The church bells rang out at midday, announcing the return of the Tempest. Her sails, white as pearl, heralded the return of something wonderful, and something terrible all the same. Behind her, a block of ice towering over her highest point, being dragged along as easily as a horse pulls a cart. The seas were calm as the Tempest pulled closer, and a crowd of people began to form around the docks, shocked at the cargo she brought with her.
What prize waited inside the block of ice?
It has been quite some time since I've been this excited about a Magic card. One could argue that my affinity for such a card as this was predetermined. Any creature that references “instant or sorcery” is likely going to pique my interest. And when those words are attached to something so powerful, so ancient, and so full of mystery...you had me at Thing in the Ice.
As the sun began to wane in the sky, it was clear that the good people of this seafaring town did not know what horrors awaited them, trapped beneath ice as thick as the length of the Tempest herself. But with each passing minute, the temperature was steadily rising, and it was clear to everyone watching in awe on the docks and each sailor on the Tempest that had dragged this...thing...miles, that the ice was beginning to melt.
Chiseled from her prison in the cold, northern waters, she could feel something had changed. She was no longer asleep, and soon the ice would melt enough for her to break free from her prison. She didn't know how long it had been since she had eaten, but she knew she was hungry. The vibrations from the town stirred her. Loud ringing, and voices calling out, as if asking for her to eat them. Did they not fear her?
As the Tempest pulled closer to the docks, ready to unload its cargo to the highest bidder, a thunderous crack rang out from the ice, and many who crowded around in awe could swear they saw something move deep within the block of ice. Slowly, panic began set in, curdling their stomachs like milk, but everyone seemed utterly intoxicated by the moment, as if frozen in time.
It didn't take much time playing with Thing in the Ice to realize how easily it can be flipped and how powerful it can be in the right shell. There is already a deck in Standard that she would slip right into.
She did not know the name they gave her. She did not care. She knew that she was Dread, and everything else was simply food. She let go of her thoughts, and let the hunger take her. Their screams, their fear fueled her. She was hungry, so hungry, and she would have her fill.
They ran, they always ran, but it did not matter. She was fast for her size, faster than they. And with each gaping mouthful of flesh, she could feel the warm blood bring feeling back to her limbs. Their cries called out in vain. It was a slaughter. It was paradise.
Lambs to the Slaughter
Have mercy on their souls. They know not what they've done.
With Standard in upheaval, I can only imagine what kind of decks people will bring to the table come #SCGBALT. In just a few weeks, we'll have the cards in our hands, ready to battle, and I know what weapon I want to bring.
Thing in the Ice is just so....cool! I don't really know how else to put it, but there is something that really inspires me when I see the card. The artwork, the idea of the card, and even the flavor text on Awoken Horror, all just blend together to tell such an elegant, simple story of a town that was massacred. And they even brought it on themselves, humanity with its curiosity and greed. It's a story as old as time, and the feelings they're able to evoke from such a beautiful design just makes me happy.
But enough with the giddy fanboy attitude. From a tournament standpoint, this card is going to be a staple in both Standard and Modern. The tools already exist in both formats to make this card hit hard and hit quickly. Phyrexian mana spells alone in Modern will make this sucker flip on turn 3 with consistency, but the joke here is that the triggered ability on Awoken Horror will make it so that might not even be desirable, or necessary.
In Standard, Oath of the Gatewatch gave us both Expedite and Slip Through Space. While it will be rare that you're casting Thing in the Ice and then using Expedite to hit them for seven damage in the same turn, you do have a lot of cantrip spells that will ensure you're able to flip it consistently. Slip Through Space is particularly powerful with such a large creature, making it a double whammy as far as I'm concerned.
The rest of the creatures are fine, but they're also just kind of there. If you don't have a Thing in the Ice, you can still win. But it won't be nearly as easy. Noticeably absent is Abbot of Keral Keep, which I'm still not sure is actually better than Elusive Spellfist. The only version I've played so far was jamming Abbot, but the number of times the “enters the battlefield” ability is irrelevant is pretty high.
The second point of power is the main contention with the ability of Elusive Spellfist to become unblockable. I will need a few matches with this version to figure out which one I like best, but I have yet to play a game with U/R Prowess where I actually run out of stuff to do. Tormenting Voice and Jace, Vryn's Prodigy will help keep you from flooding out.
One thing I noticed while playing Abbot of Keral Keep is that you tend to sandbag it a lot. The best players in the room will jam it on the second turn when they need to be aggressive, but they'll also know when to hold it, trying to get full value. This distinction between Abbot and Spellfist is hard to put into words because you will find yourself in a lot of situations where you should rightly cast Abbot but have no idea. With Spellfist, you just cast it and start attacking while you churn through your deck.
Unfortunately, there is no big payoff for filling your graveyard anymore. With both Treasure Cruise and Dig Through Time going the way of the dodo bird, we're left trying to figure out if we should be splashing for Painful Truths or sticking to our guns. If the format ends up being overly attrition-based, splashing for Painful Truths might be necessary. But if it ends up being a hyper-aggressive metagame, then adding Painful Truths will slow you down too much.
I'm also unsure if I should be ignoring opposing creatures or if I should try to kill them all. Right now, I think I'll have a slight concession to aggressive decks and play a few copies of Fiery Impulse. The sideboard has more options for killing slightly larger creatures with Roast or sweeping the battlefield with Kozilek's Return. Notice that none of my creatures really die to my own Kozilek's Return, assuming I'm able to flip Jace before everything goes down. The loss of fetchlands means this might be a little harder and has led me to potentially trying out Evolving Wilds as another “two-color” land, but I don't know if we can afford it and Wandering Fumarole is clearly better.
