The Best Decks in Standard

How to get a head start

on your next RCQ success

A Standard Overview

Author: Matej Zatlkaj


Bet you didn’t expect to see me here! I haven’t written an article in around 10 years. But with my love for Standard and Three for One Trading I wanted to put together an article that would give people an overview of the Standard format. Just in time for the end of the current RCQ season that culminates with Sunday’s Classic Qualifier at the LMS in Prague. The next Standard-legal set Outlaws at Thunder Junction drops in the middle of April, so there is still plenty of play in the format left.

If you are wondering who I am, the long story short is that I am a Magic boomer, having played MTG since 1999 and started to play competitively in 2001. I have 2 Pro Tour Top8’s under my belt, as well as a Grand Prix win in 2014 alongside other minor achievements. You might also recognize my name or face from video coverage of 2010s European Grand Prix as one of the main casters and still do coverage of the Regional Championships that are part of the Legacy European Tour events.

On a more recent note, I am an avid Standard player and have been preparing with a group of friends for the current RCQ season. Having tried all the decks in the metagame and given that I have just won my local Standard RCQ, I think you might find some of my insights useful, especially if you have not played the current Standard format yet!

The Standard Dynamics

In general, there are a few things about Standard that you need to know:

  • It’s varied in terms of archetypes and game dynamics, so you can expect to see aggressive aggro decks, a smattering of midrange decks and traditional control. Combo decks are present, but they are not typically traditional One-Turn-Kill decks but try to cheat in lands, Atraxas or other haymakers.
  • A lot of the big game decisions can start as early as turn 2 but some of the huge plays of the format start on turn 3 through cards such as Raffine, Wedding Announcement, Preacher of the Schism, Topiary Stomper or double-spell turns from your aggro decks. Early interaction is crucial!
  • Games are permanent-heavy, especially revolving around creatures and plenty of game objects (tokens, counters).
  • Overall complexity is fairly high, and you can expect quite a few decision points in both fast and really long games. I believe that the format rewards experience and a good understanding of the metagame.
  • Some decks can be over-represented in your local metagames due to their cheaper cost.

The Main Decks

Based on MTGGoldfish data, there are currently 6 decks with a metagame share of over 5%, so I will focus on those in detail while giving you a few other decks to think about!

Esper Midrange

One of the pillars of Standard for quite a while, with Raffine, Scheming Seer being the key card that enables the deck to do what it does.

No matter the tournament, you have to be ready to face this deck and present a solid game plan because it does a little bit of everything and can be very tricky to play against with the amount of instants and flash cards it can represent at all steps of the mana curve.


  • Can play aggressive, midrange or control based on the matchup and cards drawn and do each of those well.
  • Snowballs hard if early threats are unanswered, especially the combination of Deep-Cavern Bat into Raffine, Scheming Seer on the play.
  • Has a lot of tunability in terms of maindeck and sideboard cards so in combination with Raffine, Scheming Seer, they can dig for great threats and answers to the opposing deck.
Raffine Scheming Seer SNC
Wedding Announcement VOWWedding Festivity VOW


  • Mana can be tricky to assemble sometimes as you want at least one source of black, white and blue untapped on turn 2 and with tapped lands across your curve you can get into tough spots.
  • You have a lot of cards that can be low-impact in the wrong matchups that can clog up your hand and not allow you to develop your game plan (think removal against control, Wedding Announcement on the draw etc.).
  • Difficult to play and sequence correctly at times, especially when you have to make Raffine-based decisions on what to attack with, what to discard to her trigger, how to tap mana etc.


  • I have found Wedding Announcement a bit slow and not impactful sometimes, and was decently happy with trying Preacher of the Schism instead.
  • If you make any changes, be mindful of the creature count and mana-curve – the deck performs best when it can curve out.
  • You can do so much with your sideboard – value every single spot and build it around the expected metagame.

I recommend a mix of disruption, sweepers and value cards to cover most of the metagame.

Preacher of the Schism LCI

Dimir Midrange

One of the most popular choices recently given its success at the Chicago $75k and rightly so.

It eschews Esper’s dodgy mana, has a lower curve and tries to capitalize on Gix, Yawgmoth Praetor and cheap interactive spells to push through for the win.

