Out of Control

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The letter W!elcome back to Perilous Research. Last week, we took a look at Standard in preparation for Grand Prix Cincinnati. Cincinnati is in the books, and Standard has a new boogieman. Today, we'll be talking about Standard in a world ruled by Esper in an effort to prepare ourselves for Grand Prix Beijing this weekend, and Grand Prix Albuquerque the week after.

More than 1,700 players showed up to battle with their favorite Standard strategy in Cincinnati last weekend. Only two players remained when the dust settled—Brad Nelson and Kyle Boggemes. Brad Nelson is a former player of the year who has now Top 8ed five of his last six Standard Grand Prix events. Kyle Boggemes is a former Pro Tour finalist who has been taking a break from competitive gaming for the last few years. They did not prepare together. Yet, there we sat, watching a finals match between two players with nearly identical main decks. Why did Esper perform so well last weekend? What changes will we see in other decks as a result of this tournament? Will Esper continue being the deck to beat in coming weeks?

The format had slowed down to a point where a big Sphinx's Revelation wasn't too far out of the ordinary. Jund Monsters and Red-Green Monsters decks were slowing down in an effort to be one step bigger than the mirror. Red decks abandoned the one-mana, 2-power creatures in fear of Sylvan Caryatid. Even burn decks began playing three or four copies of Searing Blood in the main deck. All of these factors swirled into a perfect storm, making Esper the perfect deck for Grand Prix Cincinnati.

Let's take a look at what's been winning on Magic Online since the completion of Grand Prix Cincinnati:

Esper Control

MblH's Esper Control
Standard – 1st Place, Magic Online Premier #6894843

Esper Control is the place to be in the current Standard format. The deck may be slow, but the accused clunkiness of the strategy is offset by the general slowness of the format. The hardest card for decks like this to deal with is Stormbreath Dragon, but this list augments its Supreme Verdicts with Quicken, allowing the pilot to pick up some very nice value when an opponent tries to add a Dragon to an already existing board. Going forward, we can expect to see more sideboard hate aimed at Esper Control. Luckily, the sideboard options available aren't really backbreakers. Mistcutter Hydra; Jace, Memory Adept; and Revoke Existence will only go so far in taking down the Esper strategy. People need to reassess their approach to the format for Esper to fall from favor. As long as a big chunk of people are trying to Elvish Mystic into more creatures, we can expect the Supreme Verdict deck to be well positioned.

Jund Monsters

Jund Monsters still has a huge following. This version of the deck seems like it's made some nice changes to help combat the high numbers of Esper and Black Devotion in the field. There's a lot of planeswalking action going on here. A full three copies of Xenagos, the Reveler do serious work against opposing control and Black Devotion strategies while keeping us ahead when playing mirror-like matchups. Vraska the Unseen makes a main-deck appearance as a card that snipes Planeswalkers. It's often difficult for players to get past a Vraska without two-for-oneing themselves. Xenagos, God of Revels is particularly strong when coupled with Kalonian Hydra. I expect Jund Monsters to have continued success. The deck is malleable enough that it can evolve to a new metagame and make the transition without sacrificing power.

Naya Hexproof

Shaereth's Naya Hexproof
Standard – 3rd Place, Magic Online Premier #6894843

Naya Hexproof hasn't seen credit where its due for some time now, but the deck is doing some very powerful things at a reasonably consistent rate. Last weekend, we saw a copy of the deck in the Top 8 of Grand Prix Cincinnati. The deck may seem like it's soft to something like Esper Control because of Supreme Verdict, but there are a lot of ways in which this deck can overcome a Wrath effect, especially after sideboarding. I expect this deck to continue performing well going forward.

White-Black Midrange

_DarkBeast_'s White-Black Midrange
Standard – 4th Place, Magic Online Premier #6894843

White-Black Midrange is the next evolution of the Black Devotion decks that began splashing white for Blood Baron of Vizkopa in an effort to have an edge in the mirror. It's odd, though, as the Black Devotion strategies started main-decking Lifebane Zombie the Blood Barons became less reliable as trump cards. I expect some versions of White-Black to begin playing a few Plains to support Obzedat, Ghost Council if Esper continues to be the dominant deck of the format.

Boros Burn

Battle7's Boros Burn
Standard – 5th Place, Magic Online Premier #6894843

Boros Burn remains a strong choice in the current Standard format. The deck does well against some versions of Esper, but the versions with a lot of countermagic are often able to out-philosophize the fire, and the first Sphinx's Revelation is usually a big problem, even if the Burn player has Skullcrack handy. I expect versions of Boros Burn to move some number of Searing Blood to the sideboard in favor of more reliable damage sources against the control deck.

