Even though #SCGINDY is this weekend, I can't keep my mind off brewing new decks with Shadows over Innistrad! We VS Video folks have been testing with the new cards a little bit and have some first impressions of what the format will look like after rotation. These are some decks that I've already taken a liking to.
- 2 Carrier Thrall
- 1 Elusive Tormentor
- 4 Falkenrath Gorger
- 4 Heir of Falkenrath
- 4 Incorrigible Youths
- 2 Ravenous Bloodseeker
- 1 Wolf of Devil's Breach
- 3 Drana, Liberator of Malakir
- 2 Kalitas, Traitor of Ghet
- 4 Olivia, Mobilized for War
There have already been enough Vampires spoiled to have a deck built around them that looks to be pretty good. The biggest two are:
Olivia, Mobilized for War is outrageously good. She's a little vulnerable, like Drana, Liberator of Malakir is, but now I think there are enough must-kill pieces to the Vampire deck that the opponent will be hard-pressed to deal with them all.
A 3/3 flying creature for three is a decent rate on its own. The option to discard to give the creatures you play after +1/+1 and haste is huge. It's an enabler that comes seemingly for free and puts a ton of pressure on your opponent. You can even chain together creatures with her discard ability if those vampires have madness, either an Incorrigible Youths or from having a Falkenrath Gorger on the battlefield.
Falkenrath Gouger is the one-drop two-power creature that aggressive red decks have been waiting for to fill the void that Monastery Swiftspear will leave. Not only is it a 2/1 for a single red mana, it enables the madness subtheme of the Vampires deck smoothly without being too gimmicky. Most enablers are bad in multiples, but I don't mind having an opening hand full of cheap two-power creatures.
Other sweet cards from Shadows over Innistrad are:
Between Heir of Falkenrath and Ravenous Bloodseeker, I prefer Heir of Falkenrath as a permanent 3/2 flying creature for one discard over the reusable Ravenous Bloodseeker. There are enough efficient discard outlets to go around that it's rare that you'll be begging for a way to use madness. The Ravenous Bloodseeker and Carrier Thrall two-ofs are mostly filler for now until more of the spoiler is revealed.
Incorrigible Youths and Fiery Temper are the natural madness cards that pay you off for having ways to discard cards in your deck. Incorrigible Youths as a three-mana 4/3 haste creature is well above the curve and will happen on turn 3 or 4 consistently. Fiery Temper will act as a Lightning Bolt more often than not while providing additional value from whatever caused the discard, whether flipping Heir of Falkenrath or giving your creature haste and +1/+1 from Olivia, Mobilized for War.
Wolf of Devil's Breach and Elusive Tormentor are cards that may not be what the B/R Vampires deck wants, but they seem to continue with the theme enough that they're worth testing. They could either be insane or complete duds. Unclear.
Drana, Liberator of Malakir was almost strong enough to be playable already and just needed a little nudge to push her into the “good” range. After Shadows over Innistrad, I think she's in just the right spot. What she was missing the most was haste, which Olivia, Mobilized for War conveniently grants. You can also “flash” her in if you control a Falkenrath Gorger and something like Heir of Falkenrath to put her in during your opponent's end step, or even during combat.
Normally I don't like decks that have both one-drops and five-drops. I feel like those decks are confused and need to choose which stage of the game that they want to focus on, either early or late. Trying to both only leads to disjointed draws.
However, with various discard outlets to smooth out draws, it's all right to try to do both. I also normally am not a fan of discard spells like Duress very much. Again, when you can pitch them for value whenever they're dead, then the downside of your discard spells being poor in the late-game is much lessened. We've seen this with Mono-Black Devotion when they played Thoughtseize and Grey Merchant of Asphodel in the same deck with Pack Rat.
The manabase is ugly with all the lands that enter the battlefield tapped. The allied two-color combinations will be in a bad spot if a cycle of lands from Shadows over Innistrad doesn't show up. Still, if the archetype is powerful enough, it'll still be worth it to tiptoe around an awkward manabase to play a good deck. Just look at Four-Color Rally.
Brad Nelson played this in a VS Video that's due to go up next week. It's a Craig Wescoe-inspired deck that basically replaces Wingmate Rocs with Archangel Avacyn and upgrades some removal spells with Anguished Unmaking and Declaration in Stone, both which exile creatures to enable your Wasteland Stranglers.
Archangel Avacyn is a real powerhouse in this deck, and this is possibly the best shell for her. Every ability on Archangel Avacyn is extremely relevant, from the keywords all the way to the flipping. Having flash means you can leave up all manner of tricks, including Stasis Snare, Anguished Unmaking, a Shambling Vent to block, or a Hangarback Walker activation, all without committing to the battlefield and allowing yourself to be reactive to the opponent's play.
She's nearly impossible to attack into, since she grants indestructible to all of your creatures, including herself. After the smoke clears, you're left with a 4/4 flying, vigilance creature that also practically has haste, putting on a very fast clock. Now your Knight Ally tokens and Knight of the White Orchids or whatnot will flip Archangel Avacyn if they die in combat, enabling some sick attacks the turn after you cast her.