Mirrex ONE


  • Strong opening draws that can keep opponents wrong-footed starting Turn 1
  • Cheap interactive and disruptive mana-curve
  • Very good mana-base


  • If disrupted early, it can struggle to keep up pressure into the mid and late-game, which can make it difficult to close games.
  • Creatures are relatively small, so you don’t want to end up blocking or going into damage races.
  • You don’t have answers to enchantments and artifacts once they are on the board, so you need to be already winning when they land.
Deep-Cavern Bat LCI


  • The main contentions on the build of Dimir Midrange are Subterranean Schooners and Cryptic Coats. The build above ignores both, but either one is valid based on the metagame and personal preference. Schooner is bad in multiples, but if people rely on Cut Down and Go for the Throat it can be highly efficient at racing and providing you value. Cryptic Coat is a great way to be able to close games even in the late-game and provides a good threat in midrange mirrors.
  • You still have a lot of sideboard choices to do, but every spot is invaluable and has to match the particular maindeck build you decided to go with. For example, I would not be keen on adding more than 1 card that costs 4+ mana if you already run some 4-drops and an Aclazotz, Deepest Betrayal.
  • Like most decks in the metagame, you might benefit from ignoring a particular matchup like Mono-Red or Boros Convoke to try to dominate the midrange and control decks in the meta.

Azorius Control

A favorite of all boomers across the world, it’s the most old-school style deck that exists in Standard with access to counterspells, sweepers, good removal and few win conditions.

While it has clear weaknesses, it has some of the best answers available in Standard.


  • Lots of decision points throughout the game and highly interactive. Especially powerful in the long games.
  • Playing at mostly instant-speed puts your opponents in tough situations, especially once you hit 4 mana and can represent both Memory Deluge and Wandering Emperor.
  • Most of your removal exiles, and you even have Field of Ruin to interact with otherwise pesky man-lands.
Memory Deluge SCH


  • As most control decks are, you are slow and can fall behind easily.
  • Sweepers are necessary, but they make you vulnerable to follow-up hasty creatures, planeswalkers and other problematic permanents.
  • Your sideboard is not as powerful as what people can bring in against you.


  • You can play around a lot with the number and types of sweepers maindeck to fit the expected metagame. You can do the same with the counterspells as their value will be hugely dependent on which decks you face.
  • The sideboard plan usually involves bringing in some creatures and while I am a fan of the Chrome Host Seedshark, Ezrim, Agency Chief feels a bit underwhelming, but you need to have a plan for when you want to board out all or most of your sweepers
  • Your poor matchups are usually the Red decks, Toxic but Bx midrange decks will also be bringing in disruption, counterspells and planeswalkers so try to get ahead of their plans as those sideboard games will be quite difficult.

Boros Convoke

An early format favorite that really blew up with the addition of Novice Inspector to Standard, suddenly enabling Gleeful Demolition to be as powerful as it can be in Pioneer. While it has been diminishing in popularity recently, it is still one of the most meta-warping decks due to the sheer power of its opening hands and amount of damage it can bring early.

Knight Errant of Eos MOM


  • Your early opening with Gleeful Demolition into Knight-Errant of Eos is extremely difficult to beat, especially on the play.
  • You can be resilient to non-Lockdown sweepers thanks to Imodane’s Recruiter and the current adoption of Sanguine Evangelist helps even further.
  • Nearly every card you have provides some value, so while the baseline to play the deck decently is low, it’s still a deck with quite a bit of skill expression.


  • Mulligans, and lots of them. You not only have to but should mulligan quite often as you can’t afford to keep slow hands or hands with the lack of the right mana.
  • Speaking of mana, the mana-base is quite bad no matter how you build it as your lands are either tapped early, deal damage to you or are unreliable some amount of time.
  • Boros Convoke is easily hated out when people are ready, and you are particularly prone to good 3-mana sweepers such as Temporary Lockdown, Path of Peril, Brotherhood’s End, Glistening Deluge and Hidetsugu Consumes All on top of the more common Sunfalls, Depopulates etc.
Yotian Frontliner BRO


  • I will die on this hill, but I don’t think this deck is viable without at least some number of Yotian Frontliner. Many players have tried to cut them from the deck, but the artifact count is extremely important for Gleeful Demolition.
  • There has been a recent push towards Thalia, Guardian of Thraben in the main which is great in some matchups where you need to delay the sweepers to get that additional turn to set up or kill your opponent. I have also seen fewer Warleader’s Calls which I believe is correct.
  • While you can bring in quite a few cards in the Boros colors, you can’t really afford to sideboard too many cards due to the nature of your decks. It’s best to keep to approx. 3–4 cards per matchup, and versatility and impact of cards you bring in needs to be high.

Mono Red and Gruul Aggro

These 2 decks are nearly identical and while they both include some different variations within their respective archetypes, they usually have a lot of overlapping cards and an identical game-plan.

The only key difference is the inclusion of Questing Druid and green sideboard cards in the Gruul version. Zen did a fantastic breakdown early in the season and a lot of his thinking still applies!