I could see a removal-dense deck play Thing in the Ice as an early blocker and also as a finisher. While you're casting card draw spells, counterspells, and removal spells, you're ticking down your time bomb. Add to this the fact that Ojutai's Command can bring it back...
Without the full spoiler, and without the knowledge of how the metagame will shape up, it is nearly impossible to build a control deck that can handle everything. In fact, if you miss the mark on what decks you are trying to beat, you could end up losing to just about everything. New sets and new Standard formats are tough to nail down, and that is absolutely necessary when you're building a control deck.
At the moment, even with the rotation of Khans of Tarkir and Fate Reforged, there are a ton of incredibly powerful strategies and cards to build around. Ramp is the easy start to the format, since the only major loss was Ugin, the Spirit Dragon. However, Ugin was their biggest threat and acted as a means of controlling overwhelming battlefield states. Now they're left with World Breaker, Dragonlord Atarka, and Ulamog, the Ceaseless Hunger. All three of these threats are absurdly powerful but can be contained if you can keep their mana in check.
The major problem is that we lost Disdainful Stroke.
Other than Ramp, as a control deck, we have to deal with annoyances like Gideon, Ally of Zendikar and other planeswalkers. This could potentially be settled by jamming counterspells like Negate or Clash of Wills, but I'm not a huge fan of having to do this. I'd rather be more proactive in the early stages of the format so that I'm not sitting on my heels with Negate while they jam Dragonlord Ojutai and the like.
A control deck can't sit frozen when your opponent plays a powerful spell. This is why something like Void Shatter is a necessary evil. It won't be good against an opponent that is overly aggressive, but it will allow us some breathing room when dealing with threats.
The next question is what card(s) do we play to make sure we don't run out of gas. After all, we need to flip Thing in the Ice, and we've already established that we no longer have access to Treasure Cruise or Dig Through Time. The next logical step is moving back toward some big card draw spell to refuel after we've burned through our early answers. We've done it in stride over the last four years with Sphinx's Revelation, and then Dig Through Time.
But if we decide to start playing more counterspells, it will ultimately be less desirable to play Painful Truths and the like. We can't afford to tap out in the early turns for fear of getting mangled by a ramped-out Chandra, Flamecaller or perhaps just an on-time Gideon, Ally of Zendikar. Thing in the Ice will likely help solve a lot of these problems by bouncing all of their creatures and then attacking said planeswalker, but you need to make sure you have enough resources to do all this in a timely manner.
So where do we begin?
This is where I want to start, for whatever that's worth. I think the threat of Ojutai's Command is absurd and especially so if we're returning actual win conditions on top of value-threats. Gaining life is also a valuable commodity these days, now that we've lost Soulfire Grand Master. But the next question is a bit hazier.
Where do we go from there?
As a control deck, you need a way to gain card advantage once you gain control of the game. Moving toward a U/W Dragonlord Ojutai deck seems decent, as it could give you access to Silumgar's Scorn in tandem with Void Shatter, but then you need to make sure those Dragons are all actually worth playing. Dragonlord Ojutai was powerful in the previous Standard format alongside Silumgar's Scorn because Dig Through Time could help you find specific cards at just the right time to keep your opponent off-balance. Now, without that ability, we are stuck with playing things that give us raw card advantage, which in turn makes cards like Silumgar's Scorn much weaker.
I think this deck falls somewhere in the category between control and tempo. Thing in the Ice and Jace, Vryn's Prodigy both work a bit better if you have a more proactive plan when attacking your opponent. Removal spells can change, but the core of the deck looks solid. I think Jori En, Ruin Diver is one of the most underrated cards from Oath of the Gatewatch, and I think it pairs nicely with Thing in the Ice. If you're trying to kill your opponent's creatures, having access to a constant source of card advantage (while attached to a body) is useful.
There are a lot of similarities between this deck and the U/R Prowess deck above, but that is intentional. We need to keep a lot of the elements of Prowess if we want to trigger Awoken Horror, namely having spells that can draw you into other spells. Anticipate is the best crossover card for a deck like this because we will need to hit our later land drops a significant amount of the time, which makes it more appealing than something like Slip Through Space.
The sideboard is a theory, but not necessarily a great one. I like Dragonlord Ojutai and Dispel against a deck with a lot of removal, and I like Goldnight Castigator against Ramp. The counterspells are fairly important in both sideboard plans and have utility against other control decks. Other than that, I don't really have a lot of ideas on what decks I need to be prepared for. Kozilek's Return is a placeholder in case there is an aggressive deck that gets punished by it, but I could very easily see cutting it if that type of deck never shows up.
I think this deck is a bit too reliant on Jace, Vryn's Prodigy, which I don't like. He's got a big target on his head since he didn't rotate and was dominant in the previous Standard format. A little of the reasoning behind why he was dominant is going away, but I still think the card is just great, and you would be doing yourself a disservice by not trying to fit him into a variety of archetypes. I mean, there were three or four different decks last Standard season that opted to play Jace with eight or fewer cards to recast from your graveyard. And it was still phenomenal.
I'm not confident in this deck. How could I be? Barely half the new set is spoiled, and I honestly have no idea what the metagame is going to look like. But we can do some speculating on some of the cool stuff we could potentially do. And that type of thought exercise, working with new cards, is a good use of our time when trying to wrap our head around a new set. There are always going to be new mechanics to learn, interactions to test, and complex cards to figure out. It never hurts to get a head start.
For now, I'll be brewing up some new stuff for Thing in the Ice. It is rare that a card impresses me so much in my initial testing, and that is usually when I know the card is going to be much better than any of us thought at first. I know I've already sold Brad Nelson after pounding his G/R Ramp deck with the Awoken Horror.
Let's just hope we get a few more toys to make it better.