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From Core 2020 to Core 2021: A Standard Retrospective

Wizards has been open that from War of the Spark forward, they have been trying to push the power level of Standard sets to new heights. By doing so they created a new kind of experience, not only in Standard but also in formats beyond. It has now been more over a year of this experiment and rotation is fast approaching. In only a few weeks, time will come to say good bye to a lot of cards we’ve seen consistently since the previous rotation and for some even before that. The ones that have dodged bans anyway. It has been a long year for Standard. The F.I.R.E. design philosophy led to bans in Standard every other set. Magic Arena sped up how fast the Standard metagame evolved. The global situation created delays for set releases and tournaments to shift entirely to digital clients. Standard has been very volatile this season.

Before rotation hits, let’s go back through the Standards of the year past and see which decks we will remember fondly… And which we will be glad to see disappear. But more importantly, we'll try to see in what ways the changes in design philosophy altered the way a Standard metagame traditionally plays out. And who knows, maybe in ten years when someone tells horror stories about having lived through the Year on F.I.R.E., they can point to this article as a summary of what it was.

Core Set 2020 Standard:

We’ll start by taking a look at the last Standard format before the previous rotation. Impactful cards of previous years, most notably Teferi, Hero of Dominaria and Goblin Chainwhirler, were still running around powering up their archetypes. Core Set 2020 released with tools to intentionally push a number of themes of the oldest sets in Standard that would soon rotate, which ended up mostly a success.

One of the most striking examples of that is probably the lands deck. During that three month period, Scapeshift and Field of the Dead were legal in Standard together. The interaction, alongside known offenders Hydroid Krasis and Teferi, Time Raveler, allowed for a deck that had for sole purpose to get as many lands as possible onto the battlefield as fast as possible, then resolve a Scapeshift, at instant-speed if possible, for a win.

Other variants of the same deck instead took advantage of Golos, Tireless Pilgrim for a more grindy plan. That version generally was also packing a number of Nexus of Fate to spin off Golos and guarantee wins even if the grind eventually emptied their library. Oh yeah, despite its ban in Best-of-One Standard, Nexus of Fate stayed legal in regular Standard up to rotation.

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What may be the most characteristic decks of that season is one that was very short-lived. An intricate combo deck, it took some time into the metagame for it to be found, developed and refined. Of course, we’re talking about Kethis, the Hidden Hand Combo, a resilient graveyard combo deck that’s still seeing play in Historic to this day. The main plan of the deck was to mill itself out with Diligent Excavators looping Mox Ambers with Kethis, the Hidden Hand, and generating mana along the way to cast from the graveyard Jace, Wielder of Mysteries and win. Of course, if there’s any issue the plan can shift to milling the opponent instead. The strategy went through more than Standard and Historic, making enough waves in Pioneer for Kethis, the Hidden Hand to earn a Pioneer ban as I was writing this article.

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It was also a good time for tribal decks. With Ixalan still around, Core 2020 gave powerful pieces to Vampires in Knight of the Ebon Legion and of course Sorin, Imperious Bloodlord, enough for them to carve a place among the best decks of the format. Dinosaurs also got several powerful pieces in Rotting Regisaur, Shifting Ceratops, and Marauding Raptor allowing a Jund Dinosaurs deck to be, for a few months, a very serious contender in Standard.

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Holdovers from the rest of the year were also around. Riding on the back of Teferi, Hero of Dominaria and Teferi, Time Raveler, Esper Control was still a very competitive deck, split between a few variants, some playing Hero of Precinct One in an Esper Tempo attempt, and other doubling down on the control.

Mono-Red Aggro still had Goblin Chainwhirler along with Runaway Steam-Kin and Light Up the Stage, surfing on years of Mono-Red being a serious contender at top tables.

Earlier, we talked about Nexus of Fate in Golos shells, so it shouldn't come as a surprise that it also saw play with its usual partner in crime, Wilderness Reclamation. With the two cards legal in the same format, the Nexus Reclamation decks were along for the ride. Mostly in Simic and Bant at the time.

Feather, the Redeemed took great advantage of Reckless Rage being around from Ixalan, and Naya Feather (along with some Boros Variants) carved itself a spot in the meta. Last but not least, Curious Obsession managed to keep around a few Simic Flash lists, the evolution from the Mono-Blue Tempo decks of the prior year.

