I'm always a little disappointed when I look at the first tournament results after a new set comes out. I don't really expect it to be filled with new decks, but there's always a chance, right? So far, we've seen a lot of Jund and Reanimator, making it look like Dragon's Maze didn't exactly blow the metagame wide open. Early results are always misleading though. No one has had a chance or even an incentive to put any work into building something radically new.
Without a Standard Pro Tour, The Aristocrats and consequently Act 2 might never have been developed or would probably have taken a long time to evolve naturally. I can't be sure about this, of course—maybe others would have eventually found it more easily than I did—but it feels like a deck that wouldn't evolve naturally or would take a long time to do so.
Because Pro Tour Dragon's Maze is Block Constructed rather than Standard, there won't be a big shift after the PT. Maybe someone will do something awesome in Block that will be ported to Standard (reasonably likely), but for the most part Standard will be able to develop for a long time without a major showcase.
What this means is that the format should take longer to be "solved" but might actually take less time to stagnate if people don't bother to find all the decks that can be built. I suppose my point is that brewers shouldn't despair—there's a good chance there's a lot to be uncovered.
Toward that end, I'd like to highlight a few things that I think could be doing a lot more in Standard right now.
I wasn't too thrilled when I first read Lavinia of the Tenth, but after playing with her in Limited, I've come to realize that she has a real shot in Constructed.
The fact that she costs five and stops the opponent from attacking made her look a little like a control card to me, but she definitely isn't that. Lavinia is there to kill your opponent, and she plays well with others.
Five is a lot of mana for an aggressive deck, but the effect is well worth it. When it comes into play, your opponent can essentially only block with Thragtusk (obviously there are others, but this is going to be the one that matters). Then you attack with everything you have, and if they live through that Falter effect, they can't attack you back. At that point, if you have another Lavinia or a Restoration Angel, you get to do it again (If you have another Lavinia, they'll both die, but that doesn't matter if your opponent dies too).
The most obvious aggressive card in Lavinia's colors that wants a way to get through is Geist of Saint Traft. They're definitely great friends and also both excellent with Restoration Angel, but we need more than just that for a deck.
Another card that is a lot better with Lavinia is Sublime Archangel. Because Sublime Archangel forces you to attack with only a single creature, your opponent can often invalidate the ability by simply blocking for a few turns, which, obviously, is where Lavinia comes in.
In the best-case scenario, Lavinia is clearly excellent in that she just wins the game, but what if things aren't going so well? What if your opponent isn't playing a creature deck and detain isn't that relevant?
Well, there are a few things going on. First of all, protection from red is a pretty good ability. She can't be blocked by Boros Reckoner or killed by Mizzium Mortars, and she ignores Olivia Voldaren. Unfortunately, none of that lets her attack through a Thragtusk, but protection from red is probably good enough that she's not embarrassing against Jund.
Against U/W/R, they'll often sweep your creatures with Supreme Verdict, and you'll be looking for a five-drop that performs after that. While she's not the fastest clock, again, she's serviceable. As I mentioned, she lives through Mizzium Mortars and ignores Boros Reckoner. She beats a Restoration Angel in a fight, so what are they doing about her? Azorius Charm? Great—it's not like they get to attack back since you just detain them again (admittedly unless they're killing you with a Dragon or Aurelia, the Warleader).
It's worth noting that she detains planeswalkers, but realistically I don't think that's often going to be an especially big deal.
What's a little more interesting is that it's fairly likely that the turn she comes down she might keep a Reanimator opponent off of playing an Angel of Serenity they would otherwise be able to play that turn by detaining their mana creatures.
Where she's going to be at her best is, of course, against decks like Hexproof, which will just be a race (she's great at races), Reanimator, Aristocrats/Act 2, any other token deck, basically any green/white deck, R/G aggro, Jund Aggro, and any other aggressive red deck.
So what exactly am I proposing here?
- 4 Cathedral Sanctifier
- 4 Champion of the Parish
- 4 Deputy of Acquittals
- 4 Precinct Captain
- 4 Restoration Angel
- 4 Silverblade Paladin
- 2 Sublime Archangel
- 4 Geist of Saint Traft
- 2 Lavinia of the Tenth
- 4 Thalia, Guardian of Thraben
Cathedral Sanctifier in an aggro deck looks absurd and certainly could be wrong, but it's there because of another new card that I didn't talk about yet, Deputy of Acquittals. Deputy of Acquittals is obviously a great answer to a removal spell, but realistically you're looking to curve out and attack people, so holding up such a reactive card isn't great. The reason I like it is that it's great at triggering Champion of the Parish, and if I'm picking up another Human to get another counter, it might as well be one that gains me three life. There's a good chance four is more than you want, but I didn't feel like the opportunity cost of losing Doomed Traveler, the next three I'd want, was that high. There's a chance that it should just be Boros Elite, but I didn't feel like I'd be that great at battalion.
