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The Standard Metagame - the Lower Tiers

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Last week I looked at the tier 1 decks of Standard. This week I’ll be looking at the lower tiers.

I guess the first thing I should do is define what the tiers are and what separates them. Tier 1 is obviously the best decks in the format. In the current Standard I feel there are 4 tier 1 decks. The first is Tooth which is above the others and could almost be considered something like Tier 0. The rest of the tier 1 decks include Beacon Green, Flores Red, and Red Deck Wins.

A tier 2 deck is often still a very good deck. It can be very powerful and often a good choice to play. It just isn’t quite as good as the tier 1 decks. Decks I’ll be including in this category include the Ninja Rats decks, White Weenie, Gifts Ungiven, B/G Control, and Mono Black Control. These decks aren’t as good as the 4 tier 1 decks but are also very common and more than capable of winning a tournament. A few of these decks are closer to the tier 3 line such as WW and Mono Black Control but others are almost tier 1 decks like Ninja Rats and possibly Gifts Ungiven. I guess if you could have a tier 1.5 and 2.5 this would be where these decks would fit in.

A tier 3 deck really includes a few different types of decks. The first is just bad decks that people think are good. Examples include Ponza and Mono Blue Control. These decks may have been good at one time but they are currently a terrible choice for the metagame. That wont stop them from winning a tournament here and there though. Also note that when I say bad I don’t actually mean the deck is worthless. Just that they are currently poor choices. Mono Blue Control would probably be a tier 1 deck if Boseiju didn’t exist but as it is it just looses to decks that play it. Ponza used to be great against Tooth with a good draw but since the deck added Kodama’s Reach it isn’t what it once was. How can you expect land destruction to be good in a format where the most played cards are things like Sakura-Tribe Elder, Kodama’s Reach, Eternal Witness, and Sensei’s Divining Top? Even if the deck is good loosing to most tier 1 decks is generally enough to bump it down to a tier 3 deck.

The next type of tier 3 deck is a metagame deck. These are generally rogue decks designed specifically to crush the metagame. An example would be Joshie Green. A deck like this usually wouldn’t work at all if people were expecting them and came prepared. This is generally the category you should aim for if you want to be a successful rogue player.

The last part just includes either brand new or otherwise underrepresented decks. These decks can be good or bad but they are not common and thus not really worth preparing for. Over time they will either disappear or find their place in the metagame. Decks in this category right now include things like Intruder Alarm decks and Erayo, Soratami Ascendant decks. It is possible a good build of one of these may eventually be found but right now they aren’t very good.

The Tier 2 Decks:

Ninja Rats:

This is easily the best of the tier 2 decks and is almost good enough to be tier 1. It has a very large amount of discard which is great against the control decks and reusing Nekrataal with ninjas and Skull Collector is great against aggro decks. The only reason it isn’t completely tier 1 is that it is only semi-decent against Tooth. The discard is great but cannot do anything about the Tooth deck just topdecking the win, which with Sensei’s Divining Top happens more than you would like.

The parts of this deck that generally vary are Skull Collector, Throat Slitter, and Okiba-Gang Shinobi. Most run Throat Slitter over the discard ninja but since the environment is favoring more controlling decks I think the Shinobi is a bit better choice at the moment.

White Weenie:

One of the more overrated decks in the environment. While it is good in Kamigawa Block Constructed this deck just doesn’t have the power to really keep up in Standard. The only reason it is even a deck at all is Hokori, Dust Drinker and Umezawa’s Jitte. Jitte is strong but the green decks can use it just as well. Hokori also has the problem of being a 4 drop in a deck that really doesn’t want to be running 4-mana creatures. This deck is certainly capable of winning games but not nearly to the extent as the green aggro decks do.

B/G Control:

This has been around since they printed Death Cloud. It has always been floating there at the pretty good but not great level. There are certainly very powerful cards available for this deck and it can be quite good. It is a bit slow however and can be pretty bad if it doesn’t get decent draws.

Mono Black Control:

This one hasn’t really made a name for itself at a good deck yet. Don’t let that make you think it isn’t a powerful deck though. While it can have problems against a lucky topdeck from Tooth it is usually quite good against the best decks. It can dominate the aggro green decks in the environment. It can have a problem against the fast red decks though.

There isn’t really an agreed upon built of this deck yet but this one looked the most generic to me. The sideboard is a bit weird with the Underworld Dreams and I’m not sure what deck they are for but the rest looks pretty good.

Gifts Ungiven:

This deck made its breakout at the first Kamigawa block tournament. It has since made the transition to Standard. This is also called 5-Color Green (or 3-4 color depending on what it runs). 4 each of Birds of Paradise, Sakura-Tribe Elder, and Kodama’s Reach along with a few multi-color lands let the deck essentially run any card it wants to. While it took a while for people to figure out how to use it Gifts Ungiven has turned out to be as broken as people said it would be when the spoiler first came out. A deck based on this card is tier 1 in every format it is legal in, Vintage included.

