I’ve been out of the loop with Standard since Dragons of Tarkir came out. Of course I’ve continued to read articles and watch coverage, but my actual involvement has been passive at best. My understanding of the new format is that there are three pillars: Esper Dragons as a viable control deck, Abzan Midrange/Megamorph as the grindy midrange deck, and Atarka Red as the all out aggro deck of the format. There are multiple different versions of these decks with various other archetypes floating around as well, Jeskai Midrange/Tokens and Bant Heroic are the first ones to come to mind. So with this limited knowledge I sat down this weekend to watch GP Toronto, mostly to cheer on local player Ben Feingersh who started off the event 13-0. Ben ended up losing to Brad Nelson in a grindy Abzan vs. Abzan match-up in the first round of the top eight but a few things became abundantly clear:

  1. [casthaven]Den Protector[/casthaven] is insane. There were 25 copies of [casthaven]Den Protector[/casthaven] in the top eight. The card was in seven of the top eight decks. All of them were in their respective main decks except for Brad Nelson’s three sideboarded copies, though he later admitted they probably should have been in the main. The card obviously pairs very well with the recursive threat [casthaven]Deathmist Raptor[/casthaven], returning the dinosaur to play upon megamorphing, but is just a solid card on it’s own, helping to outgrind the midrange mirror.
  2. The midrange decks had adapted to fight the control matchups. There were no copies of UB Control or Esper Dragons in the top eight of the event. This is not a complete anomaly either with only one copy of Esper Control fighting its way into the top eight of the SCG Standard Open in Portland going on at the same time. With [casthaven]Den Protector[/casthaven] and [casthaven]Deathmist Raptor[/casthaven] laughing at removal, [casthaven]Fleecemane Lion[/casthaven] straight up invalidating it, and a plethora of sideboard options against control, it’s obvious that some re-tuning needs to happen to control builds.
  3. While Atarka Red could easily get under the control decks, even with access to [casthaven]Drown in Sorrow[/casthaven] in the sideboard, the aggro/midrange versions of Abzan, Mardu, and Bant in the top eight had plenty of ways to dispatch the little red men and their burn spells. Wescoe packed [casthaven]Arashin Cleric[/casthaven] in his sideboard, Weitz and Jacobson could bring in [casthaven]Hornet’s Nest[/casthaven], Magalhaes had a full set of [casthaven]Anger of the Gods[/casthaven] to board. Oh yeah, and there were 22 copies of [casthaven]Dromoka’s Command[/casthaven] in the top eight which could negate burn spells and remove the red deck’s threats in one fell swoop.

If I expected the meta to shape up in a similar fashion as the top eight of GP Toronto (or SCG Portland for that matter), I would play something like this:

Thomas Enevolden's UB Control

LANDS (27)
Polluted Delta
Temple of Deceit
Dismal Backwater
Radiant Fountain
Haven of the Spirit Dragon
Urborg, Tomb of Yawgmoth
Opulent Palace
Evolving Wilds

Silumgar, the Drifting Death

Dig Through Time
Hero’s Downfall
Bile Blight
Jace’s Ingenuity
Silence the Believers
Crux of Fate
Ultimate Price

Ashiok, Nightmare Weaver
Perilous Vault
Ugin, the Spirit Dragon

Ultimate Price
Drown in Sorrow
Encase in Ice
Tasigur, the Golden Fang
Dragonlord Silumgar
Stratus Dancer
Disdainful Stroke

This deck is from a PPTQ in Denmark which took Legacy Death & Taxes expert Thomas Enevoldsen to a second place finish. Rather than jam a bunch of Dragons and [casthaven]Silumgar’s Scorn[/casthaven]s, Enevoldson built his deck to take down the midrange decks of the format. Let’s discuss some of his choices:

  1. There are four copies of [casthaven]Ashiok, Nightmare Weaver[/casthaven] in the main deck. FOUR. While the planeswalker is a garbage card in the aggresive match-ups, in shines against Abzan. Not only do you get to defend yourself by stealing their many durable threats,  you get to permanently exile problematic cards like [casthaven]Deathmist Raptor[/casthaven]. Moreover, most Abzan lists have been shaving down copies of [casthaven]Hero’s Downfall[/casthaven], the majority of lists in the top eight of the GP had only two in the maindeck. With the decreased number of effective answers to Ashiok, the androgynous planeswalker can do some real damage.
  2. Enevoldsen plays two copies of [casthaven]Perilous Vault[/casthaven] in the maindeck. Not only does Vault stop [casthaven]Den Protector[/casthaven]/[casthaven]Deathmist Raptor[/casthaven] shenanigans it also ignores [casthaven]Fleecemane Lion[/casthaven]’s indestructibility and wipes the board of [casthaven]Whisperwood Elemental[/casthaven] and his manifested cronies in a way that Ugin could not do effectively. Vault also stops other problematic cards like [casthaven]Mastery of the Unseen[/casthaven] and potentially prevents opposing [casthaven]Haven of the Spirit Dragon[/casthaven]’s from having a threat to bring back.
  3. While this deck would not be my first pick against Mono Red or Gruul Aggro with all of the clunky maindeck spells, post-board you can side out all of the Ashioks, Vaults, and Ingenuities to bring in [casthaven]Drown in Sorrow[/casthaven], [casthaven]Encase in Ice[/casthaven], and Tasigur  to at least have a fighting chance.
  4. Lastly, I really like that the deck plays so few creature threats, not only invalidating targeted removal like [casthaven]Ultimate Price[/casthaven] but also making [casthaven]Foul-Tongue Invocation[/casthaven] look not all that great. Then the opponent either boards out most of their removal and your sideboarded Tasigur and [casthaven]Dragonlord Silumgar[/casthaven] are able to shine, or they don’t and risk having a bunch of dead cards against you.

If I make it to Standard this week, I’ll be packing this version of UB Control, rife with answers to a world full of midrange threats. As a perennial control player I can’t resist the chance to punish decks full of lions, rhinos, and dinosaurs especially when they are forcibly dominating the Standard landscape. Let’s hope Ashiok and Vault are enough to sweep the skies of dragons and stomp out the wild animals below.


At age 15, while standing in a record store with his high school bandmates, Shawn Massak made the uncool decision to spend the last of his money on a 7th edition starter deck (the one with foil [casthaven]Thorn Elemental[/casthaven]). Since that fateful day 11 years ago, Shawn has decorated rooms of his apartment with MTG posters, cosplayed as [casthaven]Jace, the Mindsculptor[/casthaven], and competes with LSV for the record of most islands played (lifetime). When he’s not playing Magic, Shawn works as a job coach for people with disabilities and plays guitar in an indie-pop band.

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