Lost In A Fairy Tale
I moved to Roanoke with my wife a little over two years ago and began my career as a Magic player, producing content for StarCityGames.com as a full-time job. It didn't necessarily start out that way, with my wife getting a job in the Events Department at SCG long before I started making Versus videos with GerryT and Bard Narson. I was new to the area. I didn't have very many friends here. I had left them all behind in a previous life so that I could do the best thing for my wife and our future.
Picking up your entire life and moving on isn't an easy thing to do. You lose friends, family, and familiarity. You leave a little bit of yourself behind too, and that feeling is always hard to shake. This past weekend as I sat in my living room with Kali watching the Alabama vs. Texas A&M college football game, I'm not going to lie—I wanted nothing more than to be back in Birmingham, AL with all of my friends watching the game. It was an extremely close matchup against the only team that beat us last year on our way to winning the National Championship.
And it made me think back to the times I'd had after moving to Roanoke. It made me think of Magic because basically everything makes me think of Magic, and it helped me rekindle a bit of that fire I felt like I'd lost over the last few months. It made me remember how much fun it was to draft.
Shortly after moving to Roanoke, Innistrad was released. Now, I'm not a big Limited guy. I mean, I like to draft on occasion. I like to play in a Sealed Deck tournament every now and then, but sleeving up 75 cards is what I do. It's what I enjoy the most in Magic, but there are some sets that change that at least for a time.
Innistrad was one of those sets. It incredibly flavorful, stocked to the brim with werewolves, witches, vampires, and all of the good guys trying to smite them. We had hunters, along with ancient relics from demons and angels.
Hell, we even had a chainsaw straight out of Evil Dead. You can thank Richard Garfield for that one.
But outside of all the backstory, flavor, and incredible mechanics, you had awesome cards that made for a fantastic Limited format. I have rarely had so much fun casting a Riot Devils. It was interesting to me to see a set that wasn't completely dominated by gigantic rares and splashy bombs. You needed synergy. You needed to actually draft a deck instead of just a collection of good cards.
You can plainly see this with the existence of Laboratory Maniac and Spider Spawning, both being incredible cards that you would often see late in the draft as long as you could build your deck around them. Since most people couldn't use them effectively, they wouldn't take them, and you could actually plan your draft around certain cards making their way back around the table.
You could build a Millstone style deck with Dream Twist and a variety of other cards. You could even build a Burning Vengeance deck! There was so much power in utilizing mechanics and using multiple cards to actually build towards something, which is an aspect of the current rotating Standard format that has been severely lacking over the last few months. Innistrad was a set that made me love Limited again.
When I first moved to Roanoke, drafting was something we used to do almost every week. I got to know a lot of the people I now call friends, and I finally felt like I had found home again. There aren't a lot of times throughout Magic's history where I felt like I was falling in love with the game, but the release of Innistrad was one of those times. I've never felt like moving to Roanoke was the wrong choice, but having such an awesome game around does make getting over homesickness much easier. Having such an amazing set to get lost in was just an added bonus.
And I think Theros will be another one of those sets. As far as Limited goes, I was pretty concerned with some rather questionable abilities (bestow and heroic) when some of the first cards were spoiled from the set. But when we got to see the entire spoiler earlier this week, some of the cards began to make a little more sense.
It looks like each color is gaining some pretty strong utility spells that could target multiple creatures, making heroic into an actual ability. On top of that, there are quite a few enchantments that actually seem reasonable for Limited, making Heroic into an almost-appealing ability to build your deck around. There are some downsides because targeting your own creatures is a great way to lose card advantage against a removal spell, but they are certainly doing their best to entice us.
I'm still not quite sold on bestow as a relevant ability for Constructed, but sometimes that's just how things are. I feel like it is intentionally overcosted, much to my dismay. If a few of the cards just cost one or two less mana to bestow their ability onto a creature, they would likely be a little too good, but I'm fine with how they turned out. I don't like cards being powerhouses in Limited and mediocre in Constructed, and I think that Bestow has found a nice balance.
As for the rest of the set, I'm almost positive it won't be as phenomenally deep as Innistrad, but that is something rarely replicated. I do, however, see a ton of flavor in a lot of the cards, and it makes a small part of me absolutely giddy. I mean, just seeing Chained to the Rocks and thinking about the story of Prometheus is kind of absurd. The same goes for Rescue from the Underworld and the story of Orpheus and Eurydice.
