Hello readers! It feels like it's been a while since I wrote something but I guess I'm just getting used to writing fewer articles a month. I've actually taken a bit of time off from the game to get my classes and whatnot in order and I'll admit that it was a nice change of pace. I actually ended up even missing the Prerelease due to a very terrible cold but I've been doing lots of reading research and made plenty of phone calls to the right people.
I feel as though I'm probably in the same boat as a lot of people going into the 2010's – I don't really know what I want to play or what decks are actually good. I do know that there are lots of viable decks being considered at this stage but how many of them are actually decent? The way I look at it Standard has only a few approaches that are reasonable. Below are the focal points of the new format:
Put simply if you're going to the 2010's I highly suggest you play one of these four cards. I don't necessarily care how you play them or what you play with them but the bottom line at this point is that these cards each makes up some important facet of the metagame and each holds a certain amount of influence over how well your deck is going to perform. To better illustrate my point I'm going to go through some examples of the different decks in these categories so as to make the decision-making process a tad easier.
The Jace Decks
Most of the Jace decks are going to look a lot like the U/W Control lists from before rotation. You know lots of planeswalkers some Baneslayer Angels and countermagic/removal. Now we've lost Path to Exile and Oblivion Ring and as a result the deck as a whole is a lot less efficient at dealing with individual threats but it's not as big a deal as it initially appears. Here is a stock list:
As you can see U/W hasn't changed much. Sun Titan and Baneslayer Angel are still the premier white finishers and the game plan is much the same as it was before: counter spells and removal threats early then establish control with planeswalkers and win via virtual card advantage. The new tricks however are cards like Elspeth Tirel instead of Elspeth Knight-Errant (a downgrade for sure but the new Elspeth has her uses – her ultimate is actually a lot better than it initially appears despite the fact that you'll most often want to make blockers instead of moving her closer to using it) and Ratchet Bomb.
I'll talk more about Ratchet Bomb in a later section but for now I just want to mention just how powerful it is in this deck – it gives U/W yet another card that can effectively turn other decks “off” and I can't really argue with including cards like that. I've also chosen to omit Seachrome Coast because frankly I think that card is pretty bad in this deck. We rarely ever have an issue with getting blue mana on the first turn and even if we did it just isn't worth playing over say Sejiri Refuge which at the very least gives us some life.
I do however have a large issue with this deck as it is. Wall of Omens might not be that good anymore and I think we can safely remove it from the maindeck. Let's consider the metagame for a moment as we currently understand it: the only aggressive decks are Eldrazi Elves Mono-White Relic and Mono-Red (and all three of them are mono-colored – interesting). Now I'm not so sure that we need to actually fear the Relic deck as the aforementioned Ratchet Bomb does quite a number on that deck all on its own (again more on that later) and the Elf deck's game plan revolves around landing an Eldrazi Monument so Wall of Omens only soaks up a small amount of damage anyway.
I'll admit that Wall of Omens is still very good against red but the point I'm making here is that I'm not so sure that we need to maindeck this card anymore. It's totally useless against the mirror Primeval Titan decks and its less-than-impressive against the Fauna Shaman decks (Vengevine decks go right through it for example). I'd agree that we would still desire Walls against a fair number of decks in the format but do we really need them in the main?
Beyond that issue I think the archetype is fine. Volition Reins is a powerful boon to the mirror match as now it isn't just a matter of who gets the most Oblivion Rings – now the games end much faster. I mean I'm aware that it is still about who draws the most Revoke Existences but instead of just removing their threat and sitting around until someone draws another now we can steal threats from opponents and make games go a lot quicker.
I do feel however that there's some untapped potential with this deck. Imagine for example the interaction between Venser the Sojourner and Sunblast Angel. I'm sure you've seen this synergy for yourself certainly but how much thought did you give it? Is it too far-fetched to think that this “combo” could be a pivotal strategy in Standard? The “aggressive” decks in Standard are fairly fast from what it seems but I don't think that discourages this approach to the deck in the slightest. Consider the following:
Whether or not this will end up being better than the former list is anyone's guess but I like the looks of it. Venser allows us to do some interesting things namely being able to reset Sunblast Angel every turn to ward off attackers. He also can reset Elspeth Tirel after she's made us a small army gain us additional life off of Kabira Crossroads get more effect out of Sun Titan and lower the charge counters on Ratchet Bomb. In addition he makes our Celestial Colonnades Gideon Soldier tokens Sunblast Angels and Sun Titans unblockable which will undoubtedly win lots of games all on its own. Post-sideboard too you can target Wall of Omens with his ability and just draw lots of cards (theoretically this could be a solid argument to keep Wall of Omens in the maindeck).
