My apartment has become infested with Magic players. People are here all hours of the day, discussing decks, strategies, and lines of play. Loose cards, empty beverage containers, and discarded sleeves and proxies litter the area. What was once organized does not stay that way for long.
"Majors, can you send me that decklist?"
"Where's the Sharpie?"
"Gerry, where do you keep your Carrier Thralls?"
It's been chaos. It's been hell.
It's also been dope.
The assumption around this time is that most people are holding back their technology for the Pro Tour. This time, I'm unaffiliated with a team, so you'll be getting my solid B+ game all to yourself. I'm still making a run at the Players' Championship, so you should expect me to hide exactly one decklist from you week-to-week, but that's it. I won't hide knowledge about the format. I won't hide what I'm thinking or what I think is important. I take pride in my job, and all I ask is for you to let me have one decklist.
Despite that, this is what Premium is supposed to be about: countless hours of testing providing you with concrete information that is worth paying for. I haven't played this much Magic in a long time and it's clearly paid off.
"Don't worry, Brad, we'll catch you up to speed quickly."
To understand what's going on in Standard, you need to look no further than Chandra, Flamecaller. She's the Level 0 sweep-your-battlefield-and-kill-you-quickly finisher for midrange, ramp, and control decks. I expect many Week 1 decks to be unprepared for her. As time goes on and you start losing to Chandra, Flamecaller with consistency, you may ask yourself:
There are plenty of solutions that run deeper than playing a simple answer like To the Slaughter or Ruinous Path. The plan to beat Chandra, Flamecaller is to make it an unattractive option to actually cast it.
There's a logical leap to Level 1.
"Are you sure? That attack is pretty bad if I have Avacyn."
"Hmm. You're right. All right, I'll attack like this. If you have Avacyn, I'll block your other creature when you attack me."
"Then Avacyn will transform and you'll be dead."
"Fine! I'll attack like this."
"Now you're just dead on battlefield."
This is likely what I'll be doing Week 1.
Not only is this a nightmare if you're trying to get into combat, but it also makes sorcery speed removal less appealing. Blanking their Ruinous Paths and Planar Outbursts is nice, but those Chandra, Flamecallers we were talking about? Yeah, get wrecked.
Assuming your opponent isn't ramping into Chandra, Flamecaller, Archangel Avacyn is going to trump Chandra, Flamecaller even if they're on the play. Hope your fifth land isn't an Evolving Wilds or Fortified Village! Sometimes that's going to be the case, so I'd still try to build your deck to be as Chandra-proof as possible. There's always the chance that your opponent tries to get around your Archangel Avacyns with something like Transgress the Mind anyway.
With G/R Ramp losing Ugin, the Spirit Dragon, the only ways they have to sweep the battlefield involve damage at sorcery speed. With Archangel Avacyn to protect from those effects and Declaration in Stone to clear the way against World Breaker and even Ulamog, the Ceaseless Hunger, it doesn't actually take much for a white midrange deck to have a reasonable chance against the Ramp menace.
Previously, midrange decks would struggle against G/R Ramp in Game 1, but now you actually have a shot! With some extra help out of the sideboard, G/R Ramp shouldn't be as much of a nightmare as it was before.
I can't stress enough how important Archangel Avacyn is going to be in Standard. The sheer threat of it is going to create a bunch of awesome situations for bluffing. It changes the way you have to attack people, it changes combat, and it's a huge flash threat that attacks planeswalkers well.
"I should charge by the hour."
"Dude, stop being a..."
"No, I mean because I'm an investigator."
This is the best removal spell in the format. I would prefer to play things like Silkwrap if possible, but it isn't. There's too much out there, from Kalitas, Traitor of Ghet to World Breaker to Reality Smasher where you're going to want to ability to remove any creature. Yes, the games go long enough that each player generally uses their Clues, but it's oddly not a huge downside.
Playing this Standard format feels more like playing Kaijudo than Magic. You'll have ways to hit your land drops, will use your mana every turn, and rarely run out of gas. The games are dictated by tempo, not by raw card advantage, which is why cards like Chandra, Flamecaller and Archangel Avacyn are so potent. They have incredibly powerful effects on the battlefield.
Clues get cracked, but it's not necessarily something that hurts you. Even if they do draw something powerful off a Clue, chances are they don't have the mana to use it that turn.
With most decks trying to use their mana every turn with things like Foundry of the Consuls, card drawing, and big spells, giving them a Clue isn't devastating as long as you have your own stuff to do to keep up. So yeah, build Standard decks that do stuff.
The previous reason to play white was Gideon, Ally of Zendikar. It was a powerful planeswalker that came down early and demanded an answer because of the quick clock it provided. If they could sweep up the Knight Allies, you could +1 and bash them for five. If that wasn't an appealing play, possibly because the battlefield was bogged down, you could make an emblem and bolster your own position.
