Welcome back! There's nothing quite like building decks with a new set, and today, we're going to get to do a whole lot of that.
When reviewing sets, I find it useful to make my main focus figuring out how to use all of the new cards. We aren't drafting which card to take out of the pack and add to our toolbox. We want all of the tools to be available to us.
There are a lot of cards in Fate Reforged that are worth considering in existing strategies or will impact the way we build them. Today, I'm finishing going through all of the Standard decks and looking at ways they can be improved with Fate Reforged (or ways they may need to adapt).
There are so many decks in Standard at the moment, I had to divide the decks across two days, with part 1 on Monday tackling all of the green decks. Today, we'll hit the rest before diving into the crazy new stuff Friday. For instance, Wildcall is a sweet card just straight up, but we can exploit it with Hooded Hydra, flipping into a 5/5 for two mana that dies into five 1/1s (or even more, if we paid any extra mana for our Wildcall). There's nothing like a dedicated manifest deck in Standard right now, but it's worth seeing if there should be. Even if we end up not wanting to be all in on it, maybe these synergies add enough to change which cards we use in "normal" decks.
Gold sets (like Khans of Tarkir) often make life tough for mono-color strategies, but Fate Reforged has enough new red cards in the right places, red aggro is likely to be more than just a fringe strategy now. Red Heroic has mostly fallen by the wayside, as W/U Heroic is just more durable. However, what about a more traditional Red aggro deck?
- 1 Ashcloud Phoenix
- 3 Fanatic of Mogis
- 4 Firedrinker Satyr
- 4 Flamewake Phoenix
- 4 Goblin Rabblemaster
- 4 Mardu Scout
- 4 Monastery Swiftspear
- 22 Mountain
The single most important new red card is probably Flamewake Phoenix. At the very least, I think it's the most powerful.
Obviously designed to conjure up images of Chandra's Phoenix, Flamewake Phoenix is definitely priced to move. A 2/2 flying haste creature for three in red doesn't need all that much to get us interested. Getting it back even once is already putting you way, way ahead on rate.
Flamewake Phoenix does have the drawback of needing to attack each turn, but it is worth noting that in a pinch, you can cast it during your second main phase in order to get a block out of it.
One of the things I love about Flamewake Phoenix is the impact it has on deckbuilding. For instance, Ashcloud Phoenix and Fanatic of Mogis become more attractive than Chandra, Pyromaster, which mixes things up a bit. It is harder than it looks to trigger Flamewake Phoenix in a red aggro deck, as Goblin Rabblemaster doesn't actually work. Flamewake Phoenix says "at the beginning of combat," so if you don't already have a four-power creature, it won't even trigger.
To this end, I have included Dragon Mantles, which can be pumped pre-combat to trigger the Phoenix. It takes five mana, but Firedrinker Satyr is also a totally legit way to bring back the Flamewake Phoenix.
If opposing Flamewake Phoenixes ever start giving you problems, there are a lot of cards out there to help. For instance, Magma Spray is absolutely perfect for the job. People are lining up to get Wild Slashes in their deck, like they've never seen a Shock before. If you are willing to sacrifice the ability to go to the dome, Magma Spray is a great alternative. It's also great against Ashcloud Phoenix, which often flies side-by-side with Flamewake Phoenix.
This isn't to suggest Wild Slash isn't a fine card, because it is. It's just good to remember the range of tools at our disposal. In building decks for this format, we have so many questions to answer during deckbuilding, such as whether we can get away with two-damage spells maindeck, or if every burn spell needs to deal at least three. If we can get away with some two-damage spells, which do we want? Wild Slash is cheap and can go upstairs. Magma Spray is cheap and exiles. Searing Blood costs more and is unwieldy at times but can add a ton of extra value from the total damage dealt. Magma Jet can be a hedge if you're worried that burn spells will be terrible against some opponents. Even Crater's Claws can be in the discussion in the right deck.
Mardu Scout has a lot going for it. A two-drop with three power and no drawback is already worth discussing in red decks, and Mardu Scout has two special abilities. Dash has two types of advantages here: first, giving us more haste in special situations, and second, giving us a way to fight sorcery speed removal like End Hostilities, Drown in Sorrow, and Anger of the Gods (which is already a pain because of its effectiveness against both types of Phoenix).
