Insider: Playing It Smart in Standard

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Over the past three weeks we've seen some decisive tournament results. The SCG Open was dominated by Jeskai. The Pro Tour was decimated by Mardu Vehicles. Last weekend, BG Constrictor wrapped its coils around Grand Prix Pittsburgh and squeezed.

The interesting part of all this is that these three decks form a classic rock-paper-scissors metagame. Jeskai beats GB Constrictor. GB Constrictor beats Mardu Vehicles. Mardu Vehicles beats Jeskai.

Since each week's result has ended with a particular deck being so dominant, the following week players are wildly compensating by playing the foil to the previous week's rout.

The truth of the matter is that all three of these decks are good and playable moving forward, and they are likely going to remain the best options until the next set rolls out. While GB put up the big numbers in GP Pittsburgh (five Top 8 and 17 Top 32) it is worth noting that Mardu and Jeskai also made Top 8 and combined were able to make up the other half of the Top 32.

It is also worth noting that no other archetype breached the Top 32, which tells us another important piece of information: the best decks are the best decks.

So, what do we do with this information? Well, I'm willing to draw a couple of inferences. First of all, if a Standard card isn't in one of these decks it likely has very little non-speculative Standard value. Secondly, the cards in these decks will likely remain highly chased-after until spoilers for the next set begin to pop up.

For every player on the planet that desires to play a Standard event, acquiring one of these decks is likely a requirement. Let's take a walk through the best decks and look for where the current value cards reside—these are the Standard cards that players will be buying and trading for in the foreseeable future.

BG Constrictor

BG Aggro was the hottest deck on the planet last weekend. I attended GP Pittsburgh and went 10-5 for a pro point, playing a Golgari deck. I also played against BG Constrictor 10 of the 13 rounds. I have never played the same deck that many times and I was at Grand Prix Flash, Grand Prix Mental Misstep, and Grand Prix Jund.

Of the three tier-one decks, I think GB Constrictor will be the most popular for a variety of reasons. First of all, it's the kind of deck people naturally gravitate toward. For some reason, people trend towards their favorite archetypes more than what data might suggest is actually the best. GB supposedly has a favorable matchup against Mardu Vehicles, but it is likely only about 55%. The margin is narrow. My friend and teammate Max McVety played Mardu Vehicles at the GP and went 5-3 against BG. Some favorable matchup, right?

The slim margin of BG may have been enticing considering Mardu's big day at the PT but the poor matchup against Jeskai is likely to bite it on the rear in the future. While BG may earn points because it is fun and gives you a lot of play, it is likely the worst positioned deck among the big three in the long-term. Especially, if we expect the Jeskai decks to make a rebound performance on the heels of BG being so popular last weekend.

Nevertheless, the deck is still one of the three best decks in the format and a viable choice for any player. Let's think about the cards in the deck that will continue to have a high demand and potential to maintain or gain value over the next month.

Winding Constrictor is the lynch pin for all of the BG decks in Standard. It is the Bloodbraid Elf of Standard Jund. It is the cog through which all of the broken draws and combos run through. It is also relatively cheap when you think about it in those kind of terms. I could see it doubling in value as people stop cracking packs and drafting Aether Revolt.

I'd also like to note that I've been brewing with the card in Modern and Frontier. The card in concert with Hardened Scales is a pretty absurd beating. In fact, I wrote about such a deck on CFB this week! Once a deck starts to have access to multiple of that effect things get nutty pretty fast.

Walking Ballista is a card that I really missed the boat on. I thought it was a "good card" but not a money card. I was obviously interested in playing this in my Mishra's Workshop decks in Vintage and Affinity decks in Modern but I figured that was where the applications stopped. The piece of technology that I dramatically undervalued was the interaction between Walking Ballista and Constrictor.

Sure, having it come into play with an extra counter is cute, but is it good? I'd say that it is fine. The real absurdity comes when you start paying four mana to add two counters to the Walker. I hadn't really considered that when I was looking at the spoiler and reviewing cards for Standard.

Umezawa's Jitte is a dominant effect in an aggro or midrange mirror and these two cards together essentially build a better Jitte (assuming an opponent cannot break it up). However, when the opponent ends up without the critical kill spell and the combo goes unanswered, the game ends in very short order and nothing else matters.

Based on the applications of Walker in every format under the sun, I've flip-flopped and now think it is a strong hold card right now.

Tireless Tracker may be my favorite Magic card right now. I play four in my Modern and Standard decks. It is extremely powerful (especially when combined with fetchlands or Evolving Wilds). The fact that it generates obscene card advantage while also becoming a gigantic threat makes the card very unique. Especially unique when one considers that it has such a small mana-investment cost.

In terms of positioning one's BG Constrictor deck, a version that plays the maximum number of Tireless Trackers between the main and sideboard gives itself the best chance against Jeskai. It is a cheap, efficient threat that also generates card advantage. At Pittsburgh I played three Tracker main and one in the board and always boarded in the fourth.

There are cards that do similar things in terms of generating gross card advantage, but they are typically unplayable in older formats because they cost five or six mana (Consecrated Sphinx, Mulldrifter, Sun Titan) and tend to be "blue deck cards."

You can't Collected Company into a Mulldrifter—which is a big part of why I love Tracker so darn much.

