This past weekend marked the first time Fate Reforged hit the big stage, and what a coming out party it was. Between the Standard Open in Washington DC and the Super Sunday Series event held at WotC Headquarters, the new cards had a major impact, immediately finding their way into winning decks. Not only that, but some of the new cards even spawned entirely new decks that posted impressive results, including taking down the championship in DC. Not bad for a small set!
Let's take a look at some of the most exciting decks featuring Fate Reforged cards to come out of the debut weekend.
- 2 Ashiok, Nightmare Weaver
- 1 Garruk, Apex Predator
- 2 Kiora, the Crashing Wave
- 2 Ugin, the Spirit Dragon
I didn't get a chance to watch as much of the Standard Open coverage as I might have liked last weekend, but pretty much every time I tuned in it seemed that Gerard was crushing someone with one of the new awesome monsters from Fate Reforged. I happened to open the stream once when he had Silumgar, the Drifting Death in play against a token deck, and then again when he was activating Tasigur against an opponent with a completely clear board. Shockingly, he won both of those games.
Gerard's deck is classically Gerard here, with a smattering of one and two-ofs across the maindeck and sideboard. His deck is reminiscent of the U/B Control deck that won GP Denver prior to Fate Reforged, with a wide suite of spot removal and card drawing. Instead of leaning on Perilous Vault, however, Gerard's deck uses Crux of Fate and Ugin as sweeper effects, which opens him up to playing a smattering of other planeswalkers, including Ashiok, Kiora, and the biggest of Garruks. Crux is a major addition to Standard, giving black a wrath effect so it doesn't have to rely on one-for-one removal.
The oddest thing about this deck on the surface is the inclusion of four copies of Satyr Wayfinder, which hardly seems like the sort of card a control deck would typically want to splash. Wayfinder serves multiple purposes in this deck though. First, and most importantly, it fills the graveyard very quickly, which is extremely valuable for a deck that is as heavy on delve cards as this one. Gerard is playing not only four copies of Dig Through Time, but also a pair of Murderous Cuts, along with Tasigur in the sideboard. The ability to efficiently fill the graveyard is extremely valuable with that many spells that rely on it - Gerard even played two copies of Raksasha's Secret for more self-mill! On top of that, Satyr Wayfinder serves as a pseudo-mana source that can also chump block. With both Ugin and Garruk, Apex Predator in his deck, Gerard has uses for tons of mana, and his cheaper planeswalkers - Kiora and Ashiok - certainly appreciate a courageous Satyr who'll jump in the way of an attacker and give his life for them.
While it's only in Gerard's sideboard, the card that is the most exciting to me in this list is Tasigur. I mentioned last week that I expected it to be a breakout card from the new set, and here it is. The list I explored with it last week mostly used Tasigur as an undercosted threat, but here it can be so much more. Tasigur plays best with spells rather than creatures, since not only do spells tend to fill the graveyard faster to enable his delve cost, but they can also immediately impact the board. Gerard's deck is full of powerful and flexible spells like Hero's Downfall and Sultai Charm that are great to bring back, and the extra delve cards he plays - Dig Through Time and Murderous Cut - can help him pare down his graveyard to only the best of the best.
While this isn't the style of deck I typically lean toward, I'm definitely impressed by how Gerard managed to weave all of these elements together into a sweet - and clearly powerful - deck. I would not be surprised to see delve-based Sultai Control remain a contender as the Standard season continues.
Danny Goldstein, Gerard's opponent in the finals, was playing a deck that looks a bit more familiar, but looks can be deceiving. Sam Black has been championing a R/W Aggro deck for a while now, and Sam Pardee had success with a similar strategy at Grand Prix Denver, but Danny's deck is actually quite a bit different from either one.
While the Sams were playing R/W Aggro in large part to leverage the power of cards like Chained to the Rocks and Wingmate Roc, Danny's deck has neither Chains nor Rocs. Instead, he focused very heavily on the token plan, using Monastery Mentor alongside a huge number of spells to increase the size of his swarm. He even played Collateral Damage, which was surprising to me at first but made tons of sense once I thought about it more. Both Monastery Mentor and Goblin Rabblemaster work very well with cheap removal spells, the former because they help generate more creatures (and more prowess!) and the latter because it helps break through blockers and hit the opponent really hard. Collateral Damage uses whatever tokens Danny might have lying around as fuel to pick off opposing creatures and let his tokens continue their assault.
