Expectations for Week 1 Standard With Aether Revolt

A new standard format is about to debut this weekend at the SCG Open in Columbus.  There’s a lot of buzz around the new format and not just because we recently saw some unexpected bans to shake up the format.  Aether Revolt offers a lot of interesting cards and powerful, unique effects that have players excited to build around.  It is conventional wisdom that aggressive strategies are the way to attack an unknown week 1 metagame, but I have a feeling that this weekend could be an exception to that rule.

Even though I won’t be attending, I’ve never before thought about or played this much so early in a standard format.  I don’t have a deep understanding of the format by any means, but I’ve played enough to have some ideas on what I expect in Columbus and what decks I’d be looking to sleeve up myself.

Initial Testing

My expectations for the format have evolved quite a bit in just the two short weeks since the B&R announcement.  As surprising as the bannings were, it was just as big of a surprise to see what wasn’t banned:

Having such an efficient 2-card infinite combo in standard hasn’t happened in a long time.  Early articles on the new format focused on the many flavors of Saheeli combo: Saheeli Jeskai Control, Saheeli-Aetherworks Marvel, Saheeli-Metalwork Colossus, Saheeli-Bring to Light, Saheeli-Panharmonicon.

But Saheeli isn’t the only card with combo potential in the new set.  The Kaladesh block aims to deliver on its promise of putting you in the role of an inventor.  There have been many drafts of decks exploring some of the fun and/or powerful interactions: Aetherworks Marvel, Aetherflux Reservoir, Inspiring Statuary, Paradox Engine and Metalwork Colossus, Animation Module/Metallic Mimic were just some of the build-a-round archetypes being looked at.

For the first week many content creators featured brews of this nature to see what the format was capable of.  The most notable except was Tom Ross, who debuted an aggressive Wr Humans deck early on that has become the de-facto aggro deck of most testing gauntlets.

I proxied a number of the untested brews and played a few games with each to get an idea for which of these strategies seemed viable.  Some performed better than others but what stood out to me was that almost every deck was focused on furthering its own game plan.  Interaction was very minimal and games were usually decided by who could assemble their powerful combo first.

All of these decks seemed week to Spell Queller or counterspells in general.  We are talking about powerful combo decks, but these combos are fragile and require all of the pieces to resolve and survive.  Others were on the same page and dedicated control decks started popping up on StarCityGames, Reddit and people testing on XMage: U/B Control, Jeskai Control (with or without Saheeli), and U/R Dynavolt Tower lists started making the rounds.  These decks have lots of counter magic to beat the combo decks and usually pack a bunch of spot removal and sweepers to handle the Wr Humans deck.

So where does that leave us heading into Week 1?

Week 1 Metagame Expectations

Metagaming has long been a weakness of mine but I’m trying to work on it.  As an exercise, here’s what I would be prepared to face in Columbus.

Level 0 – The Obvious Strategies

Any deck you consider must be well tested against these known archetypes. If your testing time is limited, I’d focus on these matchups because these are the decks you can expect to see in large numbers. In a week 1 tournament like this, the rest of the field will be a wide range of decks so there are diminishing returns to testing against all the possible fringe archetypes.

Wr Humans (Tom Ross)

Creatures (31)
Expedition Envoy
Inventor’s Apprentice
Town Gossipmonger
Thraben Inspector
Thalia’s Lieutenant
Metallic Mimic
Hanweir Militia Captain
Kari Zev, Skyship Raider
Pia Nalaar
Thalia, Heretic Cathar

Spells (3)
Collective Effort
Declaration in Stone
Lands (26)
Aether Hub
Inspiring Vantage
Needle Spires

Sideboard (15)
Authority of the Consuls
Hanweir Garrison
Thalia, Heretic Cathar
Repel the Abominable
Declaration in Stone
Needle Spires
Gideon, Ally of Zendikar

Jeskai Copycat (Brad Nelson)

Creatures (7)
Felidar Guardian
Torrential Gearhulk

Planeswalkers (4)
Saheeli Rai

Spells (23)
Immolating Glare
Harnessed Lightning
Revolutionary Rebuff
Glimmer of Genius
Radiant Flames
Lands (26)
Inspiring Vantage
Aether Hub
Spirebluff Canal
Port Town
Wandering Fumarole

Sideboard (15)
Torrential Gearhulk
Authority of the Consuls
Blessed Alliance
Nahiri, the Harbinger
Brutal Expulsion
Gideon, Ally of Zendikar

A smattering of untuned homebrews: Aetherworks Marvel, Aetherflux Reservoir, Inspiring Statuary, Paradox Engine and Metalwork Colossus

Level 1 – Control

Many players are going to be excited to play with their pet decks for the first time and most will not have had the time to adequately test or tune or practice with those strategies. I think the players that have put the time in to test will be aware that control is well positioned. This is highly unusual for a week 1 tournament, but given that the the nature of the Kaladesh block encourages combos and assembling contraptions, I think counterspells will be a great week 1 choice.

  • U/B Control
  • Jeskai Control (no combo)

I don’t have specific lists that I can recommend at this point but I’m sure there a number out there on Reddit or other content sites.  A big challenge to picking up control week 1 is having enough time to get the reps in and tune the list.

