elcome to the first non-preview Top Decks, where we get to catch the tail end of Theros Standard right before the release of Born of the Gods (the Prerelease is this Saturday, which I'm very excited for). Even though the format is about to change, there's still plenty to be learned from what decks are the best right now. Many of those decks will continue to be great, and as it turns out, some of the most exciting cards in Born of the Gods fit perfectly into them. Let's take a look at the current top of the heap, and how Born of the Gods will affect it.
The last Grand Prix of this format was Grand Prix Vancouver, where Alexander Hayne completed "the three Grand Prix wins in six months" hat trick. The Top 8 from that tournament was as follows:
This neatly sums up the format, as those are by any reasonable metric the top three decks right now. Mono-Black and Mono-Blue have been Tier 1 since Pro Tour Theros, and even though the Sphinx's Revelation slot has been contested by various decks, Azorius is the clear winner right now. That isn't to say that it will be forever, or even next week, but the verdict is clearly that Last Breath and Divination reign supreme.
Let's start at the top (of the format, not the tournament). To do that, we very clearly should be looking at Pack Rat and its assorted minions. The deck that's my pick for the current best Standard deck:
Matt Sperling – Mono-Black Devotion
GP Vancouver Top 8
There isn't a ton of wiggle room with this decklist at this point. The format has been played enough and the deck has been put through its paces enough that just about all the four-ofs are stone-cold locks. Matt even purportedly played the wrong Temple because of card availability issues, although Jon Stern also played Temple of Silence in the Top 8. I'd stick with Temple of Deceit, just because blue is much more prevalent and even against the White-Blue deck, you'd rather cast their blue spells.
The only slots I'd be comfortable changing around in the main deck are the Devour Flesh/Pharika's Cures, although the sideboard is fair game for the most part. What might we be looking for out of Born of the Gods?
The two big standouts are Bile Blight and Drown in Sorrow, with Bile Blight being potentially the most impactful card of the entire set.
Bile Blight does everything you want out of a removal spell these days. The most important creatures to kill right now are Pack Rat, Nightveil Specter, Mutavault, and Master of Waves, which Bile Blight does handily. It even kills all the Rats (assuming there isn't a full-blown infestation happening), and getting any creature that red decks can play in the first three turns is a nice bonus. Its big misses are Desecration Demon and giant green things, but that is easily forgiven. Hero's Downfall still handles those, and removal for big creatures costing more is less of a problem than removal for two-drops. It is very funny that the best Pack Rat removal spell is perfect for the Pack Rat deck, but I think it's going to make the mirror much more interesting. I'm actually looking forward to the Bile Blight/Pack Rat mirrors, because the play pattern of "make a Rat whenever possible" is no longer unconditionally correct. You now have to balance making Rats against possible Bile Blights, and tricky plays like leaving removal up to kill the Rat opponents target can reward those who plan ahead.
The most obvious cuts to make room for four Bile Blight are the weaker removal spells, which happen to be two Pharika's Cure and two Devour Flesh. I'm pretty sure that's what Owen Turtenwald advocates, and he's an expert on all things Mono-Black (especially sideboarding). Not a huge change, numbers-wise, but it shores up one of Mono-Black's biggest weaknesses, which was opposing Pack Rats.
In the sideboard, I'd look to add two or three Drown in Sorrow, just in case people were thinking about beating you with White Weenie. Brimaz, King of Oreskos, is a huge game, and even though Drown in Sorrow doesn't touch him, it's good against the rest of what the deck probably ends up looking like (spoiler: it's small white creatures).
Mono-Black's biggest strength is that it's got a solid game against everything, and that isn't going to change with Born of the Gods. Thoughtseize and Pack Rat are both amazing cards, and with Underworld Connections against control, removal spells against aggro, and Gray Merchant of Asphodel against everyone, don't expect Mono-Black to easily give up its spot.
Thassa and her devoted following won the Pro Tour, and have put up a flood of results since, including three copies in the Top 8 of Vancouver. Unlike Mono-Black, which uses a ton of individually powerful cards, Mono-Blue is very much a synergy deck that's greater than the sum of its parts. It still uses Nightveil Specter as a devotion enabler, much like Mono-Black, but cards like Judge's Familiar, Frostburn Weird, and Tidebinder Mage aren't there because of their raw power. One thing that Mono-Black and Mono-Blue have in common is that the lists are very refined at this point, with all three in the Top 8 looking very similar.