Throne of Eldraine Standard:

With rotation came in Throne of Eldraine, arguably the most powerful Standard set in years. The set’s flagship mechanic, Adventures, makes every creature carrying it an inherent two-for-one, with extra flexibility tacked on. Even without exploiting the adventure support, they’re great standalone cards and to this day appear in almost every deck. Castles are lands that provide a relevant advantage and can be played in most decks with a low opportunity cost. But of course, they’re not what broke the format. Like every other format, that would be Oko, Thief of Crowns... Interestingly, Oko wasn't the first thing that broke the format after Eldraine's release, though. We can first take a look at the other Eldraine card that got banned in most formats: Once Upon a Time.

With rotation, the Field of the Dead decks lost one of their main wincons, Scapeshift. However, Throne of Eldraine gave them a lot of new tools. Realm-Cloaked Giant gave them a board wipe that also doubled as a wincon. Beanstalk Giant was another ramp spell that can also sometimes kill the opponent. Fae of Wishes gave them an early blocker doubled with a repeatable tutor. Kenrith, the Returned King was a threat that could make use of all the mana from the deck’s millions of lands, as well as give haste to all the zombies Field of the Dead creates. But more than everything, Once Upon a Time allowed the deck to be even more consistent. Between 4 Field of the Dead, 4 Golos, Tireless Pilgrim and three or 4 copies of Once Upon a Time, the deck could always guarantee its Field of the Dead. Most often multiple copies of it ensure it didn’t run out of action later in the game, making every land drawn another four or six power on the board. With Field of the Dead, no draw was a dead draw. Aggro decks needed to go extra fast to dodge its board wipes, and most of the answers to lands like Field of Ruin and Alpine Moon had just rotated out of the format. The deck and its other variants quickly became the most played deck of the format, culminating with Golos decks representing 43% of the (small) field of Mythic Championship V.

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Despite Field of the Dead's middling results as the most expected deck as that tournament, the land was banned a day after the tournament was over to try to open up the metagame.

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Among the other decks that showed up at that tournament, one group of decks stood out above the rest. Simic-based shells aiming to use and abuse Gilded Goose, Nissa, Who Shakes the World, and of course, everyone’s favorite Elk and Elk-meme generator, Oko, Thief of Crowns. Those decks actually published better results at Mythic Championship V than the dreaded Field of the Dead decks. With their main adversary removed from the format, the value-packed decks backing Oko with Nissa and Veil of Summer, streamlined by Once Upon a Time, quickly grew to engulf all the field. Some were playing Simic, others Sultai decks where four main deck Noxious Grasps were a common sight, with the main contender being a Bant Food version. When Golos was 43% of Mythic Championship V, everyone thought it a historically high number. When Mythic Championship VI rolled out, Oko represented 69% of the decks at that tournament, and still posted above average results despite being the deck to beat. 69% of the day 1 metagame, 71% of the day 2 metagame, and 75% of the Top 8, numbers that are easily compared to the mythical Caw-Blade. In fact, the flagship Caw-blade tournament leading to its ban had “almost 70%” of its day 2 decks containing Stoneforge Mystic, making Oko packages compare favorably.

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One week later, not one but THREE cards from those decks were banned in a single swoop: Oko, Thief of Crowns, Once Upon a Time and Veil of Summer. Those exact same three cards would proceed to be banned in Pioneer and Historic both, and of those only Veil of Summer remains in Modern. After that ban, Simic-based value decks didn't even die. They stayed a major player of the format and consistently near the top of the meta, despite the bans. With Simic decks brought back down to somewhat reasonable levels, and Field of the Dead decks removed, what was left? Well, a surprising lot. While titans were battling, other decks were trying to hold their own and refine themselves. When the titans were put down, they got a chance to emerge and make names for themselves.

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From the day Eldraine released on Magic Arena (and even before during Early Access streamer events), people tried to make the Cauldron Familiar+Witch's Oven combo work, with great success! While it was integrated in many shells, its major success came soaring on the wings of Korvold, Fae-Cursed King, straight from Brawl preconstructed decks. Jund Sacrifice was born then, a deck that still holds its own to this day with only small changes to the list over the months. At least it did, until the last round of bans stopped people from having Cauldron Familiar eat itself.