Basically, two of Gideon's abilities allowed him to protect himself, and both in different ways. These days, Gideon's effects on the battlefield, either the Knight Ally or the emblem, aren't as effective. A Gideon, Ally of Zendikar isn't very likely to stabilize you, especially if you're on the draw. Maybe it's getting binked by a surprise Thopter Engineer's Thopter or they're using Declaration in Stone to clear your blocker and outright kill your Gideon.
And if nothing else, their Archangel Avacyn is probably going to kill your Gideon in two turns, which leads to a lot of "Sigh... I'll make an emblem."
Last season, Martin Juza made Top 8 of Grand Prix Paris with Abzan Blue, and he was only playing a single Gideon! Of course, some other copies made their way into the sideboard, as there are still some decks out there that are weak to an early Gideon, Ally of Zendikar, but those decks are few and far between.
The format isn't fast per se. As Tom Ross noted, most Clues get busted at some point during the games. However, you can't expect to have your turn 4 planeswalker to not be facing any pressure. It's just not realistic. Sometimes the games go long, but they are very much about who gets on the battlefield the fastest and how they built their decks in order to capitalize on that. If you're using planeswalkers and they get attacked down, it won't be long before your entire battlefield position crumbles. You might last a few more turns, but you won't be able to catch back up.
Speaking of things that have powerful effects on the battlefield, there's Thing in the Ice. Again, with G/R Ramp not having access to Ugin, the Spirit Dragon, they are short on good answers to Thing in the Ice.
If Standard revolves around battlefield-heavy decks, specifically green-based decks, then Thing in the Ice (and possibly this deck in general) are going to thrive. This isn't Modern, so Thing in the Ice is going to take a couple of turns to transform, but that's still a reasonable price to pay because Thing in the Ice is going to undo all their hard work anyway.
The best Thing in the Ice deck in Standard is likely going to be U/R because of Magmatic Insight and Tormenting Voice. Blue has some cantrips like Anticipate but it's mostly lacking without Dig Through Time. We could go into Slip Through Space territory, but that doesn't seem worth it. Transform Thing in the Ice on turn 5 and be happy with that.
As for the R/U Madness deck itself, I think it's for real. The one thing I will note is that while Jace, Vryn's Prodigy was the best card in Standard last season, it's far worse than it was without fetchlands. There are even madness cards in Standard now, and somehow Jace is worse! The main issue is that there is less control over when your Jace flips. Without a three-color manabase, the power level of the spells Jace is flashing back is much lower.
Pyromancer's Goggles has come up a tad short, but maybe now is the time. Fall of the Titans is another virtually unplayed card in Standard, but it's been very impressive. Cards like Gideon, Ally of Zendikar can be difficult to deal with, but Fall of the Titans, especially with Pyromancer's Goggles, can clean up virtually any mess.
The sideboard isn't perfect, but I know for a fact that those Fevered Visions should be there, if not in the maindeck. They are absolutely perfect against midrange and ramp decks, and maybe that's a good enough reason to start them.
After playing with and against this deck, it's very clear that Thing in the Ice is the power two-drop. Since Thing in the Ice is a little slower in Standard, you'll have some time to prepare for that turn and plan for ways to mitigate that. Archangel Avacyn is the obvious answer here, as it has flash and brick-walls the Awoken Horror for a turn, which gives you the time to re-deploy all the creatures you had to pick up.
The main point is that red decks want to be built around Chandra, Flamecaller (and/or Fiery Temper / Lightning Axe) and blue decks want to be built around Thing in the Ice. Neither of them fare well against Archangel Avacyn.
Blue, red, and white each have a clear build-around, but what is green doing? Depending on how you look at it, green's lack of a clear direction is either a blessing or a curse. On one hand, there's nothing overpowering you can point to (except maybe Explosive Vegetation), but on the other hand, green isn't lacking on powerful options.
Green and red are the obvious ramp colors, but other options exist. You can play a smaller game with Sorin, Grim Nemesis if Chandra, Flamecaller and Dragonlord Atarka aren't cutting it. Last week, I posted my list with Ruin in Their Wake, which I do think is the correct way to build it. Since then, I've come to the conclusion that Kozilek's Return is worth playing maindeck, mostly for the flashback.
The Shaman of Forgotten Ways / Conduit of Ruin sideboard package is something I like. Oftentimes, your opponents will side out some removal spells for addition disruption, such as Duress, but your plan plan completely blanks that. If it didn't play poorly with Chandra and Kozilek's Return, I'd consider having the package maindeck. Maybe if those cards become less relevant, Shamans can slide in.
"You think it was GG, but it was not GG. It was BG."
