Magic: The Gathering has a great narrative hook. You are a Planeswalker, a dimension hopping wizard who casts powerful spells and summons legions of followers to duel your enemies in a test of mystical dominance. Each of the many Magic: The Gathering sets takes you on a new adventure in a different world: visiting vampire weddings in Innistrad; attending schools of witchcraft and wizardry in Strixhaven; and even delving into the Forgotten Realms of Dungeons and Dragons. Gorgeous art and pithy flavour text deliver tiny morsels of a bigger narrative, with you and your deck at the centre of the action.
But anyone who has built a Magic deck for competitive play knows that you’re using it to crush your opponent, not to make a coherent story. The goal is strength, not flavour – the same goal, incidentally, that I follow when mixing cocktails.
Yet, to my great surprise, some of the best MTG Standard decks tell a compelling narrative with a grab bag of characters from across the multiverse.
And when they don’t make sense? Well, bonkers is so much better than boring.
These are the top MTG standard decks with stories to tell:
- Dimir Control
- Mono White Aggro
- Izzet Control
- Mono Green Aggro
- Orzhov Midrange
While Dimir Control isn’t the strongest deck in MTG standard, it has a truly brilliant narrative.
You are the cult leader in an H.P. Lovecraft story
You have a dark and terrible purpose, a thirst for discovery that sees you pore over tomes of ancient lore. You gather others to your fell cause: Lier, Disciple of the Drowned, he who casts dead spells; Sorin the Mirthless, vampire of grim countenance. When others oppose you, you unsummon their champions and massacre their armies. Your black magic drives their most powerful spells from their mind. At last, when the stars are right, you stand on the shore of a darkling ocean. You speak the words of binding, and summon forth the Hullbreaker Horror from the hateful depths. The whole world screams.
You are the cult leader in an H.P. Lovecraft story.
Mono White aggro
Mono White Aggro – a.k.a. White Weenie – is action-packed and single-minded, which makes it one of the best decks in MTG standard, and also gives it a cracking story:
You command a host of holy warriors. Adeline, Resplendent Cathar draws mortal soldiers to your cause, while the Legion Angel brings her own companions from outside space and time. Your allies Thalia, Guardian of Thraben and Reidane, God of the Mighty, confound your enemy’s spells, while Brutal Cathars entrap their mightiest warriors.
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Yet you are paranoid. You rule a kingdom of ice and snow-bound plains. Scattered throughout your domain are Faceless Havens, from which you can call forth changeling servants, fearing your legions may be slain in some terrible act of God.
You are Prince Hans, from an alternate timeline where he murdered the princesses at the end of Disney’s Frozen.
The story of my favourite MTG arena deck, Jund Midrange:
I run a pie-shop with a devil and an opera singer. We keep baking the same immortal cat into the pies. Eventually we’re suckered into a pyramid scheme by a dragon, ruining the neighbourhood. My opponent quits in disgust.
Dropping the eponymous winged reptiles that made Izzet Dragons shine and focused on stalling the game until you can combo off, playing Izzet Control is as close to being a real wizard as MTG standard decks get.
You are a true magician. You need no minions, only your magic, and you work alone. Day and night you research. When rivals send their armies against you, you blast them with caustic fire, unsummon them, or simply counter the magic that binds them to the realm. You rifle frantically through your library, discarding one idea after the other as you search for a perfect solution.
Then, finally, you have it. Of course! You apply the principles of Galvanic Iteration to your tax return, receiving a double-sized Unexpected Windfall. This lets you accelerate the expensive Alrund’s Epiphany through the Galvanic Iteration process twice, creating a flock of violent pigeons and locking your opponent outside the flow of time.
You calmly sink into the ocean and ask a Storm Giant to kick their head in.
You are Doctor Strange in one of Steve Ditko’s weirder comics.
Mono Green Aggro
Like a retired skateboarder, Mono Green Aggro eschews ramp in favour of pets. It’s a simple, incoherent story, but I love it.
Inside your deck there are two wolves. One is a pack leader. The other one wants to be the pack leader. You are a forest ranger, and you are good at wolf management. You explore a huge wilderness, gathering a menagerie of forest creatures, snakes, elves, trolls and mammoths.
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The snakes generate spell-casting mana whenever you discover a new land ( for reasons that aren’t entirely clear) and the elves sometimes give you mana by putting one of your other creatures to sleep (also for reasons that aren’t clear). You don’t question it.
You drive a magical chariot pulled by cats and wolves, which seems to be attracting more cats and wolves. You bury your opponent under a stampede of woodland creatures.
You are Steve Irwin’s final form.
What kind of story do you get from a deck that prioritises value over everything else? The worst, and my favourite – Orzhov Midrange.
You and your opponent are invited to a wedding. The groom is a Vampire Lord. You take a seat on the groom’s side of the aisle, joining a party of scorpions and twitching winged eyeballs. Lolth, a Spider Goddess, from a completely separate multiverse, keeps offering you spiders. Sometimes a second copy of the groom arrives, causing the first copy to instantly die. The ushers put him in a coffin.
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A procession of minor vampire relatives visit to wish the dead groom well. Occasionally the first groom reanimates, the second dies, and they rotate between the coffin. The bride never arrives, and the guests eat your opponent.
You are on the set of a Dario Argento movie.