Blue Devotion

jakeup's Blue Devotion
Standard – 7th Place, Magic Online Premier #6894843

Blue Devotion strategies have their work cut out for them in the new Standard. These decks have a lot of trouble standing up against Supreme Verdict, and it seems that Supreme Verdict strategies are becoming more popular with each passing day. I'd be much more comfortable playing Blue Devotion with more than one copy of Ephara, God of the Polis if Esper continues to be the deck to beat.

Rakdos Aggro

lynxcat's Rakdos Aggro
Standard – 10th Place, Magic Online Premier #6894843

The Rakdos Aggro deck has a lot going for it. Unfortunately, the mana for this deck can be pretty miserable. Still, a great mix of incredible aggressive creatures backed up by the best removal in the format is sure to enjoy some level of success. This deck is very good at pounding away on the control opponent's life total before stabilization can be realized. I haven't had the opportunity to play with this deck yet, but it seems like it could become a very real player in the format if decks like Jund Monsters and Red-Green Monsters wane a bit in popularity.

Red Devotion splashing White

mama que Ac de banana's Red Devotion splashing White
Standard – 4–0, Magic Online Standard Daily #6894847

Red Devotion decks have lost a lot of popularity since Born of the Gods was released. Bile Blight is particularly strong against these decks, but, as Black Devotion players jump on the Esper bandwagon, we're beginning to see the Red Devotion deck rise from the ashes. This deck's success will be largely contingent on the popularity or lack thereof of Bile Blight. The deck seems like a great answer to Jund Monsters, Red-Green Monsters, and the control strategies.

White Devotion splashing Blue

TheMummy's White Devotion splashing Blue
Standard – 4–0, Magic Online Standard Daily #6894847

This is a particularly interesting deck. Obzedat, Ghost Council is very strong against Esper and the smattering of creatures played by this deck are particularly well-suited against the midrange metagame. Ephara, God of the Polis is at her very best in this deck, consistently providing extra cards while flipping roles in a similar fashion to Obzedat, Ghost Council. Brimaz, King of Oreskos may have found a real home in Standard. I'm excited about this strategy and expect it to remain successful if the format continues on its current path.

Black Devotion

Smiley_gladhands's Black Devotion
Standard – 4–0, Magic Online Standard Daily #6894847

Black Devotion is still around and the deck has access to a lot of anti-control cards in the sideboard. Last weekend, we began seeing a lot of players with the ability to go up to a full eight one-mana discard spells for the control matchups. The deck remains one of the very best strategies for the format, but we'll likely see many of the lists moving in this direction (main-deck wipe, no Lifebane Zombie main, etc.) in the coming weeks.

Green Devotion splashing Red

tarkanmag's Green Devotion splashing Red
Standard – 4–0, Magic Online Standard Daily #6894847

This is a very aggressive version of Green Devotion. The deck goes so deep that it's including a few copies of Aspect of Hydra, a card that wasn't on my Constructed radar until I saw it here. This deck can get the opponent dead very quickly, but there's certainly some semblance of longevity with Nylea, God of the Hunt; Xenagos, God of Revels; and Boon Satyr. The lack of Polukranos here makes me wonder how this deck is supposed to beat Blue Devotion, but that deck and it's splashing-white cousin are becoming less of an issue as the Supreme Verdict decks rise to the top.

Blue Devotion splashing White

_Marian_'s Blue Devotion splashing White
Standard – 4–0, Magic Online Standard Daily #6894806

Blue Devotion decks can have a lot of trouble catching back up after getting hit by Supreme Verdict. That being said, Ephara, God of the Polis and Thassa, God of the Sea do a very good job ensure that the Blue deck will stay in the game as things progress. I expect most Blue Devotion players to move in this direction in the coming weeks.

Standard continues to change with each passing tournament. The current environment has finally become slow enough that Esper Control can flourish. In the coming weeks, we'll keep our finger on Standard's pulse and stay updated with the latest innovations.

Knowledge is Power!

Jacob Van Lunen
Jacob Van Lunen
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Jacob Van Lunen began playing Magic in 1995. He has participated in organized play at every level of competition and was a member of the winning team at Pro Tour San Diego in 2007, thanks to an innovative draft strategy. As a writer, Van Lunen has had more than three hundred Magic strategy pieces published.

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