The time is coming.
The Shadows over Innistrad cloak all. We must in one breath say goodbye to fetchlands and Siege Rhino, and in another welcome the many horrors about to be unleashed on Standard.
The number of interesting and exciting cards in this set is very high and brewing is currently at a fever pitch, but it's important to be able to take in the possibilities of the format as a whole to help you understand what hurdles you'll need to overcome. You could have had the best deck ever for the last format, but if your deck couldn't beat a turn four Siege Rhino, you probably weren't getting very far. Understanding these limitations is paramount if you intend to succeed.
Let's take a look at the hurdles you are going to need to overcome if you want to come do well at #SCGBALT. If you can check everything off of this list, congratulations! You are probably going to win the event!
Can your deck…
…Beat Decks Going Wide on You?
The last few times there has been a first-week Standard tournament, a red deck has won it.
This is not a coincidence.
In the first week of a format, people are going to brew. They're going to try all sorts of stuff out and a lot of it is not going to work. While everyone else is durdling around trying to figure out how to build their new decks, the red deck comes through and just smashes everyone. Call it the fun police, call it whatever you want. You must be ready to beat aggressive red decks in the new format.
Traditional Atarka Red still has many of its old tools, and Dragon Fodder and cheap creatures into Goblin Bushwhacker and Atarka's Command is still a very fast way to end a game. Exquisite Firecraft is playable once again now that the format's premier threat no longer has five toughness, so being burned out is also something you are going to need to watch out for.
Aside from purely aggressive decks, there are a ton of tools for other decks looking to go wide as well. There are a number of good token makers which can be paired with powerful planeswalkers like Nissa, Voice of Zendikar and Gideon, Ally of Zendikar to kill very quickly.
You will face swarms of creatures and you need a plan for either cleaning them all up or getting around them.
…Answer Ormendahl, Profane Prince?
Westvale Abby is very good.
Ormendahl, Profane Prince is not going to show his face every game, but the mere presence of him lurking face down on the battlefield is going to change how many games of new Standard are played. Any deck that is not able to remove him is going to have a very difficult time winning games that Westvale Abbey is involved in because of how unbeatable Ormendahl is once he shows his face. If you are playing a deck that does have answers, your opponent will have to tread lightly rather than see their huge investment lost to a simple Reflector Mage or Declaration in Stone.
Also beware of Secure the Wastes coming out of nowhere and summoning the Profane Prince. Secure the Wastes into Gideon, Ally of Zendikar was a pretty powerful play in the previous format, and going from an empty battlefield to a flipped Westvale Abby is quite the game changer.
…Beat a Chain of World Breakers?
One of the most obvious deck holdovers from the previous format is G/R Ramp. The deck took a huge loss in Ugin, the Spirit Dragon, but that just allows the deck to get a bit leaner and focus more on ramping to six and seven rather than eight and ten. As such, the deck is going to have to lean much more on World Breaker and Kozilek's Return to answer difficult permanents and sweep creatures away. Chandra, Flamecaller will also play a huge role in this as well.
While the deck loses power on the top end, it does gain quite a bit of consistency it never had before. Traverse the Ulvenwald does a ton for the deck, allowing it to play the very powerful Ruin in Their Wake and have better topdecks in the late-game.
Make no mistake: this deck will consistently cast World Breaker or Dragonlord Atarka on turn 4 or 5. If your deck can't handle that, you'll need at least a solid sideboard plan. The best way to attack the deck is to get under them before they can get going or disrupt their ramp spells. Stopping Explosive Vegetation or Nissa's Pilgrimage will go a long way toward stunting their development.
…Not Get Wrecked by Chandra, Flamecaller?
Chandra is good. No like really good. No better than that. Keep going. Little more. Okay, you're at least getting close to how much Chandra is going to impact Shadows over Innistrad Standard.
Much like Elspeth, Sun's Champion was one of the major flashpoints for Standard the entire time she was legal, Chandra, Flamecaller is going to completely alter how any game she is involved in is played. You don't want to overcommit, lest you see all your creatures swept away, but wait too long and she will kill you very fast. Chandra also fits into a huge number of decks, from Eldrazi to Ramp to Midrange, which means having the tools to defeat her is going to be paramount.
So how do you beat Chandra? Creatures with four or greater toughness are a great place to start; if you have creatures that can either survive a sweep or at least turn her into an overpriced Radiant Flames, that goes a long way. Pacing your spells and playing them at instant speed is also a huge boon, with Archangel Avacyn and Collected Company being the best options there.
…Avoid Getting Ground Out?
There are a ton of powerful grindy cards in this format, and while they don't all necessarily go in the same deck, their strategy is the same— grind, grind, grind until you've got nothing left. Even before Clues became a thing, there were tons of ways to keep the cards flowing, and now, with all this investigating going on, you need a way to overcome all the card advantage going around or kill your opponent before they are able to take advantage of it.
This one isn't as simple to answer as just “play creatures with four or more toughness,” as you need to make sure your deck has a solid plan of attack. However, these sorts of value decks often struggle to beat the Ramp deck. If that deck is very popular, they will suffer and you may be able to ignore them.
…Not Be Brickwalled by Kalitas, Traitor of Ghet?
Rally the Ancestors may be gone, but Kalitas, Traitor of Ghet is still a very powerful Magic card. If your deck is unable to remove it, you may find yourself in a position of not being able to actually win. If you are relying on Roast or other red removal as your plan of attack and Kalitas gets to be a 5/6, are you going to be able to overcome the lifelink and stream of tokens?
Aside from outright killing Kalitas or just running your opponent over before it matters, you can find other creative ways to get around it as well. Remember that killing or sacrificing the blocking or blocked creature will prevent Kalitas's lifelink, so if you are going wide with tokens or have sacrifice outlets, this can be another answer.
…Prepare for Everything?
Of course, you really can't prepare for everything. You are probably going to play against someone piloting a deck you never would have thought of in your wildest dreams and need to make a lot of adjustments on the spot. That's part of why Release Weekend is fun!
That's also why playing a proactive strategy at the start tends to work out best. If you don't have the right answers, at least you can be the one asking the tough questions.
#SCGBALT is only a few days away. Are you ready for it?
Week Six of Challenge Thursdays was awesome!
The challenge was simple: Five-Color Super Friends (Planeswalkers) in Standard (@mr_sparklez and @Fitzlock), and not only was it a lot of fun, but we went 3-2 in both Leagues we played.
- 3 Chandra, Flamecaller
- 3 Gideon, Ally of Zendikar
- 2 Narset Transcendent
- 3 Sarkhan Unbroken
- 1 Sorin, Solemn Visitor
The deck was a blast to play and I consider 3-2 with a Challenge Thursday deck to be a great success.
This week is going to be a bit different, as I will be traveling to Baltimore for #SCGBALT on Thursday night. Therefore I will be doing an early stream starting at 11:30am EST for Challenge Thursday rather than the usual time. If you're reading this, I may already be live!
It also means that the vote is already over and was conducted via Twitter, but here are the results:
If you missed this early edition of Challenge Thursday, fear not! Twitch.tv archives my streams right on my stream page, so you can go back and watch the replay.