Week one of Shadows over Innistrad Standard is complete, and with it comes a huge amount of information for us to digest. Everyone wants to know what decks overperformed and what decks underperformed so they can better gauge how the metagame will evolve moving forward as well as dig for those diamonds in the rough that have the potential to break out if turned further.
The big lesson of the weekend, and it is one that many people saw coming, is that white looks to be easily the strongest color in the format. White-based Human Aggro decks were the most popular at #SCGBALT and performed well even given their large numbers, taking four spots in the Top 8 and nearly taking down the trophy in the hands of Kellen Pastore.
- 2 Consul's Lieutenant
- 3 Dragon Hunter
- 2 Expedition Envoy
- 3 Hanweir Militia Captain
- 4 Knight of the White Orchid
- 4 Thalia's Lieutenant
- 4 Thraben Inspector
- 3 Town Gossipmonger
- 3 Kytheon, Hero of Akros
Until further notice, this is the default aggressive deck of the format. With a curve overflowing with strong one-drops and the power of Thalia's Lieutenant and Always Watching to back them up, you have to be well-prepared to handle these decks, and I am sure countless players were steamrolled this weekend by them. Still, the deck has little room to maneuver outside the splash colors, which are legitimately tough for the manabase, so I would be surprised to see these archetypes repeat this performance with any regularity.
Because, as you can see by looking over the results from #SCGBALT, Shadows offers much more than efficient white creatures and Anthem effects. The strongest color in Standard also gives you access to the best removal spells in Declaration in Stone, Stasis Snare, Silkwrap, and (if you want to splash) Dromoka's Command and Anguished Unmaking.
In addition, white has what I expect to be the best card in the set and a dominant card in the new format in Archangel Avacyn. Avacyn completely dominates battlefields and makes combat a nightmare for your opponent while also being a sizable threat that can pressure planeswalkers with its evasion and play defense because of vigilance. I watched way too many players walk straight into Archangel Avacyn over the weekend, and while I expect us all to learn how to maneuver around her in the coming weeks, sometimes that's just impossible.
The core of Knight of the White Orchid, Archangel Avacyn, and white removal forms the backbone for a powerful and highly customizable midrange deck that I expect to function as the Abzan of this Standard season. What I mean by that is that, while the key cards will always stay in the deck, the role players will be changed from week to week as the metagame dictates, much how Siege Rhino and Abzan Charm shifted their supporting cast as needed over the last eighteen months.
Knight is a great early defensive creature that catches you up on the draw or if you miss an early land drop and can apply a little pressure when necessary. While it may not be as powerful as Archangel Avacyn, its importance in these archetypes will make it a mainstay in all but the most controlling builds.
Right now, the most successful white midrange lists use black as their supporting color, giving them access to more powerful removal like Anguished Unmaking, Ultimate Price, or even Languish, as well as discard spells against ramp and the new planeswalker Sorin, Grim Nemesis.
But there are so many great cards to choose from that narrowing it down to a single list will take quite a while, if it is possible at all. Today I am going to go through several of the variants that did well last weekend at #SCGBALT and examine their strengths and weaknesses so we can better assess which lists will prosper in the coming weeks and which will fall out of favor.
The first list is what I would have called Stock W/B before Baltimore, since it looks closest to the lists that I saw floating around.
The key aspect to this version is the use of the full four copies of Gideon, Ally of Zendikar alongside Secure the Wastes for a strong aggressive element that can function as a combo finish in a longer game. Secure also gains a new combo partner from Shadows in Westvale Abbey, allowing you to make the requisite five creatures on your opponent's end step and catch them unprepared to deal with an Ormendahl, Profane Prince.
We saw the Gideon/Secure interaction come up in the previous Standard format, though it was eventually pushed out by more efficient options, so it is little surprise to see it pop up early after rotation. In order to protect Gideon, we see both Hangarback Walker and Knight of the White Orchid where many lists have one or the other, and that will be particularly important against Human decks. Gideon can look quite poor when you fall behind early and the Knight Ally token does little to stabilize the battlefield; without Gideon to make an emblem, Secure the Wastes looks similarly anemic.
The removal suite in this deck contains a little of everything with some of the white enchantments, three Declaration in Stone, and modest singleton copies of Anguished Unmaking and Ruinous Path. This package reflects the normal uncertainty heading into the first week of a new format, with players trying to be prepared for everything so they don't get caught unprepared by rogue strategies.