It almost feels like I'm stepping into Greek mythology, battling with and against all of the gods, titans, and fantastical creatures that world brought to life while I was growing up. It isn't often you get to play with a product that can bring you a kind of nostalgia, but I'm already excited just thinking about it! I actually can't wait to draft it!
With the entire spoiler out, I can finally begin to make brews with complete information. With that said, I think this week we'll focus on some specific cards and how they're going to influence Standard along with a few potential decklists.
Since Return to Ravnica is pretty heavy-handed on the multicolor without all that much mana fixing, it will definitely be tricky to build three-color decks in the early stages of the Standard format. This is especially true with the rotation of Farseek, but we do have somewhat of a replacement.
This card makes me really miss Utopia Tree and not miss it at the same time! We get a significant upgrade in a mana fixer that can actually block! There are so many creatures in the format sporting one and two power that I see no problem in giving this a gigantic green light. I feel like many of the green decks will want to play the full four copies of Sylvan Caryatid as a mana fixer as well as an accelerator. With Avacyn's Pilgrim and Arbor Elf both leaving the format, there aren't a ton of ways to ramp into your bigger spells.
Sylvan Caryatid having hexproof is also pretty sweet since one of the biggest drawbacks to cards like Birds of Paradise is that they die! You need to build your deck in a way that you rely on those creatures, often playing fewer lands than you should. Or if you don't play fewer lands, you will oftentimes get flooded. Utility lands like Gavony Township helped alleviate this problem, but we no longer have access to them, so having a mana accelerator around that doesn't die to spot removal is going to be fantastic.
I'm certain that Sylvan Caryatid is going to be one of the best cards in the set, but very few people are giving it any credit. You just wait until you build a deck that wants a Farseek; then you'll know what I'm talking about! If I wanted to build a "Big Green" deck at the beginning of the season, here is what it would look like:
- 2 Angel of Serenity
- 4 Boros Reckoner
- 4 Elvish Mystic
- 4 Loxodon Smiter
- 4 Sylvan Caryatid
- 4 Voice of Resurgence
- 2 Polukranos, World Eater
I'm under the impression that one- and two-color decks will be pretty fantastic at the beginning of the season as long as they are very aggressive and consistent. With so many people brewing decks featuring Elspeth, Sun's Champion (myself included), I think the only way to actually beat that card is to just go under it as much as possible. There are a lot of remaining aggressive creatures and a lot of new weapons for us to utilize from Theros.
This is the newest iteration of Jackal Pup, and I am frightened at how powerful it could be alongside Rakdos Cackler. Mono-Red Aggro has always been a powerful force in Standard formats, and this one will be no different. With the Satyr on your team, things could go south in a hurry, but it doesn't seem all that difficult to overwhelm your opponent before that actually matters.
The same goes for these guys.
With three different aggressive colors gaining access to two-power creatures for one mana, things could get brutal in a hurry. Of these three, the red one is obviously the weakest in a vacuum, but the cards surrounding the red shell are probably going to be the most powerful for an aggressive strategy. Burn spells just go so much further in a game where you're trying to kill your opponent's blockers as well as get their life total to zero.
If I had to pick one to build an aggressive deck around, it would definitely be Firedrinker Satyr, so here is my latest red brew:
- 4 Burning-Tree Emissary
- 4 Firedrinker Satyr
- 4 Firefist Striker
- 4 Ghor-Clan Rampager
- 4 Rakdos Cackler
- 4 Young Pyromancer
- 2 Purphoros, God of the Forge
In a lot of scenarios, you're going to need spells that your opponent has a hard time dealing with. After sideboard, you can bet most decks will have a ton of removal spells or creatures that gain life, so you're going to have to adapt. I think the best game plan for this is siding out some of your earlier creatures in favor of a better late game with Stormbreath Dragon and more copies of Purphoros. You can do this simply by adding a few more Mutavaults to your sideboard, giving you lands that act like spells while giving you the land count you need to drop your threats on time.
Stormbreath Dragon isn't getting a lot of press, but I think that card could end up being a serious sleeper in this set. I think that out of the gates U/W Control is going to be very strong, so you'll need a card that can hit hard after a Supreme Verdict. Stormbreath Dragon also has the uncanny ability to dodge almost all of the spells that would normally slow you down. Azorius Charm and Detention Sphere will be the spot removal of choice from the control decks, and neither interact favorably with Stormbreath Dragon.