Danny also played Valorous Stance, which is one of the cards from the new set that has already gotten a lot of attention. Removal spells are always a problem for aggressive decks, because playing too few of them can leave you in a rough spot against opposing creature decks, but playing too many reactive cards can leave you with dead draws against control. Valorous Stance isn't itself proactive, so a draw full of them still isn't great, but the fact that it can be used to protect your own creatures as well as remove your opponent's creatures makes it much better than something like Path to Exile. Here, Danny can use it to keep his Monastery Mentors and Goblin Rabblemasters alive, either of which can potentially win the game on its own.
The most interesting card in Danny's deck to me though, is Outpost Siege. When I first looked at Outpost Siege, I pretty much assumed that it would only ever really see use for its Khans ability, as a kind of Elkin Bottle or pseudo-Chandra effect. But this deck uses every part of the buffalo, so to speak. With the ability to generate so many token creatures, the Dragons ability - dealing one damage whenever one of your creatures leaves play - is no joke. Not only can you threaten to deal huge amounts of damage to an opponent who clears your board, but you can also use your tokens to trade up with larger opposing creatures. Not bad for a card that flew under pretty much everyone's radar.
Frontier Siege is an interesting card. I actually misread it the first time I looked at it and didn't realize that it generated two mana at the start of each of your main phases. That little clause makes it a lot more powerful than I had initially realized. If you can break up your mana expenditure into pre-combat and post-combat chunks, you can spend four additional mana every turn, which is a pretty huge boost.
This can allow for some pretty huge swing turns in Ali's deck. Imagine a game in which you play Sylvan Caryatid on turn 2, and then Frontier Siege on turn 3. On your fourth turn, if your opponent has somehow already developed some kind of huge board that you need to deal with, you can use two mana in your pre-combat mainphase from Siege and tap your Caryatid and two lands to cast Crux of Fate. Then, in your post-combat mainphase, you can use the other two mana from Siege and another land to play a Courser of Kruphix. That's eight mana on your fourth turn!
Even outside of doubling up on the mana usage from Siege, the ramp it provides is just naturally huge. In that same example of Caryatid into Frontier Siege, the fourth turn play could just as well be Hornet Queen, Pearl Lake Ancient, or Garruk, Apex Predator. Those are not things you want to see on the opposite side of the table at any point, let alone that early in the game.
One thing that sets this deck apart from most ramp decks is how much card drawing it has. Most of the time, ramp decks struggle against opponents who can answer their big threats, since so many of their cards are devoted to generating mana and they can easily run out of steam. Ali's deck has not only Dig Through Time, but also Treasure Cruise to reload. Though I do have to say that I'm a little skeptical of how many delve cards are in here without any real way to fill the graveyard. As it stands, the only way to get cards into your graveyard - other than just casting them - is Sultai Charm, which is hardly an efficient way to jump-start a delve engine. Especially with Frontier Siege in the deck, I have to wonder whether some of those might be better served as something like Read the Bones or even Jace's Ingenuity.
Similarly, as much as I love Tasigur, I have to wonder if he really fits here. Without real graveyard enablers, he seems pretty overcosted, and he's competing with a lot of other delve cards already. That said, Tasigur's activated ability is a great mana sink to take advantage of Frontier Siege in both your first and second main phase, so maybe that alone is enough to earn him a spot.
While I might not agree with all of the individual card choices, I certainly think Ali's deck is sweet, and I know that for Ali that's the primary goal anyway. I heard that he actually played Worst Fears in his maindeck simply because he really wanted to cast it at some point, and he knew that if he put it in his sideboard he wouldn't be able to bring himself to actually bring it in when he was trying to optimize his deck for any match. Now that's a decision I can respect.
- 2 Ashcloud Phoenix
- 4 Goblin Rabblemaster
- 4 Seeker of the Way
- 4 Stormbreath Dragon
- 3 Brimaz, King of Oreskos
On the other side of the country, Luis Salvatto took down the Sunday Super Series with a more traditional take on R/W Aggro. Like Danny Goldstein, Luis used Valorous Stance as a split card that could kill a big opposing creature or save his own. He also played Outpost Siege, though in his sideboard rather than in his maindeck.
