Born of the Gods has hit the shelves and tournament tables; as I'm writing this, Brian Braun-Duin is battling in round 2 of the SCG Standard Open in Nashville with Bant Walkers . . .
And I think we're all aware of my love affair with Kiora, the Crashing Wave.
Today I want to go over some observations on what Standard is and can be right now, what we can do to prepare for the shifts in the metagame that Born of the Gods will bring, and some decks that I could see myself playing in the next couple of weeks.
First we need to look at what exactly is going to be making an impact in Standard from Born of the Gods. Here's a non-comprehensive list of what I expect to see popping up in decks:
While other cards will show up in some number, these are the biggest additions to Standard. The big question then becomes this: which of these is actually going to have a big enough impact that we need to worry about preparing for it?
Let's start with Brimaz, the ridiculous mythic that was more obviously pushed than Matt Leinart back in the Reggie Bush days (that happened, but the NCAA doesn't think it happened). Since it was first printed, the reaction I've seen everywhere on social media has been this: "Come on, really? This can't be a real card."
While I do agree that the push to make this card a tournament staple is obvious (and unwelcome), we have it now, and people are going to play it.
This raises the issue of removal in Standard again; while you can always get away with a Hero's Downfall (with the obvious exception of Blood Baron of Vizkopa), the other removal spells in Standard answer specific things. The new tool that black decks are looking to use is Bile Blight, a great card that can't actually answer a Brimaz.
That's going to create a tension in the early weeks of Standard. Do you care more about how great Bile Blight can be or need more answers to Brimaz?
My last article included a U/W/R Midrange deck that looked to build around Brimaz, and others have experimented with putting Brimaz into white-based aggro decks. BBD showed up with a Bant Walkers list that along with another card I want to talk about included three Brimazes in the sideboard in order to be able to be more proactive post-board.
I really think that Brimaz is going to be a major player in Standard just like Wizards intended, so the real question is this: what do we do about it?
Well, there's this card that I've had a small love affair with in Standard over the past couple of months that I think gets a little better with Brimaz in Standard.
No, not Kiora.
I wrote about how good Abrupt Decay was months ago, and most of those points still apply. Now we have an even juicier target for the removal spell than before. We can still interact profitably with Nightveil Specter, Detention Sphere, Underworld Connections, and Domri Rade cards that are still relevant, but we also get one of the cleanest answers to the feline royalty.
So where can we put Abrupt Decay in Standard right now?
My first inclination is the B/G Devotion deck that saw sporadic play during the last few months of Standard. Nathan Soowal got fourteenth at a Standard Open a month ago using a version of it:
As we can see, it's basically Mono-Black Devotion splashing for Abrupt Decay in the maindeck. I don't want to change up that idea too much since the deck didn't receive many updates. But should we include Bile Blight?
My personal opinion is no.
At least not in a B/G deck with Abrupt Decay. You've already got a sound removal spell for two mana in Abrupt Decay; sure, you can hit the jackpot with Bile Blight and take out two or three creatures, but the upside of being able to hit cards like Brimaz, Underworld Connections, Loxodon Smiter, Scavenging Ooze (regardless of size), and Detention Sphere is the entire reason I want to splash green to begin with.
You could look to replace Devour Flesh, but Bile Blight doesn't address the chief concern that Devour Flesh answers: Blood Baron of Vizkopa. Since people are going to lean on decks that they know in Born of the Gods Standard's infancy, including decks that play Blood Baron, I think that Devour Flesh should get the nod (for now). If aggressive decks start becoming popular, I could see shifting to the assured removal spell (Bile Blight) over the sacrifice spell though.
How would this look right now?
I honestly wouldn't change Nathan's maindeck because it's spot on as to what I'd play right now. The sideboard is the only thing that would need to change; the fact that Drown in Sorrow exists in Standard means that we're definitely including the beefed-up Infest. I'm sad to say that I don't think I'll be playing Golgari Charm, as I've written about my love for that card as well, but with Drown in Sorrow we can replace the super Shrivel that could.
That's probably the deck I'd play right now if there were an Open Series coming to town. However, there are other decks I'd want to look into that play Abrupt Decay.
Remember a couple of months ago when I wrote about a BUG Control deck that my buddy Rob and I were working on? Well, the reason we got away from the deck was because it couldn't be bothered to try to win a game against aggro. Basically, once an aggressive opponent put two or more creatures on the board, we had to sit and play catchup and hope that our one-for-one removal could stave off the onslaught.
Now we get to make our aggro opponents drown their sorrows in a heaping helping of -2/-2. While this won't solve all of the problems the deck had, I do think that it shores up enough of the weaknesses for the deck to make a rousing comeback. I mean, we had to rely on Gaze of Granite as our mass removal spell; it has to be better now, right? (Can't be much worse.)
The thing that bothers me the most about updating this deck is that they didn't print the Golgari Temple in Born of the Gods, though with only one Guildgate in here I don't know how much of a difference it would make.
This deck had a great matchup with other control decks due to the power of Abrupt Decay and Reaper of the Wilds; while we cut back a little on the Reapers, we gained a new toy in Kiora, the Crashing Wave. I'm going to go much more in depth on Kiora in the next section (I told you all I'd have a Fog deck the next time I wrote, didn't I?), so suffice to say that against control Kiora definitely presents a win condition that's hard to answer.