Peak Eruption will also be one of your best ways to deal with Chained to the Rocks, which can be incredibly frustrating to play against. A cheap removal spell with very little drawback is one of the ways that many decks will get a leg up on you, and I can already see many brews where Peak Eruption will be phenomenal. Elspeth, Sun's Champion pairs very well with Purphoros, so having a way to slow them down while getting rid of one of their best removal spells is just gas.
You asked for it, so now you got it. We finally have a cheap(ish) sweeper back in the format. Rolling Temblor was not a card that saw a lot of play for good reason—it only dealt two damage. Anger of the Gods does a full three damage to all creatures and even exiles them! This means that Voice of Resurgence and friends aren't coming back for a second round of pain.
If aggressive decks are going to show up en mass like I think they will, then Anger of the Gods will be a perfect foil. Very few of the threats you'll face will have toughness high enough to stick around, and you'll almost always be able to turn off the devotion of an aggressive God relying on creatures to fuel their fire. There are some outliers, like Loxodon Smiter, but threats like that can be dispatched a number of ways as long as you build your deck to handle those kinds of threats.
Anger of the Gods is a red card, which means it might be difficult to build a shell around it at the beginning of the format. This is especially true with Farseek leaving, but I think that there just might be some "Big Red" style decks that absolutely want Anger of the Gods alongside something like Chandra, Pyromaster.
While Burning Earth probably won't be as good as it once was, you can bet that the Big Red shell is still around and probably very good. We don't have Thundermaw Hellkite, but we have somewhat of a proxy in Stormbreath Dragon and get to play a bunch of burn spells now instead of mediocre creatures like Ash Zealot.
While I don't think mono-red is the way to go, you can easily splash another color. With the new scry lands, I highly recommend green or white as the appropriate splash, but I think white might be better for the long game. Chained to the Rocks and Elspeth, Sun's Champion are both fantastic additions to this style of deck, though you probably don't want to be playing too many permanents that interact poorly with Anger of the Gods. I think Boros Reckoner is probably the exception since it's so amazing at beating up on aggressive decks and helps your devotion count for Heliod.
Now, there has been a lot of talk about how good Elspeth, Sun's Champion is going to be. I agree with most of that hype because I have already seen it in action a bit. Not to mention it feels difficult to lose when you continually kill all of the creatures that could potentially threaten it. While I'm not certain she is as busted as everyone seems to think, I'm definitely willing to give her a try before I make any major decisions.
As for the rest of the deck, I wanted to try a little experiment with Traveler's Amulet. I know that it is usually worse than a land, but I also know that Rakdos's Return is going to be one of the best possible cards to have access to against a control deck. With Blood Crypt acting as an additional Mountain for Chained to the Rocks, you can pretty easily splash Rakdos's Return off Traveler's Amulet since most games against control are going to go pretty long. You'll start by trying to resolve some planeswalkers, which will likely die to counterspells or Detention Sphere. But eventually you're going to catch them unprepared and blast away their entire hand.
Again, this is just theoretical. The blue decks could be far too resilient with a wall of counterspells and Sphinx's Revelation, but you have a lot of permanents that they need to deal with quickly or they're going to get destroyed. Heliod, God of the Sun alongside your team of Chandra and Elspeth are going to generate a lot of card advantage going long, so they have to counter those or deal with them quickly. Once one slips through, they'll continue to spend most of their turns dealing with the threats you play, tapping out to handle each one and leaving them quite vulnerable to the big X spell.
Another reason to play Traveler's Amulet is that it can actually fix your mana, which can be a problem at times with such heavy color requirements. The fact that it can also fetch a Mountain in order for your Chained to the Rocks to turn on is important as well.
Not to steal ideas from GerryT, but he had a fantastic one at the end of his article last week. He gave you, the reader, a chance to brew your own deck and be part of the conversation. I know that I'm not the greatest deckbuilder in the world, and I'm always looking for something sweet, so here's your chance.
With so many possibilities in the new Standard format, I'm not leaving anything on the table. I'm willing to take a shot with a ton of different cards in a lot of different shells, and I would absolutely love to see some brews from you guys.
If you would be so kind as to take the time to post whatever deck you're working on for new Standard, I will do my best to respond with what I think is good or bad about it and hopefully tune it into a monster for your next SCG Open! I'm hoping this becomes a trend when new sets start to come out because I love nothing more than picking the brains of those around me and seeing if I can help them tune their ideas. I know there's at least one diamond hiding out there.
So let me see it!