With an upcoming Arena Open, my eyes are on Standard. This past weekend Yuta Takahashi won Worlds with an undefeated tear in Standard after starting 0-3 in Draft. he piloted an exciting Izzet Dragons deck featuring four of the new card Smoldering Egg // Ashmouth Dragon alongside the proven Goldspan Dragon. I will try to use the results from Worlds to prepare for the upcoming weekend.
Surveying the Scene
The metagame is mostly comprised of URx A-Alrund's Epiphany decks and Faceless Haven mono-color aggro decks. The defending champion, Paulo Vitor Damo da Rosa, said that he regretted registering Mono-Green. He explained that he expected people playing the URx decks to target the mirror more heavily, but they ended up not doing so. The takeaway here should imply that the stock URx decks are favored vs Green (the most popular form of Faceless Haven aggro).
My initial impression is that as both players cast spells in the early turns, the UR player gets a heavy cascading advantage from simply hitting land drops. This puts a ton of pressure on the Faceless Haven player to do something before that inevitable advantage takes over. In addition, the Faceless Haven aggro decks don’t have much wiggle room in how they can approach the URx matchups. The URx decks, on the other hand, can be configured in many different ways. Those two statements make me gravitate heavily towards UR, for the time being. I don’t see the reward for putting myself in a position where I feel I am falling far behind simply because my opponent is hitting land drops.
Analyzing UR lists
Simply copypasting a deck from one of the Worlds players might be a better strategy than trying crude changes on your own. Seeing if one of them has posted updates on their ideas on Standard is better. That said, I enjoy following my gut and thinking things through for myself from first principles. It’s important to be somewhat self-aware when doing so though. Make sure you aren’t hurting yourself in the long run by making sub-optimal changes to Worlds lists. Using the results of Worlds gives us a new understanding of the original decklists players submitted.
Takahashi piloted his Izzet Dragons deck to an insane 10-0 record in Standard to take the title. Looking at the list, I thought it might have difficulty dealing with Galvanic Iteration into A-Alrund's Epiphany. Dealing with Takahashi's Dragons didn’t seem too difficult for a combo-oriented Epiphany build, and the Dragons deck wouldn't be as favored as the game drags on. I thought the Dragons deck would be better vs the Faceless Haven aggro decks, as all the creatures are quite potent vs them. You also play more cheap removal in the form of Dragon's Fire.
I figured URx decks should already be quite favored vs Faceless Haven, so I was more concerned with the mirror. Takahashi obviously beat many UR players along the way to his victory, so maybe I am off on my analysis here. There are many things to like about his Dragons build, but it's not the focus of my attention. My focus is on Izzet Turns.
Looking at the Turns deck, My impression was that when you cast Galvanic Iteration into A-Alrund's Epiphany, you tended to win. I want to play a list that has the best ability to do that. Out of all the lists from Worlds, The Czech house list is most suited to do that.
The Czech List
After playing the Czech List in a Magic Online PTQ over the weekend, I wondered about the card Careful Consideration. It seemed like it could improve the floor on Galvanic Iteration and maybe even make Expressive Iteration a bit better. I’m not sure how strong the consensus on Consider is. Nobody plays it. But do they confidently not play it, or is it on the borderline? The downside is it can have the feeling of an Izzet Guildgate.
I realized Defend the Celestus had a similar ability to improve the floor on Galvanic Iteration but let your mana investment go more directly toward impacting the board, so I decided to start with that instead. I could also see trying some sort of split between the two. There’s a good chance The Celestus and Consider end up being quite poor, but I think they are interesting to experiment with in relation to trying to improve the floor on Galvanic Iteration.
There are three Test of Talents in the Czech list. Takahashi won Worlds with a list featuring four Goldspan Dragons, so it seems reasonable to try Disdainful Stroke instead. Stroke nicely hits some of the larger threats out of the green decks at a nice rate as well. I also contemplated adding a couple Dissipates for extra countermagic. Dissipate seemed very effective against lists like Takahashi's.
The Czech list played three Fading Hope and three Burn Down the House. I'm interested in trying to up the Demon Bolt numbers to prepare for Goldspan Dragon I am not sure how important Burn Down the House or Fading Hope really are, so these changes could end up going quite poorly. Here's my take on the list:
For the sideboard, with this list not needing to sideboard in UR mirrors outside of bringing in a couple Spikefield Hazard // Spikefield Caves, I had more space to mess around vs aggressive decks. It made sense to me that Unexpected Windfall would be quite potent vs aggressive decks, and be an upgrade to Memory Deluge.
I removed the Unexpected Windfall favoring the durdlier Memory Deluge, and trying to find ramp in the form of Defend the Celestus. I did this to try not to set myself up for bad exchanges in the mirror but might be overreacting to the downside of the opponent countering a Windfall. While that is not a great trade, when it resolves in the mirror making two treasures is quite powerful, and the lack of explosive ramp might hurt me more than I expect vs aggressive decks.
Creatures or No Creatures?
I think it might make sense to play no creatures in the mirror. Last weekend a lot of my opponents seemed to be maxed out on removal. I assume that number will only increase this weekend. This causes some subtle effects like making Unexpected Windfall slightly worse. For example, without siding in creatures, you won’t be able to punish an opponent for countering your Windfall on their end step.
In my experience, I found that creatures weren't that impressive, though I might be underrating them. I'm heading away from the prevailing consensus here, and the risk/reward for doing this is generally pretty poor if you do it too haphazardly (see my warning from earlier). I can see that part of the appeal to creatures is that they help you win games vs Test of Talents. Additionally, I might be underrating them in general. This format is pretty new, so I don't have particularly strong ideas yet.
I was also interested in trying Introduction to Prophecy over Teachings of the Archaics. It's a bit more consistent but a bit less powerful. This shouldn't be too complicated to figure out. Playing with the deck and paying attention to your lessons should reveal the preferred one. I would lean to the common consensus in Teachings for now, but keeping an open mind to alternatives. It's worth noting the Czech List played a bunch of bounce spells, which should make the Archaics more appealing than a list without, at least to some degree.
It's generally a bad process to take a list from more experienced players playing more high-stakes events and make tons of changes. That's why I mentioned earlier it's worth being self-aware and trying to make sure you aren't hurting yourself more in the long run with changes. I do find it fun though to think through various iterations of lists, and then see how those theorized changes perform. After playing with the Czech List a bit, I wanted to mess around with other fringe ideas and see how they'd perform.
After giving it some additional thought, playing an extra Spikefield Hazard or two seemed alluring. Many people will be playing Malevolent Hermit // Benevolent Geists, but it might be better to stick with more Shatterskull Smasings. I will keep two Burning Down the House for now. I'll be able to find it with the looting ability of The Celestus and with Memory Deluge. This should let me smoothly sideboard them out for Spikefield Hazards in the mirror. I'm still not sure on the appropriate numbers of [card]Field of Ruin, Shatterskull Smashing, or the rest of the manabase.
With all these considerations in mind, I will likely try out a list similar to the one above. If I don’t feel comfortable, my backup plan is to copy a list from Worlds and make some considerations to deal with Goldspan Dragon. I could also go on Twitter, find a top-notch player, and copy their list. (Several pros commonly tweet their lists prior to the Arena Open). Good luck this weekend with whatever you end up playing!