This "Sandstalker" side of Mardu Scout is pretty efficient at two mana for three damage, particularly given the ability to "turn it off" and just enter play normally. In this vein, Vaultbreaker is an interesting card that's actually basically "strictly better" than the original Viashino Sandstalker.
It's easier to pay for, can be played normally, and loots every time you attack. The ability to trigger Flamewake Phoenix and potentially even Crater's Claws has me wondering if there's a chance we should be considering the Vaultbreaker instead of Goblin Rabblemaster, even though that's such a tough card to compete with. While I'm unsure of Vaultbreaker in Mono-Red Aggro, I am definitely going to be working with it as a discard outlet on Friday. Want to discard a Hornet Queen for your Alesha, Who Smiles at Death to get back? Vaultbreaker has you covered!
You know what? I'm not waiting until Friday. Here's a first draft of Alesha, Who Smiles at Death:
- 4 Hornet Queen
- 4 Satyr Wayfinder
- 4 Sylvan Caryatid
- 4 Vaultbreaker
- 4 Courser of Kruphix
- 4 Eidolon of Blossoms
- 4 Alesha, Who Smiles at Death
It can be easy to miss, but Alesha only cares about power, not cost, so it's totally on the table to reanimate busted stuff like Hornet Queen.
The hybrid activations are really cool for deckbuilding, since if we wanted, we could also build this deck as a Naya deck, giving up Whip of Erebos, Thoughtseize, and Murderous Cut, in exchange for white removal, planeswalkers, or whatever.
Anyway, the other ability of Mardu Scout is the second red symbol in its cost. There has been a real shortage of CC-costed two-drops lately, which has led to the mono-color gods mostly falling off. The above red aggro deck takes advantage of this a little with Fanatic of Mogis, but Mardu Scout alongside the double-red of Flamewake Phoenix makes us want to revisit red devotion.
Blue may not have access to sweet two-drop CC cards like Frostburn Weird and Tidebinder Mage anymore (and Mindreaver sucks hard), but red actually has some pretty respectable options. It already had Eidolon of the Great Revel (which works great with the more expensive curve of a red devotion deck) and now Mardu Scout for consistent double red on turn 2.
- 3 Ashcloud Phoenix
- 4 Fanatic of Mogis
- 4 Flamewake Phoenix
- 4 Goblin Rabblemaster
- 4 Mardu Scout
- 1 Soul of Shandalar
- 4 Stormbreath Dragon
- 4 Eidolon of the Great Revel
Add to this Flamewake Phoenix for turn 3 (so that we don't need to rely on Prophetic Flamespeaker), and you're starting to get up there in red mana symbols. That's already enough so that your Nykthos turns a profit, letting you Stormbreath Dragon early if you want. Flamewake Phoenix works in red devotion anyway, as so many of the best midrange and expensive red cards trigger it.
Ashcloud Phoenix has extra strength here, as the Nykthos engine makes it more likely we can actually pay to unmorph it. Alongside Flamewake Phoenix and Stormbreath Dragon, we are starting to get into a pretty heavy flying theme, which is a different dimension than most red decks.
One other big improvement for red devotion is the addition of Crater's Claws. Yes, that card was in Khans of Tarkir, but it has new meaning now that there are so many more red mana symbols on cheap, powerful cards. Our Nykthos is going to consistently tap for extra mana, and Crater's Claws is a fantastic way to put that extra mana to good use. Unlike Flamewake Phoenix, it actually works with Goblin Rabblemaster, so we've actually got a ton of ways to get the extra damage out of it.
Mob Rule out of the sideboard may look a bit odd, as it's not the type of effect that has typically been costed for Constructed, but this one is costed at a far better rate than most AOE Threatens and is actually probably the best ever. If you can consistently afford to come up with six red (which Red Devotion can) this one's generally going to be a game-ender versus midrange decks that try to dominate the board. Your opponent just played a Hornet Queen? No problem, take his Hornet Queen, his Courser, and his Wayfinder and attack with the team!
If fatties end up real popular, Red Devotion may want to splash Chained to the Rocks like it did a year ago. Just add 4 Temple of Triumph, 4 Battlefield Forge, and maybe a couple Wind-Scarred Crags, and you're good to go. Crater's Claws helps alleviate the need to do this, but the cost isn't that high, so it should always be a consideration.