Once you get a Kiora emblem, the rest of your time can be spent making sure that your 9/9 krakens have plenty of cereal so they can kill it (no spoon).
Honestly, there's a decent chance I want to play Kiora just so I can use her ultimate and put 9/9 Greg Hardy tokens (obviously set in Hogwarts) into play. I definitely have to make this happen.
Speaking of Kiora, I know I've droned on and on about her for weeks now, but that just belies how much I've looked forward to the day where we can unleash the kraken(s). Even my fellow writers are starting to come around on her, realizing just how good a recurring Explore and/or pinpoint Fog really is when it comes attached to a planeswalker's body.
We've already discussed BBD's deck from last weekend, but go back and take a look at it again. BBD is playing a U/W Control deck that splashes for literally one green card in the main.
That card: Kiora.
It's that good folks.
You'll notice that I also put it in my BUG deck that I want to try to work on some more in the coming weeks and months. However, I promised that I would look into a Fog deck running Kiora, and I don't want to let anyone down.
The great thing is that I don't have to start from scratch. If you all didn't notice, John Torrez got 90th at Grand Prix Vancouver just a few short weeks ago with this beauty:
I actually love some of the ideas that John had in this deck. Bow of Nylea is a great card for staving off multiple attacks simply by virtue of being in play for multiple turns; if you're Fogging for three or four turns in a row and gaining three life for each of those turns, when your opponent finally gets a chance to break through your wall of Fogs, you're up to 30+ life already.
Not to mention the fact that Bow of Nylea allows us to recycle our Fog effects. With Maze's End providing a turn by turn shuffle effect on demand, we're essentially increasing the density of Fog effects in our deck for the low cost of two mana per turn.
As a one-of card, I think Bow of Nylea definitely earns its slot in this deck. I'd be surprised if I couldn't be talked into more.
Everyone keeps clamoring about how Kiora belongs in a Fog deck (because of both her Explore ability and the mini built-in Fog effect), and I agree. However, when we scratch below the surface a bit, things aren't so great.
First, the only Fog effect that actually protects Kiora as well is Fog itself; none of the other cards allow for prevention of damage to planeswalkers. So while Kiora is a nice value planeswalker to add to a Fog / Maze's End deck, we can't rely on it to live (especially if our opponents actually read the fifteenth pick Draft commons we're using to prevent them from dealing damage to us).
Second, there's this little problem called Brad Nelson. You see, Brad noticed how nice Satyr Firedancer was and decided to build a burn deck around it. Because it's Brad Nelson, people are going to want to play his list.
And you know what his list contains four of (between the maindeck and sideboard)?
Hell, he even plays three maindeck. Unfortunately, we're just not going to have the time to find our way through the maze before we get burned out along a trail of cracked skulls.
So where does that leave us?
Well, I think that a Kiora Fog deck is a reasonable choice, though I doubt it'll be tier 1 or 2. I think that we might have had an unreasonable expectation for how good Kiora is (in a Fog deck; I think I was spot on in thinking she was great elsewhere) due to the interaction with non Fog spells that have the Fog effect.
However, there are a lot of people that think that any card that's like Fog will stop any and all damage, so with that in mind let's jump into a list!
With Fated Retribution and Kiora, we can move past the Merciless Eviction and Urban Evolution days of yore; now we also get to upgrade to Sphinx's Revelation. This allows us to play a much more instant-oriented game plan at the end of our opponent's turn. Instead of tapping out during our turn for an Urban Evolution or Merciless Eviction (and allowing our opponent the freedom to cast whatever spell they want), we can always be holding up mana for . . .
Well, you can let your opponent's imagination fill in the rest. Use "suspicious eyebrow raises" to help their suspicions along.
Fated Retribution may not always be great, but in a deck like this where you want to force your opponent to get a bigger board presence (so that when they finally break through your wall of Fogs they will have enough on-board damage to actually kill you), having the ability to instantly take out all of their creatures, including Mutavaults, is going to be extremely clutch.
The rest of the deck plays out like a Bant Control deck that happens to have lands that produce red and black as well. The sideboard can attest to this.
With Grand Prix Richmond coming up (in addition to Pro Tour Born of the Gods), my focus is going to be on Modern for the next couple of weeks; however, I do love seeing Standard being shaken up. If you have any new decks that you've developed around Born of the Gods cards, post them in the comments below! I promise that if I like a deck and want to feature it in a future column you'll get full credit (ask anyone whose decks I've used).
I'm looking forward to the genius work you all continue to amaze me with!
P.S. Some of you may have noticed that I didn't have an article last week; this is because ol' Michael here has had to finally admit that he's not Superman after all. You see, this whole "full-time school, full-time job" thing is tough enough without four kids and a weekly column to keep up with. I've asked and Cedric has graciously accepted that I be moved to a biweekly schedule. I hate it since I love writing for you all, but I just can't keep up with everything. I've also asked to be taken off the Select Newsletter for the same reason in case you're wondering why you don't see me there anymore. Thanks for your continued support; it truly means the world to me!