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Throne of Eldraine is not out of powerful cards to build decks around, far from it. Fires of Invention decks didn’t wait for Companions to appear to shine. The powerful red enchantment was already at the core of one of the Golos variants earlier, but the mana-doubler also had its own dedicated decks. Planeswalker-filled variants with Fae of Wishes in Jeskai, Grixis and Four-colors were the first attempts, and the ones that got crystallized into a Challenger Deck. But the main build rapidly evolved into a more aggressive strategy we’d learn to know very well in the next few months. Use Fires of Invention to play multiple big threats, including Cavalier of Flame and Kenrith, the Returned King who you get to activate with the lands Fires of Invention left untapped, and deal massive damage out of nowhere.

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Trying to find their colors from the start of the format to its end, Adventure-focused decks exploiting the power of the mechanic with additional synergy from Edgewall Innkeeper and Lucky Clover spanned the entire color pie in a few months. Starting as token strategies in Selesnya Adventures and midrange in Golgari Adventures, the final result ended up being a value-oriented Temur build that one can still find around and play to this day, mostly unchanged. Centered around Throne of Eldraine cards, the deck also will go unscathed through rotation, aside from its land base.

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And we’re not done! Yet another powerful Eldraine card, Embercleave, didn’t take long to make its way into aggressive decks, mostly Gruul Aggro decks and various Knights builds. Flash decks had some promising results, in their classic Simic Flash builds but also branching into Izzet Flash for a more controlling tempo approach with Gadwick, the Wizened. Doom Foretold, another buildaround from Throne of Eldraine, caught the eye of some, alongside Dance of the Manse, and Esper Dance emerged, still held in favor by some.

Of course, in the back, a few known faces were holding their ground. Temur Reclamation and Azorius Control weren’t very popular at the time, but they were there and putting up results.

Theros: Beyond Death Standard:

Throne of Eldraine brought with it a groundshaking rotation, a slew of generically good cards as well as a number of metagame-defining buildarounds. While Theros: Beyond Death completely redefined Pioneer up to the recent bans, causing bans to be deemed necessary for Underworld Breach but also Inverter of Truth and Walking Ballista, the set's impact on Standard was much smaller. The most subtle of its influence was the addition of five dual lands, the missing five temples, that corrected the imbalance and allowed all color combinations to have access to the same mana bases.

Before going deck by deck, let’s start with the titan in the room: Uro, Titan of Nature's Wrath. Simic-based value decks were never bad to start with in Standard, and Uro only pushed them up further. Uro brings with it ramp, card draw, incidental lifegain, and all of that multiple times per match. And it is a must-deal threat that runs away with the game in a turn or two... that can come back and demand another answer later. The titan rapidly slotted into basically any deck that could run it. It doesn’t matter if ramping is your main plan, if you fill your graveyard intentionally or not, if you’re Simic, Temur, Bant or Sultai, Uro will find its place in your deck.

Azorius Control decks got a second life thanks to Theros. They got a new instant cantrip, Omen of the Sea, that could be bounced with Teferi or provide further value down the line. They got a four-mana board wipe, Shatter the Sky, a bigger deal than it might look. They got a powerful answer to most powerful cards in the format in Elspeth Conquers Death, that also doubled as their best planeswalker and finisher. And speaking about finishers, they got Dream Trawler, a finisher that’s next to unbeatable in most matchups, particularly if backed by counterspells. Even The Birth of Meletis guaranteeing land drops and helping stabilize the early game against aggro was a main piece. Ultimately, the archetype was overtaken, but it remained a major player, and probably the deck that changed the most with the addition of Theros: Beyond Death, consisting at the time mostly of Theros cards.

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A powerful synergy emerged from Theros. Embercleave found its ideal partner, Anax, Hardened in the Forge, and together they headed a Mono-Red Aggro deck more explosive than ever, and more resilient than most. If you’ve ever been ‘cleaved by an Anax, you know the feeling. If not, lucky you, and next time you see an Anax on the battlefield, remember that they always have the Embercleave in hand.