But what if Archangel Avacyn is forced to flip, killing your entire battlefield of small creatures? Well, that's when you respond to the trigger from Avacyn, the Purifier and cast your second copy of Archangel Avacyn. Your creatures will gain indestructible and survive. Your opponent's creatures will all be dealt three damage. You can choose to redirect the three damage to your opponent to a planeswalker they control if you wish. Now you're left with all of your creatures, an Archangel Avacyn, and an Avacyn, the Purifier. Since the two Avacyns are of different names, both legendary creatures can be on the battlefield at once. Broken.
What I like best about Archangel Avacyn in this deck is how it puts opposing removal in an awkward spot against her. The two best removal spells against Archangel Avacyn are Grasp of Darkness and Ultimate Price, and both are inefficient against the rest of the creatures in the B/W Midrange deck.
Moving forward into the new rotation, I like B/W Midrange as a starter deck that's almost guaranteed to be strong. It's an established archetype that has already figured out the spells that it wants to play and doesn't. No need to test Ruinous Path, Grasp of Darkness, or Kalitas, Traitor of Ghet in the maindeck, as the work has been done to discover that they don't belong for one reason or another.
This is the natural evolution of Atarka Red that's currently seeing a little play in current Standard. Going wide with tokens plays very well with Nissa, Voice of Zendikar and plays out much differently from what people are used to from aggressive R/G decks.
This build goes a little bigger to play a new planeswalker, which also just so happens to play well in a go-wide token theme.
More abilities than Jace, the Mind Sculptor? It has to be good!
The typical progression over the course of four turns for Arlinn Kord will be:
+0 to make a 2/2 Wolf token and flip into Arlinn, Embraced by the Moon.
-1 to deal 3 damage to a creature or player, flip back to Arlinn Kord.
+0 to make a 2/2 Wolf token and flip into Arlinn, Embraced by the Moon.
+1 to give your creatures +1/+1 and trample until end of turn.
A little bit like Huntmaster of the Fells; a little like Xenagos, the Reveler; she's probably better than both since you have more options. I expect Arlinn Kord to slide into many different styles of R/G decks, from aggro to ramp to bigger controlling decks like Jund and Naya Midrange decks of old.
The -1 from Alrinn, Embraced by the Moon is especially relevant in a deck that can't afford to dedicate many slots to removal spells since it wants to max out on token makers and Anthem effects. Arlinn does it all in one card! Very deserving of all four slots in the decklist.
The cards that rotate from previous R/G decks are Monastery Swiftspear, Hordeling Outburst, the fetchland manabase, and the combo of Temur Battle Rage and Become Immense. With no good replacement for Monastery Swiftspear, the deck can't really play a small-ball game as well and needs to go a little bigger. Hordeling Outburst can be replaced by Thopter Engineer, a card I personally prefer anyway.
With those Thopter Engineers, naturally Hangarback Walker and Pia and Kiran Nalaar enter the mix as good cards that benefit from the haste given to your artifact creatures. Dragon Fodder and Sylvan Advocate are two-drops that I feel fit the best. Notably missing are Den Protector and Abbot of Keral Keep in the “two-drop” slot. Of course, those creatures are best played later in the game and those late-game slots are filled up with planeswalkers and Pia and Kiran Nalaar at the moment.
Other cards that could deserve slots are:
These all felt weak if the deck wasn't firing at all cylinders, which is a quality I dislike in my Magic cards. Outnumber falls in this camp too, but is cheap and is a late- game card that can be set up and deserves a few slots, since the deck is as removal-light as is.
As with other allied two-color decks, the mana looks atrocious. Oath of Nissa is mainly here to cast Nissa, Voice of Zendikar off a single green source. The archetype looks like it has legs, albeit a few card choices off, and will obviously greatly benefit from an R/G land that enters the battlefield untapped.
- 4 Hangarback Walker
- 4 Reality Smasher
- 4 Thopter Engineer
- 2 Thought-Knot Seer
- 4 Vile Aggregate
- 2 Pia and Kiran Nalaar
Hedron Crawler was simply too weak of a card and meshed too poorly with Chandra, Flamecaller, as it'd get swept up in her -X, which is her most common first activation unless you're already winning by miles. It was also an awful topdeck. The Mono-Red Eldrazi deck has few truly bad topdecks and I like it that way.
Warping Wail is a card that I feel will be super-important in new Standard. Ramp decks featuring sorceries that they want to resolve will no doubt be popular, as will decks with Jace, Vryn's Prodigy. You want some amount of removal for Jace since he will be even more integral to your opponent's plans once madness is a thing. Creating a 1/1 Eldrazi Scion will power out a turn 3 Hedron Archive just like a Hedron Crawler would, leading to the turn 4 Chandra, Flamecaller at the cost of the same number of cards as previously.
There are seven total colorless removal spells, which are great along with the three Hedron Archives to continue affecting the battlefield while ramping up to Chandra, Flamecaller. Hangarback Walker gets cast for one from time to time off the turn 3 Hedron Archive, but that's less common since you probably cast it on turn 2 and don't want it to die to Chandra, Flamecaller next turn anyway.
Last, I wanted a 26th land in the deck. With six-drops and colorless lands with activated abilities, Mono-Red Eldrazi is mana-hungry at all stages of the game. The second Ruins of Oran-Rief got added, but I wouldn't be surprised if it wanted a Spawning Bed or Rogue's Passage instead.
So that's where I am with new Standard. Hopefully I won't be too far behind on current Standard at #SCGINDY!