Eugene Hwang – Mono-Blue Devotion
GP Vancouver Top 8
The most common decision point for blue decks is how the Jace/Bident of Thassa and Rapid Hybridization/Cyclonic Rift slots are allocated, with the total of each pair hitting seven. The creature slots are pretty locked at twenty-eight, with the same group being almost universally present at this point.
Born of the Gods introduces a new contender in each category:
Unfortunately for Mindreaver, there's not many opportunities for heroism, as Mono-Blue is unlikely to be able to target it at all. What it does do is provide a third two-drop that costs , which might mean that one or two copies see play (with Frostburn Weird and Tidebinder Mage quite far ahead of it). It's not the most powerful addition, but this isn't a deck that cares much about objective power level of its cards to begin with.
Thassa's Rebuff is the much more intriguing card. Adding a two-mana counter into the main deck could tilt the deck more toward aggro-control than it already is, and would make playing against it very different. Some builds had a Dissolve in the main deck before, but the difference between two and three mana is enormous, and most of the Dissolves have been cut by now. Thassa's Rebuff could snag a couple of slots, which would further pressure decks that rely on expensive cards such as Desecration Demon, Gray Merchant of Asphodel, and Sphinx's Revelation. Even knowing that Mono-Blue could have Rebuffs in the deck can completely change how Azorius plays against it, and the Mono-Blue decks that don't add Rebuff are still going to get value from that.
The failure scenario for Thassa's Rebuff isn't incredibly likely, which is why it's so appealing in this deck. I doubt the deck plays four, and one or two seems like the most common number, so it isn't like the deck is going to be drawing all Thassa's Rebuffs instead of permanents. If the deck has nothing in play, it usually is in trouble already, and even in the late-game Rebuff can approach hard counter status.
Initially, I'd expect Mono-Blue decks to try a couple Thassa's Rebuffs between main and sideboard, with the inclusion of Mindreaver being an unlikely prospect. The amount of Thassa's Rebuffs should also be very metagame-dependent, which is true of all the different spell combinations in the blue deck.
Mono-Blue didn't get nearly the upgrade that Mono-Black did, and with how much better in the matchup Bile Blight is than Pharika's Cure and Devour Flesh, that could be trouble for the deck. It's still going to be a contender, but this certainly didn't help its standing.
Finally, we come to the winner of Grand Prix Vancouver, and the winner of my heart. I love casting Sphinx's Revelation, and had I gone to Vancouver, it's very likely that I would have opted to do so.
(18) Alexander Hayne – Azorius Control
GP Vancouver Top 8
Setting aside the question of Azorius, Esper, or RWU, let's just take a look at the Sphinx's Revelation archetype in general form. All the awesome Azorius cards from Return to Ravnica form the centerpiece of any Revelation deck, and all are so powerful that they should weather a format shift very well.
The two cards I'm most interested in adding to Sphinx's Revelation decks are very different. One is an absolute lock, and a huge upgrade, while the other is a very expensive but potentially awesome addition.
Finally getting the scry land white-blue's always wanted is a relief. No longer do you have to suffer through playing Azorius Guildgates while your opponents are scrying to their hearts' content, and even in three-color decks you now have the full range of options (I'm looking at you, red-white-blue). This isn't a controversial addition at all, so assume I've fully enlightened everyone and move on.
Fated Retribution is much more of a wild card. The main reason I'm interested in this is that it doesn't kill Detention Sphere. That's huge, and really the only reason that Planar Cleansing hasn't seen more play. Planeswalkers are always annoying for control decks, and there are so many cards taxing Detention Sphere these days. Fated Retribution is also an instant, which lets you leave up Sphinx's Revelation, Fated Retribution, and counters without fear. Azorius decks getting another powerful board wipe spell is a big change, and can force decks that rely on Planeswalkers to play much more cautiously. I'm certainly not advocating for more than one or two Fated Retributions, but even just one can change the dynamic of some matchups.
There aren't any specific cards I want to cut from Azorius, mainly because the decklists are much less standardized than either of the devotion lists. Control decks by nature get to play a wider card selection, and the devotion mechanic in particular makes a lot of choices into givens. Azorius decks in many different flavors are still going to be excellent once Born of the Gods comes out, and even though control decks tend to be slower to adjust than aggro decks (because they are based on answers rather than threats), Azorius is still going to be one of the top choices.
Soon enough we will have tournament results from our shiny new format, at which point I'll get to look at all sorts of interesting decks!
Luis Scott-Vargas plays, writes, and makes videos about Magic. He has played on the Pro Tour for almost a decade, and between that and producing content for ChannelFireball, often has his hands full (of cards).