There is a limit to how many three-drops you can play in a red deck, and Flamewake Phoenix does push up against Hordeling Outburst. It's not like Hordeling Outburst hasn't gained some new friends, however.
As long as the powerful synergy of Heliod's Pilgrim and Chained to the Rocks is legal, there is reason to go R/W. Flamewake Phoenix rewards you for going large rather than wide (with tokens being wide, fatties large), so it doesn't naturally fit into the R/W Tokens strategy. Fate Reforged does, however, have options that do.
Monastery Mentor is an exciting new addition and should probably influence the way our deck is built more than I have taken into consideration here. For instance, maybe Ephemeral Shield is an option, as it is particularly nice to be able to play the Mentor on turn 3 and protect it that same turn.
Monastery Mentor is the type of card that really does want you to build your entire strategy around it. If you aren't dedicating your entire team to supporting it, you're often going to just watch your Pearled Unicorn lose tempo for you. However, when Monastery Mentor gets to play as part of a Monastery Mentor-oriented program, it can hard-carry the entire game.
Generally, you've got to make a token from your Mentor just to get back to even, but the second token you make pulls you ahead on rate. The value of the Mentor will fluctuate week to week depending on how much removal people play, and what kinds, but I think it's pretty good on the whole. An extensive breakdown of the card can be found in my preview article here.
Soulfire Grand Master is another option to consider, as the extra life adds up and the buyback can give us a sweet end-game. That said, my suspicion is that it gives us power in places that don't actually play to our strengths (going long, recursion), nor shore up our weaknesses (we weren't struggling for more lifegain or expensive token generation).
Soulfire Grand Master is most obviously appealing in Jeskai, but it could also have a home in Mardu if you have enough burn. The ability to start buybacking burn spells on turn 5 or 6 is pretty attractive.
- 4 Butcher of the Horde
- 4 Goblin Rabblemaster
- 3 Monastery Mentor
- 4 Seeker of the Way
- 3 Soulfire Grand Master
Mardu, as a color combination and as a strategy is highly adaptable. There are so many ways you can go with it, as we saw last season. Sometimes you're more token-based, sometimes fatties, sometimes burn, sometimes planeswalkers.
The place I actually want to start with Mardu is a token-based strategy, where there is renewed reason to explore Anthem effects like Spear of Heliod and Dictate of Heliod. Both trigger the Mentor (and Seeker of the Way), while also paying you for the tokens you've already made.
- 2 Brutal Hordechief
- 2 Butcher of the Horde
- 4 Goblin Rabblemaster
- 2 Monastery Mentor
- 4 Seeker of the Way
- 2 Brimaz, King of Oreskos
- 2 Kolaghan, the Storm's Fury
There is a tension inherent in Monastery Mentor-based tokens decks, as the Mentor wants as many non-creature spells as possible, and the AOE pumps want as many as possible. There are only so many token-making spells to go around, so finding the best way to balance these opposing pressures could be a big win in the new format.
Brutal Hordechief has a lot of competition at the four-spot, particularly from Butcher of the Horde, however, we do get a lot of value out of it in a token-based strategy, since its effect multiplies proportionate to the size of our army. The hybrid ability is expensive but gives us a nice way to "go long" if people try to block. There seems to be a lot of ways to punish "trying to block" in this set, which has me very interested in either being very aggressive, or using a lot of removal.
Kolaghan is another AOE pump that works beautifully with tokens and is just a strong card on its own. The ability to attack turn 5, while often pumping several other creatures, is an awesome surprise weapon, and dash gives us a great way to avoid sorcery-speed sweepers, which usually plague token decks.
Mardu Strike Leader springs to mind as a consideration for token decks, since it is fine to play on its own and is a token-maker, however, we've got tons of amazing three-drops to choose from, and the dash ability will likely not get used as often as we imagine it will, since we're going to want to be spending our mana on Brutal Hordechief, Butcher of the Horde, Kolaghan, and so on. I think the Strike Leader is playable, this just isn't the spot for it.
My first guess is that the Strike Leader wants to go in a mono-black deck, or possibly a U/B deck in order to reduce the amount of competition it's facing at the three-spot; however, maybe it can go in a two-color deck that can go after the hand and clear a path.