A Reddit post tipped the world off to this card. There's no telling how powerful or consistent the deck really is, but it's definitely a card that green gets to build around. We've tried a few different things, from From Beyond to a Thopter-heavy version with Thopter Engineer, Hangarback Walker, and Pia and Kiran Nalaar, but the best version is likely something we haven't tried yet. Thopter Engineer's haste ability is very relevant with Cryptolith Rite, though.
I probably won't be the person to break this card, but I look forward to seeing what people come up with.
"Is this my Diet Coke?"
I suppose I should mention Magic's unofficial sixth color. These cards are still great. I've been particularly impressed with Thought-Knot Seer. While there are the obvious Mono-Red Eldrazi and Mono-Blue Eldrazi decks, what about “splashing” these cards into existing archetypes? We haven't even scratched the surface.
"I will never cast a one-mana 2/1 in my life! This card is terrible!"
Mono-Red Vampires did not work out. R/B Vampires was similarly disappointing. Avacyn's Judgment was less useful than I thought. Combined with the mediocre creatures in the deck, the deck got brick-walled easily. Heir of Falkenrath and Olivia, Mobilized for War were the standouts.
I'm fine with that, but it does make things a bit awkward for aggressive red decks. The joke is that we're supposed to be playing Vampires, but I think they're going to fall short. Outside of the flying creatures, the ground creatures don't rumble very well. Instead, I'd rather go a little bit bigger.
Todd Anderson's B/R Midrange deck is likely better than this deck, as the black removal spells line up better than the red removal spells, but this is another way to go about things if you're trying to be aggressive.
"Coke Zero is only for winners, Michael."
This one isn't exactly fair. While Sylvan Advocate doesn't exactly matter in many of the games played, it does play a role at combating Chandra, Flamecaller. The lack of evasion makes it difficult to get through Thopters, Plants, and the like, but it also stops many creatures from attacking your own planeswalkers. Pumping your Hissing Quagmires isn't irrelevant either.
In this format, I'm not exactly looking for a vanilla creature. Either an enters-the-battlefield effect or some sort of evasion is kind of a requisite at this point, even if Sylvan Advocate does add six power to the battlefield.
The real loser is the color black. Each of the other colors has a defined thing to build around, but black doesn't exactly have something worth building around. Mindwrack Demon is close, in that it's good, but it's not as exciting as Chandra, Avacyn, or Thing in the Ice. Demonic Pact has yet to be proven as a tournament-viable card, but that doesn't stop people, including myself, from trying. Shadows over Innistrad has plenty of cards that sacrifice things. Just saying…
Kalitas, Traitor of Ghet is a powerful finisher for black, but again, it's not that exciting. Maybe that's okay, but it's not something I'm going to go super-deep to build around.
"Dragon looove. My Dragon looooooove. Business, deli, my Dragon looove."
This one came up a little short, although I don't think it's far off from being a real deck. Necromantic Summons could be the black card worth building around. The unofficial deck name of “Dragon Love” came from the idea of casting Ever After on Dragonlord Kolaghan and Dragonlord Atarka.
Once Ever After was spoiled, I went looking for the next biggest, baddest thing to reanimate outside of Dragonlord Atarka. While Dragonlord Kolaghan is serviceable, perhaps something like Angel of Deliverance is better. But then the deck name would have been worse.
I would love it if Thing in the Ice were playable in this deck, but it doesn't work well with your overall strategy of cheating an uncastable monster onto the battlefield. Now, if that creature were a Horror, maybe we'd have something on our hands.
If Mono-Black's splash mythics don't scream "build around me," then maybe it's supposed to be a black multicolored card.
- 2 Den Protector
- 3 Mindwrack Demon
- 4 Sylvan Advocate
- 1 Kalitas, Traitor of Ghet
- 2 Nissa, Vastwood Seer
- 2 The Gitrog Monster
The Gitrog Monster has been solid, and giving you that extra land drop on turn 5 to preemptively power up Sylvan Advocate has been nice. Mindwrack Demon is fine, but can be risky in the early-game. This deck would mostly prefer to have a big creature that gives you some value, but milling yourself for four will translate into a better selection for your Den Protectors and Traverse the Ulvenwalds.
It's worth noting that while I think the green cards are the best option, the secondary splash is kind of irrelevant. You could play straight B/W, B/R, and maybe even B/U. The tools are there for a nearly Mono-Black to be successful, even if black doesn't have any single card that's a powerhouse.
In summary, Archangel Avacyn is likely the best card in Standard, but Chandra, Flamecaller is a close second. You're going to need to get used to playing against both of those cards, and building your decks to be naturally resilient to them. These are two cards where clean answers aren't going to be enough.
Somehow, deckbuilding got more interesting.