The high number of exile effects lets this version play a couple of copies of Wasteland Strangler, which I like a lot in more aggressive lists. Being able to land a reasonable body while also removing something on the opposing side is critical in gaining early tempo and setting up a safe Gideon. It also helps protect your enchantments like Silkwrap from Dromoka's Command; once the creature exiled by them is in the graveyard, it will no longer come back if the enchantment is destroyed.
There aren't a lot of frills in this list, and there don't have to be because the cards are powerful enough to stand on their own. You could likely register this exact list next week at #SCGINVI and be in fine shape, but why settle for fine when you can have something great?
Working off these stock lists eventually led to the list our Roanoke collective brought to the tournament, with Eric Hymel taking it to the semifinals.
- 3 Hedron Crawler
- 4 Eldrazi Displacer
- 4 Knight of the White Orchid
- 1 Matter Reshaper
- 4 Thought-Knot Seer
- 4 Archangel Avacyn
- 2 Ayli, Eternal Pilgrim
As I noted above, Gideon, Ally of Zendikar and Secure the Wastes both drastically dropped in power level if you fell behind, and that is a problem when playing against Humans or Red Eldrazi that have strong early games. We wanted to have those slots be more flexible while still having a good plan going long.
Enter Eldrazi Displacer.
Displacer comes down early and creates a solid battlefield presence, but once you trade off resources, it completely dominates. Tokens and Hangarback Walkers die on sight and your opponent's best creatures are neutralized as you attack freely into them. On top of that, the card interacts incredibly well with Archangel Avacyn, letting you make your creatures indestructible at instant speed; this is especially effective when the transform trigger is on the stack, turning it into a miniature Plague Wind rather than a miniature Wrath of God.
Displacer is the key card in this version of W/B because of how flexible it is. In addition to its normal modes, it can blink a Gideon, Ally of Zendikar after it attacks as a 5/5, coming back fresh to make a 2/2 so you effectively get two activations a turn. It can also blink Thought-Knot Seer on your opponent's draw step, at which point they will draw a card from Thought-Knot Seer leaving play; then you will get to look at their hand and take any game-breaking card from their two new cards.
Having this amount of power and flexibility in your three-drop that can also come down and trade with an early creature or pressure a planeswalker if needed is essential to a great midrange deck because they need to be able to change roles mid-game. Finding Eldrazi Displacer was the key innovation in the deck and led to everything else falling into place. I would not be surprised if the card started showing up on other shells (note this cool R/W Eldrazi list) because of how many synergies there are left to explore.
Thought-Knot Seer is a great threat, especially against ramp, that can also come down and strip a key removal spell to stabilize the battlefield against aggro or a key draw spell against control so you can bet them going long. It's simply another card that satisfies the need for power, flexibility, and efficiency for midrange decks.
The removal suite may look strange with no enchantments, but we prioritized instant-speed spells to help against Archangel Avacyn, so Ultimate Price got the nod over Silkwrap, at which point Stasis Snare becomes a liability against enchantment removal, even if it is a great card. This is a juke that I expect to be common moving forward as players over- or under-prepare for the enchantments depending on where exactly in the metagame cycle we are at the moment. If you are playing a list with only a few copies of them, I would encourage you to either have a plan to side them out when appropriate or experiment with cutting them altogether.
Last, Hedron Crawler is the card that ties the room together, helping to balance the three-color manabase while also accelerating the deck's gameplan. Gideon, Ally of Zendikar had been relegated entirely to the sideboard until we saw how powerful it was on turn 3 when the opposing battlefield isn't as developed. With Shambling Vent and Blighted Fen as utility lands and Eldrazi Displacer as a mana sink, there is little concern with flooding, so Crawler is the perfect role-player in this version.
On the more controlling end of the spectrum, we have this list from Nicholas Girardi.
The key addition for this version is Languish, a great sweeper against aggressive decks that also kills Archangel Avacyn. By focusing on two colors and maxing out on Forsaken Sanctuary, you can support double-colored cards of both white and black, which is necessary for this kind of list. The extra removal necessitates some straight card advantage, so Read the Bones is a great maindeck addition here, and the need for card advantage is further emphasized by the presence of Ob Nixilis Reignited in the maindeck instead of Gideon, Ally of Zendikar.
Because of the need for double black, we cannot support Knight of the White Orchid, and I like Ayli, Eternal Pilgrim here over Hangarback Walker because of its ability to play defense immediately. Ayli can hold off a horde of 2/1s, 2/2s, and 2/3s, all of which are common stats in Standard right now. It also lets you control when Archangel Avacyn flips, although that will come up more often in other lists that have more creatures to sacrifice to it.