With that being said, the card is so unique, versatile, and powerful that I think it will be a coveted card not only in this Standard format but in older formats as well. Get your copies now.

The Luxurious Lord is one of the coolest cards in Standard and very well positioned right now. It is a little lackluster against Mardu Vehicles but passable and great against the mirror or Jeskai. The deathtouch body allows it to rumble with creatures that have been "gearhulked up" as well as attack freely into Torrential Gearhulk mana.

The triggered ability is a lot better than advertised. Getting to steal the best out of four cards (Impulse the top of an opponent's deck) is a pretty big deal. Stealing a counterspell from Jeskai is gross. In the mirror, the option to choose between a haymaker like Gearhulk or a cheap removal spell depending on your hand has a lot of value.

I also really like this card as a Cube or Danger Room staple. It really is a fun and unique card that people seem to enjoy casting. Card advantage, selection, and removal body? Wow. Foil ones seem like a particularly savvy pick-up.

I have continued to be impressed with Bestiary the more I play with it. I wrote about it as a Standard speculation target based on my experience with it at the prerelease. I wrote about it as a sideboard option right off the bat for Delirium. I was right about all of it. The card is wonderful.

When it comes to playing grindy Jeskai or BG matchups, the player with the active Bestiary always wins the long game. I had one match where I had Bestiary and my opponent was able to draw five cards off of Ob Nixilis Reignited before I could kill it—yet I was always in control, and won the game. My Ob Nixilis only cost three, and scryed, and didn't deal damage to me, and didn't die.

I think the card is also maindeckable. It could be a way for BG to gain percentage against Jeskai moving forward. There is also a good shot that there could be an actual Bestiary deck at some point that cantrips cheap creatures into one another.

Last but not least, Bestiary may also be a viable Modern sideboard card, or at the very least will be a Commander staple. I like foil ones right now while they are still cheap and under the radar.

Heroic Intervention is another spicy dollar-box card. It does something very unique out of the GB sideboard, which is to counter Fumigate and Radiant Flames. Often the Jeskai player will tap out for Fumigate on five—Heroic Intervention saves the team, and then you can untap and Gearhulk for the win.

With Mardu also packing sideboard Fumigates the card has even more value. Not to mention it can counter an Unlicensed Disintegration.

It is also worth noting that I was boarding it in the mirror as well. So many boards arrive to a stall full of giant creatures and deathtouchers. In these situations you can alpha strike (or block if they are ahead and attacking you) and cast Intervention, eating most of their board without losing a soul.

Blossoming Defense is the best of this effect ever made and likely the best we will ever get for a long time. It is a card people will be playing in Modern forever. It is also a Cube card. I think picking these up now and holding onto them will yield nice dividends in the future. Foils especially, since they can be had for less than $5.

Mardu Vehicles

I believe deep in my heart that Mardu is actually the best deck in Standard. I regret not playing it last weekend because I'm certain I would have finished with a better record.

The ability to generate so much damage for so little mana is gross. The synergies are real. It doesn't roll over to a pile of shocks like other aggro decks.

With all of that being said, it isn't really a hot bed of sick value. The expensive cards, Gideon, Ally of Zendikar and Heart of Kiran, are likely as high as they can go in the wake of the PT. Scrapheap Scrounger has also already spiked and doesn't feel like a good place to get one's money in.

Fatal Push has been steady as she goes. The Standard format is more about Push than ever and I could see the card steadily ticking up. Also, there is a good possibility that all the Modern events in the coming weeks will further showcase the card and lead to gains.

If I had to pick one card that could gain its way out of the dollar box from Mardu it would be Depala. The card is very good in the deck. Max McVety (our resident aggro genius) started three copies in his Mardu deck that he piloted to an impressive 11-4 cash finish in Pittsburgh.

Pia is a great card and very strong in the Vehicles deck. I feel like it is always the card I lose to with BG. It either makes just enough bodies to block me down or is able to sacrifice an extra clue to keep my creatures from blocking on a critical turn.

I love the card in the Danger Room as well. My opinion: too good a card to be a $1 rare. I love foil ones as a long-term hold. It is the kind of card people like to play with in their fun decks and stacks that they want to bling out.

Jeskai Copycat or Control

To cat, or not to cat? that is the question...

Whether players opt to combo or just grind hard, the fact is that Jeskai is very real and here to stay. I anticipate it making a comeback next week with the success of BG Constrictor in Pittsburgh last weekend.

Fumigate is a really good card in Standard right now. It is insane against BG which has become the most-played deck. I've noticed that Fumigate is sold out at my LGS. Typically, when cards sell out at the store it means they are hot and likely to see a value gain.

It isn't easy to pick winners from the Jeskai deck because most of the cards are already beefed up to maximum value. If you didn't pick up Torrential Gearhulks and Saheelis before they spiked, they are likely only going to trickle down from here.

Field is a good card that is kind of a bulk mythic. I think it is a powerful and unique effect that could be worth owning and holding onto for the future. Foil ones seem like a nice Cube or Danger Room addition.

Trading into Staples

Standard is a three-headed monster: Jeskai, Golgari, and Mardu. Using that information to our advantage and trading for the highest-demand/highest-potential singles is a great way to turn extra trade fodder into cards likely to sustain value in our collections. Obviously, the prices are starting to settle in, but there are still nice investments to be made to the old Standard portfolio.

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