Top 8 Tech: Grand Prix Kansas City (6/19)

With GP Kansas City in the books we get our first look at top-level post-WAR Standard. I do wish that I could give you an Event Spotlight but the Top 32 decklists are being withheld. This will be the last set added before the London Mulligan so get settled in. Today we will be focusing on the Top 8 decklists and the technology they utilized. These are the deck building choices, some new and some old, from the most successful players at Grand Prix Kansas City. They are all available here.

Mono-Red Aggro: Getting Away with Cheating
The tech on display in Forest’s list is elaborate cheating. He managed to Top 8 with a 57 card maindeck and a black card in the sideboard of a Mono-Red deck. I am kidding. But seriously, CFB needs to do a better job. If you are going to give us only the Top 8, at least get the decklists right. The missing card is likely Wizard’s Lightning and the sideboard card should be Direfleet Daredevil. It is a very stock Mono-Red list and there is nothing wrong with that. I appreciate running both Chandra and Frenzy in the main, drawing one of each is miles better than drawing two copies of one. As always, the full set of Lava Coil out of the board is great in this format and Tibalt preventing lifegain is sweet.

Izzet Phoenix: Augur and Kefnet
This deck at its core has been about spamming instants and sorceries. This is how it reanimates Phoenix again and again. Goblin Electromancer makes it a touch easier by reducing costs. So why did it take us this long to start playing Kefnet? Four mana for a 4/5 flyer, beating Rekindling Phoenix, is already a solid rate. But in a deck with more instants and sorceries than lands, the draw trigger is serious value. With eight instant speed draw spells it can even be triggered on the opponent’s turn. All of the cantrips also make it easier to dig up Kefnet if and when he does die. Further along this line of card advantage is also Augur of Bolas. This creature was a format staple in his first Standard run and should be a Phoenix staple at the very least. The 1/3 body is a great blocker against red aggro decks and the ETB trigger will whiff only 12% of the time. In fact, more than half the time you will have two spells to choose from. I think Andrew put the mainboard together just right.

UG(W) Ramp: Going Huge
Bant Ramp is an awesome deck that mostly flew under the radar up until now. The first thing you will probably notice is that Daniel and Josh have committed more than 75% of their decks to mana production. This deck is more focused on mana production than any Standard deck in recent memory. The primary payoff is format staple Hydroid Krasis. It is not uncommon to see this deck produce a 6/6 flyer that comes with Ancestral Recall and Healing Salve. Failing this, they ran a playset of Mind Control effects so that he could beat you with your own creatures. These decks may have been reported as different archetypes but they really are not. The key difference is that Daniel focused on mana dorks while Josh preferred Explore effects. Turner went down a more traditional path with good old Simic Nexus. His list was more similar to these Bant builds than what we saw in the past though. Gone are the fog effects with just two Blink of an Eye remaining to interact. This build is much more focused on the value-creature gameplan described above. However, it tops out with Nexus of Fates and saves the Mind Control effects for the sideboard. They all want to outvalue you with massive mana production.

Boros Aggro: Playing EDH in Standard
Brian basically showed up with a Feather EDH deck. He may have not gone the singleton route but his focus on maximizing Feather is evident. This build is very reminiscent of the Azorious Heroic decks that we saw in Standard many years ago. The creatures have abilities that reward you for targeting them and Feather ensures that you will be able to do it again every turn. It can be a touch awkward that Feather prevents Arcanist from netting value but you really do not mind as long as you have one of them in play to do it. It is common for these strategies to struggle with blockers but Arcanist’s trample and Krenko’s go wide ability makes it a breeze. This deck punishes you hard for skimping on removal and is definitely one to watch going forward.

Gruul Midrange: Tag-teaming Domri with Sarkhan
This may be a simple Gruul beatdown deck but I have to give Michael credit for making it look so fun. When WotC was designing Gruul cards for this Standard, a deck like this is exactly what they had in mind. The hands that curve Llanowar Elves into Spellbreaker set a nasty pace and even if you survive, the top end is very value-heavy. The flying threats are very hard to deal with and the planeswalkers are a fearsome duo. With Llanowar Elves you can play Domri on Turn 2. This then gives you enough mana to play Sarkhan on Turn 3. He can then immediately +1 and turn Domri into a flying 4/4. Domri gives himself +1/0 and smashes you for five in the air. The following turn they will both be dragons and slam you for 10 without any additional mana investment. That is living the dream in Standard.

Esper Hero: Playing a Planeswalker Prison
We have seen Hero decks in the past that play an aggressive value plan and of course we all recall Esper Control. Ben Friedman brought the two together for his trophy-winning run. Admittedly, Hero has fewer multicolored spell than we typically see but with such a powerful control suite, it will eventually net value. This deck list is 20% planeswalkers and Oath of Kaya makes it hard to even touch them. We all know that it is frustrating to toss attackers at a planeswalker as it effectively gains life for the opponent but you often have to do it. Unfortunately, the Oath will shock you for that and the player will gain life anyways, buying them additional time. This becomes especially daunting when the opposing player is spawning chump blockers. It often leads to a board state where you just cannot attack anymore or you die. This is a wicked deck to play against and if you want to beat it: go hard, go fast, go face.

It was obvious that we would see Standard change from the week one metagame but it is stunning to see just how far we have come. Esper may have come out on top but I would venture to say that UG(W) Ramp is the deck to beat. How do you plan to tackle this metagame? Are there any WAR gems that are just waiting to break out? Share them with us in our discussion group. Or if you would like to take a swing at writing content for the site you can contact us directly here. We will be back tomorrow with a Dredge tournament report from SCG Louisville. Until then my friends.

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