Woe Strider is the first free sacrifice outlet we’ve seen in a long time, and it slots naturally in Sacrifice decks, allowing a less grindy Rakdos Sacrifice shell to overtake the more Food-based Jund Sacrifice for a time. It is lower to the ground, using Priest of Forgotten Gods and Claim the Firstborn to take hold of the game early against creature decks and never let it go.

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Other than that, we mostly see known faces. Simic-based ramp decks have adopted Uro, Titan of Nature's Wrath and have mostly pivoted to Bant Ramp to exploit the power of Teferi, Time Raveler and Elspeth Conquers Death. A controlling Sultai Midrange offshoot uses Uro and Growth Spiral to ramp into Casualties of War and consolidate their advantage. Temur Reclamation steadily climbs the top echelons of the tier list, powered by the addition of Uro, Titan of Nature's Wrath, Storm's Wrath and Thassa's Intervention. Jeskai Fires is still dropping 14 points of hasty power on turn 5, and Adventures decks are slowly losing most of their share of the metagame.

Ikoria: Lair of Behemoths Standard:

Ikoria: Lair of Behemoths had a profound impact on Magic. Ikoria mostly built upon existing decks adding a few singular powerful cards, but also introduced some powerful build around. Most of those were very explicit about what they were, and they had a name for it. Companions.

Welcome to the Companion Age. If you weren’t playing Magic around the release of Ikoria, let me sum it up. The companion mechanic was not properly balanced for competitive play. From Standard to Vintage, and everything in between, it was then correct for a vast majority of decks to restrict their deckbuilding and get access to a companion. Companions were effectively an eighth, guaranteed card in your starting hand, giving you both major card advantage and a lot of consistency. The mechanic was so powerful that Wizards of the Coast had to take unprecedented action, issuing an errata overhauling the entire mechanic across formats to avoid ban all ten of them everywhere… And they still had to ban a few in both Vintage and Legacy.

So, let’s delve into Ikoria companion by companion and see what decks managed to hold their own without a companion in this environment. We’ll take a brief look at Ikoria post-errata (and post-bans, since some of those also took effect at the same time.) For those that might have joined the game after that, prior to that errata, companions could be cast directly from the sideboard for their cost without having to pay three generic mana to put them into your hand first.

In the days following the release of Ikoria, a deck was quickly put together using one of the new companions, Gyruda, Doom of Depths. The deck had one goal. Ramp into Gyruda as fast as possible and cast it as soon as turn 4. Fill everything that isn’t ramp and lands in the deck with additional ways to trigger Gyruda, be them Spark Doubles (allowing you to get more Gyrudas out at once, which isn’t negligible considering they’re 6/6s), Thassa, Deep-Dwelling, Charming Prince or others. You end up with either a few Demon Krakens ready to beat down your opponent the next turn, or a player with an empty library (most often in Gyruda mirrors, since you double your chances to find something to reanimate with Gyruda.) As it turns out, even after attempts to make the deck less all-in, it was still very fragile to any amount of counterspells (Mystical Dispute in particular) and sideboard hate, and didn’t even last a week. It was everywhere those first few days though.

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The next companion to stir interest in Standard (and well beyond) was Lurrus of the Dream-Den. In older formats, it was played in basically every deck that didn’t have its core strategy invalidated by its restriction. In Standard it saw play in only a few strategies. A new spin on sacrifice decks at first, primarily in Orzhov and Rakdos colors. While Lurrus allowed the deck another layer of resilience and to have a very consistent strategy, it also stopped the deck from playing some of the deck’s haymakers, first and foremost Mayhem Devil. After some shuffle, a good number of sacrifice decks reverted to their Jund form, even before the errata, sometimes playing a different companion like Obosh, the Preypiercer or Jegantha, the Wellspring.

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Keruga, the Macrosage found a singular but well-fitting home. Prior to Ikoria’s release, the explosive Jeskai Fires deck was already only playing spells with converted mana cost 3 or more, save for a few copies of Aether Gust in some of them. Keruga single-handedly powered those decks, allowing them to mulligan even more aggressively to find their fires and almost completely eliminating the risk of running out of action before the opponent is dead. This new version was the top of the metagame for a short while right after Ikoria’s release.