Venser's ultimate is also very attractive – I'm about 98% sure that once it resolves in say the mirror you simply cannot lose. It isn't all that similar to Jace the Mind Sculptor in terms of efficiency (since it doesn't necessarily force a concession) but I find it hard to think of a situation in which making all your spells into Vindicates just isn't getting the job done.
Regardless of how you're building U/W (one guy at the TCGPlayer.com 5K in New York had a Trinket Mage package) you're representing the only true face of control that exists. Granted it's a pretty strong case but U/W has probably been taken down a notch from where we last left it. That shaky matchup with the Valakut decks? Yeah it's a bit more “shaky” now.
The Primeval Titan Decks
The best way to reintroduce you to Primeval Titan is with a decklist unsurprisingly:
Yeah so we basically just took out Rampant Growths and added more Summoning Traps. I mean in the entire 75 only Koth is new. That doesn't surprise me too much honestly since this archetype was pretty much destined to rule the new format regardless of the contents of Scars of Mirrodin but I guess I was hoping we'd get something to combat Primeval Titan. Alas however we're left with not much else to do but submit and sleeve up decks with four copies of that guy in them. But why? Why is this deck so good?
Bottom line sadly is that without Path to Exile and powerful cards like Bloodbraid Elf it's really hard to justify not winning the game as easily as Primeval Titan allows you to. In many cases simply resolving a Primeval Titan is good enough to seal the game up as even if he dies he still gets you your Valakuts. Some U/W players have adapted to this strategy by using Leonin Arbiter but let's be honest – how much will that do? They can Lightning Bolt it or well just play a Mountain and kill it then go about their business. And even then Summoning Trap makes it all even worse – even if you manage to neutralize Valakut you still need to deal with the possibility of Avenger of Zendikar being put into play at your end step. Oh right and the deck might also just burn you out with Koth…
The way I look at it there are two ways to combat this deck: Tectonic Edge and lots of countermagic (coupled with pressure ) or an aggressive deck. I'd say the latter is a better strategy as this deck can lock up wins as early as the fifth or sixth turn and it'd be a tall order to expect even a very aggressive red deck to have the opponent at zero by then through removal and other disruption. But really even then I can't make a strong argument for the U/W decks. I mean even with boatloads of counterspells and lifegain how exactly is one supposed to stop the combination of Summoning Trap with Primeval Titan? No matter what angle you attack it from you're going to come out behind on that exchange.
Granted Valakut isn't the only way to play Primeval Titan but the other way isn't as good as I'd like to think it is. Ramp-into-Eldrazi.dec is sweet and all but as a mono-green deck it lacks the tools to deal with some of the format's threats (like the red deck and even Valakut). While it definitely has Ratchet Bomb on its side (and to a lesser extent All Is Dust) I doubt that's enough to keep it on top. In general I'd always just consider playing Valakut over this deck if given the choice.
The Koth Decks
Now you've already seen Koth in Valakut but what about him in his natural habitat? When I think of Koth I think of aggressive red and I'm pretty sure that he's actually just good enough all on his own to make the red deck good again. As I stated two weeks ago he's probably among the best planeswalkers in the game and he's the perfect embodiment of what red is all about.
And without further adieu my take on Mono-Red:
Okay I must agree that all Mono-Red decks look pretty much the same but you have to admit that the lists are looking pretty good. The sideboard here needs some work but the general strategy is sound. Kor Firewalker can actually be killed in a number of ways now (between Unstable Footing Koth and Ratchet Bomb) and so at this point Mono-Red might actually be in a legitimate spot to be a good deck. I mean come on – we can even get rid of Leyline of Sanctity!
To put it simply Ratchet Bomb makes this deck tick again. I get that it's really slow but it solves a lot of problems that red mages have been having recently. In addition creatures like Kiln Fiend are so absurdly explosive that it seems like treason not to use them and Goblin Guide is still the most aggressive one-drop the game has ever seen. And don't even get me started on Koth (speaking of which I wasn't aware they were making a Patrick Sullivan planeswalker!) who is just insane in this archetype. A hasted 4/4 for four seems kind of steep at first for Mono-Red but when you consider that it's a 4/4 that only needs to live for two turns in order to “win” you the game it gets much better.
