On Monday, June 1, Wizards of the Coast gave Magic: The Gathering players an updated ban list for Standard and Historic. For both formats, Agent of Treachery and Fires of Invention have become banned. Technically, in Historic it is more of a temporary suspension than a permanent ban, but that’s not relevant for today’s purposes. In addition to these bans, WotC has also added an additional cost to companions to help balance them as a deck building decision. Effectively, you have to spend three mana at sorcery speed to place the card into your hand instead of casting it directly for its mana cost as was previously the rule.
Today, we’re going to break down what these changes have done and where Standard is likely to go from here along with a few suggestions for decks you can consider to play in Standard moving forward.
The Obvious Effects
There are some obvious changes that will occur from this. First, companions should feel like far less of an automatic decision to design around and instead an important decision made in deck creation. Requiring three mana to bring them from your sideboard to your hand slows them from coming down for a turn in most situations, and, in addition, it will also typically leave a window for them to be discarded from your hand. Although hand control decks aren’t currently extremely popular, companions have felt like they are almost completely immune to interaction before hitting the table since the only answer was a counterspell, and Ccunters have been pushed somewhat out of the format due to Teferi, Time Raveler. This change leaves a new axis of attack against companions, even if it isn’t an ideal one.
In addition, most of the “big” decks in Standard have been completely kneecapped by the removal of Fires and Agent. Most of the decks outside of the extremely low to the ground decks were built around one or both of these cards, and removing these pieces make these decks completely unplayable, at least as currently designed. In addition, removing Fires and Agent makes most of the remaining decks in Standard at least a little more fair, which will hopefully give midrange style decks some room to breathe.
Finally, the aggressive decks will continue to thrive as an important part of the meta. The extremely low to the ground aggressive decks will continue to see some play, and will likely serve as a check against any remaining greedy decks trying to go large with cards like Wilderness Reclamation. The biggest change for players that like to turn their cards sideways will be if they continue to run Obosh or not. Obosh can frequently end games on the spot, but the turn delay for him now is going to be particularly painful since aggressive decks suffer the most from giving their opponent an extra turn. Most likely, a new version for mono-red will eventually surface, possibly circulating around Cavalcade of Calamity or Embercleave. Both of these cards provide burn players with an extreme amount of reach to quickly close out a game, albeit in very different ways.
Historic has a far more diverse range of decks than Standard, so by extension the metagame for Historic will be affected less. There were various Fires decks running around, and those decks are now obviously no longer legal. All in all, Historic will most likely remain an affordable eternal format that’s easily accessible due to Magic Arena.
Where To Go From Here
There’s a few important takeaways here. First and foremost, “greedy” decks are still around in Standard. Sultai Ramp and Temur Reclamation will still persist as decks that try to go over the top of their opponent’s head with large amounts of mana, much like how Fire decks tend to. These decks will take up the mantle as the biggest decks in Standard for the foreseeable future realistically. This in turn means that any prospective midrange style decks will need to be able to get under these decks before they start doing their things, and includes being able to survive Extinction Event as a sweeper. And yes, Sultai is currently being played as a ramp deck, not a midrange deck. It has almost no tools to get underneath under large decks directly, and it plays far closer to a ramp deck than a midrange deck typically.
As a follow up to this, players looking to play actual midrange decks will have fairly limited options out the gate. Midrange decks will need to be able to defend themselves against not only the hyper aggressive decks like mono-red or knights, but also be able to get under decks like Sultai Ramp and Temur Reclamation. The closest contender for a deck like this will be Jund Sacrifice, as it has enough aggressive starts to start heavily pressuring the top end heavy decks while also being able to have some legs against aggressive decks thanks to all of it’s incidental life gain from excess food tokens and Cauldron Familiar interactions.
Paradoxically, one of the less obvious but drastically important takeaways from these changes is that Jeskai will still be an extremely powerful deck. Although the main builds for Jeskai are going to drastically change, it will still remain a powerful color combination. Azorious Control is a deck that’s been flirting around the edges of Standard, largely off the power of Teferi, and it will gain some traction with the other big decks being removed. Adding red to the Azorious control mix gives access to cards like Narset, Niv Mizzet, and Expansion//Explosion in addition to cheap spot removal with Shock or Bonecrusher Giant. In addition, Jeskai Cycling will still be an additional deck running around the format as well, as that deck is completely unaffected by the bans going forward.
So, What Should I Play?
Obviously, what sort of deck you should play is depends quite a bit on what styles of decks that you enjoy playing. For those who enjoy simply turning your cards sideways, mono-red, Jeskai Cycling, and knights are all reasonable choices. Mono-red is easily the most straight forward and frankly most affordable version of these decks to play. Cycling will still be playable, but it will drop down a bit with the nerf to companions, and therefore Lurrus. Knights is probably the least powerful choice out of your aggressive decks, but it has some different lines of play and it’s at least a viable tribal strategy, so it’s still worth building. Just be aware that you probably won’t be topping too many major events with knights, at least compared to your other options. If you’re strictly looking to win games and play aggressive, mono-red is where it’s at for you, at least until the meta further develops.
Players looking to play midrange decks are going to have the hardest time finding a home in Standard, as both aggressive and control decks are going to have a lot of legs in addition to decks that simply go “bigger” than what most midrange decks are capable of doing. Out of the gate, the main options to look at for mdrange-esque decks will be the sacrifice decks, particularly Jund Sacrifice. It grinds, it can kill quickly on occasion, and it has a lot of potent interaction options against the field. If you want to brew something for a midrange style deck, you almost certainly need to be in green. Questing Beast is a powerful threat that can quickly close games and is just a generically strong card in most matchups, Shifting Ceratops gives you a ton of legs against any blue decks (which are still going to be everywhere) and especially against people playing counterspells, and it gives you some flexible sideboard cards depending on what other colors you dip into. Temur Adventures is one example of a midrange style deck that was largely pushed out due to a bad Fires match up, and with these changes to the format it’s a rogue deck that has a lot of legs now.
For players looking to play control, Jeskai or Azorious will be your best choices. Blue/white has a ton of powerful card options still, and with access to Teferi and Dovin’s Veto you have the option to play a more draw-go style control deck safely. There will be some refinement work involved, but there’s a plethora of powerful cards in this base so the option is certainly there. Grixis is also a theoretically viable control deck now since it has access to disruption and powerful threats, and finally they have a good sweeper in Extinction Event. Finally, although tangentially related to control decks because of counterspells, flash/tempo decks might have some room to breathe as well. Their main weakness is in aggro decks currently, so a successful build will need to have options against these decks in some way. However, their match up against most of the rest of the field is typically very favorable as long as you can also out Teferi in the match ups where your opponent can cast him.
And in conclusion...
Overall, this is a large step in the right direction to fixing Standard. There’s a strong argument that Teferi should have also been banned since he pushes out so much interaction and stifles a lot of viable options for competitive play. That being said, Standard is a significantly less solved format now than it was before the bans, and there is more room for decks that were otherwise powerful but couldn’t beat Fires decks realistically to breathe.
Although Standard is by no means a perfect format, it’s definitely a drastically improved one by these changes. Individuals that have been pushed from it from Fires/companions/Agent of Treachery should at least consider giving Standard a second shot, especially if they already have a deck and it wasn’t drastically affected by the new announcement.