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There were other mechanics in Ikoria than Companion, and a beloved, returning one created a deck that got its chance under the spotlight, even when Companions hogged all the attention. The Cycling mechanic, this time around, came with cheap cycling costs paired with cheap cycling payoffs, and a powerful finisher in Zenith Flare to close games. This package was enough to create a powerful, linear deck that revolves around it. The plan was simple. Get down an early Flourishing Fox or Drannith Stinger, then cycle, cycle, cycle, cycle… Backed up by Lurrus of the Dream-Den or sometimes Zirda, the Dawnwaker in the companion zone. The deck was surprisingly powerful and one of the cheapest competitive Standard decks ever seen. It was mostly formed of random Ikoria commons and uncommons that happened to have the words “cycling 1” on them, some of which the deck couldn’t even cast. If it wasn’t for the mana base, the deck would have been essentially free.

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At the time, ONE deck didn’t find a fitting companion and managed to stay near the top from the very start despite that fact. Not a new deck, mind you. The top deck of formats past and future, Temur Reclamation was for a time the lesser evil. No tremendous changes to the list, but a very notable addition in Shark Typhoon, a powerful flash creature of variable size, mana sink, that draws back a card, and most importantly, that you can use even when your opponent has a Teferi, Time Raveler on the board. One of its main uses is coincidentally to attack and kill said Teferi.

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Now, not all of Ikoria’s powerful buildarounds were companions, only most of them. Winota, Joiner of Forces was also in Ikoria, a four-mana legendary creature able to win games the turn she touches the table, using tokens and Arboreal Grazer to immediately get a few triggers. Now, Winota is already a powerful card if you're playing her “fairly”, being able to bring out a dozen attacking power worth of humans onto the board immediately (and indestructible at that). What pushed her over the top was her ability to cheat into play Agent of Treachery, who had the unfortunate Human subtype. With this ability to steal its opponent’s engines, blockers and even lands, the deck required an immediate answer to Winota to beat, and was a force to be reckoned with. Particularly in best-of-one Standard, where it dominated the first day of the first Arena Open. Winota herself was so powerful that the deck ended up playing two other colors to get access to Neoform acting as additional Winotas for the deck.

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We’ve saved the best companion for Standard until now. The one that had maybe the widest applications, and the one we still often see today despite the errata. Yorion, Sky Nomad. As opposed to every other Companion (except for Lutri, the Spellchaser depending how you look at it,) Yorion’s companion restriction doesn’t narrow the pool of cards you’re allowed to play. Instead, the serpent asks for a sacrifice of consistency, in exchange for power and… Well, consistency. In a world of Companions and London Mulligan, consistency was abundant enough that most decks that could play Yorion were ready to make that sacrifice, unless they had a very linear and specific gameplan (like Temur Reclamation and Winota.)

Among the decks playing Yorion were Bant Value decks, overflowing with powerful cards and ones generating immediate value, it was an easy task for it to add a dozen more and throw in a few more lands. Ramping into Agent of Treachery as a top end that could be blinked by Yorion, reanimated by Elspeth Conquers Death or bounced by Teferi, Time Raveler in case the first wasn’t enough to secure a win on top of the mountain of card advantage generated by the deck.

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But another known deck could take better advantage of Yorion. Azorius Control, an archetype as old as time, was already playing Elspeth Conquers Death as a removal, Teferi, Time Raveler, Omen of the Sea and Narset, Parter of Veils as cantrip, and even The Birth of Meletis. In such a deck, Yorion found a ready, perfect home to fit in. But the deck wasn’t nearly done improving yet. The next innovation was, would you guess it, Agent of Treachery. The top end that had slept mostly unplayed through Standard had suddenly become the main goal to cheat into play, and Standard wasn’t lacking in ways to do so. The method this deck opted on was Lukka, Coppercoat Outcast, whose minus ability can transform any creature into an Agent of Treachery provided it is the only creature in your deck. Easy enough task for a control deck, they just had to give up the few Dream Trawlers and Archon of Sun's Grace some of them were playing, and instead could include Omen of the Sun to go along with Yorion. Between Omen of the Sun, Castle Ardenvale, Shark Typhoon, The Birth of Meletis and Yorion itself in a pinch, the deck had absolutely no issue generating tokens to transform into Agents. The control shell around it allowed the deck to make every Agent more devastating than in most other decks, getting lands more often than not. To top it off, the dash of red added to the deck allowed it to play Fires of Invention to go even bigger. Fires was even more powerful in Yorion deck, since Yorion can flicker the red enchantment to go beyond the two spells per turn cap associated with it, making it a mana tripler rather than doubler in those decks.