Level 2 – ???

Here is where I would normally out-think myself and try to figure out what deck would beat the Level 1 control decks.  Once you have a read on the meta, you don’t want to jump too many steps ahead, which I think I tend to do.  This kind of thinking can be useful for the weeks ahead, but I wouldn’t apply it to this weekend.

Since I can’t help myself, I’ll try to prognosticate a bit here just for fun.  If we do see a lot of control in the room on week 1, I would look at a couple of innovations for the following weeks:

  • Wr Humans can switch to RW Vehicles – this lets them get in under counterspells but plays better around sweepers and you get to play Aethersphere Harvester for aggro mirrors.
  • If control really dominates and keeps combo at bay, midrange Planeswalker strategies could become viable: GW Tokens comes to mind.

Decks to Avoid

I would avoid any slow creature-based strategies.  Midrange decks will get eaten up by the combination of combo decks and control.  GB Winding Constrictor looks like a prime example.  Some people are really excited about this deck.  It’s doing powerful things, but it will not be happy to face a control deck and it has limited disruption for other combo players.  GW Tokens is another archetype that has all the tools to out-value a creature-based metagame, but I don’t think that’s what games are going to be about at this time.

My Deck Choices for Columbus

If I were playing this weekend, I think a Torrential Gearhulk control deck would be the most well-positioned to handle the room.  I would tune the deck to beat other control decks, at least after sideboard – this likely means more counterspells, Sphinx of the Final Word, and I’d test Gideon or other resilient sideboard threats.

However, I dislike playing control decks at tournaments.  You have to make so many decisions per game, small takes can cost you games or matches and it’s tiring to play all day.  So even though I think control is the best choice, I know I wouldn’t do well with it and I’d find something else to play.

I haven’t gotten to test these decks but I would be choosing between:

Jeskai Saheeli

I’m of the opinion that this combo is going to be more impressive than the average player expects.  Most people realize it has broken potential, though there are some who don’t think it will be oppressive.  Even though people are aware of the combo, I think enough people will under-estimate it or under-test for it.  It’s hard to go wrong with a known powerful strategy.  Of all the archetypes, this one has gotten the most attention by the most players, so I would expect the latest published versions of this deck to be more well tuned than most other lists in the format.

Ramp / Temur Emerge

Here’s an oldy but a goody.  World Breaker has felt incredible in testing.  Both of these are powerful decks that haven’t been seen in awhile and both get to play Kozilek’s Return.  The cast triggers of all the Eldrazi are awesome ways to get value against control decks with countermagic.  Aetherworks Marvel has been the preferred way to cast Eldrazi for awhile, but against counterspells I don’t want to be casting 4-mana artifacts that force me to play with dead cards like Woodweaver’s Puzzleknots.

A dedicated ramp deck with x4 World Breaker and x4 Ulamog seems great against control, but I’m not sure it would hold up against Wr Humans.  Emerge may be a better choice since Elder-Deep Fiend lets you play at instant speed, which I think is very important in this format.

UR Emerge

If I had to choose today, this would be my deck for the weekend.

This has always been a fringe archetype since it debuted in Ralph Levy’s hands at PT Kaladesh.  It looked like it was doing something powerful but it’s been on the sidelines since Emrakul has dominated the format.  Late in the season, the deck top 8’d  GP Denver, so it did have some legs.

The deck is a value powerhouse with resilient, evasive threats.  Your threats enter the battlefield from the graveyard, so you don’t even have to interact with control decks on the stack.  You also get access to Fevered Visions, which I think could soon be a breakout card in control mirrors.  Against aggro you get efficient removal like Fiery Temper and Lightning Axe (which also stops the Saheeli combo for 1 mana) and Elder Deep-Fiend + Kozilek’s Return to catch you up from behind.  And against the combo decks I expect in the field you are still playing blue so you can play as many counterspells after sideboard as you think  are necessary.

The deck didn’t get any big upgrades from the new set, but I don’t think it needs anything new to be well positioned.

I would play something close to Andrew Wolber’s GP Denver Top 8 list.  The only new card I would consider making room for is Baral’s Expertise which seems insane with Fevered Visions.

UR Emerge (GP Denver Top 8 - Andrew Wolber)

Cretaures (17)
Prized Amalgam
Stitchwing Skaab
Advanced Stitchwing
Elder Deep-Fiend
Wretched Gryff

Spells (20)
Cathartic Reunion
Tormenting Voice
Lightning Axe
Fiery Temper
Kozilek’s Return
Fevered Visions
Lands (23)
Wandering Fumarole
Spirebluff Canal
Highland Lake
Sanctum of Ugin

Sideboard (15)
Ceremonious Rejection
Jace, Unraveler of Secrets
Weaver of Lightning
Galvanic Bombardment
Nahiri’s Wrath


We will soon have a much better idea what standard looks like, but for now the possibilities are endless.  If you are going to Columbus, good luck!  All eyes are on you.

I’ll be back next week to discuss the results and my preparation for SCG Richmond next weekend.

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