur Reclamation is
Rewind, which at first felt like a shoe-in; the line
Nightpack Ambusher feeling very strong on paper. However, the deck used to run
Frilled Mystic which already does just that in one card, and has since moved away from it - and for the better.
The Rising Stocks
Now this was a surprise: on the second weekend of Players Tour Online events, a few notable pros including Seth Manfield made a last minute switch to this new archetype - and it performed very well for them, with 3 players in the Top 32 (Ben Stark 7th, Seth Manfield 10th, Ben Dixon 30th). The deck has been picked up by many players since, including Jan-Moritz Merkel who Top 8'ed the CFB Pro Showdown with it.
Compared to the version that broke out at PT3, this list moved away from
Glass Casket in favor of the more permanent (yes, pun intended) solutions
Heartless Act and the reprinted
Grasp of Darkness. Grasp is also nice workaround when facing indestructible creatures like
Gideon Blackblade, the Humans fetched by the
Winota, Joiner of Forces triggers, or even Winota herself before attackers are declared. Merkel's take on the list is definitely interesting as he removes the more aggressive
Rotting Regisaur from the sideboard to add variety to his control arsenal post-board, but does add a full playset of
Basilica Bell-Haunt for some solid board presence on top of the very favorable ETB triggers (discard, gain 3 life) that can be included in the Yorion/Prince loops.
Another late bloomer in the pre-M21 Standard season, MonoGreen Monsters packs quite the punch on a near-perfect curve. This archetype has a few variation, one of which just 5-0'ed an MTGO league by using what I believe to be one of the few cards from M21 that avoided hype:
Compared to traditional lists, I really like
Mobilized District here, a decent mana sink in the late game for an additional threat - which can also come on the cheap with
Yorvo, Lord of Garenbrig,
Questing Beast and/or
Vivien, Arkbow Ranger in play. Speaking of Yorvo, I will point out that he is not a Human, just a mere Noble; so go ahead and Mutate
Gemrazer on it and enjoy those counters!
Scavenging Ooze joins the fray too, but I am surprised to not see a few copies of
Primal Might which would be an incredible piece of removal here, notably with
Questing Beast's Deathtouch.
Heroic Intervention is a welcomed addition here: with the deck lacking in card draw, it becomes important to dodge mass removal effects.
This archetype has been slipping into Tier 1.5/Tier 2 territory as of late, but is still a legitimate choice for competitive tournaments, as Alex Mitas showed by making the Finals of the CFB Pro Showdown.
I did mention
Rewind earlier in this article for Temur Reclamation, but the card is a better fit in the Simic build.
Lofty Denial is a solid alternative to
Quench here, given that you can maximize the tax with a Turn 1
Gilded Goose or
Spectral Sailor. One thing I will be keeping track of is how
Elder Gargaroth performs in the list: when revealed during M21 spoiler season, there were mixed feelings about the card because, yes, it is very good in theory, but in a format loaded with
Teferi, Time Raveler and
Elspeth Conquers Death it is not like players can afford to play a 5 CMC creature that does not affect the game state when played. I also do not think we will have to wait until rotation to see
Elder Gargaroth make some waves in Standard, and Simic Flash might very well be the deck to help doing so.
I could not wait to get to this part of the article. This list from Felix "xfile" Sloo placed 8th at the CFB Pro Showdown, and it immediately caught the eye of many, many players.
I have seen the deck sometimes referred to as a "Winota deck", but it frankly does not even need the namesake card to perform. Rather, it is closer to the "Caw-Blade" deck of old, only this time you are looking to abuse
Alpine Houndmaster to swarm the board with cheap creatures and slam
Embercleave the next go around.
Seasoned Hallowblade does a great
Adanto Vanguard impersonation, and the damage protection it affords along with
Tajic, Legion's Edge and
Selfless Savior allows maintaining your board presence. I am fully expecting this archetype to stick around for a while.
I will be honest here, this has been my weapon of choice to ladder with since the Arena release. I had been playing Rakdos Lurrus in the prior season, and this feels even better and, more importantly to me, super fun to run. Here is the list posted by Andrea Mengucci on Day 1:
There are just so many ways to do a lot of damage fast and bring back your threats here, the one thing that might be missing is one more source of sacrifice, maybe
Woe Strider? I have also tried an even more aggressive approach by swapping 2
Lurrus of the Dream-Den and 1
Village Rites for 4 copies of
Rotting Regisaur and it has worked quite well so far. Out of the sideboard, with the full set of
Leyline of the Void already there, I am curious to try out
Kitesail Freebooter instead of
Agonizing Remorse for even more board presence, but that could very well be too much of a stretch.
