eturn to Ravnica block in Standard has proven a fluid and flexible set of sets. At the start of the season, RWU was all about porting miracles from Innistrad block and locking down the board with the tag team of Jace, Architect of Thought and Tamiyo, the Moon Sage... Pillar of Flame as a red splash was largely there as a foil to Geralf's Messenger and Gravecrawler. RWU has reinvented itself into a variety of styles... from an aggro deck with Geist of Saint Traft and Thundermaw Hellkite to a flash deck based around two-drop Wizards and permission spells to a variety of Boros Reckoner strategies (including an infinite-life combo deck).
Boros Reckoner itself has proven to be an amazing tool in Standard; promoting not just an infinite life sequence but the "brain you for 13" combination with Blasphemous Act. In The Aristocrats, those cards linked arms to give Tom Martell a PT victory, and that WBR deck has continued to evolve via the good work of Jake Van Lunen, Brad Nelson, and a host of inheritors.
Naya has had some of the wildest swings in the format, manifesting as Midrange, Ramp, and mono-aggro Blitz decks, all. When Loxodon Smiter was previewed, it seemed like an aggro player's dream—a 4/4 creature for only three mana—but Loxodon Smiter has done more good work as a blocker of beatdown creatures than an active attacker; many sorts of Naya decks remain active and successful.
Let's look at some of these moves from the most recent Standard Open...
Casey Hanford's The Aristocrats, Act 2
Standard – 1st Place, StarCityGames.com Open, St. Louis
Act 2 is the present evolution of The Aristocrats.
This iteration of the deck has eschewed the explosive potential of the original with Champion of the Parish, instead focusing on powerful synergies keying on Blood Artist and Boros Reckoner. The Aristocrats has always been a deck based on "sacrificing its own creatures" and the addition of Blood Artist gives the deck a good way to exploit the sacrificial abilities on Cartel Aristocrat and Falkenrath Aristocrat.
While Act 2 has many powerful cards, one of the centerpieces is Boros Reckoner. Boros Reckoner is a lockdown defender against Blitz decks (either it guarantees a two-for-one or discourages attacks at all)... and in this deck it is half of Act 2's endgame. Watch out for this deck's aggressive opens: it doesn't need to deal 20 damage... it only needs to get you to 13 life.
Blasphemous Act + Boros Reckoner gives the deck a great way to win without being forced to attack for all 20 points.
But if you do "have" to attack?
There are worse attacking decks than The Aristocrats. Falkenrath Aristocrat is an awesome four-drop. It can gobble up whichever creatures to defend itself, but is in particular synergistic with the deck's many Human creatures.
The five-drops are really devastating... Thundermaw Hellkite and Assemble the Legion out of the sideboard can rip up Lingering Souls or produce armies many times what a Lingering Souls will typically produce. Obzedat, Ghost Council is an awesome threat, a 5/5 attacker for only five mana, and quite difficult to pin down with removal.
Mark of Mutiny, Liliana of the Veil, Olivia Voldaren... Act 2 can choose from a wide variety of threats and answers to customize its approach to the many different strategies that might appear across the table.
Naya Blitz is a RGW deck with a low mana count (often just twenty lands) and super-low mana curve. Naya Blitz, generally speaking, wants to do one thing: attack!
Naya Blitz is, offensively, one of the fastest decks in the current Standard, but it has the odd card it's afraid of:
As Boros Reckoner is big enough and fast enough (in creature combat) to put a serious slowdown on Blitz's blitzes, clever Naya Blitz players have modified their decks to help get creatures through in combat.
Gene Richtsmeier's Naya Blitz
Standard – 2nd Place, StarCityGames.com Open, St. Louis
Firefist Striker (and differentiating Aura Madcap Skills) can keep Boros Reckoner or other awesome blockers-to-be from effectively defending. Frontline Medic can keep your squad alive even if an unfavorable block does occur.
Naya Blitz in general is a deck that starts quickly and hits hard. Champion of the Parish, Experiment One, and Boros Elite are all one-drops that can get big quickly to punch well above their collective one-drop weight class. Burning-Tree Emissary gives the deck an unquestionable explosiveness, and Ghor-Clan Rampager makes more or less all blocks bad.
Millner added a couple of different cards to his deck that allow it to function a bit differently from other Blitz decks. Many Blitz builds have no removal at all, but Millner added a few Searing Spears to either move X/3 potential blockers out of the way or finish the opponent off. Kessig Malcontents is yet another way to finish games. It is a Human, allowing it to buff Champion of the Parish or be cast off of one of the deck's Maximum Number of Cavern of Souls.
(Regular Old) Naya
Brian Edgar's Naya
Standard – 3rd Place, StarCityGames.com Open, St. Louis
While still quick and aggressive, the non-Blitz Naya/Naya Zoo decks favor card quality over speed.
Look at the deck at various casting costs... Voice of Resurgence on two; both Loxodon Smiter and Boros Reckoner on three. All these cards are great at defending in the red zone.
On balance, the deck has Thundermaw Hellkite as one of the finest finishers in the format.
Edgar switched up a couple of elements from the stock Naya deck. Many similar Naya decks play Huntmaster of the Fells on four (a great combo with Restoration Angel, of course) but Edgar went with Ghor-Clan Rampager in that slot. Along with Selesnya Charm, Ghor-Clan Rampager helps all those great creatures win fights on offense.
Now, speaking of fights, Domri Rade is quite a serious piece of action in this deck. Again, Loxodon Smiter fights well above its casting cost, making Domri Rade's -2 great right out of the gate. Thundermaw Hellkite as a 5/5 can beat up most everything. But the real killer? Boros Reckoner! Again!
Boros Reckoner can beat up smaller creatures and gets the bonus trigger allowing it to beat up another creature or just damage the opponent.