Of course, it might just be worse than more Monastery Mentor and Brimaz action, which speaks to the competition at the three-spot problem.
Monastery Mentor has a ton of possible new homes, and while he often gets looked at in midrange or control decks as a way to take over the game, he kind of goes nuts in W/U Heroic.
I'm really excited about W/U Heroic in the new format, as it gains several major additions that each open up a dimension the deck was previously lacking.
- 4 Battlewise Hoplite
- 4 Favored Hoplite
- 3 Heliod's Pilgrim
- 4 Hero of Iroas
- 2 Monastery Mentor
- 2 Shu Yun, the Silent Tempest
Monastery Mentor gives us a legit way to actually dominate a board besides just racing. It gives us a way to go wide instead of always having to go large. It's also an extremely powerful card to protect with cards like Gods Willing. In fact, it's possible we want to go so far as to play Ephemeral Shields for the added ability to protect it.
The other big addition to W/U Heroic is Valorous Stance, which both protects our big investment and gives us added flexibility for situations where we don't need another protection spell. The ability to actually remove Siege Rhino, Courser of Kruphix, Anafenza, Brimaz, Doomwake Giant, Polukranos, and more means people can no longer exploit us for not being able to get a creature off the table. This is a radical new dimension to an already solid strategy. It's like if White Weenie was good enough to play already, with no removal, and then Path to Exile got printed.
Shu Yun is a speculative addition but could actually prove completely awesome and worth adding more of. A single Defiant Strike makes him hit for ten, and it's not hard to imagine Shun Yun one-shotting people. Besides, if we try him and he doesn't work out, it's easy enough to go heavier on Monastery Mentor. If we do full on embrace Shu Yun, it does give us extra incentive to play more Stratus Walk/Aqueous Form-type buffs.
It's probably too cute, but a sideboarded Sage's Reverie is kind of cute in a Heliod's Pilgrim deck. It is not uncommon for us to have multiple enchantments on a creature without the game already being decided. Maybe the ability to search up a draw three is useful against some decks?
Continuing the theme of Monastery Mentor decks, it's finally time to look at Jeskai...
Monastery Mentor might be playable in decks with eighteen non-creature spells, but when you have 26, it can start to get serious. Jeskai Charm and Jeskai Ascendancy mean we have a virtual eight "Anthems," and the tokens from Monastery Mentor already have a built-in Anthem in the form of prowess.
Soulfire Grand Master does way more exciting things here than in the previous decks. The ability to rebuy Treasure Cruise is huge, which will often costs five mana. Why do we need a second Treasure Cruise?
It's not like casting Treasure Cruise locks up the game or anything. Besides, if you've got Soulfire Grand Master going, you're already in pretty good shape, but if your opponent gets rid of it, your advantage can start to erode. Fork a Treasure Cruise and you're now dominating on a completely different axis, so that even if they remove the Grand Master, you're up five extra cards.
Jeskai Charm is also one of the best cards to use with the Grand Master. First of all, just straight up going to people's face gains you four life, which is nice. The real value, however, is from Jeskai Charm locking people. If you ever get to seven mana and aren't behind, you can put an opponent's creature on top of their deck every turn so they never draw another card!
Jeskai Charm is also incredible with Monastery Mentor. With just two tokens in play, you get a twenty-point life swing, not to mention an extra token, and that's not even counting if you cast anything else that turn!
Shu Yun could be a consideration here as well, but we've got so many amazing three-cost options. Besides, I generally prefer Shu Yun in decks that can pump a single creature pretty effectively (like W/U Heroic).
If the format becomes full of removal, it's possible we just don't get to use Soulfire Grand Master enough to be worth it. In such a world, Jeskai Sage becomes very appealing. It's a legit threat on its own, thanks to prowess, and if they remove it, we end up ahead on cards.
Why not just use Jeskai Sage all the time? Well, it does get outclassed by bigger creatures or people going over the top. If your opponent can actually just ignore it, it's pretty behind rate. However, if you have realistic chances of blocking one-toughness creatures with it or eating a removal spell, it's excellent at those jobs.
I'm less keen on Wandering Champion, but it is a consideration. A 3/1 for two is not that far off, and the ability to look is excellent with Treasure Cruise. Perhaps it can go in Jeskai Aggro?