Changing gears, I want to discuss another deck I've been looking at that's radically different.
Before building The Aristocrats, I started with a black/white deck that used Vizkopa Guildmage with Rhox Faithmender. The deck was terrible, but it got some new tools, so I'm curious about revisiting it.
The shell that I wanted to build around was:
In trying to fill out the deck, I noticed that I had a lot of Vampires. I wanted Falkenrath Aristocrat and Blood Artist. I also wanted Sin Collector, but at some point I realized that with that many Vampires, Stromkirk Captain might actually be better than Sin Collector. One thing led to another, as tribal synergies do, and I ended up here:
- 4 Blood Artist
- 3 Blood Baron of Vizkopa
- 3 Bloodline Keeper
- 4 Falkenrath Aristocrat
- 4 Stromkirk Captain
- 4 Stromkirk Noble
- 4 Tithe Drinker
- 4 Vampire Nighthawk
I'm not going to lie—I don't really know how good this deck is, but I think it might be awesome.
Stromkirk Captain is a lot better than he looks on paper. When all of your creatures have first strike, double blocking becomes absolutely amazing. Moreover, all the creatures on the ground (most importantly, Blood Baron of Vizkopa) don't attack into Thragtusk well, but with first strike they just run right through it. It also comes down at exactly the right time to get Stromkirk Noble through a blocker that would otherwise shut it down a lot of the time.
When all of your creatures are Vampires, Bloodline Keeper is likely to flip immediately, killing your opponent, and it's nice that it's also a serious threat by itself when you're trying not to overextend into a sweeper or, more likely, trying to recover after being swept.
The amount of lifelink in the deck should make it great against aggressive creature decks, and the sideboard starts with the Sin Collectors, Sorin, Lord of Innistrads, and Sire of Insanitys, which should be enough to cause huge problems for control, but if it isn't it's trivial to add any combination of Duresses and Obzedat, Ghost Councils, which should definitely be enough.
A bigger danger at that point is that it could be weak against Reanimator if the clock isn't fast enough and they just do big things, but flying attackers are good and they might not have the right disruption for your synergies.
The worst matchup is almost certainly Jund, which is always great against tribal strategies, and that's likely to just be the big hole for this strategy. Depending on how you expect their deck to look after sideboarding, you could try to steal games with Assemble the Legion. If, for example, you're playing against Owen Turtenwald's Jund deck from the StarCityGames.com Open in Somerset, the only way they can remove Assemble the Legion from play is with Vraska the Unseen, and I don't know that they're likely to bring it in in this matchup.
Assemble the Legion isn't the greatest answer since they can still just kill you with their creatures and Olivia races it very well, but you have removal for that, so there's a very real chance that it would be your best hope if you need to do something.
There's a reasonable amount of flexibility to the list as well. It's nice that every creature is a Vampire, but they certainly don't all have to be. It might be better to have a few Sin Collectors maindeck, for example. Even within Vampires, Bloodthrone Vampire is a very reasonable consideration that isn't in the deck yet, and with enough lords even something like Vampire Interloper or Bloodcrazed Neonate could be a consideration.
At four, there is a tremendous glut of excellent Vampires. I think Falkenrath Aristocrat is the best because it's such an individually powerful card and plays well after sweepers, but Vampire Nocturnus is likely more explosive—it's just more "all-in" than I want. Honestly, it's even possible that Falkenrath Noble (yes, I actually mean Noble) could be better than Bloodline Keeper. It punishes sweepers preemptively, and with that and Blood Artist things can get out of hand very quickly. Blasphemous Act becomes a consideration at that point—as does Boros Reckoner. Maybe the third act stars Vampires.
Going a little deeper, Vampiric Fury actually offers an insane rate for that effect. Combat tricks obviously aren't generally great, but seriously—with all these lifelinkers at +2 each and first strike for only two mana? It's hard to actually put a card like that in a deck, but if you were going to it's a great version of the effect.
It's interesting that this doesn't really feel like a Dragon's Maze deck to me, whatever that means, because the Vampire theme doesn't matter in Ravnica, but Tithe Drinker and Blood Baron of Vizkopa are definitely hugely relevant additions to the Vampire tribe.
If M14 gives us a reasonable one mana Vampire, all these lords could really get a chance to shine before they rotate out, but it might not even be necessary.
Thanks for reading,
@samuelhblack on Twitter