Have any dice around? Good, because you are going to need them with M21's own version of
Conclave Mentor. This list pretty much builds itself, and Deezy has been running one that has looked impressive on stream.
The sequencing here is pretty important, but
Pelt Collector/any X CMC creature, followed by
Conclave Mentor into
Huatli's Raptor can hurt real bad real fast. You could even delay Raptor by a turn if you want to maximize the ability of
Venerated Loxodon, however that would leave you badly exposed to
Shatter the Sky /
Storm's Wrath and then there is too much catching up to do. This is an archetype that can be explosive enough that you can play conservatively, considering that very often all you need is a Forest and a Plains in play on Turn 2 to be set for the next few turns. Here again we find
Primal Might in the sideboard as the removal of choice, along with
Heroic Intervention to second the
Unbreakable Formation copies already the main.
Finally, I could not gloss over the new archetype in my colors of choice. Izzet is not so much a new archetype, but rather an old friend back in town. This is mostly due to
Crash Course, reminiscent of the Izzet Phoenix days. Ally Warfield had an excellent article over on tcgplayer Infinite discussing the build in great lengths along with a sideboard guide, which I encourage you to read.
There is some argument to be made for running
Riddleform, although like Ally points out in her article the enchantment fits better with the Prowess theme. Obviously
Frantic Inventory is in the main too, however I have started testing
Thrill of Possibility over
Light up the Stage. In a list with
See the Truth, I would go with Stage no questions asked; but with only 22 lands to play with, I am inclined to give the upper hand to the cheaper draw spell.
Soul Sear is a very good tool out of the sideboard, and I can see it being played in more Red-based builds going forward.
Right as I was wrapping up my deck selections for this article, Jim Davis tweeted that he had just won an SCG Qualifier with an update to Carolyn Kavanagh's Simic Ramp list. Who knew
Growth Spiral into
Uro, Titan of Nature's Wrath could be a thing? Welcome to Standard, Turn 4
Ugin, the Spirit Dragon!
I promise, I am now going to go over every single variation of the UGx Ramp archetype, but I needed to mention this Sultai list by Thommimp that he piloted to a MTGO Standard Challenge win. The main deck is a close carbon copy of the Simic version above except it cuts
Aether Gust for
Casualties of War, with even more Black control cards in the sideboard. I really like the multiple
Thought Distortion copies coming in against Temur Reclamation.
To keep with the theme of aggressive monocolored strategies (I blame the Temples for that), Teruya Kakumae shared his MonoBlack list featuring
Demonic Embrace, even calling it "the best game in the metagame right now" and flashing a screen capture of the #1 Mythic rank on Arena.
One more for the road: this is an interesting take on yet another ramp strategy, this time involving
Risen Reef and friends, and SpecOpsGiraffe finished 7th with this 75 at the CFB Pro Showdown. Any deck that has both
Genesis Ultimatum and
Ugin, the Spirit Dragon has my interest!
After just a week, it looks like M21 managed open up the metagame at least some to allow for new archetypes to emerge (Boros Pawblade, MonoBlack Sacrifice, Selesnya Counters) and to bring back some builds that might have fallen out of grace for a little while (Simic Flash, MonoBlack Aggro, Izzet Prowess). Temur Reclamation, Bant Ramp and Jund Sacrifice are still trusting the top tier of the metagame - for now; it has been just one week after all, and it has been a while since I have seen so much brewing going on. I would not be surprising if the power rankings keep being shaken up over the next few events.
One thing I would like to point out, in conclusion: some of the archetypes discussed in this article rely heavily on cards that are due to rotate soon. Yes, I am looking at you
Wilderness Reclamation. In that regard, if you decide to acquire paper copies of the cards you need to play any of the lists above in tabletop, keep in mind that you are only going to get a few months of play time out of them.
If you are on a budget, you might want to look into a deck like Pawblade which relies on a lot of uncommons from M21 and only a few rotating rares:
Tajic, Legion's Edge,
Legion Warboss and
Hanged Executioner. However, Warboss is the most expensive of the lot at $3, and both Tajic and Executioner can be found for around $0.60 each. And with
Embercleave having just been reprinted in one of the 2020 Challenger decks, its price has dropped to below $10.
That is it for now with my early review of the Standard metagame post-M21; things are still developping so I am anticipating to do an update article a couple of weeks from now, hopefully the early signs of a larger pool of archetype will still be a thing then.
Thanks for reading, and feel free to reach out on Twitter @poppu_mtg for comments/questions.