Now there are other ways to play mono-red right now and I get that. You could play Big Red and cast Bogardan Hellkites and Chandra Nalaars with Koth but at that point it kind of makes me wonder why we aren't playing green and whenever I think of a G/R ramp deck I begin to wonder why I don't have Valakut and Primeval Titan and then it just goes downhill from there. In short play the aggro version.
I'll be frank: I want to play this deck at the 2010's. I've never played a Mono-Red deck in a sanctioned event in my life but Koth is just that freaking good. He makes it look fun. He makes it look almost easy doesn't he? Granted I still worry that I won't be able to consistently beat Valakut decks but I'll admit that Mono-Red probably stands the best chance of doing so. And really that might be surprising to some people.
The Fauna Shaman Decks
I'm not going to spend a lot of time on this archetype because I feel like it is the least “prepared” of them all. It simply needs more time in order to be developed properly but I know it'll be a force when it does. I mean how can it not? Vengevine and Fauna Shaman are an incredibly synergistic and sophisticated engine and now that we can play Trinket Mage and Memnite along with them (see Gavin Verhey's latest article here on StarCityGames.com) it only makes things better. Molten-Tail Masticore too is a force with Vengevine and that guy fits into any and all versions of the deck.
Here is one version from the TCG Player 5K in New York:
- 1 Memnite
- 4 Birds of Paradise
- 4 Fauna Shaman
- 1 Frost Titan
- 3 Lotus Cobra
- 1 Sphinx of Lost Truths
- 4 Squadron Hawk
- 1 Trinket Mage
- 4 Vengevine
While I can't stress enough how much I feel that at least one Molten-Tail Masticore belongs in every Fauna Shaman list I still feel like this is a good starting point. Obviously you can play Naya colors Bant colors or even with black but regardless of the supporting colors the basic idea is the same: abuse Fauna Shaman.
These decks aren't as fast as say Mono-Red but they're generally more resilient and have the ability to actually win longer games. You'll notice too that this particular list also features Jace the Mind Sculptor and as was probably already clear the more “key” cards of the format that appear in your deck the better it probably is.
As I said I don't think we've found even close to a reliable model for design with this archetype. I feel like these decks are already good but they're likely going to lack the proper tuning and numbers to allow them to take down too many 2010 titles but after all the events are over we should be able to make some headway.
Standard definitely has some decks that don't fall into the categories I laid out at this article's offset but I'm not sure I'd recommend playing them. The Quest for the Holy Relic deck seems insane on paper but I can't get behind it. If you aren't familiar with the deck the basic idea is that you play creatures like Ornithopter Glint Hawk and Memnite and attempt to trigger an early Quest that allows you to hook up a dude with Argentum Armor and start beating essentially severing your opponent's resources and quickly ending the game.
However Sovereigns of Lost Alara this is not. Quest for the Holy Relic is an abysmal topdeck and your “nut hand” is infinitely harder to assemble than the Sovereign Bant deck's ever was. To make matters worse the “mediocre” draw for Relic decks is simply awful as you're going to have lots of Memnite/Ornithopter hands without Quest or Tempered Steel making the deck mulligan a lot and not well.
But wait it gets even worse. As if all that wasn't bad enough there's even worse news: the deck can't beat Day of Judgment. At all. Heck it can't even beat Ratchet Bomb as a Bomb set to zero or one is just good game. I have seen so many Facebook updates in the past week with this sentiment and I know for a fact that I personally will be keeping my distance.
The last deck worth mentioning is the Eldrazi Elves deck as that archetype got a significant buff in the form of Ezuri Renegade Leader. Not only does he regenerate your key players he also just allows you to use Elvish Archdruid to abuse his Overrun ability and I actually think it makes the deck more than legitimate again. In addition Eldrazi Monument is nearly 300% better now that Path and Oblivion Ring are gone and that's even considering that fact that it's an artifact in light of a new set which is based on artifacts and has the means to destroy them. I'd certainly watch out for this deck as I'd wager that its popularity will only grow.
So what deck should you play at the 2010's? Well there are roughly six top decks but we could easily narrow that down to three or four. I'd recommend playing Valakut above all else (or at the very least something that has serious game against it such as Mono-Red or the Monument decks) but really anything running the Big Four (Jace Koth Titan and Shaman) is probably a reasonable choice at this point. Considering that the format is only a week or so old now is a good time to experiment but also to play something you enjoy. Want to play control? Give Venser or Jace a spin. Feeling a bit more like smashing face? Koth's your man.
The bottom line is… enjoy this event because before long we'll have solid data and everyone will know what “the best deck” is and we'll head back to the grind.
Until next time
Shinjutsei on MTGO