In only a few weeks’ time, the deck became the best deck of the format with little contest, Narset and Teferi keeping Temur Reclamation and Cycling at bay, its control elements keeping Winota in check, and its Agent of Treachery allowing them to beat Bant Ramp strategies at their own game.

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Before we move on to the Companion errata, and what it did, we can take a look at the other companions and where they saw play. Lutri, the Spellchaser was maybe the only one that saw next to no competitive Standard play.  Obosh, the Preypiercer commanded aggressive decks, mostly Mono-Red, trading other finishers like Embercleave for the skittering nightmare that was guaranteed in every game. As mentioned earlier, Obosh also saw play in some variants of the Rakdos Sacrifice archetype, doubling up the damage from Mayhem Devil. Kaheera, the Orphanguard was played in an aggressive Beast or Elemental-focused Embercleave decks, but also in creatureless control decks, before those adopted Yorion and the Lukka package. Umori headed a fringe Mutate deck that put up some results. Zirda, the Dawnwaker was preferred over Lurrus in some versions of the cycling deck, and finally Jegantha, the Wellspring naturally slotted into some Jund Sacrifice decks, making it nine out of ten companions having significant competitive Standard results.

Wizards announced a couple of weeks in advance that they were looking for ways to fix the issues created by Companions across formats, and on June 1st, 2020, released an unprecedented Banned and Restricted announcement. Alongside the Standard ban of Fires of Invention and Agent of Treachery, the Companion mechanic as a whole was re-written to require a three-mana investment at sorcery speed to unlock your companion from your sideboard (and move it to your hand in the process.) This change all but killed all the companions that were used early in the game, leaving the control-focused Yorion, Sky Nomad as the least affected of all. But the change was significant for Yorion as well, removing the possibility to simply cast a Elspeth Conquers Death on turn 5 and threaten to cast Yorion the next turn to get a free removal, and many more lines such as that one.

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Fires of Invention’s ban made doubly sense, between it being one of the main engines of Standard since its release (and not scheduled for rotation until the end of 2021) but also because it completely negated the companion errata by its existence, the three mana needed to unlock a companion being irrelevant while Fires of Invention is in play. As for Agent of Treachery, the former bulk rare had become in a few weeks the premiere end goal for a number of decks, and the seven-mana 2/3 was the most played creature of Standard. If there’s anything more universally hated than getting your lands destroyed, it’s getting your lands stolen.

With almost every single competitive deck centered around a companion, and most of the others using Agent of Treachery, that announcement upended Standard more than some set releases. With Ikoria’s main addition to the format, companions, gone, and with Lukka limited in options as far as Polymorph targets, Standard reverted to almost entirely known decks. Triomes and Shark Typhoon were almost the only cards from that set to see a large amount of play, with a few others like Call of the Death-Dweller seeing niche play, and of course the Cycling deck still looking like a (great) sixty-cards Ikoria limited deck.

The big winner of that announcement was Temur Reclamation. The best deck without companions while they were at their most powerful, the deck also didn’t rely on either Fires or Agent. It got through that ban unscathed, and was already one of the best decks prior to the change, making it the best deck after it, with little contest.

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Other old faces populated the field. The reliable pile of value, Bant Ramp. The expected pile of synergy in Jund Sacrifice. Azorius Control, as old as Magic itself. And a few aggressive Embercleave decks trying their chance. But focus didn’t stay on the changes or the new Standard metagame for long. The same week as the Companion change and bans, the previews for Core Set 2021 started, and with Ugin, the Spirit Dragon as one of the first previews, players were already looking forward to it, or dreading it for some.