I would expect this version of R/W Aggro to be the more likely one to show up in future events, not necessarily because it's stronger, but because it has more cards that people traditionally understand as being powerful. While Brimaz doesn't have as high a power ceiling as Monastery Mentor, the lion king is going to be more consistently good, especially in a world of Lightning Strikes, Magma Jets, and Wild Slashes.
Interestingly, Luis eschewed the more popular Wingmate Roc as his five-drop in favor of Stormbreath Dragon. While Roc may be a stronger card in attrition-based matchups, Stormbreath is certainly the more aggressive option. It also happens to be extremely powerful in the mirror match as well as against Abzan, which leads me to wonder why it hasn't been seeing more play in R/W before.
The most interesting thing about Luis's deck to me is actually the inclusion of two copies of Peak Eruption in the sideboard. I'd actually strongly considered playing some of them in G/R Aggro myself simply because it's such a blowout against opposing Chained to the Rocks, not only freeing your creature but also dealing three damage and setting your opponent back a land. It's actually not terribly uncommon for a R/W player to only have a single Mountain in play too, so sometimes you may actually get the opportunity to kill multiple copies of Chained to the Rocks with a single card. Peak Eruption is certainly a card to keep in mind if R/W decks continue to be popular, as I would expect to happen after their success last weekend.
- 3 Ashcloud Phoenix
- 4 Elvish Mystic
- 4 Goblin Rabblemaster
- 4 Heir of the Wilds
- 2 Rattleclaw Mystic
- 4 Stormbreath Dragon
- 4 Boon Satyr
- 2 Yasova Dragonclaw
Last, but certainly not least, I wanted to look at Oscar Christensen's deck from the Sunday Super Series. Oscar lost in the finals to Luis, but come on - I would have made a point to talk about this deck even if he'd been eliminated long before that.
Oscar's deck is clearly an update to the G/R deck that was somewhat popular before the release of Fate Reforged, and quite similar to the updated version I was playing after Grand Prix Denver. The only new cards in Oscar's maindeck are two copies of Yasova Dragonclaw, which pretty much just replaced Fanatic of Xenagos on the curve. I like the change. Yasova has pretty big upside against other creature decks and is also guaranteed to enable ferocious, while Fanatic had three power when I really needed it to have four too often for my liking.
Yasova also works quite well with Chanda, Pyromancer, which Oscar has chosen to play over Xenagos compared to previous versions of the deck. If you have both Chandra and Yasova, your opponent is pretty much never going to get to block. Chandra can ping their Siege Rhino, while Yasova steals their smaller blocker, and then your opponent is pretty much dead. Oscar supplements this plan with Harness by Force in his sideboard, which is a card that I flirted with in the deck before but never quite pulled the trigger on. If people are ramping out huge monsters, Harness is certainly an exciting card, though it seems like most of the big ramp is putting out things like Hornet Queen or Ugin, neither of which is really vulnerable to threaten effects.
Interestingly, Oscar didn't choose to play Shaman of the Wild Hunt. While it's a little sad not to see one of the exciting new cards getting play, I can totally understand the decision. Shaman is a card that's good in two scenarios - your creatures are attacking and connecting with your opponent, or the game has gone long and you're looking for additional resources to help you win. In the first case, you're already pretty happy - you're getting damage in, and you're on your way toward winning the game. Shaman can solidify your position, but that's not really what you're looking for in that case. In the second instance, you're probably pretty sad - this is not the kind of deck that really wants to play for the long game. You'd rather have a card that can help keep you from getting to that position in the first place, which is the role Ashcloud Phoenix plays in the four slot instead.
One thing that I really like about this deck is how bad Valorous Stance is against it. I actually think that card alone may be reason to abandon Savage Knuckleblade in favor of straight G/R. Literally no creatures in this list can be killed by Valorous Stance unless they're bestowed with Boon Satyr - which is certainly something to keep in mind when playing with Boon Satyr against any deck with 1W untapped.
Poor Polukranos. He's likely not even worth a slot in the sideboard anymore.
It's interesting how different a picture each of these tournaments offers of the impact of Fate Reforged on Standard. At the Open Series in DC, the winning deck was an entirely new archetype, and the finalist's list was a very different take on an old one. In the Super Series, the first and second place decks each had exactly two copies of one new card in their maindeck and two copies of another in their sideboard.
Tuning the old or brewing the new - which way will Standard go? I'm not sure, but I'm excited to find out.