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Brewer's Minute: Brewing in Open Formats

Hey, everyone! It's time for another Brewer's Minute! Thanks to a combination of bannings and the release of Rivals of Ixalan, Standard is suddenly wide open. There are no major tournaments on the horizon, which means—at least, for the next few weeks—people are going to be trying all kinds of things in an attempt to figure out what works and what doesn't work. From the perspective of a brewer, this presents a challenge. In a known format, brewing is easy, since the goal is to build a deck that can beat the top decks in the format. But how do things change when you don't know what decks are at the top of the format? That's our topic for the day!

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#1: Expect Nothing (and Everything)

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When it comes to building decks in an open format, the best thing to do is to realize that you don't really know what's going on as far as the opponent's deck is concerned. This means you have to expect nothing (in the sense that it's harder to predict specific cards) but also everything (in the sense that you are prepared for cards that probably won't end up in the final versions of many of the decks you play against).

A great example of this is a little while ago when I was playing against Merfolk. When the match took place, only three Merfolk lists had been published, so we were running on very minimal information about what Merfolk looked like in Rivals of Ixalan Standard. We took a line that played around Unsummon (a card that had been in all of the published Merfolk lists), but our opponent untapped and played Herald of Secret Streams (a card that had been in zero of the published Merfolk lists), and we lost as a result. Now, it's very possible that playing Herald of Secret Streams in your Merfolk deck is less than optimal and that no one will even be testing the card anymore in a few weeks, but in a wide-open format, people are experimenting and trying to figure out what works, which means you're much more likely to get caught off-guard by weird cards that seem less than optimal.

#2: Be Proactive

Since it's hard to know what threats people are playing in a wide-open format, the easiest thing to do is be proactive and play a deck that is based on attacking the opponent, rather than being reactive and preventing opponents' threats. This means that control decks specifically are challenging in an open format because they are all about answering opposing threats, which is really, really difficult when you don't know what threats your opponent is playing. 

As a result, while the format is figuring itself out, it's probably best to spend your time working on decks like Merfolk, Pirates, and other aggressive, attacking, proactive themes, rather than trying to perfect a control list. In a few weeks, once we see what decks and threats are possible, then it will be time to shift gears toward playing control and various metagame decks.

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A great example of a deck that I wouldn't want to play in an open format is Turbo Fog. While Kumena's Awakening gives us the cards needed to make the deck possible, it is just too difficult right now to know how good Fogs are in the format. Turbo Fog could be great if everyone is winning with creatures, but if people are relying on planeswalkers, burn spells, and other non-creature finishers, Turbo Fog will be close to unplayable. For a metagame deck like this, we need to wait until we have a more solid picture of the metagame to know if it is a good choice or not, which means Turbo Fog should sit on the shelf for a few more weeks while the metagame develops.

#3: Aim Broad

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Finally, because the meta is unknown, when it comes to actually building your deck, try to aim broad with the answers you do play. Cards that answer anything, like Cast Out and Vraska's Contempt, have a ton of value in an open format because they don't just answer the threats you expect; they also answer unexpected Herald of Secret Streams-like threats as well. Meanwhile, it's possible that, once we know what the metagame looks like, cards like Baffling End and Moment of Craving could be staple, main-deck removal spells, but it's risky to play too much conditional removal in a format where you don't really know what threats you need to answer.


Anyway, that's all for today. What decks are you building in the wide-open Rivals of Ixalan Standard format? What crazy cards and decks have you had played against you? Let me know in the comments! As always, leave your thoughts, ideas, opinions, and suggestions, and you can reach me on Twitter @SaffronOlive or at

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