Core Set 2021 Standard:

And we’re here. The present. Or at least, we were as I initially wrote those lines. A surprise shift caught up with us at the time of writing, but we’ll get to that. Core Set 2021 was… Mostly uneventful. It introduced a lot of cards, including some powerful ones, but nothing spawning a new deck out of nowhere. Ugin, the Spirit Dragon became the de facto best goal for all the Simic-based ramp decks to ramp towards. Azorius Control decks were still Teferi-ing with all their might, some of them having gained an extra one in Teferi, Master of Time. Sacrifice decks, be them Rakdos or Jund, kept on with Village Rites.

The “new” decks weren’t exactly new, but mono-colored aggressive decks trying to go under all the ramp around and outrace Ugins and Expansion // Explosions. The Mono-White Aggro decks betting on resilience to board wipes, the Mono-Green Aggro decks taking advantage of their bigger creatures, the Mono-Red Aggro decks hoping that their burn allows them to reach out for the last points of damage, and the Mono-Black Aggro decks using Demonic Embrace to get a lot of damage through.

Despite all this, Temur Reclamation kept its hold on the format, culminating in the first Players Tour Finals online that saw Wilderness Reclamation decks represent over 50% of the metagame, and gaining even more ground on day 2. If you remember, at the beginning of that rotation, Golos Field being 40% of the meta was historically high. Furthermore, Growth Spiral, powering most Simic decks, represented almost 70% of that tournament, matching Oko in its Standard days. The deck was dominant enough that a number of players stretched to another color, White, to get access to powerful tools to fight other Wilderness Reclamation decks, aiming to win the mirror.

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A couple days after the Players Tour Finals wrapped up, in another unprecedented move (for formats other than Historic at least,) Wizards of the Coast released a ban announcement without any prior warning, removing Wilderness Reclamation, Growth Spiral, Teferi, Time Raveler and Cauldron Familiar all at once, and a handful more in other formats. Or “rotating them a few weeks early”, for all of them but Cauldron Familiar. This announcement removed key pieces of all the major decks in the format, leaving only the aggressive decks untouched, but now in a completely different metagame since their builds shifted to fight Reclamation decks. It might be similar in impact to Standard to the Companion errata and associated bans, with all decks being affected directly or indirectly.

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Might? Well, at the time of writing, the dust hasn’t settled yet, so we lose the benefit of hindsight on the metagame. Maybe in a world where Teferi, Time Raveler doesn’t instantly make them lose the game, Flash decks in Simic or Dimir can get a chance to shine in the spotlight, after having been kept on the fringe since Core 2020. Maybe the next best broken thing that just couldn’t compete with the banned strategies appears from unexpected places. Maybe midrange gets a renaissance with sacrifice decks and ramp decks being weakened. Or maybe ramping into a big threat (Ugin, the Spirit Dragon) is once again the best thing to do even without Growth Spiral. The format is once again broken open, whether for a week or a month is uncertain.

Whatever the format settles on, Zendikar Rising is on the horizon, and with it a full rotation. Who knows what next year will be like?


An interesting pattern that we can see throughout this year of Standard is that the changes in design philosophy didn't affect how the Standard metagame evolved all that much. The 'E' in F.I.R.E. stands for "Exciting", and by Wizards own words, means: "We want to design and cost cards so that they can inspire cool new decks and archetypes for players to build and own."

As it stands, the overall Standard format over the year saw an evolution we saw time and again in Standards past, with a core few decks being refined more and more, and each new set added to the card pool being less and less impactful than the previous one, until we reach the Core Set with a solved and stale Standard. While the powerful cards in each set made for a more chaotic experience overall, with new decks being created just to be so powerful they need an immediate banning, the overall direction stayed the same.

From Throne of Eldraine to Core Set 2021, there was always Temur Reclamation, a Sacrifice deck (most often Jund), Simic-based Ramp of some kind and Azorius Control. Sometimes in the background, sometimes super-powered by the newest mistake. With the latest ban announcement affecting all of those, the slate is now mostly blank for the few weeks before rotation and a lot of fringe decks will attempt to rise. But the point stands: the new, more powerful sets didn't help 'fix' Standard being solved, at best temporarily distracting players from it with mistakes that are even worse.

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