Kalitas, Traitor of Ghet is a strange choice to me, since the deck is so heavy on exile effects for removal, but perhaps having a four-drop that can stabilize the battlefield for your planeswalkers is needed. Personally, I would look to Linvala, the Preserver, currently in the sideboard, as a more powerful option that offers immediate lifegain when necessary.
Notably, the 5/5 body survives Languish even if the Angel token does not, and I expect to see the numbers of Languish increase in these slower lists as it is likely the biggest payoff for cutting down on creatures. There were also lists with Descend upon the Sinful in small numbers, which is a solid supplement if you want to remove bigger creatures or need the exile clause on your sweeper.
There are plenty of other W/B lists from #SCGBALT, all with their own unique twists on the archetype. I expect these three to be the most popular variants, so rather than go through the rest, I will end by discussing some of the cards I think are currently well-positioned and others that are not to help you all tune your lists from this weekend. Keep in mind that this positioning can and will change frequently from month to month and even week to week, so developing an understanding of what helps and hurts these cards is paramount.
These two cards will often fight for space as the two-mana removal spell that supplements Declaration in Stone, and right now I think Ultimate Price is the better of the pair. It matches up well against the Human Aggro lists, even killing top-end creatures like Archangel of Tithes and Archangel Avacyn. Red Eldrazi was not as prevalent as I expected it to be, which was one of the poor matchups for Ultimate Price, although a rise in the B/W Eldrazi list will certainly make Price worse.
More controlling lists may need the more reliable answer to an early creature because they lack the option of playing an early defender, but right now I am defaulting to Price and waiting for the metagame to present a strong reason to switch back. On a related note, I think Grasp of Darkness is excellent, so if your manabase can support it, I would look to play at least three of them before looking at the other options.
The early dominance of white decks means exile effects (along with Reflector Mage) are everywhere, so Hangarback Walker is not the difficult to deal with threat you need it to be. Also, the immediate impact of a 1/1 or a 2/2 is marginal at best, so I think the Barrel o' Thopters is at its worst right now. Ayli, however, stabilizes the battlefield against aggressive creatures, matches up well against Sylvan Advocate, gives you some life when needed, and allows you to flip Archangel Avacyn on demand.
High on Sweepers
I think Languish is a great Level One card for this weekend as players flock to white aggressive decks and Avacyn. It also plays well against the Bant Company deck Jim Davis used to win the tournament. I certainly expect to see the more controlling lists of B/W do well, so we should all be prepared.
For the more creature-heavy B/W lists, all is not lost. Tragic Arrogance was easily the best card in the sideboard of B/W Eldrazi, and I expect it to become a staple if the metagame does not stray far from where it is now. Leaving yourself with an Avacyn against a Dragon Hunter, Reflector Mage, or another small creature is huge when trying to turn the corner against aggressive decks, and it punishes players for leaving too many Clues on the battlefield or for playing too many enchantment removal cards.
Low on Secure the Wastes
Secure the Wastes is already a card that needs help to be good, since even casting it for something in the four-to-six range will rarely change the course of a game. Once you set it up with Gideon, a single attack is all you'll get before Declaration in Stone undoes all your hard work. The same is true for using Secure to flip Westvale Abbey…that is, if your Ormendahl isn't immediately removed by Anguished Unmaking or Stasis Snare. And all this says nothing of the presence of Virulent Plague in many sideboards, making Secure look absolutely embarrassing. There are simply better options for late-game plans right now.
High on Sorin, Grim Nemesis
This was among the most ubiquitous cards for B/W, appearing in nearly every variant and always pulling its weight. As a six-mana card, it is hard to play more than a couple of copies, but the first two are nearly always going to be excellent. Coming in with six loyalty makes it very difficult to eliminate the card in combat, so I would make sure to come with more direct answers, like Ruinous Path, Anguished Unmaking, or To the Slaughter.
This is my starting point while preparing for the Standard portion of the Invitational in Columbus this weekend. B/W Midrange is one of the decks to beat in Standard at the #SCGINVI, alongside Human Aggro and Bant Company. With my natural predilection for aggressive decks, I would not be surprised if I gravitate toward one of the latter two, but the list I play will be heavily informed by the above understanding of B/W and its many variants.
While the Human Aggro and Bant Company archetypes have little variation among them, aside from the splash options for Humans, B/W is highly customizable, and understanding the subtle differences between lists is important for everything from strategic planning and sideboarding to informing your in-game decisions by quickly determining what variant your opponent is playing.
Then again, Archangel Avacyn is not a realistic Magic card, so I may just have to give up my aggressive ways in favor of raw power. As for Modern, let's just say I am happy to be working with Thompson when the goal is finding the best homes for Ancestral Vision and Sword of the Meek.