Monstrous Rage WOE


  • Really solid pro-active game plan with the ability to close games fast, especially with Monstrous Rage.
  • Especially the Gruul version has lots of mid-game resilience thanks to Questing Druid and Case of the Crimson Pulse and MonoRed versions with Urabrask’s Forge are also viable.
  • With so many of your creatures having haste, you can find a way to punish sweepers and gain an advantage in combat situations thanks to Monstrous Rage forcing your opponents into difficult spots where they have to kill something but if you then Rage one of your other creatures they might be virtually dead.


  • Standard has a lot of incidental life-gain, and even an unanswered Deep-Cavern Bat can be hugely problematic.
  • All of the Bx midrange decks not only have cheap removal, but a lot of their creatures are pretty big and can be tough to answer without a Witchstalker Frenzy in hand.
  • There are still lots of SB cards that indicate people are ready for Red decks.
Goddric Cloaked Reveler WOE


  • Between these 2 main versions you could run plenty of variations and there are plenty of decks relying more heavily on Squee, Dubious Monarch and Goddric, Cloaked Reveler or even the Urabrask’s Forge mentioned earlier
  • The Gruul version has some spicy Pick your Poison tech that you can run and Urabrask’s Forge is a given in both but outside of these you do have some powerful cards for particular matchups though they are usually quite narrow. You can’t really sideboard that much anyway.
  • Overall deck tunability is quite low.


A holdout of previous Standard formats, the deck hasn’t really gained any new cards from Murders at Karlov Manor, but its game plan is still powerful and few decks can go over the top of it.


  • Powerful game plan that it gets to execute thanks to versatile removal and powerful cards along the curve, especially Atraxa, Grand Unifier as the ultimate win condition.
  • With an uncounterable Atraxas, lifegain tacked onto powerful effects and a catch-all in Leyline Binding it can be very difficult to stop doing its thing.
  • Being a 5-color deck, you have lots of sideboard options at your disposal for what you expect to face.
Atraxa Grand Unifier ONE


  • With so many expensive cards, there is an inherent inconsistency that you have to account for.
  • Mana can be a bit dodgy sometimes, especially when you draw a few too many of the “triomes”.
  • You generally only play one spell a turn, and the deck is such a known quantity that it can be difficult to outplay or outmaneuver.


  • I like some of the recent explorations within the archetype – Imodane’s Recruiter to give the deck a one-turn-kill with Herd Migration and Spelunking as an additional ramp & draw spell that also negates some of the downsides of the tapped lands.
  • Your sideboard can be a wide range of cards and can be tuned at will.
  • You can easily swap out some of the maindeck cards for additional sweepers or top-end cards (Etali!) based on the metagame you expect to face.
Imodanes Recruiter WOE

Other Decks

Golgari & Rakdos Midrange

Both quite similar yet with some key differences. Golgari is better against other creature decks but definitely struggles against Domain where Rakdos Midrange, especially the version with Reckless Stormseekers open up ways to kill the opponents faster. Both decks have decent followings and have lots of tunability so don’t underestimate them!

Reckless Stormseeker MID

Slogurk Piles

After the win of the 68-card Sultai-based Slogurk/Nissa deck at the $75k in Chicago, there has been a renaissance in these styles of decks and a new Temur version has popped up recently and started terrorizing the Standard ladder.

If you want to beat these decks some basic graveyard hate such as Unlicensed Hearse is a great spot, and you also get a lot of value by learning on how these decks operate so you can take advantage of their weaknesses – reliance on Nissa and an inherent inconsistency by having to run so many lands.

Unlicensed Hearse SNC

Bant Toxic

While trending down in popularity, people love to put poison counters on their opponents, so I would always expect to see 1 Bant Toxic player in the room! It helps that the deck can have really aggressive early game openings that can prey on under-prepared decks in a similar way that Boros Convoke does.

But if you do manage to interact against the deck early, you can quickly overpower them.


If you plan to close the Standard RCQ season with a bang, you can’t really go wrong with any of the decks I mentioned here. The important thing is to learn your deck in-and-out, metagame and most importantly – have fun!

I credit my RCQ win on Rakdos Midrange to enjoying the deck and how the deck plays out, while leaning on prior local tournaments to get an understanding of what kinds of decks I expected to face. The tournament execution itself was also crucial, and I am glad I could win my hometown RCQ on my 2nd attempt!

Matej Zatlkaj

About the Author

Matej Zatlkaj is a self-proclaimed Magic boomer, who has played MTG since 1999 and started to play competitively in 2001. He got 2 Pro Tour Top8s under his belt, as well as a Grand Prix win in 2014 alongside other minor achievements. You might also recognize his name or face from video coverage of 2010s European Grand Prix as one of the main casters and he still does coverage of the Regional Championships that are part of the Legacy European Tour events.

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