Naya Zoo plays a wide variety of awesome and flexible cards in the sideboard. It can go big with Garruk, Primal Hunter and fight a variety of strategies with specialty cards like Ray of Revelation or Ground Seal. Unflinching Courage lets the deck go over the top in combat, and Boros Charm gives it both offensive capabilities (double strike and burn to win outside the red zone) and resistance to Supreme Verdict.
Did you see it?
Did you see the infinite combo?
Oh yeah, Boros Reckoner again.
You can give Boros Reckoner lifelink (say, with Unflinching Courage); get in a fight, creature combat, get your guy burned, block, whatever... and then use Boros Charm. Boros Charm can make Boros Reckoner indestructible—sorry, indestructible—such that when its damage trigger comes around, it can damage itself over and over and over again.
You can have your Boros Reckoner damage itself an arbitrary number of times, gaining life each time thanks to lifelink, playing a lucky charms game.
Does it come up often?
Not so much.
But when it does? Infinite.
Joey Mispagel's Jund
Standard – 7th Place, StarCityGames.com Open, St. Louis
Jund remains Standard's premier midrange deck. It is a classic combination of high-quality threats and answers, capable of competing with opponents on many levels.
Mispagel's creature suite of Huntmaster of the Fells and Thragtusks makes for quite a bit of life gain, and Olivia Voldaren can take over a game all by herself.
Jund has Planeswalkers to generate value, cards, card advantage, threats, and whatnot with no incremental cost in mana.
Jund has disruption like Rakdos's Return and Slaughter Games to rip up the opponent's hand (and sometimes kill opposing Planeswalkers) and can keep Reanimator or Snapcaster Mage strategies honest with Ground Seal.
On top of all manner of removal—Bonfire of the Damned, Mizzium Mortars, Abrupt Decay, Putrefy, Pillar of Flame, and more—even Jund's acceleration is shooting at an angle. Rakdos Keyrune beats the beast out of Thragtusk in a fight!
No Standard deck can take on more comers in more different ways than Jund.
As with Jund, RWU is a flexible trio of colors. It can play a total control game with lots of permission and flash creatures, a Planeswalker control game, or even run with an attack focus, using its red spells not just to defend itself but clear out blockers.
Alex Blackard's RWU Geist
Standard – 4th Place, StarCityGames.com Open, St. Louis
Blackard played a relatively aggressive version of RWU with few four-ofs. His only main-deck four-ofs were super-high-quality creatures Snapcaster Mage and Geist of Saint Traft, plus staple draw-smoother Azorius Charm.
Playing a wide variety of different cards allows Blackard's version to play many different games.
This deck can put pressure on the opponent with Geist of Saint Traft and keep blockers out of the way with tons of different kinds of point-removal spells. Of particular note are Dragon's Maze burn spells Warleader's Helix and Turn & Burn. Both of these cards can kill a Sire of Insanity... a dangerous threat for any permission deck.
Ral Zarek, too, can tap potential blockers out of the way, as well as playing double Lightning Bolts to help finish off a game.
Thundermaw Hellkite is a great finisher here, especially with all the burn.
David Barani's RWU Geist
Standard – 5th Place, StarCityGames.com Open, St. Louis
Barani played a more control-oriented RWU, despite also running a couple of copies of Geist of Saint Traft. He played many more permission cards than Blackard, another Sphinx's Revelation, generally more control cards.
Important to note out of both RWU decks is Izzet Staticaster out of the sideboard. Don't forget about this little guy! Izzet Staticaster is big enough to block many beatdown creatures in the format without dying and can contain or even invalidate many strategies... Lingering Souls; Falkenrath Aristocrat; Sorin, Lord of Innistrad; basically any one-drop mana Elf... don't mess with a Staticaster.
Andy Sipka's Esper Control
Standard – 8th Place, StarCityGames.com Open, St. Louis
This Top Decks concludes with the rare Esper deck.
Standard's best-performing decks tend to be aggressive ones, although the various midrange decks also have their adherents. Esper Control is a deck that is focused on creature removal and card advantage; essentially true control.
All the cards in this deck play defense. Ætherling and Augur of Bolas can fight... but are superb on defense both.
Jace, Architect of Thought and Sorin, Lord of Innistrad can both potentially win the game... but spend many turns jamming up the red zone before getting to the break point.
Every other card in the main either generates card advantage or somehow contains threats (or both).
Esper has many attractive aspects. It doesn't care if you gain infinite life. Although Sipka's fastest way to win is Ætherling, it can run you out of cards with Nephalia Drownyard, no matter how much life you have. Esper dodges removal. Full of removal itself, the deck is remarkably resilient to creature removal in general... Lingering Souls and Augur of Bolas both trade with removal cards with value, and Ætherling—once it has stuck—is quite difficult to get rid of. Esper can answer a wide variety of opponents. Although the deck is full of creature removal, Oblivion Ring and Dissipate don't really discriminate. It can even side up to four Devour Fleshes + two Far & Aways + four Supreme Verdicts to fight all the Geist of Saint Trafts and their Invisible Stalkers, too!
If you are in the market for an answer deck (rather than the more typical proactive ones), Esper can make for quite a convincing argument.
The present Standard gives players many options for viable decks. Beatdown, midrange, somewhere between beatdown and midrange, a little combo action out of The Aristocrats... and even the odd control deck! Viva Sphinx's Revelation!
So... which will you be rocking at FNM tomorrow night?
Michael Flores is the author of Deckade and The Official Miser's Guide; the designer of numerous State, Regional, Grand Prix, National, and Pro Tour–winning decks; and the onetime editor-in-chief of The Magic Dojo. He'd claim allegiance to Dimir (if such a Guild existed)… but instead will just shrug "Simic."