Since this deck can run literally any card in Standard they tend to vary a lot. You can find anything from Sunburst cards to just a bunch of good creatures from various colors. Really the only thing they all have is the mana fixing and Gifts Ungiven. Since Gifts is a tutor there tend to be a huge number of one-of silver bullets these decks run.

Tier 3 Decks:

From last week’s article Joshie Green and Ponza would fit into this category. I put them into that article because it isn’t always obvious as to the difference between those decks and similar ones that are tier 1. For instance Joshie Green isn’t Beacon Green even though it is a mono green aggro deck that runs Beacon of Creation. Ponza isn’t always distinguishable from Red Deck Wins either. Really the only difference is often just the amount of land destruction and then you have to decide where to draw the line. It would be obvious that a deck with Stone Rain, Molten Rain, and Demolish is Ponza but what about one with just the first two? Mana Red Deck Wins decks run Molten Rain so running 4 land destruction spells doesn’t make it Ponza but running 8 is a bit more borderline.

Mono Blue Control:

This was considered the best deck right after Affinity was banned and was even one of the better decks in the Ravager Affinity dominated environment. Now it isn’t even tier 2. This deck is down here for one reason and that is Boseiju. That single card takes the Tooth matchup from very good to completely unwinnable. Nine mana sorceries usually don’t see play because under normal circumstances it would just get countered. Boseiju negates that completely. Suddenly the blue mage has to just watch Tooth and Nail resolve while staring helplessly at the countermagic it is holding. The other problem is Thieving Magpie. I believe that running it is a terrible idea. What kind of Draw.Go deck would tap out on turn 3-4 to cast a creature? This is generally where the opponent untaps and drops Kodama of the North Tree or something else scary. Also dropping Vedalken Shackles as soon as you hit 3 mana is an equally bad idea. Yet people continue to do so. This deck would actually not be so bad if people would just play a decent version of it. There were 3 lists in the top 8s of Regionals that weren’t the “Turbo Magpie” decks that are most commonly seen. As a result Mono Blue Control was one of the worst performing decks in Regionals. I read somewhere in a pre Regionals article that in the past few big tournaments the deck had posted something like a 38% win rate. This was bumped up to 52% if you only looked at the versions not running Thieving Magpie.

For a decent version look at running something more like this.

Mono Blue Urzatron:

This deck is actually pretty cool. It runs the same countermagic that mono blue control tends to have but also uses the Urzatron to cast big powerful spells like Mindslaver and Triskelion. This isn’t a great deck but is probably one of the better Tier 3 decks. At the very least it is better than Mono Blue Control. Really the more I think about it the more I think this should have been in the tier 2 section.

This deck has a few oddities like not maindecking Triskelion but some of the extra cards it runs are good like Æther Spellbomb and it doesn’t run some of the mediocre cards that other versions do like Arcbound Reclaimer. Generally this is to recur Mindslaver but that is really all that card is good for. This version doesn’t run it but one of the neat things many of these decks do is run Twincast, one Uyo, Silent Prophet and 2 Mephidross Vampires in the sideboard for the Tooth matchup. If you are holding Twincast the Tooth deck pretty much cannot cast Tooth and Nail without giving you the game. Of course if they board Tooth and Nail out for creatures like many people are doing now days I’m not sure if this deck is still favored. They are much better at finding Urza pieces than you are.

Erayo Affinity:

This is by far the weirdest deck to make top 8 at Regionals. While there was only one it is still worth pointing out just because it is kinda cool. This deck can flip Erayo, Soratami Ascendant as early as turn 2 with a good draw. Once flipped Erayo will make the opponent have problems doing much of anything. The person who played this deck to the top 8 really just got lucky and still doesn’t think much of the deck other than it is fun to play.

Intruder Alarm Combo:

This has been around for a while but hasn’t really made much of a splash. It is likely the best combo deck in the environment, unless you consider Tooth a combo deck (it is really part combo part control). It is actually pretty good but would likely disappear if enough people played it for others to devote sideboard slots to it. As it is it is one of the better rogue options. The goal is to animate Forbidden Orchard with an Intruder Alarm in play for infinite mana or get outKiki-Jiki + Intruder Alarm for infinite hasty copies of another creature you control.


Any of the tier 2 decks and the Blue Urzatron deck are more than capable of winning a big tournament. The rest are more just kinda cool to look at and might be fun to play but aren’t really all that good. Any deck here would be fine for a more casual environment like Friday Night Magic or something of similar competitiveness. Regionals was the last look of Standard before 9th Edition comes out which will hopefully bring about a few changes in the environment. I should probably do some kind of post 9th Standard deckbuilding article before that happens so I’ll be thinking about some new ideas. Preferably ones that utilize some new card in 9th Wildfire and Shard Phoenix certainly have my intrigue right now).