Wandering Champion hits hard, and the ability to loot away extra lands is much appreciated here. It's possible we need more red and blue permanents to reliably get the Champion through. Maybe Dragon Mantle could have a place?
Jeskai Ascendancy and Wandering Champion is a lot of looting ability in that color combination. I wonder if there is some way to use them to enable some graveyard-based strategy? Whip of Erebos is a fourth color and Hornet Queen a fifth, but maybe we don't need all that. After all, Alesha, Who Smiles at Death is graveyard recursion on-color. Hrmm...
I went with Wild Slash over Magma Spray because of the ability to buy it back with Soulfire Grand Master. If we had Spray and they had no small creatures, we wouldn't have as much going on as if we could Wild Slash their face. The Jeskai Charm "lock" is also obviously fun when we pull it off, but even just buying back Dissolve can be backbreaking.
Anger of the Gods seems like it has improved with the new set. There are more small creatures worth killing, and there is more recursion to stop. While we don't want to Anger away our Soulfire Grand Master, it is a way to gain 21 or more life, depending on the boardstate.
While Jesaki Control may prove a viable option, I'm more excited about U/W Control. That archetype was short some playable two-drops, and Fate Reforged has some solid options for us.
Ugin, the Spirit Dragon costs a ton, but the card is real strong. It's a board sweeper that leaves you behind a very powerful planeswalker, and if you're ahead, it puts the game away very quickly.
An in-depth breakdown of Ugin can be found here. Long story short, I think the card is good and will be played in both Standard and Modern. An interesting side effect of playing Ugin is that it makes you want to play Perilous Vault instead of Banishing Light.
Ojutai, Soul of Winter is not a realistic consideration as a victory condition because it can't protect itself or generate value against an opponent with removal. It's just too bad against cards like Hero's Downfall for how modestly it takes over a game when unchecked.
Jeskai Sage isn't at its best in U/W Control, but it's not the worst way to use your second turn to protect yourself. The other two-cost options are really just not very appealing. It would work better with Banishing Lights instead of Perilous Vaults though, so perhaps this is a fork in the road where two different types of U/W decks should emerge.
Arashin Cleric doesn't look like a maindeck card at first glance, but it really depends on what the format ends up looking like. It is, however, an awesome sideboard card against fast aggro, something we really need.
I don't have any, as it is just not versatile enough to demand a maindeck slot, nor powerful enough to get a sideboard slot. There are possible metagames where this becomes an appealing card (likely in small numbers), as we do really appreciate two-cost spells.
I guess we could sideboard Mastery of the Unseen as an alternative victory condition, but it doesn't appeal to me because of its slowness and relatively narrow band of influence over the game. To make Mastery of the Unseen worth it, I think you've probably got to be doing manifest tricks, like Hooded Hydra, Master of Pearls, Secret Plans, or Trail of Mystery.
The comparison to Rapid Hybridization is not a favorable one. Costing two is a lot more than one, plus the mystery of what their creature could become makes planning difficult. If we're playing a dedicated manifest deck, it starts becoming more appealing for the option to do it to ourselves.
The other control deck I am eager to try is U/B Control, and in fact, I think U/B gains a fair bit more than U/W.
Victory condition-wise, U/B Control mostly debated between Pearl Lake Ancient, Prognostic Sphinx, and Ashiok, Nightmare Weaver previously. Now they have access to many more exciting options, including the above mentioned Ugin (who doesn't even have a Banishing Light-type conflict here).
This is probably not the right home for maindeck Tasigur, but the card looks great to me, and I'm not sure we couldn't maindeck it in the right metagame. The card is usually a three-cost 4/5, if not cheaper, and it does draw some cards, some of the time.
Silumgar doesn't have the most attractive body in the world, but hexproof is big, and it does have a lot of value against token-based strategies. Additionally, the combo of Crux of Fate + Silumgar (who lives through it) is too cool to not try.
Black appreciates sweepers more than white, so gaining access to a sweeper almost as good as End Hostilities is a big deal.
Alright, I'm out for today, but I'll be back Friday to tackle all of the new strategies possible with Fate Reforged. Keep the suggestions coming, as I discuss all of them.